A distaff is an incredibly handy spinning tool. Around here, I have 3 cats, and fiber on my lap or on the couch is just too tempting to steal and destroy! The kitties also leave hair all over the place, and setting my fiber down not only leaves its own hairs everywhere, but tends to collect the hair of the cats too.
There are a few different types of distaffs, but my preference for the majority of my spinning, which is done on a hand spindle, is a wrist distaff. Here, I'm going to show you how to felt your own wrist distaff with left over wool from any scrap spinning or felting project.
Lay out your scrap wool in a thin, fluffy line, about 1 1/2 feet long. Longer is ok, but I wouldn't recommend going any shorter. I've layered a few different colors here, but you can do as many or as few colors as you'd like.
Begin wetting your strip of wool with the hot soapy water. Press the fibers down until they begin to compact, focusing more on the middle than the ends at first. Occasionally give the strip of wool a slight twist before continuing to press down, in order to help the fibers hold together for our next step.
Carefully lift the strip of wool by the ends, and dunk into the bowl of hot water, keeping the ends out. Lightly swish to make sure each fiber is in contact with the water. Lift out and squeeze extra soap and water into the large bowl.
Begin rolling the wool between your hands with a good amount of pressure. When all the moisture has been squeezed out and the wool is beginning to felt, dunk the strip into the cold water bowl in the same way as the hot soapy water bowl. Ring out excess water into the large bowl, and continue rolling in your hands. Alternate hot and cold water process until fiber begins to felt into a solid rope in the center.
It's time now to shape the distaff. Place the roped center area around the back of your hand, and create a loop below your wrist. Leave yourself plenty of room to slip your hand in and out of the loop, but don't make it so big that it's hard to keep the distaff on your hand.
Twist the unfelted ends together and begin to process as before, alternating dipping into hot water, rolling, dipping into cold water, and rolling. The ends will begin to felt into a point.
When your distaff is almost finished, wrap a small piece of unfelted wool around the join of the loop. Felt this in with the rest of the distaff as before. This will help the felted joint stay strong and not come apart with use over time.
Rinse your distaff very thoroughly to ensure there is no soap left in the fibers. At this point you have the option to either air dry, which can take a few days, or throw in the dryer. I threw mine in with a load of jeans to help any last bit of felting along.
Once dry, attach a few beads to the bottom of the distaff for weight. This will help keep the distaff from floating around, and will also help keep the fiber on the distaff. I used a hemalyke hoop and a couple metal beads on mine.
To use, pull off a handful of fiber. Draft out a little, then wrap the drafted fiber from the beads to the loop. Either wrap the fiber over the back of your hand, or grasp it under your hand as I'm doing here.
By the way, here I am spinning on my new handmade bottom whorl spindle at the Renaissance Faire at Casa de Fruta, just outside of Gilroy, CA. We had a great time, and my husband is a great sport for taking me!
Hope you enjoy your new wrist distaff, and happy spinning!