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Making a Distaff and Spindle:

It's really not difficult to make a basic distaff and spindle for spinning flax.

Distaff ideas:

A stick distaff should be long enough to tuck one end into your belt and have the other end long enough to fill with flax (or other fiber). This usually means at least 3 feet long. It should be smooth so it won't catch the flax fibers. It should also have a place at the top for tying on the ribbon that you'll use to hold the flax on.
  • find a handle for a broom or similar long-handled tool and attach a purchased finial to one end. Tie the ribbon to the finial.
  • Find a tree branch that is .5-1.5" in diameter and at least 3 feet long with a Y-branch at one end. Cut off the ends about 4" after the Y and remove the bark. Tie the ribbon to one of the Y branches.
  • Get a 3-4 foot dowel and carve a notch in one end for tying a ribbon to it.


Some cultures didn't use stick distaffs. Some distaffs had a "cage" of curved branches or a carved wooden form for supporting the fibers.  Some distaffs had a comb affixed to the top for holding the flax so it wouldn't have to be tied on with a ribbon. The Russians and other Eastern Europeans used intricately carved "bat" distaffs. They had wooden teeth at the end and/or carved out from the middle for holding flax. Instead of anchoring them in a belt, the spinner would sit upon a "foot" that stuck out at a right angle at the bottom of the distaff.

There are also a few distaffs available commercially that aren't made for spinning wheels:
Alden Amos' Distaffs for sale

Dressing a Distaff with Flax

In-the-hand Spindle:

I have not been able to find many commercially available spindles that work for in-the-hand spinning. Having been taught how to whittle from an early age, however, I find it very easy to make my own. At the local craft store I found 1/4" diameter hardwood craft dowels in a 12" length that are perfect for the shaft. If you have to get longer dowels from a hardware store, look for ones without much of a grain. In my experience the hardware store dowels split too easily.

To whittle down the shaft, take a pocket knife or utility knife and carefully whittle one end for the last 3" so that it tapers gradually down to a 1/8" diameter.  Whittle the other end to a point like a pencil. I always do the tapered end first because if I accidentally cut off the end, that becomes the pointy end and I taper the other end. The tapered end needs to be smooth and even, so that you can twirl the tiny little tip between your thumb and forefinger without it feeling really 'bumpy'.  The pointy end is just for resting the spindle; it can be very rough.

To make a whorl, get some clay (the craft clays like Fimo work fine). Make a ball and stick it on your spindle close to the pointy end. You may choose to harden it in your oven if desired.

Spinning with an In-the-hand spindle

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created February 4, 2002

Last updated August 02, 2005