I got these from ebay last year. Now, to have a closer look at them.
Firstly, lead spindle whorls are hard to date, and there is little agreement about when they are from, because in Britain at least, there aren’t any properly dated examples. Instead they are found in the countryside where they have fallen from someone’s spindle.
For several years now I have been trying to make various replica pewter and lead objects, one being a spindle whorl. Not perfect copies cast from an original in silicone, but copies of the sort that a foundryman might make after seeing an object. Of course the process of making the object can also teach you something about the manufacturing capabilities of the time and confirm or disprove how you think it was made.
Spindle whorls are the weight which keep the spindle turning when you are using a drop spindle to make thread, as was common throughout the medieval period and into the 17th century. Excavated examples include ones made of wood, pottery and lead and obviously I am interested in the latter.
Of course nobody seems to have written anything about how they were made, except it is obvious that they were cast. I have examined 5 myself, and the portable finds database gives access to photographs of many others, of several main types amongst the hundreds of examples.
The PAS finds 1,737 medieval lead spindle whorls, which is probably a small fraction of those found over the years, nevertheless it indicates a huge number of them.
Unfortunately the first attempt I made 5 years ago now involved casting plaster and a spindle whorl:
It didn’t really work, casting plaster is trickier to use than you think, especially when the whorl is of such an odd shape.
A friend lent me a smaller simpler whorl several years ago, and I’ve been carving since then.
This is it side and top view. Note how well rounded it is, which might be due to wear or the method of casting: Continue reading