Picture Friday: How I hold my spindle

In my first picture Friday post I wrote about how I loved discovering techniques I’d developed in Period art. When  first saw this picture I had the same thing happen.


Here you can see clearly how she holds the spindle. The spindle tip is through the third and fourth fingers and the thumb and second finger are turning the spindle.

Just recently I discovered this image is actually from a stained glass window.



How do you hold your spindle?

Research page on my new blog

I’ve been working on my new blog! I really want it at a stage by the end of the month where I can point people towards it when they ask about my research and methods. This blog is more about following my journey, that one is more about keping an up to date theory, research and instructions.

Here is my page on my research.

What do you all think? I was wanting to have an image or video of drop spindle spinning to show the difference, but I’m not sure if I should.

Updated spinning videos– wool and flax!

I’ve done some more videos of me spinning.  You’ll have to excuse that my movements are a tad slow and clumsy, I’m sick and it’s winter here which means my fingers were like icicles and blue with cold.

Here is the video of me spinning flax. Right at the beginning of video I don’t have my distaff in the right place (to busy being spinning in time for the 10 second timer on the camera) and in the kerfuffle that follows the thread snaps. Just after that when you see me fluffing my hand around I’m fixing the thread with water and twist. Works great for flax.  I took other videos but this one was the best so I thought you might as well see me doing an oopsie. Shows how easy it is to fix partially spun flax to partially spin flax though!

When I first wind onto the spindle I’m trying to show you that some of the spun thread has collected on top of the spindle, so I’ve spun a bit more than it looks like I have.

The second time I rest my spindle for a few turns on the chair next to me. Sometimes you see in pictures ladies resting their spindles. You can see here I spend longer spinning the spindle and I’ve collected quite a bit bore thread on top of the spindle.

You can see I’m also being a good girl and wetting my fingers with my pot of water rather than my own spit. Often in the past women would lick their fingers or even run the flax thread through their mouth. You can see both the left hand and thread are so close to the mouth this is very tempting and it really helps you get a nice thread more quickly than using you finger with water. I find the spinning with water much more slow, but it is very unhealthy to run flax through your mouth and even just to lick your fingers so I’m sticking with the bowl of water.  I saw a video recently of an old lady spitting on her flax which seems a great alternative, it’s not the spit on the flax that’s unhealthy (it’s going to be washed anyway, and you always wash your hands after spinning anyway) but the flax in mouth (and yes, finger from flax  to mouth counts as this), but I’m not much of a spitter, especially in public.

Here is the video of me spinning wool. It’s my own combed wool which is combed with dog combs, so it could be a better preparation! However I’m endeavouring with it! I still prefer the Merino wool I learnt on, good thing I didn’t know when I was learning that Merino was meant to be ‘hard’!

I start off just as I do with flax, and I could spin like that, wind on, spin more, wind on, especially if I wanted a lower twist thread. When I’ve moved awa from the distaff a bit I then pop a few half hitches onto my spindle and suspend the spindle out. The second time I spin I also show dropping the spindle off at the side. I don’t always do this. When I reach an arm’s length if I have the perfect amount of twist in my thread I just wind it on. If I have a little extra twist then I will drop he spindle.  I tend to drop my own combed wool more than I do the store-bought merino because I can draft the merino so much faster. This stuff takes more time to draft and I’m more likely to get to an arm’s length and realise I’ve got heaps of twist. I find one spin of the spindle is less than the amount of twist I want for the drop to the floor, and also if the spindle touches the ground or starts back spinning on its own (my whorls spin fast but short, often not long enough for the spindle to go from the height of the chair, to the ground and back up again) which is why I don’t tend to drop the spindle if my amount of twist is perfect.

As always, my methods are still a work in progress but are becoming a bit more standardised. My next task is to experiment with more types of wool and see what other differences I can find the fibre makes to my spinning technique!

Picture Friday: Domestic Violence

A distaff is great for holding your fibre and acting as a third hand when drafting. It has other uses too.

Miniature of Orpheus lying on his back, protesting himself from Thracian women armed with spindles and distaffs.

Here is a miniature of Orpheus lying on his back, protecting himself from Thracian women armed with spindles and distaffs from an English manuscript from around 1450.

I’ve never hit anyone with my distaff on purpose but when I have it through my belt I have to be aware of those around me, especially if I have it through my belt and turn around too quickly! I’ve also managed to drop it upon my own head a few times. Don’t ask how, I really couldn’t say! haha

New Blog!

No, I won’t be abandoning this one, and it’s not a blog so much, but I’m using wordpress to build it. It’s a place for my 15th century persona on the web. I’ll be doing a talk on fingerloop braiding and on spinning at an upcomming festival and while I’ll have pamphlets to hand out to people, there’s only so much I can put on a small piece of paper  printed in black and white. So I’ll include the link to my new blog and they’ll be able to find all the detailed information there.

