Welsh love spoons are handmade wooden spoons that are made from one piece of wood and designed and decorated according to the carver’s imagination. Originally made by young men during the long winter nights or by young men on long sea voyages, they were carved to express that young man’s intentions towards a particular girl. A love spoon would be given to a girl as an indication that he wished to court her. A girl may have received love spoons from several suitors and these would be displayed on the wall of her home.
The tradition of carving lovespoons is thought to have been derived from the making of culinary spoons and the giving of a spoon became symbolic with the expression of the wish to “feed” or support the object of the prospective suitor’s desire. It was a short step to decorating such a spoon and to investing it with symbols of the suitor’s hopes and wishes. Such a spoon would then have had no practical use and would have been regarded as an ornamental gift albeit vested with meaning. The earliest surviving love spoon dating from around 1667 is at the National Museum of Wales at St. Fagans near Cardiff but Welsh love spoons are known to have been made by the menfolk of Wales before this date.
The practice of making and giving love spoons by prospective suitors was common in Wales throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but the custom became less popular towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. There has been a revival of the custom over the last 40 or so years and many people today make love spoons on a commercial basis for customers to utilise for the commemoration of special events in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones. Today Welsh love spoons may be given as they were originally, to declare a suitor’s intent, to commemorate a Wedding Day, an Engagement, the birth of a child, a wedding anniversary, a birthday, a Christening or Baptism, Valentine’s Day or the Welsh equivalent, Dydd Santes Dwynwen, a graduation and as “favours” for the guests at a wedding.
Wood carvers have traditionally used a variety of timbers for their work; the timber chosen being most suited to the item being fashioned. Love spoons have been made from timbers most readily available and from those that are easily worked; softwoods such as sycamore and lime. Most carvers uses lime wood for his spoons and lime has been one of the materials most commonly used to make large wooden sculptures in Europe. It was used particularly in 15th and 16th century Germany to make large altarpieces found in churches there to this day. Lime wood comes from the Lime tree Tilia vulgaris or the Linden tree as it is known in Europe. Lime trees are tall long-lived trees that were planted to provide shade along roadsides in the summer and to prevent snowdrifts along the roads in the winter. Lime wood is a creamy colour, and is very suitable for carving as it is easily worked, and polishes to a good natural or stained finish.