Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a girl whose father and mother died when she was still a little child. Her godmother lived all alone at the end of the village in a little house, and earned her living with spinning, weaving, and sewing. The old woman took the orphaned child into service and gave her a pious upbringing.

When the girl was fifteen years old the godmother took ill, called the child to her bedside, and said, "My dear daughter, I feel that my end is near. I leave to you this little house, that will protect you from wind and weather; and also a spindle, a shuttle, and a needle, with which you can earn your living."

She then laid her hands on the girl's head and blessed her, saying, "Keep God in your heart, and it will go well with you." With that she closed her eyes. When she was laid to rest in the earth, the girl walked behind the coffin crying, and paid her last respects.

The girl now lived all alone in the little house. She was industrious. She span, wove, and sewed; and everything she did was touched by the good old woman's blessing. It was as though the flax multiplied itself in her kitchen, and whenever she wove a piece of cloth or a carpet, or sewed a shirt, she always immediately found a buyer who paid so well that she was never in need and always had something to share with others.

At this time the king's son was traveling throughout the country in search of a bride. He wanted neither a poor one nor a rich one. He said, "My wife shall be the girl who is at the same time the poorest and the richest."

When he came to the village where the girl lived he asked, as he had done everywhere, who was the richest girl and the poorest girl. First of all they named for him the richest girl, and then said that the poorest girl was the one who lived in the little house at the end of the village.

The rich girl sat in her doorway in all her finery, and when the prince approached she bowed before him. He looked at her, said not a word, and rode on.

When he arrived at the poor girl's house she was not standing in the doorway, but instead was sitting in her little kitchen. He stopped his horse and looked into the window, through which the bright sun was shining, and saw the girl, sitting at her spinning wheel and diligently spinning. She looked up, and when she saw the prince looking in she blushed all over, closed her eyes, and continued to spin. I do not know if the thread was entirely even at this time, but she continued to spin until the prince had ridden away.

Then she stepped to the window and opened it, saying, "It is so hot in the kitchen," but she continued to follow him with her eyes as long as she could recognize the white feathers on his hat.

The girl sat back down in the kitchen and continued to work at her spinning. Then a saying came to her that the old woman had sometimes said while she was at work, and she sang it thus:

Spindle, spindle, go on out,
And bring a suitor to my house.

What happened? The spindled immediately jumped out of her hand and out the door. Amazed, she stood up and watched it as it danced merrily across the field, pulling along a glistening golden thread behind it. Before long it had disappeared from her eyes.

Because the girl no longer had a spindle, she picked up her shuttle, seated herself at her loom, and began to weave.

Now the spindle danced ever onward, and just as the thread came to an end it reached the prince.

"What do I see?" he cried. "Is this spindle showing me the way?"

He turned his horse around and followed the golden thread back.

The girl was seated at her work singing:

Shuttle, shuttle, weave so fine,
Lead a suitor here to me.

Just then the shuttle jumped from her hand and out the door. However, it began to weave a carpet before the threshold, a more beautiful one than anyone had ever seen before. At its sides blossomed roses and lilies. In its middle, against a golden background, there were rows of green upon which hares and rabbits were jumping about. In between, stags and deer stuck out their heads. Colorful birds sat above in the branches. The only thing missing was their singing. The shuttle jumped back and forth. It was as though everything was growing by itself.

Because her shuttle had run away, the girl now sat down to sew. She held her needle in her hand and sang:

Needle, needle, sharp and fine,
Clean up the house for the suitor of mine.

Then the needle jumped out of her fingers and flew about in the kitchen as quick as lightning. It was as though invisible spirits were at work. The table and benches were soon covered with green cloth, the chairs with velvet; and silk curtains hung at the windows.

The needle had scarcely made its last stitch when the girl looked through the window and saw the white feathers on the prince's hat. The spindle had brought him here with its golden thread. He dismounted and walked across the carpet into the house. When he stepped into the kitchen she was standing there in her simple dress, but she was glowing in it like a rose in a bush.

"You are the poorest, but also the richest," he said to her. "Come with me. You shall be my bride."

She said nothing, but reached out her hand to him. Then he gave her a kiss and led her outside, lifted her onto his horse, and took her to the royal palace where their wedding was celebrated with great joy.

The spindle, shuttle, and needle were secured in the treasure chamber, where they were kept in great honor.

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Revised December 4, 2002.