FEBRUARY 2018 | Lorraine Clarke
THE 7TH JANUARY traditionally marks the end of the festive season when oldtime cottagers returned to their regular labours in the British midwinter.
Spinsters named this “St Distaff’s Day” as it was the first day of the new year when they began to spin fleece from their distaffs into the yarns needed to create all the woven and knitted fabrics needed for the family, and to sell.
Where better to celebrate this cultural tradition, than on Westbury’s Village Green? Each year, members of the Handweavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild of Tasmania meet there to share a day of convivial spinning, sharing techniques and renewing friendships. In 2018, about 40 folk gathered beneath the deep shade of the gracious old trees, having come from as far as Geeveston, Cygnet, Kelso, Ulverstone, Launceston and Devonport to join Meander Valley spinners.
Those who have never seen a distaff in use, were treated to a display of this old tool by Ali Keywood. Ali taught herself the technique of in-hand spinning on a small spindle which she turns with her right hand, drawing a few threads from the distaff.
A distaff is a rod held vertically under an arm or tucked into a belt, with combed raw fleece wrapped and tied loosely around the top. Ali crafted her own distaff from a branch of her cherry tree. She skillfully spins super fine thread on this arrangement, which can be which can be carried and used anywhere.