Since January 7 fell on a Saturday this year, we just had to celebrate Roc Day
...and honour our spinning heritage!
Did you know that some form of spinning has been practised by humans for approximately 20,000 years? In France, there is a bone carving of the fertility goddess Venus wearing a string skirt. The sculptor has engraved the twists in each string and has even included the fraying at the ends of the twists ...so these skirts cannot have been made from leather or sinew, but must have been made from twisted fibre. (For more info, see Women's Work - The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.)
Fast forward many generations to experience a Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day celebration. In the Christian tradition, spinners would take a holiday during the Twelve Days of Christmas. On January 7, the women would get back to business using their spindles, wheels and distaffs. The celebration would include pranks by the men such as setting fire to the spinning fibre while the women retaliated with buckets of water, drenching the men. (The ploughmen had time to play because they didn't have to return to work until the Monday following the 12 days of Christmas - I wonder who made up that rule!!! )
The St. Distaff's Day poem, below, is by Robert Herrick (1648).
Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.
Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men.
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.
The Illustration is from Wikipedia. The distaff was used for storing the spinner's fibre while she worked. And I did say, "while SHE worked." Spinning was most definitely women's work, so much so that the legal term "distaff side" means the woman's side of the family.
And now to 2012. Here's Jean at her beautifully restored wheel: