Monday, 23 October 2017

Shetland Wool Week day 7: An idyllic day in Unst: Tuesday 19 September

We got up to a brilliant sunny but windy day. I decided that some washing was in order. Pegging this on the line was challenging, needing 3 pegs forced down on each item and as I left the line it was all horizontal. It would be a good drying day.
I had received emails from two local people, Cheryl who I had met in a photography workshop last year and Minnie whom I had known from spinning etc for several years. We hoped to meet both during our time in Unst. 
We managed to get to Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms for coffee. The cakes as always were delicious, do fit in a trip there if you are ever that far north and below is just a quick snap as we arrived. As a treat we bought an Unst Calendar for next year, the added bonus being that I will not make our own and they are all pictures of Unst - that will be a real delight for 2018.



We were, of course, off to Norwick beach - one of our favourite beaches in Unst. Michael walked up the road to look for birds and I went on the beach to take pictures of seaweed. After a break for lunch, made in the camper van there was time for more of the same! 


I did tear myself away to finish a little textile project, lacing my boots with their new inkle woven laces in black and gold cotton to match the original stitching on the boots.  I am very pleased with them and in fact they got many favourable comments later in the holiday. It was a surprise to be stopped in the street and someone pointing to my feet and then after some more pointing and attempt at speaking a common language the lady and I managed to have a conversation about the laces. She knows they are woven but the ‘inkle weaving’ might have been a step too far!


The day got better, we stopped in Skiboull Stores for some provisions - pear tart, 2 delightful fair isles mugs for morning coffee when we get home etc and who should come in too, but Minnie. We missed each other in Shetland last year so we had a bit of catching up to do but things soon turned to spinning and natural dyeing. We hoped to meet up on Friday at the Heritage Centre when I would go along in the afternoon to meet local spinners and knitters who meet there in the summer at that time. 

What a super day it had been, great scenery, great seaweed, great cake and catching up with friends. We slept well. 



Monday, 9 October 2017

Shetland Wool Week day 6: A rest day in Unst : Monday 18 September


We had been travelling for 5 days so deemed today a rest day. We were not tempted to do otherwise as it was a bit wet outside first thing. We did not move the van all day. 
I decided that complete rest could well result in a migraine so set to on getting to the final draft stage with a month's long online textile workshop  ( on getting a professional finish to garments) that I am working on to be delivered in November. 
Image of section of workshop 


This is my first venture into this sort of thing, although in the past I have written stand alone teach yourself units - but that was in A level Chemistry and not a textile based subject. It will be interesting to see how this goes. 
By lunchtime it has stopped raining and brightened up. However, I was determined to get the new laptop talking to the wi fi in the hostel. Eventually  it worked, failure at first was operator failure and lack of familiarity with the newish laptop. 
It was very nice to walk round the sound to the north east and surprised to see a loch behind the shore. I just stretched my legs and took photos of sea based things, seaweed and fishermen's bits for the colour and texture- part of today's textile interest. I took a couple of other photos unique to Uyeasound, more on one in a later post. Michael walked much further looking at birds and was surprised and delighted by an otter that ran across the road from the sea to the loch. When he looked it obviously has a well worn track from the beach. He watched it for a couple of minutes while it swam away into the loch. 
We can fully understand how important this area was in the past due to the long area of sheltered sea. It is good to see there is still fish based industry of a sizeable nature still here.(1) 
In the previous post this can be seen  towards the right of the photo showing the sound. In the past herring were a big catch in this part of Unst and herring girls followed the shoals, some going down to Gt Yarmouth and Lowestoft - what a small world it is. 

I couldn't resist this photo of the bus stop - how useful to have a pair of wellies to use! 
Uyeasound bus stop


(1) It seems that in 2007 when a new pier was built, 30 people were employed by two fish farms in Uyeasound.  More recently one of the farms has been sold by the family that have been running it 24/7 for 47 years! They were raising about 275,000 fish which equated to approx 1000 tons of salmon a year. Today, business seems mainly to be raising the salmon and the area is good for this as the farms seem to avoid the detrimental 'sea lice'. I will wonder when I next buy my Shetland salmon whether it was alive and well when we were looking out at the sound. Scotland is the third biggest world producer of salmon and quite a lot of this comes from Shetland and the other islands. 

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Travelling to Unst- day one to five of the 2017 Textile Experience


I am going to try and keep up with this textile journal of our time in Shetland rather than write it weeks or even months later. I will therefore summarise the last 5 days in one post. As in previous years I will concentrate on textile items but also describe non textile things that are 'special'. 
We arrived at 17.30 this afternoon having travelled 820 miles which includes 3 sea journeys, the longest being 200 miles on the Aberdeen to Lerwick ferry last night. We decided this year to come up from home the west of England route involving the M6 so that we could meet friends in Cheshire for some catching up. The M6 was so busy,  so was local traffic in Cheshire, and we had forgotten what that was like. It is bliss to live in rural Norfolk. 
We are sitting having a cup of tea overlooking a very calm and peaceful sea, the sun is out and the light is wonderful. It is a superb evening. 
Image of uyeasound looking west


 In terms of textile interest it has been action packed! On Thursday morning I visited Metropolitan Machine Knitting to collect 2 garments I had lent for a fashion show for Tony Bennett, a wonderful Machine Knitting designer and tutor from Australia.( One  of these items is described on my website under machine knitting- it is the Grigna Cardigan; I have yet to post about the pink jacket! )  I have been on two of Tony's  courses and learned so much- his finishing is fantastic. I was sorry not to have been  on the course he was running last week but I was able to see him and 6 colleagues from previous years who were doing this new course! I resisted the temptation to buy any yarn and instead chose 10 'old' magazines ! The old ones are far better than the newer ones and if I ration myself to one every other day I will make them last 20 days! Then it was on to Little Moreton Hall to meet a Cheshire WSD friend. We took time to go into the long gallery and reminisce about Alsager WSD exhibitions that we held there. The room is as long as a cricket pitch, if I remember correctly, and we always tried to make sure that each member of the Guild had at least one item in the exhibition, and most people had many more than that. We tried to make it an educative exhibition with information that onlookers would find interesting whatever their knowledge of WSD. Those truly were the days! We enjoyed showing our wares, demonstrating and interacting with the public and feedback was always great to read. That evening we caught up with another WSD  member from the Guild and we were able to discuss ideas for next year's National Exhibition to be held in Glasgow in July. 



As for my textile ' doings' I  have started to knit another shawl by Donna Smith, from Kate Davies' Book of Haps. It is called Houlland and after 2 trial pieces I felt I had the pattern in my head for the edging, which has 63 repeats. I am using a knitting belt for this as the pattern involves garter stitch and am very pleased with the tension. ( see blog post of 30 October 2016 where I discuss tuition with Hazel Tindall with a knitting belt last year during Wool Week) 
Image of knitting the edge


The yarn is from my stash and is Many a Mickle lambswool in laceweight. I guess it is about  30 years old but I still love the colour. As for spinning, I have not brought my wheel this year, but a selection of drop spindles including some medieval ones. On the ferry last night, being National Spin in Public Day, I decided to continue to spin with Boreray (1)as it seemed apt to do so. I am spinning it quite fine and intend to make it into a lace bookmark. A wool week participant from last year who was in the Design  class with Nielanell with me was also in the ferry lounge with us and we naturally got chatting. She was accompanied by a Canadian friend who I tried to convince to have another shot at spinning with a drop spindle. She had had a bad experience ! I hope to see more of her  during Wool Week and help her on her drop spinning journey! 
Image of drop spinning on ferry


Apologies for the quality of this photo, I only had my iPad with me and the lighting was not ideal! 

We are aiming that tomorrow is a rest day, to me that means doing Textile things. I have already been out photographing the tide line as there has been a high tide recently, great for textile inspiration. 

(1) Boreray is the most vulnerable of all the rare breeds. This fleece came from a Norfolk flock which is being kept to help maintain the breed. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Natural Dyeing with a plant of your choice



This was the third of three workshops that I led at Designer Makers21 this summer. This workshops is really special to me as after it the dyers are well on their Dyeing journey.
In workshop one we had learned how to scour, mordant and dye with different concentrations of a powdered dye. Then this was followed by a workshop where we used the three core dyes that were so important, historically, to local dyeing- Madder, Weld and Woad - and then got their secondary dyes too. (See previous blogs for more details and images.)
For the third workshop each of the participants arrived with scoured and mordanted yarn the along with their soaked plant material. Our aim of this workshop was to get a set of six colours from the basic dyebath using additives and over dyeing so each member went home with their unique set. There was  a choice of 7 plus  treatments for each plant dyed skein so decisions had to be made.
There was much excitement and discussion about which plants had been chosen and which ones might be used at home after the  day. 
While the plants were cooking up and yielding their colour we looked at examples I had taken ' for ideas'  and more importantly learned how to make up the additive solutions, how to use them and how to store them safely at home. 
What a busy action packed day it was. Unfortunately I only took a few photos. 
This is a plant dyed skein, complete with additive and having been heated up. From memory (?!) I think the additive was copper. 



Everyone appeared to be very conscientious taking notes and had leaned from previous sessions that adding yarn  'labels'  was a big help in identification later. 
These are the colours a member obtained from eucalyptus leaves- fantastic. 


All the dyed sets were quite different and it was a real joy for me to see how far each person had got since the start of the workshops. We are keeping in touch and more is planned later - watch this space. You can never stop learning about natural dyeing! 



Saturday, 26 August 2017

Supporting Rare Breed Sheep



Knettishall Fair, in Suffolk,  was held recently. It is a day event held every other year and there are a number of 'country based' stalls and activities, the aim being to provide a nice day out for the visitors and raise awareness (and some money) for Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Knettishall Heath is interesting;  it is a really special area of open Heath in 'the Brecks' area of Suffolk just south east of Thetford ( 1) 
The Rare Breed Survival Trust had a largish marquee and were happy to house members of Diss Weavers, Spinners and Dyers along with their own activities. 
I volunteered to go along, I love the Heath and it is nice to give something back to organisations such as these and have a thoroughly great day interacting with the public I thought long and hard about the best use of my time on the day that would complement the Rare Breeds message. So I decided to take:
The Pansy  jacket - hand spun Jacob (2) fleece knitted  from Becky Whatley in Diss. The detail is yarn dyed with cochineal, the lighter pink being dyed with the exhaust of the first bath. The jacket, being knitted in an aran weight yarn took about the whole of a fleece. Visitors find this information both interesting and helpful to know. 
The general view of the Rare Breeds Marquee - taken before the visitors arrived- shows the Pansy Jacket on a mannequin at the front. 


The Skaw Hat - which was knitted in hand spun  Shetland (3) from Shetland! I then naturally dyed the yarn inspired by seaweed on Skaw beach, the most northern beach in Scotland. The pattern was designed by Hazel Tindall, a true knitting genius. The hat was knitted for Shetland Wool Week 2014. 

I love this hat and more details  of the dyeing can be found here in posts August and Sept 2014 if you are interested. Comments often include ' don't the colours go well together' - they do when they are naturally dyed. There is often surprise about the colours of the seaweed and also the colours of the hat. It is nice to show that natural dye colours need not be 'mud coloured'. 


Sample Bookmarks
As many of you know one of my passions is fine lace knitting. These bookmarks are all in Norfolk Horn (4) fleece- now my local fleece! The yarn diameter is 0.15mm- I know this as I have measured it with a stage micrometer on a microscope. 
The bookmarks show how changing the needle size has a dramatic effect on the overall look of the lace. 


SO, what did I do as an activity ( other than talking!) ? I spun quite finely Boreray Fleece on a top weighted drop spindle rolling it up my leg! This is the rarest of the rare breed fleece.(5) My aim is to knit a bookmark with this too. 


The sun shone, there was great camaraderie in the gazebo, visitors were interested and for many their awareness of different 'wool' (and just how fragile some of the breeds of sheep are ) was increased. All in all a thoroughly great day out. 


(1) it is an SSI site and gives one the feeling that you could have been there 4,000 years ago and the landscape could have been very similar ( except the parking places, loos, picnic tables etc.) It is said that the landscape was created in the Bronze Age and the area does have much geological and archeological interest too.  It feels a special place to me and I am fortunate that I am only half an hour away. 
(2) Jacob has progressed from being  on the RBST watchlist 
(3) Shetland has also progressed from being on the watchlist
(4) Norfolk Horn is in the minority (1500-3000 registered adult breeding females) 
(5) Boreray Is in the vulnerable category 

More about Suffolk Wildlife Trust http://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/
More about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust  https://www.rbst.org.uk/




Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dyeing 'the rainbow'



Last weekend saw the second in a series of three workshops I was leading, at DesignerMakers21 (1) in Diss. I was very much looking forward to it, especially as a new workshop space had been created and we we're going to be the first people to use it. 
As always the participants came well prepared having had 'prep' to do after the first session. 



The plan for this was to obtain yellow by dyeing with weld  and have the experience to work with plant material which would take time. Next we would dye with madder  to give us red. Using madder has some similarities to cochineal from last week. However, this red needs more care and skill particularly with a thermometer to get a rich red. Finally we would dye with  indigo to give us blue. (These three dyes are very much dyes of Norfolk's rich textile heritage and I have written more about them in the post of 
14 May 16).

Making good use of the walled  garden during the day



The result was the three primary colours and the secondaries between. A lot to take in, in one day. All members obtained such strong rich colours, the results were glorious. 

Final Colours - natural dyes! 



We ( Michael and I ) had a great time. Natural Dyeing with us is quite scientific in terms of procedures and we like to include theory ( e.g. of how indigo works) as we know this helps to get good results. Comments from the class indicated that they enjoyed the day too. It is such a joy to have a thoughtful, questioning and enthusiastic group. A participant had to pull out of these workshops  (breaking her arm badly ) but she popped in to see us at just the right time - some delightful indigo dyed silk as slight compensation ! 



So, workshop three to come in September - more choices and more glorious colours! 

(1) do visit DesignerMakers21 if you can. It is home to a number  permanent and very skilled  designers and makers covering a range of crafts- in the very best use of that much maligned word! www.designermakers21.co.uk 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Indigo Dyeing in Carleton Rode


Undeterred by the weather forecast  a group of friends met in my garden to 'do indigo dyeing' last week. We had plan B and plan C in case the dire forecast was true! The order of play was for an explanation of how the indigo vat works then a demonstration of how to set it up. I firmly believe that if 'learners' understand the reason for each stage in the process, see it being done and then do it themselves they are far more likely to be motivated to do it beyond the workshop and have the confidence to do it too. 
Of course getting great results helps too. 
So this was plan A. The weather held just about and everyone got great colours from their first 50g of stuff in the bath. Needless to say all involved were well  prepared and had brought a variety of fibres, colours etc to try. 


How much equipment do dyers need? Just getting started.

Wonderful rich indigo dyed fibre and fabric started appearing, and kept appearing. Indigo appeals to the full age spectrum, the grandchildren were excited on Sunday and  us  ' more mature' types  were also excited today; but the difference was that everyone today had made their own vat. 


The washing line got filled ! Job done - more confident indigo dyers and what a lovely day it was too. Fine cake, happy and enthusiastic people, a variety of conversation topics and a fascinating activity providing lovely take home bags. What more could one want? The weather did not kill our day, despite the threats of the weather forecasters. Well done everyone!  
Weren't we lucky ! The next day was VERY wet, just the day for re skeining  and labelling the yarn. 
There's more about indigo, madder and weld- three traditional Norfolk Dyes on my blog post of 14 May 16. It includes historical details and brief details of the science of indigo dyeing. 

PS I rarely get a chance to 'do' the Dyeing when running a workshop but dipping needed demonstrating. You can't waste an indigo bath can you, so here is my variety of fibres from the day. 


 



Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural Dyeing in Diss,

What a great day was had last Saturday. I ran a 'learn basic natural dyeing' workshop at Designer Makers21  (1) in Diss - do look it up or better still visit it is a great craft place and by craft I mean REAL quality craft.
There were 5 attendees who had either dabbled in natural dyeing or never done it before and wanted to know how. 
The plan was to get 6 skeins from the day BUT more importantly I wanted them to really understand how to do get good colours. My approach to natural dyeing is to use my science background and to teach natural dyeing scientifically. After all until 1856 when the first synthetic dye was discovered all dyes had been naturally based. They were not all dull or patchy. Norwich, historically had the reputation  of being the place to get your dyeing  done so something to live up to! 


We had a range of protein fibres in the group, including  some 2 sorts of fleece. 
The class were great and worked really hard and we got some stunning bright and bold colours from cochineal. Remember these are people who were not experienced natural dyers and we were doing it outside! 
We did an indigo dip to extend the range and Michael (DH) was in charge of that and the chemicals. Real chemistry for him again! 


