Why you should care
Because each lovespoon is carved with a love story.
Pragmatic and ubiquitous, wooden kitchen utensils don’t immediately scream passion. And yet, in Wales, there’s nothing more romantic than a lovespoon. The smooth curve of the spoon’s bowl— a reminder of the craft’s once utilitarian past — is a given, but aside from that, each should be as individual as the last, decorated with anything from delicate daffodil reliefs to corkscrewed stems to interlinked horseshoes.
Found in many Welsh living rooms — even Gwen has one on her wall in the BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey — these handicrafts are more than just traditional trinkets; they’re elaborately carved expressions of love, loyalty and affection. So stir things up this Valentine’s Day, skip the sad gas-station bouquets and sickly sweet chocolates and give the gift of a Welsh lovespoon instead. Or at least start carving one for next year.
You’d be just the latest in a long line of suitors bidding for the heart of their beloved by way of a wooden spoon. “Their original purpose was purely utilitarian, but over time they became gradually more intricate and symbolic,” notes Lowri Jenkins, National Museum Wales’ senior curator of cultural life. But by at least 1667 — the approximate date of the earliest surviving lovespoon — they had turned into something of a pre-courtship custom. Gifted as a shorthand for “will you be my girlfriend?” ornate versions with laboriously carved sentiments became the human equivalent to a peacock displaying its plumage. Nowadays, lovespoons have morphed into a catchall Welsh handicraft, created for anniversaries, birthdays and weddings. “It’s a tradition for wedding guests to gift married couples with engraved lovespoons,” adds Jenkins.
When done well a lovespoon provides an at-a-glance glimpse into the relationship between gifter and giftee. The “design needs to be well-balanced … and the story behind it should be easy to read,” according to commission-only carver and woodworking teacher Sharon Littley — who, incidentally, wrote the book on lovespoon designs. Hearts dominate, but diamonds (good fortune) and intertwined knotwork (everlasting union) are also common. Meanwhile, balls in a cage stand for the number of children you have, while intricate chainlinks represent the years you’ve spent together. There’s no room for the old ball and chain puns where the romantic symbolism of a Welsh lovespoon is concerned.
It’s no wonder these intimate objects — often decorated with Welsh motifs like daffodils (the national flower of Wales) and dragons (for strength and protection) — become, as Jenkins notes, “treasured pieces within families [that] are handed down from generation to generation.”
Lovespoons, which should always be carved from a single piece of wood, can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Or more accurately, as you can afford. But if you fancy knocking up a lovespoon yourself in a woodworking class, you might want to start carving now for next year. Littley spends at least 60 hours on a custom design that can run upward of $650 and take months to complete, while fellow prolific lovespoon carver Sion Llewellyn says his commissioned spoons “can be turned around in about four to six weeks.”
And while the market for Welsh lovespoons is perhaps strongest in their country of origin — all shapes, sizes and price points are abundant in both souvenir and specialist shops across Wales — there is also international demand. Both Littley and Llewellyn have seen success in Japan, Canada and the U.S., with Llewellyn — who has collectors of his spoons scattered across the globe — explaining that “the market for traditional lovespoons is steady at the moment as people are prepared to pay that bit more for a quality item.”
Alternatively, if you find yourself in Wales, Castle Welsh Crafts, opposite Cardiff Castle, is the ideal introductory spot for the lovespoon-curious. This Welsh gift emporium is home to the once-biggest-in-the-world lovespoon, as well as the improbably tiny matchstick-sized smallest one. And they ship their (normal-sized) lovespoons internationally on request. Down the coast in Swansea, The Lovespoon Gallery specializes in artisanal spoons, including Llewellyn’s designs.
Whether your partner carves one himself, picks one up pre-made or commissions a one-off, the gift of a Welsh wooden spoon shows he’s at least somewhat serious about wooing you. Besides, a little (love)spooning never hurt anyone.