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Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

I am lucky enough to live in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England (known affectionately by locals as Stur). One of our Town’s claims to fame is our Watermill. There has been a Watermill on the river Stour here for at least 1000 years. The original mill was a Grist Mill – that is for grinding corn, but in the early 1600s a Fulling (or Tucking) Mill was built adjacent to the Grist Mill.
This was largely to facilitate the greater production of a fabric which had been produced in and around Stur since the 1570s. This fabric was called Swanskin. It was a tough, course white woollen fabric, made from locally spun and woven wool, which was then scoured, fulled and the surface teazed and fulled again. Fishermen working out of Newfoundland, many of whom were recruited from Stur, greatly prized the Swanskin for its all-weather, waterproof qualities, as did the British Army and Navy.
Originally the fulling would have been done by fullers treading the fabric in troughs filled with all sorts of nasty stuff, including urine. Once the fulling mill was built this hard work was done mechanically. The woven fabric, in its troughs of nastiness, was hammered by large wooden stocks which were driven by gears from the waterwheel. Eventually the fulled cloth was hung out to dry along the river bank, stretched out on tenter frames by tenterhooks.
A report about Manufacturing in Dorset dated around 1812 reads:

“There is a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury of a kind of flannel called swanskin, which is a coarse white woollen cloth, used for soldiers’ clothing, and made from 18d. to 2s. a yard; but this is of little consequence to Shaftesbury, the chief trade in this article being carried on at Sturminster Newton, where about 1200 people are employed in it, and where between 4000 and 5000 pieces, containing 35 yards in length, in a piece, yard wide, are annually made.

At present the woollen manufactures are almost confined to Sturminster and Lyme Regis, at which latter place broad-cloth and flannels are made in considerable quantities.

At Sturminster there are four or five clothiers, and about 300 weavers; sometimes 700 or 800 people are employed in the manufactory of Swansdown, (sic.) but the trade is not so considerable as was formerly the case.”

In early 2016 I was asked by the curator of our town’s Museum and Mill Society (now known as the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust) if I could produce a sample of Swanskin for the Museum since it appears that there is no example of actual swanskin now in existence.  As Swanskin was such an important part of the town’s history, the Museum wanted to create an exhibit for future reference.  This I did, so far as I could, and I also wrote them a report on the process, which I repeat here – it was of course written for the edification of members of the general public, most of whom would not be conversant with spinning and weaving terms, so please don’t think I’m trying to “teach granny to suck eggs”.

“Swanskin – Experimental Archaeology

“In order to try to recreate the processes in the manufacture of Swanskin some research was carried out by Kathleen Sanderson (a member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers). It appeared that the likely breed of sheep from which the fleece was obtained was the Portland. This breed was found in fact over much of Dorset in the 17th Century.
“Kathleen found however that the fleece from today’s much improved breed of Portland sheep was finer and more delicate than would have been the case in 1600. She therefore blended Exmoor fleece with the Portland to obtain as near as possible the coarser, more hardwearing fibres originally used.
Originally the wool would have been spun “in the grease” – that is still containing (inter alia) the natural lanolin. The resultant yarn would have been woven in this state so that the resultant cloth would have had to be washed and treated with fuller’s earth (scoured) to remove the oils and other detritus like plant material and insect life.

Spun and Plied Yarn, with fibres

“The sample shown was spun after scouring because this had been necessary to facilitate the blending of the two fleeces.
The yarn was plied and then twill woven – that is instead of the basic over one, under one, over one – of plain weave, the weft was taken over two and under two on the first pass then over one under two over two on the next. This results in characteristic diagonal lines in the weave.
“When “fulled” twill woven fabric becomes denser than would a fabric with plain weave.

“I wove the sample in this fashion on a frame loom. After the weaving, the sample was wetted and fuller’s earth rubbed into it on both sides, just to make sure that all the grease and oils had been removed. This was rinsed out, the sample soaped and rubbed by hand to start the felting or fulling process.
“This process would have been carried out by “Fullers” or “Walkers” in the 11th and 12th centuries. Though they would have done it by treading or walking on the fabric in wooden troughs rather than using their hands. At Sturminster Fulling Mill swanskin was fulled at the Mill using water power to move fulling stocks. These hammered the fabric until it was fulled or felted sufficiently to make it water repellent.
“The sample was fulled in a washing machine, first at a temperature of 40° with a very hard rubber ball acting as a fulling stock. This was repeated once more and then at a temperature of 90° until the sample was fully felted. When the sample was almost dry it was ironed with a steam iron on both sides and then fully dried.
The original swanskin cloth would of course have been dried on tentering frames in the open air.

“Once the Sample was dry it was brushed with a flick carder (the modern equivalent of using a frame covered in teasels) on one side only in order to raise a nap on the fabric.”

The mill was open to the public again this year, after having had to be closed during lockdowns.  It is possible that, during the first lockdown, some of you may have seen reports about the fact that the mill reverted to milling flour which was provided to local bakers.  Many people over here took to making their own bread so that there was a general shortage of bread flour, and, since approaches were received from people from all over the globe trying to buy bread flour from our miller, I assume that this was the same almost everywhere. 

I have added below some internet links about the Mill and our Society (Sorry – Trust!), and some of the news stories from last year –  Google has lots more.

Oh and a couple of my felt paintings of the mill – adding a bit of artist’s licence!

https://sturminsternewton-museum.co.uk/mill/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-52369075

https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-flour-shortage-ancient-mill-turned-museum-grinds-back-to-life/e1c0fe1b-9ff5-42ec-bbcf-d311325a5f0a

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/29/uk/english-mill-flour-resumes-production-scli-gbr-intl/index.html

Around the Web

Around the Web

This is post of links to interesting and or useful sites around the web.

http://www.soraiyu.com/work/index.html

https://www.facebook.com/Pulliswoollies

https://www.feltforarchitecture.com/portfolio

 

http://www.sheep101.info/sheepbreedsa-z.html

 

 

Homepage

 

https://www.embroidery.rocksea.org/reference/picture-dictionary/

http://www.pburch.net/dyeing.shtml

 

http://www.martinacelerin.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sarahzonadesigns

 

Spin like your Scottish

spinning on a pendulum wheel

 

https://www.hernmarck.com/about

https://www2.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/books.html

https://www.carolingianrealm.info/PatternGenerator.php

 

http://www.knittingonthenet.com/stitches.htm

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/1940s-knitting-patterns

 

 

 

 

 

So…what do you DO with that stuff??

So…what do you DO with that stuff??

Spinners who participate at demonstrations hear this question all the time. After washing, dyeing, carding/combing then spinning the most delicious yarn in the world, we have to do more? Isn’t this enough? Apparently there is an expectation that all our lovely yarn has to be used for something else. For years that wasn’t my problem; that was left to the devices of much more talented weavers, knitters, felters and other fiber artists. This was when we had fiber festivals and gathers of like minded people who could touch yarn and evaluate the grist for their next project. To my great surprise, I can spin a lot of yarn in a year.

During one of the relaxed periods of lock-down I was able to buy a lovely little loom. It was a Leclerc Mira, 27 inch, four harness, sectional beam. This little button came with all the bells and whistles – warping mill, bobbin rack with bobbins, electric bobbin winder, skein winder, shuttles, extra heddles, reeds, counter, the list keeps going and going. I was truly blessed to find this loom. It did come unassembled without instructions. That is a crucial bit of information. User manuals are easily found on-line with very good information. Kudo’s to Leclerc for providing customers throughout the ages all the information they need to maintain and care for these lovely machines.

This is some of the Cotswold I used for the scarves
This is some of the Cotswold I used for the scarves

Like most of the world we were in lock-down of one sort or another, but at one point both my son’s were allowed to be in my home as long as I wasn’t, so they took the opportunity to come and set up the little darling for me. Well, that was the intention. The reality ended up with an attempt to sort out the messy meccano set called a loom, define the parts, try to read instructions, etc. that ended with one of them saying “nuts to this, I’m going to start supper and clean the bathroom”. When I got home, supper was on the brew, the loo was clean and one son was struggling with a partially assembled machine. We finished it together. Pear is a shape, and it is not a good one when skittering around under a small loom. Skitter may not be an accurate description either, but you get the idea. I’m too old for this sort of activity.

Cotswold is one of my favourite breeds and I had a lovely selection available for my first try after a long break from weaving. Several decades ago my then sister in law coerced me into taking weaving and spinning at the local college.  I loved it, she did not.  Once coming to this area, I was competent enough to be hired as a production weaver for a local artisan. We used sectional beams for warping and I prefer them to using a reel. The only draw-back for a sectional beam is the need to have individual bobbins for each thread. So if you are weaving at 10 threads per inch you will need 10 bobbins with enough yardage for the length and width of your warp. I really needed to crack out my math skills again. Thankfully, all the Cotswold I had spun, had yardage marked on the skeins, so I was confident that I had enough to use. I was going to make scarves for my sons.

I measured and did math and wound bobbins, redid the math; worried that I hadn’t done the math properly, so redid it and finally took the plunge.

bobbins all wound and ready for the sectional beam

Sectional beam getting ready to go

The weave pattern was a very basic twill.  I just wanted to get back to learning how to do a full loom set-up again.  The bonus would be having something useful to show for it at the end of the process. The idea of purchasing fiber to do this also seemed a little weird since my house was getting full of spun yarn. 

Final warp, all ready for weaving

Taking the plunge and using my own hand spun was a significant eye opening experience. The wool I chose was just too rough for the final product of scarves.  My sons are kind and tell me the scarves are warm and snuggly and all sorts of appropriate compliments, but the material feels a bit like kevlar.  

I am now more aware of producing fiber with an end purpose in mind, not necessarily for me, but for other people as well.  If I design the yarn with intent for an end use, I can explain to someone else what it will be good for.  Some hand spun is not as good for weaving as it is for knitting, and some hand spun should never be used for scarves!

Some Spinning and a New Loom.

Some Spinning and a New Loom.

Things are still very busy here with the bottle lambs. So there is not much time for felting.

I have managed to do some spinning. It all still needs plying.

This one I think will have to be plied with somthing else. I think that if I try to pull the yarn out of the middle as well as the outside it will get hopelessly tangled with all the curls.

Sunday I am picked up a new to me ( and Jan of the polar bear and bull frog). This is an upright tapestry loom. The loom has come all the way from Sudbury. It was transported down by a lady down to visit her daughter saving Jan or I from having to do the long drive up there. As you can see it is all in pieces in my van. I have to clear space for it. that will hopefully happen over the next moth or so as my husband builds his new space and I get to take over his old space. My plan is to make some fleece rugs. I think Jan is planning a Viking cloak.

 

Demo Last Weekend

Demo Last Weekend

This last weekend my guild did a Demo at the Carp Fair I went on the Sunday.  I took a blending board to make some more rollags. I had some hand cards with me and I had a spindle I was spinning a rollag on so I could explain it all.  It was very popular with the visitors to the fair. .

Bernadette was spinning Rambouillet on her wheel. In this picture she is Chain plying it.

Jan was working On the Edo Challenge. And Yes that is an octopus. I am hoping to get her to do a post about her progress. Here she is explaining it to some visitors.

Her fish was there on display and tried to eat a passing child.

Julie was weaving. She is doing shibori on the loom. She weaves the draw strings right into the scarf ready to be tightened up and then dyed. She has a finished sample onto of her loom.

 

And lastly 2 of the display tables.

I didn’t get any of the third table except Jan’s Fish.  We had a great time chatting with people about spinning, weaving and felting.  Have you been doing your crafts in public lately?

 

Green and Yellow Nuno

Green and Yellow Nuno

I mentioned in my last post that I liked the effect of the plain green fabric so much I altered another piece I laid out. I can’t even remember what my original plan was, but I made a flat piece with various greens. I added some strips of the green fabric which looks like a chiffon (I haven’t tested to see if it’s silk, yet), and strips of cotton gauze and scrim. I overlapped the strips in places. This is how it turned out:

I always think angled photos show some textures you can’t see straight on:

I need to look at the fabric (headscarf) I tore the pieces from, it seems to have a texture or pattern to it I hadn’t noticed, like a basket weave pattern:

I liked the different textures that resulted from the fabrics overlapping:

Two pieces of scrim, usually very open weave, became a dense pile:

A big tangle of cotton gauze:

I don’t know if you remember the multi handpun yarn I showed a while ago, but I finished of a weaving with it. It looks less grey and dull when you get closer, but overall it looks dingy 🙂

It looks even less dull when you get closer!

Different Weavings

Different Weavings

I took a couple of my pencil roving mats, and some pencil roving waste,  to the Well Being centre a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about plaid and checks, and I’d mentioned the pencil roving waste and how great it is for making patterns. This is one I took in, I’m not sure if I’ve posted it before, but it does look similar to others I’ve shown.

This is another I took in, which I made a couple of months ago:

A couple of the group members tried out the roving and made mats, and for last week, I made some little cardboard looms, so everyone who wanted to could make a woven pencil roving mat. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised how quick it was to make a small weaving. I don’t have photos because they were all still wet. But just doing that little bit of weaving gave me the taste again, so I finished off a piece I started ages ago with my first wheel-spun yarn.

I used stripey green pencil roving waste for the warp.

And I started another with my second wheel spun yarn, which had baffled me a bit because my first one wasn’t too bad considering I’d used my own blended texturey batts, but this was very weird. I realised later why, it was that weird stuff I got in the botany lap waste which is still an unknown fibre. I made a nice weaving with some of the better stuff last year, but I thought I’d start something with the uneven pieces, maybe add something else to it at a later date.

I bent the cardboard to make it a bit easier, it looks like a medieval instrument. Oh, and I finally ‘finished’ my new tutorial yesterday, the proof reading can wait, the sun’s out!

The Wild Yarns Experiment Framed

The Wild Yarns Experiment Framed

Last month I showed you my yarn experiment.  I had woven some yarns then felted them. Many of them were synthetic. If you hadn’t seen the post, here it is:

https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2017/02/07/wild-and-crazy-yarns-woven-then-felted/

20170205_135832Ruth suggested I put eyes in it. Which I did try.  I needle felted some marbles into the piece.

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Then I mounted it on a canvas frame. Her it’s laying on the counter.

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But when I hung it on the wall, it creeped me out. So, I removed the marbles and needlefelting.  Sorry about the dark pic, it’s been raining and snowing here all day.

 

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What do you think?

Wild and Crazy Yarns Woven then Felted

Wild and Crazy Yarns Woven then Felted

I still had a bagful of yarns left over from my Wild Table Runner so I decided to do a little weaving with some odds and ends. It was a mixture of synthetic, wool and wool blends.

I used a black metallic acrylic yarn as the warp.  It was a bit stretchy but I intended to felt it when finished so I wasn’t concerned.

Here it is still on the loom.

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I went back and forth on what to use as the background. Finally I decided I wanted to keep the colors from getting lost and chose a white prefelt covered loosely with a white merino batt.

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Here it is after felting.  As you can see even the white merino is more beige than the white bamboo.

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Its kind of wild, but fun.  There is a lot of dimension since some of the warp and that crazy eyelash yarn  are sticking up.  Most everything else including the wide orange and purple synthetics felted in nicely.

Some closeups:

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From the side:

20170205_135941It was fun to see how the different yarns reacted.  I’m not quite sure of what it reminds me of, or what I’ll do with it. But it was a quick and easy project after traveling.

If you missed my Caribbean Inspiration you can see it here:  https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2017/01/30/some-inspiration-and-fun-from-the-caribbean/

 

Mini Weaving

Mini Weaving

It seems lately everyone is into weaving. This past summer I was shopping with my daughter in law at Joann’s and this mini loom caught my eye.  I actually thought it might be something to do with the grandsons.

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The last time I wove anything was on one of those metal looms using loops to make pot holders.  Yeah, I’m showing my age.

I forgot about the loom when I got home then when I was gathering all my scraps for the 4th Quarter challenge I found it under a pile. Ok, let’s see how this works and what all the hoopla is about.  Looks easy enough.

I have a tubful of yarn so that’s where I started. I thought an autumn theme would be nice. The black acrylic/wool combo also has a little silver bling, the pink ball is mohair and the multi colored yarn is thick and thin with a little blue and white thin threads.  I also added some polyester and silk scraps and hand dyed boucle.  The ball of yarn under the string is the alpaca I used to make my Ginkgo leaves a while back.  Not pictured is hand dyed green pencil roving.

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They don’t sell the warp so I decided to just use string. Besides I didn’t want to invest in anything if it was something that I wasn’t going to do a lot of.

I didn’t like using the shuttle, so I just used my fingers.  Here it is on the loom:

20161113_144410Here’s a closeup:

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The instructions were not helpful so I ended up finding a video online.  I used the alpaca as fringe. I wasn’t following a particular pattern just kind of winging it.

Of course, I had to hide the ends which was a lot more fiddly than I like.  But I like the overall look.  I decided to make it a wall hanging and cut a piece of bamboo to tie it to.  You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s hanging on a light gold wall.  Sorry about the shadow .

20161113_151758It took me a lot longer than anticipated.  But I’m happy with the results.  I may try another to felt.  But I don’t see myself investing any larger looms.  I admire those of you who have the patience to dress a loom and weave away.

 

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