If you want to have a look at what I’ve got so far then it is here http://cathelinadialessandri.wordpress.com/

It’s still a work in progress so far but it should hopefully be done by the end of the month. I’ve kept it in a blog format because it is easy but also so if people want to comment or ask questions they can. Also they can be updated when I add new information.

What do you think so far?

Video of me spinning.

It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally got a video of me spinning wool.
Sorry for the low quality and angle etc. Hopefully I’ll do a better one soon!

When I’m spinning a fine thread I use a combination of techniques– grasped spinning and suspended spinning.


First I draft the thread out holding the spindle between my third and fourth fingers and spinning it with my thumb and second finger.


Then I put a couple of half-hitches on the top of the spindle and spin suspended. This gets extra twist into the thread and I lengthen it at this stage. I then butterfly the spun thread up on my left hand, wind it onto the spindle and start again.

If I’m spinning a more coarse thread then I don’t need to do the suspended stagg, the thread has enough twist from drafting it out.


At the end of the video you see I don’t do a suspended stage, I just rest the spindle against the couch for a few spins instead and this works well if you are sitting. It also means I don’t have to fuss with a half-hitch.


So, what does everybody think so far? Any questions?


Medieval Plying Picture… Could it be I’ve found one?

Well, up until today I would have told you I know of no pictures from the late middle aes or early renaissance that depict plying.

I know many others have said this.

But tonight when I opened up pinterest I saw this picture (which I’ve brightened to help see a few details)

I have heard of plying using a hook or nail driven into the ceiling. Could this be a medieval image deicting plying?

The manuscript is this one here http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bge/fr0064 and here is the page this image is from  http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/bge/fr0064/161v/large

Have a good look. It appears they are spinning thread hanging down from the ceiling. Well, this rattled something in my brain. I KNOW I’ve heard people talking about plying using hooks or mails driven into the ceiling.

I’ve been sick recently and spend some time in bed half-watching Norman Kennedy spinning videos. I’m 90% sure he mentions someone taking him to an old house and pointing to hooks or nails in the ceiling and wondering what they were for and Mr Kennedy said “oh, they were for plying thread.” I’m sure I’ve hard of it from some other source too (I’m thinking a lady somewhere in eastern Europe but I’m not sure).

How plying from a hook or nail in the ceiling works, I don’t know. I’ve always imagined the threads are run up from the floor (either in the form of a single plying ball or two spindles of singles), passed through a hook together and then spun.In the picture there are no threads going up, only going down. Of course, this is a medieval picture (looks 15th century French to me) so threads going up could just not have been painted in. They often left out parts of looms too.

So, what do you think? Medieval plying picture or something else?

Picture Friday: Sitting to Spin

This week’s picture is from the same 15th century French  manuscript as last week’s. This time it depicts a woman sitting down to spin. We all talk about how spinning was a constant, ladies would spin on the way to the market, feeding chickens etc. but a lot of my spinning is done in the evenings in front of the telly so I find myself sitting to spin a lot. I like how she appears to be resting her spindle on the ground to spin, as I sometimes do this too!


How do you like to spin? Sitting, standing? Do you also sometimes rest your spindle against a surface?

Picture Friday: winding thread on the spindle.

I really love this image for a few reasons. We get to see a few things we often don’t see in images of ladies spinning in the 15th century.

Have a look at her right hand where she is holding the spindle. The spindle is held between her third and fourth fingers. I’ve seen this a couple of times in period art and it’s where I naturally hold my spindle when I’m trying to recreate 15th century technique– which makes me think I must be doing something right. With the top of the spindle through these fingers you can use your thumb and second finger to flick the spindle and the third and fourth  finger to grasp the spindle firm enough to stop it dropping but light enough so it spins. When winding on your spin thread these fingers work again in the same way, third and fourth holding the spindle, thumb and second turning it.
Now look at her left hand. When I have an arm’s length of thread and go to wind it onto the spindle I have to unwind what has spiraled around the shaft, leaving me with more than an arm’s length that will kink up on itself. If I’ve been suspending my spindle at the side and have even more than an arm’s length then I have an even bigger problem. I “butterfly” the tread around my thumb and pinkie on my left hand to keep the tension on the thread as wi wind it onto my spindle. This looks just like what this lady is doing here!


This image is from a French manuscript of the 15th century, Le Roman de la Rose.

It’s really hard to know if what I’m doing is right, I can’t go and visit the 15th century and it’s always hard to know how accurately images depict technique. But when I discover something in a picture that I’ve been doing already then that makes me happy! Have you ever had this happen with your research?