Tag Archives: Dorset

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

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

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

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!!



Posted in Dorset, Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments