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Archive for the ‘textile’ Category

In my quest to learn the fine points of hand-sewing and using a tailor’s thimble, I spent an amazing afternoon with the Military Finisher for Gieves & Hawkes, Ms Jules Walker.

Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

Military Finisher for Gieves & Hawkes, Ms Jules Walker. You can also see Bob the tailor in the background

I learnt so much more during this afternoon than just about hand-sewing techniques in tailoring. Savile Row is a very special community of craftspeople, and there are many specialised jobs. Jules, for instance, is a finisher, specialising in military uniforms. Then there are the cutters and tailors: the cutter is the person who will measure a client, advise on style details, and cut out the cloth accordingly. The tailor is the person who will actually stitch the suit. Depending on the price point, this may involve a lot of hand-stitching. Once the suit has been stitched and the lining has been constructed and basted in place, the garment is passed on to the finisher, who will put in all the finishing touches: make the buttonholes, sew in the lining, etc. As a military finisher, Jules will also make the ranking stripes by hand and sew them on, and any other specialised military uniform embellishments, such as cords and braids. Almost everything Jules does, she does by hand, so she was a perfect teacher for me.

Hand sewing lining into a suit, Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

Jules demonstrating the felling stitch on a scrap, used for inserting the lining in a suit

It was a bit scary to show my hand-sewing skills as they are to a professional, especially because I have taught myself from books and the internet. The most important thing for me was to know whether I was using my tailor’s thimble correctly, as this seemed such a controversial topic when I posted about it previously. It turned out I had no need to be worried. Unsurprisingly, first and foremost it’s about doing a lot of practice, and finding a way that works for you. I knew this already about knitting, but somehow this hadn’t quite translated into sewing in my head. So I was very pleased to find out I only need a few small tweaks to my technique, and just get stitching.

This meant I could move on to one of my favourite details on hand-made suits: the tailored buttonhole. Jules and one of the tailors were renovating a mess dress, originally bought from Gieves & Hawkes in 1959. The main job was already completed: replacing the grosgrain silk facing of the lapels. This meant that the original buttonholes had to be re-made, which comes with its own challenges, as the fabric has been stitched before, and therefore wasn’t quite so stable as she would’ve liked.

Re-cutting a buttonhole, Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

Re-cutting a buttonhole in new facing on an old jacket

I loved seeing all the tools that Jules had gathered. Like all of the best craftspeople I know, she has tried out all sorts of things for all the jobs she needs to do, some more traditional than others, and uses those that works best for her. Using a scalpel to cut a buttonhole was one of those things you wouldn’t expect, but it made so much sense.

Buttonhole stitching by Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

Jules thumb nail is an important tool in itself: it helps her “break” the fabric at just the right point where she wants the needle to come out

Another surprising tool used by Jules and tailors are their fingernails. Jules uses her thumb nail a lot in order to guide the needle through the fabric, whereas some of the tailors have long nails on their little finger: this helps them unpick stitching quickly! These were the kind of hints and tips you rarely find in a book or on the internet. Hand-sewing can be strain on your hands, so Jules showed me how she sits, and how the fabric will be moved around, rather than her hands, when going around curves etc. Whereas finishers usually sit down to do their job, tailors prefer to stand, and have a higher work surface (see first picture in this post.)

Front of buttonhole re-made by Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

The front of the re-stitched buttonhole, fresh off the needle. A certain amount of fraying is unavoidable when renovating

Back of buttonhole re-made by Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

And the back of this renovated buttonhole

The real skill of a finisher, however, is not so much the ability to stitch one beautiful thing, but to repeat this feat of perfection over and over and over again. Needless to say, when she was still training, Jules spent a lot of time practicing her stitching. She showed me a number of her buttonhole samplers. They were beautiful objects in themselves, and they gave me a lot of inspiration. Note: if you want to see the below picture in closer detail, simply click on them to see a larger version.

Buttonhole practice (front) by Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

Practice, practice, practice! Jules’s large sampler is early work, whereas the small sampler is sheer perfection

Buttonhole practice (back) by Military finisher for Gieves and Hawkes Ms Jules Walker

For a Savile Row tailor every little detail counts, including things hidden from sight

I think it’s clear that my job is cut out for me: practice, practice, practice! The most important tip here was: concentrate on technique and consistency first, and speed will follow. With many thanks to Jules for sharing her knowledge so generously; I’ve learnt so much, and I have even more respect for the highly skilled craftspeople on Savile Row than I already had. Now, where is my sampler and buttonhole twist!?!

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Between Christmas and New Year, I always reflect on the year gone by, and the year ahead. 2016 has been a really good year for me personally, and I have plenty of exciting things to look forward to in 2017. Looking back at 2016, I noticed some themes running through the last year: conversing, making, and collaborating.

Detail of sampler made by Witteridge, Whitelands College Collection

A darn made to emulate a jersey (machine knitted) fabric, which is made by stem stitching over foundation threads that go across the hole, from the Whitelands College Collection

Conversing: throughout the year I’ve been given opportunities to talk about my practice, sharing my ideas and views on the importance of mending. I was honoured to have been asked to give the keynote speech at Cultures of Repair: Past and Present, a one-day conference to conclude A Remedy for Rents, an exhibition of darning samplers from the Whitelands College Collection.

