Tom Tit Tot

Tom Tit Tot, Illustration by David Hunt

For #FolkloreThursday  although this doesn’t fit in with this week’s watery theme.  Maybe it does a little, though. As spinners know, flax has to be wet to be spun effectively…  Archaeologists often recognise a characteristic groove in the teeth of flax spinners’ skulls.

Here’s a small extract from my forthcoming book, ‘Their Darkest Materials’.  The book is about material culture – not just knitting but all types of textile, and we’ll explore the dark side of textile history in what I like to think of as a kind of ‘Horrible Histories’ for grown ups. This comes from a chapter called ‘The Bewitched Spinning Wheel & Other Tales’ and examines folklore and textile-related ghost stories.  I cover some super obscure stuff, but this section is about a fairly well known folktale…  Rumpelstiltskin and Tom Tit Tot are classified as ‘The Name of the Supernatural Helper’ stories and appear amongst a tiny handful of stories academics have identified as the very oldest known stories told, possibly dating as far back as 6000 years.

Stories have been shared across cultures – vertically, down the generations and horizontally, via trade and other links. And making yarn and cloth was such a fundamental human activity that it may be inevitable that some of the oldest of all folktales, concern these activities.


Rumpelstiltskin ‘Ladybird’ book.



When we think of folklore and spinning, we think of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, collected by the Grimm brothers in their 1812 edition of ‘Children’s and Household Tales’. There are several spinning tales in the Grimm brothers’ work, including ‘The Three Spinning Women’ which has an English variant. But there was also an English variant of Rumpelstiltskin – Tom Tit Tot, which I remember from my own childhood fondly, as my father bought me ‘Folk-Tales of England’ by Katharine M. Briggs and Ruth L. Tongue, which I re-read over and over, as a child. I liked the unsettling eeriness of the English folk tales. ‘Tom Tit Tot’ was classified as a ‘Tale of Wonder’ and it runs something like this…


Once upon a time a woman made five pies and left them to cool. Her daughter ate them all. When she found out, the woman sat outside the door on her spinning wheel, spinning flax, and singing to herself that her daughter ate all the pies (Vide the football song, “Who ate all the pies?” but probably not its origin!):

“‘My daughter have ate five, five pies today.
My daughter have ate five, five pies today.’”

The King was walking past and asked her what she just sang. Too ashamed to admit the truth, she sang:

‘My daughter have spun five, five skeins today.
My daughter have spin five, five skeins today!’”

The King was so impressed, he said he’d marry her daughter – so long as at the end of a twelvemonth, she spun five skeins of flax a day. If she didn’t – off with her head.

The girl married the King and had a great time for eleven months. On the first day of the twelfth month, he showed her a secret room in the palace, that had just a spinning wheel and a chair in it – and instructed her to spin her five skeins of flax.

The only problem was – the girl didn’t even know how to spin. She sat and cried. Then there was a knock at the door and there was an imp. It asked her why she was crying and when she explained, it said if she came to the window every evening with the flax for the next day, it would spin 5 skeins for her. It said it would take her for its wife as payment – unless she guessed its name correctly. It would give her three guesses each day for the whole month. If, by the end of four weeks, she hadn’t guessed its name – it would come to claim her.

Every night it kept its word. It appeared at the window and she handed it the flax, the imp handed her the spun skeins. And every night she guessed its name – incorrectly.

As the end of the month approached, the woman was panicking. She thought of increasingly ridiculous names, and every time she guessed, she was wrong and the imp reminded her she would be his, very soon, if she didn’t guess correctly.

Every day the King came to collect the skeins andhe’d tell the woman he wasn’t going to chop her head off that day, as he had the five skeins. Then he’d leave. But on the final evening, the night before the month was up, the King stayed to eat his dinner with her, and told her about a weird thing he’d seen whilst out hunting. He’d seen an imp at a spinning wheel in the forest, twirling its tail round as it spun at the speed of lightning and, he said, as it spun, it sang:

“‘Nimmy, nimmy not,
My name’s Tom Tit Tot!’”

Next morning, the imp came for its flax and that evening it sat on the windowsill as it passed her the skeins, its tail whipping about, a huge malicious grin on its face.

She asked it if its name was Soloman. It said no. And hopped into the room.

She asked it its name was Zebedee? It said no, and slithered closer, its breath on her neck.

Finally, she sang:

“‘Nimmy, nimmy not,
Your name’s Tom Tit Tot!’”

It shrieked, and the repulsive thing flew away into the night, never to be seen again.


I’m not sure whether the imp wasn’t preferable to the King, with his unreasonable spinning demands and menacing death threats.


Via Wikimedia Commons. Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, ca. 1889

Tiresome Girls

Land Girls as they should look and as they actually looked. ‘Land Girl’ magazine, courtesy Yorkshire Museum of Farming.

We’ll be talking about some of the hidden gems to be found in the Women’s and Army archive at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, tomorrow.  We start at 2PM, Upper Dales Family History Group, Harmby Village Hall, nr Leyburn.

Whilst working on the talk, we found in the archive, two rather interesting letters.  One, apparently mundane post-War letter, written 14th February, 1949, by a former Land Girl, addressed to one of the North Riding organisers of the Women’s Land Army:

Dear Mrs D____,


I hope you are keeping well.

I have been in Sheffield for two weeks, now and I am to be married on Saturday Feb 26th.

I often think about you and the lovely times we all had with the W.L.A…  I was pleased to see you again, when we met in town, nefore Xmas.

I sometimes see Barbara, and Marjorie, but I haven’t seen Dorothy since she was married.

We certainly had some happy times together… I ave lots of things to do before Feb 26th, and I am feeling very happy about everything. We have found very nice accomodation.

Stephanie is staying with mother for a week or two, and she is quite happy. She has grown a lovely girl, and we shall all be happy together.

… We have lots of lovely memories of our life in the W.L.A and I like to keep in touch with you… I hope to see you again soon.

Sincerely yours,

K_____  R______

Land Girl’s billet, Yorkshire Museum of Farming, CREDIT: Daniel Kirk

That hope to see eachother again may not have been entirely mutual.  From elsewhere in the archive, a confidential letter written in pencil, presumably in haste, by the addressee of the above to another WLA official, dated a few years earlier, 6th July, 1945 (full names redacted):


Dear Miss________,

… I met Mollie T.  just before I went away last week with the new vermin girl, C.P. I stopped and asked if she was training here and where was K______.  Upon which she said:  ‘Oh, K_____’s left!’ When I asked why… Mollie said ‘Oh I don’t know, she just said one morning “I’m off”!’  I asked if she’d got a house, and Mollie said not…  I got the impression Mollie  was a bit bothered by K____’s behaviour…

How tiresome girls are. K____ R____ gave me and Mrs Jackson quite a lot of trouble getting her that job, and she also told me she would be glad of a little financial help if it was there for the asking!!!


Vita Sackville-West wrote in  her book, ‘The Women’s Land Army’, in 1944:


I think the credit which some of these girls deserve can scarcely be exaggerated. I really do. Heaven knows that I have sometimes wished I might never see a Land-Girl again, as any W.L.A official would say if she were honest enough. But how easily one’s exasperation melts away!

… I remember one particular morning when the siren woke me; I looked at my watch, six o’clock; it was January, pitch-dark still, I lay listening to the planes overhead, then to the distant guns; then to a peculiar sound which, alf asleep, I didn’t at first recognise… then identified it as the familiar whine  of the cooling-machine up at the cowshed… and I realised then that five girls (two of whom I knew to be frightened of raids) had already been in the sheds for an hour… getting the warm sweet milk, and I really don’t know whether I felt more ashamed of myself for being still in my comfortable bed, or for having ever been guilty of irascibility against these plucky and sturdy little toilers…

Images courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.

More Respectable Than Formerly

Pattern inside, Davenport, 1805.

Monday 16th May, 1836

A large assortment of Pots at the Market today… but all was pretty quiet, there is no such uproar as there used to be with the Blackguards who attended. I think the Potters are rather more respectable than formerly…


[The Diary of Robert Sharp of South Cave, Life in a Yorkshire Village, 1812 – 1837, Ed. Janice E & Peter A. Crabtree, OUP, 1997].

Robert Sharp was a school-master and mordant observer of village life in late Georgian rural Yorkshire. His diaries are a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of rural people. I  read this and wondered why potters in particular, were seen as naturally disreputable?

