Tagged: thread

Aug 15

Paisley: The Town That Thread Built

 

 

 

Paisley has been all over my Twitter feed recently because it’s been shortlisted for City of Culture 2021. I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed for it. And if you want to know why I think it deserves such an accolade then watch this delightful BBC documentary, The Town That Thread Built, which aired last night. Hint: it has something to do with J&P Coats and their magnificent thread empire.

It was fascinating to hear the memories of the women who produced Paisley’s thread (for it was mostly women), and refreshing to hear a former factory manager (a descendent of one of the original Coats founding fathers) talking enthusiastically about the unsung importance of thread – even the distinct type used to make sanitary tampons. This is just the sort of obscure textile detail that I love to hear. So, please enjoy! Sincere apologies to those outside the UK who will be unable to view it. And note that it’s only available for another 28 days.

I was pleased to see a box of J&P Coats Bear thread featured prominently a couple of times in this film; in terms of design, this is one of my favourite antique reels, and I’ve had a full box (see below) tucked away in the Museum of Haberdashery the for some years now. The pink, dyed reels and orange thread are also a salutary reminder that the past was often more colourful than we tend to imagine.

 

Vintage haberdashery

J&P Coats Extra Strong Bear Thread, made in Paisley, Scotland

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Dec 27

Stitcher’s Christmas wreath

 

I hope you’re surviving the festive season intact. Isn’t it a relief when all the busy-ness slows down and you can sense a wonderful stillness?

I can finally show you a vintage haberdashery stitcher’s Christmas wreath which is currently gracing my front door.

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A few years ago I put together a wreath on a chef’s theme, but I thought it was about time I created a stitcher’s version. The basic wicker structure was bought years ago and is one of those things which I pull out every year along with the Christmas tree decorations and wonder when I’m finally going to do something with it.

I’ve tied on some of my old mother-of-pearl buttons with tough linen upholstery thread.

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And added a frayed old Dean fabric tape measure as a bow; it was once housed in a small round plastic case, but that broke irrevocably a long time ago.

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I also wrapped 5 wooden reels with deep red velvet ribbon and tied them on with invisible thread.

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Our door is under a slight porch so the wreath doesn’t take the full brunt of the weather (currently driving rain, mostly); I probably wouldn’t hang it outside otherwise as it isn’t really an all-weather creation. It will hopefully be hanging (as all my decorations do) right up to Twelfth Night. Then I will store it as is and haul it out again next year.

Did you make your own wreath this year? Did you use unusual materials? Or upcycled items? Please take a moment and tell me about it.

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Jul 29

1954 Singer 99k hand-crank

 

Take a look at this sewing machine bought by a friend in a local charity shop.

Singer 99k sewing-machine case

Singer 99k in Cheney case

It’s a 1954 Singer 99k hand-crank with the most wonderful faux-croc case made by suitcase manufacturer Cheney.

Cheney clasp on Singer 99k case

Cheney clasp

Its delighted new owner was a little crestfallen when the machine refused to form stitches; the needle moved up and down OK and everything appeared to function, but her test fabric revealed only a disappointing line of holes and some straggling threads.

There are several reasons why this might happen. The thread quality might be poor, or the needle might be blunt (or of poor quality), or unsuited to the thread/fabric. I began by removing an obvious problem: a thread jam around the bobbin case. Then I gave the machine a really good brush to remove any unhelpful lint build-up and gave it an oiling with good quality dedicated sewing-machine oil, took out the needle (and found it had been inserted incorrectly), wound some Sylko onto a bobbin and tested it on a scrap of calico.

Lo and behold, she worked.

Singer 99k, stitching again

Forming stitches

Just a little tension adjustment here and there and she was up and running again and ready to be used exhaustively by an 11-year-old eager to hone her sewing skills. Nice.

Singer 99k hand-crank

Up and running again

If you have a vintage hand-driven Singer sewing machine in need of some TLC, I’d recommend visiting Sid & Elsie’s helpful blog. These cast iron machines were certainly built to last and it may be surprisingly easy to get yours running again. You don’t need many tools: just a couple of screwdrivers and a small brush (the hammer there on the table is a red herring, by the way – if you find yourself wanting to resort to using a hammer, please take your sewing machine to a professional!).

