Monthly Archives: August 2011

Proggy, Proddy, Peggy, Clippie and Hooky Too!

Lovely proggy cushion by Debbie Siniska

All these names refer to the humble rag rug!  Before anyone had even thought of the term recycling, people were cutting up their worn out clothes and recreating them as cosy rugs to keep their toes toasty in the days before central heating.  Known as tab or peg rugs in Yorkshire, Clootie Basses in North East Scotland, proggy mats in County Durham and Northumberland and going by the name of proddy, clippie and peggy mats in other regions.  All are a variation on a similar theme.

Nowadays the method of proggy and hooky rug making is very much associated with the Northern counties of England, especially Northumberland and County Durham, but rag rug making was once common throughout the whole of Britain.  I remember my Nan used to make them and she was born and bred in Sussex, down south we simply called them rag rugs.  But, as I meander around the counties of Britain looking at traditional crafts associated with different regions, I thought I would stop at Northumberland and feature their version;  the proggy mat.

image from Beamish Museum Peoples Collection

But what is a proggy mat? And what has proddy, peggy, clippie, tab and hooky got to do with anything?  Basically proggy, proddy, peggy, tab, clippie and clootie mats are all regional names for the same thing.  Hooky mats are slightly different, but all the names refer to how the mats are made or the tool used to make them.

This is a lady making a proggy mat – note – they are made stretched on a frame and worked with the wrong side facing up.  (Image from Beamish museum)

Proggy mats are made by taking a old burlap, jute or hessian sack and prodding lots of small strips or clips of material through the sacking to form a pile.  This is done with a wooden tool called a progger or simply with a sharpened clothes peg.  Hooky mats are slightly different and are made with longer strips of material which are pulled through the sacking with a hooked tools to create lines of small loops.  The image below is a selection of very simple progger tools which are all you need to get started in rag rug making.

The craft of proddy mat making is still very much alive and well.  It is both a hobby craft – where mats are created by many for the pure joy of it and it has also been elevated into an art form by some textile artists.

There are oodles of resources out there for those who wish to learn more. Courses and online tutorials are also available.

www.makings.co.uk - For all your rag making needs

www.beamish.org.uk - large collection of proggy mats and run workshops and demonstrations.

 www.oldandinteresting.com  –  This website is great!! It is my new favourite

www.fishingarts.co.uk - This had some interesting info on regional variations and traditional patterns.

woolshed1.blogspot.com - Describes how the proggy mats used to be made in Northumberland.

 

 

 

 

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Suffolk Puffs or as some may say – YoYo’s

image courtesy of raitantiques.com

To state the blatantly obvious, Suffolk puffs are traditionally associated with the county of Suffolk.  American’s call these little gathered circles yoyo’s and may never of heard of Suffolk, a county to the east of London, which is famous for lovely beaches and low rainfall but in the UK they are Suffolk puff’s. A puff is simply a circle of material gathered in on itself to form a smaller double thickness circle.  The gathers make it look rather puffy – hence it’s name.  The puff’s can also be stuffed for extra puffiness.  (Over use of the word puff/puffy in this paragraph me thinks!)

Ruth Singer - Suffolk Puff Queen

The history of the Suffolk puff is unclear.  There is mention of puff’s as early as 1601 and the technique of making little gathered circles has cropped up all over the place since before the Victorian era.  I have read that the practice of using puffs made from scraps of fabric and sewing them together to make quilts developed in Suffolk during the 19th century and it was a method of reusing old material and creating something useful and decorative, popular with the rural poor of the county.  I have also read the technique may have been named after the fact that the puffs were often stuffed with Suffolk sheep’s wool.  I guess if the latter is true then the chances are those sheep were in Suffolk somewhere.  Whichever version you prefer, by the beginning of the twentieth century the technique had become well established and was known as Suffolk puff patchwork quilting.

Lovely use of Suffolk puffs from Knit Purl and Stitch

Suffolk puffs are very easy to make, simply cut out a circle from a piece of fabric, approximately double the diameter you require and then run a running or gathering stitch all around the circle, about 4mm in from the edge.  When you have done this, gently pull the thread, the circle will come together to create a sphere, or puff!  Here is a full tutorial if you would like further instructions or suggestions with what to do with your puffs.

