31 May, 2012

Penny Rug

I was reminded this week while talking with a friend that some of the topics that fascinate handspinners also fascinate other fiber artists.  This person stitches penny rugs and to make the rugs she buys hand-dyed wool fabrics which are apparently very costly.  So she is interested in learning how to dye.

I got to see a penny rug last year at the Knaut-Rhuland House museum in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a visit I posted about here.  You can see the penny rug in the photo.  It's on the wall behind the great wheel, to the left.

29 May, 2012

Picot Sock Edge

At least this picot sock edge doesn't flare out as much as the first one does.  Used a smaller set of needles for the inside.

The first one is actually a complete sock, all except the final grafting of the toe.  I'm not keen on the way the heel fits so I might undo it, assuming I can use this sock-in-progress to find a heel structure I like.

26 May, 2012

Wear-testing the Vest

There was some cool and windy spring weather on my trip back to Canada, as you might have guessed from my post with photos of people wearing thick sweaters for coats.  I wore my handspun vest.  The cloth is warm; however, the vest left me wishing for a zipper to close up the front and sleeves to cover my arms.

24 May, 2012

The Revelatory Powers of a Dog Comb

I got a dog comb, an all-metal long tooth medium comb, to open up wool locks.

Used it on some glossy adult Romney locks I bought already washed and it worked well.  (This is the wool I dyed with Scotch broom.)

Used it on some of the washed brown Romney hogget locks I got last fall.  Discovered a tender lock or two.

When I bought the hogget I wanted to make myself something to wear out of wool from Vancouver Island, which it is, but now however I think this particular wool is not for me.  It's not just the fact that some of it broke away when tugged, nor merely the tedium of processing, it's that it has a matte texture not glossy and a tighter crimp than I like to see.

23 May, 2012

Cowichan Sweater Spotting

I have no idea, as I didn't look for tags of authenticity, whether these are real Cowichan sweaters or imitation.  Saw all of them on Vancouver Island.

I walked past a storefront in Victoria's downtown that had a display window full of Cowichan sweaters and I didn't take a single photo at all.  Sorry.  I was occupied, identifying the dancing deer motif and others mentioned in Olsen's Working with Wool.

By the way, Cowichan is pronounced like cow the animal, then like the word itch, then like the name Anne.  Put the emphasis on the first syllable, making your voice go up, then down on the next two the way you would when saying the name Christopher or Meredith.

I found a thrift store sweater that was almost certainly imitation because it was knit in flat pieces and sewn together.  Not to mention that twenty dollars is incredibly under-priced for an actual used Cowichan sweater.  It looked pretty wretched.

This sweater, below, is an example of non-Cowichan sweater that borrows inspiration.  It looks like it sports the infinity spiro motif you see on clothes from Vancouver-based clothing company TNA.  I saw this sweater in passing and another at closer quarters when I was on the ferry.  The yarn is thinner, the grey is flat and uniform as though dyed, and the placement of the motif doesn't give the balance of black and white that characterizes First Nations art.  Not that I expect the designers mind the differences at all.  They're going for another market.

22 May, 2012

Urban Weaver Project

The Urban Weaver Project is a Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation program that teaches people to use invasive plant species like English ivy around Vancouver, B.C. as materials for baskets and other woven items.  Website is here http://theurbanweaverproject.wordpress.com/

There's an audio news piece about 12 minutes long by the CBC's North by Northwest on the Urban Weaver Project here http://www.cbc.ca/nxnw/2012/01/14/urban-weaver-project/.  When Todd Devries is interviewed, he says that he was separated from his Haida mother when very young, then reunited much later, and the day he wore his first woven hat in public was when he felt Haida.  If you're not from B.C. and you don't know what that means, Haida is one of the many First Nations people groups in the province.

On the Urban Weaver Project's website you can find more about ways to use local invasive plants in fibre arts by going to the project's About page and clicking through to the individual artist-weavers' sites.  For example, Sharon Kallis' Materials Process Enquiry page gives among other things her experience with processing nettles and using them, unspun.  Good to know that nettle was traditionally harvested after the first frost.

21 May, 2012

Wee Harris Tweed Shop Model Suit

Saw this adorable wee Harris Tweed suit, a promotional model, in the window of W&J Wilson on Government Street in Victoria, B.C., Canada.  The sign says "Harris Tweed woven by hand in the Western Isles of Scotland."

Saw a five minute video, Harris Tweed: the Weaving Industry of the Outer Hebrides, by Pod Films here http://vimeo.com/25502858.  It's not just the twill weave that makes the cloth distinctive and with so much of a sense of place.  The process starts with blending dyed unspun wool to get heathered fibre.  The weft is put in using looms that your average handspinner doesn't ordinarily see.  The looms' shuttles are sent back and forth by levers, and the warps look quite long.  Yet the cloth is advanced by people power.  (The carding and spinning machines look fully mechanized.)

18 May, 2012

The Pioneer Years 1895-1914

I read Barry Broadfoot's The Pioneer Years 1895-1914: Memories of Settlers Who Opened the West (Toronto: Doubleday, 1976) looking for more facts about how people used to meet their basic needs, textile and otherwise in a time of limited cash money and limited means for daily transportation.  Here are a couple of quotes I liked.  The one on page 88 is about knitting:
...we had a bad time, a terrible time getting just the things we thought nothing of in Iowa, like salt and baking powder and coal and wood.  And even a small thing like Mother's big knitting needles being tossed accidentally into the fire one day was a tragedy.  Imagine, just a pair of needles.  Of course, Dad whittled her a new pair but she always complained, all that winter until spring, that they just didn't work right.
There was another one, about spinning yarn, in the chapter about the relationships between different ethnic groups on the Prairies, on page 170:
They were good people, the Scandinavians.  I remember once my wife had too much wool and the store wouldn't even take it in storage.  I said we might was well burn it, what use is it to us?  She said she'd give it to a Norwegian family that lived over by the lake.  I drove over with these bags of wool and gave them to the woman.  She took these bags of wool and made them into yarn and about a month later, one Sunday, she and her husband drove over and they gave us two lovely wool sweaters.  Knitted.  One for me, one for my wife.  They didn't have to pay us.  It was just their way.

17 May, 2012

Working with Wool

I read Sylvia Olsen's Working with Wool: a Coast Salish Legacy & the Cowichan Sweater

I think it is an instructive case study in making and selling handspun, handknit products at the cottage industry level.  According to Olsen, the sweaters used to be made only for family.  Then sweaters were sold directly to strangers who wore them.  Knitters retained control over pattern motifs and sizes, they sourced local wool, and they advertised by hanging a sweater out on the wash line on the reserve.  After a time, sweaters were sold to middlemen.  This led to less return per sweater but increased total volume.  The turnover rate got faster and for the producers there was less control over the sourcing of materials and motif choice, little contact with the wearers, and consequently less satisfaction. 

Olsen writes that late in the twentieth century sweater merchants and the market pushed for whiter white wool and a more crisp contrast with naturally dark wool.  These qualities came from imported wool not local.  And based on my memories I think can corroborate this change; the sweaters I saw people wearing when I was young had a yellow tinge in the white and the yarn was roughly textured.  I wish that Olsen had gotten specific about what breeds were used on Vancouver Island and which breeds gave the imported wool from New Zealand.  I appreciate her ability to qualitatively evaluate the functional, aesthetic, and technical qualities of the sweaters from the earlier half of the twentieth century versus the last quarter. 

I was much struck by the impact of one group of people having capital and credit and another not.  That is, when First Nations knitters had little cash and they needed to earn money from sweaters so their children could eat, then white merchants dictated terms of trade.  A sweater took days or a week to make.  Equally interesting is Olsen's account of the older Coast Salish blanket economy and the prestige women gained from it.  I gather from the book that with blankets, investment in skilled labour was more critical to success than capital investment.  Time to completion was long: a family "might produce one, maybe two, blankets a year, at a great expense." (p. 74)

Regarding merchants dictating terms of trade, I've read about lace makers in France and knitters in the Shetland islands in previous centuries and noted similar instances of merchants paying in script, middlemen giving materials instead of cash payment to keep craftspeople dependant, and buyers dictating pattern choice.

I was interested to learn from Working with Wool that Coast Salish blankets were made of goat hair and dog wool pounded with diatomaceous earth, a substance that kept the blankets dry and free of insects such as bedbugs.  Brilliant.

16 May, 2012

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook

I am partway through Robson and Ekarius' The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn.  Love the pictured lock of clean grey Romney wool.  Want some. 

Also tickled to know there is a sheep breed called Carpetmaster whose wool is good for rugs.

15 May, 2012

Antler Button, Dyed

A handspinner I met said she dyed her antler buttons to match her sweater by tossing the buttons in the dye bath along with the wool. 

The antler came from Saskatchewan; I think either she or her husband turned the antler into buttons themselves when they lived in that province.

14 May, 2012

Wool Dyed with Scotch Broom

Not a bad result, eh?  I don't know what I am most pleased with about this project: dyeing with a natural dye, learning how to use a camp stove so that I can dye on my own, or gleaning an invasive plant that is free and plentiful.  Scotch broom is a pest on Vancouver Island. 

If you are wondering how I did this, I chopped about a gallon of stems that were just about to flower, covered them with water, brought the water to a boil, simmered it for an hour, and then let it stand overnight.  I strained the dye bath through cloth (an ECObags produce bag), brought the dye bath to a boil, then added a quarter pound of wool mordanted with alum, simmered it for an hour, let it cool, then dried it in a thin layer on a towel.  The towel got stained.  Basically I followed Buchanan's instructions for dyer's broom in The Weaver's Garden.

10 May, 2012

Thick Linen Cloth Project Bag

Project bag, handsewn out of thick linen cloth from a thrift store dress. 

I adore good linen fabric.  Yes I do.

09 May, 2012

Needlework Tools in a Thrift Shop Auction

At The Care Closet thrift shop in Penticton, B.C., I saw the lid of an antique sewing box and three needlework tools, two needle holders and a pin cushion that clamps, on display for an auction this Friday. 

The tools are said to be made of ivory from the late 1800s which would mean the ivory predates trade restrictions.  The staff member who helped me said the man who brought the box into the shop told the staff that the woman he inherited it from travelled the world. 

I was told that what's on display is only a part; there are about a hundred pieces, including more needle holders, thread winders, and bobbins for bobbin lace. 

The needle holders are thin tubes.  You twist one end and it comes off, and the inside is hollow.  The connection is threaded like a screwtop lid on a bottle.  (You can buy modern ones of bone.) 

Anyway, I oohed and aahed when I saw them.  Sort of like running across a little treasure chest in an unexpected place or glimpsing a time when work was lavished on tools and needlework tools were a desirable ornament to life.

ETA: I subsequently heard that China is exporting new antiques, that is, items that appear to be antique but are in fact new.  As always, a disclaimer: this blog post is not in any way an authentication or endorsement of the items described.