It’s important to have a manual for your machine (to find out how it’s supposed to be threaded, for instance, and where to oil it), so if you don’t have one to hand, plug the machine’s serial number into the Singer website to find out your machine’s name/model/date of manufacture and seek out the appropriate manual on the internet. The last time I looked, you could even find some available for nothing.

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Oct 17

Clark’s Scintilla

Scintilla

Superb vintage haberdashery box

Well, lookie here! Isn’t this the most wonderful old box of thread ever?

Scintilla, as all you classical scholars are no doubt aware, is Latin for spark and – by extension – a very small shred or tiny amount, an iota. Think of the scintilla of doubt much beloved by TV defense barristers. Where the heck would courtroom drama be without it?

I have a soft spot for verbose old haberdashery packaging, especially when it uses adjectives such as superb (I think superb should be making a comeback soon – that would be superb). There’s something so charmingly innocent and earnest about the pre-soundbite era, and this box has a differently chunky piece of information on each side – take a look over on Flickr to see the rest. My guess is that this particular package dates back to the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, but if there happens to be a haberdashery-museum curator in the house (especially one who knows a lot about Clark’s), or a typography expert, would you please make yourself known to the management? It would be a joy to hear from you.

From scintilla comes scintillate, v.i. to sparkle, scintillescenta. twinkling, scintillationn. twinkling and the wonderful scintillometern. an instrument which measures the twinkling of stars.

If I had a scintillometer it wouldn’t be registering much activity, the reason being that the determined powers of darkness have conspired to extinguish most of the twinkles in the Scrapiana firmament. I’ve sent out for fresh supplies though. Watch this space.

Large range of colors

Scintllating thread

Meanwhile, forgive my wallowing in some anthemic David Gray, won’t you? And may you shine in all you do this week.

 

 

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May 04

Larkhall Festival

I had a very busy time on Saturday afternoon showing the Eastern fringe of Bath how to make little lavender hearts from what began as an old blanket. This was one of the larks of the Larkhall Festival.

Larkhall Festival - Scrap Heart Workshop

Larkhall Festival larks - scrap blanket workshop

Preparing on the Friday was fun; I was able to watch the royal wedding from behind a pair of scissors, cutting out 150 little individual hearts. Can you see how it influenced me as I compiled my groups of ten? No, neither can I.

Blanket hearts a la royale

Cutting out materials for the scrap blanket hearts

And I didn’t shed any tears. That was just blanket fluff in my eye, honest.

Then I grabbed a load of lavender.

Lavender jar

Big jar of lavender

And a few embroidery threads and balls of mohair (which I like to use for the blanket-stitching, though the latter’s not so very good for beginners as it tends not to behave). I took my trusty bunting (made twenty whole years ago for my very own wedding and loaned out since to a gazillion garden parties & fetes), and Mimi’s fish, just for the company and inspiration (“One day, small child, you could upcycle something like THIS!”)

Thanks to the very capable Polly for helping me out. And to everyone for being so patient while I made my way round to you to help thread needles, tie knots and finish off loose ends. Teaching sewing is fun. It’s such an eye-opener, for one thing. Polly asked one very small boy if he knew how to thread a needle. Yes, he replied. A couple of minutes later she looked back at his needle to find he’d meticulously wrapped his thread ever so neatly around the full length of it. Hmmm. I guess that would be one way to legitimately ‘thread a needle’, just not the one we were looking for. She could hardly bear to disappoint him by unfurling it again. That brought me up short as I realised that sewing terms, like any other technical jargon, are fraught with confusion for the complete novice. We quickly forget the strangeness of language, once we’ve digested and understood it.

I was aiming for this type of thing, but the results were more vibrant and various. Blanket stitch wasn’t always the stitch of choice for participants (even if they started out doing it, they frequently ended up producing something else, even if not intentionally) but there was plenty of personality, and I was delighted to see lots of personalising and initialising going on. The lavender seemed to be loved by all, and children were witnessed ‘losing their needles’ in the lavender box just so they could scrunch their fingers through it again and again. And why not? We were chilling. The needles were reassuringly blunt, by the way.

Though tolerant of irregularities and differences of approach (there’s usually more than one legitimate way of doing something) I find myself driven to correct one thing: tying a knot in the thread behind the needle. This one makes me twitch. I don’t know but assume (can anyone confirm?) that this is how sewing is taught in primary schools when kids work with Binca and yarn. I feel that this makes the yarn and needle behave a little oddly and try to encourage simply leaving a longer thread-tail. Am I alone in having this aversion?

I’ve decided I should get off my derriere and offer sewing upcycling classes. Venue tba, but somewhere in Bath. Do leave a comment or get in touch with me via my email (eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom) if you’d like information about these. Be sure to mention if you’d be interested in children’s or adults’ classes, and if daytimes, evenings or weekends suit you best. And don’t forget to leave a means of contacting you.

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Mar 11

A long stitch

A long stitch, a lazy tailor

A proverbial label

I like this label which I found in one of my thrifted woolens. I assume it’s the manufacturer’s name and not just a helpful Irish aphorism to ponder while getting dressed.

Could I be the only person on the planet who isn’t already familiar with the phrase ‘a long stitch, a lazy tailor’? I have to admit to feeling a little sorry for the tailor featured. Who says his long stitch means he’s lazy and slipshod? Maybe he’s worked a 20-hour day and is simply too exhausted to do smaller stitches. Or maybe his long stitch is a design choice. Maybe a smaller stitch would represent wasteful, superfluous effort in this context. Discuss.

I wonder which profession has been singled out historically for the most flack from aphorists. Could it be lawyers or tax-collectors? I’m mostly interested in any proverbs that apply to seamstresses and people who ply a needle for their trade, so if you have any favourite expressions involving stitchers or associated trades (creators or purveyors of textiles, for example) I’d really love to hear from you. Likewise, if you know examples of needlework where a l-o-n-g stitch is preferred or even required, your pearls of wisdom would be much appreciated. Thank you.

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Feb 26

Woollyherb

Woollyherb, Maggie Jarman

Woolyherb held by its creator, Maggie Jarman

I was really excited to see my friend Maggie’s quilt (above) featured in March’s edition of British Patchwork & Quilting. It’s in an article by Khurshid Bamboat about the Dulwich Quilters’ 2010 Exhibition. Here’s what Khurshid said:

‘Woollyherb’ by Maggie Jarman kept drawing me back. Maggie had cut small coloured felt squares, applied them on to black net and felt and sewed different coloured and shaped buttons on to the squares. It wasn’t a big piece – but it was beautifully proportioned and stunning.

Unfortunately, the images weren’t terribly clearly reproduced in the magazine, but I happened to have these shots in my camera, having met up with Maggie last month.

Woollyherb by Maggie Jarman

Woollyherb, flat

These weren’t exactly studio conditions: we were in a high-street pizza-chain restaurant and the garlic bread was on its way.

Woollyherb by Maggie - detail

Woollyherb close-up

I love Maggie’s delicate placement of colour, button and stitched detail. Maggie used all sorts of threads and yarns that she happened to have lying about. She also confessed to leaving in some of the tacking stitches (see above) which really adds to the charm.

Woollyherb by Maggie - detail

Woolyherb detail: felt, flowers & leaves

I also love that the felt used is ‘real’ felt – real to me being the home-fulled variety, rendered from old wool garments. And that many of the buttons are one-off vintage finds: a great way to empty that button jar. This would make the grooviest upcycled scrap project and is really quite achievable even for a beginner stitcher. There are no seams in it, for one thing. This qualifies as ‘a quilt’, incidentally, because it’s constructed of  three layers anchored together with stitching; to dyed-in-the-wool quilters these things matter. To make such a gorgeous piece it helps to have an impeccable artist’s eye, and Maggie has just that. As you may have guessed from the name, the colours of this piece were inspired by rosebay willowherb, a wild plant which you’ll probably recognise as a weed in your garden.

I’m astonished and delighted to calculate that Maggie and I have known each other for over 30 years. She was the first person I ever met who had a proper, vibrant sense of colour; she’s is also the only person I know who is utterly unafraid to wear orange. We always have exciting meet-ups: full of fabric talk, colourful observations, extraordinary recipes, and technical note-sharing. I came away last time with a small rotary cutter (thanks, Maggie!).

Maggie has also been known to teach screen-printing and other exciting artistic endeavours to both adults and children. If you’d like to contact her about that (she’s great fun!) or to a commission a piece, do drop me a line and I’ll be happy to put you in touch.

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Feb 14

Threads of feeling

Threads of Feeling catalogue, John Styles

Exhibition catalogue showing red woolen cloth heart for Foundling 10563, a girl, admitted 22 November 1758

‘5,000 rare, beautiful, mundane and moving scraps of fabric’ is how curator John Styles describes the extraordinary archive inspiring Threads of Feeling, an exhibition of the textile tokens left with abandoned children 1740-1770 which is currently showing at the Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury, London.

Being a foundling was a cause of great shame in eighteenth-century London. So, in an attempt to avoid the associated stigma, a baby’s name would be changed on admission to the Foundling Hospital, and the mother’s name would not be recorded. Instead, a textile swatch (or ‘token’) would be given by the mother, or cut from the foundling baby’s clothing, and pinned to the printed registration form (‘billet’) issued on receipt. As the hospital emphasized in 1745, ‘if any particular Marks, Writing or other thing shall be left with the Child, great care will be taken for the preservation thereof’. Despite the anonymity of admission, a mother retained the right to reclaim her child, and a small textile scrap might be all there was to facilitate identification. Sadly, most mothers didn’t return: of 16,282 admissions between 1741 and 1760, only 152 came back.

Putting aside the human stories for a moment (which is difficult), and approaching this archive with the mindset of a textiles historian, these scraps are very exciting indeed. They represent a rare survival of everyday textiles worn by ordinary eighteenth-century women, forming Britain’s – possibly Europe’s – largest collection. There are about forty different named fabrics catalogued, their variety illustrating that the poor had access to a surprisingly wide range of colourful fabrics, even before the Industrial Revolution. It may be that the collection is somewhat skewed towards the colourful and patterned as their purpose was the later recognition of a child, but the collection is so vast that it also contains quite plain, mundane fabrics. What makes the Foundling archives so special is that the object (the swatch) is united with text (the Hospital’s clerks’ handwriting)  and the two together form the only means we have of identifying many everyday eighteenth-century textiles. The clerks’ jottings include the rather familiar sounding calico, flannel, gingham and satin (though their eighteenth-century counterparts weren’t very much like the fabrics we know today) and the now lost-to-us camblet, fustian, susy, cherryderry, calimanco and linsey-woolsey. The printed billet form itemised the ‘Marks and Cloathing of the Child’, offering an intriguing glimpse of the everyday dress of the period, most of which I can only hazily imagine: biggin, forehead-cloth, head-cloth, long-stay, bibb, frock, upper-coat, petticoat, bodice-coat, barrow, mantle, sleeves, roller etc. Some scraps were cut from the mother’s clothing, some were taken from the baby’s own (caps, cockades and topknots, detachable sleeves). Baby clothes might well have been made from a mother’s worn-out garments, upcycling being nothing new. And a mother’s clothes might be surprisingly fashionable: her gown might be made from one of the new cotton or linen printed knock-offs of an unaffordable and impractical (unwashable) silk.

The display isn’t vast (I overheard some other visitors registering their disappointment) but forms a representative sample of an enormous archive; to give you a sense of the scale of it, the storage boxes containing these billet forms line 250 metres of shelving in the museum’s archive. It took me a couple of hours to look around Threads of Feeling plus the permanent displays, so I couldn’t really have wished it so very much bigger. And I didn’t get anywhere near the Handel collection which is housed in the same building on another floor. But that may be explained by the more accessible lure of the cafe (left as you enter the museum) which does a very nice selection of cakes; I’m sure Handel – himself an infamous glutton – would have approved.

Back to the swatches, some samples contain needlework and embroidery, varying from the crude to the expert. Some are ribbon, a universally recognised symbol of love in the eighteenth century, especially resonant in circumstances of separation and loss (think ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’: a much later song carrying an 18th-century sentiment). Ribbons were the currency of romance and courtship, witness ‘fairings’ (gifts bought at fairs), the subject of the song ‘Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?’ which is played as ambient music through the exhibition (suitably atmospheric, if slightly annoying once heard half a dozen times). I discovered that there were gender-specific ways to tie ribbons: military-style cockades for boys, loosely tied topknots for girls (see below). Interestingly, colours which have since become gendered were not so defined in the eighteenth century; pink and blue were used for boys and girls alike.

Foundling ribbons

Four silk ribbons tied in a bunch with a knot, Foundling 170, a girl, 1743

 

I visited this exhibition last month and really loved it, though I found that every so often the weight of sorrow and heartbreak implicit in these textile scraps became overwhelming. Each and every swatch represents an unbearable pivotal moment of separation and loss. It is the notes left by arguably the more fortunate literate mothers – or in this case, a father – which break your heart, this one accompanying a pink and white flowered ribbon:

Ann Gardiner, Daughter of James and Elizth. Gardiner, was Born in St Brides Parish Octr. ye 6th and Baptizd and Registerd in the Parish Church Octr. ye 10th 1757. Begs to have Care Taken on ehr [sic] and They will pay all Charges in a little Time with a handsome acknowledgement for the same and have her home again when they Get over a little Trouble they are in: She is not a bastard Child your Care will be most Gratefully Acknowledged by your most obliged Humble Servant  JG

And this note accompanying a 1760 cotton or linen swatch – printed with a green and black leaf on a shelled background – for a baby girl of just a few weeks old:

…She has had the Breast and tis humbly hop’d it will be continued as she will not in all probability live without it.’

Whether one of the stalwart wet-nurses managed to pull this little girl through isn’t told.

Threads of Feeling expo

Striped camblet featured on Threads of Feeling flyer

 

As it’s Valentine’s Day today, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the heart was just as much a symbol of love in the eighteenth century as it is today. Seen as the literal source of the emotions, it turns up with unsurprising frequency on foundling tokens. There are suit-of-hearts playing cards, hearts drawn on paper, metal hearts, embroidered hearts, hearts cut out in fabric (see above), and even – in the case of one baby boy – a gown cut from a print of heart playing-cards. Fittingly, the only token in the exhibition which figured in the reunion of a mother and her child was a patchwork strip with half a heart embroidered in red thread. Sarah Bender, the mother, who admitted her child on 11 February 1767, kept the reciprocal half -heart on its corresponding patchwork scrap, and ventured back to reclaim her 8-year-old son on 10 June 1775. Alas, I have no picture of this token to show you, nor any artist’s impression of the no-doubt teary reunion, but the token is featured in the small-yet-beautifully-formed exhibition catalogue by John Styles (shown top).

Remarkably, the work of Thomas Coram, the merchant who established the original Foundling Hospital, continues today in the charity which still bears his name – an unbroken thread between those eighteenth-century foundlings and today’s vulnerable children.

Threads of Feeling runs at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1A until 6th March 2011.

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Feb 10

Radiant threads

I wanted to show you a recent find. Some 1930s (I think) cotton embroidery threads by the French company Dollfus-Mieg & Co. DMC was established in 1746 and is, astonishingly, still going strong.

DMC Broderie

1930s DMC embroidery thread boxes

Aren’t they glorious? This kind of thing puts a spring in my stride, even when it’s damp and gloomy outside, like today. Most of these boxes no longer have their full complement of 12 skeins. But what’s there is in lovely condition, bright and clean.

Purple threads

Vintage DMC: perfect for a little broderie francaise

The threads are rather fat, and not the kind of thing which would split readily, so I’m wondering what kind of embroidery they would be best suited for. Any ideas?

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Dec 10

This is not a cupcake

It looks a lot like a cupcake, or maybe a petit four, but ceci n’est pas un cupcake. It’s actually a useful little stitching aid called Stitcher’s Beeswax. When you’re hand-sewing,  run your length of thread through this beforehand and you’ll find it won’t be so prone to knotting, twisting or fraying.

Eat me not

Ceci n'est pas un cupcake

You can buy more utilitarian lumps of beeswax which will do the job fine. But I wanted to sex them up a bit. And what, now, could be more sexy than a cupcake? So, I formed these 100% beeswax amuses-mains in little chocolate moulds. Both beautiful and practical – what a joy!

This is not a cupcake

Stitcher's beeswax

In my compulsion to recycle everything, I made the first ones from used candle ends (really!) which happened to be green. But most of them are actually natural beeswax colour, as I’ve made the majority from new beeswax. You could probably eat them without much harm, but I’d recommend reserving them for their intended function. I think they’d make a cracking little stocking filler for a favourite stitcher. As with all my items, they’ll be on sale at It’s Darling! this weekend. The excitement is mounting, and the fair has  even been recommended by BBC Homes & Antiques  Magazine as one of the 5 great festive shopping treats nationwide. Woot! Hope to see you there.

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