Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/192

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180
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and ivory distaffs, highly jeweled, are described by classic writers, and no theme more frequently inspired the poet than the skill and graceful movement of the beautiful spinners.

This occupation of the women continued down to the advent of the modern factory system, which has done more than all else to change the aspects of domestic life. The modern factory-girl has superseded queens and princesses in the manipulation of the fleece, and the whir of machinery and the grime of the factory town have robbed the poet of his inspiration.

PSM V39 D192 Ancient distaff spinners.jpg
Fig. 3. — Ancient Distaff Spinners. (From Montfaucon.)

The ancient distaff was generally about three feet long, commonly a stick or reed, and held under the left arm. The fibers of wool were drawn out from the projecting ball, and at the same time spirally twisted by the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. The thread so produced was wound upon the spindle until the quantity was as great as it would carry. The spindle itself, made of some light wood or reed, was generally from eight to ten inches in length. At its top was a slit or catch, to which the thread was fixed, so that the weight of the spindle might carry the thread to the ground as fast as finished. The process of primitive spinning is described by Catullus:

"The loaded distaff, in the left hand placed,
With spongy coils of snow-white wool was graced;
From these the right hand lengthening fibers drew,
Which into thread 'neath nimble fingers grew.
At intervals a gentle touch was given
By which the twirling whorl was onward driven;
Then, when the sinking spindle reached the ground,
The recent thread around its spire was wound,
Until the clasp within its nipping cleft
Held fast the newly finished length of weft."

These rhymes describe the whole process of spinning the various