Spinners using either hand spindles or spinning wheels usually used a distaff to hold a ready supply of fibers as they spun. Distaffs could be held in the hand or belt, mounted on a spinning wheel or free standing. They were used throughout Britain, Scandinavia, Russia, Greece, the Middle East, and many parts of Latin America.

They varied from simple sticks to elaborately carved and painted artifacts. Small distaffs designed to be held in the hand or worn on the wrist were used to hold short fibers. Long or tall distaffs were used with long wools, flax, and hemp.

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