Monday, 19 June 2017

The Meadowsweet Cushion


This is cushion 2 in the series - being a collection of cushions, all with a story,  to sit on our library 'under stairs' daybed which we have have commissioned by our local brilliant  carpenter known to us as 'Chris the carpenter'.
The post here describes 'the  meadowsweet  cushion'. 
Once I had decided that I would make a variety of cushions I decided that I would do one in hand embroidery. It is years since I did anything like this from scratch but have continued to do bits such as 'mend/ replace' the embroidery on a bag I made from one of my aunt's cushion covers - more about that here. 
This was in another league  as I was not just embroidering over a transfer pattern, I was going to make the design from a photo of meadowsweet in our lane. So there were issues about the size of the design and placement on the cushion. I did not wish to draw a design in pen / pencil that I then stitched over. 
I decided to: 
1. Mark out the 4 quarters of the cushion in tacking stitch and also give an outline frame  so as not to be tempted to take the design too close to the seam  with the back of the cushion. I had already neatened the raw edges of the back and front of the shrunk fabric of the  cushion with the overlocker - this had been preshrunk by washing and ironing damp to avoid creases forming.
2. Sketch the design onto a full size sheet of plain paper and use this to mark the main features on the cushion cover by tacking stitches. 

 
Part of my wish with choosing the meadowsweet was to be able to do lots of French knots to represent the frothiness of the flower heads. My other self imposed 'rule' was that the colours should be the colours of the room, mainly greys and tealish/ light royal  blue but with cream and taupe of the sofa. 

I planned this design for the right of the cushion and with a selected set of embroidery threads I took this little kit with us on our holiday to Teesdale and Cumbria earlier in the year. ( Postcript : the weather was so brilliant that I did much less embroidery that I intended! But who's not to get out and enjoy lovely scenery in lovely weather? ) 

 
So when we were back and  had recovered from the break, I took up the embroidery with increased vigour and used it to keep me awake in the evenings while 'watching' the TV. I was really pleased with how the  meadowsweet flower heads were coming out and I allowed myself to digress from my strict colour scheme to add some olive green for a leaf. This was rather an afterthought. 

One morning - in my quality thinking time in the shower - I had a thought that I could add some of my meadowsweet dyed yarns to the left and the choice of embroidery thread in the dark olive would help to tie the two sides of the cushion together. 

 
I am pleased with the cushion which evolved during the embroidery process and is also another item in my meadowsweet series  from last year's wool week yoked jumper set. 



Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Future of Wool Week And Promote Shetland

This is an unusual posting from me! 
Shetland Council have not renewed the grant to Promote Shetland. There are 3 important people in this team, that in my opinion have done a great job in doing just that 'Promoting Shetland'. 
This is the letter I have written to the council, hoping that with enough 'encouragement' they will think again about this decision. 


14th June 2017

 

An open letter to Shetland Islands Council

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I note the decision not to renew The Promote Shetland contract from 30th June 2017. Please reconsider this decision. 

I note that you wish to move from ' much less about heritage tourism' rather about attracting people, particularly young people, to live, work and study and invest in Shetland'. This seems a strange decision to me when you already have in Promote Shetland what I consider an incredible group of people working at promoting Shetland. They are building on the past but looking to the future. Surely to build on those industries that are well established and expanding is valuable and to suggest not using expertise of 3 of the team seems to be very short sighted. 

I write as someone who first visited Shetland in 2000, for the birds and the knitting. We couldn't believe how well promoted everything was and it made our journey there painless and stress free. Whilst I was there I was taught to spin by the very talented Elizabeth Johnson. This is something that for nearly20 years has changed my life.  We returned in 2012 (poor health keeping us away in between) and determined to visit as soon as we could to Wool Week. I go to numerous ' wool related events' but nothing is even remotely in the same league as wool week. I have now been twice and returning again this year. I have told many people about it anothers that I know are now going to Shetland for wool week. If you multiply this by the number of people who attend Wool Week each year you will see how successful just this event is in promoting people to visit. By looking at the programme you will also see that it is now including other ‘businesses’ not just wool. These are how successful ventures evolve. Once people see what Shetland is like some will move and they are likely to have a plan of how they make a go of it. This must be true of the other 'tourist activities' that are so well promoted and run. Of course this is saying nothing about those friends that now buy wool related supplies from Shetland who would not have thought of it in the past. I am so impressed by the organisation of Wool Week that I have spoken about it to others running different events who can learn lessons from 'how it is done' in Shetland. 

 

I must mention things like my sheer enjoyment and pride in learning from and calling as 'friends' experts in the knitting field. My friends, back in Norfolk and beyond now ask about when books etc by these people are being published, how they can get them etc. 

 

I hope you get the message, to ' not help' wool week to succeed seems to me, and I suspect any far sighted personasa poor and wrong decision. To have a goldmine like this needs to be seized and encouraged not put in jeopardy. 

 

I do hope you will reconsider this decision.

 


 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Medieval Spinning



I feel very lucky to have acquired 3 medieval lead whorls from the vicinity of my village so that I can see how they spin. I am very grateful to the member of the History Group for this opportunity. I have put two whorls in store and am trying with one of them. 
It looks like this : 

 

Weight is 31.4g total diameter is 2.1. cm, height 1 cm and the diameter of the hole is 8 mm. I first tried to spin by putting a bamboo chopstick through the centre- the elastic band is a purely a safety measure on my part!  The whorl appears to have been used like this:
 

I did manage to spin some local Norfolk Horn fleece and as you can see it is giving  a fine thread. However, the whorl does not spin for long and I couldn't believe it was used for lots of spinning like this. 

So having spent some time, looking at medieval photos and researching further it became obvious that I needed a different shaped spindle. It is likely that a distaff - in medieval times - was held in the left  hand and the spindle was twisted / flicked by the right hand - in a continuous movement. (1) I also obtained advice on the shape of the cop needed, double ended with a swollen centre as this will put less pressure on the whorl which is just pushed up the spindle. 

I knew just the man to help me with my search for a spindle - David Whatley- a very skilled artist and craftsman. So Bank Holiday Monday saw us at his studio in Diss(2)  while I explained what I thought I needed. David had sourced some local spindle wood and sized up the whorl, discussed size with me etc and set about making a spindle. It was fantastic to see the small branch turn into the beautiful spindle. I am in awe of the skill and understanding shown. 
j 

This is the whorl on the spindle and you can see that I have managed to spin quite finely. By increasing the diameter of the yarn produced slightly ( to about 2 diameters of sewing thread) I could get a good result. The pointed top end is a joy to use as very little hand movement is needed to get a rotation. ( I am using it as a more usual drop spindle with a half hitch at the moment). We have talked about a further refinement later for when I use it with the distaff. 

Having completed the spindle wood spindle, David made spindle two out of oak. This has a less fine grain than the spindle wood but came up a beautiful colour with oil. 
 
 

I was VERY pleased with these. 

So now I have local fleece, a local whorl and local wood made into spindles and know the story behind each. This is all very special. 

I am in the early stages of preparing some posts about spinning in the past in my local area, so keep watching! 

(2) David is a member of Designermakers 21 in Diss, a very special place housing 12 professional craftspeople. You can visit Thursday - Saturday 10- 5.
www.designermakers21.co.uk



 



 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

My earliest knitting machine


The previous post shows the advert for a machine of this type. I was away when preparing that post and have now got the machine out of store and revelled in  its simplicity  and the ingenuity of its design. I just love it. 
The machine in its original box
 

I have hoovered it thoroughly, gently wiped the wonderful green enamel and put ballistol oil on the knitting mechanism
The machine bed. 
 
Note the ends- the numbers represent the tension, a simple 'blob in a dent' system which works amazingly well. 
 
Very simply the machine works by enabling  the 'gate pegs' to come out by  moving the inner slider to the opposite end of the carriage, the yarn is placed in the resulting horizontal groove, the other slider is moved along and the yarn is pulled towards the needle bed. The stitch formation action is completed by moving the front lower section around in a specified circuit ( towards you and round away from you ) and then you are ready to begin again. 

