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. 








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.