Several years ago, I received a token from Master Philippe de Lyon in the form of a small copper brooch. With my interest in jewelry, I was instantly interested in learning the technique so that I could make a brooch myself. The brooch was based on this artifact in Dress Accessories c. 1150 – c. 1450: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 3.
There are actually 6 wire brooches (not all exactly this design) shown or referenced in Dress Accessories, dated from the book’s phase 6 (c. 1150-1200) through phase 11 (c. 1350-1400). Most are English, although one was excavated in Denmark. Three brooches are described as copper alloy and 1 as gold, but that may just be the spiral, as bronze and brass are mentioned for the frameworks.
After a lot of trial and error, I have managed to make a decent replica myself, and I’m posting instructions below.
Acquire/create a ring.
Option 1 for this step is to acquire a ring elsewhere. As mentioned above, on at least two of the brooches, the material of the framework ring differs from the material of the spiral. When I am teaching a class on this brooch and need to get a dozen people through the process in a 2 hour window, I use earring hoops.
Option 2 is to make the ring yourself. I’m including the opposed loops method because it is specifically described as the technique used on artifact 1340 in Egan and Pritchard. There are other choices, and some might even make a smoother ring. The smoother the ring you create, the easier it will be to get the spiral to wind around it.
- Cut a piece of 20 gauge wire at least 3 times as long as the frame diameter you want.
- Using a round object as a mandrel, wrap the wire around the mandrel. Continue wrapping until the two ends of your wire are lying parallel to one another.
3. Turn the ends of your wire sharply back the way they came. This will create a U-shaped loop where your wire ends cross. The photo below shows what the piece will look like after you turn back the first wire end. The U loops should each be catching the other piece of wire.
- Continue to tug on the U-shaped loops and squish them together until the loops are squeezed tightly. The U-shaped loops will close to create small hooks that hold the frame steady. Trim the excess wire. You want to keep the frame as smooth as possible. The frame of your brooch is now finished.
Create a spiral.
- Cut a 12” piece of 20 gauge wire.
- Cut a piece of 24 gauge wire at least 2 yards long.
- Using the 20 gauge wire as a mandrel, wrap the 24 gauge wire in a very tight coil. Keep wrapping until you run out of wire. Leave a tail of 2”-3” at each end.
Create the brooch.
- Cut a 2nd piece of 24 gauge wire several inches longer than the coil.
- Thread this piece of wire through the coil.
- Take the tail on one end of the coil and threaded wire and wrap them 2-3 times around the frame. Using your thumb to keep the tail in place, begin wrapping the coil. At first, the coil will be difficult to control, but it will start to fall into place.
- Periodically, tighten up the coil you have already wrapped around the frame.
- When you have tightly wrapped the coil around the entire frame and adjusted it to your liking, use the tail to wrap around the frame as you did when you started.
- Cut a length of 20 gauge wire 1 ½ times the diameter of the brooch. Lay this wire across the brooch with one end even with the edge of the coil on the outside – this will be your pin end.
- Take the other end of the pin wire and wrap it up and through the middle of the brooch, forming a lower case “d” shape. Trim the excess wire.
- File the pin point sharp and the other points smooth.
Egan, Geoff, and Frances Pritchard. Dress Accessories c. 1150 – c. 1450: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 3. London: HMSO, 1991. ISBN 0112904440.