Category Archives: Traditional Crafts

Dorset Feather Stitch

Image - Elegant sufficiency blogspot

I think that defining this embroidery technique as a traditional, regional craft is stretching the definition somewhat, as it was invented at the beginning of the twentieth century by members of the Dorset Women’s Institute.  But at the end of the day, it involves many traditional stitches and it can be traced back to a particular region so why not!  Some would give credit solely to a lady called Olivia Pass, one of the members of the WI, who wrote a book all about the stitch.  However in the foreword of the book Mrs Pass refers to ‘we’ and says;

“This happy easy work is a revival, by Dorset Women’s Institutes, of some old stitches in modern form.”

so it seems to me, it was more of a group effort than the invention of just one member.

Dorset Feather Stitchery is really a reinvention of various well known, basic embroidery stitches – Feather, Buttonhole, Chain and Fly stitch, working them together to form a distinctive design.  Why I think that it clasifies to be here amoungst much older traditional crafts is because it is an evolution of older techniques.  To quote Mrs Pass again

“In evolving this work, Dorset has drawn on traditions from many sources, notably a book of designs taken off nineteenth century smocks…… (and) a beautiful Balkan apron.”

Do you know, I feel a tutorial coming on!

Posted in Dorset, Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Southport Boat Basket

 

Ok, I know – I haven’t managed to blog for a while.  I don’t know how these people keep their virtual worlds going – week in, week out.  It seems to me that every time I think I have the time to blog a bit, real life gets in the way and I have to postpone my virtual journey.  But today is the day, it is almost a year since I first started this lovely traditional crafts road trip and I am back on the fibre optic track.

Today I am in Southport to look at the Southport boat basket and before I even begin to look at the boat, which is not a boat by the way, I need to work out where I am.  I have found over the course of this trip, regional traditional crafts don’t usually stick to modern county boundaries, instead they follow the geography of the land and local industry.  However, as I like things nice and tidy, I usually list things under the modern county boundaries, but that was before I looked up Southport!   It seems Southport hasn’t quite decided where it should be, it used to be in Lancashire and is now in Merseyside, but many people who live there would like to move back to Lancashire.

Anyway I am not to discuss local county boundaries,  I am here to look at local baskets.  I found out about the Southport boat through a friend of mine, Greta Bertram, who works at the Museum of English Rural Life.  We had been discussing Historypin and Greta wrote a great post on their blog, A Sense of Place about how Historypin was evolving and she mentioned the Southport boat within her post.  So I absolutely had to trot off to Southport to go and find the basket.

This basket has proved rather elusive.  It is known locally and amongst basket makers, but there is very little information out there about it.   The first thing I did find out was it doesn’t come from Southport at all but from a small village nearby called Mawdesley, which incidentally is still in Lancashire.  It is said the name Mawdesley originated way back, when a certain Matilda-Mawde married a local lad and the town was named after her as part of her dowry.  The Mawdesley family were the local ‘lord of the manor’ type and have lived in Mawdesley Hall, built by William Mawdesley in 1625, pretty much ever since.

Over time the town became famous for its basket making and the baskets were known for their strength, mainly due to local growing conditions which resulted in nice strong willow.  By 1862 there were eleven basket making businesses in the village and this rose to twenty in 1874.  Even the Mawdesley family established themselves as basket manufacturers and ran one of the larger businesses at Towngate Basket Works which remained open until the 1960’s.

The industry supported many people, some working full time and some working at home to supplies the frames of the basket lids.  Plus, there were many farmers who grew the willow, dependant on the industry too.  In 1914 there were 200 acres of willow around about the village and all those twigs had to be cut by hand and then sorted, dried and peeled.  The local industries mean there was no shortage of demand for the baskets.  Supplies were made for coal mining, shipping, fishing, agriculture and mills.

Cobham Basket Works

So, the Southport boat was one of many baskets made in the basket making village of Mawdesley.  What made the basket special was that the design can be put down to one man, Mr Cobham of Mawdesley, who reportedly came up with the design in 1830.  The boat basket was invented to carry eggs and butter to Southport market and the design combined the Morecombe Bay cockle basket and other gipsy baskets.  Once Mr Cobham had come up with the design, the manufacture was developed by Thomas Cowley, who owned a local basketmaking firm and then adopted by other basket making firms.

