Spindles, Whorls,Twining Sticks

Doreen Gunkel


 Please enjoy today’s blog and if you have questions about any of the presentation, please leave them in a reply at the end of the blog. I will be happy to look into it for you and pass the answer back along. If you would prefer to discuss the topic in a more private way, please contact me at  .

These will be the last museum pieces from Greenland for a little while. The rest are of a textile nature and I am still working on those. I will post some of them as soon as I may.

The current crop of pictures contain a goodly amount of spindle whorls and some spindles as well as twining sticks. I think it is interesting that there are so many differing shapes and sizes of tools used to produce the yarns to allow the Greenlanders to survive. It would seem, from the photos, that in Greenland every woman who spun had a different idea of what the tools should look and feel like.

As we go through these photos, I will be frequently referencing pages and sections from Woven Into The Earth by Else Østergård. (The abbreviation for the book will be WIE)

The reason I am looking to this work as much as I am, is that, it is the best source I have that speaks to this subject for this location.

Another person who has done much work in the Greenland excavations for many years and is very respected is Jette Arneborg. She may have written and collaborated the most of any scholar on the subject of Greenland.

If interested in more information on Greenland, a look at her works may show a wide variety of  information that I will not be covering in this blog on the whole. Her range of topics is astounding. The site link to her body of work is attached here; Jette Arneborg

Distaff Top - 20150506_1024577

The top of a distaff used for carrying wool for spinning while doing other work. Unknown find location.

This first picture is of the top of a distaff used to hold large quantities of wool ready for spinning. There is a fresco from the Kirkerup Church, Roskilde painted approximately. 1300 ce. (WIE, Pg. 46, Østergård)

A distaff is a stick that has a method of securing fiber in a loose configuration at the top with a long handle at the bottom that allows for it to be carried through a belt, under an arm, stuck into the floor or wall, or where ever it might be stable for the spinner to work. This link will show you how to dress a distaff. Dressing a distaff

Most spinners at the time I am covering would be tending to farm chores and children and animals while still spinning. In order to be able to clothe a farmstead and produce fabric for any other need, the spinners could not spend anytime idle. This link will take you to a video that will discuss the work of spinning from the distaff in more detail. Spinning from a distaff

Spindle whorls - 20150506_102415

Many spindle whorls found through out the multitude of Norse settlements.

A fascinating section on the number, location, and materials whorls have been made from through out the Norse world is located in WIE, Pg 51, (Østergård).


Spindles with whorls attached.

 There are many types of spindles that have been found through out the Norse settlements in Greenland. More information on the spindles can be found in WEI Pg 49-51. (Østergård) These important tools were never far from hand. Spin like a viking

Among the spindles and whorls were found twining sticks which consisted of a straight stick and a cross stick set through the first to allow the removal of the spun fiber from a full spindle.This is similar to our kniddy knoddy.

The twining stick would look like the central spindle shaft without the whorl attached. I have not been able, as of this time, to find any further information on the use of twining sticks. I will keep a lookout for the information for future posts. If any of you would have information, I would love to hear from you.

Many spindles were able to be used and filled with the whorl removed. The whorl would be press fit to the shaft when the whorl was required and then removed so the spindle shaft could be used in a different spinning style to complete filling the spindle at the end. For more information on this technique, see Spinning in Breb Romania

So, the take away for me from this portion of my trip was that the Greenlanders had a very productive and sophisticated spinning culture that produced the raw yarns to make the textiles they needed to continue to thrive in a somewhat harsh environment.

Next week, I will continue with the travel blog on Monday and New museum photos from Ice Land. Be aware that these posts will have some surprises that will interest many that have interests out side of the fiber world.

Stay tuned!

Be Well,




4 thoughts on “Spindles, Whorls,Twining Sticks

  1. Panth

    How fascinating! That distaff picture is -literally- priceless. It looks rather reminiscent of some of the Eastern European styles of distaff. Re. the spindles, did you notice if any of them had notches or spirals cut into their tip? Or (as it looks like in the photo) were the tips broken? Re. the twining sticks … how are they supposed to work? I really don’t understand how they could act like a niddy noddy.

    P.S. There’s another person who’s been experimenting with medieval spinning. Her excellent blog is here: https://15thcenturyspinning.wordpress.com/

    1. Greenland Gown ProjectGreenland Gown Project

      HI Panth,

      I was very impressed with the distaff as well. It is only the top portion of it as I believe the bottom had been broken off at some time. I was unaware of the Eastern European similarity. I think it is entirely possible that they sprout from a common source. The Norse were far travelers. This would be a very interesting study, but not one I could even think of starting at this time…. Lol! A mentor of mine calls it going down the rabbit hole, which I am prone to do. chuckle!

      As to the spindles, I did not notice anything special about them while looking. I had not thought about them very much when going over to Greenland. I was more focused on the extant textiles. I will be going back over in a year or so and will be more aware of looking for details.

      The twining sticks are not something I could find much information on. I know they would not of course work like our kniddy knoddy, that was as close a representation as I can get. I do know that they were used to take the spun yarns off of the spindle. If you or anyone else can find information on this tool, Please let me know.

      I will look at the blog you have referenced. I am always looking for others that have information that may be useful in my own gathering of knowledge.

      Be well, Doreen


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