I'm a writer, knitter, freelance editor, and independent publisher. This blog is an older one that I no longer update; please visit http://independentstitch.com for all updated information!

Deb Robson and Tussah

Tip jar

for the sheep!

Tip Jar

« Apparently not the best year for a new garden . . . | Main | Santa Cruz wool: how to show a rare breed's magic with a less-than-ideal sample? »

September 15, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I have a customer who uses the dowel and ribbon version. It looks beautiful and is easy to use. I tried it and liked it a lot - but my sleeve or watchband is still my favorite.

Janice in GA

Long years ago, when I was still doing spinning demos at the local Renaissance Festival, I decided I wanted to spin flax with a distaff made from a branch, as you describe. I did look for one with 3 branches that I could pull up together. I found one in the side yard, put it together and dressed it with line flax.

It worked great. It was long enough that I could tuck one end under my apron waistband, and spin with my spindle.

The only down side was all the folks who told me it looked like I was carrying a giant Q-Tip. :)


Wow, what a great post! The downside here is that now I have a reason to unpack all my magazines and see those issues of Spin-Off. (well, some of them, my collection starts around '95-'99.) I wasn't quite ready for that! I also have no idea where that spinning wheel distaff from Ashford is in all my belongings...ahh, the joys of moving.

You have given me something to dream towards, though. The dowel might be ok, but I imagine in the long term, I'd dream of a beautiful tool. You know me too well!

L.M. Cunningham

LOL! It's déjà-vu all over again....

It was Rita's article that prompted me into making one of the overspun-singles-bound-in-a-couple-of-places distaff (I used some of my first KoolAid-dyed yarn to tie it up). I wear it all the time when I do drop-spinning demos, including last Sunday's.


Wonderful post!

Thank you for listing all those articles!
Great reference to have. I have just clipped it to save.

I've been wanting to read the article on Sofia Dorfi and sitting distaffs for years! I even contacted Sigrid Piroch (who is on sabbatical!)

Anyway...you are right, distaffs are wonderful tools ;-)
(and you have me wondering about the plural, when it is correct, that is)

Deb Robson

It's good to have goals {grin}. Yes, I see you with a lovely distaff some day. Maybe a couple. When the time is right. Meanwhile, I also know you well enough to know that you will come up with something perfectly workable between now and then!

Deb Robson

Sofia Dorfi sounded like an absolute treasure. Working on that article with Sigrid was a delight. The plural: use whichever you like, whenever you like. Distaves is only rare because it's less common, not because it has fewer appropriate locations.

Deb Robson

My knitted-cuff wrist distaffs (test versions) are all sitting right on top of my knitting basket. They have extra flaps to tuck the wool under. And yes, I have a couple of lovely cord-like wrist distaffs, including a treasured one of handspun cotton sent as a surprise by a friend I have only met (so far) in cyberspace.

Deb Robson

Yes! Three branches are even better. Q-tip??? Flax? Those folks were color-blind, right?

Diana Troldahl

Thank you! I just restarted hand spinning recently (I use a sling-blade handspinner, as I need to recline while I craft) and this post is a wonderful resource for me :-}

Deb Robson

Great, Diana! SO glad to know what I'm doing is helpful. I've known a number of people who have been reclining spinners. A distaff could be a delightful addition to your set-up. And there are so many inexpensive ways to experiment with them. . . . One of the things I like best about spinning is that it can be completely serendipitous. Great equipment is wonderful, but one can try out ideas before investing (and the try-out version may end up being adequate).


I've several wrist distaffs of the type described in Rita Buchanan's Spinoff article: overtwisted yarn in a loop that hangs off your wrist...um, sorry, bad description, but you can see pictures in this post from my blog.


I really like them, because I have eczema on my hands and the underside of my wrists, and the arrangement keeps the fibre away from my wrists.

I wish SpinOff would republish that article.

Deb Robson

Your spindle-spun wrist distaffs are breathtakingly beautiful. I love beautiful tools. Thank you.

Maybe Spin-Off will republish that article--and a few of the others!


I have made versions of all the distaffs published in Spin Off for myself and as gifts.
My latest one surprised me, tho. I received a new spindle in the mail yesterday with a sample of flax. I spin on my daily walks...
I grabbed a 9 inch branch of Ocean Spray (spirea family) and wound the flax around that. I held the bottom 4 inches with my fiber supply hand and pinched off a small section of the flax between my thumb and index finger then spun from that. It was light and I didn't have the fiber matting as it was held in my damp palm. I could also dampem my fingers occasionally and the flax smoothe as it was drawn through them.So simple. The best kind of tool.
Thanks for all the references and memories.

Deb Robson

Lovely! Lilacs have nice branches for small distaffs, and ours is constantly growing over into the neighbor's driveway and needing to be pruned back. . . . .

Your point about not having the fiber mat is a really important one.


Deb - ever since standing in the breakfast line with Rita Buchanan at the Northeast Handspinners Gathering in CT I have been using a hand-held Maple fork distaff. I later sent her a photo of three of us Twist o'Wool Guild members proudly using ours. Also have made many of the macrame/bead distaffs for friends and a knitted cuff or two. The first Maple fork still my go-to distaff. I have set up NHA totes, ready to grab & run, with my most used spindles (high whorls all, Forrester, Bosworth & Hatchtown), distaffs, a Spin n'Knit nostepinde and a 30cc syringe case! Sitting by Rita at that conference got me over the learning curve with my first high whorl, as did the "Teddy Bear" issue of Spin.Off.
Btw, all our tomatoes & potatoes got the Late Blight sweeping the East this summer. Sigh.

Deb Robson

Perfect! Love your totes idea. I have something similar, although less organized--bags of fiber projects all over, ready to grab. I'm off to the sustainable living fair this morning with one of them.

So sorry about your tomatoes and potatoes!


Excellent piece, Deb. Thank you. I don't know if he still does, but some years ago Rod Stevens (Woody) was making handheld distaves--a rod of about 14" with his characteristic turnings. Small enough to hold in the fiber hand while spindling.

For some years I've been playing with the idea of putting together a collection of my postcards that show interesting distaves--numbering probably in the many dozens. I was always held back, though, by the notion that there might only be six people in the world who would be interested. Am I wrong?

It's be very cool if Interweave would issue a compilation of the distaff articles, wouldn't it? :D

Deb Robson

Rod has, alas for us, retired. I don't know about unofficially, but 2008 at Maryland Sheep & Wool was his last official show. I have a number of his tools, but not a distaff.

There are probably many more than six people who would be interested in your postcards . . . and probably not enough people to support Interweave's issuing of a compilation of the distaff articles, although yes, those of us who are interested are *very* interested! It took them quite a while to get the spindling articles together. Perhaps with electronic delivery of publications they'll be able to issue more special-interest collections, although there's still a lot of time involved in prep work--the hardest part is usually tracking down authors and obtaining permission--although there are ways to do that efficiently (FreelancePermissions.com is my favorite resource).

The comments to this entry are closed.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

Networked blogs