A distaff is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fiber. Fiber is wrapped around the distaff, and tied in place with a piece of string or pined with tilted nail.
The word comes from dis in Low German, meaning a bunch of flax, connected with staff.
The traditional Russian distaff is L-shaped, and consists of a horizontal board, known as the dontse (Russian: донце), and a flat vertical piece, frequently oar-shaped, to the inner side of which the bundle of fibers was tied or pinned. The spinner sat on the dontse with the vertical piece of the distaff to her left, and drew the fibers out with her left hand.
The distaff was a traditional accessory in the life of a Russian woman from her youth to the old age. It was often richly carved and painted. A lot of spiritual warmth was put into its decoration. The distaffs were kept through her whole lives and passed on as memory from mother to the next generation. That is why they are still found in the old houses of Russia.