These are a couple of shots of some of the skeins, exhaust from dye bath one has been taken home to extend the range. 


And fleece:



A great bunch, lots of really good questions and 'what if's'. This is what learning  is all about. Really looking forward to session two and three where we use important Norfolk 
Heritage plant dyes and then see the wonderful dyeing we can do with weeds! 

(1) more can be found about DesignerMakers21 at www.designermakers21.co.uk 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Cochineal Dyeing in Norfolk and a colour conundrum

Last Sunday we ( Michael and I) had an interesting and enjoyable day. I had been invited to run a Natural Dyeing workshop for a group of the NSTG (Norfolk Small Holders Training Group) - see note 1. We used our local village hall for this. 
I had decided that by using cochineal I could teach the basics of preparation which the attendees could repeat  and we would still have enough time to dye several colours. I do like people to take home skeins of a decent amount from a dyeing day with me as well as the knowledge and understanding to proceed alone. I also love dyeing with cochineal! ( see my website and index on the left for more examples of my cochineal dyeing). 


I have dyed with cochineal many times and run successful workshops using it. However, being a teacher of many years, I know that you always have to check the experiments before the class. 

I had a mordanted a skein of yarn from 2011 and decided this would be fine to use. So I 'wetted it' and dyed with cochineal as I do normally and horror of horrors I did not get a beautiful cochineal red as I expected. I assumed the mordant  must have worn off ( intrigued how though) as I was getting an unmordanted yarn type colour. ( middle bottom of photo)

This is the image of my cochineal dyeing for the day



So clearly I had not to 'cut corners' and decided to do the whole procedure from scratch - scouring, mordanting and dyeing. This I duly did and got an even 'cooler' pink - left of photo. 
I decided to up the percentage of cochineal to 20% as the pinks were far too pale as well as too cool! 

But it was time to get to the science of this. I had used cold water from the house for my first attempt, a warm pink but pale skein - we have a water softener as the water is very hard in Norfolk, so this water had been softened to some extent. For the second skein ( cooler duller pink) I had dyed using the outside cold water tap - no water softener. So we decided I would do two more skeins. The outside cold water tap would give me the hard water and I would also use use rain water from the covered water butt. As soon as we dissolved the cochineal in the water butt water it went red, not some cool pink shade so this was promising. 
So it was time for the pH paper now. Our water is hard and alkaline whereas the rain butt water was decidedly acidic. 
Looking at the structure of  carminic  acid in cochineal beetles confirmed that the dye would be sensitive to pH changes. 
The colours this time are bottom right corner of the picture cochineal in water butt ( soft, acid )water which gave an expected cochineal colour and bottom left cool but deeper pink from the outside ( hard, alkaline ) water. 
We were getting somewhere. But I was not satisfied, by using 20% cochineal the colour was deeper than I had achieved before in Cheshire - which has soft water- and I thought it was a bit too deep! 

So another skein was dyed at 10% cochineal using water butt water and hurray, it was the same colour as that from Cheshire from the tap. ( top right in photo - scarlet colour). 

This is all very interesting and the research has not ended yet. I know that Norwich was  good for dyeing with madder to make Norwich Red as the water was hard and yet with cochineal to get a good red I need soft acid water. So it's time to get into the loft and get my organic chemistry text books out to look at the structure of the relevant molecules in more detail. 

The mauvy  blue skein in the centre top of the photo is obtained from dipping the pink ( centre bottom skein) in indigo, something we included in the workshop. 

Another interesting aspect of the day was that the attendees brought their own fleece or yarn to dye and thus we got even more variation in colours from the different breeds which was great. 

This is not one of my best photos but this shows some of the Dyeing produced during the day. 



Natural Dyeing gives such rich colours and keeps the 'chemistry' brain alive! I have found this lovely quote from Ethel Mariet 'Natural dyes are alive and varied holding the light as no chemical colour can hold it, and they are beautiful from their birth to old age when they mellow one with the other into a blend of richness that has never yet been got by the chemical dyer.'(1872-1952) See note 

If you've managed to read this far, I think you deserve a stiff drink! 

Notes : 
1. Norfolk Smallholders Training group have their own website - www.nstg.org.uk 
2. For 'chemical' perhaps 'synthetic' might be a better term. 

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.