Saturday, January 7, 2012

St. Distaff's Day

My spinning wheel with the distaff attached

Distaff:
1.  a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning
2.  woman's work or domain
3.  the female branch or side of a family

The days between Christmas (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6) were considered a time of rest from all but the most necessary labors. St. Distaff's Day (January 7) is when all good housewives resumed their normal chores, including spinning. This day is also known as Roc or Rock Day. ("Rock" is another name for a distaff.)  

Menfolk did not return to their work until the Monday following Twelfth Night. (So depending on what day of the week Twelfth Night fell on, they might get almost a week longer than the woman. Hmph!) The men would use all of that time off from work to harass the woman and play pranks on the busy spinners. One of the pranks involved setting fire to the flax and tow which awaited the spinner's hand. In turn, the spinners would keep buckets of water on hand to douse the burning spinning materials AND the pranksters.

The stick looking thing is the distaff.  Flax fiber is attached to the
distaff so that it is held straight and untangled while spinning.
There are many different types of distaffs.  Some look similar
to a bird cage.

St. Distaff's day, or the morrow after Twelfth-Day 
(from Hesperides by Rober Herrick)

Partly work, and partly play,
Ye must on St. Distaff's Day:
From the plough soone free your teame,
Then came home and fother them.
If the maides a spinning goe,
Burn the flax, and fire the tow;

Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the maides bewash the men.
Give St. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night.
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.

A photo of Queen Victoria spinning flax.
(The original photo is at
The Leeds City Art Galleries)

Needless to say, I better not catch Steve trying to set fire to my flax!   :D

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You may have a better understanding of why I named my blog "The Wheel and Distaff" after reading this post.

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