However, I tentatively suggest it is more probable that Mr Cobham actually refined and commercialised existing traditional baskets rather than actually invented a new one.  I say this as the development of the Southport boat is similar to the Sussex trug and although not familiar with the Southport boat, I know in great detail how people in Sussex dispute whether the trug was invented or whether it was ‘refined’ from earlier spale baskets.  I would love to know more if anyone can add to the Southport boat story, please let me know!

Whatever its origins, the Southport boat was a very successful design and was soon made by many basket makers.  The boat is a type of frame basket (a basket made around a frame, rather than self supporting).  It’s rim and handle are made from hoops of split ash and it has ribs which fan out, radiating from the handle.  These ribs are not attached to the rim but added  as the basket is woven.  Interestingly, like the Welsh Cyntell basket, the Southport boat is woven from the top down as opposed to bottom up, as most baskets are.

The basket making industry in Mawdesley began to decline, like many other traditional crafts, during the twentieth century due to all to familiar reasons;  the migration of workers to the cotton mills and rubber works, the invention of plastic, cheap imports and the effect the over extraction of water and river pollution had on the osier beds.

Nowadays, although the shape of the Southport boat will be very familiar to many people,  I have not been able to find any basket makers which list the basket as one of their products.  So please, please – if you know of anyone who still makes Southport boats then get in touch so I can list their details in this post – thank you very much.

www.mawdesley-village.org.uk

www.lancashire.gov.uk – libraries services

www.lancashire.gov.uk – image archive

www.reading.ac.uk

www.ribblelife.org

 

Baskets in Europe  - Maurice Bichard

Complete Book of Basketry – Dorothy Wright

Traditional Country Craftsmen – J. Geraint Jenkins

 

 

Posted in Basketry, Endangered Crafts, Lancashire, Merseyside, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How to Make a Dorset Button

How to make a Crosswheel Dorset Button

Let’s get one thing straight from the start.   Dorset buttons are not hard.  A bit fiddly perhaps but not hard, so don’t you go giving up before you have even started.  Plus, I have written these instructions assuming that you know nothing, so each and every stage is covered. Those people who know a little bit more than nothing can ignore what is written in italics, these bits are for complete beginners.

NB I am left handed so if you are right you may find it easier to work in the opposite direction to me.

 

You will need

A curtain ring

Fine (2 ply or crewel) wool

crochet cotton or 2 ply wool (size 10 works for me)

Short large eyed blunt needle

Short large eyed sharp needle (this is for casting off if you need to)

 

Casting or covering the ring

1. Thread your needle with about 2.5 metres of your chosen wool or cotton.  You need it this long to cover the whole of the ring and create the spokes of the wheel without having to cast on again

2. Loop thread around ring a couple of times to hold it steady whilst you start off and then blanket stitch* all around the ring.

 

4.  Keep stitches fairly tight and evenly pushed together to cover the ring.  Use the loose end to help hold ring steady.

5.   When you have almost gone around the ring you need to tie in the loose end.  Lie it flat along the ring and blanket stitch over top of it.  Finish blanket stitching and slip needle through the first stitch to finish off.  Then pull the loose end tight and trim (Don’t cut main thread, you haven’t finished yet)

 

Slicking or pushing ridge of the stitch to the inside

Twist the stitches so the ridge is facing inwards.  You can do it gradually and a thumb nail is the perfect implement for this job.

Laying or making the spokes

1.    Have the thread to the front of the ring at 12.00, bring it down to the bottom and bring it back up the back in exactly the middle.  Try and make the blanket stitches part slightly so that your spokes lie flat next to them.

 

2.   Turn the ring ever so slightly and continue to wind over and over to create the spokes.  Aim for eight or twelve spokes for the first button and definitely only eight if you are using wool.  Don’t worry if the spokes look off centre at this stage.

See how the spokes of the wheel are not centred until you have secured them with holding stitch

3.   When you have got back to your first spoke end by taking needle through stitches in the centre from front to back.  Gently nudge the spokes with the needle, so they all cross over each other at the centre.

 

4.    Then bring the needle back up through the stitches and wiggle threads again to ensure the spokes are definitely centred and then do another stitch to secure spokes and to make sure they stay centred.  Make theses two stitches a neat cross as they will show.

Rounding or filling in the gaps

You should still have enough thread left to carry on without casting on or you may wish to change colour at this stage.

1.   Starting in the centre, use back stitch* to loop around each spoke in turn.  Use the needle to nudge each stitch towards the middle.

2.   When you have gone around the wheel once, take a good look at the spokes and make sure they are centred, if they are slightly off then push to the middle with your needle.  This is the last chance to wiggle them and its really easy to forget to do this bit.

2.   After a couple of circuits you will start to see the ridges forming around the spokes.  Fill in the whole wheel or stop whenever it tickles your fancy.

3.   If you need to change thread during this stage. Cast on or off by running thread up or down one of the spokes.

Top tip – there is no need to pull all the thread to the front of the button and then pull it all back to the back.  Bring the needle to the front pull a little thread through, take your stitch back down and then pull all the thread through at once.

4.  Keep pushing the stitches towards the centre of the button to keep everything tight and tidy.

 

And there you go!  Once you have made a basic button it is time to start experimenting.  See my next post for some buttons that I have been making.

 

*Blanket stitch

a. Start with your thread coming through ring from the back to the front at the top.

b.  Pass needle through centre of ring from behind.

c.  You will have created a loop.  Pass needle through this loop

d.  Pull all your thread through loop and pull stitch tight.

e. Repeat stages b-d over and over again!

 

 

 *Back Stitch Weave

a.  Bring needle up through the button on the left of top spoke.

b.  Go down through the button to the right of that spoke.

NB -the button is slightly wonky in this photo.  

c.  Pull tight.

d. Working anticlockwise, bring needle back up through to the left of the next spoke (i.e 11 o’clock)

e. Go down through the button to the right of that spoke.  You can hardly see the first few stitches but it becomes clearer as you go on.

f. Repeat over and over.  Remember; up on the left, down on the right. Working anticlockwise around the button.

 

Is this tutorial clear?  Is there a glaring error?  Please let me know and give me a pat on the back if it’s useful!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Dorset, Heritage Crafts, How to Make, Textiles, Traditional Crafts, Tutorials | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Orkney Chair

For those who don’t know,  the Orkney Islands are a series of about seventy islands which are just off the north east coast of Scotland, only sixteen of them are inhabited and it is to here I am journeying today in my virtual jaunt around British Isles.

Relief map of Scotland

The islands lie in the path of the Gulf Stream and so enjoy a climate milder than would be expected so far north. Being a very flat series of islands they are a tad windy, to say the least, and for this reason the islands are almost totally treeless.  Life in the Orkney Islands has always been mainly based around traditional crofting system of farming, which is a system of subsistence farming common in Scotland.

The Orkney Chair has evolved over time as a response to its locality and it is a really good example of how regional craft objects represent the culture, geography and social and economic history of an area.  Like many other regional crafts it is impossible to pinpoint when Orkney chairs were first made, but it is possible to chart how they evolved from simple stools to the full blown chair associated with the islands today.

Early Orkney Chair

Way back when, Orkney chairs were no more than stools and made almost entirely of straw, only the feet of the chair were wooden.  Now, this was because wood was in scarce supply on an island where there were no indigenous trees and it was sensible to make your furniture from material freely available locally and there was plenty of left over straw from the Black Oats, grown to feed the livestock.   This straw was used to make all manner of household items, not only on the Orkney Islands but in many rural areas across the country.  Referred to as lip work the straw was coiled into baskets (known as cubbies and lubbies on the Orkney Islands), twisted in rope known (simmens), formed into mats and used to create beds.

Orkney Chair Makers

As time went by people began to use driftwood, often from ship wrecks, to form the base of the chair, yet it was still no more than a stool covered in straw.  It will never be known who first had the bright idea of adding a low woven straw back, but someone, at some stage, got fed up of crouching on his stool and updated the design to include a back about two feet tall.  The chair was still kept low so people were able to sit close to the ground and avoid the smoke from the open fires burning in the centre of the room.

Cosy old chair

Later still people began to add hoods to the chairs to keep out the draughts and sometimes added a drawer under the seat.  Apparently this was for the man of the house to keep his ‘things’.  (This makes me wonder if the man in my house has Orkney roots as we currently have four ‘man drawers’ full of ‘man things’).

So the Orkney Chair evolved into chair fit for purpose, it is the perfect shape to keep the heat in and the draughts out and used throughout the centuries to provide a comfy seat.  They were made very upright though as nobody just sat they would be sewing, spinning, whittling or doing something.

Of course nothing ever stays the same and in the 1890s there was a bit of  a shake up in the Orkney chair world.  Up until this point the traditional Orkney chair had been made for use by the maker’s own family or to be sold within a small local market, but in the late 1880′s things started to change.

Countess of Rosebery

Firstly, in the later half of the the 1800′s the Arts and Crafts movement had gained in popularity both in England and Scotland and there was an increase in interest in hand made crafts as opposed to factory goods.  In 1889 The Scottish Home Industries Association was founded by the Countess of Rosebery.  Its aim was to promote and ensure a fair payment of, household crafts in Scotland.   It was probable she was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which was well established in Scotland.  The Association took the traditional crafts of Scotland and sold them to the great and the good ‘down south’.

Concurrently, or maybe as a result of this, a Mr David Kirkness, a joiner of Kirkwall, began to produce four standardised versions of the traditional Orkney chair.  By doing standard versions he was able to increase his output.  The straw backs were all stitched by outworkers, often fishermen and farmers who stitched in the evenings, or whenever they could.  It is estimated he made about 400 chairs per year, far more than other makers.

Orkney Chair with 'man drawer' by Orkney Furniture.co.uk

This new publicity and increased output meant Orkney Chairs became a must have item for the upper classes, Liberty’s of London stocked them, Queen Victoria had one and apparently even the Queen Mother was very keen to and had some too.  This definitely helped the long time survival of a vernacular design classic and Orkney Chairs are still very much in production today.

One very important feature, which has remained unchanged throughout, is the way in which the Orkney chair is constructed. Locally grown straw is used to make the backs which still have to be stitched by hand.  The chair frames, originally made from driftwood, are now more often made from the best quality wood available and beautifully finished by hand.  It is interesting that the chairs are still evolving.  Benches are now made as well as rocking Orkney chairs and fan backed chairs, all of which reflect a modern phenomena we are able to enjoy in this country – just sitting and relaxing!

Cosy Corner Bench by Orkney Furniture.co.uk

 

Buy an Orkney Chair from one of these lovely people;

www.orkneyfurniture.co.uk

www.scapacrafts.co.uk

www.orkneyhandcraftedfurniture.co.uk

www.orkney-chair.co.uk

 

Find out more about Orkney here; 

www.orkneyjar.com

Relax in Orkney here;

www.orkneyretreat.co.uk

Posted in Basketry, Heritage Crafts, Orkney Islands, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wood Colliers (or charcoal burners to you and me)

With the sun occasionally showing its face and gardens coming to life, many people will be dusting down their barbecue.  So I think it is time to take a visit down to the woods and seek out a charcoal maker or two.

Top Dog's hot dogs

If we are honest, most people don’t give charcoal much thought;  it’s black and messy, it comes in a bag and it impresses people if you can light it.  Even more impressive if you have thought ahead and got it going early enough so people aren’t waiting half the afternoon before you sizzle a sausage.  Plus if you keep it burning long enough to cook all the burgers then you really are a barbecue top dog

However, charcoal has been around a lot longer than our modern obsession with burnt sausages.  Charcoal burners and their apprentices, known as wood colliers, have been part of British woodlands since before the Bronze Age.  In fact, it was charcoal that enabled tin and copper to be smelted together to create the bronze which defined the age.

Charcoal burners were not confined to any one area of the UK, so it is not a traditional regional craft but it would have been one of the essential crafts in most areas in the same way as blacksmiths and wheelwrights.  So, although it is officially outside the remit of this blog about traditional regional crafts, I am including it anyway!

