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The Yarn of Sleeping Beauty

Yesterday's SHMTS talk by Alan Raistruck on Medieval Spinning Wheels was both very good and very underattended. One consolation of a small audience is, however, how easy it is for everyone to ask questions afterwards.

As the talk progressed, I became more and more confused as to how on earth Sleeping Beauty could have pricked her finger on a spinning wheel. Everything is blunt! So I asked.

Our speaker said there were two options he could think of. The less compelling one involves flax. Insufficiently retted flax can have splinters in it, from its pre-retted woody state. So that's a source of splinters, and any complications which might arrive from one, but that's it.

The better option involves wool, whose natural roughness can act as a kind of sandpaper on the wood of a spindle, sharpening it to a point over a long period of use. Unwashed wool, to my complete surprise, can also transmit tentanus. So a wool-sharpened spindle on a Great Wheel (like this one), infected by tetanus-bearing wool could indeed cause a pricking of a finger followed by stiffness and death. I find it both an elegant and satisfying solution!

Sleeping Beauty: She lived before tetanus shots were developed in 1924.*

* Or, of course, much later than that. Invention does not equal widespread availability.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
sollersuk
Oct. 9th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
I got into a long (and slightly acrimonious) argument about this last year - my position was that it made a lot more sense if she was using a drop spindle which might well have quite a sharp point.
_nicolai_
Oct. 9th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Your work is fascinating!
(Deleted comment)
rhiannon76
Oct. 9th, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)
I have wondered the same thing myself. I came the conclusion that it was likely a great wheel with a quill spindle rather than a bobbin (which are later anyway, I think?). Those things can be sharp and pokey enough as is, nevermind being "sanded" to a sharp point by scratchy wool! (I would think it would be more the dirt and stuff in the wool that might act as an abrasive, rather than the actual sheep fibers themselves, though I suppose it would depend on the breed.)

I would have liked to have been at that talk. Sounds interesting!
noncalorsedumor
Oct. 10th, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
BEST LIVEJOURNAL ENTRY EVER. I'm not kidding. I had no idea that unwashed wool could transmit tetanus.
moon_custafer
Oct. 10th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
pricking of a finger followed by stiffness and death

As well as requiring everyone else in the castle to be very very quiet, as apparently noise can trigger spasms. The story doesn't mention a creepy rictus grin, though.
owlfish
Oct. 11th, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
Maybe no one looked too closely?
gylfinir
Oct. 10th, 2011 10:36 am (UTC)
As a wool spinner, I know about the hazards of unwashed wool. The residues from sheep dip are also problematic for modern-day spinners. A good scouring in the bath is the way to go; I refuse to spin wool in the grease.
gylfinir
Oct. 10th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
Oh, and I always thought Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger because she was spinning using a distaff rather than a wheel.
jemck
Oct. 10th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
wish I could have been there but I have a slight case of novel deadline this coming Friday - and that was my only free weekend between now and the 19th November...

thanks for the post.
owlfish
Oct. 11th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
I always think that it's a sign of a good and rich life when one regularly has *good* dilemmas with too many worthwhile things to do.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )