Today’s picture is of St Elizabeth spinning in a woodcut from 1511. There are a few St Elizabeth’s, but I think she might be St Elizabeth of Hungary whose charitable pratices included spinning wool for the poor.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
What I love about this picture is that you can see spinning in various stages in the one image.
This women here is holding her spindle how I do when I’m first drfafting out a thread across my body.
This woman looks like she is suspending her spindle after drafting it out to add more twist. She even appears to be putting her thread over the back of her spindle hand the same way I do.
There is a little basket of spindles with th whorls removed holding spin thread in the foreground.
I’ve posted a sitting to spin picture before. If I’m sitting on the couch at home then I can trap my distaff between the couch, the arm and my leg. But what if there’s nowhere so easy to keep the distaff standing? Answer, hold it between the knees.
Here you can see a depiction of Adam and Eve. Eve holds the distaff between her legs and appears to be resting the spindle on the ground.
Here is an image from a book of hours. You can’t see her spindle as it’s hidden beside her in her right hand, but she grasps the distaff between her knees as she sits on a basket.
Hours of the Virgin: Terce Annunciation of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. Once again with the distaff between the knees.
In this detail of Proverbs bu Pieter Brueghel the Younger you get a good look at a spindle and once again the distaff is held between the knees.
Distaffs are pretty long and you don’t want one falling over as you’re trying to spin! How do you keep your distaff upright as you spin?
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?
A distaff is great for holding your fibre and acting as a third hand when drafting. It has other uses too.
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
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?
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?
I’ve decided to start a “picture Friday” where I post one spinning (or spinning related) picture every Friday. They’ll either be medieval/renaissance images or pictures showing a similar spinning style.
So keep an eye out tomorrow night at 7pm whe I’ll be posting the first! (AEST)