As you can see I like to use my puffs to decorate clutch purse’s

Quilt Museum  –  examples of Suffolk Quilts

Planet Suffolk -  All things Suffolk related

Ruth Singer –   My favourite Suffolk puff’s

RachelClare – More on Suffolk Puffs and what to do with them

 

Posted in Heritage Crafts, How to Make, Suffolk, Textiles, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Weird Wizards of the Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire really is enormous!  Well, in British terms it’s enormous.  If you are used to the open plains of America or the Sahara Desert it is actually quite tiny, but as far as the counties of Britain are concerned – it’s huge.  So it follows that within the Ridings of Yorkshire there are many interesting traditional craft stories to tell, one huge story, which I will only be able to scratch the surface of here, is the story of the hand knitters of the Yorkshire Dales.

The Costume of Yorkshire Illustrated By A Series of Forty Engravings - George Walker, 1814

Hand knitting was an important cottage industry across the Yorkshire Dales from the end of the sixteenth century right through to the beginning of the twentieth century.  Sheep had been an important part of the local economy since way back when, and it followed that spinning, weaving and knitting industries developed in the area. Yet, it wasn’t just in Yorkshire that hand knitting was an important cottage industry.  During the seventeenth century, hand knitting had been a major source of income for the pauper classes throughout the United Kingdom.  Up to 13% of the very lowest earners across the country scrapped a living by knitting stockings. Thinking about it, it’s not surprising really, as everyone wore stockings back then and someone had to make them. However, by the beginning of the eighteenth century hand knitting as a cottage industry on any scale had already begun to decline due to mechanisation.  But hand knitting continued in the Dales of Yorkshire, because it was a poor, isolated area with little other options and people were able to combine it with farming.

Knitting in the Yorkshire Dales developed in a very distinctive style.  Descriptions from the 1840′s stated that knitters sat rocking to and fro like weird wizards!  On each rock of the body, both hands engaged in a variety of little motions which together formed a uniform tossing action.  Needles were pricks and crooked, with one attached to a knitting stick tucked into the belt called a cow band.  The technique was known as swaving and it enabled the knitter not only to knit very fast but also to knit one handed and this was vitally important as to scrape a living the knitters had to work day and night to make it worth while.

bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld

Knitting stick - often carved by young men for their sweet hearts.

All members of the family would be required to knit, children started as young as three or four and they would have to knit practically all the time.  Men would knit as they milked the cows and drove the wagons and once the days work was done, families would gather at each others houses, taking it in turn to host their neighbours.  Knitting throughout the evening by the light of the peat fires rather than waste candles, telling stories and singing to pass the time.   The Vicar at Dent even complained the women were knitting during the Sunday church service.

The items that were knitted varied greatly.  Stockings were the most important item but bonnets, hats, gloves and undershirts were also produced.  The wool, called bump, was thick and greasy.  As the industry developed a ‘bump’ master transported the wool to the villagers and took the finished articles either to market or back to the mill to be dyed.  Gloves and stocking made of finer wools were also made and it was these that displayed the distinctive Dales patterns.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the hand knitting tradition of the Dales had waned as a cottage industry but knitting for domestic use continued and luckily the traditional patterns and styles are well documented.  To be honest, whilst it is fascinating to read about a craft so strongly linked to an area, it is easy to understand why it’s not really a career choice today.  Hand knitted clothes are now reassuringly expensive to reflect the amount of time it takes to knit a jumper or even a pair of socks!  It is still not easy to make a living from this traditional craft in Britain but easier than it was.

image from Dent Village Heritage Centre

And here are lots of links if you want to know more,

Click’n’knit   -   Sue Carne knits tradition Yorkshire Dales gloves so if you need a pair she is your woman!

 www.vam.ac.uk

theknittinggenealogist.wordpress.com  - soon to release a book on the history of Yorkshire knitting!

 www.daelnet.co.uk

www.outofoblivion.org.uk

www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

Lesley O’Connell Edwards –  Working Hand Knitters in England from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, Textile History, Volume 41, Number 1, May 2010 , pp. 70-85(16) (accessed online via ingentaconnect.com)

William Howitt - The Rural Life of England in Two Volumes, 1840, p307  (accessed online via google ebooks)

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sussex Pimp!

The Sussex pimp is a little known traditional coppice product, a small bundle of kindling – twenty five small lengths of birch tied up with tarred string.  Made by woodsman in the area around Petworth, used locally and also taken up to London by the cart, lorry and train load.   There is still one man who produces pimps and this is Alan Waters who is based near Chichester and sells through woodland fairs.  There is a nice video of him making some pimps and explaining the use of faggots and benders here;

www.coppicegroup.wordpress.com/gallery/

A pimp is used to light a fire.  There is two other related coppice products;  a faggot, which is a larger bundle of sticks used to fuel ovens and now also utilised in the regeneration and protection of  river banks and a bavin, which like a faggot was used to fuel a fire.

