Can the Campaign for Wool support Wool Week for 100%?

Wool Week UK 2013 is in full swing, and so far I have been enjoying the effort and enthusiasm put in by most participants. As a member of Team Wovember, I wholeheartedly support their cause and it’s great that the Campaign for Wool are trying in general to get more wool into the existent and problematic fast-fashion industry. The point of the Campaign for Wool and Wool Week UK is to educate consumers about wool and its unique properties. As they explain on their website, wool is natural, renewable, biodegradable, breathable, resilient, elastic, easy-case, odour resistant, a natural insulator, and more.

Therefore I was surprised to find out that Topshop created a 80/20 wool/polyamide blend jumper to celebrate Wool Week. Having a garment promoting wool week that is actually a wool-blend dillutes this educative opportunity to teach the consumers about wool and its benefits. Worse, it actually feeds common stereotypes about wool being ‘scratchy’ and ‘unwashable,’ whereas there are 100% woollen fabrics available which are both soft and machine-washable. I started asking questions on Twitter why this was. Soon the Campaign for Wool got in touch, explaining that

“At CfW we don’t ask that the garments are 100% wool. We stipulate a 80% min which Topshop have stuck to.

This still makes the garment wool-rich but allows the retailer to hit certain price points which make it an attractive item for their customers or add embellishments and details not always possible in 100% wool.

The aim of CFW is to get as many consumers aware of wool and its benefits but we find it important to take a balanced approach that makes it easy for our valued retail supporters to join and celebrate wool week.”

As some of you may know, I was invited to participate in another Campaign for Wool Event earlier this year. Wool House at Somerset House was a resounding success, and I’m sure that the message that wool is amazing has come across to the general public. Part of this was surely due to the high standard set by the Campaign for Wool: when I accepted my invitation to run darning workshops during this event, I was asked by one of the Campaign for Wool coordinators to remember that

” [a]lso, this is all about real wool – so all activity has to be with real wool.  Sorry to point out the obvious but you would be amazed how often it does not register!!”

Why did the Campaign for Wool not insist on setting the same high standard for their valued retail supporters? I would like to have seen that Wool Week in particular should be a more risk-taking, daring, ambitious and inspiring cultural event, which raises the bar on what is possible and seeks to educate on the value and provenance of real woollen textiles? The 20% polyamide sweater is a half-hearted attempt at educating consumers on the value of wool; it’s a conservative and unimaginative manoeuvre which allows more wool to be utilised by the fashion industry while simultaneously perpetuating all of the myths which compromise the very position of wool within that industry.

A number of High Street retailers such as Cos and Sea Salt do offer 100% woollen outfits at a similar price point. And, indeed, Topshop also managed to do so, for example with this machine-washable 100% wool jumper currently on offer. I hope that for next year the Campaign for Wool can challenge any participating retailers and their design teams to excel themselves and to help stop misconceptions such as “an attractive item for their customers or add[ing] embellishments and details [are] not always possible in 100% wool.” Topshop have already shown that it is.

Meanwhile, if you want to celebrate Wool Week UK in true style, then why not buy one of the 100% woollen jumpers that Topshop (and other participants) have on offer?

Diamond Fibres

Last Friday I jumped at the chance to accompany my friend Sue to visit Diamond Fibres, a small independent spinning mill specialising in worsted spinning for knitting yarns.

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The Diamond Fibres Mill at Diamond Farm

After Wovember2012, I had a greater understanding of how fleece gets turned into yarn, but to see a mill for real was an unexpected pleasure. The mill is owned by Roger, who used to work in The City, but he quit in the 1980s to start the mill.

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Roger tweaking the spinner

There’s a lot to do  before you get yarn, and Roger does it all at his farm: fleece sorting, scouring, carding, combing, spinning, and skeining. It would probably take me a few visits to see all the machines working, as they’re not all continuously in use. Here’s an account of the process, as I remember it from the overload of information Roger gave me.

He stores his fleeces and does the sorting in an the oldest building at Diamond Farm: an old barn, probably dating back to the 14th century.

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The old barn where Roger stores and sorts his fleece

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the beams and rafters of the old barn

Once the fleeces have been sorted and graded, the wool gets scoured to remove dirt, suint and lanolin. This is necessary to ensure a high quality yarn. If there’s lanolin or or sticky stuff in the wool, then this gets transferred to the equipment, and soon fibres will start to cling to it, messing up the intermediate steps in the processing.

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Wensleydale wool drying, there’s approximately 17kg of wool on the drying table.

Once the wool is picked, it gets carded to loosen up the fibre mass. The carding machine is just a big version of a drum carder:

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Sue and Gill are picking wool to feed into the carder

After the carding, the wool needs to be gilled: the jumbled up fibres get disentangled and gradually more lined up; if I understand it correctly, this produces sliver. Unfortunately the gilling machine was not in use, but you can see some pictures of it here.

The sliver then gets combed, which is done rather differently than when doing it by hand.

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Roger explaining the finer points of combing

The sliver is fed into the combing machine at the back, 16 strands at a time.

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the sliver feed seen through the opened hatch of the comber

These slivers then get combed by a top comb and a bottom comb.

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the top comb

The bottom comb was difficult to photograph, but it consists of a roller, with rows of tines on it, each row of tines smaller than the previous one. When the sliver has been combed, you get combed top. The combed top gets put onto huge bobbins. From there on, the spinning process itself starts. The combed top gets drafted into pencil roving.

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the machine that makes pencil roving from combed top

The bobbins with pencil roving are moved to the spinning machine, where the roving gets pulled through a series of rollers. Below you can see Blue Faced Leicester on the large bobbins.

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Bobbins with pencil rovings are drafted by the rollers.

The rollers perform the same action as a handspinner does with drafting and feeding the fibre into the yarn. Twist enters the roving by means of a flyer, just like a spinning wheel. To facilitate the yarn being wound onto the bobbin, the bobbins rest on felt discs, which slow down the bobbin’s speed relative to its flyer:

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Bobbins and flyers threaded up

If the bobbin rotates too fast, the yarn can break, so some bobbins need to be kept in check by means of an additional brake. You can see them in the picture above. They’re the pieces of felt clamped into place right next to the naughty bobbins. Although the bobbins with the single yarn spin around at an amazing speed, can you imagine that the large bobbins with the pencil roving will take a whole three days of spinning before they’re empty?

Seeing that Roger has a flock of around 110 Romney sheep, it won’t surprise you to hear that Romney longwool is his favourite fibre to spin. It has a nice lustre, it’s strong, and yet soft enough for a jumper; a good all-rounder.

Knowingly and unknowingly I have been knitting with yarns spun up by Diamond Fibres. It turns out that the Wensleydale I used to knit a hat from, as reported during Wovember2012, was spun by Roger.

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Deepest Darkest Romney teamed with my handspun Possibly Romney from the M25 yarn

The picture above shows my Romney and handspun combination jumper I’m working on. Alas, it’s on hold right now as I have a number of commissions to complete before I can return to personal projects.

And you, too, can get your hands on some yarn made with care, showing off all the good qualities of Romney fleece, spun up by a Master Spinner. Prick Your Finger sell his DK weight Romney in deepest darkest brown, and also a beautiful steely grey.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Post-script added on 18 August 2013: I have been back to Diamond Fibres, and got a few of the finer points clarified. You can read about it here.

To Darn at Wool House

Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!

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Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission

As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.

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Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.

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Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.

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Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.

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Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:

Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.

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Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.

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Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.

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A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

With many thanks to Campaign for Wool,  Howard Sullivan of Your Studio and Sue Craig, who runs Knitting the Map, for letting me use their pictures.

One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.

The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches

It has been long in the making, but I’m pleased to let you know that The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches will be shown at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, London. The private view is on Friday, 15 February. Come join me and marvel at the curious and the recherché!

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Swatch 15 – Bias effects from spacing eyelets and balancing decreases

Anybody who has visited me will know that I have quite a collection of knitting books, and it will come as no surprise that I have read all of them at least once.

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A selection from my library

There is only so much reading about knitting one can do. However well explained, if one is curious, then nothing quite beats picking up sticks and string and try things out. I ended up with a box full of swatches, and a head swimming with techniques, and it felt like such a waste to keep things to myself. Seeing some swatches pinned out on my blocking board reminded me of the Curiosity Cabinets of yore, with rows upon rows of insects:

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Painting of a Curiosity Cabinet

Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammern, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections, combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds can be seen as the precursors to museums. The key concepts and notions that lay behind the assembling of Cabinets of Curiosities were: 

experiencing a sense of wonder in all kinds of things in the world; discovering new and extreme examples of the natural and the man-made; making connections across the whole field of human knowledge; Experimenting with arranging, re-arranging and classifying parts of the world (and the connections between them) in many different ways. As Samuel Quiccheberg (an eminent curator of cabinets) wrote:
”The ideal collection should be nothing less than a theatre of the universe..keys to the whole of   
 knowledge.”

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An early example of a Wunderkammer

I created two Curiosity Cabinets. The first one deals with a small selection of cast-on and cast-off techniques, single and double increases and decreases, selvedges:

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Most of the techniques displayed here come from an anthology about knitting by Threads Magazine, Barbara Walker’s Knitting from The Top, Montse Stanley’s Knitting Handbook, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, and June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting.

The second Cabinet is all about lace: lots of different fagotting stitches, exploration of bias in fabrics introduced by the interplay between eyelets and their balancing decreases, the many different ways of creating chevrons which is an essential shape in lace knitting, and a variety of eyelets:

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The lace knitting techniques are for a large part from Susanna Lewis’s Lace Knitting Workshop, sprinkled with some Mary Thomas and Montse Stanley.

But that is not all: I will reveal the top 3 Knitting Nightmares! It turns out that the regulars frequenting Prick Your Finger don’t have that many knitting nightmares, they are very good knitters indeed. Luckily when I asked the audience at In The Loop 3, I got inundated by responses. And indeed, I would like to thank The Knitting Reference Library, where you can find more books about knitting than you could dream of; it is where I learnt about the existence of quite a few books now also to be found in my own library.

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Knitting Nightmare, based on Fuselli’s The Nightmare

I hope you will join me for the Private View on Friday, 15 February at Prick Your Finger. If your curiosity is not quenched by a drink that night, then I would urge you to join my Curious Stitches Class on Saturday, 16 February (details to follow).

Why Must We Lead This Creative Life?

On Wednesday  I made my way to the Riflemaker Gallery in London, which hosted a panel discussion on contemporary craft, as part of the Women to Watch exhibiton. Rachael Matthews from Prick Your Finger was selected to represent the UK and over the last few weeks, she has made the Shamanic Bed for Creatives:

I don’t even know where to start ‘unravelling’ this Shamanic bed, which is full of symbolism, drawn from many different sources, ranging from the universal to the personal. Rachael is a woman of many skills and this shows in the Shamanic bed. The bedspread treats hand-knitting, crochet, machine-knitting and darning as equal crafts. The bed-frame is made from discarded wood and shows inlaid work and beautiful joinery:

As with many things that Rachael makes, important items and symbols get their own custom-made shelves or storage space. If you have ever visited Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, you will know exactly what I mean. Some of these find their place on the back of the head-board:

This means that the bed requires, or rather, demands, a prominent place in the middle of the room and thus symbolises the importance of craft and making in Rachael’s live. It cannot be shoved into a corner of a room and this was alluded to during the panel discussion:

In a very packed room, Glenn Adamson, Head of Research at V&A and Contemporary Craft Curator (far right), led the discussion between panellists Sandy Black, author, designer, knitter and professor at London College of Fashion (far left); John-Paul Flintoff, journalist, author and nettle pants maker (middle left); and Rachael Matthews (middle right) herself. Audience participation was welcomed and encouraged.

We tried to find an answer to the question ‘Why must we lead this creative life?’ and it won’t come as a surprise there is no one answer. It is perhaps easy to misread this question as ‘Why do I make what I make?’ or ‘What do I like about making?’ and indeed the discussion sometimes wandered off in this direction. For instance, John-Paul felt compelled to start making his own clothes and books because he’s worried about consumerism and the environment and this seemed to be a natural way of dealing and investigating these issues. He also said that sometimes we need permission from someone else to do something we want to do. Something that Sandy said resonated with me: by making something yourself, you start an appreciation of made things. For example, before making his own shirts and visiting a tailor on Savile Row, John-Paul didn’t appreciate the skills involved in making suits and why these tailored garments are so expensive.

But whenever we got back on track I think most of us agreed that if you are creative, you just cannot help it. Rachael feels a compulsion to make things and indeed, we all recognised the example of just having to do something with your hands: if she can’t knit, she’ll draw. If she can’t draw, she’ll do some woodwork. If she can’t do some woodwork, she’ll knit. Making is a journey. You start somewhere, but you’re not quite sure where it’s going, or where it will end.

Some of the themes we discussed felt very topical and were touched upon at MendRS and In the Loop 3, as well: sustainability, rebellion against mass production, craft skills dissemination and personal well-being. They also pop up in the practice of some of the people in the audience. For instance, Dr. Felicity Ford turned up in a 100% woollen outfit, with almost all items made by herself or by other skilled crafts people:

Making her own clothes from wool, a sustainable material and mostly sourced from independent spinners and weavers, and made from rare British breeds, she makes a strong point against mass produced, throwaway fashion. John-Paul was wearing a shirt he made himself and he adorned it with some badges, he had also made himself:

In a world where it’s becoming difficult to feel part of a tradition, something I think helps you feel grounded, I have noticed people have started exploring traditions (this also came up in the panel discussion) and are trying to shape their own traditions and symbols*. These badges, showing that John-Paul feels English, is happily married, has a lovely daughter, and has published books (and he makes them, too, from paper that would otherwise go to waste), are the first of a larger series he’s making, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he will develop his own tradition.  Tradition is linked with myths, stories and symbols, and this brings us neatly back to Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives.

Why do you lead a creative life? Is it a compulsion or a necessity? Do you enjoy being creative and what are the downfalls?

*) Dr Felicity Ford discusses developing her own textile tradition as a response to visiting Estonia; Helen Whitham explores creating a new, personal tradition in the textile-tradition rich Shetland Isles; and indeed, my own interest in traditional knitwear is a starting point on this journey.

A Super+Super Fashion Intervention

When I taught my first darning class at Super+Super HQ, I noticed Amy’s cardigan, as it has some delicately embroidered details on shoulders and cuffs.

Amy has had the cardigan for about 18 months now, and at first, she wore it everywhere she went – she was that excited about this beautiful merino fine knit garment. But as often happens when the candle burns too brightly, the novelty soon wore off and the cardigan suffered from Familiarity Fatigue and ended up in the back of the wardrobe.

She was in dire need of a Fashion Intervention, but it took a while before inspiration struck. However, when she found out about Karen Barbé’s embroidery style, it was not long before the Eureka! moment happened.

Mainly whilst sat in bed watching Mad Men Series 4, nimble-fingered Amy embroidered and embroidered and embroidered. She claims the colours used ‘were just lying around’ – she’s done a great job putting them together using running stitch, cross stitch and straight satin stitch. They remind me of Italian ice cream, the ones that are put into a cone with a spatula as it’s too soft to scoop.

The sleeves were a little bit too long, and Amy always wears the cardigan with the cuffs turned up. She decided to turn that into a permanent feature and embroidered them in place; a job she found particularly satisfying.

As you can imagine, after putting in all that work, this cardigan has turned into a firm favourite once more, and it’s shows how with a little bit of embroidery in the right places you can put your own mark on what used to be a perfectly nice, if somewhat unremarkable cardigan.

Knitting Nightmares – what are yours?

Dropped stitches? Tangled wool? Lace charts? M**ths? For my new art project I want to know what your Knitting Nightmares are!

In June I will present my new art installation at Prick Your Finger. As part of my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches, I would like to know what makes you exclaim “What a nightmare!” I have interviewed customers at Prick Your Finger during the last two days, and I heard some really funny stories: what about the knitter who did not know how to increase for a whopping 17 years? She made up everything herself, as following a pattern which had increases were a nightmare to knit for her – she would not enjoy the top-down sweater I’m working on at the moment.

Or the knitter who came in to buy some lovely slubweight Bluefaced Leicester yarn and fat needles for a quick, warm scarf: “I started knitting only two weeks ago, everything is a nightmare for me!”

Please share your knitting nightmares with me, they may end up in my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches!

Post-Script: you may recognise which painting inspired my drawing. I’ve just given the demon something to knit.

A Curious Collection from the Car Boot Sale

On one of the last nice Sundays of November, I went to the Brighton Car Boot Sale at the Marina with my friend John. He always manages to find the most amazing things. He has developed an eye for glassware and often finds Georgian and Victorian decanters, wine glasses and whatnots for a few pounds, which he then sells on for good money. I, however, am not that lucky, and this is what I found at the “dead old ladies stall”, as John calls it:

It’s a strange collection of patterns. Some are printed, some are written down, some are for knitting, some are for sewing. I’ll take you through my new collection – I wish I had known the lady who owned these, because as you will see, there are some things that contain a story untold.

First up, what I would call the boring stuff. Printed leaflets:

A rather mundane collection of Aran knitting patterns, baby matinee jackets, baby booties and raglan twin sets. However, I like the Emu booklet: Ideas For Those Odd Ounces. It contains a total of 32 patterns, including cuddly toys (I particularly like the donkey – you can see it better if you click on the picture and zoom in), some tea and coffee pot covers, child’s garments, hats, scarves, cushion cover, and something you wouldn’t see nowadays for obvious reasons: golliwog mittens. I want to frame the magazine clipping of the ‘knitteds for a baby doll’, I like the graphic design of it.

Secondly, there are quite a few written down patterns:

Most of these are for dolls’ clothes, but one I mistook for a cooking recipe, as it is titled ‘lamb chop’, but I soon realised my mistake when I read the ingredients list; it starts with ‘ 2 x 50 gram balls DK, no. 9 needles”. You can see it at the top. I’m most curious to find out how that will knit up!

The original owner of this little collection used to be thrifty, as evidenced by what I originally thought were just ordinary Christmas and post cards:

However, on the backs you can find more patterns scribbled down, and a list of cable abbreviations. I think it is a nice way of using old cards, as it reminds you of the sender every time you use it. The kitten card actually has a ‘rabbit dress’ pattern on it. The Christmas cards in the middle have been sewn together with a few neat stitches.

Thirdly, we have a collection of sewing pattern pieces. There are teddy hand puppets, a donkey and a hat. Some of these are well used, as you can see by the many pin pricks. My favourite must be the turtle pattern, and it has a little rhyme on it: “Hi! / I’m just a little turtle / who knew not what to do / so I filled myself with scented soap / and swam right up to you. / Just rub me on your tummy / and your hands & feet / around your neck & ears / and don’t forget your seat! / when you are through / my work is done /  you’ve had your bath / I’ve had my fun!”

I can just imagine how this lady made dolls’ clothes and hand puppets for her grandchildren. I wonder if she would stage a little puppet show with them?

The last item is an envelope. It contains a little clump of uniform lengths of white yarn, and some short pieces of ribbon. I wonder what this was going to be used for, and why she thought this was worth saving in a battered envelope. Perhaps if I read each pattern in detail, I will find out – in which case I will let you know!

My Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine

In my last post I promised I would talk a bit about my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine.

A friend of mine was given this gorgeous Singer treadle sewing machine. One of her friend’s aunties or granny had moved into a nursing home and couldn’t use her machine any longer. My friend never got into sewing, so the sewing machine was languishing in a corner and one day she decided to give it to me, as I had expressed an interest.

Although the machine was still just about in working order, it obviously required a lot of cleaning and lubricating to make it usable again. So I found the Treadle On website, which contains a lot of useful information. Therefore only a small summary here: I took the machine head out of the cabinet and removed an enormous amount lint from all the nooks and crannies. Then I removed all the rust with WD-40 and also attempted to remove most of the grime. I then generously lubricated the machine head with sewing machine oil, and greased all the moving parts of the treadle, including the gears underneath the machine head. After I put everything together again it purred like a kitten.

Here are some pictures of the beautifully embossed cover plates, which give access to the internal workings, so you can lubricate the lot. It also has the Singer emblem underneath the stitch length selector. The serial number plate showing “EC661.971” was still attached, so I managed to work out that my machine was produced in the Clydebank, Scotland, UK factory in 1940!

