September/ October Update

So, I think we are all resigned to the fact that we will not be getting together for a good while now so decisive action has been taken by the committee regarding plans for our Zoom meetings going forward. Following a survey of members opinions, we have decided to continue holding our monthly meetings on the third Saturday of each month and maintaining the balance of a speaker one month and general discussion and show and tell the next. In addition, we are also holding a weekly meetings on a Wednesday night which will focus on more specific topics. So far, quite a few members have hosted a talk and the response has been extremely positive. This meeting format will be reviewed at the end of the year.

It seems that the new trend is ‘challenges’ with members undertaking specific projects with a theme via the Online Guild as well as challenges set by our members. For this years Christmas meeting the challenge is to produce a scarf that will be worn and shown at the meeting and it seems some members are well underway with this.

Our upcoming meeting topics include; spinning a fine yarn, natural dyeing, weaving software, using your hand-spun, blended fibres and spinning equipment. Feel free to join us with any questions, comments or suggestions as these themed meetings have yielded some very interesting, inspirational and educational discussions.

August Update

At August’s Zoom meeting we were joined by Dr John Parkinson of ‘It is Not Over Until It Is Over’ (IINOUIIO) to give us an update on his wool textile recycling (shoddy) business. ‘Shoddy’ is basically the result of shredding unwanted wool items to produce fibres that can be spun or felted in to new items and was very popular during the war as a way of producing low cost items. John has now re-visited the idea due to an increase in demand for recycled and sustainable materials. He visited our guild back in February to give out samples of shoddy for our members to take away and experiment with and give feedback on the results. Check out his website for more information

Several members have been looking in to the issue of diversity and how we can make our meetings more accessible to all. Areas covered include accessibility, accommodating the needs of people with various disabilities, access for children and those with potential childcare needs and investigating potential barriers to minorities such as men, LGBT and people from other ethnicities and religious backgrounds. Again, we welcome feedback from anyone who may have ideas as to how we can improve on any of these areas.

Of course we have not forgotten that this year (the year that cannot be mentioned) is our 60th anniversary and we are determined to celebrate somehow. Members have been working on the ‘Dot’s Diamonds’ pattern for the anniversary diamond themed piece and Dot is now in the stages of putting it all together……watch this space.

As ever, there was an array of members creations with many people taking advantage of the extra time on their hands and pushing their creative boundaries.

As it appears that meetings cannot re-commence any time soon we are welcoming ideas for our monthly Zoom meetings from members. The Bradford Guild have invited York members to join their Zoom meetings and to contact their chair on the e-mail address in the newsletter.

July 2020 Update

So, as yet, there is no sign of us being able to resume meetings any time soon, however, the Zoom meetings have continued, for monthly meetings, the Wednesday evening study group and for committee meetings. A Zoom meeting and group e-mails are being used by the weaving and dyeing groups to keep members in touch too. The embracing of social media and technology is amazing and is playing a big part in keeping people in touch and enabling the sharing of ideas and creations.

For our July meeting Cherry Hardy kindly gave us a sneak preview of her full talk on different styles of Sari’s from India, with information on the materials used, the construction as well as the different occasions that various styles would be worn.

Members are still being encouraged to produce items with a diamond theme for our 60th Anniversary exhibition …… which is now looking like it will be a 61st anniversary instead, but hey ho, better late than never.

We are now also able to offer set days where equipment and books can be borrowed from the museum, this is by prior arrangement and with social distancing rules in place (of course).

Finally …… we cannot ignore this completely accidental pile of fleece which has an uncanny resemblance to the wig of a well known president… you’re welcome.

Chair Update June 2020 – Covid 19

Thank you for visiting our website and I hope you are keeping well in strange times.

All physical meetings of the guild are postponed at present but we are trying to keep actively engaged with members. Meetings will resume once it is considered safe to do so.

Crafts have been shown to be positive for our mental well-being and in lock-down have been a great boon for many. As a guild we are continuing with virtual meetings and study groups. The newsletter will be monthly for now to keep people in touch (from bimonthly).

A screenshot of the guild newsletter

If you are interested in guild activities or wish to contact us about any matters relating to spinning, weaving, dying or fibre related please email us. We remain busy behind the scenes and welcome communication with all.

2020 is our 60th anniversary year, we had hoped to celebrate in style but the party and exhibition have been postponed. We will keep you posted on new dates for the exhibition once we can start planning again.

Speakers Report – Shaun Smith of Harcourt Rare Breeds ‘EARLY SHEEP AND PRIMITIVES’

This Report by Christine Roberts

1These are the unimproved breeds which are found in regions of the country that have remained geographically remote. They have many similar characteristics but have also developed others to suit their locations.

In general, they are smaller, have coloured fleeces and may be horned. They are hardy, lamb easily, produce flavoursome meat and their fleeces are sought after by hand spinners.

Over thousands of years it is likely that some breeds evolved characteristics by interbreeding before becoming isolated when Britain was cut off from continental Europe. Arriving by the route through Europe via the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, the Portland shows some characteristics of Roman Merino. A more northerly route was via the Danube corridor, perhaps more mountainous, and the Vikings are sure to have brought sheep of Nordic origin by sea.

As Britain emerged from the Ice Age repeated thawing and freezing through the seasons produced fertile soils which developed into woodland. These were the home of predators and large mammals so sheep (and humans) were pushed to the margins, the coastal belts and uplands where vegetation was more sparse and not as lush.

Comprehensive breed descriptions can be found at I have picked out some characteristics that I found especially interesting.

Portland, a downland sheep with a thick, soft fleece. The single lambs are born with a fox red coat which becomes cream as it matures. 

Soay is the most primitive sheep breed in Britain. Its fleece is roo’d i.e. it is plucked or falls away naturally.

Herdwick, the familiar Lake District sheep, are ‘hefted’. They know their patch of fellside and stay there. Escapees from fields will go on an exploratory saunter before returning ‘home’.

North Ronaldsay have a seaweed diet. As arable farming progressed the sheep were walled out of the central fields onto the island shore. It seems a large part of their diet was already seaweed so they continued to thrive.

Many of the sheep breeds are used for conservation grazing. They will browse on poor grass and tough vegetation so that for example birch trees do not become established. Prime examples are Hebridean and Shetland.

Finally, I wonder whether a book has been written about the Castlemilk Moorit story. It was bred relatively recently on an estate in SW Scotland to have an appealing appearance and good quality coloured fleece. As a regular Countryfile viewer I recognised the name Joe Henson who rescued the few surviving animals on behalf of the RBST.

As a programme of breeding for particular qualities continues there may come a time when we wish to return to the gene pool of unimproved stock to reintroduce lost attributes or to start afresh from pure lines. 

Speaker Report: Dark Textiles – Penny Hemmingway & Dave Hunt

As a preview to her upcoming book Penny gave us an insight into some of the darker elements of the textile hobbies that we all enjoy so much today.

Firstly, Penny talked about many folklore links to textiles, starting with well-known children’s fairy tales in which Rapunzel’s hair is strongly felt to represent the spinning of flax and the spindle on which Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger was thought to be infected by the spinning of raw fleece, causing her to slip into a coma, hence sleeping for 100 years. 

It was also thought that spinning wheels could in fact be ‘bewitched’ and many superstitions arose from that, including the sale of ‘charms’ to ward off evil spirits and the removal of the drive band at night to prevent fairies from using your wheel. The link to witches also came about from distaffs as it is believed that witches actually rode distaffs before broomsticks. The distaff was historically a strong female icon and small cartoons drawn by monks show men being beaten by women with distaffs. 

Penny then told us of the ghost of Sibell Penn who reportedly haunted a historic building following her death. Strange creaking and whirring noises could be heard at night and were traced to a bricked off area, which, when knocked through unveiled a previously unknown room containing an old spinning wheel. 

Disturbingly enough, many women who were murdered in the 19th century had their lives cut short whilst knitting stockings!!!! Although not directly related to their deaths, this fact soon became a common denominator. 

In relation to this we were told that following execution, peoples clothes were often stolen and sold and that even partially completed knitted items could be pawned for money. 

In 1832 Richard Oastler formed a protest about the use of the elderly and children as cheap or even free labour for textile related practices. Oastler felt that a 10 hour day should be the maximum that any child should be required to work and even resorted to teaching the children how to sabotage the factories in order to enforce the new rule. Strangely enough, Oastler showed no such concern over the number of industrial accidents involving children in the mills. 

