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 ! 

Friday, 14 April 2017

A stunning bustle at the V and A Museum

A stunning bustle at the V and A

This fabric really caught my eye at the 'Undressed - a brief history of underwear' exhibition at the V and A (see previous post).
It was so contemporary and could have been woven now, it was a delightful pale grey colour. It was making up this bustle:
(Image  copyright of the v and a museum) (1) 

I was particularly interested as I suspected it was made  from  crinoline. Crinoline was a fabric woven in Norwich (2) and contained horsehair. (The word comes from the French 'crin' for horsehair. ) On reading the label, I found it was woven crinoline, described on the label as a mixture of linen and horsehair. The label also indicates that bustles of this type were worn from about 1869-1880  and by 1890 these were no longer worn. My initial thought was that the fashion didn't last long, but then on reflection I realised how bizarre that thought was. Catwalk shows try and establish a 'trend' for one season now, so 11 years would be along time for a trend! 

This is even more interesting to me as I have cousins whose family owned mills in Norwich and  Wymondham that wove crinoline. Between us we are trying to find out more about this type of weaving and the mills involved. 

(1) More about this bustle. If you haven't been to the V and A and are interested in Fashion then a visit to the V and A is a must and also a look at their 'new' textile area at Clothworkers Centre. More about this one can be found in their online collection. 

(2) Morris Thelma in 'Made in Norwich' 700 years of Textile Heritage notes that Crinoline was a fabric with a cotton warp, crossed with horsehair ( the weft- my addition!) used for stiffening, especially crinoline skirts. It was known to be made by E.F. HIndes (1850s) and Bollingbroke &  Jones (1883-7 ) p 85

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Underwear, Jaegar and first century weaving

It's been too long since we went to London, so decided to treat ourselves to 3 nights away recently. The aim was to get to the V and A exhibition ' Undressed- a brief history of underwear' and managed it but with only a day to spare. Travelling from Wymondham was easy and very enjoyable with a change in Cambridge and London didn't seem very far. Of course, it's not that many years since I travelled to London from Diss at least once a week just for a fun  meeting about education. If we go back even further we did live there  for lots of years and  so always enjoy a visit now. 
Travelling worked well but I felt the burden of taking medication as I was quite migrainous. This is the result of fitting too much in before the visit I guess. 
And so to the Exhibition, we booked tickets for 10.00am and glad we did as it began to get busy as we finished. It didn't disappoint, the exhibition contained about 200 items from the 18th century to the present day and covered some men's underwear as well as ladies. I was particularly interested in the earlier examples where there particularly good examples of stays, made from a range of materials but starting with whalebone. X Ray's showed the effect of some of these on the ribs  and body - not good! 
Photography was not allowed but the 2 books devoted to the exhibition are both beautiful. Although the labelling was good, I will enjoy the additional detail in the books. I do have a History of Underwear book, acquired when I was researching bodices and the bra for making pieces for exhibiting. The (hand spun , dyed and )  knitted bra/ bikini top was in show at Maker's Month at the Forum in February where it proved to be quite a talking point. It will be part of an exhibition from Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in Diss Corn Hall from May 27th to June 7th 2017.
It was interesting to see reference to Jaegar in the exhibition and in an unexpected but interesting context which left me wanting to know more. So this is what I have found out.
Gustafson Jagar (born 1832 ) was a naturalist and hygienist (?!). He became a Professor of Physiology at a Veterinary School and later became a Physician  in Stuttgart. He wrote widely and gained a following from writing 'Die Normalkleidung als Gersundheitsschutz' or 'Standardised Apparel for Health Protection'. Basically he advocated wearing animal fibre next to the skin as it was better for the health  rather than plant fibres such as cotton. One such follower of his ideas was George Bernard Shaw. There was a particularly fetching photo of him in his woollen combinations (looked just like a 'onesie') on a beach on the South coast in 1885.
Gustafson J├Ąger did not form the firm, it was a British business man who started the firm of Jaegar based on his ideas in 1884. They became famous for quality wool knitwear, particularly twinsets,  and also used other exotic animal fibres, being noted for the introduction of the camel hair coat , besides using cashmere, angora and alpaca. This is particularly interesting, I have spun camel hair and found it rather like twine. 

In March (2017) Diss Guild members have the opportunity to spin cashmere, angora, alpaca and best camel down - how apt is that to this post. Watch this blog for a posting about what I think about spinning the softer type of camel.

During the First World War Jaegar supplied the British troops with long johns which were much appreciated. After the war natural fibres remained at the heart of the company as they started manufacturing suits and smart casual clothing. 

The brand Jaegar remains today. From looking at their website they note  their foundation in 1884 and recognise their heritage but sensibly  note that ' we understand the importance of innovation and creativity .... ( with) ...effortlessly stylish pieces for work and play without the designer price tags!'  Further research indicates that they are aiming to return the company to its historic reliance on uk factory production. A real positive in my opinion. I even liked some of the clothes! 

I love a thought provoking exhibition like this one at the V and A, it has set my inquisitive mind off and keep looking as I report on 3 more textile lines of the exhibition. I even saw my oldest textile - dated 300-600 , made of linen and wool, and I think you will agree it could have come off a loom today. It is beautiful and I would have been happy to have woven it. 


