These instructions for making a cone distaff are adapted from the book by Patricia Baines ‘Linen Hand Spinning and Weaving’.
You will need:-
- Brown paper 89 cm wide, also sold as kraft paper, the one with fine brown and beige lines. (Although some books recommend using paper that is 1 metre wide, most brown paper available for sale in the UK is 89 cm wide, which is large enough.) - Newspapers (the ones without staples are easier to use) - Sellotape - Scissors - Ruler - Saucepan lid, about 20 cm in diameter - Small lid, about 3 cm in diameter - Piece of cardboard from an old box, about 25 cm square - String to tie the distaff to a chair, or a base to hold the dowel in place - Dowel 18 mm (3/4 inch) in diameter: the length of the dowel depends on several factors. Your aim is to end up with the bottom of the cone about shoulder height. If you are spinning with a drop spindle while standing up, the dowel will need to be about 1.5 m long. If you are spinning sitting down at the wheel, the dowel will need to be much shorter.
If you are using a flax spinning wheel, it probably has an arm for the distaff, therefore you will also need to check whether the dowel fits in the hole of the arm.
A. Roll the cone 1. Cut two square pieces of brown paper 60 x 60 cm. We will be using both pieces of paper together to add strength to the distaff cone.
2. Place the squares one on top of the other in front of you with one of the corners towards you (fig. 1).
3. Place your scissors (or another weight) on the corner nearest to you.
4. Measure 18 cm from the corner to the right side of the scissors and mark it.
5. Roll the brown paper into a cone by bringing the top left corner towards the 18 cm mark (fig. 2). Try to keep the tip of the cone as neat as possible. The cone should be about 60 cm long (excluding the triangle at the bottom) and 22 cm in diameter on the bottom.
6. Hold the cone together with sellotape (fig. 3). (If you are a perfectionist you could hold the cone together with masking tape first, and when you get it just right replace the masking tape with sellotape.) Make sure you tape along the vertical edge where the paper overlaps.
7. Roughly trim the part of the triangle that protrudes at the bottom (fig. 4). There is no need to trim it perfectly, as this will be folded in later on. Do not trim the rest of the bottom yet, as you will need it later.
B. Make a paper sleeve for the dowel 8. The paper sleeve makes it easier to remove the distaff from the pole when you want to dress the distaff (fig. 5). To make the sleeve, cut a rectangle of brown paper about 40 cm wide and 89 cm long. Roll the paper loosely round the dowel and tape the sleeve together with sellotape (do not tape the sleeve to the dowel).
9. Fold the top 5 cm of the sleeve over and stick it with tape. The sleeve must not be too tight and it should be easy to take it off the pole. If the sleeve is too tight, the distaff will not turn easily round on the pole. Leave the paper sleeve on the dowel.
C. Fill the cone 10. Screw up several sheets of newspaper into balls.
11. Put 4 or 5 newspaper balls inside the cone.
12. Hold the dowel in the centre of the cone with about 10 cm of the paper sleeve below the open end of the cone. Stuff the cone with more balls of newspaper making sure the dowel is central (fig. 6). This is easier if one person holds the dowel whilst the other stuffs the paper. You can try doing this with the distaff upside down, just be careful not to knock a hole in the ceiling…
D. Strengthen the bottom of the distaff 13. Measure the approximate diameter of the bottom of your cone. Find a saucepan lid of about the same diameter and draw a circle on your piece of cardboard. The cone in the photo required a cardboard circle 20 m in diameter. Cut the circle (fig. 7).
14. Draw a circle in the centre of the cardboard using a small pill container or spice jar lid to help you. This circle should be slightly wider than the diameter of the dowel, say 3 cm in diameter.
15. Draw a line from the edge of the cardboard circle to the centre of the small circle. Cut along this line.
16. Draw lines to divide the inner circle into six ‘slices’. You don’t need to be exact, just do it approximately (see picture). Cut along the lines and fold the small triangles up.
17. Put the dowel through the centre of the cardboard circle with the small triangles pointing up towards the tip of the cone. If the cardboard circle is too large, trim it and try again. Fit the circle snugly inside the distaff to keep the balls of newspaper in place. Fold the edges of the brown paper over the edge of the cardboard circle to hold it in place (fig. 8). Tape the edge of the paper cone over the cardboard circle. Then tape the cardboard circle to the paper sleeve. Do not tape the sleeve to the dowel… The final length of the cone is about 56 cm.
Don’t worry if the distaff is not wrinkle free as it will be covered by the flax.
E. Support the distaff 18. Find a heavy chair and tie the distaff to the back leg of the chair (fig. 9). Make sure the dowel is standing firmly on the floor. Tie the distaff to the chair leg in two places otherwise it will start to tilt. You can also stand your distaff in a holder, for example a slice of tree trunk with a hole in the centre. If you are spinning outside, you can stick the pole in the ground. Alternatively, if your spinning wheel has a distaff arm, place your distaff there. You are now ready to dress your distaff.