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On Thimbles

In my last blog post I spoke about my intention to learn how to use a thimble. I have mentioned before that I enjoy hand-finishing my sewing projects, such as hand-worked buttonholes, inserting a lining, and even whip stitching seams to stop the edges from ravelling. This is in part because I use an old Singer 201k treadle sewing machine that can only do straight stitches, but it is also because I enjoy the act of hand-stitching.

woollen trousers, hand-picked fly

Woollen trousers with prick-stitched fly and hand-worked buttonhole

Sewing is much quicker than knitting, and many sewers that I know are amazed about the amount of hand-stitching I do, because “it takes forever!” However, compared to knitting, all this hand-stitching is done in a jiffy! Slowly but surely working my way towards having only hand-made clothes, leading to more hand-stitching, has increased my interest in tailoring, and the accompagnying hand-stitching. And even if I might never become an expert in tailoring, I can take away those bits that will work for me. So far, I’ve not used a thimble, but the drawback is that my fingertips are shredded to bits by the sewing needle, so it’s time to learn from tailors, and use a thimble.

Thimbles, needles, beeswax

Thimbles, needles, and beeswax: the traditional tailor’s tools. Shown here are two plain closed-top dressmaker’s thimbles, one closed-top souvenir thimble from Belfast, one open-topped tailor’s thimble, and at the far right, a leather quilter’s thimble

Thimbles come in many shapes, forms, and materials. The traditional tailor’s thimble is made from metal, and has an open top. Dressmakers’ thimbles normally have a closed top. I have not been able to find out why there is a difference, but I think it might have to do with the sewing technique used. The tailor’s thimble goes on your middle finger, the needle is held between thumb and forefinger, and put into the fabric. The needle is then pushed through the fabric with your thimble-covered nail. In order to do this comfortably, your middle finger is actually curled up, sitting right behind the needle. Have a look at these videos by an expert tailor. Keeping your middle finger bent is the most difficult thing when learning to use a thimble the tailor’s way, so an old apprentice trick is to put a tie on your thimble to keep your finger in the right position.

thimble padssashiko thimble

Thimble pads, popular with quilters, and a sashiko thimble

I’m keen to learn to use a tailor’s thimble, but there are many other thimbles to choose from, such as a leather thimble, shown in one of the pictures above, “thimble pads” which are small stickers to stick to your finger, and sashiko thimbles, which are shoved right down your middle finger. The metal plate at the bottom protects the palm, as traditional sashiko uses a long needle which is threaded through the fabric multiple times before pushing it through with your hand, which isn’t much different from a sailor’s or sailmaker’s sewing palm.

the history of needlework tools and accessories book

The History of NEEDLEWORK TOOLS And Accessories, by Sylvia Groves

I will finish this blog post with some background information on thimbles, from Sylvia Groves’s The History of NEEDLEWORK TOOLS And Accessories (Country Life Books, The Hamlyn Publishing Group, Feltham, second impression 1968): the word thimble is derived from the Old English thymel, meaning a thumb stall. It was originally a small bell-shaped cap of leather, made to be worn on the thumb in sewing. She goes on to say that “Although this type of primitive protection continued in use in remote and isolated districts until quite recent times, the metal thimble displaced it in more civilised countries at a very early period.” With this being my only book in my library on needlework tools and accessories, what follows is from a very European-centric viewpoint, showing exactly which countries the author deemed civilised.

Thimbles of bronze have been found on the sites of Greek and Roman cities, such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were destroyed in 79 CE. They can be divided into two two types: one heavy, cast, and with the indentations irregularly placed; the other finely made from sheet metal, with indentations more neatly arranged and occasionally having an open top. A cast bronze ring, about a quarter of an inch deep, with three rows of indentations arrachged diamond-wise, served a similar purpose.

thimbles from the history of needlework tools and accessories

A fine collection of thimbles, finger protectors, and thimble cases (click on the picture for a larger image)

There are very few thimbles to found that can be confidently dated to befor the 16th century. Thimbles can be made from all sorts of metal, but in general, thimbles from the 17th and 18th century were often made of brass or steel, or sometimes a combination of the two. An open-topped steel thimble might be lined with brass. Alternatively, a silver thumble with a steel top might be obtained; the top stamped with indentations, was soldered on, and the silver might be engraved, or of open filligree. These thimbles were never intended to withstand the wear and tear of daylong sewing, but were reserved for fine needlework and social occasions.

