To Spin a Yarn. Distaffs: Folk Art and Material Culture @ International Museum of Art & Science
May 6 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
To Spin a Yarn. Distaffs: Folk Art and Material Culture @ International Museum of Art & Science | McAllen | Texas | United States

Special guest Michael T. Ricker explores the history of the distaff, wooden spinning implements that date back to the 19th and 20th century. Included in general admission.

The International Museum of Art & Science (IMAS) invites you to join us on May 6, 2017 from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. for the lecture by special guest Michael T. Ricker on To Spin a Yarn. Distaffs: Folk Art and Material Culture, which is an extraordinary exhibition that showcases over 70 decorated wooden distaffs, or spinning implements. The beautiful distaffs are rarely found today, since many didn’t survive years of hard use. Today, distaffs remain cultural touchstones and marvelous examples of the rural craftsman’s talent and creativity.

Dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, the distaffs come from countries across Europe, each of which has its own style. Originally simple sticks, they evolved into highly decorated objects, as important for their meanings as for their function. Distaffs hold unspun wool or fiber during the spinning process. They could be used with or without a spinning wheel to create thread or yarn for weaving cloth. Because spinning was traditionally women’s work, the word “distaff” came to mean “female.”

This exhibition includes three different types of distaffs. Russian ones often feature a large, footed base where the spinner sat. Short ones with no base usually attached to a spinning wheel. Long ones without a base were held under the arm or tucked in the belt. All three kinds could be used with a spinning wheel or a drop spindle.

Distaffs were more than tools. In some ways, they were the equivalent of an engagement ring today: a gift from a young man to his hoped-for spouse. A more expensive and elaborately decorated distaff expressed wealth and status. Individuals made some distaffs, but a workshop-based industry also sprang up in response to demand. The giver and the maker were not necessarily the same person. The time and money spent on these objects show the important place of cloth in a pre-industrial era.

The exhibition is organized by the Stephen F. Austin State University Galleries, and objects are on loan from the collection of Michael T. Ricker unless otherwise indicated. To learn more about the distaffs, folk art and material culture from Europe, come view the exhibition which will be on display in the Main Gallery of IMAS from May 6, 2017 to August 6, 2017. Join us for all of our new exhibitions and programs! General admission is FREE for IMAS Members. For the general public, tickets are $7 for adult, $5 for seniors or student with ID, $4 for children age 4-12, and free for children age 3 and under. Ask us about our Museums for All program. For more information, please call (956) 682-0123 or visit