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More Distaff Questions.

As requested in one of yesterday’s comments, here is a follow-up post with a little more stuff about the distaff… for the basic explanation about the reconstructed medieval spinning, see also this post.

I am guessing that one takes fibre from the distaff and somehow moves it to the spindle, but I can’t tell from this part if you are taking it randomly from any part of cousin It, or if you intend to take it sequentially, in the same order it was placed on the band, or what…

You draft from the distaff, and the flow more or less occurs naturally. I try to work my way along around the distaff, turning it a bit from time to time, so that I don’t use up all the fibre on one side first. Otherwise, I don’t much care where my fibre supply flows from, as long as it flows easily and evenly.

I am also curious to know how much time this distaff dressing process takes, and how much spinning time one gets from it. I gather from other posts of yours that it used to be that “everyone” used a distaff, but for modern spinners it is not so common to use one (though becoming more common again as more historical reenactors experiment with them?)

I can tell you exactly how long it took me for dressing this one: I snapped the first blurry pic at 13:56 and finished with the Portrait of Cousin Itt at 14:04. That’s eight minutes, and I guess that at least three of these minutes were photo time. So in textile work terms, dressing a distaff this way does not take any time at all.
The spinning time you get from it, on the other hand, totally depends on how fast you are spinning and how much fibre you are using up per make (i.e. how thick you are spinning), so I can’t tell you. Me, I go a long way with 42 g of fibre.

Modern spinners don’t use a distaff, for the most part, because their spinning technique does not technically require them to do so. For the medieval style, however, the distaff is essential and you cannot physically spin without it.

Is there a savings in total time when using a distaff? (e.g. while dressing the distaff takes time, the spinning part goes enough faster as a result of having done so to make it worth it) Is there an improvement in the quality of the spinning (I am guessing “yes”, since I imagine that it would be easier to be consistent as to how much fiber is added per second to the spun yarn).

Since spinning in the reconstructed style is not possible otherwise, you might argue that yes, yarn quality is improved ; )
Joking aside, what really does take time and has a big influence on yarn quality and ease of spinning is the fibre preparation. The five minutes (even if it were fifteen minutes, same applies) for dressing a distaff are really next to nothing compared to the time needed for spinning a substantial amount of medium-fine to fine yarn, and preparing the fibre to accommodate this. Spinning quality hangs on the quality of the fibre prep and the spinner’s skill. If you muck up in dressing the distaff by wrapping it too firmly, for example, or too loosely, this is easily and quickly remedied, and there is quite a bit of leeway in how it needs to be; you just need enough friction between the held fibres to make drafting possible.
If you had mucked up in prepping your fibre, though, not the best distaff-dressing in the world will make that better.

The distaff is, essentially, your third hand for spinning – the one holding your fibre and helping you draft. And just like a real hand, if it holds only crap… it will give you that same stuff it holds. You have a say in how firmly it holds on to its stuff, though, depending how you dress it.

Any more distaff-related questions, folks?

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2 Responses to More Distaff Questions.

  1. Cranberry says:

    I see that you started with roving…how would you do this if you were prepping the fiber yourself? Flick-card? Comb and pull off short lengths? Some other way?

  2. I usually use combed wool if I prepare it myself, and the strip of combed wool looks much like a (shorter) piece of roving, so the procedure would be exactly the same.

    I've not tried flick-carding yet, but I guess you could also lay out the flicked individual locks on the distaff band. If you do so, please let us know how it worked!

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