For children, nests of thimbles were made fitting one on top of another and increasing gradually in size, to allow for growth. In the early Victorian era, there arose a fashion of ornamenting the sides of thimbles with representations in relief of famous buildings, bridges, and other well-known landmarks; they were sold as souvenirs to tourists who were increasing in number owing to the developments in railway travelling.

There are a very large number of antique thimbles to be found, made from all sorts of materials. Their shape provides little indication of their date: those made during the last three or four centuries may be either short and flat topped, or long, tapering and domed, according the the fashion at the time or the whim of the maker. Mother-of-pearl thimbles came from France; glass from Bohemia or Venice. Wooden thimbles came from Germany and Austria, where they were bought as souvenirs by tourists, but they are by no means common as wood is a soft material unsuitable for practical use in sewing. Complete thimbles without indentations, fashioned from horn, ivory or tortoiseshell, may occasionally be found; they are, in fact, finger guards and were worn on the first fingers of the left hand to protect it from the continual prick of the needle’s point. When these guards were made of metal, part of the top was cut away diagonally, leaving only the rim entire.

Wish me luck in my thimble journey: I think it will take me a while to unlearn my old hand-sewing technique, and learn a new one, but I will persevere and report back, so keep an eye out for my next blog post!

The last couple of months has been a very productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning.

Merken Stoppen en Mazen, Nuttige Handwerken

The Female Handicrafts for School and Home, and Useful Needlework. Both are lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning

I have written about these books before, but I looked through them again when I was preparing for one of my workshops a little while ago at Hope & Elvis. In particular The Female Handicrafts contains a lot of detail, starting with the very basics.

How to mark household linen

A page from The Female Handicrafts. showing some letters of the alphabet

For instance, the first chapter on marking household linen, starts with the easy letters with lots of vertical elements, such as the letter “I”. It then moves on to those with strong diagonal lines, and finishes on those which have curves. To learn this, it advocates starting with an open-weave plain fabric, such as scrim. Marking your household linen was important, as many people took their washing to the laundry house, and this way you could check whether nothing was missing and that you actually got your own things back.

Darning fabric technique

A page from Useful Needlework

Likewise, Useful Needlework starts with the simple re-inforcing technique of weaving thread through the fabric, again using something like scrim to get a feel for the technique, before moving on to finer work. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on scrim, and I have my darning threads at the ready!

msm-stoppen-2

Easy start with darning…

darning in pattern, damask darning

…followed by an intermediate step of adding stripes and checks…

msm-stoppen-3

finishing with something altogether more complex

For the aforementioned workshop at Hope & Elvis I got everybody to make a sewing sampler, based on the samplers I’d seen at Goldsmiths earlier this year, as part of  the A Remedy for Rents exhibition.

20151215CHG_3238

Plain sewing samplers from the Whiteland College College

It was my first foray into teaching something sewing-based, and we all made a small sampler using old textiles. The edges were hemmed using four different hemming techniques, then we made three different types of patches. I had selected the different techniques based on practicality, still useful today. They included amongst others: slip stitch hem, herringbone hem, hemming stitch, napery hem stitch, calico or oversewn patch, tailored patch, and flannel patch. For those who wanted more, I also taught how to hand-work a buttonhole. I don’t believe hand-worked buttonholes are any better or stronger than machine-made ones, but I do think they look very nice.

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Hand-worked buttonhole, found on a sampler in the Whitelands College collection

I’ve also spent a lot of time sewing patches onto sturdy linen tea towels (I will share this project in a couple of weeks) and it became apparent pretty soon that I will have to start using a thimble. I enjoy hand-sewing, and whenever I sew, I tend to do a lot of finishing by hand. When sewing woollen trousers, this is quite easily done without a thimble, but it’s a different story with those tea towels. The needles I use are rather fine, so the eye of the needle is almost as sharp as the point! Teaching myself to use a thimble might take some practice and perseverance, but I’ve found an old tailor’s apprentice trick to get me started.

All-in-all, this means I have a lesson plan of sorts for myself. I’m going to take it all back to the beginning: teach myself how to use a thimble, and then start marking, darning, and patching according to my Dutch books. I hope that this will lead to new inspiration and new off-shoot projects. I will be sharing my pursuits here, and perhaps you’d like to join in! Therefore I will post not only completed work, but also a heads-up post with what I’m planning to concentrate on next. Keep an eye out for the first post in the next one or two weeks.

Make New and Make Do

On 17 September I’ll be running a very special darning workshop at The Keep, Brighton. The Keep is a centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections, including the Mass Observation Archives.

Yarn Advert Bellmans WW2

No coupons for khaki wool; three special offers of this popular shade; The Brighton Herald, 1941

The Archive holds the papers generated by the original Mass Observation organisation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s as well as some documents from the 1960s. The material collected by Mass Observation falls into two main categories:

  • Personal writing: A national panel of volunteer writers were recruited to reply to regular questionnaires and tasks, including writing diaries
  • Topic collections: A team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. This was first conducted in Bolton (known as Worktown) and then in other locations across the country

Make Do and Mend Notebook

Make Do and Mend notes, held in the Mass Observation Archive (reference: SxMOA 99/83)

Having all these collections in one place makes it easy to find some interesting cross-collection links. For instance, at The Keep you can find copies of women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own (a weekly publication first published in 1932 and still going strong) and Woman’s Journal (published monthly from 1927 to 2001). Woman’s Own was aimed at a different kind of woman than Woman’s Journal. This is not only evident on the front cover: Woman’s Own usually shows a child or a woman, often actively occupied with something or other. Woman’s Journal, on the other hand, has portraits of upper class ladies, wearing a ball-gown or other fancy outfit.

The Second World War saw unprecedented government intervention into everyday life on the British home front. Food rationing began in 1940 and clothes were rationed from 1 June 1941. Fabric was essential for war purposes, such as uniforms. By reducing civilian clothing production, factory space and labour could be freed up for war production.

Rationing forced people to be painfully mathematic in how they spent their limited supply of clothing coupons – and to find shrewd ways to avoid doing so. The government-backed ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme was introduced to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes. Handmade and hand-repaired clothing became an essential part of wartime life. People got creative across the country out of necessity, finding ways to make and care for clothes – and forge their own wartime style.Make Do and Mend Scheme WW2

Mend and make-do to save buying new, issued by the Board of Trade

This governmental intervention was subtly visible in these magazines, to a greater or lesser degree: although both had sections on making accessories, sewing, knitting, and crocheting, Woman’s Journal also featured a monthly spread on the latest fashions from Paris. In contrast, Woman’s Own would often highlight how many, or rather, how few coupons were needed for the materials required for a particular project.

Adverts from yarn companies (and you’ll find more of these in Woman’s Own than in Woman’s Journal) will, as less and less yarn becomes available for the domestic market, acknowledge that their yarns may be difficult to get hold of, but if you can, they’re worth buying. From a Lavenda advert from November 1943: “pure wool can and should be used over and over again.” Magazines have articles on how to re-use wool, and patterns start accommodating for having fewer resources: many items have shorter sleeves, v-necks (both save on yarn), use fewer buttons, or have yarn-saving stitch patterns: open-work inserts (lace stitches require less wool per area than textured stitches) or Fair Isle patterns, so you can use up odds and ends.

The Board of Trade also placed “infomercials” in Woman’s Own and Woman’s Journal as part of the Make Do and Mend campaign. They usually consisted of a few hints or tips around a certain topic (remaking old clothes into new ones, taking care of fabric, etc) and included a small section on Make Do and Mend classes. Women were encouraged to attend one of these classes, or set one up. The Mass Observation Archive contains two exercise books with textile samples from Mrs Watkins, who attended this class in Portslade. Some of these Board of Trade infomercials were also published in the Picture Post, a magazine more directed at a male readership: instead of a call to join a Make Do and Mend class, men were asked to “count their coupons”! One of them, however, does show sailors and soldiers darning their own socks…

Make Do and Mend with Patch

Invisible mending by using threads harvested from hem or seam, from Mrs Watkins’s notebook

I hope you will join me at my darning workshop at The Keep on 17 September, as it will give you a unique chance to see the some of these magazines and archived objects all gathered together especially for the occasion. Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager and Mass Observation Curator (Library), will  give an introduction to The Keep, and be at hand to answer any questions you may have about items on display.

Read more here about my workshop at The Keep, or, if you simply can’t wait to book a place, please call 01273 482349.

Boxpleat Jumper

When Rachel Atkinson told me she was working on producing a yarn, using her dad’s flock of Hebridean sheep, I just knew it was going to be something really special. I love the deepest, darkest shade of chocolate brown you get from naturally black sheep, and Rachel’s yarn, aptly named Daughter of a Shepherd, really does the Hebridean sheep justice.

