A girl who does not want to spin, ends up having to spin an enormous amount of flax. Luckily the three spinners come to the rescue!
The Three Spinners is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a girl who refuses to spin. The Queen orders her to spin an enormous amount of flax. Three ugly spinners help her and in return get invited to her wedding with the prince. He sees how ugly they became by spinning and forbids his wife to spin ever again.
A girl refuses to spin
Once upon a time there was a girl who was idle and would not spin. Whatever her mother said, she would not do it. At last her mother was so overcome with anger and impatience, that she beat her. The girl began to weep very loud.
At this very moment the Queen drove by. When she heard the weeping she stopped her carriage, went into the house and asked the mother why she was beating her daughter so that the cries could be heard out on the road?
The woman was ashamed to reveal the laziness of her daughter and said, “I cannot get her to leave off spinning. She insists on spinning for ever and ever, and I am poor, and cannot procure the flax.”
The Queen answered, “There is nothing that I like better to hear than the sound of spinning. I am never happier than when the wheels are humming. Let your daughter come with me to the palace. I have flax enough and there she shall spin as much as she likes.”
The mother was very happy about this arrangement and the Queen took the girl with her. When they arrived at the palace she led her up into three rooms which were filled from the bottom to the top with the finest flax.
The Queen gives her a task
“Now spin me this flax,” she said. “When you are finished you will marry my eldest son. I don’t care that you are poor, your untiring hard is dowry enough.”
The girl was secretly terrified, for she could not have spun the flax. Not even if she had lived till she was three hundred years old and had sat at it every day from morning till night. When she was alone, she began to weep. She sat there for three days without moving a finger.
On the third day the Queen came. When she saw that nothing had been spun yet, she was surprised. The girl excused herself by saying that she had not been able to begin because of her great distress at leaving her mother’s house. The queen was satisfied with this answer, but said when she was going away, “Tomorrow you must start.”
The three spinners arrive and get to work
Alone again the girl did not know what to do. In her distress she went to the window. She saw three women coming towards her. The first had a broad flat foot, the second had such a great underlip that it hung down over her chin, and the third had a broad thumb.
They remained standing before the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was wrong with her. She complained of her trouble and then they offered her their help and said, “If you will invite us to the wedding and will not be ashamed of us. If you will call us your aunts and place us at your table, we will spin up the flax for you in record time.”
“You have my word,” she replied, “please come in and begin the work at once.”
She let the three strange women in and cleared a place in the first room. They seated themselves and began their spinning. The one drew the thread and trod the wheel. The other made the thread wet. The the third twisted it and struck the table with her finger. As often as she struck it, a skein of thread fell to the ground that was spun in the finest manner possible.
The girl concealed the three spinners from the Queen. She showed her whenever she came the great quantity of spun thread. The Queen could not praise her enough.
When the first room was empty she went to the second. At last to the third, and that one too was quickly cleared. Then the three women took leave and said to the girl, “Do not forget what you have promised us, it will make or break your luck.”
When the young woman showed the Queen the empty rooms and the great heap of yarn, she gave orders for the wedding. The bridegroom rejoiced that he was to have such a clever and hard working wife. He sang her praises everywhere.
The three spinners visit the wedding
“I have three aunts,” the girl said, “they have been very kind to me. I should not forget them now I am doing well. Allow me to invite them to the wedding and let them sit at our table.”
The Queen and the bridegroom said, “Why not?”
When the feast began, the three women entered in strange clothes. The bride said, “Welcome, dear aunts.”
“Ah,” said the bridegroom, “how come you have these disgusting friends?”
He went to the one with the broad flat foot and said, “How come you have such a broad foot?”
“Because of treading,” she answered, “because of treading.”
Then the bridegroom went to the second and said, “How come you have such a falling lip?”
“Because of licking,” she answered, “because of licking.”
He asked the third, “How come you have such a broad thumb?”
“Because of twisting the thread,” she answered, “because of twisting the thread.”
The King’s son was alarmed and said, “Neither now nor ever shall my beautiful bride touch a spinning wheel.”
And that’s how she got rid of the hateful flax-spinning.
Tips for Telling
- This fairy tale is from a time and place where spinning was really important. Like cooking, it was a basic skill of every woman. Nowadays your listeners will often not know what spinning is nor will they know how important it was in those days. When telling this story, you will need to weave this information in in the beginning.
- The three spinners all have problems resulting from excessive spinning. When telling about their spinning process you can explain without explaining how their problems came to be. If you show how she makes the thread wet, your listeners will understand how she has gotten her disgusting underlip.
- The prince goes from being very happy about his hardworking spinning wife to being really scared that she will end up as ugly as the three spinners. When telling this part of the story, feel the growing feelings of the prince.
All Questions Answered
It was written down by the Brothers Grimm. They had various sources for this widespread folktale.
The Brothers Grimm included an earlier version of this story in their 1812 collection. This story is an expanded and changed version and was first included in 1819.