Icelandic drop spindle

Today will be a lot of pictures documenting step-by-step how a piece of stone and wood were turned into a spindle modeled on findings from time of the first settlement in Iceland.

The idea to create a spindle myself (and of course with my Arek’s small help) was born a few days ago. While whittlering a wooden spindle is not a great barrier (a note about whorl-less Scottish spindles will be here soon), the innovation in this case was focusing greater mass at the bottom by adding a spindle whorl. And it would be best if this whorl was historicaly correct of course. The choice of materials is quite wide fortunately, as they were made out of literally any locally available material. And so they’re made of clay (also glazed), glass, wood, bone, antler, amber, lead or stone. Due to technological constraints I had to give up those materials that require heat treatment, as well as bones or amber as I do not have any. I focused on the stone, and here the choice separates into limestone, sandstone and soapstone. Their common denominator is that, unlike most highly consolidated igneous and metamorphic rocks, they are relatively easy to handle.

A quick look at my minerals collection emerged a potential spindle whorl – a problematic piece of tuff, probably ryolit type, brought from Iceland. The stone itself is very porous, smooth to the touch (smoother than sandstone, but not soapy) does not give a fingernail scratch, yet so poorly consolidated, it can easily be broken with a simple tool. Looks like perfect material, surprisigly it was really difficult to find proof its use is historicaly corrext.. The only tuff spindle whorl I finally found was the one unearthed in the H trench of an archaeological site in Skútustaðir , North of Iceland in a staggering amount – 1.


I secretly hope that somewhere there may be lost tuff spindle whorls, mistakenly taken as sandstone or beads .. I firmly believe in it, because as it turned out – this material is very grateful and it would be a sin not to use it in any way.

Another element is the spindle itself – here I asked my Arek to whittle for me a simple stick with a swellig at about 1/3 of the height at which I will wind my spun wool. Fortunately it is birch we are burning this year fireplace birch, so the wood species also is quite right. It may be unsophisticated in appearance, but certainly consistent geographically. In the picture – exhibits from the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik (placed upside down).


Coming back to my part – here are stages of making a whorl:
























The only tools I used was an old chisel with a wooden mallet and a sandpaper to smooth the edges and center of the hole. After washing the whorl out of dust (absorbs water like a sponge) it got really intense shades for a longer while:


During making the hole I encountered the only technological problem – the rock turned out to have inconsistent hardness and making the hole through one side (the one with the pretty, but fatal in treatment yellowish part) was beyond my capabilities. Normally I would have thrown this piece away and took a more consistent one (especially that I was affraid of that side since very beginning). however, due to scarce resources (I had only one such stone!) I had to do everything I could and therefore I raped my historical approach to the creation of the spindle with a driller 😉

This is how finished spindle looks like:


My tuff whorl weighs 23 grams, which in combination with the stem (10g) gives the whole weighing 33 grams, This is is a pretty good result for the first, starting whorl (next 2 – lighter, are already planned).

And how it performs in practice? Soooo nice. After the experience with Scottish spindles (which I like anyway ;)) I must say it turns beautifully. What a wonderful timeless design! : D Well twisted spindle rotates without a noticeable precession long enough to spin such a long thread, that spindle finally rests on the ground (I spun standing). Spindle whorl, fortunately held in place perfectly. I was afraid  its weight may overcome the frictional force holding it in place, but the only situation where it fell of the stem were caused by inertia, which plucked it from the spindle while hitting the ground when whole spindle fell down. The only drawback of the design is the need to make a simple knot at the top of the spindle, which prevents the thread from untwisting off the spindle. But a little practice proved this is not a problem after some time.

To sum up – the my Icelandic spindle works 😀

In the picture: a try to spin Icelandic (of course!) wool 🙂 :


2 thoughts on “Icelandic drop spindle

    1. Now whatever museum I will visit, I will photograph every single spindle with its description. This topic is more interesting I have ever thought and internet does not provide everything 🙂

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