Video Wednesday – Spinning in Italy

Today I share this fantastif video of Luca Costigliolo spinning with a distaff and a suspended spindle. He explains that as the spindle needs to be continiously turned that the drafting is done with only one hand, the left. This keeps the left hand at the distaff and the right hand at the spindle.

Later he talkes about suspended vs grasped spindles. He mentions that his spindle has a bulb on top for holding the half hitch so it should be used as suspended and that spindles with points like that of a great wheel should be used grasped.

Also of interest is the sling around his neck to hold the distaff, rather than relying on having it in the crock of his arm like I do.

Video Wednesday – A Room of Fibre Crafts

Today I bring you a long video showing many different febre crafts. Of interest (ans perhaps an epposode of mythbusting monday) is the lady using a distaff for wool at the spinning wheel. One Myth I often hear is that they only used distaffs for short fibres in the middle ages to make their spinning portable.
While sometimes this lady uses a second hand to assist drafting, most of the time she uses one just as with the spindle method. Norman Kennedy shows this in one of his videos, and he spinds with both hands making two threads at once. Double the thread from one spinner!

Hershey Fiber Arts Spindle


Today I thought I’d share a video of me spinning with a Hershey Fiber Arts Spindle

I love these spindles, they have really nice fine tips and she can do them with a spiral notch.  She does quite a few other types of spindles and other fibre equipment, such as whorls and distaffs, so make sure to have a look at the rest of her goodies.

Video Wednesday- How to Spin a Spindle

Today I share a video of Lisa Chan teaching how to spin a russian spindle. This just happens to be the same technique I use for spinning my spndles so I thought I’d share it.

I find practicing to spin supported is a good way of learning how to spin grasped (or semi-suspended or suspended), a bit like training wheels on a bike.

Mythbusting Monday

Grasped spinning is slow, therefore it would never have been used when production spinning was needed, such as in the middle ages.
If grasped spinning is slow or not is objective. People learned how to spin grasped from a very young age, they would have found it faster than a modern person who has spun using a different style for, say, ten years, pick up grasped spinning, try it once and find it slow.

Many people say Continental knitting is faster than English, however some of the world’s fastest knitters knit English style and English style knitting has been used for many years. All my cardigans as a small child were knit English style and my mother had to knitt them or I went cold. If only the fastest method was used in situations where people had to produce or go cold then why did my mother not use Continental or my Nana’s knitting machine?

If speed was the only factor, why was the wheel not embraced more readily? The wheel was considered to produce thread of poorer quality and it was hundreds of years after it’s introduction before it really gained hold.

Not Just Drop Spindles!

One of the criticizms I see directed at those of us who are researching medieval spinning techniques is “here is a picture where the spindle was suspeded, therefore they are drop spindles and they are doing drop spindle spinning” or words to that effect.

My methods aren’t about prooving they never suspended the spindle, to the contary the more research and experementation I do I see the more the spindle can be suspended using the methods I’m developing, especially with wool. That, however, doesn’t mean they were ‘drop spinning’ or using ‘drop spindles’. People will look at my spindle and say “oh, that’s a drop spindle.” Really, it’s a spindle. It could be used in the drop spinning method (though is’t ideal for that style), but I don’t use it that way. I call my spindle a spindle. If I were French I might call it a fuseau or if I were German I might call it a spindel or a handspindel but, and forgive me forign speakers if I’ve missed this but I don’t see other languages calling them anyhing to do with dropping. Their names all seem to revolve around things that, well, revolve, twist and turn and spin upon an axel. I don’t see any dropping. Is it just English that does this? And what makes a drop spindle anyhow? The fact it was designed to be a dro spindle, that it is used as one, that it could be?

And back to these drop spindles in the middle ages. You see re-enactors spinning on a drop spindle at living history events. They aren’ using a distaff because yo don’t need one with wool, and they’re usually spinning wool because flax is ‘hard’. And no, you don’t need a distaff to spin wool with a drop spindle, but you know tht medieval image ofthat lady spinning wool without a distaff? No, you don’t? That one from 1453 that was painted by a monk who drew an arrow to the spindle and wrote “this is a drope spindle from ye olde shoppe?” nope? Really? Well, it doesn’t exist. I’ve never come across a picture of spinning that didn’t involve distaffs with one exception:


(which I discuss a little here)

I don’t think they’re actually spinning thread here, they might be plying or making gilt thread as in this image,


(Gilt thread-making
Lockwood Kipling, John, born 1837 – died 1911)

but I think we can hardly be calling this “spinning fluff into thread” because I don’t know about you, but I see no fluff there.

The other thing is have you heard of the distaf side? The distaff side referrs to the female sid of the family. You see a few instances where ‘disaff’ is associated with women or women’s work, and why not sindle? Or drop spindle? Who ever heard of the drop spindle side of the family? If distaffs are something that wern’t needed in spinning throughout Europe and the UK then why is spinning and women’s work so closley associated with them?

Now, I’m wandering away from my initial discussion which is “is evidence ofsuspended spinning proof of drop spindle spinning?”

First, we have to define drop spindle spinning. People jokingly say it’s called a drop spindle because when you are learning you accidently drop it when your thread snaps! But it’s not such a joke. In drop spindle spinning your thread slowly drops down as the thread is formed. Is this the full definition? If I suspend my pindle to th side and set it spinning I can drop the spindle down as i’m drafting my thread. I could not, however, do this without a distaff, as because of the length I’ve already spun I need one hand to draw my thread to the opposite side of my body leaving only one hand to arrange and draft the fibre. Every thing I’ve ever read on drop spindle spinning and the distaff says you don’t need to use a distaff when spinning wool, though you may if you wish to keep more fibre in reach. My distaff does a LOT more than keep my fibre in reach!

So, could we say drop spindle spinning is spinning where the spindle drops down as the thread is being formed and where a distaff may be ued for oranising and holdingfibe but must not play an ‘active’ role in th pinning process (ie, you could spin without it without changing your technique).

So, it’s not so much the spindle that defines the method, but the involvment of the distaff. Which means the saying “spun on the roc (distaff)” makes a lot more sense.

And I guess ll this means that if the spinning fo the 15th century couldn’t be done without a distaff then it’s not really drop spindle spinning, even when the spindle is suspended fully.

So I’m not fighting against suspending the spindle or even the dropping down of the spindle.  I’m just saying not all suspended spinning is drop spindle spinning and while we may be seeing suspended spinning in the 15th century I don’t think we’re seeing what I would call drop spindle spinning.

You might also be interested in reading my Don’t drop that spindle! and my Research Behind the Method.