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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Member Profile – Jacqueline James at the Hepworth Gallery

Contributed by Cath Snape

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I had a trip to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield in January 2019. I love the Hepworth if you ever get a chance to go make the most of it. Entry is free but parking is £5.

I had a wander round the Barbara Hepworth’s wonderful sculptures then on to the design exhibition.

“To help celebrate 300 years of Chippendale furniture, Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield hosted an installation ‘Giles Round: The Director’. “On display were design objects from ceramics and textiles to glass and furniture that were shown in the 1959 exhibition and are still in production, alongside examples of the best hand-crafted and industrially-produced objects being made today.” -Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield

I was admiring the pieces when I realised that two of the rugs on display were woven by our very own Jacqueline James. I knew Jaqueline made fabulous rugs but I hadn’t appreciated that she was so widely recognised.

Jacqueline James writes “The  rugs were designed by Giles Round and woven by me.   They were inspired by motifs from textiles in the original ‘Living Today’ exhibition.  Each rug is made with a linen warp and British rug wool weft.  Both measure 120 x 194 cm and the designs are reversible. They were made using a traditional weft faced rug weaving technique called 3 end block weave with shaft-switching, a special technique invented by Master Weaver Peter Collingwood OBE.”

Unfortunately, the exhibition is now over so I can’t encourage others to visit but I did want to celebrate the work of our talented members. Jacqueline’s weavings are much admired and her commissions include Westminster Abbey, York Minster and the Jorvik Viking Centre.

For more information on Jacqueline James visit her website.

If any other members have exhibitions or special events please let us know so we can all visit, learn, and be inspired.

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October Speaker’s Report – Weaving the Story of Fashion for Hull Trawlermen: Claire Day

Report by Linda Moore.

Our speaker for October was textile expert Claire Day, who came to talk to us about her latest PhD research into the onshore apparel of the deep-sea trawlermen of Hessle Road, Hull 1950s-1970s.


Claire started her talk with a fascinating overview of her career to date before going into the detail of her current research. Fashion and textiles being the thread that runs through a career that has encompassed design, fashion, management, consultancy, research and lecturing with, as she puts it, the only thing she is certain of is uncertainty.

Specialising in weave because she didn’t understand it, Claire emerged as a technically competent weaver with her first degree in fashion and textiles from Birmingham City University, and embarked on a career as a commercial designer. In her words ‘I may not be the most exciting designer but I present designs that feel new to the market – I find gaps and fill them.’

Mixing designing with lecturing, Claire teaches at under and post graduate level. Textiles, fashion and fashion marketing and management are her subjects which encompass facilitating drawing, principles of design, trend predicting, consumer behaviour and colour forecasting.

‘It’s about enabling students to think and question their own work, to become independent and feel confident in their own knowledge of their field.”

As manufacturing declined in the UK, Claire became more involved with design companies at the luxury end of the market, designing for both fabric and wallpaper. When developing a collection Claire works with up to 30 mills at a time, these can be based in the UK, Europe and India according to each mill’s specialisation.

Combining education and industry worked well for Claire although in order to progress she needed to develop a track record of research so embarked on an MSc in Advanced Textiles and Performance Clothing at the University of Leeds. Based on retaining clothing in the loop for longer her research into sustainability took her to the rubbish dumps of Tanzania and a research assistant post at Huddersfield University.

Viewing research and design as being the same process has allowed Claire to flow within the discipline of fashion and textiles moving easily between the different areas of work that she undertakes. Still researching fashion, her PhD studies now place her in a maritime history department.

As a fashion student, 20 years ago Claire saw the play Northern Trawl at the Spring Street Theatre in Hull and was mesmerised by the suits worn by the actors portraying the trawlermen of Hessle Road. ‘I had never seen anything like these suits in all my studies,’ she says. ‘I was blown away by this individualism by a group of Hull men.’ Even more so when her mum remarked that her dad used to wear suits like that.

Four years ago, Claire decided that she needed to do something about documenting the suits, the men who wore them, and the tailoring industry in Hull. The deep sea trawlermen of Hull developed a style of dress that was particular to this workforce and worn from the 1950s to the collapse of the UK distant water fisheries in the mid-1970s. As no suits seem to exist, oral history interviews have been key to obtaining descriptive and exploratory data.

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Each suit was made to measure, but in terms of design features was bespoke with key features being retained to create the collective look. The original suit jacket had a shawl collar with a single shank button fastening, half moon pockets and various pleats on the back which included a yoke. A belt would also be added, either attached or stitched down according to the wearer’s preference. The trousers had a deep waistband, known as a Spanish waistband which was typically 3” deep rather than the conventional 1”, but could be up to 8” deep! The trousers would be wide between 18”-24”, with the widest recorded at 30”. Colours were pastel in shade including powder blue, beige and silver grey. These suits were worn by the trawlermen during their 3-day shore leave following a 3-week voyage. One theory is that this dress style was influenced by the cowboy through country music, cowboy novels and Hollywood westerns and this became the start of Claire’s creative process – thinking about cowboys and sailors and their symbolism.

This research led through tattoos into floral symbolism and the different meanings of flowers that could represent the men and their livelihoods. Borage, peony, cypress, protea and wormwood which mean courage, bravery, sorrow, courage and absence were chosen and designs began to emerge. Deciding that the fabrics would be a mixture of embroidery and weave for shirts with woven suit designs for women’s’ wear, Claire set about her drawings. Recognising that the final making up stage would take time, Claire has used her design experience to quickly realise working designs incorporating borage, that grows profusely in her garden and the cod, haddock and flat fish that were caught by the trawlermen. Halibut gave her a particular challenge as nothing she could do could improve its looks. However, the stylised haddock and cod look magnificent.

