The Three Spinning Women

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There was a girl who was lazy and would not spin. Her mother could not make her do so, whatever she said to her. Finally anger and impatience so overcame the mother that she beat her, upon which the girl began to cry loudly.

Now the queen was just driving by, and when she heard the crying she ordered her carriage to stop, went into the house, and asked the mother why she was beating her daughter so that her cries could be heard out on the road.

The woman was ashamed to reveal her daughter's laziness and said, "I cannot make her stop spinning. She wants to spin on and on forever, and I am poor, and cannot get the flax."

Then the queen answered, "There is nothing that I like better to hear than spinning. I am never happier than when the wheels are humming. Let your daughter come with me to the palace. I have flax enough. There she can spin to her heart's content."

The mother was completely satisfied with this, and the queen took the girl with her. Arriving at the palace, she took her upstairs to three rooms which were filled from the bottom to the top with the finest flax.

"Now spin this flax for me," she said, "and when you are finished, you shall have my oldest son for a husband. I do not mind if you are poor. Your untiring industry will do for a dowry."

The girl was frightened inside, for she would not be able to spin the flax, not even if she had lived until she was three hundred years old, sitting at it every day from morning until evening. When she was alone she began to cry, and just sat there for three days without moving a hand. On the third day the queen came, and when she saw that nothing had been spun yet, she was surprised. The girl excused herself by saying that because of her sorrow at being away from her mother's house, she had not yet been able to begin.

This satisfied the queen, but as she left she said, "Tomorrow you must begin my work."

When the girl was alone again, she did not know what to do, or where to turn for help. In her distress she went to the window. There she saw three women coming toward her. The first one had a broad flat foot, the second one had such a large lower lip that it hung down over her chin, and the third one had a broad thumb.

They stopped outside the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was wrong with her.

She bemoaned her troubles to them, upon which they offered her their help, saying, "If you will invite us to your wedding, not be ashamed of us, call us your aunts, and let us be seated at your table, we will spin all the flax for you, and in a very short time at that."

"With all my heart," she answered. "Come right in and begin the work at once."

Then she let the three strange women in, and cleared out a space in the first room where they could sit down and begin their spinning. The one pulled the thread and peddled the wheel, the second one moistened the thread, the third twisted it, then struck the table with her finger. Each time she struck, a skein of the most finely spun thread fell to the floor.

The girl kept the three spinners hidden from the queen, but whenever she came, the girl showed her the great quantity of thread that had been spun. The queen could not praise her enough.

When the first room was empty, they went to work on the second one, and on the third one, and it too was quickly cleaned out.

The three women now took leave and said to the girl, "Do not forget what you have promised us. It will bring you good luck."

When the girl showed the queen the empty rooms and the large pile of thread, the latter made preparations for the wedding. The bridegroom was happy that he was getting such a clever and industrious wife, and he praised her vigorously.

"I have three aunts," said the girl. "Because they have been very kind to me, I do not want to forget them in my good fortune. Allow me to invite them to the wedding, and let them be seated next to us at the table."

The queen and the bridegroom said, "Why should we not allow that?"

When the feast began, the three women, dressed in strange clothing, entered.

The bride said, "Welcome, dear aunts."

"Oh," said the bridegroom, "what brought you to this hideous friendship?"

Then he went to the one with the broad flat foot, and asked, "Where did you get such a broad foot?"

"From peddling," she answered. "From peddling."

Then the bridegroom went to the second one, and said, "Where did you get this fallen lip?"

"From licking," she answered. "From licking."

Then he asked the third one, "Where did you get this broad thumb?"

"From twisting thread," she answered. "From twisting thread."

This alarmed the prince, and he said, "My beautiful bride shall never again touch a spinning wheel."

With that she was freed from hateful flax spinning.

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Revised January 6, 2020.