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Last weekend I spent two wonderful days with Deb Robson at her Wool Types workshop at Fibre East. Deb wrote the Fleece & Fiber Source Book together with Carol Eskarius, which is a compendium of many sheep breeds and other animals, and the fibre they grow. It explains for each of the fibres their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, and is illustrated with pictures of the locks, spun yarn, and a knitted or woven sample. She has also contributed to Wovember more than once.

Deb Robson Wool Types Workshop

Deb Robson distributing wool amongst her students

Needless to say, Deb knows a thing or two about wool, and she shared her knowledge freely and liberally during her two-day workshop on wool types. Although I have had a chance to play with wool from a number of different breeds, it was very enlightening to be able to compare and contrast sixteen different wools, ranging from the softest and most luxurious Saxon Merino to a very springy Southdown X Beulah cross, to the coarse hairs from a double-coated Hebridean fleece.

Wool Types Workshop 16 Sheep Breeds

Sixteen breeds: Saxon Merino, Rouge, Lleyn, Lonk, Hampshire Down, Polwarth, Southdown X Beulah, Soft Fell, Corriedale, Romney, Hebridean, Badger Face, North Country Cheviot, Texel, and Ouessant

The students in the workshop ranged from absolute beginner (amazingly, Heather learnt to spin especially to attend this workshop!) to the very experienced. They came from all over the world (from the USA to Finland), and there was also a good mix of wheel and spindle users. I think we all learnt from each other as well as from Deb.

Wool Types workshop with Deb Robson

This one’s for Donna Druchunas, who wanted to see a picture of Deb in England

Apart from learning about wool, I also learnt about spinning, and about spinning wheels. Until Fibre East I haven’t had a chance to try out many different wheels, but as I couldn’t arrange for my own wheel to be there, I got to try a number of loan wheels. It made me appreciate my Timbertops wheel, although it would be nice to have a travel wheel one day. On the other hand, for this class I could’ve just used my spindles.

I now have some new techniques under my belt, too. One is Andean plying, which is a way of managing your singles yarn in order to ply it up. The other one is a quick and easy way to make a textured yarn. Deb called it ‘spinning from a cloud,’ (please note that the linked video is a slightly different method that what I learnt) for which you first pick open some locks until you have light mass of randomly arranged fibres in your lap. When you spin this, you feed in the fibre unevenly, giving you a very textured singles yarn.

So, what did I play with?

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 1

Lonk, Southdown X Beulah, Ouessant, Lleyn, Badger Face, and Romney

The picture above clearly shows how different breeds produce different wool. Although they are all “white” you can see that there are many variations in hue; some look creamy, whilst others are a much cooler shade of white. You can also the difference in lustre, or shine. Some breeds produce a very shiny, lustrous fibre, and others a very dull and chalky fibre. This can be emphasised with the spinning technique chosen. To emphasise lustre, you can prepare the wool by combing it, so that the fibres lie all parallel to each other, and then use a worsted spinning technique, to keep the fibres parallel in the yarn. Carding on the other hand will hide the lustre.

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 2

Ryeland, possibly Ouessant, Texel, Rouge, and Hampshire Down two ways

Deb is also fond of trying out spinning techniques that you wouldn’t immediately think of. For instance, the Ryeland at the top has a very short staple (fibre) length, and is traditionally carded, like my sample. This jumbles up the fibres and plays up a fibre’s crimp (waves in the individual fibres) and elasticity; this is enhanced by spinning it long-draw, where you keep the fibres jumbled up in the resulting yarn. This leads to very warm and lofty yarns. But not Deb, she decided to comb the Ryeland fibres on mini combs and spin it worsted style. The resulting yarn is also very nice, but not something people would immediately think of doing.

