Tools for Spinning

 

There are four things you need to start spinning: a stick, another stick, some fluff and a lumpy thing.

Medieval spindle and distaff
My first spinning setup used tools I found around my home.
My first spinning setup used tools I found around my home.
When I found I loved spinning I upgraded quickly to tools I could use at Medieval re-enactment events.

Distaff

A distaff is a stick that holds your fibre. Because European Distaff Spinning only uses one hand to draft (rather than two hands like in drop spindle spinning), the distaff is necessary to use in the drafting of the fibres, except in the case of drafting techniques that only use hand such as the English Long Draw.

A distaff can be simple and be made at home from a branch, a broomstick or a wooden dowel. My favourite distaff is made from a wooden rake handle with a wooden curtain rod end. Furniture legs work well too.

There are also very fancy distaffs out their made by craftspeople.

 

Spindle shaft.

A spindle shaft is the stick that you wind your spun thread onto. It’s also the stick you turn to put twist into your thread. From pictorial and archaeological evidence we see spindles in the middle ages taper at both ends and are thicker in the middle.

York Coppergate 005 spindle

Spindle from the finds at Coppergate, York

roman bone spindle

Roman bone spindle from the 1st or 2nd century.

clermont107spindleWhorlsSm

Second Century Spindle and whorls.

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17th century spindle shafts

You can make a spindle at home from carving a stick or a wooden dowel. You can also buy spindles online.

I recommend:

Pallia’s Spindle

Hershey Fibre Arts

NiddyNoddyUK

You can see my review of one of Hershey Fibre Art’s spindles here:

 

You can see my reviews of  NiddyNoddy’s spindles here:

Whorl

The whorl is the weight that goes on the spindle shaft. This is optional and removable. Medieval whorls were made of a variety of materials including clay, stone, potsherd, bone and lead alloy.

Spindle whorls are a common archaeological find.  Extant spindle whorls are easy to find for sale. Of course, a modern lead-free pewter whorl is safer to use than a lead alloy whorl.

Be they bone, metal or stone; decorated or undecorated, medieval century spindle whorls have a few identifying features.

First, they are often small and heavy for their size, the hole through the centre may be cylindrical or it may be tapered (smaller at one end than the other) and they are often centre weighted, that is thinner at the edges with more of the mass at the shaft of the spindle.

This gives a medieval spindle a fast but often short (compared to a modern drop spindle) spin.

Bor_earthenware_spindle

Drawing of a spindle whorl showing the mass is centred around the hole for the spindle shaft.

You can make your own whorls at home, or purchase one online. Often you can buy whorls from the person you’ve purshased your spindle shaft from.

Fibre

Lastly you’ll need something to spin. If choosing to spin flax you’ll need to find line or strick flax, not top or sliver.  Wool is more suited to beginners and if spinning at an event should be undyed. Wool tops are great to start with and are easily purchased from spinning supply shops.

You can read an article on modern breeds which are similar to medieval sheep breeds here.

 

Medieval Spinning, SCA Spinning, Medieval drop spindle, Medieval drop-spindle, SCA, Reenactment, Reenacting, Re-enactment, Re-enacting, Living History, Society for Creative Anachronism.

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