Just a few miles down the road from Mr. Sharp, in the market-town of Selby, one of my great x 4 grandfathers, William Simpson, was a potter and earthenware dealer. His shop was on Gowthorpe – then as now, Selby’s main drag. He is listed as an earthenware dealer in Pigot’s Directory, 1829 and “China Dealer” on the 1841 Census.

When his children were born, his occupation was listed in the Selby parish records as “Potter”, which is how I know he made pots as well as sold them.   He probably made earthenware to sell to local farmers, and then dealt bought-in stock of  fancier china from Staffordshire and elsewhere.

His wife, Sarah Cay, came from a family who seem to have been both farmers and haulers on the river – rivers and canals were ideal for transporting pottery long distances. William and Sarah married in Hull, down the river, even though they both lived in Selby. William is only on one census – 1841 – where for birthplace we have the intriguing information “N” (“No”) for ‘Born in this county”.  As he was born around 1800, we have no birth certificate and no way of knowing which of the hundreds of William Simpsons born in England, he might have been.  But certainly by the 1820s, his father was trading as an earthenware dealer in Selby even if he was born out of the county.  On the 1851 census, widowed Sarah, still on Gowthorpe, rather grandly described herself as “Gentlewoman living on her own property”.  No mention of her selling china.

Willow pattern transferware would have been fairly cheap and cheerful. Yorkshire farmers have always kept and loved blue and white china, and in particular willow pattern. My mother used to tell me the story of willow pattern and as I have been foraging along the river for willow to weave, quite a bit recently, thoughts turned back to my mother’s love of willows and willow pattern (she had no idea she had an ancestor who made and sold pottery). When fieldwalking, one of the most common things you find round here are fragments of blue and white – more often than not, you’ll recognise an element of willow pattern. I’ve bought it for years, picked up shards of it from the fields, and generally loved it.

Last year, at a car boot sale in York, I paid just a pound or two for this lidless willow pattern soup tureen, which was in a pile of odds and ends laid out on the grass.  It makes a great wool holder. Turns out it was older than I thought and  firmly dateable – to 1805, when William Simpson Sr was making earthenware and selling china, also on Gowthorpe in Selby. And the sellers told me it came from the estate sale of a former Selby antiques dealer.

I wonder if it ever sat in the Simpsons’ shop?


Willow pattern, Davenport, 1805

She Prevailed

Jane Moses Wood Roodhouse. This will be Jane in old age. Image sent to me by the late Martha MacDonald.

International Women’s Day today, so I thought I’d write a little about a pioneer woman in my family tree, Jane Moses Wood Roodhouse.

Few letters home or journals survive from women pioneers – so it is interesting to know anything  about the day to day lives of those women who upped sticks, crossed oceans, then hit the trail. And Jane left a narrative, currently lost – but which inspired Nelle Greene Strang’s journal-form book,  ‘Prairie Smoke’, published by Jane’s family in 1985, a copy originally sent to me by local history researcher, Martha MacDonald. Martha also put me in touch with my Roodhouse relatives.

Jane Moses Wood Roodhouse (1791-1860) was the daughter of my great grandfather x 5, Isaac  Moses, of Cawood, Yorkshire.  When widowed, she married a widower, Ben Roodhouse – a local farmer who had started life as Cawood’s butcher.

I’m related to both Jane and Ben, descending directly from her brother and his sister as well being related to her first husband, Abraham Wood.

Back in 1820, a Peter Roodhouse  bought a grist mill in the newly settled Belltown, Illinois.  He seems to have returned to England, where he died ten years later, but maybe his tall tales of life in America inspired his nephews, as they started pestering their parents, Jane and Ben Roodhouse, to emigrate.  In 1830, Jane and Ben duly emigrated to America with their nine children; Abraham, William, Isaac and Mary Wood and Jane, John, twins Peter and Ben and James Roodhouse.

The journey was not uneventful. One of the twins fell into the sea when the ship was still docked, in London. He was rescued by older brother, Isaac Wood.  Bearing in mind Isaac’s father, Jane’s first husband, had drowned – this must have been a terrifying moment, for Jane.

