Medieval Wire Brooch

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.

Brooch in Egan

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.

  1. Cut a piece of 20 gauge wire at least 3 times as long as the frame diameter you want.
  1. 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.Wire brooch step 1

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.

Wire brooch step 2

  1. 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.

Wire brooch step 3

Create a spiral.

  1. Cut a 12” piece of 20 gauge wire.
  1. Cut a piece of 24 gauge wire at least 2 yards long.
  1. 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.

Wire brooch step 4

Wire brooch step 5

Create the brooch.

  1. Cut a 2nd piece of 24 gauge wire several inches longer than the coil.
  2. Thread this piece of wire through the coil.
  3. 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.
  4. Wire brooch step 6
  5. Periodically, tighten up the coil you have already wrapped around the frame.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


Paternoster for the Queen of the East


The paternoster for the Queen of the East is made of amethyst ave beads with tigereye gaud beads and a crown pendant.  The tigereye is a cheat – I was stunned to discover how difficult it was to find a tiger pendant when I really needed one, so I went in a different direction to work the Eastern tiger into the paternoster.  I have no documentation of tigereye being used in European medieval and Renaissance jewelry.  The amethyst, on the other hand, is documentable.  The 1580 inventory of the belongings of Jacobaea, the dowager Duchess of Bavaria, included an amethyst paternoster with gold gaud beads.  A 1547 inventory of Anna, Queen of Hungary, Bohemia, Rome and Archduchess of Austria, includes a paternoster of the same materials (Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhoechsten Kaiserhauses, volume 5, 1887.)

East (3)

Paternoster for the Queen of Northshield

Northshield (2)

The paternoster I made for the Queen of Northshield isn’t as flashy as some of the others, but I think it’s quite pretty and classic, and it represents one of my favorite combinations in paternosters, jet-black and silver.  I suspect from the photo (since it’s been several months) that I ended up using black glass beads rather than actual jet in the paternoster, and the silver is actually pewter (from Billy and Charlie’s).  The use of jet with silver gauds comes up frequently in English wills in the 15th and 16th centuries. The 1546 will of Thomas Denman leaves “to Elsebeth Wilson a pare of jeatt beades, with silver gawdies.” (Testamenta Eboracensia: A Selection of Wills from the the Registry at York.  Vol. VI., 239) Isabell Grymston willed “a pair of gett bedes gawded wt silver” to her daughter Elis Colynson in 1479 (Testamenta Eboracensia: A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York, Vol III., 253)  Among the paternosters that Richard Knight of York left his daughter Agnes in 1435 were two paternosters of jet beads with silver gaud beads.  (Testamenta Eboracensia: A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York, Part II, 201)



So I’ve been thinking for a while about a motto for myself in the SCA. Her Excellency Constanza sent me her research, and I’ve pulled some out that I might use. I would really appreciate some feedback. What suits me? What doesn’t?

Post nubila Phoebus (After clouds sunshine)

Constans et Fidelis (Constant and faithful)

Dum spiro, spero (While I breathe, I hope – Att. To Cicero)

Ich dien (I serve – The Black Prince)

Esperance (Hope – Charles VI of France – usually paired with branches and pods of broom)

Fide et Amore (With faith and Love – Conwy of Bodrhyddan)

Te ipsum nosce (Know thyself)

Bien en Avienne (May good come of it – Margret of York)

True and sure (Fletchers’ Company, in 1371 separated from Bowyers by agreement)

Spes potentior viribus (Hope is more powerful than force – Guillim of Westbury 1650s)

Amicitia Reddit Honores (Friendship Gives Honor)

Cor et manus (Heart and hand)

Yo causa travesura (I cause mischief)

Pennsic University Classes

I got my class schedule for Pennsic and wanted to post it here for those who might be interested.

Friday, July 26, 8 pm, Paternosters: A Visual History of Period Prayer
This is a slideshow with photos of paternoster artifacts. I put this show on for the first time last Pennsic, and I plan to update it and do it again, provided that I am able to secure a projector. The one I used last year blew a bulb, and the bulbs are nearly as expensive as the used projector was.

Saturday, July 27, noon, Bidding the Bedes: An Introduction to Paternosters
This is my introductory class, covering the basics of what a paternoster is, what purposes they served in medieval and Renaissance life, and how to make your own using medieval materials. I always have kits of either glass or bone beads so that everyone can leave with a paternoster for a small ($5) fee.

Monday, July 29, 10 am, Paternosters: The Evidence
My evidence class is relatively new, and it’s a lecture on what documentation we have for medieval prayer beads, focusing particularly on the artifacts. I also discuss the benefits and shortcomings of the kinds of evidence as well as comparing them (hint: I don’t think the museums always have prayer beads reconstructed properly).

Thursday, August 1, 11 am, Skully Bits: The Use of Skulls and Skeletons in Prayer Beads
I get asked all the time about the use of skulls and skeletons in paternosters, and I have been wanting to do a class to talk about how these kind of memento mori are used in paternosters. I’m still developing this class, so I may post here as I’m processing ideas.

Also, on Sunday, July 28, I’ll be organizing Paternoster Day on Artisans Row, so I’d love to see visitors there.

A new (to me) medieval paternoster

I recently visited the Republic of Ireland and stopped by the City Museum in Galway because their website indicated that they had a collection of rosaries. I wasn’t sure what I would find – the website didn’t have any specific information indicating the age of the prayer beads. So I was absolutely thrilled to walk into the museum and find this in one of the very first display cases:

Bone paternoster (1)

Bone paternoster (2)

Bone paternoster (3)

I’m still working on finding more details, but the dating of this paternoster puts it as one of the earliest artifacts I have found.

Paternoster for the Queen of the Outlands

Outlands (5)

This little paternoster was one of the stars of the show for me. I can’t claim any great knowledge of the Outlands, but the pieces just came together.

The beads are glass, but they are that honey color that resembles lighter colored amber from a distance. There’s a lot of documentation out there for both amber paternosters, including all three of the paternosters found in Ireland that I’m aware of. In my study of transcribed English wills and inventories from the 13th to 16th centuries, I have found no less than 50 amber paternosters mentioned. Though not as numerous, there are also scattered references to glass paternoster beads. Jewelry research tells us that there was a market for fake gems, so using glass to look like more valuable amber is certainly probable.

Cork paternoster       13th century small paternoster Waterford     13th century large paternoster Waterford

Although the stag pendant is a specific reference to the heraldry of the Outlands, it’s also a reasonable paternoster charm. In 1390, Marguerite of Burgundian gifted a paternoster that included a white enameled pendant of a doe (Lightbown, Medieval European Jewellery, pg. 55.