“Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one To his own vocation.”
Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
Distaff Day is traditionally celebrated on January 7th. Sometimes it is known as St. Distaff’s Day.
It is the day after Epiphany – January 6th.
This day signals the official end to the 12 days of Christmas.
Distaff Day in traditional Christian agrarian cultures once marked the day people returned to their normal work. Women would return to their spinning wheels and men would return to the fields.
On Distaff Day, young men would prank and tease the young unmarried women by trying to set their flax on fire.
And the young women invariably responded to the men by dousing them with a bucket of cold water.
It was good fun for all.
In hand spinning, a “distaff” is a type of armature or fixture that supports flax or wool for a hand spinner.
A distaff is typically held above or to the side of a hand spinner’s working space.
The purpose of the distaff is to keep the long fibers of flax or wool from tangling and perhaps matting while being spun. A distaff makes hand spinning fine linen thread easy.
When I dress a distaff I do not bind the line flax to the distaff tightly. I prefer to spin flax wet and while the fibers hang very loose above me.
It drives some hand spinners positively crazy.