Daughter of a Shepherd Yarn

Rachel’s Daughter of a Shepherd yarn: a luscious, deepest, darkest chocolate brown

Despite the colour, it shows up textured stitches really well, which was a good thing, because my love affair with Cecelia Campochiaro’s Sequence Knitting is still going strong. One type of fabric you can create with sequence knitting is a broken garter stitch (alternating columns of garter stitch from knit stitches, garter stitch from purl stitches,) which give a very strong vertical texture, enhanced by columns of slip stitches, a type of fabric Cecelia calls “boxpleats,” as it has a 3D quality to it.

Sequence Knitting in Boxpleat pattern

Boxpleat pattern from Cecelia Campochiaro’s groundbreaking work, Sequence Knitting

Waiting for the right project to come along, was some of Elizabeth Johnston‘s handspun Shetland yarn, which she made from grey Shetland wool, overdyed with madder. It wasn’t much, but enough to provide a pleasing accent of colour. I took measurements from a French workwear smock, and after swatching, I cast on and mostly made design decisions as I went along.

My good friend Jeni Reid has taken all the pictures following below, and I’m using them with kind permission and they are credited to Jeni Reid/Small Window. You may have spotted her at yarn festivals with a big camera in hand, and being a knitter and spinner herself, she manages to capture goings-on with a knitterly eye.

tomofholland boxpleat jumper in daughter of a shepherd yarn

Me looking mighty pleased in my boxpleat jumper

tomofholland boxpleat jumper in daughter of a shepherd yarn

Boxpleats for armhole shaping. I love all the movement in the back shoulder area

The armholes are shaped using actual box pleats and I’ve gathered the sleeveheads, so there is volume along the arms to show off the boxpleat fabric, but keeps the shoulder saddles neat and tidy.

The boxpleat pattern is best knitted flat, so the jumper was knitted in pieces, and then seamed together using a three-needle bind-off. I’m a real fan of the three-needle bind-off for seaming. Sure, it takes a while to pick up stitches along each seam edge, but the resulting seam is strong, yet it retains some stretch quality, something that was really important here, as the jumper is very heavy, and therefore I anticipate it will grow longer in wear.

tomofholland boxpleat jumper in daughter of a shepherd yarn

The hems are finished with a split

Although knitted in pieces, the over-all shaping is more or less based on the classic Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless saddle shoulder pull-over.

tomofholland boxpleat jumper in daughter of a shepherd yarn

I was in a very studious mood…

Last but not least, I used a lot of gradually differing needle sizes. The sleeves start at the cuffs in 2.5mm needles, and by the time I reached the sleevecap, the needle size had increased to 4.5mm. This created a gently shaped sleeve, allowing for the boxpleat pattern to do its pleating at its best. To stop the jumper from flaring at the hems, I knitted them on a slightly smaller needle to gently draw in the fabric. The neck is finished with a funnel neck, highlighting the non-curling quality of the boxpleat pattern.

I thoroughly enjoyed designing and knitting this jumper, and as you can tell from the pictures, I finished it just in time to put it away for summer.

tomofholland boxpleat jumper in daughter of a shepherd yarn

Boxpleat jumper

With special thanks to Rachel Atkinson for letting me buy a few more skeins for this special project, and to Jeni Reid for taking such beautiful pictures, as this jumper provided a photographic challenge, due to the colour.

Ethel Mairet (1872-1952) was an exceptional weaver and dyer, who’s influence can still be felt today. She was a member of the small but vigorous crafts community in Ditchling, where she established an influential weaving workshop at Gospels, alongside Eric Gill, Edward Johnston and Douglas Pepler. Mairet was greatly interested in demonstrating and educating, teaching weaving at the Brighton School of Art, exhibiting her work widely, publishing a number of books and articles and producing what she referred to as ‘textile portfolios’ with accompanying pamphlets to support teaching.

She has also been an important teacher to and collaborator with other well-known hand-weavers such as Mary Barker, Peter Collingwood, and Marianne Straub.

Ethel Mairet Weaver and Dyer Sign

The sign for Ethel Mairet’s workshop at Gospels, Ditchling

I’m fascinated by her approach to texture, colour, and fibre, and I had a very enjoyable afternoon with fellow textile appreciators Louise Spong and Jenny Dean, looking at the Mairet collection at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, and seeing some of Mairet’s work up close. Mairet has written a small number of books on weaving and dyeing, and Vegetable Dyes; Being a book of Recipes and other information useful to the Dyer was first published exactly 100 years ago.

Ethel Mairet, Hand-Weaving today; vegetable dyes

My copies of Hand-weaving To-day; Traditions and Changes; and Vegetable Dyes; Being a book of Recipes and other information useful to the Dyer

Talking to natural dye expert Jenny Dean it soon became clear to me that Vegetable Dyes is very much of its time, and a modern-day dyer would perhaps struggle with some of her recipes, and certain mordants used by Mairet, such as chrome, are now no longer in use as they are very poisonous.

Dye Garden at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The grounds of the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft contain a dye garden. Jenny is seen inspecting the dyer’s broom

Ethel Mairet Madder Samples

Weave samples using madder-root dyed wool. Wonderful to see these were clearly off-cuts from the sewing room

Ethel Mairet natural colour samples

Mairet also used undyed natural colour wool to great effect

Hand-weaving To-day, on the other hand, shows an acute understanding of hand-weaving and industrial development, and her success at the hand-loom has not, however, prejudiced her against the machine, which can be directed in the service of quality. She was inspired by methods of the French cloth house Rodier, which employed hand-weavers to make highly regarded modern fabrics.

Ethel Mairet Rodier Samples

Samples labelled ‘Rodier’; I’m assuming these were fabric samples from Rodier, to serve as inspiration

Many of Mairet’s fabrics combined different fibre types, natural and dyed yarns, and machine-made and handspun yarns to great effect. On the whole Mairet herself preferred to use simple weaving techniques, and concentrate on colour and combining differenty textured yarns instead, but other weavers in her workshop used more complex weaving techniques to great effect.

Ethel Mairet plaid sample

A typical Ethel Mairet plain weave fabric, combining subtly varying yarn weights, and a certain penchant for combining yellow and grey

Ethel Mairet Textured Sample

Some very bold samples combining colour and texture to great effect. These pieces come from Mairet’s workshop, but are most likely woven by one of her co-workers or students

Ethel Mairet various samples

Fabric scraps showing an exciting combination of fibre types, colour (both natural and dyed) and texture

One thing that really stood by me when I first read Hand-weaving To-day was Mairet’s excitement about synthetic yarns. Although I personally prefer natural fibres, Mairet felt that with developing and producing synthetic fibres ‘…the chief error was the close copying of the natural fibres – and the names ‘artifical silk’, ‘artificial wool’, etc., which suggested to the mind materials of very secondary quality. Instead of creating a quality of its own, a new fabric entirely unknown and unforeseen – a new art of the textile world – so far, all it has done is to copy silk, to copy tweeds, velvets, and other materials. […] Cellophane as used by the great textile artists such as Otti Berger, or Rodier, or some of the Finnish weavers, become textiles of rare beauty, holding their place with the greatest textiles of the world. […] The combination of synthetic materials with natural materials holds great possibilities for the hand-spinner and weaver[.]’ (E Mairet, Hand-weaving To-day, 1938) I was very excited to find some samples showing exactly what she meant:

Ethel Mairet Sample with Cellophane

One example of Mairet’s use of cellophane, giving a subtle glistening quality to the fabric, and, I imagine, it might also impart a light rustling noise when manipulated

Ethel Mairet sample with synthetic yarn

There were no notes with this sample, but the golden weft threads just above the black ones appear to be synthetic

The output of Mairet’s weaving room was not only sold as fabrics, but also made up into clothes and accessories. The weaving room at Gospels served as an informal shop most weekends, and in addition, Mairet sold through some small galleries, and used to have a shop on 68a East Street, Brighton.

Ethel Mairet Silk Scarf

A silk scarf in delicate colours

Ethel Mairet Beret

Scraps from the sewing room were used to make beautiful berets. This particularly fine example shows off the rich colours used in the weaving room

Visiting the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft and seeing their Ethel Mairet collection has allowed me to get a better understanding of her forward-thinking approach to creating textiles, and it remains a constant source of inspiration and motivation for me as I continue to explore and find my way through ‘slow textiles’.

As the Ditchling Museum is only small, there is necessarily not much on display; so if you wish to see the Ethel Mairet collection, then you can find more information here to make an appointment.

If you wish to learn more about Ethel Mairet, then I can highly recommend A Weaver’s Life, Ethel Mairet1872-1952, by Margot Coatts, published by Crafts Study Centre, Bath, 1983.

Note: unless otherwise stated, all pictures are taken at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, with their kind permission.

My friend Karina Westermann, perhaps better known as Karie Bookish, is planning to release a new collection of knitting patterns. Inspired by the age of Johan Gutenberg and the printing revolution in medieval Europe, ten knitting patterns and accompanying essays will be presented in a beautiful book. Her Kickstarter campaign runs until 22 June 2016, which has already smashed her goal of £9,700 in just 25 hours! Read more on Karie’s blog to find out how she’ll spend the extra money.

Karie "Bookish" Westermann

Karie ” Bookish” Westermann

Meanwhile, I had a chat with Karie about her new book:

Tom: Of course, manuscripts have moved from being written by hand to being printed. The books would be assembled by hand, and that has now also been mechanised. Nowaways, “machine-made” books are the norm. I can see some parallels with knitting, but also some differences. Unlike machine made books, machine knitting is seen by many as “cheating”. I’d love to know whether you’ve found any parallels or differences between creating manuscripts and knitting you’d like to share?

Karie: I was so excited this year when I learned that the Met in New York City had an exhibition called “Manus x Machina” – maybe it is one of those instances when you are obsessed by something and you begin to see it everywhere, but I am really intrigued by the movement from “one of a kind” handmade objects to mass production of objects. While The Met showcases haute couture, I am (obviously?) more preoccupied with the notion of everyday things. Things that were once treasured rarities but that have become disposable through ubiquity.

This Thing of Paper Sample Swatch

You’ll have to wait a while to find out what this mystery bit of knitting will become! This Thing of Paper is due for release Spring 2017

For me, the leap from clothes to books is a natural one. From High Street shops to easy online shopping, both clothes and books are objects that can be easily acquired, consumed and disposed (and then re-acquired through charity shops). The cycle of consumption is remarkably similar. Yet this level of consumption is something relatively recent.

I am really interested in how items like clothes or books became so ubiquitous and why we (general we) treat them with so little care. It did not happen overnight and there have been previous intersections (like William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement) that sought to address how mechanisation makes us think of objects in certain ways. I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about these intersections (and I believe we are currently in the midst of one) and how we relate to things through their mode of production.

As for This Thing of Paper, each pattern will be accompanied by an essay that looks at an aspect of this overarching hand/machine theme – you might say a quasi-literary way of writing your way around topic in order to examine it. So, yes, I have found stories I can tell about 14th/15th/16th century book productions that are as relevant to us as makers – and maybe, just maybe, also to us as consumers.

Tom: As you may know, I’ve created a series of gloves called The Reading Gloves,  where I took inspiration from classic novels and created gloves to portray some of the main characters. Did you use any specific manuscripts as an inspiration source, and how did they inform the design?

Karie: First of all, I should make clear that This Thing of Paper is divided into three separate sections: 1) Manuscript which covers 14th century manuscripts, 2) Invention which covers 15th century incunabula (early printed books), and 3) Printed which cover 16th century printed books. It is a bit of an artificial divide for a myriad of reasons (as book historians would be happy to discuss about for hours!) but one I have decided is useful for my purpose.

My real love is incunabula – books printed between c1440 and 1501. They are not as visually sumptuous as many manuscripts, but I love them because they combine made-by-hand with made-by-machine to such a degree that you cannot fully argue that they are mass produced objects. I digress – but I have worked quite extensively with the wonderful Glasgow Incunabula Project and was thrilled when they had a special exhibition on this project in 2015. I have also spent time with digitalised collections from the British Library, The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and others. The internet is a wonderful resource, though nothing beats seeing the books in person.

This Thing of Paper Sample Swatch

Knitting and books, a wonderful combination

As a rule, I have looked more at the material qualities of the source material rather than the content of the books (though the title of my book is actually derived from a 15th century treatise on the evils of printing!). I find the material and visual aspects far more interesting than the specific books themselves – with one notable exception which is a 16th century embroidery manual which has informed a key design. I am definitely more interested in the abstract, conceptual stories than in the very specific, textual ones. When I was in academia, I started out looking at Books as Literature but I gradually shifted towards looking at Books as Objects – I often think about how that dichotomy relates to how I approach designing knitting patterns. I mean, I’m obviously really interested in designing things that are really wearable, but I am also intensely interested in embedding bigger concepts into my work. (I am still really proud of the Ronaes shawl from Doggerland which is a very pretty shawl, but also had the knitter working with the ideas of liminality and inner/our landscapes).

Tom: the inks used in old manuscripts will have been made from natural dyes or pigments. I’m thinking about a project of a friend I worked on, Knitting The Map http://www.knittingthemap.org/ where an old map of Brighton became the inspiration for a community project using local wools, dyed with plant-based dyes, as the inks used for the map used pigments from the same sources.  How have you taken this into consideration for colour choices?

Karie: Yes and no. I have obviously spent time looking at source materials and figuring out the colour palette(s) I will be using. I have an overarching colour palette for the entire book, but each story (or chapter?) will have its own defined colour palette. Many of the pigments used in the original books would have been mineral-derived and made in small quantities (both related & unrelated: here’s a fantastic article talking about why so many of those brilliant colours are unavailable to us today.)

This Thing of Paper Stranded Knitting Colourwork Swatch

A tantalising glimpse at the colour palette for This Thing of Paper

I did consider whether I wanted to hunt down colours that would have been available in the 14th-16th centuries and I also spent time trying to find yarns that gave me that same sense (because This Thing of Paper is implicitly about we experience things) as paper or vellum did. Eventually I decided that I did not want to replicate or offer a representation of 14th, 15th or 16th century life. Much in the same way I wasn’t trying to reconstruct clothing from that time. What I am much more interested in doing is trying to understand 21st century life using 700 year-old items as a magnifying glass.

Having said that, I am collaborating with Blacker Yarns and a small selection of hand dyers – and all my collaborators are working with me on a colour palette that is derived from the colours I see in my source material – both the gloriously rich mineral-derived pigments of 14th century manuscripts and the more subdued hues you find in aged paper and faded ink in later books.

Thank you, Karie, for talking about your new project. I can’t wait to see it materialise, read the esssays, and see the knitting projects!

This Thing of Paper is due to be published in spring 2017, and I’m looking forward to seeing this book falling on my doorstep.. The next stop on the tour is Devon based designer Ella Austin. You can catch the full list of blog tour participants here.

Hexa Hap

If a dear friend asks you to contribute to a new book, then it’s hard to say no. And if that new book is by Kate Davies, with contributions by some of the most exciting and innovative knitwear designers currently around, then you know it’s going to be an exciting publication! Kate’s new book is called The Book of Haps, and is now available to pre-order; shipping will start as soon as the books have returned from the printers, see details at the end of this post.

Kate’s new book is a collection of essays about haps, which were shawls knitted by Shetland women as everyday items, as opposed to the fancy lace wedding ring shawls that are perhaps better known today. In addition, Kate has asked twelve designers to come up with their own interpretation of a hap, including myself.

Please note: all images in this post are by Tom Barr, ©Kate Davies Designs, and used with kind permission

Hexa Hap Shawl

We chatted about my design, the Hexa Hap, a little while ago and I think you’d love to hear more about it. So here is Kate’s interview with me (also published on Kate’s blog this morning):

Kate Davies: One of the many things I enjoy about your work is the way you use the deeply technical aspects of fabric creation or manipulation to produce really innovative designs. Can you tell us about how Cecelia Campochiaro’s Sequence Knitting inspired your Hexa Hap?

Tom: Campochiaro’s book on Sequence Knitting, which described very simple methods to create complex textured fabrics, is a ground-breaking work. The book is littered with many beautiful photographs: although every method is illustrated with swatches in grey yarn, sequence knitting lends itself well for using colour, as evidenced by many of the projects in the book. However, that’s not what I wanted to concentrate on with the Hexa Hap. What struck me is that all of the stitch patterns are reversible in some way: some are identical on both right side and wrong side, others are just aesthetically reversible (right side and wrong side are completely different, but both present a pleasing texture), some fall in between. I found this reversibility a very attractive quality for a shawl as you can wear it every which way; preserving this reversibility was the main driver for the techniques and patterns I’ve used. This goes for the lace edging (Campochiaro’s Sequence Knitting is knits and purls only) and the reversible intarsia twist technique I “unvented.” In addition, some of the sequence techniques involve decreasing at the end of every row, creating triangles, and this led me to brush off my books on modular knitting. . .

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Kate: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing your Hexa Hap? Where did you begin? Did everything turn out the way that you expected, or were there any surprises?

