Wednesday, 26 September 2012


I have just moved all the old posts from the domain (which is now closed) over to this new blog. Feel free to have a look through them using the craft categories in the left sidebar.
At the moment I am not creating new content to the Historic Crafts blog. Instead I am focusing on my own blog 'Eddie's room' where I am sharing loads about crafts, refashioning, family history, Digital Humanities and more. You are very welcome to come and follow me there or 'like' my Facebook page, where I will be sharing links and ideas :-)

I would love to keep the conversation going about Historic Crafts, so if you have any questions you are very welcome to come and ask me. 

xx Eddie

Eddie's Room blog
Facebook page
Twitter @HenrietteRoued

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review: Embroidered Textiles

Embroidered Textiles - A World Guide to Traditional Patterns
Sheila Paine, 2010
Thames & Hudson

Reviewed by Eddie

This amazing book is a true world guide to the tradition of embroidered patterns and motifs. Sheila begins by making clear the function of embroidery as she sees it.
In the West, embroidery is often seen as the pastime of idle ladies. However, Sheila’s approach is to liken embroidery to tattooing rather than other textile crafts such as weaving, felting or knitting.
Together with this book we can explore the symbolism embodied in embroidery patterns and their association with religion, rituals and magic. Unlike Western commercially designed kits, most embroidery is difficult to place in time as motifs do not go in and out of fashion in the same way.
However, they can be identified by region and Sheila takes us through the special characteristics of embroidery in each region of the world from Scandinavia to the Far East.
The following chapters cover; “the decorative power of cult”, “religion and its patterns” and “the magical source of protection”. Each chapter is spiced up with a mixture of images of embroidery and photos of people wearing the embroidered pieces.
Sheila puts a lot of weight on symbolism and of embroidery as a way of expressing this symbolism. I especially found the concept of embroidery as protection against evil spirits very interesting reading. As such embroidery has had and still has in some cases, a special place in many of life’s rituals from marriage to mourning.
I think this book will be of interest to people with a more academic interest in embroidery, but also to anyone seeking inspiration for their next project.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Review: Textiles of the Islamic World

Textiles of the Islamic World
by John Gillow, 2010
Thames & Hudson

Reviewed by Eddie

This book seems to mark the culmination of a personal journey for John. As a schoolboy in the 1970’s he first came across the rich heritage of Muslim textiles in Istanbul. Now 40 years later, he makes a living of buying and selling textiles from across the world and in doing so he is also keenly interested in the same textiles, their prominence and their history.
John has written several books introduction us to textiles across the world (see my earlier review of African Textiles) and has now returned to the place where this fascination began, the Islamic World.
Islamic textiles are defined by John as textiles made or used by those of Islamic faith.
This brings him from Morocco to China, Russia to Cameroon. Islamic textiles can be identified as displaying ‘aniconic art’, meaning an avoidance of human and animal forms but with a wide use of abstract designs, calligraphy, plant life and geometric forms instead.
John gives a short history of the Islamic World and its textiles before taking us through a fascinating journey region by region to explore the material at hand. In each region he looks at the techniques or the people and has a section about the present. Each part of the book is wonderfully illustrated with images of the textiles along with images of the people who wore them.
This is another book that I can highly recommend both to the person wishing to learn more about this subject, but also for anyone looking for inspiration in their own work. I for one feel inspired to try and weave some of these intriguing motifs.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Inconsistent? As if…

