Used in eastern Europe and the Greek homelands during the Bronze age, this style of pin has been dated from 10th to 4th century BC, much earlier than the generally accepted SCA re-enactment time period. However, these pins work well for the occasional foray into the Bronze Age, or early period Greek. These are sometimes called “spectacle” fibulas.
Take a look at extant examples to get an idea about the visual effect for these pins. (Pinterest deleted the Map Board function, so I’ll have to rebuild it in Google Maps to show the geographic range.)
I’ve selected several examples that include the figure 8 in the center, AND which are made of one single continuous wire. In southern Italy, this basic type of pin was created with a separate strip for the pin & hook, which was riveted to the center of the spirals. There are a few other examples that include the double spirals, but do not have the central figure 8. After rejecting those other types, there were 14 ancient artefacts to analyze.
Many of the examples are of squarish wire, but some of the wire is round. Large gauge square copper wire CAN be purchased online, but the price is 5-9 times more expensive than common round wire found locally in hardware & home improvement stores. (2014 data here) Square bronze & brass wire found via a quick search are not large enough in size, and are even more costly than the square copper. So practicing in common round copper wire is a practical and accessible choice for everyone. Nearly all of the artefacts are cited as being “bronze”, but as scientific analysis of the metal content has not been noted for most, the modern museum standard of “copper alloy” will be used.
Of the noted examples, 9 have a clockwise twist in the spirals, starting at the center and moving out, while 5 have a counter-clockwise twist. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between size and twist direction. The minimum number of complete twists appears to be 5 in each spiral, with 5 and 8 twists being fairly common. The largest number of twists is 10 on each side, and the mathematical average is 7 twists. While an equal number of twists on each side is more common, some of the examples have spirals which don’t perfectly match each other, so a slight lack of symmetry is perfectly acceptable.
Size of these fibulas is hugely variable. Length varies from 3.7 cm to 20.7 cm in 14 artefacts. The average length is 10.5 cm, with 4 examples falling between 10 and 11.4 cm long. To create that size of fibula, over 150 cm of 12 gauge wire is needed. The 3 examples over 14 cm long must have been created with a 6, 8 or 10 gauge wire, which is somewhat more difficult to obtain. I can buy some 6 gauge wire by the foot, and will test this size out in the future. I suspect that a double spiral fibula that was 20.7 cm long would weigh quite a lot, and might be a little more than most re-enactors need for fastening their clothing or cloaks.
None of the examples selected include a coiled spring, but simply bend the pin and hook. Having worked with the design, I understand why. It requires a bit more forethought and fiddling with the piece to create a coiled spring without bending the project in strange and unattractive ways. This tutorial DOES include a coiled spring, because in re-enactment use, the pin is likely to be taken on and off, possibly more frequently than our historic models. The coiled spring is more durable, which is why it is still part of modern safety pins. Lest anyone cry “Anachronism!”, let me assure you that coiled springs WERE known in this time period, and used on other fibulas, just not this specific design. Possibly one motivation for the separate pin found in the non-selected southern Italian examples is so that a coiled spring could be more easily used.
The last bit of visual analysis shows that most of the fibulas have the central figure 8 very vertically positioned between the outer spirals, with the 2 Harvard examples and the one from the Louvre as slanted exceptions. There is one lone example out of the 14 noted that uses a double loop in creating the figure 8. In all but 2 cases, the wire between the top and bottom parts of the figure 8 is BEHIND the other wires.
Now that we’ve dissected what characterizes this style of pin, let’s get down to the actual work.
Materials needed :
- various gauges of copper wire, 16 ga and thicker
- Wire cutters, chain nose, & round nose jewelry pliers
- Grinding wheel, or files & sandpaper
- Sharpie for marking (and nail polish remover to take it off.)
- Rubber or rawhide mallet & smooth hard striking surface
- Optional jigs and fixtures, like various sized dowels, a vise, or commercial wire shaping supplies
Cut a reasonable length of wire – a 16 gauge wire fibula with only 5 twists on each spiral requires about 45 cm. This produces a pin that is at the low end of the extant examples range. So reasonable is a matter of trial and error.
Mark the ends for the coiled spring and pin (6 to 15 cm) and the pin hook (1.5 to 3 cm). Take the remaining wire and mark the exact center.
Create your central figure 8, either using a wire forming jig, or just your jewelry pliers. Hammer gently on the figure 8 to flatten and work harden it.
Bend the coiled spring a single time. After the spirals are finished, the last bit of the spring will be bent. I used a small dowel, with some rubber washers to keep them in place, while Bechte used only jewelry pliers. Sharpen the pin tip with your grinding wheel, or files and sandpaper. Straighten and work harden the pin with your mallet.
Use jewelry pliers to bend the main spiral wire at a 90 degree angle from the coiled spring, and start the spiral twists. I used a vise to help hold the pin and spring, and hammered the spiral on the vise top after every twist. You have to be careful that the spiral up top is not moving separate from the pin, or you will have a pin break off. Trust me, you can NOT solder this spiral wire back together. Bechte just used her jewelry pliers and experience. Try to push the wire around the spiral, rather than pull. 16 gauge wire is far easier to work with than 12 gauge. As you are twisting, pay attention to the figure 8, for when you wrap the wire up to that point, you want the figure 8 to be oriented in the same direction.
Now bend the pin catch, and follow the same process to twist the second spiral. Be SURE you are wrapping the twist in the same direction. After the second spiral is fully twisted, you will probably need to adjust the orientation of the pin hook. Hammer to work harden.
Bend the last 75 degrees of the coiled spring, and ensure it will hook in the catch. Your goal is to have the back of the fibula match the angle of an open modern safety pin. Work harden. If the pin is too long, you CAN cut it off and file it again. However, there are a few examples of pins in the time period that have the pin point extending beyond the body of the fibula, so the choice is yours.
Here are some of our initial fibulas. Most need the sharpie marks cleaned off with nail polish remover, and some buffing & polishing. For those interested in size, I’ve included one set of photos with measurements & all angles.
Most of these were given as largesse to Gwen & Agemmenon, when they served Calontir as crowns and their reign was Greek.