I was very lucky in that I had in the box, 2 cast on combs and a bristle brush; clear instructions accompanied by photographs on how to work the machine ; instructions on knitting garments ; a supplement of fancy stitches and a superb double sided advert describing clientele suited for using the machine - including 'war wounded men'! 
I have knitted samples on the machine but not an item yet! 
 
I have owned it for several years (35?) - it was bought at a local auction . One has just been for sale on eBay for £300- which is a LOT more than this cost ! ( I don't know if it was sold for that!) 

The interesting thing to me is finding out more about the machine. Further research of my  own and help from a lady in the Vintage Knitting Machine FB group has established:

The machine was made in Italy. 
The first  model came out in 1938, it seems without the end tension dials
The model I have went by many other names' the miniknitter' being a common one, it seems to be model 2 - having the end tension dials. 
It was made between 1949 and 1959, so it looks as if my machine is about the same age as me! 

The lady (Pia) who has provided some of the extra information is the proud owner of one of these machines as well as a Passap ST120. She believes that the Passap is older still as it has some wood contained in the machine. The sliders in the Lanofix  are clearly made  from early 'plastic'. 

Again if you know more about a Lanofix Miniknitter machine then do get in touch. 


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Mousa Cushion


In the redecoration of our lounge we decided to incorporate a unit in the  under stairs area. Our  expert local carpenter, who likes a challenge, exceeded our expectations with the unit he came up with. We have purchased some firm foam for the seat. I made an undercover for this from white curtain lining ( from the stash!). This also  gave me a trial run for the actual cover.  The following morning I decided  the undercover was too wrinkly and needed tightening. Hand stitching enabled me to get a really neat tight finish. So the planning and trial meant that making the actual linen based cover went well with no re-doing! 

Then it was time to provide the seat with lots of cushions. We bought a lovely avocet  one from John Lewis- avocets are my favourite bird, Cley bird reserve being a good place to see them. 
 
But wherever we looked we couldn't find any more suitable ( to me) cushions. I thus decided that the only way to have a set of cushions  that I liked was to make them. 
So for the first of a series of cushions. 
The front has been cut from a Mousa tee shirt that we bought for DH when in Shetland. We went on the Mousa boat one evening on a summer visit to be there for midnight and experience the storm petrels coming back to the broch. It was an experience we really enjoyed and will never forget and recommend it if you get a chance to do this too. 
The tee shirt had never been worn and if I could use this as a cushion front we could see it everyday and be reminded of Mousa. I backed the teeshirt material with iron on interfacing to stabilise it. I didn't really want to use the black Teeshirt fabric for the reverse of the cushion. 
 
On searching through my stash I noticed that there was sufficient fabric to use from the bridesmaid dress from our wedding ( 1974!). This was just the blue used in the Mousa artwork on the Teeshirt. The fabric was fine stripy satin and embroidered lawn, so I backed this also with iron on interfacing. At this stage the cushion looked good but incomplete.
 I decided it needed an edging in blue to also pick up the blue from the print. So, this time looking in my yarn stash I came up with some variegated fibre that looked promising. I made i-cord with the help of the knitting machine and then hand stitched it round the edge to complete the cushion. ( Apologies it was very hard to get a good image, it is square - honest!)
 
I love this and am pleased that we have such a personal cushion with nice memories. 
Now to make the next cushion. This one is already started ! It has a lot of hand embroidery, but like the first one it tells a personal story. It will take some time to complete, perhaps for the third cushion I will try some machine embroidery! 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

A machine knit item from the Great Exhibition of 1851


I've already written about a few of the items that really intrigued me in the V and A 'Undressed: A brief History of Underwear'. This is another ( and the last I shall write about). It was a machine knit man's long sleeved machine knitted undershirt. It was made in Britain and as I noted  above was in the Great Exhibition. It was labelled 'The Soltanello' - or perhaps 'sottanello'. I haven't been able to find any more information about it, even though the maker is given - 'Capper and Walters'. What I couldn't really  believe was that it was machine knitted at that time. 

If you know me well, I have a 'weakness' for machine knitting and own a couple of more vintage ones than I knit on myself but 1851 seemed a long time ago to have knitting machines that knitted this fine as well. 

So I set about a little discovery to see what I had missed. I knew the date given must be correct - this is a V and A exhibition after all. So this is a summary what I have found out. 

1589 William Lee invented a stocking frame which depended on the use of a spring and a bearded or barbed needle. The yarn was placed over the needles in a frame. This method was unchanged for the next 200 years.

1657 the Worshipful Company of Frame Knitters was incorporated

1849  latch needle ( much as we use today) patented by Matthew Townsend in the UK and James Herbert in USA

In the 1860's Pastor Isaac Lamb developed the first V bed flat knitting machine

1867 a  Mr Lamb in Northville Chicago developed an 84 needle machine weighing 15 lb and by the 1890's Lamb machines are noted as being used by home knitters throughout the world.

1924 Japan claims Masako Hagiwara invented the first knitting machine aimed at home use. This still required the yarn to be laid across the needles. I am unsure when a carriage took the yarn over the needles as in domestic machines in use now. 
I have been given the following information from ladies in the FB group for vintage knitting machine owners:
1956 Knitting machine had no tension arm
1958 Passap machine had a tension mask and carriage. 
So it looks as if the moveable carriage came in 1957/8 ish! 
Again any further information would help here! 

I have a vintage Lanofix machine that knits in this way, ie the wool is placed over the needles.  It was designed as a portable machine and the advertising with mine shows a gentleman in a wheel chair with the machine sitting on the arms. This would be World War II. It appears my machine may be one of the first models which dates from 1938 but I need to try and cross check this - very exciting. 
This is a poster for it - it seems it have had different names in different countries.
 


So knitting machines were available in 1851 but I don't have a clear idea of what the one knitting the undershirt might have looked like. I have tried to search the official catalogue of the Great Exhibition and found an entry that would have been good to see - an actual knitting machine! This was made by Eastman New Jersey - I think they were also connected with Photography. But so far I have drawn a blank on a drawing or photo. 

I have tried to cross check the information above. I apologise if any of it is incorrect. Please let me know if you have anything to add to this or if you have an image that I could see of the actual knitting machine that was in the Great Exhibition of 1851. 








Saturday, 15 April 2017

A thermal petticoat and a bit of sewing machine history


Another exhibit in the recent V and A 'undressed exhibition' that intrigued me was a thermal petticoat dated 1860. It was part of the V and A collection and is usually in Room 122, case 2 if you are interested and also part of the V and A online collection. 
(Photo copyright of V and A museum) 
 
The outer layer is of printed cotton ( which looked very much like a Norwich Shawl ) 1 , it was lined with cotton and Arctic goose down filled the space between the two. It was made by Booth and Fox who are noted as being in Britain, London and Ireland, Cork.
From looking closely the stitches were very regular and obviously machine done. 
This then led me to ask - how common was the sewing machine  in 1860? 


So I tried to find out more about the invention of the sewing machine. It is a fascinating story of a lot of people having a go and tweaking things or you could say altering details on the previous patents. 
The first patent appears to have been filed by Thomas Saint in 1790 - that surprised me! It used one thread and formed a chain. A string of people including Walter Hunt who used a double thread (1834) and Elias  Howe also in 1834 improved things and then in 1851 M. Singer and E Clark set up Singer.  The sewing machine which looked much like it does today was manufactured, initially as a treddle and for a century Singer machines rather dominated the world. 
I don't actually know the answer to my question - I would think the answer is 'few' but 
by 1900 20 million are said to have been used worldwide. 

My oldest sewing machine and dates to 1898. I just love the decoration.
  It stitches well. ( more about it at blogpost of 13 Feb 2012) 
 


The other interesting thing is that the dye used for the Red is Turkey Red which is a variation of the red obtained from Madder..... but  that is another story !