Please welcome another really informative spinning post from guest blogger Cecile (Ways of the Whorl).
For quite a while after I started spinning, and to some extent this is still true today, I just spun for the fun of it, spinning away like there was no tomorrow, like the sheep would grow more wool… which apparently they do, phew, that’s a relief!
But eventually came the desire to spin wool with a larger project in mind, and with it, the need to spin consistently from one spindle to the next. So far, my spinning hasn’t been exactly inconsistent, but then again I’ve not spun large quantities, and have tended to do it in short amounts of time, which means it’s easier to keep the same characteristics in the singles from start to finish.
3-plied merino fibre: laceweight and bulky skeins (copyright Cecile)
I now have it in my mind to spin a whole sweater’s worth of yarn on my spindles. But the consistency becomes paramount if I want the sweater to fit properly. So before I go ahead and commit to spinning for one big project I decided to make sure I had all the help I could get in making my yarn follow the standards I’m setting.
At my first ever spinning meet up at Tricolette London on Tuesday, Caro had the handiest of cards on which to check her single thickness as she was spinning it. It is sometimes sold in a clear plastic format, and is called a spinners control card, but it does not seem easy to find in Britain. Caro was kind enough to forward me her card to print out, for the Ravelry users, there’s also a printable version in one of the UK Spinners threads.
This allows to check WPI (wraps per inch) which should give a more consistent yarn weight all round. But there is another consideration which will affect the qualities of the finished yarn: the amount of twist. Wheel spinners, control the amount of twist by keeping an even rhythm in the treadling and feeding the yarn to the bobbin. For spindle spinning, the speed of the spindle is constantly changing from the moment it’s flicked into motion and each flick is sligtly different, which makes such control more difficult to count. But there again a Raveler found the solution to keep checks on the amount of twist. She advised to check the number of twists per inch (TPI) of the finished yarn by allowing a length of single to kink back on itself every so often, and checking it against a gauge.
Ravelry trawling also enlightened me about the wonders of reference cards… and I decided to try them out. There are of course as many possibilities as there are spinners, but here is what I’ve decided to have on my reference cards:
  • the name of the fiber and where it was purchased
  • the date I started spinning it on, and if known (if I spin with a specific project in mind) the spinning requirements: WPI, weight, yardage, qualities of yarn (woolen, worsted, semi-, number of plies and type)
  • a piece of the single laid out straight so as to compare the size as I’m spinning
  • a piece of the plied yarn unwashed, with the TPI count written out
  • a piece of the plied yarn washed and set
It looks like quite a lot of information, and I am not entirely sure I will manage to be systematic enough to record all this on every sample. But if I need to be really consistent for a big project, I hope this will help me avoid ending up with only half of my yardage actually knitting up at the gauge I’d calculated with my sample…
I’m already thinking of sewing myself little project bags for spindling with a pocket in front in which to keep these reference cards handy while I’m spinning.
How about you? How do you make sure your spinning is consistent? Do you find other information useful on your reference cards or do you simply use another method altogether?
The images in this post are copyright of Cecile from Ways of the Whorl. If you wish to use the images please request permission from Cecile.

Review: Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics

Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics
by Anne Field, 2010 (Revised edition)
A & C Black Publishers

Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics presents a clearly laid out guide to all aspects of wool spinning from fleece to finish product, divided into four parts: wool, spinning wheels, yarn design, and projects. The spindle spinner that I am couldn’t help but deplore the absence of the humble spindle, but the wealth of information more than makes up for that oversight.

The first section of the book takes you through the specifics of wool as a fibre, with many close-up photos providing clear visual illustrations. There is invaluable information on how to choose, assess and prep a fleece, with many details on the causes and consequences of different characteristics and on things to watch out for. The amount of information is astounding and everything is explained plainly, making it a very accessible read. It includes a section on different breeds and the particulars of the fibres they produce, once again with close-up pictures of each. This is obviously not as comprehensive as in books dedicated alone to this subject, given that it only represents one part of the Spinning Wool book, but 18 breeds are covered giving a good idea of how different they are and how to use them.

The second part on spinning wheels is similarly very detailed. I especially like the way the mechanics of the wheel and the different types are presented. There are simple explanations on how to figure out the drive ratio on a wheel, and how to then use that knowledge, which I always failed to fully understand before. This section also explores one of the central ideas of the book: spinning to match the crimp. Anne Field indeed explains that to produce the ideal yarn (soft yet strong), the number of twists per inch in the final yarn should match the number of crimps per inch in the original fibres. If those do not match then the yarn is made either weaker or harder. This in turns implies that fibres from different breeds will also be better suited to specific yarn sizes. Not all spinners agree with this, but it is nonetheless a fascinating idea, and Anne Field explains how to go about achieving it on a wheel.

