Distaff

A distaff (also called a rock) is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibres, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fibre. Fibre is wrapped around the distaff, and tied in place with a piece of ribbon or string. The word comes from dis in Low German, meaning a bunch of flax, connected with staff.                                                        

There are two common forms, depending on the spinning method. The traditional form is a staff, held under one's arm while using a spindle. It is about 3 feet  long, held under the left arm, with the left hand drawing the fibres from it. This version is the older of the two, as spindle spinning predates spinning on a wheel.distaff

A distaff can also be mounted as an attachment to a spinning wheel. On a wheel it is placed next to the bobbin, where it will be in easy reach of the spinner. This version is shorter, but otherwise doesn't differ from the spindle version.

Recently hand spinners have begun using wrist-distaffs to hold their fibre; these are made of flexible material such as braided yarn, and can swing freely from the wrist. They generally consist of a loop with a tail, at the end of which is a tassel, often with beads on each strand. The spinner wraps the roving or tow around the tail and through the loop to keep it out of the way, and to keep it from getting snarled.

Dressing a distaff is the act of wrapping the fibre around the distaff. With flax, the wrapping is done by laying the flax fibres down, approximately parallel to each other and the distaff, then carefully rolling the fibres onto the distaff. A ribbon or string is then tied at the top, and loosely wrapped around the fibres to keep them in place.

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