Despite its age, it still had most, if not all, accessories in a variety of biscuit tins and boxes. We have here from left to right, top to bottom: a lint brush, a collection of bobbins, a darning plate (this covers the walking dogs), a zipper foot, a gathering foot for shirring, an adjustable hemmer, a binder (for applying bias binding to an edge), a ruffler, a foot hemmer for sewing a fine narrow seam, the edge stitcher makes for easy joining of lace and insertions, a little tool for threading the needle, and last but not least, a blind stitcher for “superior invisible hemming”.

There is also the famous button hole attachment, to make perfect machined button holes on this straight stitch machine. Instead of the needle going left and right for zigzagging, this clever contraption moves the fabric to left and right! Although it sounds like this would never work, it actually makes the most beautiful button holes ever, as you have full control over everything. You can adjust: button hole length, spacing of the stitches, the width of the bight (this is the width of the stitch used for the button hole), and the width of the cutting space. Gorgeous!

And as you cannot zigzag with a straight stitch machine, there is also the following attachment: a zigzagger. The round inserts determine the zigzag stitch: normal zigzag, arrow head, groups of three zigs and three zags, and a scallopped stitch. Like the button holer, there is a lever that cups around the screw for securing the needle in the shaft, and that’s how it drives the mechanics inside the attachments. You can see the lever in situ in the picture above.

The stitch length selector also controls the direction of sewing. Unlike what I previously thought, you always spin the flywheel in the same direction (when I start treadling, I give it a swing with my hand, from the top of the wheel towards me). So if you need to reverse, you switch the stitch length selector lever from bottom to top. The length of the stitches can be selected by unscrewing the small screw and moving it up our down. This controls how far down or up you can push the lever. You can kind of see how this works in the picture below. The engineering is all very clever!

Luckily my machine also still had all the instruction manuals, otherwise I wouldn’t have known how anything works, or indeed, what they even are!

Without these, I would never have been able to thread the machine and work out how to service it. The machine is built in such a way that you can easily service it yourself, and the instructions show you how to take the machine head apart and put it back together again. I doubt you would ever see that in modern sewing machine manuals! Despite this it has taken me up to last week before I understood exactly how to set up the tension dial again, after I had taken it apart for cleaning and lubricating.

So, this is my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine. It is easy to operate, and it makes the most beautiful soft noise when you use it. It gives you superior control over the sewing speed, something I always struggled with with electric sewing machines. And although I have many knitting projects in the pipeline, I hope to be able to make a pair of woollen charcoal trousers for the coming winter, which I think will go very well with the fire engine red Cornish guernsey that’s on the needles right now.

DEAR READERS, PLEASE NOTE THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP YOU WITH ANY ENQUIRIES ABOUT SOURCING SPARE PARTS, OR PUTTING A VALUE ON YOUR OLD SEWING MACHINES. I WILL ALSO HAVE TO DELETE ANY COMMENTS BY PEOPLE TRYING TO ADVERTISE A VINTAGE SEWING MACHINE FOR SALE.

Sanquhar Socks

Almost two years ago I found out about the knitting tradition in a town in Scotland called Sanquhar. Having been developed in the 16th and 17th century, their style is very distinctive: two-colour stranded patterns, mainly for socks and gloves. You can find more information about them on the Future Museum website. I’m somewhat smitten by the gloves and I ordered all four available patterns from the SWRI (Scottish Women Rural Institutes). My first endeavour was going to be the midge-and-fly glove, but when I saw the fleur-de-lys on the aforementioned website, I couldn’t resist and I adapted the pattern thusly:

As you can see, I knitted in my initials, which is part of the traditional pattern. The next gloves I would like to make have a very different style. The fleur-de-lys is a tweed pattern, but the Duke pattern gloves is a so-called dambrod pattern and the squares fit in just so. Achieving stitch gauge isn’t that difficult, but achieving row gauge – crucial to get the right fit AND keeping the squares – requires finding the right yarn. So here’s a test knit, using Blacker Yarns 50/50 British Wool with Mohair 2-ply Sock Yarn. I used all different dambrod designs I could find:

Yes, the feet look ridiculously baggy, but these socks fit like, erm, a glove!

And I think I have found a suitable yarn to boot.