After the usual terrifying voyage, the family did what many immigrants did, and left their furniture in storage at the Great Lakes.  They travelled to Illinois, meaning to go back and retrieve their possessions later.  Only to find everything they had in storage had been stolen and the storage hut burned down.

They bought a large farm in White Hall, Greene County, from a fellow English settler, and settled down to farm. Land Tax records show that even after they were established in America, Jane still owned property back home in Cawood, Yorkshire. And this is something historians often don’t write about; the cliche is that women weren’t allowed to own land or property – but of course they could and did. Women were entrepreneurs in the nineteenth century (see current issue of ‘The Knitter’ for my piece on one such York woman).

The family’s first Illinois winter was harsh; a certain Abraham Lincoln also moved to Illinois that year and like the Roodhouses, was later honoured  with the name ‘snowbird’ – like everyone who lived through that viciously cold winter of 1830.  This winter tested the fortitude of the new immigrants.  For over two months, there were furious snowstorms and the wind blew the snow into cabins, between the logs in the walls, so much that people shovelled snow indoors.  Jane had lived a comfortable existence – educated privately in York, as a child, and brought up by affectionate but sometimes stern, Methodist principles.

In 1831, only months after they settled, Ben died of a fever, leaving Jane and the children to run the farm “without a helping hand” as ‘The History of Greene County, Illinois’ (1879) put it. It must have been incredibly tough in the early years and maybe more than once, Jane was tempted to return home to her undemanding life in Yorkshire.  But she persisted, like thousands of other immigrants, the world over – invested in new lives, making a better future for loved ones.

I won’t write at too much length about Jane here – her sons Ben and John went on to found the town of Roodhouse, Illinois, so the family history is well covered, elsewhere.

On International Women’s Day, I just wanted to share a few quotes from a book written by Jane’s relative, Nelle Greene Strang, ‘Prairie Smoke’ which describes Jane’s early days as an English pioneer in Illinois.  Nelle’s unpublished manuscript was found in an attic after her death in 1968. Nelle was Jane’s great x 2 grand-daughter.  

Jane’s journal is known to have still been extant into the 20th century, but is now lost.  It’s thought Nelle Strang may well have been very conversant with it.

It is written in a curious, archaic, not-quite-right for the 1830s, cod British-English; no doubt Miss Strang’s romantic, twentieth century idea of how English people might have sounded.  Yet some passages in it seem to be authentic, including many describing knitting, spinning and dyeing. And they are of interest both to the textile historian and those of us who want to read about women’s documented experiences, throughout history. 

Most nineteenth century women of most social classes, spent time knitting endless stockings, if nothing else. To have a stocking on the go would be analagous to a contemporary woman having a mobile phone to hand:

We did set an red dye and I did card a bit of wool whilst Mary did wrap the silver and did store it away in the chest. I did set up an stocking and did finish it by early candlelight… MAY 1834

Jane wrote of family friends’ sons visiting from England – poignantly, one of the boys died whilst staying with the Wood/Roodhouses in Illinois. And she wrote of everyday life; missing the ‘lanthorns’ that had been stolen from their storage; planting crops, looking after animals, and seeing a famous itinerant Methodist preacher (who was indeed at that place at that time). 

Jane had hoped to see native Americans, when on the trail to her new home; but her only sighting, disappointing her, was of some distant smoke, across the prairie.   Her lanthorns might have been lost but her spinning wheel must have travelled with her  (York was a place where some beautiful spinning wheels were indeed made, during Jane’s school years and beyond).  I have not been able to find out if Jane’s spinning wheel is extant but it is possible, as her portrait is, and the family continued to farm the same land well into the late 20th century.   In England, professionally dyed yarn could be bought at the shops, in town, or from pedlars who tramped from village to village, selling their wares. In America, Jane had to master new skills she’d never have needed back home.

Jane learned dyeing with new-to-her plants, from her servants.  A gentleman’s daughter, in England, by around 1800, would have had no reason to learn to spin. Yet Jane could, maybe speaking to the frugality and common sense of her Methodist family.

 Years after they settled, they paid an architect to reconstuct their house in Cawood, Yorkshire, going from Jane’s memory. I can find one house in Cawood that looks similar – but can’t be certain it’s the original.  They named the new, brick house “Cawood”.  I have found no evidence any of the Wood or Roodhouse children ever returned to Yorkshire, but they must have grown up hearing about “home” and the older children would have memories of their own.  A subsequent generation shared some family names with my own family in Cawood, which suggests to me that we were possibly still in contact with our American cousins, decades on.

