Every Sunday I get an email newsletter from Andy Ross at Global Yell in Shetland. Today’s included a post about research into linen making in Shetland and there was a photo of a little book with a linen cover – ‘Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom’.

This sounded irresistible and I went looking for it online, discovering there are a few copies for sale in antiquarian bookshops and each one is too rare and costly to contemplate. I did find treasure, though.

  • The whole book has been digitised and is in the California Digital Library and so available for all at The Internet Archive. It’s full of poems and prose about spinning and weaving, with delightful illustrations and woodcuts. You can really get a sense of the physicality of it even through the screen. There’s a page-turning mode so you can view the pages close up, including the tactile linen cover, and there are various formats to download.

    book page

  • There’s a review of the book in the Spectator Archive. This is a charming extract:

    The paper was made by hand ; the cover is of unbleached flax spun by Langdale cottagers, and woven on a hand-loom ; the printing has been done at a hand-press. A kindly thoughtfulness has given the names of all, or as nearly all As it was possible to give, who have had a hand in the work. Editor, publisher, and illustrator we are accustomed to know by name ; but it is good, also, to be aware of our obligations to spinner of thread and weaver of linen, and binder.
    The Spectator 7 DECEMBER 1889, Page 11

I found a quirky personal connection as well. As the review in The Spectator mentions, the linen of the cover was spun and woven in Langdale, and the first illustration in the book is a view of the Langdale valley. And one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet here is that we have been away for a while, setting up Spinners, a holiday flat in Grasmere, just a few miles from Langdale. The view in the book is almost the same one we chose for a kitchen splashback at Spinners!

splashback

As I virtually ‘thumbed through’ the book (isn’t it interesting that thumbs are also digital), I saw that the foreword was by a man named Albert Fleming, who had facilitated a revival of spinning and weaving in Langdale in the 1880s. I hadn’t known anything about the textile history of Langdale before today, but when I’m next in Cumbria I’d like to try and find out more about this. I’ll leave you with a couple of lines quoted by Albert Fleming that really resonated with me – does anyone know what this is from?

It takes the ideal to blow an inch aside
The dust of the actual

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