Sadly, due to unforeseen circs, (a race closing off part of the road) the Museum of Farming has cancelled their Harvest event, this coming weekend (10th-11th Oct), so we have decided to re-schedule the workshops for later in the year. Keep your eyes peeled for further info.

Hope this hasn’t inconvenienced anyone, as I know it’s short notice.

If anyone wants one-to-one spinning tuition in the meantime, message me here or email penelopehemingwayATgmail.com and I’ll be happy to help!


River Ganseys coverFinally, here it is.

River Ganseys – Striking t’loop, Swaving, and other Yorkshire Curiosities Revived From the Archives is out on Ravelry.

Your actual hard copies will hopefully be ready for Rhinebeck (The New York State Sheep & Wool Festival).

The rather wonderful Schoolhouse Press will be stocking the book.  That makes me happy on so many levels. Most especially because Elizabeth Zimmermann was always and always will be my favourite knitting writer.

In River Ganseys I tried to stay with EZ’s philosophy of giving the reader the tools to go out and create, themselves, using the broad principles and motif charts in the book, if they don’t want to knit the patterns. River gansey knitting was always like this anyway; patterns all kept “in the head”, every individual knitter finding their own constellation of motifs and ideas, and going with them.

Those of us in the UK; ask your friendly local yarn shop or trader of choice to get on the Cooperative Press website and order copies in.

There may or may not be copies available at the Bakewell Wool Gathering – depending on how soon the printed copies arrive –  but The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales is definitely still available from Freyalyn’s Fibres, who will be at Bakewell. We’ll be there too but not with our Great Wheel or Luddites show – just wandering around. It’s weird for me not to be dressed as a Georgian woman, doing these kind of things, these days!

River Ganseys could have been a parochial book by its very nature; concentrating on the history of Yorkshire knitting. But the story that emerged, as I researched, was of a kind of universality – this history is every knitter’s history; a shared history.

One reason I started this blog was so that people would know I was still alive whilst I was working on the book. So I hope you loyal-and-rather-brilliant-if-I-say-it-myself blog readers, will enjoy. Many of the comments, emails and messages on Ravelry sparked by discussion here, helped with developing the book.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the rain. CREDIT: Nathaniel Hunt

IMAG1417I’m a textile historian,  handspinner and natural dyer with over thirty years of experience in the textile arts. And also happen to be a qualified teacher, because it’s one thing knowing ‘stuff’ – another thing knowing how to teach it or how learners learn!

I’ve had work published in the UK and US: ‘Ply’, ‘Knit Edge’. ‘Knitting Traditions’ and ‘Piecework’ have published my stuff, amongst others. And worked on the new edition of the classic book about Yorkshire knitting history, ‘The Old Hand Knitters of the Dales’.  My own ‘River Ganseys’ is due out in the next few weeks and I’m already working on the next book. (And the next. Yes I can multitask!)

Last year I entered Spinzilla the international spinning event (with no notice to myself!)  and came second in the maverick spinners. The winner was a US spinner so I am currently billing myself as “Europe’s fastest spinner”. Which is no doubt being creative with the truth. But fun.  This year, the 10th and 11th of October are the final two days of Spinzilla and I thought I’d spend a couple of hours out from my spinning marathon… er… spinning.

I’m hoping to offer workshops regularly, near York, in the coming year but am also available for one to one tuition in traditional Yorkshire knitting, spinning and dyeing. If here’s something you’d like to learn, get in touch and we’ll see if we can set up a workshop or a one to one course, tailored to your needs.

Here’s what’s happening next month.

Where: Yorkshire Museum of Farming. To coincide with ‘Harvest Weekend’.

When:  Saturday October 10th and Sunday October 11th

Saturday workshop: 2. PM – 4 PM Learn To Spindle Spin

Sunday workshop:  1 PM  – 4 PM Open Spinning Clinic for spinners of all abilities

Price:  £15 per workshop, to include museum entry.

Booking:  Pay on the day. If you’re thinking of coming, would be great if you could email me on penelopehemingwayATgmail.com so we have a vague idea of numbers.