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 3

Soft Fell, Lincoln, Corriedate, North Country Cheviot, Hebridean – hair only, Hebridean – wool only, and Finnsheep

Sheep can produce three types of fibre: wool, kemp, and hair. In some sheep breeds the wool and hair are hard to distinguish. Wool is a fibre that naturally has a lot of little waves in it, which is called crimp. The crimp can be organised or unorganised (in other words, show as a regular pattern of waves, or jumbled up). Hair is just what you imagine it might be like: it behaves like human hair, so it’s stiffer and when spun up, it will feel more wiry and be more like twine than yarn. Kemp, on the other hand, are short and brittle fibres. It’s most usually white, but some breeds produce red or black kemp. Kemp doesn’t show dye well, or not at all. Traditional tweed fabrics and yarns use this as a feature as it will give a heathered effect when dyeing the fibres.

The keen observer may have noticed there are no sample skeins of the Polwarth and Saxon Merino fibre samples shown in the second picture. I tried to prepare a little bit of Polwarth, but as it was so hot and clammy that day, the combed top just collapsed into a clumpy mass in my hands before I even had a chance to draft it. I’ll wait for the cooler weather to return before trying thatand the Saxon Merino out again. Both fibres are very fine and quite slippery, and once mastered, will produce luxurious results.

The Sheer Sheep Experience with Michael Churchouse

The Sheer Sheep Experience, with Michael Churchouse, who has around forty different breeds in his flocks!

I met many inspiring people at Fibre East. The tutors were all top-class, and Fibre East have put a lot of effort in to get some tutors over from the USA, for which they deserve a huge thank you. Not only Deb Robson, but also Abby Franquemont (spindle spinning,) Sarah Anderson (fancy art yarns,) and Sara Lamb (spinning and weaving.) Michael Churchouse with his Sheer Sheep Experience was also there, and he puts on a very entertaining and informative show. And there were many others, too.

I already liked spinning, but Fibre East made me realise I like it a lot; and I feel inspired to spin all the wool to make myself a whole outfit – it will take me a long time, but I’m looking forward to the journey, and all the amazing people I will meet, and all the things I will learn along the way.

Mending Books

This is not a blog post about mending books, but a post about some of my favourite books about mending.

tomofholland collection of mending books

A small selection of my mending library

I frequently get questions about where I’ve learnt my mending skills, and what books I would recommend. Most of my skills come from old books, combined with a lot of practice. I favour old books as they tend to go more in-depth, and usually have many repair approaches depending on the fabric and what needs repairing. I’ll discuss a selection of my favourite books, in order of acquisition:

tomofholland's copy of Mend It! by Maureen Goldsworthy

Don’t just think about it, MEND IT!

A call to arms for all my mending comrades, I think Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair is a great introduction into mending and repairing clothes. As it states on the cover, it is pretty much complete, and deals with many repair jobs. It has clear instructions with a mix of graphics and photographs. The introduction sets the scene for all of my mending books:

‘As invisible as possible…’

A cigarette burn on a good skirt – a tear in a new pair of pants [...] Mend it! Not perhaps with an eye-catching darn or a thumping great patch, but with one of the many methods that will make a nearly or completely invisible repair[.]

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of the eye-catching darn or thumping great patch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do a shoddy job on the repairs! Not so in these books, where as invisible as possible is the holy grail of repair – clothes ought to end up looking as new again. For me this means they lose some of their character, and hide the fact that they have been with you for a while. They’re worth repairing because they mean something to you, so why not make it into a feature and let them tell their story?

Page from tomofholland's Mend It! book by Maureen Goldsworthy

The photographs, diagrams, and clear instructions in Mend It! guide you through many a repair job

The next book is a compilation of Make Do and Mend instruction leaflets, published by the Board of Trade during WWII.

tomofholland's copy of Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend; keeping family and home afloat on war rations

This book contains reproductions of the official Second World War instruction leaflets on how to run your household on war rations. So not only does it contains hints and tips on repairing, but also on how to be efficient with fuel, how to look after household linen, woollens, and shoes, and how to refashion worn out garments into something else – the idea of ‘upcycling’ is nothing new!

a page from tomofholland's Make Do and Mend book

Charming illustrations hide the hardship of living through the Second World War

The Make Do and Mend campaign was so successful we still use the phrase today. There are many things in this compilation that still make a lot of sense now. The charming illustrations in these instruction pamphlets issued by The Board of Trade do a good job of masking the hardships suffered in every day life during and after the Second World War, particularly when viewed from a distance of well over half a century. In those days, people really didn’t have any choice but to make do and mend, as there was not much new to be had. Therefore I struggle when people nowadays use the phrase ‘Make Do and Mend’ nilly-willy, when in fact what they have done is to chose to repair something rather than the throw it out and replace it – something that is often much cheaper in the 21st Century.

tomofholland's copy of Practical Home Mending Made Easy

Partical Home Mending Made Easy, printed in 1946

My other favourite mending book full of techniques for many situations, including temporary fixes when you’re on the go, was printed in 1946. Practical Home Mending Made Easy is probably also easily the most gendered of my needlework books. Many needlework books will always address the reader as being a woman, and assume that it’s only the woman who will undertake the mending and repair jobs lurking in the mending basket, but this one seems to go one step further. The preface starts with a list of the type of women who might make use of this book: a business girl with hardly time to repair that broken shoulder strap, a little girl just learning to handle needle and thread, a big girl with a new husband’s shirts to take care of, a favourite grandma with the responsibility for taking care of play clothes, a veteran housekeeper, etc. Yet there is hope for us men, too:

A mere man? Yes – the book is for you, too. You needn’t master all the information in it, but if you concentrate on a few essential pages and become  expert in button sewing, patching and darning – and you can – you will have the admiration of all your girl and women friends, and be as independent as you please.

page from tomofholland's Practical Home Mending Brooks Picken

Darning is a fine art – and not only practised by women!

The following book is in Dutch and I discussed it in the blog post about repairing a cardigan from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection:

tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

 

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning

 

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning), was written in 1888 for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques. The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning:

a page from tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

Beautiful and clear illustrations in a century-old book

Then there are the numerous Needlework Companions, Dictionaries and Compilations you can find in many a secondhand bookshop and carboot sale. They usually have a section on repairing, mending, and darning. I have chosen to show Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework – they published a fair few of these, with ever changing content, so it’s always worth seeing if there is something new to learn.

tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

An unassuming – even boring – cover hides a wealth of information: don’t judge a book by its covers!

a page from tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

One of my favourites: Scotch darning!

This particular book brings back fond memories. I had seen it at a stall on Brighton’s Saturday street market and I never bought it as I thought they were asking a ludicrous price for it. But I always remembered seeing the Scotch darning section. As Weldons have published this encyclopdia many times, and kept changing the content, I never found it again. Until, that was, I was teaching at the Hope & Elvis Studio. Louise, owner of the studio, is a wonderful woman and I always enjoy going back there. It was languishing on her studio bookshelves and she generously gifted it to me. Every time I open this book I think about her, and Hope & Elvis.

The last book to share is a bit of an oddity. I haven’t had a chance to read any of it yet, but it seems to combine a personal repair journey with repair techniques for anything ranging from China to furniture, to clothes. There are very few pictures or diagrams, but the cover is a gem:

tomofholland's copy of Mending and Repairing

Vignettes on the cover of Mending and Repairing

Lastly, you may wonder what that flanelette plaid shirt is doing there, serving as a backdrop for my books?

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Labour of Love – repairing my partner’s comfy shirt

My partner often wears this XXL oversized nightshirt instead of a housecoat – I shall be talking about the repairs in another blog post soon, so keep an eye out!

——–

Bibliography:

Goldsworthy, M; Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair; 1979, Book Blub Associates by arrangement with Mills & Boon Ltd, London

Norman, J (foreword); Make Do and Mend; Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations; 2007, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London

Brooks Picken, M; Practical Home Mending Made Easy; 1946, Odhams Press Ltd. London

Author unknown; Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework; The Waverly Book Co. Ltd, London

Teunisse, A and Velden, van der, AM; De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen; 1916 (12th revised edition) Versluys, Amsterdam

Leland, CG; Mending and Repairing; Chatto & Windus, London

A few weeks ago I started working on a Visible Mending commission from the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Avid readers of my blog might remember the horror of this sleeve:

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

A sorry sleeve in desperate need of some Visible Mending love

The lovely people at the Knitting & Crochet Guild believe that this damage may have been caused by some corrosive fluid that might have spilt onto it during a flooding at their archives. And indeed, when I was trying to tidy up the holes before starting the repairs, the stained wool was so brittle it almost crumbled in my hands. I have collected this as the Guild might be able to get it analysed at a forensics lab. There were four small holes and one large whopper. What follows is not a repair tutorial; instead I wanted to give you an insight in the technicalities of this repair.

I first tackled the small holes with an advanced method of Swiss darning; or duplicate stitching as it’s also known. Usually you can simply embroider over the existing stitches, but to do this on a hole, you’ll first need to provide some support for the stitches you’re making with your tapestry needle. After that it’s simply a case of keeping track of the colours, just as if you were knitting the pattern.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 1

A framework made with sewing thread to support the new stitches as they are worked

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 2

Then the Swiss darning proper can commence, staying strictly in pattern of the original Fair Isle pattern

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 3

The completed Swiss darn. The top row grafts the new stitches to the old

Once this was completed on four small holes I could start with the large hole. I wanted to employ a technique I had found in a very old Dutch booklet on teaching darning and repair skills to girls (seeing this book was originally published in 1888, of course it would only be girls that would need to learn these skills at the time; the authors would probably be mystified why I would want to use this book in earnest!) For this mending technique you knit every row with a new strand or strands of yarn for each row. The beginning of the strands of yarn are Swiss darned in over the stitches of the original fabric, and after knitting the row, the ends are darned in, too. The last row which will close the hole up, is grafted in place.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 1

the first few rows completed; you can see the beginning of a new strand of yarn being darned into place

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 2

Grafting of the last row was also a patterned row. I used the Sock Toe Chimney grafting method, hence the bits of white cotton knitting that suddenly appeared

After finishing off all the ends it was time for a wash ‘n’ block and the excitement of seeing the finished Visible Mend was almost too much to bear for me – this surely must be the technically most demanding repair I’ve done to date.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Completed Close-up

The repaired areas blend in beautifully with the original Fair Isle fabric and colours

For this original Fair Isle hand-knit cardigan I wanted to stay close to its provenance. Therefore I wanted to use a Shetland wool for this repair. I settled on Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme jumper weight, as it comes in so many natural undyed shades. I set the camera on my mobile phone to take black-and-white pictures, and that way I chose the natural shades that came closest to the original colours, as seen in black-and-white. It turns out that the black-and-white filter on my phone gives different results than the one on my proper camera, as you will have to agree that in the following picture the Shetland Supreme shades look a bit lighter on the whole. Perhaps the light was different, too. Who knows.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in black and white

The finished cardigan in black-and-white

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour

 

And the cardigan “in glorious technicolor”

This weekend the Guild will have their annual convention and I’m pleased that this cardigan was ready in time to be shared with all Guild members. Angharad, volunteer Textile Archivist of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, emailed me to say she and her colleagues were very pleased with the end result, as they feel “it has made the garment into something very special whereas before it was very sad and folorn.” What a great result of such a lovely commission!

I’ve known fellow glove knitting enthusiast Angharad Thomas for a few years now. Apart from knitting beautiful gloves she also volunteers for the Knitting & Crochet Guild as their Textiles Archivist. If you don’t know the guild, it was founded in Preston on 27 April 1978 for practitioners in the crafts of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet. It’s a charity that aims to tackle the subjects of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet at a higher technical level, encouraging critical approaches to technique and historical study and also recording contemporary developments.

Angharad approached me for a commission to visibly mend a beautiful hand-knitted Fair Isle cardigan they hold in their collections.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan Label

This Fair Isle cardigan bears a “Shetland Hand Knit” label, and a catalogue number from the Knitting & Crochet Guild archives.

The cardigan arrived last week and it’s given me an opportunity to explore the construction up close. The cardigan is a bit felted, possibly from having been washed in Fair Isle or Shetland after being knitted. Angharad doesn’t think it was ever worn as it was part of a donation that formed the earliest part of the collection (1991) from a person who bought knitwear as she visited places where it could be found, like Shetland; this was Audrie Stratford, who also wrote “Introducing Knitting.”

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan construction

The inside shows the sewn-down edges after cutting open the front opening and armholes

The cardigan has clearly been knitted in the round, as there are steek stitches that have been folded down. Both the neck and the armholes have been shaped, and there is no underarm gusset. The lack of an underarm gusset doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an uncomfortable garment to wear; Kate Davies has written about this in a blog post about a vintage Fair Isle cardigan she owes. The sleeves have been knitted in the round, too, after picking up stitches up from armhole; there are decreases along the underarm seam.

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan buttonband detail

A close-up of the buttonband; what appears to be the folded-over edge stitches overlap the buttonband, not the main fabric

Examining the buttonband up close, reveals that it has been sewn on afterwards. That the steek was knitted in garter stitch, but only for the part of the neck-shaping. I was so impressed by the neat finish of sewing down the folded over edge, that I ended up looking really closely, and then realised that the edge was not folded inward, but outwards. The steek stitches were purled, not knitted, using the background colour only, and then folded outwards. The buttonband hides this as by sewing down the very edge of it, the cut edge has been hidden. Then the edge of the fold is sewn down against the buttonband. However, it’s extremely difficult to be certain about this, as by using the same grey yarn and very neat sewing, it’s almost completely camouflaged. The pattern colour yarn is mostly hidden inside this fold. A new technique to be tried out!

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan deatil

A close-up of the underarm seam

The underarm seam also shows a very neat approach to the working in of yarn ends. The colours are carried up along the rounds until a whole motif has been knitted, leaving very few strands to work in at the end.

So far, so good, but perhaps you have started to wonder why the Knitting & Crochet Guild contacted me for a repair commission? There is a big hole in one of the sleeves. Angharad and her colleagues at the Guild think that the damage may possible be caused by caustic or corrosive liquids, perhaps in the flood that occurred at their Lee Mills archive some while ago.

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

The horror of a damaged sleeve!

Luckily I like a challenge and I’m really excited that the Guild has asked me to repair this beautiful cardigan. I’ll keep my repair strategy a secret until I’ve returned the mended cardigan to the Guild, but if anybody is familiar with the following old Dutch book on marking, darning and damask darning, I’ll be using one of the techniques it discusses.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken - merken, stoppen en mazen - The Feminine handicrafts: marking and darning

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning), written by A Theunisse and AM van der Velden in 1888, was written for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques.

Keep an eye out for the follow-up post where I will show you how this book has helped me repair this beautiful Fair Isle cardigan!

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan

 

A Visible Mending challenge given to me by the Knitting & Crochet Guild

One of the reasons I bought a spinning wheel, was to learn more about British rare sheep breeds and their wool and eventually to be able to spin yarns that will emphasise a particular breed’s wool qualities. Always on the look-out for learning opportunities, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Deborah Robson’s Wooltypes workshop at Fibre East this year. Together with Carol Ekarius, Deb Robson wrote the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook; a terrific compendium on a huge amount of different rare sheep breeds, their wool, and how to work with them.

So far, I have only really used a worsted spinning technique. This is suitable for wool that has a longer staple (fibre length), but I expect that at the workshop we will also be working with shorter staple fibres. And for these fibres woollen spinning techniques are more suitable. For worsted spinning you prepare the fibres by combing them in order to get them all lying parallel; worsted spinning techniques aim to keep the fibres aligned – this results in a shiny, drapey yarn. For woollen spinning, however, you prepare the fibres by carding, and using a woollen spinning technique, the fibres end up all higgledy-piggledy in the resulting yarn. This makes the yarn lofty and very warm as it traps more air.

fleece, carders, rolags, and yarn

 

A pair of handcarders, finished yarns, rolags, and unprocessed fleece

So, what better fibre to use for practising making a woollen yarn, than the Shetland fleeces I brought back from Shetland Wool Week last year? As I only have one grey fleece (this particular shade of grey fleece is called Shaela in the Shetland dialect) and half a black fleece I think I have just about enough for a jumper. So how to combine the two colours in one garment? Perhaps the most obvious choise would be some stranded colourwork, however, this will take up more yarn than something knitted with a single yarn in each row. I didn’t fancy stripes either, but then inspiration struck, and I came up with a cunning blending plan. I’ll be making a few skeins each in pure shaela and in pure black, but for the remainder I’ll blend the shaela with the black on the handcarders; you can see the resulting rolags (the fibre tubes) in the picture above, and I’ll spin these up into some more skeins. But that’s not all! To blur the transition from shaela to black even more, I will ply a blended single (the single strand that makes up a, in this case, 2-ply knitting yarn) with a shaela single, and also a blended single with a black single to make some marled yarns. In the picture above you can see a skein of pure shaela on the left, and on the right a marled yarn made from a shaela single and a blended single.

JamesNorburyPortrait

James Norbury. Will I end up looking like this when I get older?

James Norbury Knitting Books

A few of my Norbury books: Traditional Knitting Patterns, Odham’s Encyclopaedia of Knitting, and Knit with Norbury

So what does James Norbury have to do with all this? Norbury (1904-1972) was, according to Richard Rutt, the “strongest single influence on British knitting during the 25 years after the Second World War.” I have a few of his knitting books, and reading through the patterns, it’s always the superb shaping that strikes me and that is exactly what I’m after. Handspun woollen spun yarn is a bit lumpy-bumpy by nature, but seeing that this is my first attempt at making enough yarn for a big project, and because I don’t have a lot of experience in spinning woollen, my yarn will be even more lumpy-bumpy and probably look very homespun, in every meaning of the word. So to make up for that I want to make a jumper using meticulous shaping and really push myself with that challenge. I’ll be employing the very best knitting techniques I know, knit all the pieces flat, and use good shaping. An example of this is the sleeve caps that Norbury uses in his patterns. There are three progressive rates of decreases, so that the sleeve caps are very rounded, just like they would be for a sewing pattern. I did once knit a jumper like this, which I don’t often wear for other reasons, but the shoulder on it fits me like no other.

James Norbury Polo Neck jumper

A polo-neck jumper designed by James Norbury; look at the shoulder shaping!

I will be documenting progress here on my blog, but as I do like to switch between projects, I think it will take some time before this jumper will actually be on my shoulder, but that’s okay. I like making things that take forever, and now that I’ve added spinning in the mix, you can make that forever and a day.

Around Wovember 2012 ago I was introduced to spinning by my comrade in wool Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford. I started off with a drop spindle, and soon got caught by the spinning bug. It was not long before I started dreaming about spinning wheels. As is my nature, I started reading up on them, and I soon realised that if I wanted a decent wheel I could afford, I would be best off getting a second-hand wheel from a good make.

And when it comes to good wheels, it would be hard to beat a Timbertops. This make just kept popping up in on-line forums, and I decided I would hold out until I would find one for sale. Timbertops Wheels were originally made to order by husband-and-wife team James and Anne Williamson to exacting standards. Last summer my patience was rewarded. The East Sussex Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers had an original Timbertops Chair Wheel for sale. This model of spinning wheel was supposedly originally made by using the frame of an old chair, and appears to be more common in the USA than in the UK. As you can imagine, the footprint of this wheel is rather small, which was perfect for my one-bedroom flat.

So it was with much excitement I went on a road trip with my friend Sue to collect the wheel in The Garden of England (as the county of Kent is known in the UK.) Kent didn’t disappoint, and we kept finding ourselves travelling down smaller and smaller roads, in increasingly beautiful and bucolic surroundings. Eileen, the seller of the wheel, had given us very good directions, but just in case we miss it, she put up a sign for us at the last turn.

