Very Amiable Gentlewoman

1809 Fashion Plate, Wikimedia Commons


Still  employing myself studying the (historical) crazy. Digging around in some York archives, last week. For an upcoming article in a genealogy magazine about crafts and eighteenth/nineteenth century insanity. Here are some snippets I thought might interest readers, but I can’t shoehorn into the piece ~ some more fascinating reasons for inmates being “a fit object for confinement in a House for the reception of Lunatics”.

Trawled from the certifications ~ this time, from the 1820s. See how many of these boxes you tick :

“Too close application to literary pursuits”

“Brain fever”

“Hereditary taint and a weak mind”

“Hipocondriac” [sic]

“Over-exertion at extinguishing a Fire in the 25th of 12 mo[nth] 1824”


“Overstrain’d Nerves especially on religious subjects”

“Since the death of her husband, she has suffered a series of disappointments”

“Intemperate drinking”

“Religious melancholy”

“…he led a dissolute and idle life. About the 9th mo[nth] 1826 all other resources having failed he enlisted in the army… He was then in Chatham Barracks… he gave me a clear and succinct account of what he had undergone since I saw him and described persecution and cruel treatment… I saw him repeatedly til the 19th of the 1st mo[nth] 1827 when I procured his liberation. This circumstance did not appear to exhilarate him…”

And, as ever, the old favourite of doctors locking up early nineteenth century people, simply one word: “Religion”. Which always catches my eye in the context of a Quaker-run asylum, as you’d think they’d overlook that kind of thing…


I also took a quick look at the patients’ occupations on some of the certificates. Interesting that there are a few textile-related ones. Here are some entries under the question “Occupation?”:

“Not any”

“A servant”

“In early life was closely employed in needlework”

“Surgeon Apothecary”

“Cabinet maker and upholsterer”

“Paper Maker”

“Grocer & Tea Dealer”

“Linen Draper”


“Worsted Spinner” [This is a man, and from that and the date, 1821, we can infer he spun on the water frame]

“Farmer & Maltster”


“An inmate at her Father’s house”

“Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer” [A man from Gledwick Clough, admitted 1823]

“None of late. He was for a short time with a Chemist, his genius for that and botany” [a Guernsey man]

“A Weaver”

“A Manufacturer & Merchant”

“Toy & Turnery Workshop”

[The Retreat, Register of Certificates, 1796-1819].


(Toy & turnery manufacturers often made fancy parlour wheels; companies such as one maker often considered the finest wheel-maker in late eighteenth century England who advertised as:


 “JOHN JAMESON his TOY & TURNERY MANUFACTORY in Carlisle Buildings, Little Alice-Lane, in the City of YORK”

Site of Jamesons’ spinning wheel shop. Photo Credit: Nathaniel Hunt

There is so much that is poignant, in the asylum records.  Amongst the case notes, you often glimpse a personality. Re. Penelope Rathbone, from Liverpool, admitted in 1814 aged 70, the doctor recorded: “A person (gentlewoman) of a remarkable kind, charitable disposition of late became so imprudent as to give away all her property and borrow upon interest to give away when all was gone she lived for some time upon almost nothing… and thought it right to destroy herself… She died with water in the chest, 1814”. At the bottom of the page, in pencil, some anonymous person scrawled:

“Very amiable gentlewoman”.



Beyond the Spin Count

Lion statue, Lion Buildings, Huddersfield. Image © Copyright David Ward  Wiki Commons

Huddersfield, yesterday. And having an hour to kill, I found the Local History section of the Library.  I didn’t have time to look for my Huddersfield ancestors, wool weavers and dyers the Smiths, Dawsons and Listers ~ but did find this info I wanted to share, in a fascinating book, ‘The Water-Spinners’, by Chris Aspin, (Helmshire Local History Society, 2003).

The book discusses the textile industry’s widespread adoption of Arkwright’s Water Frame, and why and how it overtook the older invention, Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny.

Chris Aspin starts off by  discussing some of the reasons handspun was superseded by millspun yarn and the eventual pre-eminence of Arkwright’s Water Frame over older technologies like spinning wheels and the Jenny. The Jenny had come about partly as a response to clothiers needed more yarn than handspinners could provide. But it had its limitations. Handspinners had yet more…

“As well as reaching the manufacturer in irregular sizes, home-spun yarn… was the subject of complaint for many years…” He says. He goes on to quote the historian of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, who was discussing the poor quality of homespun flax, said that manufacturers understood handspun’s faults only “too well” – and to their cost. Common faults included:

‘…Slack twine, ill thum’d and spun dry, hard twine, thumb knots, different colours in the same hank, slip ekes [slubby lengths?], coarse pieces, roaney or having the show of straw adhering, spun beyond the grist and hairy, check spales, [badly prepared flax] lumpy, low-spun [not enough twist], etc… ‘ These faults the directors attribute in a great measure to carelessness and inattention, as well as ignorance of the art of spinning. ‘Many,’ they say, ‘where yarn is spun, do not even know how to make a “weaver’s knot”…’

We all know about handspinners spinning “too thick”. But what about those who spin “too thin”? Ie: Spinning “beyond the (Bradford) Count” ~ which is apparently, something some contemporary spinners feel they should aim for.  Yet it is a pointless exercise. Anyone who is routinely spinning beyond Count would, in any case, be spinning cheese-wire and failing to understand how to harness the characteristics of a given wool.

For one thing, Bradford Counts were intended for measuring the grist (thickness) of worsted, not woollen yarn – yet spinning so fine the spinner goes beyond Count is something mentioned in the context of woollen spinning, as well as worsted. For another – the Counts were only a guideline, and deliberately spinning below them was, to our ancestors, the hallmark of a poor spinner. As Mabel Ross remarks in her ‘Encyclopedia of Handspinning’, the Counts were rarely spun to, in industry. They were a broad indication of the fineness of the wool’s staple, and as such, a hint how fine to spin the wool. Ignoring the Count by going beyond it,  is a failure to understand the nature of your raw material.

But there was another reason cited, for poor spinning. And although the source here is discussing Midlands manufacturers, it would be equally true for our West Riding wool spinners, bearing in mind that spinning was, most definitely, fitted in around agricultural labour and household chores.

William Gardiner, the Leicester hosier, gave another reason for irregular [handspun] yarn. ‘As an old manufacturer, I may mention that for the first month after harvest, the work was always worse done than at any other time, owing to the hardening of hands in the harvest work…

West Riding clothiers had to wait on handspinners less in the winter months, when they had more time to spin, according to various sources.(See booklist here).

My final bit of rapid reading gave me this fascinating insight, also from William Gardiner:

In the year 1780, I assisted in knocking to pieces for firewood Hargreaves’ spinning jennies… in consequence of their being superseded by Arkwright’s invention…


A 1775 Water Frame, now at Manchester Museum of Science & Technology. Image from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy Chris55

Arkwright’s Water Frame spun a superior yarn to the Jenny – finally a machine was able to spin a yarn that could compete with a Great Wheel spun wool warp although, as we have seen, it took another thirty years or so to thoroughly oust the Great Wheel from farms and cottages.

  Arkwright’s Water Frame was pre-eminent by the 1780s and manufacturers could begin to rely on wool spun more consistently than by the handspinner or the jenny. And one thing they wanted to eliminate was… wool spun “beyond Count”.

Will be back in Huddersfield next month and this time for a day in the Archives.



Knit Like a Victorian Lady! (Or Gent).

Victorian ladies. (They left their ivory knitting sticks at home)

Ever wanted to know how the writers went about researching and writing ‘The Old Hand Knitters of the Dales’? Or do you want to know more about ‘the terrible knitters of Dent’?  How people knitted at commercial speeds in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in the Yorkshire Dales? And what did they knit? What is ‘swaving’? Who were the hand knitters of the Dales? Wonder no more.

I’ll be ‘doing a talk’ about The Old Hand Knitters of the Dales on both Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th April  at the Yorkshire Farming Museum. Time: 10 30 to 12 00 am. Price: £10 including museum entry. If you’re interested in attending the talk, either day – just turn up.  I will go on (and show you pictures and actual Things) for some of the time, and  then you can throw questions at me.

April 5th and 6th is the 2014 opening weekend at the museum, and my talks/workshops are just a small part of Murton Park’s Country Crafts weekend. So there will be other things to see and do at the Farming Museum on the day!

There are still just a few places left on the afternoon workshops, both days, ‘Knitting The Old Dales Way’.  A rare opportunity to learn how to knit with a knitting stick. Details here. 

The workshop (same both days) is to teach and practice the dying Yorkshire art, knitting with a knitting stick. I will also go into more detail about the other paraphernalia Dales knitters used. If you’d like to book a workshop place, email and I’ll pencil you in.

Image courtesy Dales Countryside Museum (stick from Marie Hartley's personal collection).
Image courtesy Dales Countryside Museum (stick from Marie Hartley’s personal collection).

“You’re Doing It (Even More) Wrong!” or How The Great Wheel Survived

Woman At Spinning Wheel, The source of this file is National Library of Wales. NB: Looks like this image has been reversed!

I’ve hesitated about writing this post. In the same way I hesitate about commenting on YouTube videos that claim to be showing a certain spinning technique – and aren’t.

But great wheels are one of my ‘things’. And I couldn’t bear to see inaccuracies stand as ‘facts’.

So in the spirit of preserving this craft (only a handful of British spinners can great wheel spin)… and after some thought, I decided I’d like to examine the historical ‘facts’ about great wheels, found on a blog.  For no other reason than the internet can perpetuate some extreme inaccuracies, and opinions stated as ‘fact’ can confuse the unwary.

Just as there is Bad Science in the world, there is Bad History. History not backed up by sources, or hard facts. What we’d like to believe was logical or right for the past, as most re-enactors/living historians know, is not what we should believe.

NB: To ‘get’ this post you need to know that there were two types of spinning wheel. The first, invented in medieval times, was ‘the great wheel’ – a simple spindle mounted sideways, driven by a huge wheel. This was faster than the older method of spinning with a hand-spindle. Then, around the 16thC, the flyer wheel – a smaller wheel the spinner could sit at. The wheel was now driven by a treadle, freeing both hands for the spinner to work. It also evolved a ‘flyer’ – the wool now automatically wound on a bobbin. These two types of wheel continued to co-exist but evidence suggests the great wheel never died out because it was faster and more efficient at spinning some yarns. Meanwhile, the little flyer wheel was better for spinning flax because you need two hands for that and it is slower than spinning wool.

One reason I want to do this is that sometimes ‘bad history’ can lead us to the motherlode. By teasing apart misconceptions, we can get to the truth. And I guess what I really want to do here, is to go on about great wheels and why this medieval invention did something wonderful  and unaccountable – surviving first the flyer wheel’s introduction, and later, machine spinning. As the great wheel co-existed with both – the flyer wheel for hundreds of years and the spinning mule by decades. I’m always amazed, reading about the history of spinning, we aren’t more taken by this particular miracle. So, to The Blog. Let’s see what we can learn.

Apparently, according to The Blog, there are a “significant number” of flyer wheels with “accelerators”.

Are there? Where? What do you mean by ‘accelerator’? I’ve seen more ‘old’ spinning wheels than I can shake a stick at. But never seen one with an ‘accelerator’, let alone ‘significant numbers’ with accelerators. I’m not even sure what is meant here, by ‘accelerator’.

When there were large numbers of professional spinners and hand spinning was a competitive industry, they knew about accelerators to allow them to spin faster.

Did they? Where’s the proof? Why don’t they exist in museums or on the old wheels many of us own? How do you know what people in the past ‘knew’?  And if they knew this – why don’t we see any evidence of them doing this?

The romantic, rather fetching, concept of ‘professional spinners’ betrays a lack of understanding of how the system worked. If you’re talking about the UK, anyway.

Spinners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in the West Riding at least, did more than just spin. At halfpence per pound spun and, at best, a pound spun per day – there was little incentive to become Britain’s Next Top Spinster.

Great Wheel hub and spokes
Great Wheel hub and spokes

Spinners’ wages were so low, they would often decamp to the fields – being an agricultural labourer, generally the poorest of the poor, was still better paid than spinning.  Clothiers, or their agents, might travel considerable distances to find their spinners.  Writing in the 1850s, John James interviewed an elderly Otley (Yorkshire) clothier who recalled employing spinners as far afield as Cheshire and North Derbyshire. William Jennings, an “aged manufacturer” recalled finding his handspinners “twenty or thirty miles distant” (James, p.325). In the age of handspinning,  spinners were hard to find, and in demand. Yet being ‘in demand’ in a capitalist system, does not always translate into being ‘well paid’. Spinning was not a skilled job or a ‘mystery’ and you didn’t have to pay a years’ wages for three years for an apprenticeship to learn it. So it was undervalued. The late 18thC even saw spinners’ wages dropping, at times and there were points, throughout history, where the later spinner was paid precisely the same per day as the medieval spinner had been.

Clothiers accepted sub-standard yarn – and wove with it. Spinners were not paid extra for excellence. There was little or no incentive to be the ‘best’ spinner for a clothier. To think it was ‘competitive’ is very romantic. But untrue.

Sometimes the clothiers employed shopkeepers or farmers, local to their spinners, as agents, to distribute the wool and gather up the spun yarn. Sometimes, spinners themselves would act as agents, to earn more money.  Spinners were not ‘professionals’ working in cottages with roses round the door with a wonderful work ethic and a determination to spin perfect yarn. It was very much a last ditch ‘job’ – witnessed by the large number of charity schools from Tudor times onwards, who made the poorest children into spinners, at least to make them ‘useful’.  Heaton, the foremost textile historian who wrote the definitive book on the Yorkshire woollen and worsted industries, says:

The work was largely carried off by the female members of the family or by the children… Around the spinning wheel has centred the Arcadian conception of eighteenth-century bliss; but like most  popular opinions of the charms of ‘the good old times’, it must be taken with a great deal of caution….


He describes families fitting in the spinning around other household chores, and daily life.  Worse still, the use of child labour meant the product was never perfect or uniform:

… The employment of children was a cause of imperfect workmanship, and the clothier had to pay for the tuition of his future work people in uneven and badly spun threads. Also, it was well nigh impossible to secure uniformity of yarn…

Rough and ready original repair on a great wheel's rim.
Rough and ready original repair on a great wheel’s rim.

In various sources, clothiers are always bemoaning the quality of handspun (see book list below). Most warp chains were made from a random mix of the work of at least ten spinners. The concept of there having been any one perfect, wonderful, ‘professional’ spinner providing an entire warp or weft for any one clothier, is ridiculous.

In  ‘Reminiscences of an Octogenarian’ by Hall, printed in John James, a clothier said of spinners:

some spun to 16 hanks per pound,  others to 24 hanks. When the manufacturer got his yarn back it had to be sorted, and the hard yarn used for warp, the soft for weft. ( 339)

Does this sound like “a competitive industry”?

16 hanks per pound would be one 560 yard hank of 1 ounce weight.  This is coarsely spun yarn. Not the superfines mentioned in the blog as standard. 24s would be pretty fat yarn, too!

Not even out of paragraph 1 of The Blog, and yet another incorrect ‘fact’:

…they knew about accelerators … They did not put them on great wheels.

The Minor’s Head is a figment of our collective imaginations, then..? As someone who has owned and used one, I must have been imagining it for the past 20 years.  So was the doyenne of spinning, Mabel Ross, who wrote in her ‘Encyclopedia of Handspinning’:

MINOR’S HEAD  A developed form of the spinning head of the great wheel, incorporating a simple gearing which increases the speed at which the yarn can be twisted… invented in America by Amos Minor about 1810…

I think you’ll find they did put them on great wheels.  The Blogger appears to believe accelerators were made for flyer wheels. The original patent may be lost, but anyone who has seen or used one, knows it can only attach to a spindle wheel.

Minor's Head, image courtesy "Lynne-marie", from Ravelry 'Spindle Wheels' group.
Minor’s Head, image courtesy “Lynne-marie”, from Ravelry ‘Spindle Wheels’ group.

Minor’s Heads were put on great wheels in their thousands.  In the US. Britain is a different story. By 1810, handspinning was in its death throes in the UK. Cotton had been spun by machinery for decades, but it was not widely adopted for worsted spinning til the 1790s. Bradford only got its first mill to machine spin worsted as late as 1800. Spinning wheels – specifically great wheels – were still very, very common on farms and in houses all over Britain. But once the mills had perfected the process, the wheels fell slowly silent.

In 1813, Seacroft toff George Walker was touring Yorkshire, recording the clothing of ordinary people for ‘The Costume of Yorkshire’ (1814). One working woman’s costume he documented was a ‘woman spinning’. Walker wrote:

Since the general use of machinery for…manufacture, the spinning by a wheel…has been very much laid aside. It is however still in some degree necessary, particularly for the warp of woollen stuffs, in which a strong hard twisted thread is required…

The wheel Walker illustrated? A great wheel, of course. Which contradicts our Blogger’s assertion that warps must have been spun at very high speed only on flyer wheels:

When you must spin a great deal of fine worsted, it [a doctored flyer] is the tool of choice.

It may well, but just because you can do it on a heavily doctored Ashford Traditional, doesn’t mean that MUST be how everyone did it in the past. And as we shall see, contemporaries believed the great wheel made a superior worsted warp thread as well as a superior lightly twisted woollen weft.

Like other sources (See Heaton and James), Walker quotes the spinners’  “low wages of about one halfpenny per pound weight”.

The constant mention of low wages for spinners also militates against our Blogger’s determination to prove that flyer wheels were the only way wool was spun for warps. Spinners bought their own machines, and had them at home not in manufactories. J.Geraint Jenkins wrote: “… Spinning was carried out on a great wheel, the value of which  in the late eighteenth century varied between 1 shilling and 6 pence and 5 shillings…”  Flax (flyer) wheels were more expensive, and seen as the province of the flax spinner or a toy for the middle class or wealthy.

In ‘Wool Manufacture of Halifax’, R Patterson described the standard type of spinning wheel used in the West Riding, around the end of the eighteenth century and typical amount spun:

… This was the great wheel, or the one-thread wheel… a spinster could spin about 5lbs of fine yarn or 7lbs of medium yarn per week. This meant continuous work for twelve hours per day, including Sundays…

Our Blogger asserts:

Great wheels were the Medieval technology of choice.  The Renascence tool was the flyer, and the flyer was faster and more compact.  Certainly great wheels were cheaper and deeply bedding in myth and romance, but as a tool for a professional spinner was the tool of choice.  No great wheel can keep up with a flyer/bobbin wheel properly designed for the grist; not spinning worsted or woolen.

Ah. Where to start with this lot?  Let’s look at what people who were contemporary to both great and flyer wheels being in use had to say. Our Blogger would have us believe the great wheel was  on its way to becoming defunct after ‘The Renascence”. But the sources tell a different story.

Traditionally, great wheels were seen as producing a superior woollen thread; flyer wheels more suitable for flax spinning, ‘hobby’ spinning of grand ladies who wanted a pretty wheel, or worsted spinning. Later, as we can see from George Walker’s words, the great wheel was also seen as spinning a superior worsted. Maybe because you can stand still once you’ve drafted back and keep putting as many twists per inch as you like into great wheel spun yarn. You can control the twist in ways flyer wheel spinners can only dream of.

The great wheel was also called  ‘the one-thread wheel’ ,amongst many other names. This distinguishing it from the double drive band of the flyer wheel.

A sixteenth century writer said:

‘ Spinnings of wooll are of three sortes, viz either upon the great wheele which is called woolen yarne…or upon the small wheele, which is called Garnsey or Jarsey yarne, bicause that manner of spynning was first practiced in the Isle of Garnsey… or upon the rock, which is called worsted yarne… Jarsey and Worsted yarnes be made of combed wooll…. Jarsey yarne maketh warpe for the finest stuffes…’

[Thomas Caesar, 1596, quoted in ‘Textiles and Materials of the Common Man and Woman 1580-1660’, Edited by Stuart Peachey, 2001, p8].

In 1875, Edward Baines remarked in his ‘Account of the Woollen Manufacture of England’:

“…Woollen [yarns] were spun on the big wheel, worsteds on the…flyer…”

One contemporary eighteenth century commentator didn’t reckon flyer wheels even came into it:

‘In my memory,’ stated the writer of a treatise on Silk, Wool, Worsted, Cotton and Thread (1779), ‘wool was spun on the long wheel only..’

[From ‘The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries’, E Lipson, 1921]

‘The long wheel’ was a common name for the great wheel. Great wheels – not flyer wheels – remained firmly the weapon of choice in the West Riding, powerhouse of world wool production – right into the early nineteenth century; long outliving flyer wheels as a ‘serious’ tool in the industry and even co-existing with machine spinning for decades, before finally being subsumed.

J.Geraint Jenkins describes how, in Wales, the hand spindle co-existed with the great wheel into the nineteenth century. No mention of the flyer wheel:

Until the end of the eighteenth century, these methods of hand spinning [ie: spindle and great wheel] were the only ones known to the inhabitants of Wales, indeed hand spinning was widely practiced long after the widespread adoption of Jennies, jacks and mules. Even the poorest cottages could afford a spinning wheel; for example, in eighteenth-century Montgomeryshire ‘great’ wheels, could be bought from local carpenters for as little as 5 shillings. One did not need a special machinery manufacturer to make them, so that wheels were readily available in all parts of the country….(56)

‘Woman Spinning’. From ‘Costume of Yorkshire’. George Walker, 1814.

Heaton also makes no mention of flyer wheels supplying the mighty behemoth that was the West Riding wool trade, whatsoever. He too believed only the great wheel was used:

“Spinning was done on the old distaff or on the single-thread spinning wheel. The former was still retained to some extent in east Anglia, but in the west riding it had entirely disappeared, and the spinning wheel was a common feature in the equipment of almost every Yorkshire home.”  (335)

R.Patterson, writing of the wool trade round Halifax, stated that “the one-thread wheel” was the wheel used.  Can all these authorities be ‘wrong’? John James, who spoke directly to many elderly survivors of the wool industry in the late eighteenth century, still alive when he wrote, goes even further, saying that the great wheel was faster for worsted (Blogger better take a seat and fan himself)  and even describes a spinning method that modern spinners would recognise as the semi-worsted ‘spinning from the fold’  (ie: they were spinning worsted on the great wheel, with no distaff which is backed up by the pictorial evidence):

The main advantage of the one-thread wheel evidently arose from its capability of producing a larger quantity of yarn. Spinning by this rude implement (still to be seen in very many farm houses in the north of England,) is thus described… But in the worsted business there was a peculiarity in yarn spun by this wheel which gave it a great advantage over mill spun yarn, namely, the thread was spun from the middle part of the sliver, thus drawing the wool out even and fine. The best spinners would, on this wheel, spin fine qualities of wool to as high counts as fifties, that is where they required fifty hanks, each five hundred and sixty yards in length, to a pound of yarn… (James, 337).

This gives us parameters for the fineness of yarn, as well. From the low of 16s, (Bradford Count) quoted above, to the ‘high’ of mid 50s (generally the finest British wool was spun til the widespread introduction of merino from Germany and elsewhere in post Napoleonic times). ie: spinners were not spinning the frogs’ eyelashes our Blogger is so fond of – but realistically, spinning to count or far below it (fatter grist). Welsh spinners spinning ‘Abb’ yarn, would spin incredibly fat yarn.

In other words – when spinning wheels were producing yarn for industry, the preferred wheel for all woollen yarns and often, a semi worsted warp – was the great wheel.

Sources don’t omit to mention the flyer wheel. What they do, is mention it as a wheel suitable for flax spinning, or for children or fine ladies, ‘playing’ at spinning. In ‘The Idler’, in 1758, no less than Samuel Johnson wrote a piece purporting to be from an upper class gent, bemoaning his wife’s failure to educate their daughters with the ‘three Rs’. Instead, she preferred to teach them practical things and bought them three tiny, ornamental flax wheels to spin huckaback for the servants’ table cloth:

I remonstrated, that with larger wheels they might despatch in an hour what must now cost them a day; but she told me, with irresistable authority … that when these wheels are set upon a table, with mats under them, they will turn without noise and will keep the girls upright; that great wheels are not fit for gentlewomen, and that with these, small as they are, she does not doubt that the three girls, if they are kept close, will spin every year as much cloth as would cost five pounds if one were to buy it.”  [15]

James dismissed the flyer wheel as almost a footnote to the great wheel, implying it was one for the hobby spinners:

Another spinning machine was also in use at the commencement  of the eighteenth century, and received the name of the small or Saxon wheel.  Though a more perfect apparatus than that last-mentioned, yet except in particular instances , it could only be applied to the spinning of flax. .. spinning by it formed the favourite occupation of the lady spinsters of Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  (337)

Our Blogger triumphantly concludes:

Expertise in the flyer has been lost.  A flyer will do a lot more than most spinners are aware.

Tell that to every single authority on the history of the wool and worsted industries. And the eighteenth century spinners and clothiers too, whilst you’re at it. As they all seemed to think of the flyer wheel as (i) a flax wheel or (ii) a toy.

For more info, check out the excellent Longdraw and Spindle Wheel Group pages on Ravelry. Some Minor’s Heads can be seen if you scroll down, here:

Also, check out The Guild of Longdraw Spinners.

An elegant great wheel. By Jacob.jose (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading

Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, Patricia Baines, Batsford, 1977

Textile History and Economic History,  (Essay collection) Chapter One. D.C.Coleman,  Manchester University Press, 1973

The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries, Herbert Heaton, Oxford, 1965

History of the Worsted Manufacture in England from Earliest Times, J. James, London, 1857

The Welsh Woollen Industry, J. Geraint Jenkins,  The National Museum of Wales, Welsh Folk Museum, Cardiff, 1969

The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries, E Lipson, A & C Black, 1921

Wool Manufacture in Halifax, R Patterson, ‘Journal of the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers’, Vol 2, Nos 24 and 25, 1958

Textiles and Materials of the Common Man and Woman 1580-1660, Edited by Stuart Peachey,  2001

Encyclopedia of Handspinning, Mabel Ross, Batsford, 1988

Costumes of Yorkshire, George Walker, 1814


An English sailor, illustration from Habiti Antichi e Moderni by Cesare Vecelli, 1600.

I’ve been bowled over by the interest in the General Carleton hat – especially from 18thC living historians and re-enactors.  (If you’d like the pattern, it is in Piecework, Jan/Feb 2014). But one question keeps coming up: how do you thrum?  I thought I’d tackle this here on the blog.

In the 17thC, English sailors seem to have worn knitted hats with allover thrums. By the 1780s, the allover thrums are a distant memory – and seem to be confined to a decorative fringe. Similar fringes can be found on the earliest of knitted Dales gloves ~ the G. Walton gloves at The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, and also Marie Hartley illustrated a now-lost pair of fringe gloves, in ‘The Old Hand Knitters of the Dales’.

There are two rounds of thrums on the General Carleton hat, as I knitted it. You make the thrums on rounds 2 and 4.  I did the first round of thrums in the natural cream colour and the second in the natural dark. You can mix it up if you prefer!

I was lucky to have access to another researcher’s photos of the inside of the hat.  I haven’t permission so won’t reproduce the Carleton interior pictures here but what I can show you are our own photos of the G.Walton glove which appears to be thrum-fringed in a similar way. Even so, I am not confident we can say any one way of thrumming is ‘authentic’ for this – or any –  period. Which frees you to thrum how works best for you.

I could only see the hat in a display case and as museum exhibitions tend to be for everyone, not just knitters, knitted items are rarely inside out when on display. Which is a shame as it tells you a lot about construction methods from an inside out item!  Another item with a fringed edge I have been able to examine, are one of the earliest pairs of Dales gloves, the ‘G Walton’ gloves – pattern soon to be published in ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’. You can look at our reference photos of the Walton glove and decide how you think these 1846 thrums were made. The gloves are incredibly fragile and most of all at the fringed edge.

Meantime, for those struggling with thrums, you can just knit the hat straight then ‘sew’ in lengths of yarn when it’s finished; secure how seems best to you.  I will try and explain how I thrummed my version of the Carleton hat.

Walton glove thrummed fringe
Walton glove thrummed fringe

How To Thrum

The Yarn Harlot’s Thrum FAQ is pretty well the method I opted for. Only you’ll notice, as in Maine mittens, the Harlot is using unspun wool and the thrums are lying on the inside of the work. For our fringe, we want them on the outside.

All you are doing, is knitting the 6″ length of yarn in with your next stitch, and then pulling both legs of the yarn to the outside of the work. You can do this in whatever way seems good to you. But I have tried to write down the way I did it, below, for anyone who needs to know.  It is not the same way the 1846 knitter of the Walton gloves did their thrummed fringe. But it is a way that works.

NB: You make thrums over one round and secure them in the subsequent round. Steps 1-3 making the thrum, Step 4: securing the thrum

1.Take the 6″ length of thrum, lay it alongside your working yarn, but line up the thrum’s centre at the point of the needles where you will be working.

2. This will leave one leg of the thrum on the exterior of the hat, but one, annoyingly, on the interior. Your mission is then to physically haul the second leg, (that wants to lie on the inside of the hat) out so it is also dangling down the front of the work alongside the other thrum.

3. So slip the thrum you just made to the left needle, and haul the second leg out to the front of the work.  Once both legs of the yarn are dangling on the front of the work, slip back to right needle. You’re ready to make your next thrum.

4. On the next round, when you come to each stitch, knit it with its thrum like a K2tog. Tug each thrum to make sure the legs are level and it is secure.  At the end of the round, you will have your original number of stitches, and the thrums will be secured.

Walton glove fringe from inside

In Newfoundland and Maine mittens, the thrums are made from roving, not spun yarn like our’s, and the ends are dangling on the inside of the work, not the outside like our’s. However, you may find this video by Eunny Jang helpful. Although Eunny is folding the thrum in a more complicated way than you need to. All you need to do is fold your 6″ thrum in half, then work the thrum into your knitting at its centre point (3″ in), and unlike the Newfoundland and Maine thrums, you are eliminating the thrum on the next round, by knitting it together with its stitch – whereas the Newfoundland and Maine thrums have their thrum’s  loop left in the work, its contrasting colour providing the pattern in the knitting. We’re essentially making an inside out thrum, in other words!

For more info check out:

Two Nerdy History Girls: allover thrummed sailor’s hat

Wicked Woollens’ Thrummed Sailor’s Cap