Thursday, December 8, 2016

On the distaff side

You know the distaff, that long thing that women have going when they spin with a spindle.  With a wheel too, I guess, but the spindle is what comes to mind.  It's like a ribbon wrapped wodge of fluff on a stick, and I used to wonder idly what the point of it was. You see it in old engravings and paintings of medieval ladies in pointy hats with veils attached, waving the distaff about.

Well, I did find out eventually that it's your immediate supply for spinning, but it's more, too. I learned, from YouTube, naturally, that it's also a tension device that enables you to draft better, more evenly, and with more hands available for drafting and spinning.  Also it looks terribly impressive, as if you knew what you were doing. So today I tried it all out.

So here's today's adventure in spinning.  I found that it's nothing special, any stick would do, so I thought I'd try a long dowel, for a standing up distaff, with a short one in reserve in case the long one didn't suit.  The one in the pix, too long to show it all, is about 36 inches.

I watched various old parties in ancient garb demonstrating how to dress it, meaning how to get the fluff on it, with a background of the really irritating perky music that seems to accompany all videos about spinning, why, why,  where was I, oh yes. And a really nice Italian man who simply couldn't get to the point, but his tangents were interesting, except  I was mad with impatience to get to the dressing part.  And then how to actually work with it.

I had the rest of my Spanish merino wool roving, and noticed that distaffers tend to refer to batting when they're dressing the thing, so I thought ah, maybe I should sort of spread out the roving to be flatter and more sheetlike.  

Which I did, then rolled it on as per instructions, and tied it nicely with a ribbon. The distaff top is at the bottom of this pic.

And found that it only drafted briefly before being impossible to draw out, arrrghghgh.  So that meant, I thought, that I needed to make the roving more battlike.  

Unwrapped and unribboned the roving, and pulled out my hand carders, which I bought from a blessed person on Ravelry who sold them to me cheaply.  And I thought well, here goes nothing, and I proceeded to card the roving to make a batt.  

That was very good fun, lovely to handle this suddenly cobwebby stuff full of air, just what I wanted. Just laid the carded pieces down, fibers in same direction, in several layers.

See, a sort of batt?  Carding is normally done at a much earlier stage of the proceedings, but never mind, the carding police have the day off.  I rolled and unrolled the bat and twisted it a bit, as per nice Italian man's instructions.

Rewrapped it, and see how much fluffier and more amenable it looks?  Here you see the spindle stuck in it at rest, just the way medieval ladies did when they had to go off and dance a few galliards, with some new yarn on it, to show I did accomplish something.

I did have quite a time trying to figure out how to navigate the distaff and the spindle,couldn't get the distaff organized to stand, and when I tried to grip it between my knees, couldn't get the spindle to keep spinning. Some people stick it in their belt, but I thought that wouldn't end well.  

I ended up holding the distaff in left hand, spindle in right, and that went much better.  I think the dowel was too long for sitting, too short for standing.  But it was a first try, and the only long dowel I had to hand.

The drafting triangle, no pix of this, sorry, needed a third hand, was just like in the videos, yay.  And mostly it drafted, that means pulled out in a nice little triangle that you let the twist move up into to make yarn, very well indeed.  I can see much better yarn coming from this.  Tomorrow I'll do more, but I'm already, after a couple of sessions today, doing better and getting the hang of it.  

So  today was productive.  Now I have to rest my shoulders. It's not the work so much as the tension that sends them up high while I'm concentrating on spinning.  Not yet at the point of meditative work, I'd say. But that joy when it drafted right, that was great.  

However, I will bet any money that the medieval ladies in pointy hats delegated their distaff dressing to a handy waiting lady.  At least if their language was anything like mine, it would have been good. Zounds, and sblood, this scurvy distaff and its cursed fluff, and ye damn'ed yarn breaketh all ye time. But she would pose nicely for the portrait painter, wanting to symbolize womanhood and her grace and purity of mind. And her ability to make miles of yarn to weave into fabric, makes you tired just thinking of it.

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