Tom: The idea for a modular shawl or blanket (originally without lace edging) came to me soon after seeing the triangular swatches inSequence Knitting. Not being a shawl wearer myself, and not in need of yet another blanket, I squirreled away the idea. But every time I opened Sequence Knitting, the idea developed a bit further in my head. So by the time you asked me to contribute to your own book, I had an almost fully formed design in my head. It was then a question of finding the right stitch pattern for the lace edging, and working out some of the reversibility challenges. Swatching soon confirmed that my ideas would work, and the only real surprise for me was the swirl that gets formed in the centre of the shawl. I had expected to have straight lines separating the triangles. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the lace edging, which I wanted to be in a different colour from the centre. I tried out a few things before settling on the intarsia technique and knit the whole thing in one go. Again, the driver here was reversibility. Picking up stitches along the edge of the centre, or knitting on an edge, wasn’t quite so reversible in a DK weight yarn.

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Kate: Your pattern includes options to knit full, half or 2/3 hexa haps, because of the design’s modular construction. Can you explain a little more about this?

Tom: The Hexa Hap is constructed by knitting a triangle with a lace edging on one of its edges. When the first triangle is complete, you pick up stitches along another edge, and knit another triangle. You continue adding more triangles until you have three, four, or six triangles. The Half Hexa Hap and the 2/3 Hexa Hap are quite easy to finish, as they require a knitted on i-cord edging. The full-sized Hexa Hap has a sting in its tail, as there is a seam to be closed, attaching the selvedge of the last triangle to the base of the first one. In order to preserve the reversibility, the seam is grafted closed in pattern. Once this is completed, it has proven to be rather difficult to work out the construction of the shawl, and some of the people who have seen it assumed it was knitted from the centre outwards on circular needles. I first came across the technique I’ve used for grafting in pattern on Fleegle’s blog . In her blog post she describes how she uses waste yarn to knit the row that will be grafted. The waste yarn will be removed once the grafting is finished. Despite my large reference library, Fleegle’s blog is all I could find about it, so I’ve made a video tutorial to help knitters along the way, in case the written instructions require some additional illustration. (Note that this video tutorial illustrates grafting in pattern in the context of the Hexa Hap design only!)

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Kate: your reversible intarsia twist is a technique that you’ve “unvented” for this design. Can you describe what it involves and why its useful for this design?

Tom: With intarsia you twist the two colours around each other at the “seam” and with regular intarsia this shows on the wrong side of the work. As I was hell-bent on keeping the Hexa Hap completely reversible, I played around with the intarsia technique until I came up with something that would make it look the same on both sides. It’s a very simple variation, where you cross the old colour underneath the new colour, and then bring the old colour between the needles to the front of the work. The yarns now twist around each other inside the fabric, so to speak, rather than at the back.

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Kate: I think there is something fundamentally pleasing about hexagonal shapes, and I love naturally occurring hexagon patterns from bees honeycomb to tortoise shells. Do you feel a similar hexagonal affinity? And do you enjoy exploring the structure of other geometric shapes in your knitting and other work?

Tom: Hexagonal affinity; what a great term! I don’t think I have a particular affinity with hexagonal shapes, but I do like geometry and repetitions in general. In particular I like it when repetitions go slightly askew. So to have the swirl appear in the shawl is, to me, a beautiful coincidence. In addition, I’m interested in texture, another reason why I find Campochiaro’s book so stimulating.

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Kate: I really enjoyed styling and modelling your hexa hap, and found it very wearable, in much the same manner as a Shetland hap. Like a Shetland hap, I also think it would make a wonderful blanket for a baby. I also found myself wearing one of the mini-hexa haps you made as a kerchief to keep my neck warm when I was helping Tom out on our Shetland photoshoots. It’s such a versatile design! I love the sample so much I don’t really want to send it back, but I wondered how you intended to wear or use it when I did?

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Tom: Thank you very much, I’m so pleased to hear you like it so much! As I don’t wear shawls myself, it was a bit of a leap of faith to design one. I could see myself wearing a mini half Hexa Hap as a kerchief (thanks for the idea), but the full-sized one I would use as a blanket. There’s nothing more I enjoy of a winter’s evening than to cuddle up under a warm woolly blanket.

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Kate: yes, I think it would make a wonderful baby blanket or lap blanket – and I was very hap-py to be happed up in it!

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These photographs were taken at Da Brigs near Vementry in Shetland – a very special place.

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Thankyou so much, Tom, for creating your fabulously innovative Hexa Hap!

The Book of Haps is now available to pre-order. You can see all of the designs as they appear each day on Ravelry and be sure to pop over to Jen’s blog tomorrow when the next hap will be revealed!Hexa Hap Shawl

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