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?



5 responses

  1. I’ve been spinning since i was ten, so I dont even think about how to hold a spindle. I don’t do that butterfly thing on the fingers with excess thread either – I spin to the floor and then wrap the thread up and over my elbow whilst holding the distaff to one side.

    I like her black apron

    • I wish I’d been spinning since I was ten! I don’t think I even knew what spinning was then!
      Interesting how you kinda use your whole arm instead of just fingers to keep tension as you roll on, I suppose it could be faster this way as one big movement takes less time than many little ones?

      • I was interested in history so I bought one and taught myself – I was a weird kid tho, mum took me to see led zepellin as a tenth birthday treat and I spent my time trying to grind wheat grains between two rocks cos I’d heard about stone querns( she’s still disgruntled cos I fell asleep by the time led zep came on at ten, I was knacked cos I’d spent the day shopping with her two gay friends. to be fair my mum’s only normal by her own peculiar standards)

        the elbow thing is a lot quicker from what I’ve seen of other people doing the fingerloops. I don’t think I could do the loops now cos I do the elbow thing wthout even thinking about it – I spin for work most days

  2. I don’t know many people who spin competently, but the one who does spins vertically and uses her elbow when she has excess thread. She doesn’t *wrap* the thread around her elbow per say, but just brings her elbow to the inside of the thread and then pivots her elbow to lift the thread. This brings the spindle from near the floor to within reach of her other hand.

    As she winds on, the thread goes like this. Left hand lies about over the breast bone and holds the unspun fibre. Left elbow is held high, so the left upper arm is horizontal. Thread goes from left hand, leftwards, over the left elbow, then back underneath the arm horizontally towards her right hand which is at full extension rightwards. If the thread is even longer, I suppose as it came back past your left hand you could hook it with your little finger, then pivot the left arm so the left hand was extended leftwards…

    (This would be so much easier with pictures!)

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