Charcoal burner outside his hut

This image was taken in the Wyre Forest, it caught my eye as you can see an oak spade basket lying next to the hut.  (Image courtesy of www.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk)   

Charcoal ceased to be important in the process of metal smelting when people worked out how to make coke in the seventeenth century.  But it has continued to have many uses and at the beginning of the twentieth century it was still in use, predominantly in the production of artificial silk.  It is still essential in water purification – did you know you can turn red wine into white wine by pouring it through charcoal?  Shame it can’t do the same to water.  I have also learnt through investigating for this post that charcoal tablets are good for relieving wind and indigestion.  I might get some for someone I know!

Image courtesy of www.charcoalburners.co.uk

By 1980 production in the UK was down to a few thousand tonnes a year and things were not looking good for the wood colliers.   It is only very recently things have started to pick up.  Over the last twenty years there has been a massive increase in demand for charcoal for the domestic barbecue market.  But as we live in a topsy turvy world, instead of sourcing the charcoal from UK suppliers, 90% of the stuff sold in the UK is produced by chopping down the endangered rainforest and mangrove habitats of South America, West Africa and South East Asia.  It is then transporting half way around the world just so we can sizzle our sausages on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  You can find a fantastically detailed post on Aaron Price‘s blog describing charcoal production in Namibia.  Read it and see if you still enjoy your sausage cooked on imported charcoal.

Do you know who is making your charcoal?

To counter the issue of imported charcoal, there has been a massive push in recent years to reestablish viable charcoal production in the UK, so that our barbecue habit can be sustained in a more responsible manner.  By buying from a British supplier the carbon emissions from your bag of charcoal can be cut by up to 85% due to the transportation costs being so dramatically reduced.  The local product is also far more suitable for use on a barbecue as it is also less dense than imported charcoal and so is easier to light and it reaches cooking temperature much quicker.  Plus, it has a carbon content as high as 90% compared to only 60% in many imported varieties which means a better burning experience.

Brand new charcoal kiln - Hand made in Wales

All this can only mean one thing – If you use British charcoal you will find it easier to impress your friends with your barbecue skills whilst also collecting brownie points for not destroying the planet for the sake of a sausage.  It’s a win win situation.

You could go even further and buy your own kiln and make your own charcoal but I personally will leave that to the experts and concentrate on not burning the sausages.

 

 

Below I have gathered together some links to local producers of charcoal and related products so you can find local suppliers.  If you can’t find a local supplier then the large supermarkets and home stores do now stock British charcoal – impressing  Sunday luncheon guests is now within everyone’s reach!

www.bmwilson.co.uk  –  Blacksmith who makes charcoal kilns

Charcoal Suppliers

www.forestryfuels.com – Beds, Herts, Bucks, Northants and Cambridge

www.croydoncoppice.co.uk - South London

www.lakelandcoppiceproducts.co.uk - Cumbria

www.dorsetcharcoal.co.uk - Dorset

www.wildwoodcrafts.com - Malvern

www.nigelsecostore.com - online supplier of Sussex based WildWood Charcoal products

www.charcoalburners.co.uk - West Sussex.  Website has detailed description of the process of small scale UK charcoal production

www.fourseasonsfuel.co.uk - West sussex

www.englishcharcoal.co.uk     Great site extolling the benefits of buying British, plus has detailed timeline of the history of charcoal production

www.bioregionalhomegrown.co.uk      Supplier of British charcoal to Sainsbury’s etc

And finally……….

www.charcoal.uk.com      These people make charcoal tablets for help with flatulance etc

www.fao.org  Document on the future of charcoal production in Africa.

www.fao.org  Analysis of trends within Charcoal production industry in Namibia

 

NB – If you are a UK charcoal burner and would like a link through to your website then please drop me a line.

 

 

Posted in Cumbria, Dorset, Heritage Crafts, London, Sussex, Traditional Crafts, Wales, Wood | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sanquhar Gloves

Socks in The Dukes pattern

Ok, I have been to Wales and have wandered through England and now I thought I had better go north of the border before I have to take my passport to get in.

On this bitterly cold day I am featuring the world famous Sanguhar gloves, and believe you me – the claim to world fame is justified.  Try googling Sanquhar Gloves;  you will be amazed how famous they are, particularly in Japan.  Sanquhar, pronounced “Sankhar” is in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish/English border and with its valleys and the river Nith nearby it has always been the perfect place for sheep and associated wool-based industries.

The craft of knitting came late to Scotland. The first knitters in Britain were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th centuries who tried to protect the secrets of their trade within corporations or guilds, but secrets will out and by the mid 1700s knitting had spread the length and breadth of England, Wales and Scotland  (better get my history correct – no Britain back then) and knitting had developed into an important industry.  Hotspots included the Yorkshire Dales, Dorset and Hampshire.

By 1778 when a Mr. David Loch visited Sanquhar, knitting was already well established and the majority of the town used knitting to supplement the family income alongside their main employment.  It was an ideal way to earn additional income as it required no expensive equipment and was eminently transportable.  For these reasons, it is difficult to trace in historical records and it’s easy to overlook the importance of hand knitting to localised economy’s.

By the late 1700′s hand knitting in Sanquhar and the surronding areas had begun to decline.  Demand had been severely interrupted by revolutions and wars in America and Europe combined with competition from the newly invented and cheaper machine made garments.

Sanquhar Gloves - Future Museum

It was probably about now that the familiar two colour Sanquhar patterns were developed. It was unlikely that the earlier stockings and gloves were intricately patterned but by 1807 the stockings that were being produced were patterned.

As the industry was not documented, the origins of the traditional patterns are obscure.  Luckily for us, the development of these intricate patterns helped the hand knitting industry to survive, albeit on a much smaller scale.  As people were still willing to pay for a beautifully made and distinctive item and so Sanquhar knitters rose to the challenge and       developed their distinctive regional style.

As I have said, how the individual patterns developed is unclear but Sanquhar patterns are very similar to knitting from the same period from the Yorkshire Dales, Westmoreland and Aberdeen and they share more than a passing similarity to knitting styles from Scandinavia and Afganistan.  But it is impossible to know for sure if the patterns migrated into the area from somewhere else.  It is not impossible that the patterns travelled from Scandinavia and geographically Yorkshire, Dumfriesshire and Westmoreland are all near enough to share a common thread.  But it is also conceivable that the patterns developed in each region independently from each other.  I think any links between the different areas could conceivably be more to do with the actual construction of the glove.   More research on this is due I think!!

Riding of the Marches. Image courtesy of Future Museum

By the 1830s hand knitting had ceased to exist as a business in Sanquhar but the regional traditions survived in the homes of the locals.  The patterns were not written down but passed from generation to generation of knitters, still going under the original traditional names – The Duke, Rose, Trellis, Drum, Coronet, Glendyne, Midge and Flea, Shepherd’s Plaid and Prince of Wales or Fleur de Lyse.

A sense of pride in the local knitting developed and resulted in the custom of a pair of Sanquhar gloves being presented to visiting dignitaries and also to the town’s Cornet, or leading horse rider, of the annual ceremony of the Riding of the Marches.  A custom when all the horse riders of Sanquhar ride around the boundaries of the burgh, led by the Cornet.

Mid 20 century commercial pattern

 

 

Finally in the 1950′s people outside of the area begun to take an interest in regional variations of knitting and some patterns were written down and published by the Dundee magazine, The People’s Friend. The Duke pattern also appears in commercial knitting leaflets of this period and in the mid 1960s the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute published a series of four knitting leaflets detailing the surviving traditional patterns (these are still available today, see below).

Nowadays, Sanquhar gloves are not made on any commercial basis but knitting as a leisure activity is huge, and the good old wide world web has meant people the world over have been able to come together to share their passion for traditional knitting.  Ravelry is a great place to start if you want to find out more.  I bet the inventor of the internet never envisaged it would enable traditional crafts to be shared, adapted and kept alive!


SWRI pattern booklet

More info 

www.swri.org.uk

The Scottish Womens Rural Institute has long been selling a pamphlet which has the basic glove in various traditional patterns.  

www.patternfish.com

This is a link to buy a downloadable pattern for a pair of Sanquhar gloves (this is not a beginners project!)

www.vanishingscotland.com

Here you can buy a kit with all you need to knit your own Sanquhar gloves.

www.ravelry.com

This one is for the dedicated knitters out there.  Ravelry is an online knitters community.  Sanquhar knitting has its very own group on theie forum where people discuss Sanquhar gloves and other traditional regional knitting, including Dales knitting!

www.dumfriesmuseum.co.uk

Detailed history of the Sanquhar knitting tradition

futuremuseum.co.uk

Detailed history and large source of images 

 

knitting in the round

 

 

 

Posted in Dumfries, Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

‘Working Woodlands’ The Story of Coppice

The Coppice Association NW – ‘Working Woodlands’  - The Story of Coppice

Sat 31 March – Sun 29 April

Head over to Farfield Mill to experience the natural wonders of green wood craftsmanship, learn about its place in social history and its relevance in our modern world.

