Wool Sort 102 – Selecting Good Wool

Castlerigg stone circle, Cumbria. Where we went after Woolfest.

It’s the start of the season with freshy shorn fleece for sale, so I thought now is a good time to cover wool selection.

It’s been a few years since I went on about wool sorting. To my surprise, ‘Woolsort 101’ is still one of the most visited posts on this blog, so I decided to revisit it – today with the emphasis on wool selection. I won’t repeat myself re. wool sorting here, so refer to the old post if you’re new to this.  Info on what you’re actually looking for – things like, checking for soundness, etc, are there.

Bassenthwaite Lake, where we had lunch after Woolfest.

Woolfest on Friday. I came back with three fleeces – all to scour, but one maybe to overdye. All three were grey. One, a very, very pale grey Shetland I bought from Adelaide Walker. I have had many Shetland fleeces over the years, but this is one of the nicest. I unrolled it yesterday and it turned out to be very well skirted and well rolled. Then a Ryeland/Shetland cross, from a sheep called Rosie, who belongs to Maureen Brittan in Stafforshire –  thanks farmer, I always love to know the sheep’s name and so rarely do but of course, most of them are just Mrs Ewe,or Sheep 506, as farm stock they won’t often have names – we punters like it, though. And finally, a  Ryeland from Vickie Haddock, near Penrith in Cumbria.

I wanted coloured short wools. Although there weren’t even close to the number of top quality fleeces at Woolfest, as you can find at Masham every year – I swooped in early Friday morning, to get the best possible. That’s another good tip. If you want raw wool, try and get to the first day of a two day show. Another pointer is, go with a firm idea of what you want/need to be prepared to be swayed if you see something unusual/fabulous. Ever since someone gave me some Wensleydale/Shetland cross, I have been on the hunt for what I call Weird Cross Fleece. If I see WCF and it is sound – I pounce.

Shetland fleece, still rolled.

Incidentally – that’s a point. An agricultural show where farmers are showing their very best stock, is a good place to get great fleeces. The show winning ones are, of course, premium but not always spoken for. I did, only once, manage to get a Best in Show fleece from Masham Sheep Fair(Cheviot).
We met some woolly pals at Woolfest, including the wonderful Ellie from the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters. I’ll be posting later in the year when Ellie has the lambs sheared, as we hope to visit and pick out a fleece. I’ve never chosen one ‘on the hoof’ so it will be interesting to see if Ellie thinks I choose the best one! So, look out for that post. For now, here is Sam the Ram Lamb. His mum didn’t want to be in the shot.

Doulton Flock’s Sam.
Shetland fleece, unrolled.

I am not a fan of longwools, usually – because I can’t comb wool, and don’t have the patience to learn when I can buy commercial tops. I love the way they look (lustre!) and spin, and I really love the way they dye; just don’t want to process them. But have recently fallen down the braid-weaving rabbit-hole, which I do around every few years, so want to spin something that will weave up nice braids.  Incidentally, met the Braid Society at Woolfest and now intend to join.  What a lovely, friendly group of people.

Which is the other point – these days it is easy to buy wool in person. There are wool shows popping up everywhere. (I remember when it was all fields round here). There are agricultural shows – and if you’re a spinner who has never got to one – a big recommend. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust sell fleece and of course, many local yarn stores now also carry fibre. Some traders act as sort of clearing houses to deal with nice fibre that would otherwise be unsold, and your humble mule, cross or meat sheep may also occasionally have a lovely fleece that shouldn’t be overlooked.

When I started spinning in 1984, all we had was the British Wool Marketing Board. You bought sight unseen from a narrow list of sheep breeds’ wool. I was extremely, unusually lucky almost every time. My first fleece was a Cheviot and, looking back, I now think it must have been great quality. I probably only ever had a slightly dodgy (as in kempy, and old looking wool) fleece once and that was a Jacobs, which is notoriously inconsistent, anyway. I still buy and love Cheviot today. Although Ryeland, which we couldn’t get easily then, is now probably my go-to shortwool, along with a local flock’s Norfolk Horn.

Here’s something shocking. In 1984, we’d pay around a fiver for a fleece. You can still get them for six quid or so, depending on the wool and who is selling. I still frequently pay even less than five pounds, if I buy a few at once.

Now I rarely buy sight unseen. I made that mistake a couple of months back as I needed some longwool for braid weaving and didn’t want to wait for Woolfest or the British Wool Show. So I bought from a farmer who ended up taking almost a month to send me the wool, only after I chased it up a couple of times by which time I might as well have waited for Woolfest. And, if I’m honest, comparing the wool I bought sight unseen to the fleeces at Woolfest from the same breed – Lincoln longwool – I wish I hadn’t bothered. Mine is flat, lumpen, not crimpy like the ones I saw and also got some straw which as VM goes in fleece, is one of the easier things to deal with – but at that price, I would rather not bother. I’m still on the lookout for some top end Lincoln longwool – as I’ve coveted it ever since we did a workshop/talk at the South Lincolnshire Guild, a few months back – on the way there, we fell in love with the landscape of South Lincs and I’d love some wool to remember it by!

Which brings me to the next point re. wool selection. Go to shows and even if you’re not buying; educate yourself. Use the opportunity of loads of fleeces in a small space, to learn about them, compare and contrast and just soak up all the info you can from simply looking and touching the fibre.

Vendor’s label on one of the fleeces I bought. Rosie’s fleece! Most of the wool we sell is very local to us so environmentally sound. But at a wool show, we can buy from further afield.

Take notes or better still, sneaky photos.  Also, record what you buy so you can remember later. Sounds obvious but I have been doing this stuff for years and still fall down on that one.

 

Impromptu wool drying rack. Light enough to cart round the garden and move to sun spot. Sunlight kills some pathogens on wool. All our wool is dried in the sunlight.

Yesterday I washed the Shetland from Adelaide Walker. I use a secondhand little plastic twin tub, meant for caravans and run an extension cable out into the garden which means I only wool wash on sunny days. It’s adequate but I think I need something bigger and better, like a ‘proper’ old twin tub – soon! Then we made a new, impromptu fleece drying stand as fleece prefers to dry with its weight supported. Leftover chicken wire cable tied to an old shelving unit, did the trick. Not pretty but it works.

Last tip on wool selection… if someone is unrolling a fleece to inspect it – watch them. Or rather, look at the wool. At Masham, the other year, I had an interesting experience, as I was after a certain colour Shetland, and there weren’t many left by the time I got to the fleece sale tent.

A woman pipped me to a fleece I’d have liked. I watched her unroll it to inspect, lurking just in case she didn’t want it – which, as I watched her unroll it, I realised wasn’t likely as it was a stunning looking fleece. It looked fine; like lace curtains letting the light through when she held it up to the light – exactly what you’d want to see. And even from a few metres away, I could tell it was (if it had no breaks and wasn’t funky or something) a very, very nice fleece indeed. She unrolled it, inspected it, then pulled a face… and put it back. I had a quick check for soundness but could see it was one of the nicest Shetlands I’ve seen… Reader, I bought it. Not everyone knows what they’re doing – but you can.

Leo the Lion, a solstice visitor to Castlerigg stone circle. He has a shrine!
Advertisements

“Knitting Isn’t Political”?

Peterloo-1819-R-Carlile_(partial)
The Peterloo Massacre By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  A blue banner saying ‘Liberty and Fraternity’ is still extant.  See here: http://waterloo200.org/200-object/peterloo-banner/
Anyone in the fibre arts world would have to have been living under a rock, in the past week, to have missed the delicious controversy, involving a certain orange buffoon, here:

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/not-for-trump-fans-hat

 

Reading through the comments, one point made by the pattern’s detractors, really got my interest.

Knitting isn’t political.

Yes, right.

Textiles have always been interwoven with political life and dyed deeply with partisan  lifeblood, like it or not.  We can see our humble textile arts as a sort of retreat and escapism from daily life; or a way of engaging with those things that trouble, impact or interest us.  We can also see it as both, at different times in our lives, as those things – escapism and engagement with reality – wax and wane.

But knitting isn’t political? Where to start?

Not just knitting, but all textiles are political. Revolutionary hats, tricoteurs, defying the stranglehold on economies and textile industries by the British Empire with a movement advocating homespun (America, India),  the Rational Clothing movement that segued into suffrage for women,  Garibaldi’s red shirts being dyed in the Yorkshire Dales, English Civil War and American Revolutionary Wars standards; in fact, banners and flags of any nation at any given time in history… Not political?

And then there was my own historical passion – the Luddites. At the height of the Peninsular War (and the Luddite rebellion), there were more soldiers posted to protect mills from attack here in Yorkshire, than there were soldiers stationed in the entire Peninsular, fighting the War. Textiles, on every level, whether mass produced or homemade, are always political.

Knitting has always been as intertwined with political life, as any other kind of textile.

From the banners at Peterloo, to the sea-green green ribbons worn as armbands by the Levellers, to the French Revolution’s “Sea Green Incorruptible” Robespierre, to the charka wheel, symbol of Gandhi, and beyond, the fabric of life is the fabric of protest.

512px-Luddite
Published in May 1812 by Messrs. Walker and Knight, Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange. This cartoon may have been satirical.  Luddites sometimes  disguised themselves; although usually not in this way. Their ‘otherness’ to the establishment,  made fairly clear, here.  Via Wiki Commons.

 

Inklings

Various inkle bands, cotton and wool.

The administration of Robert Watson’s estate  (Shopkeeper. Selby, Yorkshire).

Sept 10, 1689

Inventory Nov 8th, 1688
Goods in the Shopp
5 doz of stockins att 7s, £1-15-; one doz ditto 13s; 3 doz of childrens stockins att 2s 6; 120 yards of blew linn, 8-17-8,…. 8 pr. of worstet stockings att 2s 6d., £1; 5 pr of womens stockins at 1s 8d., …. 21 lbs of worstet att 2s., £2-2; 4 1/2 of yarne at 18d per lb., 6s 9d…. 59 peices (sic) of small Incle att 8d., £1-19-4… 2 doz. of pinns, 9s…. 4lbs of knitting needles, 2 s; 3 paire of leather stockins, 1 s 6d…. 1 peice of callico,15s….a groze of Incle, 5s; 46 peices of ditto att 10d £1.0.4… A parcel if wash balls, 10s…Total of inventory £344.2.4

 

[This inventory listed all sorts other things… (three barrels of herring), oil, a huge inventory of spices, and tobacco].

 

[See https://theknittinggenie.com/2013/03/12/her-name-is-finger-paper/].

 

From  The Shorter OED:

 

INKLE Now rare. 1532 [First usage]. A kind of linen tape, or the thread or yarn from which it is made.

 

Over three hundred years on but only a few miles away from the now forgotten site of Mr Watson’s shop, I’ve been busy inkling, too.  Something I have done on and off since the 1980s, although I only ever did simple threaded in patterns before and now am finally learning how to do pick-up patterns.

Almost every band I’ve woven recently has been pressed into immediate use – I’d forgotten how handy inkle bands are!  I made one into a phone case, nalbinding the edges together; two others became ‘hinges’ for my two wooden clothes horses; another became a strap for a homemade duffel bag, and yet another, the waist tie for one of my 1800 period petticoats.  Currently, I’m weaving edgings for a new viking outfit. When that’s done, I have a hatband to make. Then some little straps for my bike bag. Then, maybe a dog collar…  It’s wonderful how useful this stuff is!  I’d like to weave aimlessly, for the fun of it, but every time I start something I think of an immediate ‘urgent’ use for it!

I’ve been weaving bands to go round the neck, sleeves, and skirt of a viking dress I have been hand-sewing. My inkle loom does eight foot (ish) lengths and it has taken two lengths so far and will need part of a third. I will also be weaving for the neckband of a contemporary linen dress (Merchant & Mills’ Trapeze dress) as I have made two of this dress now and didn’t have fun with the facings, so am going to use handwoven inkle bands in place of bias binding on the neckline and armhole edges, to reinforce it without having to use a facing.  I will need to weave this from some fairly fine linen or silk.

Bands for edging to viking dress. White handspun wool for background; millspun oddments for pattern.

So far I have used commercial cotton, commercial worsted wool as well as handspun, and commerical silk and linen thread. Like the nalbinding it is brilliant for using up odds and ends, and am finding some Mystery English Longwool handspun, from a couple of years back, to be a more than adequate warp.  It helps that it is a longwool and spun in a worsted-ish way.

I learned pick-up (finally) by using one of the brilliant double slotted Sunna heddles from Stoorstalka in Sweden.  But am also now using a double holed heddle from Vavkompaniet (also Swedish) and am slowly figuring out a couple of different types of pick-up.

I treated myself to a stunning curved Sámi shuttle, from Ampstrike on Etsy (Gunnar Kallo), which has the Uffington horse on it, to go with my horses heddle. I have a number of shuttles but find the curved Sámi style ones indispensible for pick-up.  Although with the double holed heddle I also sometimes use a nalbinding needle to help with the pick up, if it’s a tricky row!

It is thought possible that the Anglo Saxons and Vikings may have used backstrap looms which have left no archaeological evidence – the Oseberg ship finds included a complete tablet loom, but some textiles were edged with what we’d now think of as inkle weaving. This could just as well be achieved with a backstrap set-up, and would be structurally identical bands to those woven on a modern inkle. So we will be playing with some viking crafts, including a bit of backstrap weaving, over the summer – message me here or email if you’d like to join us inkling in the viking houses! (Or indeed if you’d like to learn this one to one, or in a small group).  We can teach you using a floor inkle, a Schacht, a backstrap set up or you can indeed bring your own loom, if you want to learn the basics!

For home use, and not living history, I went with a Schacht inkle loom from The Loch Ness Spindle Company. My old inkle loom was a generic one got in the 1980s from Fibrecrafts (now George Weil) – that no longer seems to be in production. It was never pretty. It vanished when I left it in a school stockroom, when teaching kids to inkle, a few years back. In the UK, the only real choice of inkles is between Ashfords and Schacht and I went with the latter, as I have a pair of Schacht hand-cards I’ve had for over 25 years, still going strong, which I love and also preferred the look of the Schacht.  It has had one warp or another on it, virtually since the day I bought it, a couple of months back.   If buying an older Ashford, be wary of the paddle system on the tensioner – now phased out but I know many people have had problems with them.

Years ago, I wrote a couple of articles on how to do simple inkling, for the lovely, late and lamented UK magazine for spinners, ‘The Spinsters’ Almanack’. If I can find those old articles, will scan them and put them up here as a resource for those who’d like to learn how to inkle.  Although I now only really inkle using rigid heddles – to bypass the tedium of making string heddles.  But your mileage will vary. Many folk prefer string heddles.

If you want to learn pick up techniques, I’d recommend trying a Sunna heddle.  They are user-friendly, sturdy, and take some of the brain ache out of weaving your first few Baltic or similar style bands. But you will be limited by the number of pattern slots.  Once you have your head round it, you can switch to string heddles, or a plain rigid heddle, or a heddle with a double row of holes which are slightly less user friendly for the beginner, but more versatile.

 

 

 

My favourite shuttle! CREDIT: Gunnar Kallo, https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Ampstrike

 

Resources

Stockists

https://lochnessspindle.co.uk/  Stockists of Schact inkle looms in the UK

Heddles and weaving equipment available from:

http://www.vavkompaniet.se/

 

https://shop.stoorstalka.com/en/start.html

Sunna heddles also available in the UK if you email:  https://www.handweavers.co.uk/

 

Pick up inkling in progress.

Books and Websites

https://durhamweaver64.blogspot.co.uk/  Website of Susan Foulkes.  Susan’s books on Sami weaving can be found here: http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/aeneid

Susan’s book due out July 2018, up for pre-order here:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/0764355503/_encoding=UTF8?coliid=I22BUJS8HF4GEM&colid=1U05GAFMB6ZK0&pldnSite=1

 

Website of Laverne Waddington:  https://backstrapweaving.wordpress.com/

Laverne’s books here: https://www.patternfish.com/catalogs/1-patternfish-main?utf8=%E2%9C%93&catalog_search%5B%5D=1616&text_search=&list_type=large_badge&gauge_min=&gauge_max=&size_min=&size_max=&inches=yes

Handwoven Tape: Understanding and Weaving Early American and Contemporary Tape, Susan Faulker Weaver:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Handwoven-Tape-Understanding-American-Contemporary/dp/0764351966

 

Spin Off Magazine, Spring, 2018 article:  Spinning For Warp-Faced Bands, Kate Larson: https://www.interweave.com/store/spinning/spinning-magazines/spinning-magazines-spin-off/spin-off-spring-2018-print-edition

 

 

Heddle made by Åke Erlandsson, from http://www.vavkompaniet.se/

 

 

Long Lost Morning In A Roundhay Garden

Still from Roundhay Garden Scene. Shot in Joseph and Sarah Whitley’s garden, at Roundhay Cottage, 14th October,  1888. IMAGE: Wiki Commons, Public Domain

On October 14th, 1888, Augustin Louis Le Prince shot the world’s oldest surviving piece of film – in a Leeds suburban garden.

 

Widely known as the “Roundhay Garden Scene”, the footage was shot by Louis Le Prince at the now demolished Roundhay Cottage, later known as Oakwood Grange, Roundhay in Leeds, and featured Le Prince’s son, Adolphe; a family friend, Annie Hartley;  and Le Prince’s parents-in-law,  Sarah Whitley (1816 – 1888) and Joseph Whitley (1817 – 1891).  Le Prince had succeeded in developing a single lens camera and also figured out how to project images. There is every reason to believe he was the first person in the world to do this successfully.  This caught my eye for several reasons.  Not least, because like many of Leeds’ burgeoning middle classes in the nineteenth century; my family made the move from industrial Holbeck out to Roundhay. Later, my father was born close by Roundhay Park and one of my great grandfathers farmed on Lord Harewood’s estate at Roundhay. So when I see “Roundhay”, I always take an interest.

The compelling and weirdly haunting footage lasts only 2 1/2 seconds,  showing the well-dressed, middle class family dancing on the lawn. Adolphe Le Prince, trying to establish a US patent for his father’s invention, was able to prove the film’s date as his grandmother, Sarah (the lady walking backwards), died ten days after the film was made. Imagine being the first person in the world to see moving images of your dead loved one, which the Whitleys and Le Princes almost certainly were.  I wondered who Sarah Whitley was, and where she lived before she came to Roundhay. The answer, as I was to find out, was fascinating. To me, anyway.

 

By the time Adolphe Le Prince was doing this, his father was missing, presumed dead – vanishing somewhere between Dijon and Leeds, in September, 1890, only two years after the Roundhay Garden scene was shot.  Louis was waved off on the Dijon-Paris train, by his brother and no-one was to see him alive, again. He’d been  on his way back to Leeds where his invention and contents of his studio were packed up, ready to be dispatched to New York where the rest of the family waited and he had planned the world’s first public demonstration of his invention;  moving pictures.  Louis, and the luggage he had with him, which may have contained crucial information about his latest camera, vanished seemingly into thin air.

In recent years, a photo of a drowned man from Paris has come to light that some people believe could be Louis. We will never know.  At the time of his disappearance, he was about to get a UK patent for his latest projector.  As a strange codicil to the story, a few years after giving evidence about his father’s invention, Adolphe Le Prince was found dead in an alleged “shooting accident” in upstate New York. There were no witnesses – his body was found in woodland.

Even before I know the fate of two of the first ever film’s ‘stars’, and its cinematographer and inventor, I found the fleeting 2 seconds’ of footage somehow haunting and moving, without really knowing why.  Part of me looks at this like any costume historian.  (The Whitleys could come from the 1850s, rather than the 1880s!  The two younger folk look, as you’d expect, much more fashionable for 1888).  Part of me looks at this like …. well, you’ll see.

Louis Le Prince, ca. 1885, (I’d put this earlier) image from Armley Mills, Leeds Industrial Museum – see us there June 2nd at Leeds Wool Festival! IMAGE:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Louis was born in Metz, France, in 1841. His father was a friend of Daguerre, one of the founding fathers of still photography. Whilst studying in Leipzig, Louis met John Whitley who invited him to come to Leeds to work for his father, Joseph Whitley, brass founder. Louis duly moved to Leeds in 1866 and three years later, married Joseph’s daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Whitley (“Lizzie”).   As we have seen elsewhere on the blog, Victorian Yorkshire industrialists were often very well travelled, and those working in technical fields, frequently went to Germany for the sort of advanced scientific and  technical education British universities remained too hidebound to provide.

In 1930, a memorial plaque was placed on Woodhouse Lane – Louis had worked there in Joseph Whitley’s workshop.   One of Joseph’s employees, James William Longley, was especially closely involved in the camera and projector’s development and the week the plaque was unveiled, Longley’s sister in law, “Mrs Rider”, told a reporter the camera “‘…looked like a knife-cleaning machine. Le Prince bought some black cloth for a cover, and I remember him giving my sister a sovereign for making the cover…'”  [The Evening Telegraph and Post (Dundee, Scotland), Tuesday, July 1st, 1930].

During their time in Leeds, Louis and Lizzie set up a school for the applied Arts, on Park Square – their work included printing images (photos?) on various items. Coincidentally, my great grandfather was later to own a printing business on Park Square. I have no idea if it was the same building.

 

Thomas Edison’s employees started work on trying to create moving images around 1890 – two years after Louis Le Prince had shot footage in the Roundhay Gardens, and on Leeds Bridge. Before Louis disappeared, he had been well beyond his first iteration of his camera. But with Louis “missing” and yet not able to be certified dead by his family for seven years, Edison forged ahead and claimed to be the inventor of cinematography. Which was, in fact, the invention of a Frenchman, and largely carried out in a workshop in Leeds.

Reading a little about Le Prince, after I stumbled on the haunting Roundhay Gardens Scene, I saw a rather familiar address.  It belonged to the elderly couple in the film; Joseph and Sarah Whitley.

Joseph was born in Wakefield and came to Leeds in 1844, to set up business as a brass founder.  Like many of Leeds’ early industrialists, he lived for some time in Holbeck. An obituary described him as “‘the best brass founder in the world'” [Iron and Steel Obituaries, 1891]. No small claim.

 

On the 1851 Census, Joseph Whitley and family can be found at 1, Water Lane, Holbeck, in Croft Buildings, living with their two young children and a servant.  Sarah, future artist and teacher, was then aged 5 – a few doors down, my great grandmother x 2, Mary Hannah Hepton, was two, and she had a number of siblings including an older sister, another Sarah, a year younger than Sarah Whitley.  It’s unlikely the children, at least, didn’t know eachother.

Mary Hannah Hepton was to marry twice and her second husband was the nephew of a well known industrialist; the man who made his fortune from developing umbrella spokes and crinolines!   Water Lane, Holbeck,  seems to have been full of metalworkers.

A few doors down from the Whitleys, my great grandfather x 3, George Pool Hepton, lived then at 8 Water Lane. George was born in 1814 so a direct contemporary of Joseph Whitley, the older man in the film.   In 1861, my great great great grandad was at 55 Water Lane on the junction with Saw Mill St, where my other great great great grandfather, William Stephenson, journeyman carpenter, from Westmorland,  lived. The Whitleys were in Hunslet.  By 1871, they were at Roundhay Cottage and in the same year, my Heptons were elsewhere on Water Lane, somewhere near Butcher St and finally, in 1881… at 1, Croft Buildings, Water Lane where George Pool Hepton was a Rent & Estate Agent along with his partner,  and son in law, Joshua Strother.  Thirty years on, and when the Roundhay Garden footage was shot, my family were still living in the very house where Joseph and Sarah Whitley, Louis Le Prince’s in-laws, had once lived and where Sarah Elizabeth Le Prince’s wife spent part of her childhood, until the Whitleys moved to Roundhay.  At the time the Whitley’s lived in Croft Buildings, my family were just three doors down. Two of the people in the Roundhay Gardens film, were neighbours of my great grandparents x 3 and as contemporaries with children the same age – they must have known eachother.

After discovering this, I have found the footage even more haunting and cryptic.  I don’t have a single photo of George Pool Hepton, or  Hannah and they will always be unknowable to me.  But there, dancing on a lawn, one long lost autumn in Leeds – their direct contemporaries and former neighbours – people who would have recognised them in the street.  Somehow, you can imagine Joseph doffing his hat.

Images taken from Wiki Commons. In public domain.

Images of Le Prince’s cameras can be found here:

 

https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/louis-le-prince-created-the-first-ever-moving-pictures/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lancashire Squares, Yorkshireficated.

See ‘Bob’s blanket’ project, on Ravelry. Squares dyed with madder, weld, cochineal. They work best done in garter stitch, as top right (cochineal) demonstrates.

Whilst ‘The Knitter’ 122 is still in the shops, I thought I’d do a quick post on the non -traditional way I constructed the centre square of the ‘Hetty’  hap shawl.

Well, I say non traditional – it’s very traditional. Just in Lancashire, not Scotland! Fusion knitting is a thing, right?

One thing that inspired me to try and make a different-but-still-traditionally-inspired hap was reading about the Yorkshire and Lancashire mill girls’ in their vivid shawls – usually woven, with geometric patterns in vivid colours. A woman’s shawl was also a way to express her personality as it may be a less expensive item of clothing; something you could change up, a bit more frequently.

Many mill workers were Methodists or other types of Non Conformists, and in nineteenth century novels and letters, you can find sniffy comments about their ‘garish’ taste in clothing and penchant for stunning, flower-covered hats, trimmed with pretty ribbons, often worn to outings, high days, holidays and feasts (al fresco picnics, a fairly common sight in the Victorian countryside). My own family in the West Riding wool industry, were largely Methodists or Baptists.

I wanted to design a hap (practical, everyday shawl) that encapsulated some of the mill girl spirit. Not just to remember those countless mill workers in Lancashire and Yorkshire  and elsewhere in England but also across  Wales, Ireland and Scotland, too.   Mill workers worked long hours, for low pay, in bad conditions and with everything stacked in the employer’s favour; not their’s. The women’s colourful shawls and feast day hats seemed somehow to transcend the grimness of everyday life, and affirm their spirit.

Way back in 1993, I saw something in ‘Spin Off’ magazine that piqued my interest and I always remembered it, in the dusty stacks at the  back of my mind even though I’m no knitter of blankets, or squares.   It was a ‘recipe’ for the perfect knitted square, based on a method used by Lancashire mill girls to use up leftovers from t’mills.  This became my jumping off point for making a hap, but a hap with a difference. I never forgot this unassuming letter to ‘Spin Off’ and guessed it maybe described what was once a fairly common way of making a reliable square shape, using leftovers – but one that not all contemporary knitters know.

A year or two ago, I wanted to knit some blanket squares for the friend of a dear friend, to contribute to a large blanket with squares knitted by many members of a Ravelry group, and so sought out the Lancashire squares – and here it was. It was a snippet on the Letters page. Anne Campbell wrote from Mold, Wales, describing a way of knitting a square that her mother in law gave her in the 1960s.:

… She was told it by an old lady at the cotton mill in Lancashire where she worked as a girl doing cotton reeling. She said that when the thread broke or was knotted and tangled they were allowed to bring home the pieces of cotton. These she unravelled and knitted or crocheted into blankets or tablecloths.
‘The beauty of this pattern is that all the squares come out truly square. It is knitted on two needles in garter stitch, with decreases at both ends and three other evenly spaced decreases every alternate row.’

From Spin Off, Winter, 1993, pp88ff.

Errata in Spring, 1994 pointed out the method used multiples of 8 + 5 stitches, and gave a more accurate example.

 

Back issues of ‘Spin Off’ including these ones are available from here.

 

I was to discover the errata had errata,  (ah yes, I know that glorious feeling) so I started experimenting by casting on various numbers, and checking whether or not I could make a Lancashire Square.

© The Knitter ‘Hetty’, ‘The Knitter’, 122. https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/hetty-8  Centre square is a giant Lancashire Square, sewn up along one edge with the border and edging then knitted outwards.

I managed to boil it down to a simple formula (Yorkshire-ificated the Lancashire square, if you like) which I apply to the first row and then knit the rest accordingly:

Pen’s Lancashire Formula =
K2tog, 3(# + k3tog), #, k 2 tog

(“#” = “any even number”)

You need to asjust the number every other row, as you are decreasing sts away.  You are of course, knitting the square from the outside in (or you’d be increasing, not decreasing, right?)

Although the pattern works with multiples of 8 + 5, officially; I discovered it worked with anything to which I could apply that formula, to so long as the number was even.  To work the square, all I needed to do was pick a number, plug it into my algorithm and voila. The squares are worked garter stitch – alternating a decrease row with a plain, garter st row.  And notice it’s ‘rows’ not my usual ’rounds’ so you do have a seam to sew up to make the square.  If done in garter stitch with a balanced yarn, it wants to lie flat, which is a help.

 

 

 

 

‘The Knitter’ magazine

http://www.theyarnloop.com/the-knitter

 

 

“With His Head All Dyed A Brilliant Magenta Colour”

Well, I finally got round to making a tiny Etsy shop, to sell our mudags and some of my naturally dyed fibres:

https://hemingwayandhunt.etsy.com

So now the mudags will be available to folk who can’t get to wool shows in Yorkshire, this year!

And also, talking of dyeing, one of my (possible) Dawson relatives found this wonderful story about Longwood’s David Dawson, the 19thC Huddersfield dyer, who along with his son, Dan, developed the world’s first synthetic magenta dye. I’m still not sure whether or not  my great grandma x 5, Betty Dawson of Longwood, was related to David and Dan Dawson, but given my thirty odd year long quest to wring vivid colours out of the natural world;  it wouldn’t surprise me.