The ‘yarn design’ section, like the first one, will be useful even for exclusively spindle spinners as well as wheel spinners. It focuses on the different techniques available to produce woolen, worsted, semi-woolen and semi-worsted yarn, including the tools to use for the carding/ combing of fibres and the different drafting methods. There again, photos provide very helpful illustrations of how much fibre to load onto the different cards and combs and of the movements involved in the drafting.

I have to admit the last section of the book: the projects, was one I didn’t care much for, but then I hardly ever do. There are nevertheless some interesting considerations such as felting/fulling singles in order to stabilise them, then shown knitted up.

Overall, this is not a book for a beginner spinner, but is a great source of information for anyone already mastering the basics movements of spinning and wishing to understand how to spin wool with specific properties. It will help you make the most of any fleece. This is a book which I’ll definitely keep within hand reach so I can easily refer to it on a regular basis.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Portrait of a Hand Spinner

This is a portrait of Cecile Renaud, a fairly new hand spinner, who is already very accomplished and has some exciting things to share about hand spinning and making her own spindles. Have a look at her ideas on "How to make a CD Spindle".

Cecile spinning on her Turkish Spindle from Ist Crafts

How long have you been spinning for?
I had a taste of spinning of a friend's spinning wheel in February and then in May 2010 I bought my first spindle. Within a couple of days I was completely hooked. So the answer would be - not for long!

So what kind of fibres have you been spinning?
Mainly Merino. At the moment I am spinning some Silk hankies that I have dyed my favourite teal colour (although they turned out more turquoise). I have also bought some Blue Faced Leicester and Alpaca to try out.

Have you used many different types of spindles?
Well the first one I bought was very cheap and not very good either. Not wanting to spend a lot of money on it before I knew if I liked spinning I decided to try and make my own out of a CD (see How to make a CD Spindle). This has become a quest to make the perfect spindle out of all sorts. After the CD spindle I tried making one with a donut bead. I made one with Fimo, which broke. I then tried casting a Resin whorl. This is where I am at the moment trying to perfect the Resin whorl. I have also bought some ceramic coasters in Istanbul which I want to drill a hole in and use as whorls. My favourite spindle I must admit is a very petite Turkish spindle I bought from Ist Crafts on the Isle of Wight.

Which spinning techniques have you tried so far?
I have been doing Worsted drafting mainly for my singles. With plying I have been a bit more adventurous. I have done plain 2-ply and 2-ply with an Andean bracelet. At the moment I am trying out 3-ply with a home-made Lazy Kate (really just a glorified shoebox), but I have also done 3-ply with the Navajo technique. I have even tried the Navajo plying on-the-fly so to speak. This is where you spin a certain length, wrap it around your hand, ply it with Navajo chains and wrap the finished yarn around the spindle after which you continue to spin another piece.

Why do you even want to make your own yarn?
I really like the idea of going from sheep to garment being able to have full control of each process along the way. I also love to learn new techniques and learning to spin gives you a great opportunity to influence the final product in a new and exciting way. The process of plying can give so many different properties to the yarn. Do you want it springy or tight? Also spinning allows you to work more luxurious fibres without it costing a fortune.

You have only been spinning for two months but do you think it's something you will continue with and what are you going to come up with next?

I can't see myself stopping anytime soon. I would really like to be able to master the ability to control the thickness of my singles. I have already learnt to make really consistently thin singles. But I would like to be able to make other thicknesses too. I would also like to experiment some more with dyeing my yarn to get more of the colours I love (teal and purple). I want to begin knitting swatches of the different plied yarns to see how they turn out because it is my aim to be able to spin enough for a sweater one day. I would like to try making 4-ply and spinning on a supported spindle. I want to experiment with making more spindles like a rim-weighted spindle. There are so many things I would still like to try so I don't think I will tire or spinning just yet.

Cecile's donut spindle

Do you do other crafts apart from spinning?
Yes, I have been doing a lot of knitting the last couple of years. I also sew and make jewellery. I know how to crochet but am not so keen on it and I would really like to try embroidery. But at the moment I mainly spin - probably because I am a tiny bit addicted to it!

