Maisie - The Reluctant Spinster

The story that inspired the Maisie Doll

Martyn Greatorex

4/22/20214 min read

The story of Maisie is adapted from a tale from the Borders of Scotland and Northumberland.

In the North Country lived a woman who had only one child, a daughter by the name of Maisie. She was fair of face, with an abundance of bright auburn hair, and had a good and kind nature. Maisie should have been her mother’s pride and joy. Instead, though, she despaired of her daughter as Maisie had not attracted any suitors and remained unmarried. For in that time and place, it was a girl’s skill at the spinning wheel that would bring her a good match. Unfortunately, it was a skill that Maisie did not have. She was clumsy at the wheel and took no pleasure in it; she preferred to go for walks through the fields and forests.

Maisie’s mother was determined, though, that her daughter should be married. So one day she brought Maisie some flax and told her that she had three days to have it spun into linen thread – or she would send Maisie to convent. Maisie tried but by the end of the second day she had made only a little inroad into the pile of flax, and what she had spun was not fine but was lumpy. Not knowing what to do, Maisie left her wheel and went to wander in the wood. Eventually she fell beside a stream, sobbing and saying over and over “I don’t want to be sent to a convent, I don’t to be sent to a convent.”

“Now who would want to send a smart girl like you to a convent?” asked a voice. In surprise Maisie looked round and saw, sitting on a boulder, a little old lady, spinning from a distaff. Maisie was taken aback by her appearance for, though she was small, her lips were elongated and swollen. She could not help but ask about them. The old lady told her, “It’s from drawing the thread through my lips to moisten it as I spin. Now what has happened to you?” and, as the lady seemed kind, Maisie told her.

“Do not worry. Just go and bring what you have to spin and leave it here; then come back in the morning.” said the old lady, then vanished. Maisie did what the lady had asked. She sat down but as it was late and feeling tired, she fell asleep. When Maisie awoke it was morning. The flax had vanished. Maisie was worried about where it had gone and how she would explain things to her mother.

Then as she sat, Maisie heard voices and they seemed to be coming from the stone where the lady had sat. Maisie went up quietly to the boulder and was surprised to see that, right in the middle, was a hole. As the voices seemed to be coming from there, Maisie crept closer and looked in. She saw a group of ladies, like the one she had met; all small and all with big lips. They all sat at spinning wheels. Then Maisie saw the lady she had met, dancing around and singing. “Now,” she said, “tie up the thread that I, Habetrot, has spun, for the maiden waits to take it and please her mother.”

Maisie hurried back to where she had rested and waited for Habetrot to bring her the linen thread. When she did, Habetrot said, “Take this and it should please your mother. Worry not if you are asked by anyone to spin more, for I will do it if you bring it to me. But,” she continued,” I know that you have heard my name. You must keep this secret, for if you say it to anyone, then I will no longer be able to help you.”

Maisie thanked Habetrot, took the linen and went home as quickly as she could. Fortunately, it was still early and her mother was still asleep. Maisie put the linen on the table in the kitchen and went to her own bed. A little later her mother woke and, coming into the kitchen, saw what Maisie had left for her. She was so excited she began singing and shouting and dancing and leaping, out of the house and into the garden. It so happened that a Laird was riding close by and came over to see what all the commotion was about. At first, he could not make head nor tail of the story told by Maisie’s mother. Eventually, she calmed down, spoke coherently and asked whether he would like to see the fine-spun linen. The laird accepted her invitation and was impressed with what he saw. He said he would like to meet the one who had spun it, so Maisie was summoned. The Laird was also impressed with the spinner and, as was usual then, their marriage was soon arranged.

All went well at first, even though Maisie was expected to produce fine linen thread almost daily. For she would take her flax off to her special, secret place to spin. This meant she took it to Habetrot, would go for a long walk and then return later with her arms full of fine thread. This continued for several weeks until the Laird declared one morning that he wished to come and watch Maisie at work. Maisie realised that, if he did, he would discover that she was not able to spin and this would lead into serious trouble with her being cast out of her home. She persuaded him to wait until the next day, then fled into the woods to meet Habetrot. Maisie poured out her troubles. Habetrot remained calm, smiled and said,” You are not to worry. Agree to your husband coming to see you at work but first tell him there is someone you wish him to meet. Then you must bring him to the place by the boulder at ten in the morning. Me and my sisters will do the rest.”

Maisie was so grateful to Habetrot, though she did not understand how she could help. She returned home and the Laird finally agreed to what Maisie wanted. So the next day Maisie took him into the woods and down to stream where the boulder was. At ten precisely, Habetrot appeared from among the trees with the other spinners. She introduced them to the Laird, implying that it was she who had taught Maisie her spinning skills. Whilst he tried to remain polite, the Laird found himself repulsed by their appearance; their elongated and swollen lips. He rudely asked the cause. Habetrot did not appear offended and explained how they kept the thread wet when spinning. “It is something that happens to every spinner,” she added.

The Laird was horrified when thought that this would happen to his beautiful wife and declared, there and then, that Maisie would never again touch a spinning wheel. Instead, it was arranged that Maisie would bring the flax to Habetrot and her sisters and they would spin it for the Laird. In this way, the Laird received a lot of very fine linen thread, Habetrot and her sisters got paid for their work and Maisie enjoyed her walks in the fields and the woods.