 

 

There was, too, the important firm of Dan Dawson and Sons of Milnsbridge. Old David was the first with the magenta dye. He could be seen regularly at the market on a Tuesday, with his head all dyed a brilliant magenta colour. They were first in these parts, I think, and I may say, in the world, to develop the new dye…

 

[The Huddersfield Examiner, April 1915,  ‘THE DYEWARE TRADE IN HUDDERSFIELD IN DAYS GONE BY’, John Sugden,  J.P].

What?  Hang on a minute…  he did what?  Is there another way of interpreting that sentence?  (And we are talking the 1860s, here).

The things some people do for publicity!  Now I know we have only just opened our Etsy shop, but even I can’t face going quite so far as the irrepressible David.

Still, I can now add to my recent discovery of the York early Victorian gents walking round with lovely red lip salve – the thought of my (possible) relative, David Dawson – over one hundred years before punk, being the first Brit to sport magenta hair….

In David’s honour, I will of course, be synthetically dyeing some of our Norfolk Horn fleece “bright magenta”.  But not my head.

Logwood dyed Norfolk Horn. Not quite magenta, but you can say you got it from a putative relative of the first man to dye his hair pink…

 

 

Many thanks to Lindsay Dawson, for her intriguing discovery.

“Boil Jently” – A Nineteenth Century Gentleman’s Lip Salve.

‘The Knitter’ 122. ‘Hetty’ hap on cover is based on Lancashire squares.

Well that was a surprise.  Just opened my complimentary  copy of ‘The Knitter’ which has been languishing under a chair for a few days, to see if my history of prison knitting article is in – and my hap shawl is on the cover!  I had no clue.  I will write some more about it down the week as it has an usual structure based on an old Lancashire trick, the knitters here might enjoy. It was inspired by the colourful (woven) shawls of nineteenth century mill girls in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

One other place you might need a practical, everyday, warm shawl in the nineteenth century was prison.

I had already written and was about to hit send on the following blog post when I had my nice surprise. The piece is: ‘Secret Stitches: Stories of Knitting in Victorian Prisons’ which can also be found in ‘The Knitter’ 122. Check it out!  It represents a tiny corner of the research I’ve been doing for a couple of years for my upcoming book, which will take us into… let’s say the more gothic side of knitting history.

 

To accomplish this, I’ve been researching in the account books of York’s Debtors’ Prison, and, maybe unsurprisingly in the context, found some rather distractable debtors; who were supposed to be keeping accounts, but instead, wrote recipes and fascinating marginalia.

The debtors’ Day Books, and other paperwork survive in very small quantities; it seems that when prisoners were admitted, someone impounded their paperwork; business and domestic account books, invoices, receipts, and court judgements – as defaulting on a court judgement was what got most in debtors’ prison. Only a few debtors’ accounts have survived, and luckily, from my period of interest; late Georgian – early Victorian dates.

Considering the thousands of debtors who passed through York’s two debtors’ prisons in the 18thC and 19thC, only a small handful of York debtors’ records are extant.

 

Debtors often knitted for extra income, items which they then sold at the quarterly Assizes when the prisons and courts were thronging with visitors. I’ve been working on this for my forthcoming book, and have scoured the debtors’ accounts for information about knitting. Found none, directly, although what I did find was still intriguing.

One of ‘my’ knitting debtors, a York pub landlord, who ended up in the Debtors’ prison by 1841, wrote this intriguing recipe in his Day Book, in 1839. He was a man in his fifties, so this is probably a Georgian recipe. And don’t try this at home! I think the ‘marrow’ would be bone marrow from the leftovers in the pub kitchen, and ‘red bark’ may or may not be brazilwood – which could well be toxic.

But anyway, I enjoy thinking that middle aged men in York were walking round wearing red tinted lip gloss, scented with Bergamot!  I have preserved my gentleman’s spellings. He was an early fan of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, polymath, and pub landlord. But born on a North Yorkshire farm where, it appears, there may have been one of the farm-based knitting schools.  More of that soon.  For now – for reference only – here it is. A recipe from  the pages of a prisoner’s Day Book, 1839:

 

Dandies_of_1831
By Glatisant – Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1831, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5693514

To Make Lip Salve
Take 1/4 lb of Marrow when melted
1/2 Oz of White Wax
2 Oz of Raisins chop’d small
1/4 Oz of Sugar Candy
A small bit of Red Bark to colour it with, Boil jently, or simer it for 5 Minutes then strain it through a bit of Muslin, when nearly cold add a few drops of esence of Bergamot to scent it.

For Hair oil despence with the Raisins and Sugar Candy and double the quantity of Marrow”.