Sloes in flower, Yorkshire Museum of Farming, April, 2015

Sloes in flower, Yorkshire Museum of Farming, April, 2015


Saturday;  Beginner Spinners

Learn to spin on a drop spindle

To celebrate the museum’s new Bronze Age huts, we’re going to run a workshop on how to spindle spin. If you’ve never spun before but want to learn, or have tried (and failed), this is the workshop for you!  We will have spindles available for the duration of the workshop, or bring your own!  (Top whorl are easier to learn on).

Sunday: Open Spinning Clinic

Whether you have a spindle or wheel, you’re welcome to come and join us for tea, spinning and cake! You can also witness my meltdown as I get towards the end of a week of frantic spinning. I’ll bring all I have spun so far during the preceding week along with me. Be great to see you whether you’re entering Spinzilla (or anything else) – or not.

If you have a problem with your wheel, bring it along and we’ll see if we can figure it out. Want to finally understand the difference between woollen and worsted? Let a Yorkshire spinner with over thirty years’ experience help you out. Any burning questions or techniques you’re interested in? Come along and see what we can do.   Whether you’re in a Guild or you’re a maverick lone wolf spinner, you’re most welcome to join us.

Some of Day 2's spinning - Lleyn (white) and Boreray.

Some of Day 2’s spinning – Lleyn (white) and Boreray.

IMAG1370Not textiles, but colour related so I thought this would interest some of yous.



The old Cumberland pencil factory, Keswick.

Yesterday we went to the Pencil Museum in Keswick. (I know how to have a good time).

The museum is a former canteen, standing in the grounds of the now empty, old Cumberland Pencils factory. It would make a brilliant set for a re-make of ‘I’m Alright Jack’ or ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’.

Derwentwater, Lakeside, Keswick

Derwentwater, Lakeside, Keswick

Production has moved to Workington now, so the pencils are still from Cumbria. The story is that it all started in 16thC Borrowdale during a violent storm where an old tree was uprooted; amongst its roots were shards of graphite.

Older pigments used in pencil production

Older pigments used in pencil production

I’ve always wanted to see Derwentwater – remembering the pictures on the pencil tins we had at school in the 1960s and 70s.  Some weird nostalgia gets hold of me when I think of those pencil tins with the ‘Lakeland’ logo and  picture of Derwentwater on the front. Am sure I never had those pencils at home, where I probably had the ‘Happy Shopper’ equivalent. But at school, getting those tins out of the cupboard was always a happy sort of thing. Maybe less to do, at the time, with the colours and more to do with the fact ‘colouring in’ was easier than actual work.

Found online. I think this is one I actually had!

Found online. I think this is one I actually had!

I also have fond memories of the endless paint boxes I had at home; thinking about it, my interest in colour (and old, pretty tins which I have accumulated for a lifetime) probably started there. Many textile artists like to play with colour, and it is easier to experiment with watercolours or coloured pencils, than it is to mess with fabric or yarn.

People had been telling me forever “You have to go to the Pencil Museum. You’d love it!” Not sure how to take that really but anyway, we were up in Cumbria for something in the morning and thought we’d spend the rest of the day at Keswick, as we’d spent out on petrol to get up there, anyway. When we got in there, there were so many lovely things – I thought those of you who love pigments, dyes and colour in all its forms, might enjoy this.


IMAG1342The museum is small but very interesting. And that pencilly smell hit us as we went through the door – the same smell you got as a kid at primary school when you were the honoured one who was allowed to open The New Pencil Tin.

Graphie mining

Graphite mining

The first Keswick pencil factory was opened in 1832.  The Museum has a couple of pencils dating to the early 1830s which must have used natural (mainly mineral?) pigments. The familiar ‘Lakeland’ pencils weren’t developed until nearly 100 years later.  Pencils were originally graphite (which occurs naturally in Borrowdale). Coloured pencils were a later development, when pigments (first natural, later synthetic) were combined with binding agents and wax or oil. Derwent pencils are wax based.

Artists’ coloured pencils have higher concentrations of pigment, and are now extensively tested for light-fastness – how fast pigments lose their “colour integrity” –  and are graded accordingly. The concept of fugitive colour is nothing new to dyers. Trial, error and experience have told many of us that x natural dye is more fugitive than y.


