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Spindle-whorl making thoughts.

I still have a fairly large selection of spindle whorls hanging out here, but some weight classes are running low, and especially the disc-shaped whorls are almost gone again. Which means it’s time to go into the basement, fetch the clay and assorted whorl-making tools, and a while later, more spindle whorls have been made, and are now quietly and happily drying out.

Re-stocking in progress, with both biconical/roundish whorls...

Re-stocking in progress, with both biconical/roundish whorls…

...and the flat ones.

…and the flat ones.

Even though I have a form to make the flat whorls, they never come out exactly alike – there’s always small differences in the thickness, even if I try very hard indeed to roll the clay out exactly to the right thickness, and exactly plane. Last batch was a bit too thin altogether, and I hope this won’t be too thick because of overcompensation.

The other whorls are different in difficulty, because they don’t need to be exactly a weight or thickness; I try to make a range of sizes and shapes every time, but sometimes I tend more towards lighter ones and sometimes more toward heavier ones. Which is sort of an issue when I should be re-stocking a certain weight range as a priority, and I end up making whorls that are, erm, not inside that range.

My theory why the biconical whorls are quite common, by the way, is that it is very easy to form a biconical shape when rolling a ball of clay in your hands – way easier than getting a perfect sphere, for instance. My main problem then is that the tips of the cones are usually a little outside the centre, which makes getting the hole into the whorl in a way that will not cause it to wobble slightly more interesting. Also, whorl-making is actually a pretty boring process (a feeling that is, by the way, shared by the lovely guy who makes the wheel-thrown whorls for me, as he told me when I ordered the most recent batch). I try to overcome the boringness by listening to EscapePod, which usually sort of works, but somehow I still feel it’s more mind-numbing than spinning.

Which is actually weird, because it is no real mindless job. Getting the whorls an approximate size and a suitable shape is not really hard, but it does take a bit of concentration; getting the bore hole into the middle so that the whorl does not wobble too much also needs some attention. I give each whorl a whirl on the stick I use to make the hole, and while a bit of imbalance is practically un-avoidable at least for the larger whorls, if it feels too much out of centre, I get to knead it up again and try once more.

The larger and flatter the whorl is, the harder I find it to get it right, as a little off-centeredness in shape and in hole position will have a large impact. There’s also some times that I get them all almost perfect just like that, and then, a while later, it feels as if I can’t get even the easiest and smallest whorl done in an acceptable way.

So, to sum it up: spindle-whorl making, in my very personal opinion, is harder than it looks, and while I love those nice little tools, making them is a singularly obnoxious task. And even though I have wonderful drawings with cross-sections of actual prehistoric and historic spindle whorls that definitely show they were not perfectly symmetrical, or perfectly centred at all, having mine a bit wobbly always makes me fret, and feel a bit unsure whether the ones I produce are good enough for the spinners that buy and use them (even though I haven’t gotten complaints yet). Which also plays a part in making this task feel a bit harder. Weird, huh?

What I totally love about the whorl-making process, though, is picking the still warm, very dirty freshly fired whorls out of the ashes and seeing the many different shapes in  black, light grey and various marbled mixes of them – that is always like unpacking a present!

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2 Responses to Spindle-whorl making thoughts.

  1. Heather says:

    So how difficult or not is it to make ‘The Spindle from Hell’ in comparison to others?

    • Katrin says:

      Similar difficulty – it’s a different cookie cutter thingie, and the main challenge for TSfH is to get the long, narrow cylinder out of the form without distorting it. So not rocket science, but it does need a bit of care.

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