Signage to collect Timbertops Spinning wheel

A sign pointing towards my spinning wheel!

Over a cup of tea, Eileen told us the history of the wheel. She purchased the wheel from Jim Williamson at Timbertops about 25 years ago when she and her husband moved to the country and purchased a few sheep to keep the grass in the paddock down.  It was one of the first chair wheels that he made and he fitted a maiden on the right hand side so that left or right handed people could use it by swapping the flyer assembly over.  The wheel was in good condition but Eileen hadn’t used it for about 10 years,  as she has developed arthritis nearly everywhere. Consequently her hands and back play up very badly if she tried to sit and spin. Although Eileen can no longer spin, her hands are not idle, and she showed us some beautiful knitting and quilting pieces she was working on.

Timbertops Spinning Wheel left mother-of-all

A close-up of the left-side mother-of-all, you can also see the leather drive-band of the accelerator. The little handle sticking out just in front of the wheel is in fact the handle of the orifice hook placed in its own little home

The chair wheel is a spinning wheel with a double-treadle, and it has not one, but two fly wheels placed one above the other. the treadles drive the lower wheel, which in turn accelerates the upper wheel by means of a leather drive-band. The upper wheel in turn drives both the flyer and bobbin, as it also has a double-drive. In addition, it has two mother-of-alls, one on the left and one on the right. This means you can have the flyer assembly on either side of the wheel, and as I’m left-handed I prefer it on the right-hand side. This wheel doesn’t do things in halves!

The wheel has been turned from oak, and the attention to detail is superb. Everything is in proportion, and I particularly like that the orifice hook has its own little home next to the upright of the upper wheel. I was very lucky to also get a skein ‘unwinder’ (for want of a better word), a lazy kate, and twelve bobbins, all made by Jim Williamson.

Timbertops Chair Wheel flyer assembly

The right mother-of-all, with the flyer assembly.

As the wheel was missing one maiden (one of a pair of small upright ‘sticks’ with leather bearings that holds the flyer-and-bobbin assembly), I contacted Joan Jones from Woodland Turnery. Joan and her husband Clive took over the Timbertops business when Jim and Ann Williamson wanted to retire, and I think they are doing a great job of it, too. You can read more about Woodland Turnery on the Wovember blog here.

Timbertops Chair Wheel, Skein holder and Lazy Kate

Not only did I get the wheel, but also a skein ‘unwinder’ and a lazy kate. And twelve bobbins

The chair wheel with its accelerator mechanism is ideal for production spinning, but the flipside is that it’s not really a beginners wheel. Luckily there’s a large whorl as well as the standard one, which means I can slow the wheel right down. I’m taking my time learning to spin on this wheel; every time I sit down with it, I not only appreciate it as a spinning tool, but also the workmanship required to make it, the beautiful oak it was made from, and all the spinning that has gone on before I had it.

When I emailed Eileen to thank her for the wheel, she replied saying that “…I did have many happy hours spinning and I [was] most anxious for the wheel to find a good home with someone who would appreciate it.” Knowing how much this wheel meant to Eileen, I hope I will do her proud, and I’m looking forward to spending many happy hours with it.

Some repair commissions are so much more than mending a hole or two. I recently completed a very special commission, which I would like to share with you. Bernadette sent me an email with a repair commission request, and as she has put her conundrum in such concise and clear words, I will quote the relevant parts here:

I have a pullover that my mother knitted me in the 1980s.  It was  cream coloured natural wool — I’ve since dyed it grey.  It’s a typically big and baggy eighties style from a pattern by Edina Ronay. It didn’t really suit me, the undyed colour was a kind of dirty cream and the neckline is wrong.  

There’s a lot of my mother’s work in this garment.  I don’t want to get rid of it – it’s about 25 years old and it’s been at the back of a cupboard for a long time.  So I had an idea to make it wearable by dyeing it grey.  This wasn’t wholly successful. The colour is a bit patchy but on the whole I prefer it to the cream.  It still looked massive on me.  I had another idea to turn it into a cushion – it’s got nice (I think Guernsey) textured patterns all over it and the body would be big enough to make a substantial cushion cover.  So I cut off one of the sleeves, with a view to hacking the thing to bits to make a cushion.  As soon as I’d cut off the sleeve I regretted it.  