Well there you have – what more can I say.  I did try to find an image for this post but when I googled ‘Sussex Pimp” all I got was a picture of a nasty looking man on the run in Brighton!

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Sussex, Traditional Crafts, Uncategorized, Wood | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dorset Buttons

Ok I am back!  Been on holiday but now itching to get back to my journey round the British Isles and right now we are in lovely Dorset, looking at Dorset buttons.  The Dorset button industry started when a man called Abraham Case moved to Shaftesbury, Dorset.  (The other thing Shaftesbury is famous for is the Hovis advert, the one where the boy pushes his bike up the hill.  I always thought that advert was filmed in Yorkshire.  I was wrong, it was filmed in Shaftesbury by Ridley Scott no less).

Hovis boy pushing bike up Gold Hill in Shaftesbury

Anyway, back to buttons.  Abraham Case came to Shaftesbury after a career as a soldier, during which time he travelled in France and Belgium and admired the European Buttoner’s art.  After leaving the army, he found himself in need of employment.  It seems he was in the right place at the right time for button’s in the 17th century were very much a status symbol and there was a high demand for intricate and ornate buttons for gentlemen’s waistcoats.  Having seen the buttoner’s art in Europe and finding himself in an area where buttons were already made on a small scale,  Abraham Case saw the opportunity to develop a Buttony industry in Dorset.

image from This is Dorset 

The earliest buttons produced by Case were High Tops, conical in shape and Dorset Knobs, similar but flatter (the famous Dorset Knob biscuit is named after a button!).  Disc’s of horn from Dorset rams were covered with linen and worked over with fine linen thread forming the distinct cone.  It seems likely the technique he adopted combined the techniques he had seen on the Continent with the techniques which had existed in Dorset for centuries.

Abraham Case’s business quickly grew and by the early eighteenth century buttony had become a cottage industry employing thousands of people and bringing in a revenue of twelve thousand pounds per annum, which I must say was a great deal of money back then.  When Abraham Cash died, his sons Abraham Jr and Elias took over. Production grew and grew and the family managed to keep much of the business in their own hands by paying their workers in goods not money to stop them branching out on their own. By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were depots in many Dorset towns for the outworkers to collect the materials from and sell their finished buttons to.

image from 50 Heirloom Buttons to Make by Nancy Nehring

One of the most important developments in Dorset Buttony history occurred during the reign of George II (around 1750 for those of you who can’t remember your kings and queens).  Buttons based around a wire ring, rather than the disc of horn, were introduced and quickly developed into many different styles.  Blandford Cartwheels, Ten-Spoke Yarrels, Basket Weave Honeycomb Cross Wheel of Spiders Webs, Spangles, Birds Eye and Mites to name but a few. These wire based buttons are the ones that are now more well known than the original High Tops and Knobs.

image from Aquarius blog

Production of the Dorset Buttons continued apace.  It was a popular source of income among the rural poor of Dorset, a good Buttoner made between six and seven dozen buttons a day and could earn up to 3 shillings  as opposed to the 9d that could be earned as a farm worker and it had the advantage of being a home based activity, which was more attractive than being outside in all weathers.

Unfortunately all this ended abruptly in 1851, almost over night the Dorset button industry collapsed and the thousands who relied on the industry were suddenly penniless and on the brink of starvation.  All this happened because of a button making machine which made handmade buttons redundant – they just couldn’t compete.  The inventor was a man called Mr John Ashton and he exhibited his machine at The Great Exhibition.  And here is a funny thing, those of you following my blog will recall that a Trug maker from Sussex called Mr Thomas Smith had a very different experience of the Great Exhibition.  Queen Victoria brought his trugs at the Exhibition and he went home a very happy bunny.  Yet in Dorset an exhibit at the same exhibition caused misery and starvation, three hundred and fifty families from Shaftesbury alone were forced to emigrate to the Americas and Australia as a result.

image from downunderdale.blogspot.com

(I absolutely love this button, I have searched the web and decided – this is the best!)

So the Dorset Button industry ceased to exist.  It went through a brief revival at the beginning of the twentieth century initiated by Lady Lees but the outbreak of the First World War put paid to her attempts to put the buttons back into production.  Nowadays the tradition is kept alive by the Verwood branch of the WI and by the many courses being offered to teach the art of buttony.

I am very pleased to say, I shall be attending one of these courses myself.  Fibrefest in Devon is running a workshop on Dorset and Yorkshire buttons which I am very excited about.  I shall keep you posted on how I get on.  And I have decided I am going to develop a Dorset Button brooch for the Potter, Wright and Webb range.  By the way – the website is coming along nicely – still aiming to have all these lovely things available to buy from October!!



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