This is my distaff, wound for spinning half marl.
(That is a type of double colour wool achieved by spinning two carded strands of different colour together).
The distaff is the bit of wood. It is exactly what it looks like: a rather unglamorous piece of factory-cut 15mm dowel about three quarters of a metre long (though it doesn’t all show in that picture).
I rather appreciate the irony of spinning in a probably prehistoric way (certainly as far as the drop spindle goes) with wood that has been cut and shaped by computer age tools.
From the practical point of view, it is a device for fibre control.
Here is a picture of me using it on electric blue merino wool. (Merino is the type of sheep the wool comes from).
It’s possible to see here precisely the point: the twist going into the yarn between my hands could easily grab and make a mess of the wool that’s waiting to be spun. In fact, the merino is fairly tame and I have often spun it without the distaff – something I wouldn’t be keen to try on the carded Jacob’s wool in the first picture.
Something of the sort has been around for a long time. This is a picture from a Greek vase:
And this from a medieval prayer book:
Interestingly, the distaff doesn’t appear much in the modern books on spinning that I’ve used, and then only on some types of spinning wheel. rather than in conjunction with hand-spindles. The preferred modern technique seems to be to wrap the fibre round the wrist, but I am slightly allergic to wool, and I don’t like having the movement of my hands restricted (yet – I’m still fairly new to spinning).
This is a picture of me winding it. You can see all the long, snaky bits of unspun wool in the background that are to be wound up under control on the stick. (Not that anything stops my clothes getting covered in fluff).