There was an interesting video about a James Bond style top secret wartime mission to create a pencil containing a hidden compass and map for RAF servicemen and how the company have made a modern repro – not an easy task as it turned out, as the ‘secret pencils’ were made at night, and no records kept of precisely how it was done.



I might have accidentally bought a couple of things in the Museum shop where the majority of items seemed to be very well discounted and as a result, I will be back!

Colours in nature are sometimes the best inspiration for textile and other art work and your tourist-y photos can also become great references and sources of inspiration.

We finished the day at nearby Castlerigg stone circle. We visit this after every Woolfest. I have never seen the Lakes this time of year with the heather on the hillsides. It is so beautiful, I’ll return soon.



When I’m not knitting or genealogy-ing, I like to fix up vintage sewing machines and sew with them.

I spent some time, earlier this year, fixing up Victorian/Edwardian hand crank machines; £11 – £15 car-boot bargains;  a Singer 28K and a couple of Jones Family C.S machines.

Singer 66K

My 1910 Singer 66K

Vintage, metal machines have none of the built-in obsolescence of modern, electronic machines with their dodgy plastic gears and starting-frying-the-day-you-pick-it-up circuitry. In fact, they were intended to be serviced and even fixed by the owners if anything dropped off or went wrong. Mechanically, they are so well built, there is very little to drop off or go wrong. Most I have seen have just needed a new needle, a clean and oiling. My own old treadle machine which was stored badly, was another story. That took 18 months of jiggling, threatening, and soaking in a rust-freeing agent, to bring it back to life.

Our car boot machines were pretty, had no sentimental value, so were good to learn on. Now they’re cleaned and fixed, I’ve passed them on to my adult sons and one of my son’s friends.

1956 Singer 221K

1956 Singer 221K

Once I got the hang of how to strip down, clean and fix up machines, I started looking round for an ‘interesting’ and older machine to play with. Funds are limited – that’s a polite way of putting it – but I sold a couple of things on eBay to finance it and the same week, along came a 1956 Singer 221K and a 1885 Singer 12K. Sewing machine afficionados will know a 221K (“Featherweight”) is a much prized thing. They were made in several Singer factories from the 1930s-1960s. British ones were made in Kilbowie, Scotland. As was my 1885 Singer 12K.

Sewing machines were developed from around 1851. But the first truly popular Singer was the 12. Those made in Scotland are designated “12K”; the “K” for “Kilbowie”.

The 12K was patented in 1861, so although mine dates from 1885 it is essentially the same as one made during the American Civil War.

1885 Singer 12K BEFORE

1885 Singer 12K BEFORE


1885 Singer 12K AFTER

I got mine for a stupidly cheap price.

I thought if I could fix this machine up, I could even make some later 19thC living history kit, using it. Research online told me it took an unusual – and expensive at £5 a pop – needle. Also the shuttle is odd – you have to tension it by snaking the bobbin thread in and out through a series of holes and it’s very much trial and error which threading pattern works.

Manuals for old Singers can be downloaded online for free. The 12K manual is here.

The seller was not into sewing, so couldn’t even tell me if there was a bobbin in so he thought not. He said he couldn’t open the slide plates, to see. I just wanted a fiddle-base old sewing machine.   I knew a replacement shuttle and one bobbin might set me back almost as much as I paid for the machine, and the bobbin winder in the picture looked bizarre, so that might need replacing too… but I was happy with that bargain price.  It came in its original case with two rusty, ancient keys attached. The case alone is a piece of cabinet maker’s art; the machine, when it’s unlocked, slides out from the case. I was thrilled to get the case too, as research online told me it was original.

Mechanism inside face-plate

I expected this machine to have some bits missing and maybe the mechanics would be seized like this 12K’s. It looks distinctive compared to the later, more common vintage machines with its japanned face plate and balance wheel.

When it came, it took very little brute force to free up the throat plate and discover it not only had an immaculate shuttle inside, but one lone bobbin as well.  That was a few quid saved! I bought a spare needle and bobbin from Helen Howes , who sells old sewing machine parts at a very reasonable price and gives excellent advice, too.

All the bright-work was rusted – as you can see in the Before and After shots, I managed to get the worst of it off.

On the day the machine came, with a pair of keys tied to its rusty handle with a nasty piece of nylon twine, I wondered if the ancient lock would even work, and whether we’d even be able to get it out of the case. Even though the seller on eBay must have, as he’d photographed it. But with one turn of the key, it slid out of the box no problem.

Behind the faceplate...

Behind the faceplate…

Amazingly, the machine was not seized – just a bit sluggish. The feed dogs still moved; the presser bar still worked; the needlebar was not frozen in time like my own 66K had been. This is a machine so ‘obsolete’ – and ‘ugly’ by mid twentieth century standards if beautiful by our’s – that you can bet it has spent most of the past 70 years or so in an attic.  It was dirty, sure, and full of dusty cobwebs underneath – but the decals were in better condition than we’d expected, and a bit of mild, soapy water and some cotton wool buds followed by a gentle polish on the paintwork with sewing machine oil, soon had it looking clean again. I carefully dismantled enough of it to clean inside.

I always think of the people who used a machine decades ago, when I find the lint in the bobbin race, and the few remaining threads on the bobbin. In this case a rather fetching vivid purple silk seems to be the last thread ever used. I wonder what it made? This machine may have been quietly put aside as long ago as pre WW2.

I have cleaned up several old machines now and never had a receipt forgotten in a drawer, or any provenance so expected nothing to get my genealogical teeth into, with this.

But when we looked at the old case, with a view to cleaning up the wood, there was some writing, so heavily scored out we could barely decypher it, in black ink or paint on the back side of the case. It hadn’t shown up in the eBay photos. It appeared to be a name.

1885 case

1885 case

I used Maas metal polish on the machine’s bright-work and  Parker & Bailey’s Orange Oil Polish to clean up the wood. Both are US products, available for an arm and a leg at Lakeland, in the UK. I cleaned very gently over that writing, in case I damaged it. I didn’t. And out in the daylight there we saw, under all the crossing out, the name “E. SHOPPEE”. It took a while to figure it out. I wasn’t even sure “Shoppee” was a name.

“E. Shoppee”

Maybe s/he wasn’t the first owner, but the chances were, an “E Shoppee” owned the little 12K somewhere round the back end of the nineteenth century, as the machine was still new and valuable enough for her to want to emblazon her name all over it.  I will assume ‘her’ as professional tailors and seamstresses generally used other, more industrial machines like the Singer 13K: the 12K was the first big household sewing machine. The 12K remained in production for a long time, even though later, better machines superceded it. By 1910, a tailor  or seamstress might well want a Singer 66K with its larger harp space, but not the little 12K. So the chances are its earlier owner is likely to have been female, subsequent owners even more likely to have been women. The 12K was originally known as “The New Family” machine, because it was intended for domestic use.  Jones had the similarly named “Family C.S” (Cylindrical Shuttle) which was aimed at the same market.

A search of Ancestry brings up almost only one family group of people called “Shoppee” in and around London in the late 19thC. Thank the gods the owner wasn’t Elizabeth Smith! An obit in The Daily News for 1897, said that the family’s great grandfather was a Huguenot called “Chapuis”, which may explain the fact I could only find one family group with this name.

I can’t be sure which of the female Elizabeth, Emma or Emily Shoppees, over several generations, owned the 1885 Singer but there is a stronger candidate, given the ages and family occupations of some Shoppees, compared to others.  If I’m right she is unlikely to have been the first owner, but was an early one.

“My” E Shoppee could be a Shoppee by birth or by marriage.

Which begs the question – who would be likely to own a Singer 12K made in 1885?

The 12K hit the British market around 1866. It has been described as:

…the finest sewing machine the world had ever seen at the time and the pinnacle of inventive genius from the design team at Singers.

It became the world’s best selling sewing machine and kept that predominance til production ended in 1902.

In the early years, a 12K would cost an average year’s wages. Singer pioneered the Hire Purchase model of trading, so many people bought their 12K over a period of years. Which democratised the sewing machine as a household item but it still would have been out of the reach, financially, of many people.   A charwoman would have been less likely to own a sewing machine, in the early days, than a school teacher. For decades, the sewing machine was the single most expensive item in many a home. These old hand-cranks we can pick up for a tenner at a car boot were once someone’s most treasured possession – it’s easy to forget that. They revolutionised women’s lives, a bit like the washing machine was to do.

You can date your Singer machine using its serial number  here.   Singer numbered every part so if a part of your machine is shot, the chances are you will be able to replace it – and much more cheaply than a modern machine part would cost. The eBay seller had shown the serial number in close up, so I had known the date of the machine before I bought it. Mine has the most common Acanthus Leaves decals but some later ones have the spectacular, and more rare, Ottoman Carnations – which are probably my favourite Singer decals ever. There was also a gilt and mother of pearl  roses 12K. Identify your Singer decals here.

The Shoppees seem to have been exemplars of that mid nineteenth century urban phenomenon – social mobility. In the early part of the century, they were builders but by the latter end of the century, it was a family of architects and surveyors, doctors and other professionals. London offered more scope for this than most British cities.

My favourite candidate for “my” E Shoppee is Emma E. Shoppee, who on the 1901 Census was 26 and living in Hornsey, London with her husband, Joseph W. Shoppee, a London-born Commission Merchant’s Clerk.  As the machine dates to 1885, she would not be its first owner but maybe it was passed on to her. It may even have come from her family in York, or the Shoppees in London. As a hand-crank, she’d be able to travel with it. You would certainly want to pass on your sewing machine to a relative or friend. So this one may have come from either her York or her London family, if Emma was the owner.

Free BMD told me that Emma Elizabeth Hawkswell married Joseph W Shoppee in the second quarter of 1899 in York.

From gutenberg.org

The 1881 Census found Emma E Hawkswell living down the road from me, at 19, Stonegate, York – somewhere in the centre of Stonegate – it must have been re-numbered since – as the Census enumerator veers off down Coffee Yard straight after visiting the Hawkswells’ house.  In 1881, Emma lived with her parents, Ralph and Emma. Ralph was a lithographic printer with 3 employees.  The Hawkswells, like the Shoppees, were firmly middle class. In 1891, she was still at 19, Stonegate and now a Pupil Teacher, aged 16.

Emma married Joseph Shoppee at the Salem Congregational Church in York, June 14th, 1899.

On the last available census, 1911, Emma had two children and was living at 38 Womersley Rd with Joseph and her younger brother, Stanley, a jeweller’s shop assistant; still in Hornsey. By 1911, Emma’s father, Ralph was now retired from lithography, now working as an Antiques Dealer, still at 19, Stonegate.

It might be that my machine had an early owner who was a York woman, and it has ended up, 130 years later, very close to York! She won’t have been its original owner, though, as the machine was already 14 years old by the time Emma Hawkswell was Emma Shoppee…

I did find several other possible E. Shoppees but they looked less likely than Emma; elderly by 1885, or too young, or had married and lost the Shoppee surname prior to 1885…  It is very likely the machine belonged to one of this family. One of the better bets was Elsie Shoppee, a doctor’s daughter, who married Stacey Hammond in 1895. Which would mean she had ten years as E Shoppee from 1885 on. But she was only 6 when the machine was made.  Other E Shoppees seem to have been out of the country in the 1880s/90s.  One Elizabeth Shoppee died in 1886 – a year after the machine was made – in Uxbridge, aged 63.  She was another possibility but a remote one.

The machine is almost restored. I really have to bite the bullet now and try and thread up the shuttle and get the needle in the right position. Both of these variables will throw a machine out, so it may need a few hours’ experimentation to get it right. But I will post pictures if and when  I get it sewing!


This post is in memory of my very dear friend, the supreme living history needlewoman, and Dove Cottage’s own Dorothy Wordsworth,  Caro.  I never got to tell her the tale of E Shoppee and the Singer 12K. She’d have loved it, though, so this one is for you, Pretty Lady.

A dog show at Jeremy Shaw’s Queen’s Head Tavern, 1855. From an oil painting by R. Marshall, 1855.

Nothing to do with knitting, and very little to do with genealogy. Whilst I’m busy working on a piece for ‘Ply’ magazine, I thought I’d share with you this rather cool list of 19thC dog names I compiled a while back.

These were all found in The York Courant and The Birmingham Daily Post, so are the names of coursing hounds and bull terriers. I got the bull terrier names from dog show reports.

I missed a trick when we named our new pup back in November. Should have called her ‘Titsy’.

















Old Puss


















White Prince

Young Prince

Bee, our Staffy/Jack Russell cross.


Gansey needles, Filey Museum. CREDIT: David Hunt

From the Patients’ Disbursement Books, The Retreat, York. Ref: Ret  3/10/1/1  

Judith Robertson

1799 10 Sept, 1799

Knitting needle  3d

1800 8 June

Patent knitting needles  3d  Pasteboard 4d  – 7d

22 Sept

shrowd – 7-/ 6d coffin 42 -/

(Pasteboard = cardboard, used to make bonnet brims).


Straights. Dales Countryside Museum. CREDIT: Belinda May. CLICK on any of these to enlarge.

The casual – and all too frequent – “coffin” and “shrowd” at the end of the Retreat asylum patients’ accounts, gets me every time.

The patients’ private accounts for their personal, needful things,  are a brilliant resource for the clothing/textile historian. From them, we can see that ‘Patent’ (shiny steel?) needles cost 3d in 1799. This was probably a set of 4 or 5.


Needles, curved and straight. Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. CREDIT: Belinda May

What were nineteenth century needles like? Blunt? Pointy? Both? Neither? Or even – as has been mooted – “flat-ended”..? The answer is – knitters, as ever, had their personal preferences.

Surviving needles in museums across the North of England, show every variation; blunt and pointy, curved and straight. Although rarely, of course, flat ended.

In 1981, Kathleen Kinder interviewed Mrs Clara Sedgwick of Settle, who grew up in Dentdale; maiden name Clara Middleton. Aged 82 in 1981: “…. She still uses the steel needles, size 13, which she brought out of Dent…What is more, the Editor of The Dalesman and I were shown and allowed to handle the knitting stick, carved in the traditional goose-quill shape, which her grandfather, Thomas Allen, had made for her mother. The needles the Dales knitter used were often finer  than size 13. They were known as ‘wires’ and were frequently bent with usage…”


Curved needles. Blunter and pointier. Dales Countryside Museum. CREDIT: Belinda May

Some were bent with usage and some deliberately bent by the knitters who preferred them like this. Betty Hartley told interviewer Maurice Colbeck: “…I used to wonder how they found needles fine enough to make them. [Dales gloves] Then somebody told me that they used to knit them on the old long hatpins!”

decm need3

Dales Countryside Museum. CREDIT: Belinda May

ycm1Knitting sticks were used by knitters of all social classes and backgrounds – witnessed by the sticks in the collection at the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth. A couple of years ago, we documented some of the sticks in their reserve collection, and saw two knitting needles from a “work-basket belonging to one of the Bronte sisters”. [Ref #: HAOBP: H176:2 and 3]. The needles I examined had fine gauges, around 1mm, and one had a slight curve which would suggest it was used with a knitting stick.


Dales Countryside Museum. CREDIT: Belinda May

Anyone who believes all needles used commercially – or by genteel ladies – were ‘blunt’ or, ‘flat ended’, only has to actually see the extant needles, to realise the error of their ways.

I leave you, Gentle reader, with these images of nineteenth century needles, to refute the bizarre theory that is playing out elsewhere on the internet.


Straights – nothing ‘flat-ended’ but again, a mix of blunter and pointier; glove/stocking size. Dales Countryside Museum. CREDIT: Belinda May

Sarah Impey 31 March 1808 2/6 Lambswool Yarn for Stockings’ Needles and [fillet?] 8d, … 3/3 shifts making 2-/

[Patients’ Disbursements, 1807 -16] Various Patients’ Disbursement Books, The Retreat, The Borthwick Institute, University of York

Gran Taught Her To Knit at the Age of Three, Maurice Colbeck, The Dalesman, Vol. 57, January 1996.

Knitting in the Dales Way, Kathleen Kinder, The Dalesman, Vol 42, February 1981 p.908

The Old Hand Knitters of The Dales, Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby.


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