Patchwork weaving is a term used by the team at WeaveKnitIt.co.uk to describe their use of fabric made on pin looms: combining the units into larger pieces in a similar way to piecing together fabric in traditional patchwork. The results are stunning, often reminiscent of tweeds.
We met the Weaveknitit team at the Waltham Abbey Wool Fair in January this year and I was so inspired by their results that I took the opportunity of a trip to Derbyshire to take a workshop with them in their lovely studio in Ambergate. Here I learned to use square and triangle looms and had a chance to see more of their work.
The Association’s 2018 Conference, organised by the Guilds in Region G (London and Northern Home Counties), was on the theme of “Then and Now”. Its aim was to look at the origins of craft and artisan production in Britain, tracing forwards through revivals to the latest resurgence of interest, and how past practice affects the present.
This was the 14th Biennial Conference organised by the National Association. On alternate years the AGM is held in London. I have enjoyed all the Conferences I have attended and, also, the AGMs (although I have not always gone to the actual AGM). This year I undertook to be our Guild’s official delegate so did, indeed, attend the Meeting.
Kents Hill is a cut above some of the other venues I have visited, most of which have been at colleges with the usual student accommodation. This year the rooms had complimentary toiletries, tea/coffee making facilities and TV: such luxury. The food was also excellent and the whole complex linked by covered walkways.
The first of the five lectures on the Friday evening was given by Dr Susanna Harris, Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow and Dr Mark Knight, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge on The Bronze Age Fabrics of Must Farm. The settlement of Must Farm provides a remarkable window into the fabrics people made in Bronze Age Britain, around 900 BC. The two speakers presented the site and ongoing research into the rich evidence for plant fibre fabrics made by weaving and twining. The talk was just fascinating!
I nearly missed this Exhibition. It was only when trawling through Mary’s messages before the last meeting that I spotted the invitation to the preview evening and here I was on the last day. I had no idea even of Parndon Mill itself so it was a double pleasure to visit such a lovely spot as well as see the exhibition.
Ebb and Flow is a lovely theme to work on. It lends itself to so different interpretations and is a natural for textile artists. It was also very appropriate because of its location on the banks of the River Stort.
The exhibition contained thirty-two pieces, which were well laid out. The mill owner felt there could have been many more on the grounds that visitors looked round very quickly. I think that while that was true, I
John introduced himself as the chairman of the Halstead Historical Society and a man with a long-term connection to Courtauld’s. As a child he moved out of London, when his father took a job at Courtauld’s. The family lived in one of the company’s houses opposite the factory and it was this proximity to work, which persuaded John to find work there rather than leave home and find employment further afield.
As an apprentice, John worked in almost every section of the factory, which gave him a first hand understanding of the whole process of silk weaving. When the factory closed, he used that knowledge to set up his own business, which was to commission exclusive fabrics for organisations such as the Royal Palaces and the National Trust. These were such commissions as those with Richard Humphries at Braintree, where he was responsible for organisation the replacement of the textiles lost in the fires at Windsor and Hampton Court.
John began his talk with the medieval wool trade, which was well established in East Anglia with strong links to the Low Countries. This accounts for an influx of Dutch weavers settling in the county in 1500. Chelmsford was the hub for London with many of the spinners working in the surrounding villages. Many family names in the region, such as Draper, Fuller, Burrell and Dyer, have their origin in the woollen trade. Woollens were produced in South Suffolk and Essex, and worsteds came from Norfolk and North Suffolk. In the Book of Trades of 1568, it mentions two different weaves, known as Bays (plain weave) and Says (twill weave), which were the speciality of the region.
I have been listening to a podcast on the history of the English language and one of the more recent episodes has been about clothing and the cloth industry. I have summarised below some of the main points from this episode. If you want to listen to more you can download the podcast from the usual places or you can visit the website www.HistoryofEnglishPodcast.com
Shirt, Shoe, Belt and Hat are the only 4 words used by the Anglo-Saxons that we still use today.
The words ‘shirt’ and ‘skirt’ come from the same basic root. ‘Shirt’ is an old English word and ‘Skirt’ was the Norse word for ‘shirt’ used by Vikings and then over time they came to mean two different things and ‘skirt’ didn’t come to the English language until the early 1300s.
The words ‘sock’ and ‘cap’ are found in old English documents but are loan words from Latin. The words ‘shorts’,’ sweater’, ‘slacks’ and ‘stockings’ are based on the old English root words ‘short’, ‘sweat’, ‘slack’ and ‘stock’ respectively, but ‘stockings’ itself didn’t appear until the late 1500s and the others did not appear until the 1800s. This is mainly because these items of clothing did not exist during the Anglo-Saxon period.
Most of the clothing was draped over the body before medieval as there was no easy way to secure and there was relatively little difference between male and female clothing. Tunics, which were often worn, were a loose square of material with a hole for the head and a belt was used to fasten it to the body. Tunics were worn by both men and women with cloth tied round the legs as a form of stocking or leg wrap. Trousers as we know them today did not exist. If it was cold they would wear a cape sometimes secured with a brooch.
On Saturday 12th April, we were treated to a talk on the Scottish Islands by three of our own members. Chris started the evening telling us how an archaeology trip to Orkney led her and her partner, Mick, to visit North Ronaldsay where her love affair began with the indigenous seaweed eating sheep. Three years later whilst staying in Lewis, Chris bought a drop spindle and learned to spin. In August 2017 she and Mick flew from Kirkwall in an 8 seater plane to spend 6 days at the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival which brings together volunteers from all walks of life to help rebuild the 13 mile long 6’ high wall which surrounds the island. This wall, built in 1832, restricted the sheep to the shoreline so that the 500 crofters could graze their cattle and grow enough crops inland to keep them in food all year round. The wall now keeps the 3000 plus North Ronaldsay sheep from mixing with other breeds on the island.
The rebuilding used to be done by crofters but there are no longer enough of them to keep up the arduous task. Some of the stones are huge, making it a hard day’s work for the visitors but there was NR mutton on the menu every night to help keep up their strength! We learned how the North Ronaldsay’s strange diet has altered their digestive system over the years so that the breed can no longer tolerate copper. When the sheep are moved onto grassland for lambing and shearing or to new homes elsewhere, they need a copper binding lick.
Chris was taught how to shear the sheep by 81 year old Maurice using the traditional method of laying the sheep on the ground, binding their legs, and using hand shears. The wool is sent to Yorkshire to be scoured and then back to the mini mill on the island where the double coated fleeces are dehaired and made into rovings or batts and then into yarn or pre-felt. There are several shops in Kirkwall selling knitwear made from North Ronaldsay wool. Chris had lots of impressive samples of her own – skeins of handspun wool and knitted items, including a beautiful blanket showing the various different natural colours of the North Ronaldsays and featuring rows of little sheep. Chris is justifiably smitten with these rare breed, primitive sheep and is looking forward to her own flock lambing later in the month.
We are a group who enjoy learning and improving our skills and are genuinely interested in sharing these skills with each other and any one who would like to join us.