January 2022. Happy New Year!

Another year of the dreaded covid, but we are all still learning to adapt and do our best not to let it ruin our plans. Meetings have continued successfully since August 2021 and the census opinion is that we continue into the new year. We have a healthy amount of new members and an endless supply of enthusiasm to kick-start our fibre related hobbies and we begin the year with a talk on ‘Ikat Weaving’ in addition to the usual ‘show and tell’ and general meeting. This years programme also includes a flax weaving workshop, spinning and blending with ‘pointy things’ and an addtional workshop with Amanda Hannaford. Any requests for subjects for Wednesday evening Zoom meetings are always welcome too. We shall look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our January meeting.

September 2021 News

So, we finally did it. Our first face to face meeting happened on 21st August 2021!!!! Over 30 people attended, including many new members, which was brilliant to see and also, a record 11 items of equipment were loaned out.

Our next meeting will see workshops on indigo dyeing with Mary and a workshop on achieving consistency in spinning with Sue Macniven. There are still some spaces available on both workshops. Talk about coming back with a vengence.

We are also delighted to annonce that York Guild have ordered the book ‘ Traditional dyeing in Bhutan – The natural way’ by Kencho Dekar. Kencho is trying to keep the ancient art of natural organic dyeing alive in Bhutan and in order to help to preserve the knowledge he has written this book, distributed it around all the local schools in Bhutan and has now made it available to any interested parties around the world. The techniques in the book are apparently nothing like our Western techniques, but we are told that with a basic understanding of natural dyeing, the process can be followed quite easily. There is also a video preview of the book with Kencho giving a tour and basic overview of some of the processes and finished products as well as a Q & A session. https://youtu.be/UtHKcPW2QwA.

Latest Update

Well, monthly updates were getting a bit monotonous so I have left it for a while. Blame Covid, everyone else does … or the Suez Canal, whichever you prefer!!!

Finally, it looks like we may be able to start planning for face to face meetings once again. We are currently aiming for Saturday 17th July 2021, all being well, and many members showed keen interest to attend, following a survey to gauge interest. Discussions are taking place with the museum regarding numbers, spacing, masks and other precautions, but I’m sure by now we know the rigmarole.

The new committee has plently of fresh ideas for the Guild, which we hope will also benefit the museum, (which is under new management) and will result in us being able to work together more. We will look forward to sharing these with our members in July, fingers crossed.

February Update

Well, it has been a year since Covid hit, but it most certainly has not held us back. On the contrary, our Guild has flourished during the past year and it is safe to say that we are offering the most for our members than ever before. The introduction of Zoom meetings has actually allowed more members to access us who previously may not have been able to and has actually served to attract a not insignificant number of new members. It is also that time of year where our AGM is around the corner, committee members will change and membership renewals are also due. Due to the current situation we have decided on a couple of options for members for the coming year and this will be announced in the newsletter very soon. What we have pretty much decided on is that even when we are able to re-commence meetings in person at the museum, that we will continue with Zoom meetings in between as they have been a valuable way for members to keep in touch and maintain inspiration during lock down. They have also enabled us to have focussed discussions on specific subjects as requested by members and for members to ‘Catch up’ on meetings if they are unable to attend on the night. New members can also access previous discussions on our ‘members area’ on our website. Finally, don’t forget our Facebook page where we all love to see photos of your creations or indeed assist with any technical issues along the way.

December/ January Update

Well, to start on a positive note, we can officially say that our Christmas party was a huge success!!! Our 60th Anniversary mugs were sent out and we received many positive comments about them and a toast was held to our members. The party hosted fancy dress, a slightly easier quiz than last year, handmade hats and scarves (with the collapsible witches hat being crowned the star of the show), tales from past Guild members and the unveiling of the 60th Anniversary banner, designed by Dot Seddon.

After Christmas our spirits were soon dampened by the third lock-down, however, it appears that the extra time at home has once again allowed many members more time to dedicate to crafting. Our Zoom meetings are still going strong, check out our meetings schedule on the website for the up and coming subjects. If there is a subject you would like to see covered then please get in touch with the committee on the Guild e-mail address as we are always open to suggestions.

Members Fame

One of our members, Laura, who came to us in Autumn 2019 as a pretty new spinner has made it into the Yorkshire Post following her success of producing peg loom rugs from her own flock of sheep. As a Guild we are extremely proud of her achievement, especially so as Laura had only begun spinning on a drop spindle a few months before meeting three of our members at an open day at Sledmere house last September. From there we roped Laura into the Guild where she has found her wings and positively flown with her new found knowledge and skills. Please read the full story here (You may need to Register with Yorkshire post to read the story). Pictured below is one of Laura’s first peg loom rugs made with Leicester Longwool Fleece.

Leicester Longwool peg loom rug LC

November Update

I think I can honestly say that we are all actively embracing technology and the potential it holds to keep us all in touch and to maintain the creativity we all get from our usual Guild meeting at the museum. The focussed Wednesday evening discussions seem to be proving popular, even more so now that they are available for members to watch on our new Guild ‘Catch Up’ Channel in our members only area on our website.

We also had our first external speaker at our Monthly meeting on Saturday 21st November, Lesley Horden of Skyrack Angoras who gave us a talk on the history of the rabbit and the angora fur trade as well as basic care of an angora rabbit. This was a first for both the York Guild and for Lesley and her talk was very well delivered and received. Hopefully, Lesley will now be able to offer talks to more Guilds further afield than before as well as promoting the sale of Skyrack angora fur for spinners to have a try at.

In addition, the weaving group are holding two meetings per month and the dyeing group are holding discussions via e-mail. If members wish to join either of these addition special interest groups please get in touch on the Guild e-mail address and we will put you in touch with Linda or Mary accordingly.

Our 60th Anniversary mugs have been dispatched and should be arriving with members very shortly in time for the Christmas meeting. Despite the lack of celebrations in person, we are determined to mark the year somehow.

We are extremely pleased to have two new members join us, despite us still being unable to meet in person. We hope that they will feel the benefit of membership from our newly adapted ways of sharing knowledge and information.

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 www.harcourtrarebreeds.co.uk. 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.