I got my FolkTalesPL spindle in the mail on Friday, and it was so fun to open! I can't believe how fast it got to me from Poland, and the spindle was lovingly packaged in bubble wrap, then padded with a variety of wool in natural colors. The spindle shaft is just how I like them, no rough spots to catch my thread, but not so smooth that the yarn will slide off. It's got a nice hand to it. There is a good notch in the shaft, which feels sturdy but not at all clunky, and the whorl was firmly wedged onto the shaft, but it does slip off if/when you want it to (like if you were lucky enough to have a bunch of spindle shafts, which then become storage bobbins/primitive shuttles, or if you spun enough wool on that the spindle started getting heavier than you wanted it to). Here's a picture of my pretty new toy and its fantastic packing material:
1) Medieval spindles have small dense whorls, often with the weight very close to the shaft. This means they don't spin by themselves for very long.
2) Medieval spindles aren't always very balanced, with whorls tending to be kind of asymmetrical, and spindle sticks sometimes curved, or notched, all of which can make the spindle wobble with increasing fervor until it slips its knot, falls on the floor, the whorl pops off, and all is despair (ask me how I know).
3) Medieval spindles are almost ALWAYS used with a distaff, which few modern spinners use.
The short spin time and wobble of medieval spindles means in order to use them you basically have to be constantly flicking them to spin with your fingers, then using your fingers to reduce the wobble, which means one hand is on the spindle all the time. That's why you need a distaff, to give you a third hand to hold the fiber, so you can use your non-spindle hand for drafting.
I had mostly experimented with using short distaffs in the past, and after watching some videos on using a hand distaff I thought I'd try that for my first experiment. Not having a bunch of distaffs to hand, I used a wooden spoon, which worked just fine for the task. After a lot of fiddling around, dropping the spindle, having the whorl fall off, getting help from the cats, etc. I finally got the hang of it.
I dressed the distaff with the tan fiber, which I suspect is alpaca, by pulling the roving into shorter sections, overlapping them, and tying them onto the distaff with yarn. For long-term use I would want something that doesn't have slippery paint on it with some grooves carved in to help keep the fiber from slipping down, but this worked fine for temporary experimentation.
As soon as I started spinning with this setup I knew it was right for me, and the key to making medieval spindles work. My left hand was completely free to draw the fiber off of the distaff, and I could easily work the spindle in my right hand. It also showed me just how important the fiber prep is to this whole system. For this to work the fiber can't be too condensed or misarranged. it has to be fluffy, light, airy, and free of any "sticky" spots where a clump could grip together, since that really requires two hands to manage. That said, it's not hard to tuck the spindle under my right arm and then have both hands free to deal with any fiddly bits. I'm not done with the tan yet, but here's how it looks. So pleasing, right? Even with a yellow broom handle for a distaff.
Next, I'd like to try a distaff stand, like the one in this image of a spinning monkey from the Isabella Breviary, or a bench distaff/sit-on-top distaff (they're basically a board you sit on with a distaff sticking out of one side at a 90 degree angle), both of which keep both hands more free but are less portable. The second image below is of what is probably a bench distaff in an image known as The Virgin and the Niddy-Noddy (being held by the angel on the left).