Monday, January 5, 2009

St. Distaff's Day

St. Distaff's Day is the 7th of January. Are you ready?
Ladies with distaffs.

Our small group of knitties will meet to knit and sip and celebrate, and many spinning guilds will be holding celebrations this weekend. Check your local listings for events in your area.


According to Wikipedia, St. Distaff's Day is so called because the Christmas festival terminated on Twelfth Day, and on the day following the women returned to their distaffs or daily occupations. It is also called Rock Day, a distaff being called a rock. “In old times they used to spin with rocks.” (Aubrey, Wilts.)

Give St. Distaff all the right, Then give Christmas sport good night, And next morrow every one To his own vocatiƶn. (1657)

In England, as well as other countries the days from Christmas through Twelfth Night were considered a time of rest from the labors of spinning. The maidens returned to their work on St. Distaff's Day, January 7th. This day was also known as Rock Day, which is derived from the German word rocken, which means both distaff and woman's.
Although the maidens resumed their work on St. Distaff's Day, the ploughboys did not return until the Monday following Twelfth -Night. They used this discrepancy to no good by playing pranks on the busy spinners. The most popular of these pranks was to set fire to the tow and flax which was awaiting processing. The spinners in turn would quench the fire with buckets of water, drenching both fire and firebug.

In Chambers’ Book of Days, (a wonderful compilation of all things odd and historic) Michael Hillman has discovered what I have long suspected:

"It was admitted in those old days that a woman could not quite make a livelihood by spinning; but, says Anthony Fitzherbert, in his Boke of husbandrie 'it stoppeth a gap,' it saveth a woman from being idle, and the product was needful."

If you are interested in more about women, textiles and history, you must get a copy of Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. A scholarly yet excellent read, now out in paperback.
As for me? I never stop spinning. I realize that I can "not quite make a livelihood by spinning," but I am hoping to make up for it in volume.

This week's offerings, washed (left) and hanging to dry (right).

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