Ben’s brother, Peter, died months after the family left for Illinois. He left a clock to his family “in America”.  How the will’s executors got the clock sent off, we will never know, but it may be this once glimpsed in ‘Prairie Smoke’:

The English clock does tick on these strange walls as it did in the Old World in the days of mine youth.  May, 1837

Jane was a middle aged woman with nine children when she came to Illinois.  She was often homesick for England. In describing the everyday details of pioneer women’s lives – the endless sewing, cooking, dyeing, spinning, and workaday knitting and the descriptions of the material culture of the pioneer home, Nelle seems fairly reliable.  The Roodhouses and Woods mixed with other English ex-pats; often lawyers and minor gentry.  As Methodists who had grown up in Wilberforce’s constituency, it is unlikely they will have had slaves in fact, they are highly likely to have been abolitionists, given their background in Yorkshire – Yorkshire Methodists were at the heart of the English abolition movement during Jane’s early years and her relatives were prominent Methodists.

The household did include servants, though, who Jane referred to as her “family”; including Jennie, who taught her about dye plants. In England, domestic dyeing was rarely done and only then, by miners’ or farm labourers’ wives; most knitters used undyed natural colours or bought commercially dyed yarn.  By 1830, few British people spun yarn at all as it was spun by the mile, by machinery and had been for decades.

Naturally dyed wool including wools dyed with lac and logwood.

From ‘Prairie Smoke’ by Nelle Green Strang:

The lads do assist in the felling of the trees and with the care of the stock whilst Mary and I do spin and knit. Jane does mind the small lads for they are ever in mischief as small lads do ever seem to be. Many stitches must be taken for we do number nine and no seamstress is at hand as in the Old World. I do wish to have a sufficient supply of garments and Lottie is most willing in all manner of labor. Strange does it seem as I do gaze about me but I have a stout heart and will not be always looking back over mine shoulder on the days of mine youth in England. Sept 1830



…Verily I do lose count on the days that do pass so quickly by but I do mark this day. I was spinning by the open door for the air was soft and balmy and daughter Mary was combing her brown curls before the mirror when I did espy an horseman coming out of the timber… Oct 1830


Then there’s this:

… I do see William’s newly wedded wife spinning at the cabin door so she may oft look towards the field where if William and his brothers are busy with the grain… June 1832

And, from November 1834:

… Already I have an vast number of socks and stockings knit. Mary has knit mittens and she did double-hook and peg an pair far each lad and she is now knitting braces for the lads to present them at Yuletide.

And maybe my favourite:

Jennie’s mother did make promise to set the dyes for us for it is soon we will need the garments stitched for mine household. She does handle the dyes with much skill. Each year she does go questing about in search of madder and logwood and sassafras also. She has even used the dark juice of the pokeberry and she knows even goldenrod and iris will yield up a bit of juice for her use. Sept 1835

One of the grandchildren played a trick on the elderly Jane, when resuming her knitting:

Whilst the frolic did go on I did slip out to fetch mine knitting and when I did open up the chest an voice from within did say “Woman,what seekest thou?” I did draw back afrighted and did bang down the lid. I did return to mine chair and did sit a bit and did ponder on it and I did think mine ears had deceived me and I did again go to the chest and the voice within did say — “Woman,why fleest thou from thy fate?” Quickly I did turn about and when I did return

I was greeted with an shout of laughter. The lad did then come to me and did plead for mine forgiveness for his trickery and when I did grant him this he did make the fire — dogs hark and an robin did chirp upon the window sill and there was an mewing beneath the table and no pussy-cat was there. He did have the power to cast his voice where he did choose and did much enjoy playing tricks on those about him.   Jan, 1852


Jane was capable as thousands of less documented nineteenth century pioneer women. In the words of another relative, L.W. Roodhouse, “she built an estate, she educated her children, she prevailed.”

Mudag of naturally dyed fibre. Jane and family may well have had to learn to weave simple baskets for their own use – another pioneer skill. Mudags coming soon from us, here:

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.