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The colour palette of purple and red was based on colour forecasting trends for today using 2/28s worsted wool and fine stainless-steel thread in both the warp and weft to produce a modern twist on versions of tradition woven check design. The stainless-steel thread gives the fabric a shimmer, reminiscent of the surface of the water. In order to merge the weave with the embroidery ideas and to bring the collection together as a whole, Claire has employed a novel technique to remove the wool leaving the stainless-steel thread in the shape of the peonies.

As her research has progressed Claire is shifting her views away from the idea that the suits were in response to the real or mythical cowboy, as there is not enough evidence to substantiate this. Unsure where her next investigations will take her, Claire concluded saying “I’m uncertain but as I said at the beginning, that’s the only thing I can be certain of.”



July Speaker’s Report– Bedouin Weaving and Braiding

Our speaker for July was the acknowledged expert on this topic; Rhona Crichton.  Thanks to Mary Carbert for this report.

After graduating with a 1st Class Honours degree in Industrial Design Technology from the Scottish College of Textiles Rhona began her career by working on designs for Harris Tweed.  Her next move was to become self employed as a designer and weaver making items to sell with her main market  being Japan.

When her husband was made redundant and got a new job in Kuwait she was hugely disappointed. She had a new baby and found the 50° C heat, the isolation from her home in Scotland, and her lack of purpose as no longer self employed really depressing.  After a while she overcame this by asking the Museum of Textiles and the University run by the government in the city if she could do any research.  They set her on to study the Bedouin Weaving of the country which she thoroughly enjoyed for 10 years. She also wrote a book  Al Sadu The Techniques of Bedouin Weaving.

After her return to the UK she went to Leeds University before becoming a teacher at a large senior school in Barnsley for over 20 years. Now retired from full time teaching she gives talks and weaves.

shill share picTo illustrate the talk Jo was dressed in a full Kuwait dress with head and face covered. It was very hot to wear and meant the female face is never seen in public. The only men allowed to see a woman’s face are close family members in the home.

Rhona had brought many examples of weaving which were circulated as she spoke about the customs and culture of Kuwait from the 1960s to 2000. The fibre used was goat and camel with wool, both local and from Australia.

It was not sorted or washed but spun straight from the fleece on a long shafted top whorl spindle.  The yarn was then washed, and if required dyed, before weaving.  Colours and designs were very traditional, handed down within the family. Almost everything was the natural black and white of fleece with a strong element of red for which commercial dyes were imported and highlights of natural camel to show wealth. The woven geometric and figurative patterns and symbols reflect the traditional tribal lifestyle and the weavers’ creative expression. Patterns were not written down but handed down the generations.

The items made were all for practical purposes. The nomadic Bedouin would weave their tents in strips from handspun goat hair, which swells in rain to become water-shedding and opens when dry to allow air to circulate,  with intricately designed and woven ‘room dividers‘ used to divide the tent into different areas, also large oblong camel bags for transporting things on camel backs which doubled as cushions for sitting on the floor. The most decorative piece we saw was a camel decoration covered in cowrie shells. This would have indicated wealth. Now 99% of the population live in houses and weaving is done in the back yard.

Rhona had brought a traditionally made cushion cover and also one bought in a bazaar- which had been sold as ‘traditional’ but it looked and felt a pale imitation. Today the cost of handmade items is very high and because many people will not pay the price there is a large market for cheaply machine made fake items.

shill share picLooms are very simple and consist of corner posts hammered into the ground, a wooden bar to hold the heddle strings, a wooden beater and a piece of horn is also used for beating. The warping is done on the loom, working in a figure of eight with alternate ends going over and under the lease rod with no front and back rollers it is as long as required for the piece being woven. The maximum width of the piece is dictated by the length of the weaver’s forearm as you have to be able to reach through the shed to bring the weft ‘butterfly’ through. As the weaving progresses so the weaver, sitting on the woven cloth, moves forward up the loom, creating the tension, pushing the heddle bar and lease rod in front of her rather than the work progressing towards the weaver as in more conventional systems.

If the pattern to be woven requires more than one colour to appear in any one end, then that end is warped with up to 3 colours of yarn (the colours not required on the face float on the back unsecured). All the warp threads that pass under the lease rod are threaded through eyes on the heddle, all that pass over the heddle pass straight through. Remember the weft only acts as a binder and does not form any part of the design.

Rhona had brought a loom with a wooden base (made by her husband) which enabled her to demonstrate without the need to hammer posts in the floor.

We were invited to have a go and creating the shed proved quite hard work as on the first pick all the yarns passing over the lease rod are lifted in sections to allow the weaver to work her other arm through the forming shed, hence the limit on width, the beater stick is then inserted to allow weft insertion and is used to beat up the inserted pick. The stick is then removed to allow shed creation for the second pick, this is achieved by pushed down in sections of the warp with the heel of one hand, this allows the warp yarns running through the heddle to be held up forming the shed to push the other arm through. Repeat for a couple of months to complete the piece. The yarn used was strong, thick and hairy which made the end product long lasting. The completed pieces are finished by washing on the ground with hot soapy water and bleach (!) before rinsing and hanging to dry.

shill share picWe were also invited to have a go at making ‘elephants tail’ braids for which Rhona had brought four ready prepared lengths of yarn knotted in a loop for everyone. The loop was to put over a big toe which allowed us to create a tension for the braiding. Some were more successful than others!

Rhona told us that after the Gulf war she had been invited to return to Kuwait to re-assess the state of Bedouin weaving. Sadly much of the collection held by the Kuwait museum had been destroyed, but the Bedouin still weave, training weavers and producing fabrics for upmarket gift-wear such as i-pad covers and the like.