An Encounter at the Spinning Wheel, George Goodwin Kilburne
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"PARTLY work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation. "
~ St. Distaff’s Day, Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
The spinning wheel, a device for spinning thread or yarn from fibres, is believed to have been invented by the 12th century, and automated the twisting process of generating fibres into thread or yarn for weaving. The temper pin is the wooden screw used to control the tension of the band of the spinning-wheel. The distaff holds the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled, and the finished thread ends up on a spindle. Because spinning was so closely associated the work of women, the term "distaff" became used to indicate the female side of a family, with the male side being referred to as the "spear" side. The distaff was also the medieval symbol of women's work. Distaff Day, the day after the twelve Days of Christmas, marked the resumption of work after the holiday festivities. As a way to draw out a last bit of merriment, young men and women would traditionally play pranks on each other on this day. The men might set fire to the flax used for spinning in requital for the maids dumping pails of water on them! Today many crafting organizations use Distaff Day to share modern and old techniques and exhibit their work! 🧶
The Temper Pin
Distaff Day, also known as Saint Distaff's Day or Roc's Day, is the day after the feast of the Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas.
The distaff, used in spinning, was the medieval symbol of women's work.
In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas. Women of all classes would spend their evenings spinning on the wheel. During the day, they would carry a drop spindle with them. Spinning was the only means of turning raw wool, cotton or flax into thread, which could then be woven into cloth.
Men had the equivalent Plough Monday when they returned to the fields the first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas.
Every few years, Distaff Day and Plough Monday falls on the same day. Often the men and women would play pranks on each other during this celebration.
The spinning wheel appeared in China, probably in the 11th century, and very gradually replaced hand spinning with spindle and distaff. Spinning machinery, such as the spinning jenny and spinning frame, displaced the spinning wheel during the Industrial Revolution.
For the use of spinning wheels in folklore and fairy tales, click the picture from the classic spinning wheel tale, Rumplestiltskin, illustration from Myth and Moor.