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Chatting about stitching, with Luke Deverall, Stewart Easton, and Trevor Pitt, the BOY STITCHERS (picture by Stewart Easton)

A completely different setting was At Home, A 21st Century Salon, which included BOY STITCHERS: “Until quite recently in human history, a lady’s needlework was a sign of being a good and virtuous woman. BOY STITCHERS reverses this stereotypical image and shines light on a new breed of male stitchers, exploring the work of Trevor Pitt, Stewart Easton, Luke Deverall and myself, who together talk about and demonstrate their artistic approaches to working with textiles.”

Makers House Leather Trench Coat Repair

Hiding a penmark on a leather trench coat by sewing on a silk patch, using one of the new Burberry SS17 fabrics

A completely different setting again: in September I was invited by The New Craftsmen and Burberry to take part in Makers House, as part of Burberry’s September Collection presentation. The September collection was in part inspired by craft and making, and Makers House celebrated this by inviting a number of makers to show and share their skills to the public in an enchanting pop-up venue.

Making: apart from talking about my visible mending work, I’ve also been making things. Some of it knitting, some of it mending, and some of it inbetween.

Hexa Hap Shawl

Hexa Hap in Kate Davies’s Buachaille yarn, published her Book of Haps (picture by Tom Barr, Kate Davies Designs)

Although strictly speaking I knitted the Hexa Hap in 2015, the pattern for it was written and published in Kate Davies’s Book of Haps in 2016. I thoroughly enjoyed working on my contribution to this book, as it gave me a good insight in professional pattern writing and publishing.

Boxpleat Jumper in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean Yarn

Boxpleat Jumper in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean yarn, with accents in madder-dyed Shetland yarn (picture by Jeni Reid/Small Window)

Sequence Sweater Arms Wide Open

Sequence Sweater, using The Uncommon Thread’s Blue-faced Leicester

I remain inspired by Cecelia Campochiaro’s Sequence Kniting, and I made two jumpers using stitch patterns from this book. The first one was the Sequence Sweater for my then husband-to-be. The second one the Boxpleat Jumper for myself. There will be more where that came from, but I will not be able to share this with you until some time next year!

Me and My Husband, handmade tie and pocket squares

Signing the register in style

When I got married in November, I was keen for us to wear something I had made myself. My sewing skills as they are, would not allow me to make a suit, so I made things that were within my skills: matching pocket squares for both of us, and a tie for me. The pocket squares were made from a very light linen fabric, which I finished with hand-rolled edges, and embellished with stripes in feather stitch, using silk. I also knitted myself a tie, using a custom-dyed skein of British Stein Fine Wool by The Little Grey Sheep, and lined it with some vintage Italian silk.

Collaborating: something I haven’t spoken about much as yet, but which, I’m sure, will be a very fruitful collaboration, is that I have recently joined The New Craftsmen makers. They work with a selection of Britain’s finest craft makers to showcase the skills and craft products of the British Isles. The New Craftsmen present objects that are deeply connected to culture and place, while representing a vision of sustainable, real luxury, expressed through dedication to makers, materials, method and design.

Vintage Repaired Blanket for The New Craftsmen

Blanket B02: a vintage Welsh narrow loom blanket, repaired with a variety of techniques

So far I’ve made a small collection of repaired vintage blankets, patched French linen tea towels, and Sanuqhar pencil cases (note: not all my products are in the webshop at the moment.) As mentioned before, when The New Craftsmen were asked by Burberry to celebrate the craftsmanship that inspired their SS17 collection, I was invited along to repair items of clothing brought in by visitors to Makers House, using fabrics from the new collection. We are already chatting about a new project, which I will share in due time.

Merken, Stoppen en Mazen (marking and darning) lesson plan from the 1880s

A Dutch lesson plan on darning fabrics

This brings me neatly to what I’m looking forward to in 2017. Not only will I be working more with and for The New Craftsmen, I also have some other projects under wraps. Frustratingly, I cannot talk about any of those right now. Patience is a virtue! Meanwhile, I what I can talk about is my personal projects, and I’m keen to share progress about these here on my blog. First and foremost, I’ve bought some scrim (a loosely woven coarse linen fabric, nowadays really only used for cleaning windows) to start working my way through some old Dutch lesson plans for needlework, and in particular repairing and darning. Going back to basics will ground my understanding of techniques, and it’s also a good time to start getting to grips with using a tailor’s thimble.thimbles at The Lace Factory Museum

A selection of thimbles from the collection at The Lace Factory Museum, Horst, The Netherlands

I’ve received many comments on my thimbles blog post, both here, on my Facebook page, and on Instagram about how others got on with thimbles, and alternatives to the traditional metal thimble. It would seem that many people dislike the traditional thimble, and have sought alternatives that suited them better; particularly the leather thimble got mentioned frequently. For now, however, I will persevere with the tailor’s thimble. Yes, it will take time to unlearn my old sewing technique, but I’m attracted to the speed that tailors can stitch very neatly, using methods that have stood the test of time, and which will also be a way of learning more about hand-stitching and tailoring. I doubt I will ever become as good as a tailor on Savile Row, but I can learn from them and apply those things that will take my textile practice to the next level.

Make Do and Mend notebook with Patch

Notes from a Make Do and Mend class, from the Mass Observation collection, where I taught a workshop earlier this year

I’m looking forward to sharing my projects and thoughts on my blog, and I hope you will feel inspired to try out new things, start stitching, knitting, or visibly mending your own clothes.

Happy New Year!

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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