Distaff pins

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I have presented my flax processing tools. Previous presentations have been about my hackles, flax break and scutching knives, scutching board and a flax brush. This week I present a bonus: Two distaff pins.

Recently I reconnected with my second cousin Cecilia. We hadn’t seen each other for almost 40 years, but now we are close friends and chat almost every day. Family things tend to come her way and every now and then she shows me forgotten treasures.

A wooden family mystery

A few months ago she sent me a letter with two wooden items carefully wrapped in paper. She had found them together with old photos and letters in a family chest of drawers. The wooden items were signed with my grandfather’s name and therefore she had sent them to me. She thought they might be some sort of letter openers or perhaps book marks.

Wooden items, probably distaff pins, made by my grandfather to his mother and aunt. The message says "Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje".
My grandfather Georg, Eje, made these as gifts to his mother Berta and her sister Hildur. The message says “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”.

One of them had a name on it, Berta. On the other was written “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”. Eje is short for Georg, my grandfather. Berta was his mother and also Cecilia’s and my great-grandmother. Hildur was Berta’s sister, Georg’s aunt. Georg was born in 1901, so my guess is that he made these around 1910–1915.

Distaff pins

I didn’t think they were letter openers or book marks, though. I believe they are distaff pins (Swedish: Rocksticka). A distaff pin is a thin wooden pin tied to the end of a ribbon that goes around a dressed flax distaff to make sure the flax stays on the distaff. A distaff pin was typically made by a young man as gifts to the girl he had his eyes on. A more elaborately carved distaff pin could be given to a girl in a proposal of marriage.

Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.
Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.

Eje’s aunt Hildur was a teacher of textile crafts and a distaff pin would make sense. Cecilia has found a spinning wheel in pictures of Berta’s home. Also, since distaff pins were usually made from boys to girls as a token of their affection it makes perfectly sense for younger school boys to make distaff pins for their mothers, perhaps for Mother’s Day.

Berta’s distaff pin sits happily in my dressed distaff. As my spinning patron she watches over me when I spin.

Regardless of what they were meant to be they were a very sweet gift from a little boy to his mother and aunt. And of course I use them as distaff pins. They do their job wonderfully well.

Who wouldn’t want to spin flax from a distaff dressed like this! The ribbon is tablet woven by me with commercial flax yarn.

When I look at my distaff pins I see Berta, my grandfather Georg (who died before I was born) and my dear friend Cecilia. It has been quite a while since I spun flax. Perhaps I will do it today!

Happy spinning!

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7 Replies to “Distaff pins”

  1. that is a really lovely family memory and keepsake. how wonderful that you can use them just like your ancestors 🙂

  2. I am a little confused by the picture. Is the long band fastened both to the top of the distaff and to the pin? The band winds around from the top and then up at the bottom to allow the pin to sit underneath the bottom band? I have started spinning flax this summer (wheel) from a prepared distaff that was done by the first loom house curator quite a number of years ago. I wanted to practice a bit before I get out a huge amount of flax and dress a disfaff.

    1. Yes, the upper end of the band is fastened around the top of the distaff. The bottom end of the band goes around itself at the bottom and is fastened to the pin which is stuck in the flax. Does that make more sense to you?

      1. Yes, it does. It is a bit confusing in the picture because there seems to be such a distance from the bottom band to the top of the pin and the bottom band is level, not pulled up in any way. Thanks!!

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