Farfield Mill – Which is in lovely Cumbria

 

Posted in Courses, Cumbria, Events, Exhibitions, Heritage Crafts, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Welsh Cyntell

Large cyntell - Les Llewellyn

I am going over the border today, to a country where traditional culture and language has been fiercely defended for years.  I am slightly wary as to where to start on this as I could easily emigrate and spend all my time just writing about Welsh stuff;  blankets, baskets, love spoons, clogs etc.  But as I have to start somewhere I shall start with the cyntell basket (I believe ‘ll‘ in Welsh is pronouned ‘th‘ so it would be ‘cynteth‘ – but please correct me if I am wrong).

The cyntell is a multi functional basket used around the farm to ‘carry stuff’;  animal feed, potatoes and fruit and they can also be utilised around the home, for laundry and sleeping babies amongst other things.  I also wonder if they were ever used, way back when, as a unit of measure like the trug in Sussex.

Cyntells - Out to Learn Willow

In fact, like the Sussex trug and the Cumbrian swill, the traditional frame basket was not confined to county or country borders.  Known as a cyntell in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, identical baskets were found across other regions and over in Ireland, where they were known as skibs, scuttles and Sally Saucers.

Cyntell Basket - Ruth Pybus

 

 

 

The cyntell is formed around a thick, dried willow or hazel hoop, with split and shaped wooden ribs, which together form the frame which is interwoven with willow.  The original farm baskets would have been rustic affairs but a tradition developed to weave more elaborate competition baskets and these are what are more common now.

 

 

The survival of the cyntell is said to be down to three men, D.J Davies, Marvin Morgan and Les Llewelyn.  In the late 1990′s they were all working at St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.  Mr Davis was the basket maker, Mr Morgan the miller and Mr Llewelyn whittled love spoons and walking sticks.

D J Davies - The Master (image - Les Llewellyn)

Mr Davies had been the resident basket maker at St Fagans since it opened in 1948, demonstrating the weaving of cyntell basket as taught to him by his farmer grandfather (who had been taught by his father, no doubt).  Aware that Mr Davies was one of the only craftspeople still making the traditional basket, Mr Llewelyn and Mr Mogan decided to ask Mr Davies to pass on his basketry skills.   As Mr Davies had begun to think he would be the last basketmaker in Wales to make the cyntell basket, he was delighted to pass on the skills which had been passed through the generations, via his grandfather.

Having gained the necessary skills to call themselves basket makers, the two younger men set about keeping the traditional Welsh basket making skills alive and kicking.  Mr Davies and Mr Llewelyn became founder members of The South Wales Basketmakers and Mr Davies also became President of the South Wales Stickmakers group.  I believe Mr Morgan became the resident basket maker at St Fagan’s after Mr Davies retired, but unfortunately, when I searched St Fagan’s website I could find no reference to either cyntells or Mr Morgan.

Learn to weave a Cyntell

Luckily for us, many people now seem to appreciate the relevance of craft items associated with particular regions.  The South Wales Basket Makers Group holds regular courses to teach others the essential cyntell skills, with Les Llewellyn running many of these.  It seems the knowledge passed on from Mr Davies is now safe in the hands of  keen basket makers in Wales and beyond.  Indeed, it could be said (at a stretch) that cyntell basket making is a growth industry and let’s be honest –  there is not many of those about these days!!

Courses and Sales

Links through to makers who produce cyntells and also to cyntell making basket courses for interested people.

www.traditionalwelshbaskets.co.uk - Les Llewellyn

www.welshbasketmakers.co.uk

www.framebaskets.co.uk - Ruth Pybus

www.outtolearnwillow.co.uk

www.bobjohnstonbaskets.co.uk

Ray Lister – Ray supplies a video of D J Davies weaving a cyntell, plus he runs frame basket weaving courses at various locations

Owen Jones – Owen also learnt to weave cyntells from DJ Davies and runs the occasional course to.

