Tag Archives: Traditional

North Country Quilts (that’s not the same as Welsh Quilts)

Durham Quilt image from Welsh Quilts blogspot

As the nights draw in, I have started to grumble about the cold.  I have decided it would be nice to have a good old fashioned eiderdown or quilt to put on my bed.  Obviously, this got me thinking about where the different types of quilts come from.  So I am off again, heading up north to look at North Country quilts.  Also known as Durham quilts, but they have always been made across the whole of Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.

Durham quilter. Note the fabric here is sateen

North Country quilts are whole cloth quilts, which means instead of being made from scraps of fabric to make the more familiar patchwork quilts, they are made from a continuous piece of fabric.  Like most historic crafts this would traditionally be a cheap, readily available fabric, usually cotton, but sometimes a sateen type fabric.  The exception to this rule was a ‘stripy’, which was a utility quilt that used strips of fabric, which was easier to construct and cheaper.

by Lilian Hedley

 

North Country quilts are often confused with Welsh quilts and this is not surprising, as to the uninitiated they do look similar.  The main differences between the two are;  Firstly, each have different ways of creating the stitched patterns.  North Country quilts have a central motif surrounded by an area of infill patterns, often based around a specific design called the running Durham feather stitch, with a decorated border around the edge.  Welsh quilts also have a central motif which is then framed by two or three squares which are then infilled with patterns, often a spiral motif.  The second way of differentiating between the two regional quilts is the way the edges are finished.  Welsh quilts tend to be finished with a butt edge, secured with a couple of rows of running stitches and North Country quilts tend to be finished with a couple of rows of machine stitching.  Thirdly, North Country quilts are generally padded with cotton, presumably from the local mills and Welsh quilts are padded with wool, from the local sheep.  Last but not least is that although both North Country and Welsh quiltmakers  sometimes made the ‘Stripy’ quilts, the North Country quilts incorporated the strip into the design, with the patterns following the stripes whereas the Welsh quilts ignored the stripes and the patterns remained the same as whole cloth quilts.

I found a really interesting post on the difference between Welsh quilts and Durham quilts on Pippa Moss’s blog.  Pippa goes into great detail on the differences and has some great images of her amazing collection of quilts.  I must say, having looked at all her lovely examples, I really think a nice antique Durham quilt is just what I need for my bed.  I will have to look out for one on ebay as there is not even the smallest chance I am going to make a full size quilt for myself.  I know this for an absolute fact, as I just don’t have the stamina.  I am in the process of making some samples of English quilting for the Design and Stitched Fabric course I have rashly signed up for and it is going to take me a month to make a cushion cover.  But I digress….

I want this one for my bed, but it is at Nunnington Hall. North Yorkshire!

Both the Welsh and the North Country quilts have very intricate designs and patterns, and these patterns could vary, not just from area to area but also within the same village where individuals would have their own distinctive style.  Kate Trusson is a quilter from Swaledale and in an interview for Popular Patchwork she describes how North Country patterns were flowing, using running feathers, leaves, twisted chains, curlicues and spirals.  Julie still uses patterns which are linked to her own locality, Swaledale in the Northern Dales.  These unique patterns have an openness and a primitive quality about them.

Interestingly, Welsh patterns were called ‘string and teacup’ because they used household objects to draw round and used string as a compass and also to mark out straight lines.  There were many ways the patterns were marked out and North Country quilter’s sometimes sent their quilts off to a stamper who printed the chosen pattern onto the fabric to give the quilter a guide to work from.  This method does explain the complexity and symmetry of some examples of whole cloth quilts from the late nineteenth century.

I Love Feathers by Sheila Curtis of Ledbury.

Quilt making both in the UK and America is very much alive and kicking and the traditional patterns are still known and used.  There are also many contemporary quilt makers who push the boundaries of this traditional skill.  You only have to search the internet for Durham quilt making workshops to find a whole host of resources.  If you want to see exquisite examples of both antique and contemporary quilts then I suggest you check out some of the websites below.  Right now I am off to draw up an example of Durham running feather stitch for my course samples and I better order some cotton batting too if I want it to be authentic!

 

 

 www.lilian-hedley-quilter.com - Queen of North Country quilts who runs courses on how to do Durham running feather stitch and also how to mark out your pattern

www.welshquilts.blogspot.co.uk - beautiful images of Pippa’s collection of vintage welsh and North Country quilts.

www.beamish.org.uk - large collection of quilts

www.quiltmuseum.org.uk - All things to do with quilts

www.stensource.com –  Inspired to make your own quilt?  Here is a source of designs if you aren’t confident in designing your own

Posted in County Durham, Heritage Crafts, Northumberland, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

‘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!

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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

How to Make a Yorkshire Button


Yorkshire Buttons are basically an extension of an embroidery stitch called a ribbed wheel.  (Also known as ribbed spider’s web, back stitched spider’s web, woven wheel or woven spot).  Somewhere in Yorkshire, someone had the bright idea of taking this stitch and weaving it free of any backing material.  Instead the stitch is woven onto a circular template, thus they were able to take the finished circle off the template and gather and stuff it to form a little sphere and hey presto a new button was invented.

To make a Yorkshire button follow the instructions below.  Anything in italics is details which some people might not need or want.  Note that I am left handed so the photos show me sewing clockwise.  Right handers will probably want to go the other way!


1.    Make your template.  Cut a circle out of strong cardboard or plastic.  No bigger than 5cm (2″) if this is your first one.

a)  Use a compass or draw round something the right size.

b)  Cut 12 V shaped notched around the edge of the circle, big enough to hold the thread.  These should be evenly spaced like a clock face – that is at 30° intervals.  Best way to do this is to divide into quarters and then divide the quarters, this way the notches stay even. Imagine or mark the notches as a clock face

c)  Pierce hole through the centre.

Bear in mind that the diameter of this circle will end up as the circumference of your finished button.  If you want your button to be a certain size and don’t remember all those complicated formulae from school then take the buttonhole measurement and double it and then add about 3mm.  You can pull it tighter if it is a tad too big.

2.    Thread a blunt darning needle with about 2.5m of thread, this seems alot but it is best to do the whole button without needing more thread.  Wool would be the traditional choice in lace weight but I like to use cotton crochet thread (no 8 is good).  Bring your needle up through the centre hole of the template, pull the thread to the front leaving about 10cm at the back to hold on to.

3.    Next you need to form the spokes to weave the button onto.  This sounds more complicated than it is but follow the instructions as two threads must form each spoke and you do need to end up in the right place.

Start by taking the thread from the centre to notch 1, go around the back to notch 12, come to the front and go down to notch 6, go round the back to notch 7, come to the front and up to notch 1,  continue in this way in the following order

b = thread at the back,  f = thread at the front

1  b 12  f 6 b 7 f 1 b 2 f 8 b 9 f 3 b 4 f 10 b 11 f 5 b 6 f 12 b 11 f  5 b 4 f 10 b 9 f 3 b 2 f 8 b 7

4.    From 7 come to centre, take needle UNDER all spokes and come up between 12 and 1, loop over the centre between 6 and 7 and back to form a little anchor stitch.  Check that the spokes are sitting centrally before pulling the stitch tight.  This will show so it needs to be neat!

5.    You are now ready to weave the stitch.  It is basically a spiral of back stitches over the spokes, working from the centre outwards.  Work as follows – take thread back over a spoke (should be spoke 12 if you came up between 12 and 1).  Take needle under this spoke and the next (12 and 1). Pull thread through.  Repeat – back over spoke 1 down and under spoke 1 and 2. (basically it is one spoke back two spokes forward).  After a couple of stitches the ridges will start to appear and it is clear how the button is formed. Continue in a spiral until the whole template is filled.  Neaten the stitches as you go, pushing them together so the spokes do not show and the template is tightly packed.

 

6.    When you can fit no more stitches onto the template the button, turn the template over and run a running stitch through each of the loops on the back.  Then slide each of the loops off the template and pull the thread to start to form the spherical shape.  Cut off your loose starting thread at this stage, leaving about 1cm inside the button so it doesn’t unravel. Stuff your button with small amount of wadding.  Alternatively a spherical bead which is the right size.  Draw the loops tight.  Lastly make a few stitches at the back to neaten the button up and then leave the thread to sew on to garment.

