Combed To Death


Pattern for this is available on Ravelry:


And our Etsy shop here.

I made this from a widely available superwash DK – pretty well any strongly contrasting DK leftovers might do it. Designed especially for those of us who are ‘snowflakes’ – but bad-ass. Because knitting is political.

We have new nalbinding kits going up as well, just as soon as I can get the light to photograph them.  So we will be offering Mini Nal Kits and Macro Nal Kits – one with 50g of wool, one with 100g – one with a shorter bone needle (easier for some learners) and the other with a longer…   We’ll be at the Jorvik Viking Fest later this month – to make a change from being Luddites.


If you want to see us in our Luddite glory, we hope to be (weather permitting) at the Bradford Industrial Museum on Sunday (3rd Feb)  for our first Luddite gig of the year, at the Bishop Blaise Wool Festival.  Which we booked last minute, so we’re not being trailed.  We’ll also be doing a workshop at Craven Guild’s annual Bishop Blaise meeting, later this month.

I’ll hopefully have the great wheel and the 18thC tape loom with me at Bradford.  Come along and say hello!

Below is George Walker’s engraving of a Bishop Blaise ceremony around the time of the Luddites. Walker noted the men at the very end of the procession, with the crazy wigs made from combed wool tops, were the woolcombers (the woolcombing business owners and their families, and apprentices preceded them) “…with ornamented caps, wool wigs, and various coloured slivers.”  (‘Costume Of Yorkshire’, 1814, Plate 37).  The Bishop Blaise processions were held on February 3rd – Blaise being supposedly martyred by being ‘combed’ to death…


Courtesy Yorkshire Ancestors









Weaving Silk Ribbons – and the Curious Phenomenon of Late Eighteenth Century Automata

Joséphine Bowes sits at a table on which rest the text of several plays in which she appeared when an actress at the Théâtre des Variétés on the boulevard Montmartre in Paris under the stage name Mademoiselle Delorme. Her dog, Bernadine, lies at her feet.
Josephine Bowes, Countess of Montalbo (1825-1874) by Antoine Dury 1850. IMAGE COURTESY of The Bowes Museum.

A while back, I was researching late 18thC/early 19thC automata, after coming across an advert in a Georgian issue of one of the York newspapers, for an exhibition of them – there will be more on this in my upcoming book.

The idea of some room in a cramped Georgian house, by the city walls, full of automata, was just too good not to investigate further.  In my researches, I came across a famous chess playing automaton; a Cupid automaton who played 2 operatic arias on the piano, a piano playing full sized lady automaton and even a disabled man who had a celebrated automaton-maker build him a pair of ‘automatic’ hands that functioned so he could pick things up.

Online, I came across mention of  a spectacular extant automaton – The Silver Swan, (1773), at Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham.  On our next trip up to Cumbria, we stopped in, timing our visit so we were there for 2PM, when the swan is wound up and “played”.  It is spectacular; slightly unnerving, beautiful, fabulous in every way.  You sit watching it just as a crowd in one of the Georgian exhibitions would have.  (Check out the Silver Swan on YouTube – there are a few videos if you’d like to see it in action).  It was bought by John and Joséphine Bowes in 1872, for two hundred pounds.

I usually go behind the scenes in museums and poke around in the reserve collections, documenting textiles – preferably 18thC and 19thC as you know, dear Reader – but such is the attraction, we have been back to Bowes Museum a few times in the past year, as ‘members of the public’ – simply to gawk at the textiles and the automata (they also have a tiny silver mouse).


Swan meets someone almost the same age as it.


Talking of silver, I have always had a love of eighteenth century Spitalfields silk fabric – especially those brocades that combine a silver thread with a pastel coloured silk.   The jacquard looms which made that possible would have had something in common with the mechanics behind early automata.  (Incidentally, there is such a loom on display at Bowes).

Whilst at Bowes, something else caught my eye: the ribbon worn by Joséphine Bowes, in the portrait by Dury, above.

At first, I wanted to replicate it but my eighteenth century style band loom was already warped up with a repro, workaday linen tape.  Also, I wouldn’t be able to replicate a horizontal bar pattern, with such wide gaps between the pink silk and the silver metallic thread with a simple tape or inkle loom.  I could however, use  Joséphine’s ribbon sash as a jumping off point, to inspire a band.

Mifflin Tape Loom, repro of 18thC American tape loom – often these were brought with settlers, from England. Made by Mr. Paul Parish. Used with Swedish band lock., woven backstrap. Repro 18thC linen tape in progress! 18thC home tape weavers held the warp with one hand or tied one end to a belt.


It is still not off the loom, but here it is so far (below) – woven with a simple inkle threaded-in technique.  I made this first attempt on a Schacht inkle loom, but will be returning to do something similar using my 18thC repro tape loom, made for me by the talented and inimitable Paul Parish.  I have the first of Mr Parish’s looms in the UK – it is called the ‘Mifflin’ loom as it it based on the loom in this portrait.  If you want to know more about tape looms, hold on, as I will be doing a more in-depth post about them, soon.  I’ll also be posting about the 1770s’ tape loom we won at auction, in the Derbyshire Peaks, late last year.

Here is the Joséphine-inspired band in progress. Joséphine’s ribbon would have been made by an automated loom, by 1850, and extant silk ribbons of even a century before, were often sophisticated weaves.

Metallic and silk threads look spectacular but in reality aren’t more challenging to weave with, than wool, cotton or linen.

I have finished this ribbon but want to do a second, shorter one and there’s still some warp. I’ll photo the finished one.  The yarns used are in some cases, sewing thread (metallic); the pink is fine (2/60 NM) pure silk and the metallic threads were plied with some very fine, cream coloured linen.

Joséphine’s band would have been far finer, and made on more a complicated ribbon weaving loom.  Which would be capable of brocades and all kinds of things a simple, threaded-in inkle can’t achieve.

I have spent a lot of 2018 learning to do more complex pick up techniques but wanted to return to something simple, where the pattern was threaded in so a faster weave, reliant on the yarns used alone, for its visual impact.  Which meant I could only get alternating horizontal bands, but I’m pleased anyway with this ‘inspired by’.  It will be used for our 18thC Living History kit.

Shuttle by Ampstrike (Estonia). Heddle Stoorstalka (Sweden).  Yarns: UK and Germany.
Heddle from Stoorstalka (bought it myself – no affiliation). I had to ply the metallic Gutterman sewing threads with very fine linen yarn, on my spinning wheel as the metallic threads alone lacked body.


Homemade width gauge to ensure consistent band width.


I almost don’t want to take this off the loom. It looks so beautiful as a warp.


I am grateful to the museum for permission to reproduce the portrait that set me off on the silk and metallic ribbon quest.   I have loved weaving this, so far, and hope to weave many more – some brocaded, some like this, a plain threaded-in pattern.

For the spinners, weavers and dyers, I’ll be doing a workshop at the South Lincs Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers this Saturday. (Longdraw Spinning). Do come along if you’re nearby and want to learn how to do the classic longdraw, a la 18thC!


Finally… If you have never  been to the Bowes Museum – go, if you get the chance. There is plenty to interest anyone with an interest in textiles and costume with the fascinating Fashion & Textile Gallery. If you time your visit right, you may also get the see the Silver Swan.

Sheep Hoard… I mean Herd

Sheep Pen, Luttrell Psalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Following  Old English Word Hord  @OEWordHoard on Twitter, this Word Of The Day post caught my eye the other day:



scēap-heord, f.n: a flock of sheep.


Which I misread as “sheep hoard” – an idea so cool, I wanted to keep it.  But “sheep hoard” would be “scēap-hord”, and sadly, that doesn’t appear to be A Thing.

Talking of hoards, I’ve been starting to sift through and think about, our large collection of spindle whorls which date anything from Roman through to Tudor-ish.  And although most of them are British, I do have the occasional more exotic whorl.  We are having some repro not-lead medieval whorls made, which we’ll bring out in our Etsy shop when we have them, so keep an eye out.

Here’s some recent whorls we acquired – Karelian, mainly, but the first one on the right, which looks identical to some British whorls,  is French:


karelian etc


And these are a fairly typical detectorist/field-walking find from England which, without context, could date anything from Anglo Saxon through to late medieval:

Now with added dog hairs!


Lead whorls tend to be over-represented (in my collection, anyway) – because they are detectorists’ finds.  But archaeologists believe stone whorls were more common in medieval times – it’s just the lead are more findable.

When we do our talks, farmers often mention they have found lots of whorls – do feel free to send me photos, if you have found a stray whorl – and I’ll give you any information I can.


Bone and soapstone whorl undersides.  Ring and dot is often – but by no means always – Anglo-Saxon


I fully intend to do a more detailed post, going into various styles and shapes of whorls, weights, decorations, and what is broadly dateable and how or if.  But that is for some point next year, dear and Gentle Reader.

I’ve been collecting whorls, on and mainly off, since the 1980s, and the only holy grail left for me would be something with a runic inscription.

In keeping with the Old English theme, I spent some of yesterday making some charts for inkle weaving, of the Futhorc (runic alphabet). I don’t see why these couldn’t also be knitted.  But I can’t guarantee you they’d work as I haven’t tried either weaving or knitting with them yet.

It was an angular alphabet as probably designed to be carved, so it lends itself to being charted. For the weavers, these average around 5 picks (because you’d be weaving sideways) but some are a pick more or less than 5. Totally don’t know if this would work for knitting and won’t til I try it.  Which may not be soon.

Here they are anyway.  I’m guessing if you want to weave runes (and there’s probably more than one Northumbrian rune missing, this was just a quicky) then you already know what they stand for or can use the search engine du jour, to find them, so I put them here as a Yuletide gift – for anyone who wants to play with runes.  Not downloadable but feel free to do whatever.






futh y - s

fut t - l

futh ng - ae

futh yr - k


For now, I bid you adieu with a glimpse of my (16th century?)  clay (Tudor-ish?) what I call ‘Bellarmine’ whorls.  In fact, they’re possibly something else entirely, but I like to think of them as “Bellarmine” as the glaze looks, for all the world, like the glaze on Bellarmine jugs.










Snow On Snow

The Knitter, 131. © The Knitter, 2018


The most recent one in my series of pieces about nineteenth century designers/knitting manual writers is out in ‘The Knitter’ 131. It’s about the Yorkshirewomen, the Ryder sisters – another sister act, like the West Country’s Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin.  In all these pieces I’ve tried to uncover new or previously unpublished  information about my targets – enjoy!

Meanwhile, on the blog, I’ll be turning my attention to eighteenth century tape looms (British and American) and showing you a beautiful Georgian temple, a blog reader brought along to the Masham Sheep Fair, this year, to show us.

I’ll also be documenting the our 1770s’ English tape loom as well as my reproduction ‘Mifflin’ loom made by the brilliant Paul Parish; and writing a little about inkle and tape-weaving for living history.  (I can’t find anyone in the UK currently making these, but Paul will ship them to the Britishers – message/email me if you’d like his details).

Rare English 1770s’ fruitwood tape loom, from Derbyshire Peak District. Needs some restoration.
Nalbinded hat in Oslo stitch with ‘Little Dragons’ tape border.


We have nalbinding kits here, for anyone interested – a very brief ‘How To’ booklet, alongside some British wool and a shorter-than-most horn or boxwood nalbinding needle – because for many, it is easier to learn with a short needle.

I’ve been busy lately nalbinding, tape-weaving and knitting up a storm.


Next year I’ve got some slight departures coming up in pieces for some US magazines – including a nalbinding How To for neo-nalbinders, and a piece about an incredible craft-related item from, of all things, the Donner Party. I never said I wasn’t eclectic!  I’ve long been fascinated by the history of the Old West – especially the Yorkshire card sharps and sharp-shooters, the Thompson brothers,  (whose lives were slightly more colourful than the sedate Ryder sisters’, has to be said), and occurences like the Fetterman incident and the Donner Party.

Talking of snow; I decided to put my money where my mouth is, re. knitting being political, and the Quintillion Snowflake Hat (for snowflakes) is the result.  It uses 5 ply gansey but am about to test it in DK.  It’s an eco friendly hat because it uses up leftovers of yarn and is a weird Fair Isle/Gansey mash-up.  So it’s been a busy few weeks, with the nalbinding, weaving and hat sample knitting.  Lots of new things to look forward to, dear Reader.


Quintillion Snowflakes Hats



Like most Europeans, I had more than one ancestor killed in World War One.  Today I found my photos of one of them.  He died just over 100 years ago – my dad spoke of him when we were growing up, and his other uncle who died in 1917.


I thought it was very instructive to put the two photos of my grandma’s brother side by side.  Same young man, probably the same uniform, same hat. And maybe only two years’ difference, between the shots.  My grandma is the little girl on the right of the photo.  She adored her older brother, I was told. I can’t imagine how it must have felt, the day the family got that telegram.   There was no body found, no grave for anyone to visit.  Most of William’s colleagues lasted a few months in this unit. He lasted several years.  He is one of the names on the memorial at Soissons Cathedral. I’ve never been able to afford to go there so have never seen it. One day I’d love to.

My oldest son was born on a Remembrance Sunday and we gave him William’s name.

What I’ve always found striking is that you would think two decades not two years, had passed, between these two images being taken.  One is a boy; one looks like a tough, middle aged man.  I wonder if it’s the same hat in both photos?  The second picture is pierced round wonkily with a pin, and has his name written in ink, on the back and something my dad was told was a bloodstain. It does look possible.

Gunner William Boothman, Royal Artillery, X Battery trench mortars, (“suicide squad”), number: 107649.  He was my great grandparents’ oldest son.  He joined up the same day as his cousin, of the same name, also from Leeds.  The other William survived the war.


Politicians (donkeys) still sacrifice lions.  So – lest we forget.  Here is one of the faceless many.


Work For Idle Hands

Coming up to the final stretch, so to speak, writing the next book – which is going to be about the darker side of textile history.  At the moment, I have pieces coming out about the early writers of knitting manuals, which is slightly more cheerful territory. But I’m currently researching something much darker and so thought I’d share this snippet (image from a later period, but it gives you the gist).


Pre-Victorian, but full of the later nineteenth century belief that “the devil makes work for idle hands”, etc.  Whilst men were used in chain gangs, stone-breaking or road improving, or oakum picking (recycling tarry rope fibres); women were put to the task of sewing endless linen shirts, knitting stockings, or spinning line (flax).   Which shows you how soul-destroyingly boring they thought these tasks to be.  And also, how “improving” or “character building”.


From “The Morning Post”, (London), Monday, August 11th, 1817;

The system adopted by MRS FRY and the association which she has formed for reclaiming and improving the condition of the female prisoners of Newgate, has been eminently succesful. Within a period of little more than three months the women and girls have made nearly 4000 shirts, &c. They have knitted 220 pairs of socks and stockings, and have lately commenced the spinning of flax. The amelioration in their morals has kept pace with their progress in the habits of industry…

Almost twenty years on, Dickens was to describe a visit to Newgate in ‘Sketches By Boz’ (1836). He mentioned a piece of ‘pasteboard’ (cardboard) with quotes from the scriptures, propped against a wall in the dining hall.  Moral improvement seemed the aim.

He watched some of the women at lunch,  noting that one or two of them immediately picked up and resumed “needlework” after eating.  Dickens contrasted the women’s side of the prison where women seemed to be working, and purposeful – to the men’s where they “sauntered” around looking bored. So it seems Elizabeth Fry’s influence could still be felt twenty or more years on.

Check out The Knitter, Issue 129, for my latest piece on knitting history.  There are some more bits of knitting history coming up in ‘The Knitter’ so stay tuned – and I’m currently working on a very exciting bit of research on a Very Famous Incident, for a U.S. magazine – details next year, when it’s out.

1862. Female convicts at work in Brixton prison. By Mayhew & Binny. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

” A pair of stockings one of them with the needles in it…”

Gorgeous, probably British, pink waistcoat (not worm-eaten!) CREDIT: Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Currently working on my new book – a sort of horrible histories for people who like textile history.

And I found this source, a book about the extant records of a York pawn shop. I haven’t yet been to see the primary source, but have been working on some very similar, previously unpublished sources, I uncovered in various archives.

18thC or 19thC printed linen, own collection. Many workaday clothes were made from this kind of fabric.


George Fettes was an Edinburgh man who ran a pawnshop in the late 1770s on Lady Peckett’s Yard in York.

Pawnbrokers’ records, like debtors’, are often a fascinating insight into the lives (and clothing) of ordinary folk. In ‘The Worm-Eaten Waistcoat’, (self published, York, 2003), Alison Backhouse gave a compelling glimpse into late eighteenth and early nineteenth century York and its denizens.

Pawnbrokers could sell any items that weren’t redeemed by the deadline. Although Fettes seems to have been a lenient man, often overlooking his own deadlines.

A glimpse into the Pledge Book 1777-8 shows that some customers were frequent flyers, like Mary Metcalfe of Walmgate who pledged gloves 25 times. She was probably a glove maker, pawning her own stock, to survive in business.

Occupations of pledgers varied and include: a joiner, dyer, a travelling woman, a chandler, a Trumpeter 11th regiment (York was full of soldiers; often garrisoned randomly in pubs in the city centre); , “the deaf woman”, – a “quack doctor”. Pledgers came from beyond the city walls, as well. Poor Betty Bridgewater travelled twenty miles from Kilburn with a counter pane, “very much worm eaten”.

Kind-hearted Mr Fettes seems to have even taken in “worm-eaten” textiles.  Which tells us something about him, but also the fact that they maybe still had some intrinsic value; textiles being so hard to produce that the vast majority of the population were walking round in secondhand clothing.

A silver watch was pawned by the marvellously named Pendock Vame; an apprentice with Mr Firth of Coney St for 15 shillings on 18.7. 1777. The watch was redeemed but later sold because it was pawned again by John Turner of North St on 17th of November.  Some of the clothing pawned was surprisingly personal.  One common item of clothing often pawned were stays.

My stays, copies of c. 1790s-1800. Silk, lined with linen. Hand-sewn. Luceted handspun silk ties.

Here are just some glimpses of the clothes of eighteenth century York.

Hannah Priestley of Aldwark, on 14th July, 1777, accepted 11s 2d for 4 1/2 yds of new cloth, one new checked handkerchief, three pieces of new cloth, one checked apron, one cap and a pair of sleeves” (40)

On 2 Aug she was back with 12 s 1d worth of business:

one washing gown, one new tea kettle, one flannel petticoat, the yards of check, four yds if flannel also a Silk Petticoat Quilted.

Weirder items included:

A bird net

[pledged by Sarah Hill of Little Shambles, 21/11/77]

1 pair of black everlasting breeches,

[Pledge by Thomas Callis out of Micklegate Bar 13/11/78. “Everlasting” appears to have been a thick, maybe boiled woollen fabric, also used for sailors’ coats].

A glimpse inside a pair of stays. Wooden busk. I didn’t bother to match the lining – which is what you often see with 18thC clothing’s linings. Holes for ties all hand-sewn. These would be worth pawning in the 1790s.

For the knitters:

1 child’s gown and a pair of stockings 1 of them with the needles in it,

Pawned by Elizabeth Firth of North St in 1778 – they were pawned for a shilling and a penny, and they were unclaimed (43).

North Street was by the river and where many watermen and their families, of varying degrees of prosperity, would have lived. My favourite ancestor’s second marriage was at the church in North Street in the 1820s. All Saints has possibly the best medieval stained glass in York, even including the Minster – complete with zombies. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

According to Alison Backhouse: “Saturday was the busiest day of the week for receiving pledges” (45) Followed by Mondays. These were also the busiest days for redemption of pledges; suggesting York weekends were quite fun.

1542 of the pledges were for just one shilling (5p) – 14% of the total number of pledges. A quarter of items would never be redeemed.

George Fettes sold unredeemed items by auction.

18thC or 19thC printed linen from my collection.

The Worm-Eaten Waistcoat, Alison Backhouse, self pub, 2003, York