Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom

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

Drawing with fibres

I haven’t worked much with prefelt but I recently got some different kinds to try (from Wingham Wool Work) and these are some exercises I’ve been doing with lines and marks using different prefelts and different fibres.

This is Blue-faced Leicester on black Merino prefelt, before and after felting. Some of the fibres were wetted before laying them down, or laid onto wetted prefelt, and these retain more definition, I think.

preparing handmade felt

handmade felt

Update: I realised when I looked again at the notes I made for this next one that I had mixed up the order of the first two – it’s Shetland on the left and BFL next (now corrected).

This is the same prefelt, but exploring different fibres. Each group of three lines shows: untwisted fibres, dry twisted fibres, wet twisted fibres. From left to right the fibre is: Blue-faced Leicester, Shetland Shetland, Blue-faced Leicester, Merino, Teeswater, Massam. I love using Merino for felting but to be more sustainable I would prefer to find a UK alternative, the more local the better, and only use Merino when nothing else will do. Of these fibres the Shetland BFL has a lovely quality of line and is much less ‘hairy’ than the Teeswater and the Massam, almost as smooth as the Merino. The BFL Shetland is somewhere in between.

handmade felt

This is Merino on white Merino prefelt, I do love these lines.

handmade felt

This is Shetland fibre on Norwegian prefelt. It’s a much coarser prefelt but I like it more than I expected.

handmade felt

Here I made the prefelt first myself from Merino fibres (because I wanted the colours), laying out the fibres in random directions and then using a version of the dry rolling method described by Treetops Colour Harmonies in Australia. I used Merino for the lines too, dampened and twisted by rolling a little between my fingers. It’s just a small experiment in drawing with felt. I really enjoy the way the line crinkles as the felt shrinks.

handmade felt

One of the advantages of Merino, apart from softness and sheen, is the huge range of ready dyed colours. Does anyone have a source for dyed Shetland (and BFL!) tops in more than a few colours? And/or any other breeds to try? Bowmont?  I do have some lovely Shetland cross fleece grown here on Tiree, in a couple of natural colours which I’m going to try dyeing myself as well.

“Shouting quietly”

I know I’m not alone in finding self promotion difficult to practise, despite understanding how important it is. That’s why I’ve just crowdfunded Pete Mosley’s forthcoming book "The Art Of Shouting Quietly", subtitled "a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls". If you’re one who feels reticent about mentioning your achievements and sharing your successes, this might be a good book to take a look at.

Promotion is rather easier when someone else does it for you, and I’ve been delighted and a bit overwhelmed this month to be featured in an art quilt magazine, Patchwork Professional. The magazine showcases a number of well-known textile artists producing beautiful work and I feel honoured to be included.

Patchwork Professional cover

The magazine is German and I only have a Google-translated idea of what the article says, but it looks lovely, with lots of images.

magazine pages

It’s a celebration of my work and the Isle of Tiree where I live, drawn from what I’ve posted here on the blog, and crafted into a coherent story by the editor of Patchwork Professional, Dorothee Crane. My thanks to Dorothee and her team for getting 2015 off to such an exciting start for me!

Creative retreat

I’ve just returned from a week away with a group of artists I belong to. We do this every so often and it’s special because they are special people and the creative vibe is huge, and doubly special for me because it’s in my native Cumbria, in Grasmere.

I used the time to consolidate and develop what I learned over the last few months of Considering Weave with Jude Hill. I was travelling by boat and train and bus, so no large looms for me, but I managed to pack several little ones in my case! These are tiny weavings, just a few cms wide. I’m enjoying working at this slow, small scale. The whole Considering Weave class has been very good for me, and I’ve signed up for Jude’s ‘Small Journeys‘ to continue travelling along with her as and when I can.

In Grasmere, we had beautiful surroundings, excellent food and lots of fun, with a constant flow of ideas, encouragement and constructive critique.

The space that emerges between our perspectives is ‘dialogic space’, a liminal realm of possibilities where new ideas emerge and innovation thrives. Drawing the ideas that emerge in this ‘dialogic space’ back into our practice helps us to reinvigorate it. (Permission to Speak by Dave Camlin)

There were excursions. Some of us revisited the wonderful Allan Bank, a National Trust house where dogs are welcome, you can sit on the chairs and make yourself at home, and there is something creative going on in every room.

I went for some walks among the trees and by the river – something I do miss, living on Tiree. So much visual inspiration. So much green.

It was a lovely week.