During my research about hemp as a cultural plant of Romania, a particular object caught my attention: the Romanian distaff, or, as it is called in Romanian, furcă de tors.
The distaff is an object used for spinning, designed to hold the unspun fibers and keep them untangled in order to facilitate the spinning process. In Romania, the distaff is made out of wood and embellished with various symbols and motifs that carry sacred meanings, also being of great importance at different moments in the life of the Romanian women.
Learning about the significance this object had in the past, which beautifully created a more mindful connection between the spinners and the final garment, can really draw attention towards the current disconnection people have from their material belongings, and more specifically, from their clothing.
According to Monica Dușan, museographer and writer, there were two objects indispensable in the feminine universe of Romania: the distaff and the spindle. Both objects accompanied the women in their entire life course, from a very young age (8 or 9 years old).
“The connection between the woman and the distaff was a natural one. At the same time, this connection corresponded to their spirituality with a vast semantics, because the woman has always been seen, over the millennia, as a continuator of life, as a carrier of fertility and abundance, which mediates communications between human and divine, the one who takes care of the spiritual side of life. As an inseparable object related to femininity, the distaff, in turn, was seen as a symbolic object of the thread of generations.”
Jorj Dimitriu, one of the very few artisans who is still making the furcă in the present day, says that the details and significance would change depending on the region. According to him, this object had a very meaningful role in the love lives of young men and women: boys would present their love interests with the furcă, asking their hand in marriage. If the young ladies said yes, they were considered engaged, and they would get married as soon as possible. If they said no, the furcă would either be broken or returned to the giver. It was a symbol of love, hope and protection.
Jorj has been making the distaffs for 10 years now, mostly selling to collectors or museums.
The motifs and embellishments in the furcă have various meanings and symbolisms, a lot of them representing marks of protection such as crosses and horses. The spirals carved in the piece could go either to the left or to the right, the first one symbolizing sunrise and birth, and the latter representing sunset and death. The sun was also represented in various different manners, in the form of circles and rosettes. According to Monica Dușan, the Romanian distaffs are in fact true ethnographic documents, which store old and very valuable information. Through them, “we reach a fabulous vision of the ancestors regarding the universe, the connections of man with the macrocosm and the path he travels between Heaven and Earth, Life and Death, between material and spiritual.”
All of this respect and appreciation towards what is considered today an ‘outdated’ simple object, mostly known/used by artisans or hand-spinners that still value this precious craft, makes me question the meaning of our clothes today (and of the entire textile industry as a whole). We barely know about the fabric some of our clothes are made of, let alone the tools/machines used in the process. On the other hand, Romanian artisans and spinners used to cultivate such a deep connection in every step of making textiles – from seed to fiber, from distaff to loom.
Perhaps we should stop for a moment and look back, relearning some of those valuable teachings and beliefs, and rescuing important values and practices which are proving to be essential in our search for a more sustainable and integrated world.
Muzeul Civilizatiei Dacice si Romane Deva. FURCA DE TORS ȘI FUSUL, obiecte aflate în Colecția Expoziției de Istorie Locală și Etnografie Brad. Available from: https://www.mcdr.ro/expozitii-si-evenimente/arhiva-expozitii-si-evenimente/item/1802-furca-de-tors-si-fusul-obiecte-aflate-in-colectia-expozitiei-de-istorie-locala-si-etnografie-brad