7 August 2013

Review: Pallia spindle sticks and clay whorl

I've been greatly inspired by Cathelina di Alessandri's medieval spinning hypothesis. It's given me some ideas and impetus to finally think properly about spinning for medieval reenactment and how to go about it. However, first I needed the kit - whorl and spindle. Cathelina recommended Katrin Kania's shop for these and I've been looking for an excuse to buy something from her for a while. So, I begged a whorl and spindle sticks for a birthday present. Here's what I think of them:

I got three spindle sticks and one hand-turned, fired clay whorl, figuring that it would be much more handy to be able to make multiple batches of thread before having to wind off. 

I suppose I should start with first things first. I had slight issues ordering, as the website incorrectly stated that the spindle sticks were out of stock. However, an email to Katrin using the address on her shop site sorted that out. The delivery was surprisingly fast - I think about a week - and the spindles arrived in a high-quality cardboard box. They had been wrapped in a little bubble wrap but most of the padding was some sort of recycled cardboard in a little package for added eco-friendliness. There was also a little note from Katrin, wishing me "happy spinning". Very nice. ^_^

As for the actual products, well. My whorl is 22g. One spindle stick is 9g, another 11g and I haven't weighed the third as it has spinning on it already...

Two empty spindle sticks, one spindle stick with whorl and spinning.
And a tape measure, because I'm a good experimental archaeologist ;)
The distaff, at right, is from The Mulberry Dyer about 6 years ago and is 39" long.
I can make it work, but in retrospect a forked stick from the hedge would be just as good...

The spindle sticks are very nice and smooth, but are not treated in any way (good, because you can treat them yourself or leave them as they are if you fear for your fibre, slightly bad because my blue fibre plus sweaty hands has already stained the top of one spindle stick). They are made using modern machinery, but the quality is great and (as evidenced from the variation in weight) they do vary subtly. However, they are very nice and symmetrical and spin well.

One of the best things about the spindle sticks (and why I'm loath to treat the wood) is that they are slightly grippy. Add that to the double-conical shape and you don't have to wrap your thread below the whorl OR have a nock in the top - you just wind the thread around the fat part of the stick, then wind up and put a half-hitch in and IT WILL STAY - just like the medieval images. Awesome!

The whorl, in contrast, is rather more "hand made"-looking. However, though it is less perfectly symmetrical than the sticks, it still works very nicely and the weight is both historical and good (at least for in-hand spinning - I haven't tried it properly with suspended spinning). It wedges onto the sticks well, with no need for any help, but is also easy to remove from them when the time comes. As it is fired in an open pit, it is black and some of this colour is rubbing off on the spindle stick (see the base of the middle stick in the photo). However, it does not come off on your hands or onto the fibre.

Also, to allay any fears - I've already dropped my whole spindle just over a foot onto stone tiles once and had the whorl slip off the bottom onto stone tiles once and onto wooden floors a couple of times. It made a little pressure-dent in the base of the spindle and chipped the tiniest bit off the tapered part of my whorl. (Note: the whorl does not slip off on its own in use. It does, however, usually come off if you drop the spindle and it lands tip down.) Post-dropping, both spindle and whorl are still highly functional with no sign of any structural damage or serious chips. I believe these will hold up well to the rigours of both use and use by a learner!

Overall, my verdict is that these are a lovely pair of products. I'm very impressed with the service, the quality of the products and the research that has gone into them. If you want to up your reenactment game or if you are interested in spinning for experimental archaeology, then you can't really go any better than this.

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