There you go – a Yorkshire Button, easy to make and can be made to compliment a special garment or when you just can’t find anything in the right colour.

NB  This is the first of many tutorials.  If you use this and find I have made an error or there is part of the instructions that really don’t make sense to you – Please let me know so that I can correct them. Thank you.

 

 

Posted in How to Make, Textiles, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Cumbrian Oak Swill

image from oakswills.co.uk

Ok, having begun my Traditional Craft journey around the British Isles down south in sunny Sussex, I am now going to head up north to take a look at the Cumbrian oak swill basket.  Again, I have purely personal reasons for choosing Cumbria as my second destination.  It is my favorite place ever and no it doesn’t rain all the time.

The Cumbrian swill is an oval, wooden basket and it is closely related to the Sussex trug, as they are both spale or spelk basket, (spale or spelk being the thin strips of wood, which in the case of the Cumbrian swill are cut from 25 – 30 year old oak coppice).  But whereas the Sussex trug is made by the wooden strips being layered and nailed down to create the form, the Cumbrian swill is made by weaving them.  The origins of the Cumbrian swill is buried in the depths of time but it is similar to other regional variations of woven spale baskets.  Skuttles were produced in the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire and other baskets went by the name of whiskets and slops.

Skuttle basket maker in Worcestershire 1935

Photographed by Marjorie Wright (1889-1973), Image from Museum of Rural Life.

How long swills have been part of life is unclear but similar baskets were used to carry corn in the Iron Age and throughout history they have found use in various industries; mines, mills, ironworks to name but a few.  On farms they were used for sowing, harvesting and feeding animals and in the home they were utilised when ever there was a need for a large receptacle.

Cumbrian swill making centred around the Furness area of Cumbria or Cumberland as it once known and this location would have been a major factor in the success of turning a cottage industry into a trade in its own right.  The woods of  Furness Fells would have provided the coppiced oak for the swill makers and there was a ready market for the swills in the mills, mines and farms throughout the North.

Swill makers from Backbarrow

Image taken from www.levenvalleyhistory.co.uk/woodland-industries

The swill makers were so successful that some intrepid Swillers, as they were called, from Ulverston, Kendal and Gatehouse-of-Fleet moved lock, stock and barrel up to Gargunnock in Scotland in 1865, probably encouraged to come by the local Laird, setting up a rival Scottish Swill making industry.

So what about now?  Fast forward through the twentieth century, passed the World War’s, passed the introduction of production lines and plastic and on to the present day. How are the Cumbrian swill makers doing?  To be honest…..it’s not good!  If there was list of endangered crafts at risk of extinction, then swill making would be on the top of the critical list.  There is only one full time Cumbrian swill maker left and his name is Mr Owen Jones. If you google his name, there are numerous articles on how he is the last in a long unbroken line of swillers and how he has single handedly kept the craft of swill making alive.  I won’t duplicate all that here as there really is a wealth of information on Mr Owen Jones.  There is a particularly lovely video of him making a swill on the Museum of Rural Life website (will post a link when I have worked out how!)

Anyway I do sincerely hope the oak swill is not like the Quagga (that funny zebra with just a few stripes)  the last one died on the 12th August 1883 in Amsterdam zoo.  The world watched and only after it had died did people sit up and say ‘Oh dear, they are all gone – too late now!’

But I like to think there is hope and the oak swill is definitely not as dead as a Dodo. There is an increasing appreciation of traditional regional crafts and their role in our material cultural heritage and a growing willingness to protect associated traditional skills.  I won’t bang on about the importance of Heritage Crafts here, as this is a post about the Cumbrian oak swill but I am planning on giving it a whole post all to itself. Well actually I am going to give it a whole page all to itself!

Next up – I am going to Dorset to take a look at Dorset buttons!!

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The Right Royal Sussex Trug

The Sussex Trug is a funny old place to start my Traditional Craft journey around the British Isle’s because some would say; it isn’t actually that old, especially in traditional craft terms, having first shot to fame in 1851.  But the trug is so very much associated with Sussex and is so firmly rooted in my childhood memories, it seems a very good place to begin.

There have been Trug’s in Sussex in one form or another since way back when.  The word trug is thought to have derived from the Old English word trough or trog which means ‘made of wood’ or ‘boat like form’.  The first trough’s or trog’s were carved, wooden, boat shaped vessels and were used by farmers for measuring and harvesting and there are references to them in medieval manuscripts. But what is a bit hazy is when these solid wooden Trog’s evolved into the baskets we now know as Trug’s.  It is known that a sixteenth century Sussex trugger called John Edwards left all his trugger tools to his son and the tools are almost the same as the trugger tools used today and trug’s also appear in paintings as far back as the 1700′s.

However the Trug really came into its own during the 1800′s,  In a village called Herstmonceux (Yes I know, it is a funny name!  It’s pronounced Herst-mon-zoo and it comes from combining the Anglo-Saxon word hyrst, which means “wooded hill” and the name of the Monceux family, who were lords of the manor in the 12th century)  lived a Mr Smith.  It seems that Mr Smith had the bright idea of taking the original trug and making it better.  Some say that he actually invented the Sussex Trug, it but it was more likely he was a master trug maker and he made the best trugs in the village.

We do know his trug were made in the traditional Sussex style; a lightweight basket made from Sweet Chestnut and Cricket Bat Willow. The Sweet Chestnut, grown locally on the wooded hills, he used for the rim and handle and the Cricket Bat Willow, from the nearby Pevensey Marshes, he used to make boards for the body of the basket.  Mr Smith’s Sussex Trug was very popular locally and he developed a thriving market selling to local farmers.

The really big moment in Sussex Trug’s history came in 1851 when Mr Smith took his basket to the Great Exhibition of 1851.  There, his stall was visited by Queen Victoria who order a number of Trug’s to give as gifts.  The Sussex Trug was renamed the Royal Sussex Trug and Mr Smith personally walked all the way to Buckingham Palace, pushing his hand cart, to deliver the Queens Trug’s.

Obviously Mr Smith was a very happy man, his business flourished and a trug making cottage industry developed.  Competitors sprung up and trug making spread throughout Sussex and Kent and even as far as Somerset.  Everyone chugged along quite nicely and the trug continued in production into the early twentieth century until, alas, along came mechanisation and plastic.

Now here is where the story could have ended, the lovely Royal Sussex Trug killed off by machines and plastic, luckily for us it isn’t the end. Admittedly things got a bit hairy for Trug making for a while, farmers no longer needed Trugs to collect their eggs and apples and the plastic punnet became the preferred container.  After the Second World War Trug production gradually shrank back into Sussex until there was only a handful of companies left, one being the original Thomas Smith company.  These Trug makers survived by pure tenacity  and also by adjusting their marketing plan.  Instead of selling mainly to farmers they begun to sell more to gardeners.  The Sussex Trug became the must have accessory for the dedicated gardener.

So there we have it, a potted history of the Sussex Trug.  Along the way the Sussex Trug really has had its ups and downs, through the seventies and eighties I remember more than one  story about how the last trug makers were on the verge of shutting up shop. But it does seem they have now carved themselves a niche market.  The Sussex trug makers have also diversified and now produce a ply version of the traditional trug.  Go to any gardening online shop and the chances are that there will be a wooden trug of some description for sale.  They now even have to fight off the threat of cheap, imported copies from China.  However, the genuine article for me remains the Royal Sussex Trug, made only by the original Smith company.  Although I must say if I am perfectly honest, I don’t think much of the music they play in their workshop, but despite the music – they make a jolly fine old Trug!!

Next post is going to be on the Cumbrian Oak Swill.  I am so loving this!  In an age when we all moan about generic high street brands, it’s so great to focus on the regional crafts which are still alive and kicking.  Think Cheddar Cheese and Cornish Pasty for the craft industry!!

There are many places to buy Sussex trugs, some are made in Sussex and some are imported from Eastern Europe or China.  It’s fair to say that the cheaper it is the more likely it is not to be a genuine Sussex trug.  If you want to be sure that you are getting the real deal then The Cuckmere Trug Company is where you need to go, deep in the sussex countryside and bizarrely the workshop is also within earshot of Druzilla‘s zoo.  So alongside the tweeting of blackbirds and sparrows you can hear monkeys and parrots too!

The Cuckmere Trug Company 

 

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Sussex, Traditional Crafts, Uncategorized, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments