Front cover of a 2006 picture book adaptation of "The Three Spinners" aimed at young learners of English as a foreign language.

"The Three Spinners" (German: "Die drei Spinnerinnen"; also published in English as "The Three Spinning Fairies" and "The Three Spinning Women") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm.

The story's protagonist is a young woman who hates using a spinning wheel. The queen comes to wrongly believe that the young woman loves using a spinning wheel. She tells her to spin an enormous amount of flax into yarn. The young woman is told that when she completes her task, she will be rewarded by marrying the queen's son. Fortunately for the young woman, three mysterious old women come to her aid.

Similar stories also exist in Italian, Norwegian, and Scottish[1] folklore.


There is a lazy young woman who hates doing work of any kind. She particularly dislikes using a spinning wheel to spin flax into yarn. One day, the young woman's mother grows so frustrated with her laziness that she starts to beat her. The young woman cries out in pain. The queen happens to be passing the house and hears the young woman's screams. She asks the mother why she is beating her daughter. The mother is too ashamed to say that her daughter is lazy. She says instead that her daughter never stops using the spinning wheel. The mother says that is a problem because she cannot afford to supply her daughter with enough of the flax that she constantly uses. The queen says that she has lots of flax at the castle that the young woman can spin.

At the castle, the queen shows the young woman three rooms that are completely filled with flax. The young woman is told that after she spins all the flax in all three rooms into yarn, she can marry the queen's son as a reward. The young woman knows that she has been set an impossible task. She does nothing for three days.

Illustration at page 118 in Grimm's Household Tales (Edwardes, Bell)

1912 illustration for "The Three Spinners" by the British artist Robert Anning Bell.

The young woman looks sadly out of the window. She sees three old women approaching. The first one has a large flat foot. The second has a large protruding lower lip. The third has a very big thumb. The three old women ask the young woman what is wrong. She tells them everything. The three old women offer to help her on the condition that she invites them to her wedding, introduces them as her cousins and allows them to sit at her table. The young woman gladly agrees to this.

The three old women start work. The one with the large flat foot turns the spinning wheel. The one with the large protruding lower lip moistens the thread with her mouth. The one with the large thumb twists the thread. Eventually, the three old women spin all the flax in all three rooms into yarn. They remind the young woman of her promise before they leave.

The queen is delighted to see all the flax spun into yarn. The young woman is allowed to marry the prince. She is also allowed to invite her three cousins, whom she says have shown her great kindness in the past, to the wedding.

When the three old women arrive at her wedding, the young woman greets them as her cousins. The prince is shocked by their odd appearance. He asks the first one why she has a large fat foot. She replies that she got it through turning the spinning wheel. He asks the second why she has a large protruding lower lip. She replies that she got it through moistening thread. He asks the third why she has such a large thumb. She replies that she got it through twisting thread. Shocked at what has happened to those women as a result of using a spinning wheel, the prince declares that his wife will never use one again. Consequently, the young woman never again has to do the one task that she hates most in the world.

See also


  1. The story of Habbitrot from The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter is based on the Scottish variant of the fairy tale.

External links

  • Versions of "The Three Spinners" in German and English on Wikisource.