Monday, 6 March 2017

Maker's Month at Norwich Forum

Last month the Forum in Norwich ran Maker's Month again this year. It is a month long event in a large space in front of the wonderful library and this year was throughout the month of February. Volunteers and others are invited to take part. The main aim is to show our crafts to the public and enthuse visitors to consider taking up or finding out more. Diss Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, along with the other Norfolk WSD Guilds took part last year but I wasn't really well enough to be involved, the migraine was still vicious. 
This year the 5 Guilds were there for 5 days and there was a real buzz about the place. Personally, despite misgivings of not feeling in control before it started it worked well. The 5 Guilds had met during the year but I wasn't quite sure what would happen, and having organised exhibitions before it is much easier, for me, to know exactly what will happen when. I spent 2 full days there and was also involved in the setting up and taking down of the Diss Guild contribution. For me it worked brilliantly, lots of really interested visitors and lots of communication with other guilds with mutual exchange of tips. I even began a journey on  a completely new skill, spinning with a Bavarian Spindle. 
The Bavarian spindles are on the left. These were on the sales table.
I demonstrated on my 8 shaft Katie Loom and took my little rigid heddle lap loom one day so that it could be used by a visitor to see how it worked. I had with me long samplers for both the Katie - it was a 4 shaft sampler but long and gave an idea of the scope of 4 shafts, and mesmerising thoughts of what 8 shafts could yield in terms of pattern. 
Honeycomb on the loom at the Forum, the wool warp will shrink when washed to accentuate the honeycomb pattern. 
The  rigid heddle sampler was a 'pick up' sampler that I had made in preparation for teaching a workshop when based in Cheshire. This in particular caused a lot of interest with many owning rigid heddle looms were surprised that it was produced on what they thought was such a simple system. ( am going to blog about this soon) 
Our main display piece was Diss Miss - a mannequin fully clothed in knitted and woven items, complete with socks, boots with inkle woven laces and with a half mannequin showing some possible underwear for our Miss! 
It was a real talking point. We were continually involved in talking to the public, demonstrating and teaching or letting people have a go on an ad hoc basis. 
I also had my natural dyeing with me so spent  some considerable time talking about that and reassuring people that all that was there was naturally dyed, despite the strong colours! 
We had the opportunity to run a longer workshop for up to 6 people during this 5 day period. After much thought I decided I would give it a go and choose to teach 'Natural Dyeing by solar dyeing ' for complete beginners. Not doing this at home, but in the confines of a part of the Forum meant lots of preparation in advance and also much list checking to ensure we had everything with us. I had a group of 6 very keen participants  so that was great. The workshop was over subscribed and I got some lovely feedback so I feel it was a real success. 
A lot of preparation was involved as in all successful exhibitions but all well worth it. The Forum team were fantastic, calm and very flexible and seemed able to respond to any request from the 5 Guilds as personnel and activity varied over the 5 days. Unfortunately I was also running a workshop for Diss Guild the day after this 5 day event so I missed going to see the Costume and Textile Association ( there was a talk on Chanel!) but I hope to catch up with that again soon - in Norwich Fashion Week. When I went to the Guild on Thursday we had a new member - and she had been to the Forum and decided to learn spinning and weaving- how great is that? 
My mind is already full  of ideas for next year....where's the list? 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Make do and mend

Last week I helped at the second make do and mend workshop which took place in the library of the Norwich Costume and Textile Library - I had to try continuously to keep my eyes from wandering ! 
It was another busy session this time led by Patricia ( from the Castle Museum). Louise ( from the Textiles Department) talked us through a number of items related to mending from the collections. The most memorable of these to me were miniature garments showing stages of hand sewing and mending and also what were a true delight- the sample books of sewing and mending completed by girls in the late 1800s. It was explained that these were like cv's - they would be shown to a potential employer ( for girls going into 'service') and would demonstrate their skills. Remember there were no sewing machines and what was striking was the regularity and small size of the stitches. Some mending even simulated more complex weave structures, 
Following this demonstration more recent items were shown with patching, 'moth hole disguising' by embroidery and needle felting  and I showed the 'easy weve' little loom in operation ( see previous post). 
Then it was time for the attendees to have a go at doing a patch of their own - all materials used having been prepared beforehand. There were 4 volunteers, 2 from the Norfolk Waste Department and 2 of us via Norwich  and Textile Association. We were kept busy helping as there were about 15 attendees. Some were particularly interested in knowing more about darning knitwear and I was able to demonstrate how to use duplicate stitch (Swiss Darning) to reinforce a thin area by tracing the individual stitches and also how to do more traditional darning by weaving. We discussed how to find and 'borrow' an identical thread in a garment and failing that sources locally to get a close match. Unfortunately time ran out on us. Attendees noted that they would have liked a full day for this ! 
The day really got me thinking. I could remember making a sample folder when I did O level needlework. Unfortunately I was not able to take this as a subject until the VI form.  I did so want to do needlework as one of my GCE choices but being in a small Girls Grammar school I was taken on one side and told my choices would be Biology, Physics and Chemistry as I was in the top set. I can't remember ever not being able to sew and knit, being able to do both before I started school, but it was pointed out to me that needlework was something I could ( and would do) in my spare time. I was not impressed but got on with it and in the VI form persuaded the school that I could do O level needlework in my non A level time. This I did but I had to sit at the front of what are now year 10 and 11 classes. I am glad that many things in education  have improved and this is one of them.
 (In fact I spent a career enjoying teaching science. I took a different approach in my teaching from that which I received and took much trouble to show my pupils how relevant science was to their lives and how to love science. Due to the approach I took I was able to make a contribution to science teaching nationally.) 
As my school teachers well knew I would continue with my textile interests in my spare time. I now use my science background in my dyeing ( and other textile disciplines) and still find teaching others very rewarding. 
I have enjoyed looking through my sampler folder - these are my mending samples on 1/4" gingham and plain calico 