Finally, Penny talked about the embroideries of Lorina Bulwer who spent much of her life in a workhouse whilst suffering from mental health problems. During her time in the workhouse she produced several large embroideries, using whatever materials she could find, which consisted of long ‘rants’ and contained details of alleged sexual abuse by Dr Richard Pinching. It was reported that Pinching was ordered to seduce a 15 year old girl in 1859, however, no charges were ever brought against him. It wouldn’t be difficult to wonder if the allegations were linked to her ending up with mental health problems. The embroideries are now on display in several museums around the country.

Speakers Report – Freestyle Weaving – Bee Weir

This report from Bev Baldry: –

Bee commenced her talk by asking all guild members to wear one of her hand-made garments which showed a timeline of her weaving progress and the various techniques learned along the way. 

Bee’s weaving journey began on a rigid heddle loom, just mastering the basics before she purchased a 2-shaft Saori loom. Here began her first experiments with clasped weft weaving, inlay and travelling inlay, all of which are weft-based techniques. Bee explained that although weaving on a Saori loom is fast, that to warp one up takes upward of five hours and requires assistance, so back to the rigid heddle loom she went. 

It was once assumed that in order to weave, that specific yarns should be used rather than making use of either commercial knitting yarns or indeed, hand-spun. Ashford challenged this by producing the ‘knitters’ loom, which was a folding rigid heddle loom for added convenience. Bee’s preference for the rigid heddle loom is based on the fact that it is easy to insert chunky feature yarns and also the soft edges that they produce. They can also be used to create double width and double layer fabrics too. 

We were encouraged not to be restricted by the size of our loom as one of Bee’s garments was produced by stitching three sections of weaving together which were each produced on an ‘Ashford Samplit’ loom. Bee explained that the concept of weaving is to produce fabric and if enough air is left in the weaving then the finished fabric will have good drape, which is ideal for making clothes. 

The techniques used to produce the woven fabrics for the garments being modelled by Guild members were explained. They included the use of both cheap, synthetic yarns as well as more expensive animal-based yarns together to produce interesting textures, both warp and weft based experimental techniques, the use of alternating colours to produce patterns and the use of different weight yarns in the warp and weft. Bee’s colour palettes were chosen by placing a selection of coloured yarns together in a bowl that is placed somewhere that she would see it often and subsequently add and remove colours over a matter of days until she was happy with the combination. The construction of the garments is in some ways very simple, as in most cases, no cutting is required. By simply stitching up certain edges of the pieces at certain angles and adding twists, an array of styles can be created. 

Bee also treated us to a tale of her purchase of a 7ft Tri Loom from a stately home which included grossly misinterpreting the word ‘estate’ whilst attempting to find the address of the seller, getting extremely lost (as in 4 hours late lost!!!), not realising that 7ft would not fit in to her car and being banned from warping the loom up in the Travel Lodge that night!!!!!

Bee demonstrated to us that stunning results can be achieved on even the smallest and most basic of rigid heddle looms with a bit of imagination and the effective use of colour, technique and textures.

May Speaker Report – The Stamford Bridge Tapestry

A fascinating presentation in three parts:

First a bit of the historical background supporting the claims to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. This explains the tensions in 1066 and the three ensuing battles, Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings.

This tapestry (embroidered, not woven, modelled on the Bayeux Tapestry) depicts the stages of the Stamford Bridge Battle in which the Saxon crowned Harold Godwinson defeats the Viking Harald Hardrada, supported by Harold’s disgruntled brother Tostig. It was a massacre, the fields seen 50 years later described by a monk as white with bone.

I was fascinated to hear of the ‘ Berserkers’ an elite group of Viking fighters, tall, wearing bear skins, hyped up on magic mushrooms, fighting in a frenzied trance. One such is depicted being speared from underneath Stamford Bridge which he was defending.

guild 2Secondly we have the story of making the tapestry. It was the brainchild of Tom Wyles co founder of The Battle of Stamford Bridge Heritage Society, Viking enthusiast and re enactor, designed by Chris Rock a graphic designer and stitched by 25 embroiderers under the direction of Shirley Smith., professional textile artist. There are 12 panels making a length of 15m, 60cm deep. The tapestry is sewn on linen (costing £100 per metre!) and backed with calico on which the design is drawn. Eight colours of wool are used similar to those used in the Bayeux Tapestry with the style and stitch the same. We were able to handle samples showing the way the details are outlined in one colour and then filled in with another, using 3 layers of stitching, making the Bayeux stitch.

So far the project has cost £6000 and more money is needed to purchase the cases in which it will be displayed. Cards, jigsaws, T shirts, embroidery kits are all on sale to raise funds. Hopefully by the 950th anniversary in September the tapestry will be in it’s permanent home in the Old Station Club Heritage Centre at Stamford Bridge.

guild 2Thirdly a display of many of the panels was set up in the Gin Race room for us to examine.

It was so interesting to see the work up close and have some of the quirky features pointed out – a soldier calls for help on his mobile phone, and another is wearing glasses. A dog is depicted in every panel, looking dejected with an arrow in his paw on the penultimate panel and with it bandaged in the last.

Each panel has a strip at the top with script explaining the action and at the bottom another strip showing scenes of everyday life. Panel 11 is of particular interest showing a loom, spinning wheel and woman holding a distaff. (Just a thought, were spinning wheels in use at that time in England? I can’t find a definitive answer to that). Each embroiderer has their own symbol along with their name in runes, embroidered in the lower strip of each panel they’ve worked on. What a project to have been involved with and how proud all involved must be! It’s such a wonderful piece.

The website, has more information and pictures of each panel.

Speaker Report: Crinoline Ladies to Soldering Irons – Ann Pocklington

This report from Cath Snape, photos by John Tavender.

Organised, self-possessed, creative, and an inveterate story teller, Ann entertained us about her life, creative journey and the story behind the title.

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Anne’s interest in thread goes back to when, as a three year old, she unravelled a woollen dress until all that was left was a bodice. Encouragement from her mother and grandmother and ‘Women’s Weekly’ crinoline lady iron on transfers fuelled her interest in embroidery.   Later a friend encouraged her to design her own patterns. When like many of us she said ‘but I can’t draw’ she was told you can draw a straight line so just do it.

Starting with building and straight lines her confidence grew and soon crinoline ladies were a thing of the past.

As a biology teacher she understood natural forms and has a particular affinity for lichen. We saw stones, and tree bark and even bracket fungi embroidered with ‘lichen’, some realistic, some fantasy.

When Ann retired she signed up for a City and Guilds embroidery course and loved it. They were encouraged to ‘do what they knew then push outside the comfort zone’. Ann followed this with enthusiasm and we learnt about so many interesting techniques, imaginative uses of natural and unnatural fibre that I covered 5 pages in notes and left with a head full of ideas.

Ann feels strongly that things should be used so made no apology that some of her items were a little battered. She decided that using things was important when she cleared her grandmother’s house and found precious hand-embroidered table linen in drawers, never used, never admired.

Some of her work has been inspired by trips to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and the Navajo reservation.

Ann told a wonderful story of meeting a Navajo spinner and weaver, Suzie Yassie. The tour guide had said that photos were not allowed. After Ann has chatted to Suzie alone she was encouraged to take her photograph  “I will not be photographed by tourists BUT I WILL be photographed by a traveller”

Ann recently attended a course and learnt that soldering irons are great for ‘cutting out’ organza and sealing the edge as you go. At the ironmongers the next day the very polite young assistant didn’t wish to be rude but ‘it is uncommon to sell soldering irons to ladies of a certain age but I’ve sold 7 this week, is something going on?’

Others writing this report would pick out many other ideas and pieces of work Ann shared but these are a few that appealed to me.

To dye small amount of yarn wrap it round a whisky bottle, you can then see from inside if the dye has penetrated through the yarn. Hot water in the bottle speeds up the drying time

Mulberry bark is the waste from silk processing; by the time it is stretched, embroidered and has had heat distressed fabrics added it becomes a work of art.

Heat distressing fabric gives interesting effects as they crinkle in the heat – fabrics that distress well are protective clothing, nappy liners, synthetic organza. You need to use a craft gun NOT a blow torch– too hot, or a hair dryer – too cool.

