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Spindle whorls have existed since the beginning of civilization itself, and I’m going to show you how to make easy DIY spindle whorls today. Keep reading below or watch the full video on my YouTube channel.
Spindle whorls have been discovered in the most ancient of archeological sites. They are still used today to hand spin yarn by yarn crafters, reenactors, people working to preserve their cultural heritage and textile traditions, and by YouTubers (like me!).
What is a spindle whorl?
The difference between a fluff of wool and yarn is the twist. Without twist, the fibers slide past each other and the yarn falls apart.
In early human history, someone discovered that a stick was really useful for adding twist to their fibers. When that stick had some weight on it, it spun even more efficiently.
So that idea really took off because people everywhere have been putting whorls on sticks to spin yarn ever since. Eventually, people invented spinning wheels, but that’s a topic for another time. Today, I want to make some spindle whorls.
Extant whorls have been found all over the world. They’re made of practically every common material available to people throughout history, including stone, pottery, ceramic or clay, coral, antler, bone, wood, glass, various metals, and more. Modern whorls are made from acrylic, 3d printed plastics, vintage AOL CDs, and other synthetic materials. Today, I’m going to use some polymer clay to make my spindle whorls.
I’ve made some DIY clay whorls in the past, and they work great. They spin for a very long time on their own. But after spinning with them for a while, I’ve discovered that I made them too big and heavy for how I want to use them. They need to be spun in a supported style, but lately, I’ve been really fascinated by medieval distaff spinning.
I’m interested in both the earlier handheld Scandinavian style and the later European belted style. So, I’ll be making some whorls that work better for a clasped style of spinning. I will be looking to some of the surviving whorls of those periods to make my new whorls that are historically approximate.
Step 1: Measure out your clay
Since these are going to be handheld whorls, they need to have enough weight to spin but be lighter than supported whorls. To make sure I got the right weight, I weighed out my clay. I aimed for each whorl to be in the range of 10–30 grams with a 3–5 cm diameter once it was shaped.
I used Craftsmart polymer clay, which is one of the more cost-effective clays out there, but any polymer clay will work for this project.
Step 2: Shape your clay
I experimented with a few different shapes to see how they would work.
I needed to size the holes in the middle to make sure the whorls would fit onto my spindle stick, but polymer clay can leave a greasy residue and ruin the sticks. So, I used a bamboo skewer to help make the initial shape and then I protected my wood spindle sticks with plastic wrap.
The taper of the shaft will help the whorl stay on when you’re spinning, but if you end up with a whorl that likes to fall off, you can always wedge them on with a bit of wool. This means you don’t have to be too concerned about perfection.
Because I like to be a little bit fancy, I decorated my whorls with designs using some clay sculpting tools. I might paint them later or glaze them with a polymer clay glaze. We’ll see.
Now you’re ready to bake your whorls, let them cool, and then take them for a spin!
DIY spindle whorls: the results
I absolutely love how the whorls came out! This project was a 100% success!
Until next time, happy spinning fiber friends!