November 10, 2011

Home Weaving

I picked up a book published in 1939 by the Department of Agriculture, Quebec, Home Weaving.  It has many delights: erratic spelling, quaint views on asbestos, dimensional drawings of a loom and squirrel cage swift, curious instructions to use hand cards like paddle combs, beavers mentioned in a list of fibre animals, the success story of Mme deRepentigny's Montreal workshop in the 1700s, stats on the revived home handspinning industry.  Four million pounds of native wool were spun annually in Quebec farmhouses at the time of publication.  That's a lot.

The authors expected weavers to spin novelty yarn rather than purchase it, as it would be easier, but to send cloth out to country mills for finishing, as the price was so reasonable.  Must have been an interesting time to live, if that was the case.

Home Weaving contains recipes for bleaching wool with sulphur, hydrogen peroxide, hydrochloric acid, potassium carbonate, and ammonia.  It outlines considerations, such as which makes poisonous gas (sulphur) and which reduces dye uptake afterward (sulphur again).  Amazing that the provincial government considered this part of home industry.  The dawn of better living through chemistry and all that.  Or possibly this was traditional cottage industry practice.  I read in Alice Starmore and Anne Matheson's Knitting from the British Islands that Shetland knitters bleached their shawls over sulphur smoke.

I had a chance to buy some washed locks of natural light Romney hogget and I passed it up.  I was so used to perfectly bleached wool.  I don't like to wear off-white and I worried that the wool would have a homemade, blotchy look when spun.  Someone else at the trunk show bought some to spin on the spot.  I half-regretted my choice when I realized that once the locks were carded up, the colour looked better and more homogenized.  Often I fail to make the leap of knowing what a fibre will look like when spun.

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