Let's talk more generally about crafts - why do you think they are important?

Well to me crafts are important because they give me an opportunity to be creative without having to be abstract and dabble in the arts. Crafts give me a more usable and practical outcome from my creativity. I also just love to figure out how things work and crafts let me do this.

So how do you think we can best keep crafts alive?

Exposure, exposure and exposure. We need to introduce more people to various crafts. People who may never have come into contacts with crafts before. We need to be better at celebrating the hobby-crafter.

Do crafts make you feel connected to your heritage?

Yes, my grandmother was a seamstress and both my grandmother and mother always knitted a lot. So I guess I feel a connection with them when I do these crafts.

Is there in your view a divide between traditional and modern crafts?

No, most definitely not. I think that it is more of a continuum and I believe that this gives crafts more potential and makes it all the more interesting. I don't think that dividing traditional and modern crafts will help crafts in general to survive.

The images in this post are copyright of Eddie. You are hereby granted permission to use them for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit Eddie and link back to this page. If you are using them and talking about this post I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Teaching Knitting a Century Ago

By Inny

I first published this article over on my own blog IngridNation. My 'specialist subject' is craft skills education, and I often come across really interesting books in the course of my research. Here is my take on just one of them. Let me know what you think too.

Hand knitting was brought formally into the British school syllabus with the 1870 Education Act. It had been taught in many schools, and especially to girls for long before that, but was not formalised until the late 19th century. By the time of the First World War, knitting was a required element of girls' education and of many boys' too.

The examiner for the London School Board 100 years ago was one Ethel Dudley. She wrote the 1914 standard school book Knitting for Infants and Juniors which I recently consulted in the Knitting Reference Library. Sadly, due to copyright and library rules, I wasn't able to show you a photograph or any of the text here.

I really love looking at old textbooks, (especially old textile-related ones) because I'm just geeky like that. This one was particularly fascinating because it was a textbook for the teacher, not for the pupils. The book showed how the teacher of this period was expected to instruct a class of both boys and girls from age five to eleven. At this point, British children attending state run schools were generally taught in separate single sex classrooms except when they were very young.

In the book, techniques are explained for the teacher using both diagrams and text and teachers are advised to physically demonstrate the knitting techniques in front of the class. This makes a lot of sense today in the light of what we now know about learning styles. It also suggests that either the teachers may not know all of the techniques or that they may need to improve on them in order to meet the programme of learning/teaching.

In her book, Dudley suggested lesson plans and instructions for patterns suitable for varying ages such as the following for five year olds:

‘Duster for school blackboards. Needles 5. Number 8 cotton. 30-40 minutes.
Cast on 18 stitches. K (chain edge) 36 rows.
Cast off and make chain of 12 stitches to hang up.’ (1930:14)

It seems surprising to me today, that five year old children would be able to produce a duster in 40 minutes. Certainly when I have been teaching small children to knit, even those who are 'improvers' would struggle with the speed of this due to the dexterity of their fingers. I'm not sure of the comparable weight of number 8 cotton (but would guess DK to aran weight), but number 5 needles are 5.5mm or US9.

Other items recommended by Dudley to be knitted by children at ages six to seven included lace-paneled, pieced and fitted doll’s clothes, and shaped and pieced slippers. I have to say that they appear much more complex than projects in knitting books for children of a similar age today.

So, is it just that knitting is seen today to be a leisure activity that children might be interested in as a hobby and therefore has to be simple and fun? Was it that 100 years ago, knitting was a necessary life skill that they had need to be competent at from an early age and therefore seems more complicated through our 21st century lens? Or do we expect less from our young learners today?

From the teaching point of view, I wonder whether the school knitting teachers of today would know all of the skills that Ethel Dudley had in mind for those of 1914, or perhaps we should have our own kind of training manuals today? In some ways, I'd love a book that told me how to teach people certain skills. As an example, it took a few tries for my (adult) student and I to work out a good system for teaching her to knit left-handed with me as a righty.

What do you think to these century old differences in the perceived skill levels for teaching and learning to knit?

Do let me know in the comments.