There’s  a small hole in one sleeve too.  The pullover means a lot to me, especially since my mother died a couple of years ago.  We didn’t have much in common and knitting is one of my only true connections to her.

Visible Mending Programme - Jumper with hacked off sleeve

Bernadette’s jumper, you can see the cut off sleeve with ragged seams. In this picture I already unpicked the top of the sleeve and picked up the stitches

We exchanged a few emails so I could get a feel of what she wanted and come up with a repair strategy before meeting up.

Thank you for your kind reply.  I’m so glad you understand about the jumper – and about mothers!  I’m sure my own mother would think I was completely mad to be trying to fix up this old jumper she made.
As you can see – not only did I cut off a sleeve, I also cut open the seam of the sleeve.  Why  – I couldn’t really say at this point.  The wool is a bit felted through age, so nothing has come unravelled at all.
Re the neckline – it used to be a lot wider. I think maybe the jumper has shrunk a little bit because the neckline doesn’t seem so wide as I remember it. I guess it’s okay how it is.
I had to come up with a way of reconstructing the sleeve without losing too much of the original knitting. As the sleeve had been cut off and open, rather than carefully unpicked at the seams, I had some unravelling to do and fill in the missing inch at the very top of the sleeve cap. I also needed to do something about the side seams, as these could not be sewn together as they were.
The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail
A sympathetic contrasting colour was used to fix the sleeve and make up for lost fabric
Looking for a colour that would provide some contrast, yet harmonise well with the lavender grey of the jumper, I settled on a dark grey alpaca sock yarn. I chose a cable stitch that resembled the stitch in the jumper, but wasn’t quite the same to reinforce the idea that this repair was not done by the person who originally knitted the garment.
Picking up stitches from somebody else’s work felt really intimate, and throughout the repair my thoughts went out to Bernadette, and her mother. I admired the skill and effort that went into making this jumper, the even stitches. I have never met Bernadette’s mother, but picking up her work forged a connection, and I imagined how she worked on this jumper. I will never know what might have gone through her mind, yet I was wondering about this; wondering what she would’ve thought about her daughter asking to do this Visible Mend.
Visible Mending Programme - invisible mend on sleeve
One invisible mend is hiding on the sleeve – can you see it?
As I had some original yarn from unravelling the untidy cut edges, I did an invisible mend on the hole in the sleeve. I felt that another, seemingly randomly placed visible mend would distract from the visible sleeve reconstruction. Once I had sewn up the jumper, I ‘de-pilled’ it, and then gently hand-washed it before blocking it. I had asked Bernadette not to wash the jumper before giving it to me for repair, as this might inadvertently do more damage: stitches might unravel, or more felting might occur. As always, once I feel I’ve completed the repair, the final touch was stitching the Visible Mending Programme initials into the garment.
The Visible Mending Programme - stitched logo
VMP – Visible Mending Programme
I guess you might want to know what the jumper looks like now?
VisibleMendingProgramme_BD_2_JumperRepaired
Bernadette can wear her mother’s handiwork again, and be reminded of their one true connection
Both Bernadette and I were very pleased with the end result, so let me end with her own words, providing another little glimpse on the value of this jumper:
It really does mean a lot that I still have the jumper.  My mum always tried to make me the jumpers that I chose patterns for.  Unfortunately I had such bad taste back in the 80s that they were mostly horrible, but it wasn’t my Mum’s fault. 

When I was older my Mum made my children quite a few little things, but none of the garments have been hardy enough to survive.  There was one pink fair isle twinset she made my daughter that I really hoped to keep but a moth ate holes in it and it made me feel sad to look at it, and I eventually got rid of it.

So this jumper that you are rescuing is the one surviving garment (apart from an astonishing array of teddy trousers and dresses in acrylic!).
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