A great activity with children is to take a piece of wide spaced plastic canvas, stitch a simple pattern with string, then cover it in tissue paper and PVA glue, squidge it in place to highlight the pattern, allow to dry then paint.   Kids love it and it looks effective.


July bag: Create a piece of material by sewing together different fabrics; loose weave, tight weave and different fibres, then dye with lemon and blue blobs of colour on the wet fabric, creating a beautiful pattern as the dye runs into the fabrics at different rates. This fabric was then sewn onto a canvas bag. Such a simple but imaginative idea; it looked stunning and featured as the July image on a calendar.

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Printing onto fabric: Many printers will accept paper with fabric attached. Stick the front edge of fabric to printer paper with masking tape. Make sure that the tape goes over the leading edge and is well scored. All fabric must be inside the paper size, print as normal (Ann declined to accept responsibility if our printers disliked this procedure!)

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Machine embroider onto fine sheets of metal, the finer the needle the better. Discolour the copper with candle flame. Lay the sheets on soluble fabric and sew together, once finished the fabric is washed away and the metal shapes are held together with stitching in ‘space’

Haberdashers boxes: Haberdashers puzzle is a puzzle where a triangle is cut into 4 and rearranged to form a square.   Anne created a set of boxes that did this. The extra clever part was having a pattern that joined up across all 4 boxes in both configurations.

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Thanks Anne for the inspiration

January Speaker’s Report – Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Conservation Farming Talk

This report from Bev Baldry, photos by Linda Pilling.

John Allison, who is originally from Hull and has a background in urban planning and land management, visited the Guild to talk about conservation farming at Appleton Mill Farm in North Yorkshire. The farm has been in his family since 1955 and has faced various challenges and changes in its lifetime in order to preserve and protect itself and the land from commercialisation.

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The farm itself is made up of approximately one third woodland, one third pasture and one third arable land, has very few straight lines, is divided by a river and is surrounded by extremely steep hills. All of these factors present their own issues, for example, the steep hills mean that it is not possible to get machinery up there to farm the land which limits its use. However, on the flip side of this, as the land cannot be fertilised it means that many varieties of wild flowers are able to thrive in these areas, one of which is anemones which positively indicate the presence of ancient woodland.

The river means that moving machinery around the land is difficult, especially after heavy rain as the steep hills channel the rain water into the river, causing the level to rise.

The cattle in the pastures which bordered on the river bank also created a problem in that the bank became eroded and needed to be retained by the use of natural ‘faggots’. ‘Faggots’ are created by compressing small branches into wooden frames and these were then pegged into the river near the bank to prevent the bank being pushed into the river.

The conservation aspect of the farm meant that use of more modern farm machinery was not practical as many areas of the preserved hedges would have to be removed to accommodate the larger machines. Due to this the farm still has many traditional tractors and implements which are preserved to manage the land effectively without being detrimental.

One of the more traditional methods of managing the woodland was coppicing, however, this method was already deemed economically inviable in the late 1890’s and was no longer practised by 1919. This resulted in large areas of woodland becoming overgrown and over crowded which meant that much of the woodland floor died off due to lack of sunlight. Thanks to volunteers, areas of the woodland were once again coppiced and surprisingly, the woodland floor recovered extremely quickly, producing daffodils and even wild strawberry.

Over the years, a number of initiatives have been tried in order to increase the income of the farm. These included the growing of turkeys by John’s mother, who possibly got somewhat carried away with the use of growth hormones which produced turkeys that were so big that they did not fit in to commercial ovens!!!!! An intensive pig unit was installed, however, this was short lived due to changes in regulations of the building specifications and was later demolished. Charcoal production was another undertaking, however, this was ceased in favour of simply just selling the wood from the land for logs as less labour was involved and demand was higher.

John’s talk gave us an insight into a different approach to farming from the more common commercial farming that is widely practised. Conservation farming places emphasis on the preservation of the wildlife on the land as well as the land structure and layout itself and employs more traditional methods of land management which are often a labour of love as many volunteers are involved in the upkeep of Appleton Mill Farm.

In addition to John’s talk the YNT brought along a display showing various aspects of their work, including using their flock of Pedigree Hebridean sheep, and a number of items made from the fleeces of their No1 scrub control team.

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