The language of the sails

Can windmills speak? The custom of using the position of the sails to communicate a specific situation lives on in the windmill community and in Kinderdijk. If you stand in front of the windmill and look at the cross-beams of the sails turning counterclockwise (leftwards), you will be able to identify the following positions:

  • The cross position or long rest position (diagonal) is seen when the windmill will not be used for a longer time period.
  • The ‘plus sign’ is the operating position or short rest position. The windmill will be stopped for a short time - such as one night - but can resume operation on short notice. In this short rest position, the miller can climb straight into the bottom sail to fix the sail-cloth.
  • When the bottom sail is in front of the mill and the top sail is almost but not quite at its highest point, the sails are communicating ‘joy’. This position of celebration can announce birth or marriage, symbolising that the high point is yet to come.
  • When the bottom sail is slightly past the mill and the top sail has moved past the highest point, the sails are communicating ‘grief’. When the miller or a family member or neighbour has died, the windmill remains in this position for some time. It is customary for the windmill to be turned slowly during the funeral, so the cross-beams follow the funeral procession.
  • On festive occasions, the miller strings up lines of small flags between the ends of the windmill sails. This celebratory custom takes place to mark special occasions, such as a wedding. The flags do not keep the windmill from running.