These show the reverse side. 

These are my darning samples on woven wool - thin place darn left and hedge tear darn on right

and hole darn 


I have often met people in workshops who were not allowed to follow their subject passions at school - I hope you are not one of them. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

A tiny Lancashire Loom

This is a really special vintage loom from my collection that I have had for a few years. It is also called Lancashire's Smallest Loom, made by A Chesstok of Manchester.  Original cost was 5/- or Five shillings which translates to 25 pence in the current currency. 

It is a little mending weaving loom and here it is in use. 

The idea ( briefly) is that the warp is formed over the hole to be darned by making stitches opposite the hooks and looping the yarn over the hooks in turn, then taking another stitch opposite the hooks.  You then weave and change the shed to give plain weave by pushing the metal oblong at the top which tilts the hooks to the right and left in turn. Once the weaving is complete, the remaining 3 sides are stitched down to the garment. Ingenious. 

Here I am using a contrasting thread to show how it works. You can make the weaving as small as you like. The width is constrained by the width of the loom ( a bit over 2") but the length could be more. I will be taking it with me tomorrow as I am helping at a Costume and Textiles Association event in the Bridewell Museum tomorrow on ' make do and mend'. I think the participants might enjoy seeing this lovely vintage item. 

Tom of Holland has described it's use in detail on his blog of 23 June 2011

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Using a circular sock knitting machine

In 2001 soon after we moved to Cheshire I bought this vintage sock knitting machine and had a lesson with the sock knitting guru  Denys Wright, who I bought the machine from. I just loved the engineering and it joined my two other vintage knitting machines - both normal flatbed type. I didn't  really expect to produce anything useful from it. 
Full set up 
This machine is a Berridge and made late 1800's early 1900's, still trying to track the model down. It was built in Leicester and is a Griswold design, but he went back to America between 1890 and 1892 and Berridge took over! 
I wasn't really interested in getting it to knit  socks, but played a bit and managed the heel and toe ( both the same thing in a machine knitted sock ) and even the ribbing for the cuff, as samples. But then we moved to another house in Cheshire  so I took the needles out and stored it safely. Then I was busy- mainly working! 

Then last January, now living back in Norfolk and having more space I got the machine out again, fitted it all together and checked it was working. It has sat covered up in my 'sewing room' since then. Now it is 2017 I have decided I am going to try and knit a pair of socks with it. I have done a little bit on it most days over the last week. 
Here is the progress so far. 
Sock  1 
Trying  ( and managing) to get a sock and a heel in the same sample. 
I never even tried to get a decent leg length or foot length. It has worked but the grafting of the toe - the last bit in making a sock this way) is not neat enough for me.

Sock 2 
Nearly happy with this one, some tension errors, fits my foot beautifully but still unhappy with the grafting

Sock 3 
Pleased with this. A different method of grafting that is brilliant. Decided to use a contrast yarn and make it match the simple cuff I am currently doing. Tension is better too. 
I am not going to try to add the ribber section ( on back left in top photo) until I can knit a perfect sock without any hiccups at all. If a latch sticks open on a needle  there is a ladder and the knitting needs so much weighting that the ladder runs very quickly. The other two keys to success are getting the tension right, there is pointer on the side of the machine that adjusts the height of the needles and getting the weight just right when knitting the heel and toe. Too much weight and the stitches can't knit and too little and the stitches come off the hooks. 
The toe is grafted to the top of the foot by hand, and I am now pleased I have a neat method for that. 
It is much more complicated than an ordinary knitting machine as you have nowhere to park the carriage easily  where it is not sitting on the stitches being a circular set up. 

I am pleasantly surprised how it knits fine yarn. 

I have some old books to help me. The best advice was :
This ( knitting a sock correctly with shaping at first sitting) should not be anticipated; but anyone can become an expert in working the machine within a short time, from the book only, without personal instructions, provided they will commence at the beginning and learn perfectly ONE THING AT A TIME, following the order herein given' - so true!

You tube is proving very useful in finding extra hints and tips. 

I might just get my own knitted walking socks yet but the you tube video labelled the 8 1/2 minute sock is not something I am aiming for! What fun would there be in rushing with a wonderful machine?