 

Posted in Basketry, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Traditional Crafts, Wales, Wood, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Heritage Craft Association

The Heritage Craft Association.org.uk

For a very long time traditional crafts have existed without any formal support network outside of each individual crafts guild or association.  The Heritage Crafts Association is a new association that has been set up to represent the interests of all traditional crafts which do not fall under the remit of other organisations.  The Crafts Council support and promote contemporary crafts, heritage building crafts have the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, but for a long time traditional crafts which don’t fall under either of these umbrella’s have had to muddle along on their own. Clog makers, trug makers, traditional weavers, besom broom makers and a whole host of others have long known that their crafts skills are an important part of living heritage but there has been no organisation to represent them.  Until now!

The Heritage Crafts Association’s website states;

“The Heritage Crafts Association is the advocacy body for traditional heritage crafts. Working in partnership with Government and key agencies, it provides a focus for craftspeople, groups, societies and guilds, as well as individuals who care about the loss of traditional crafts skills, and works towards a healthy and sustainable framework for the future.” heritagecrafts.org.uk

I think the formation of an organisation to promote and protect tradition crafts as living skills, rather than activities which belong in museums can, only be a good thing.  After all as my journey around the country is proving traditional crafts and the skilled craftspeople who practice them, help to define the individuality of an area and link us to our heritage and locality.

If it is true that human progress is made possible by our ability to pass on knowledge and experience then it is imperative these traditional crafts are seen as part of our living heritage rather than packaged as historic reenactments . They form part of our cultural inheritance and as such we are obliged to pass them on to the next generation.

So, the Heritage Crafts Association can only be a good thing as far as I am concerned.  Prince Charles agrees with me, he has agreed to be the Association’s president, which for an organisation only a couple of years old is no mean feat.  They have also gained support amongst government departments and all this in two years – amazing!

Posted in Endangered Crafts, Heritage Crafts, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Owen Jones – Nearly The One and Only Swill Maker

Some crafts need a bit of a push and the craft of swill making is one of them.  So I shall be highlighting some of the crafts I have encountered which are teetering on the edge of extinction, almost consigned to history, but not quite.  The craft skills which have been passed from generation to generation for centuries, now being practiced by just a handful of people.

I shall start with the Cumbrian Oak Swill.  You will recall from a previous post about cumbrian swills, these baskets were once used in many different walks of life;  mining, shipping and farming to name but a few and there was a thriving basket making industry to supply the baskets.  Today this thriving industry has contracted down to one full time swill maker, Owen Jones.  He is the Cumbrian swill maker.  It is quite astonishing to think a whole cottage industry has dwindled down to one individual in a generation.

I am not sure what Owen Jones thinks of his role as custodial of the swill making craft, it must be a bit weird to know everyone is documenting you as an endangered species. There are even videos of Owen Jones making a swill archived at the Museum of Rural Life at the University of Reading,  just in case he decides to jack it all in and retrain as a banker.

But I am happy to say that right now Owen Jones retraining as a banker seems unlikely. I have just ordered my first oak swill from Owen and he didn’t mention any plans to stop. In fact he now has an apprentice, so hopefully the craft of swill making is safe for the moment.

If you would like to purchase an oak swill from Owen Jones then his website is -

oakswills.co.uk .

oak swill

Here you can order an oak swill in a variety of sizes, find out which craft fairs Owen will be demonstrating at and also book yourself on to a Swill Making course.  Now that’s something I fancy, three days in the Lake District learning how to make a swill.   I have got a plan to make a really big one and use it as a chair – yes, obviously I would need to put some legs on it!

Stop press:  Swill making is spreading.  A welsh maker, Ruth Pybus, learnt her skills from Owen Jones and now offers swill baskets alongside the traditional Cyntell, a welsh willow frame basket.  You can find her baskets here -

www.framebaskets.co.uk

 

NB – Are you a maker of swill baskets?   Let me know so I can add you to my list.

 

Posted in Cumbria, Endangered Crafts, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment