Roman Spindle Whorl

This is one of two Roman spindle whorls in our Design and Technology collection.

Before the use of spinning wheels, spinning was carried out with a spindle and a whorl. The spindle, or rod, usually had a swelling on which the whorl was fitted. A wisp of prepared wool was twisted around the spindle, which was then spun and allowed to drop. The whorl adds momentum to the spindle. By doing this the fibres were extended and twisted into a yarn.

They occur in a range of shapes and materials. Spindle whorls are often the only evidence preserved of spinning. Roman women were expected to be involved in cloth production: spinning, weaving and sewing. The goddess Athene was known for her skill in spinning, and the Fates, often depicted as three old women, were thought to spin threads which represented the fates of human beings.