Jan 13, 2010

"What Is...?" Wednesday

St. Distaff's Day

In times past, January 7th was the first free day after Christmas and was called St. Distaff's Day. It had no connection with any saint but its place in the folk calendar gives us an indication of the importance of spinning at a time when this was the only means of turning the raw wool, cotton or flax into thread capable of being woven into cloth. The day, which was also know as Rock Day,  another name for either the distaff or the spindle, indicating that this was the end of the Christmas festivities and the return to the normality of spinning whenever there was a spare moment. 

Before the invention of the Spinning Wheel, spinning on what is known as the Drop Spindle (a pin or stick weighted by a whorl) was a slow and tedious task. The spinning of one pound of woollen yarn could take about one week and one pound of heavy cotton yarn several weeks to spin. The method had not changed since the earliest times. There are images from as far back as time of the Ancient Egyptians showing how the distaff was used to hang the flax or tow and the spindle to effect the twisting. The distaff was carried under the arm, and the spindle left dangling and turning in the fingers below, and forming an axis round which to wind parcels of the thread as soon as it was made.

Women of all classes would spin. Everyone from the Lady to the peasant was expected to spend time on the task, though the wealthier may have elaborate spindles. In the evening, after the chores of the day were done, there would be spinning, and the spindle would be taken to visit friends as the task could be undertaken at the same time as a conversation.

St. Distaff's Day Or the Morrow after Twelfth-day

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaffs Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then cane 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.'


Debra She Who Seeks said...

In other words, St. Distaff's Day really meant "Back to work, you! Party's over!"

Moncha said...

That is great info, thank you very much !!!
Have a magical day !!

Rue said...

Really neat history! I guess I'd better get back to work then. :(