Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present

Winter provides a great excuse for staying inside and knitting...or settling down with a good book.  Much to my delight, I just found another gem!


Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, was recently published in 2013 in Great Britain by Shetland Heritage Publications.  Edited by Sarah Laurenson, it is a collection of articles by several textile historians and craftspeople (including Elizabeth Johnston) pertaining to the rich textile history of Shetland.



It is filled with fabulous photos and topics that range from Shetland sheep, wool, early textile history, wadmal, 20th century tweed weaving, lace knitting, allovers and contemporary Shetland fiber artists. It also has a number of great old quotes that give such an insight into how yarn and wool were processed in the past.  Here is one of my favorites:

'Dey reckoned at da saftest yarn wis da yarn scoored in Shetland Soda.  Dare I tell you whit Shetland Soda is?  Weel, you see dey hed a auld iron kettle, at wis come past cookin.  An dat was kept as a pee-pot.  An dey peed in him, an dey kept a lid upon him.  An dis wis whit dey kept ta scoor da yarn in.  An dey reckoned der wis somethin in hit at med da yarn extremely saft.' - Agnes Leask

(And I thought the softness of my wool yarn was strictly related to the genetics of my sheep!)
 


Although I was unable to find this book in the US, it is easily purchased online from the Shetland Heritage Shop.  (Be aware that the shipping from Shetland is not cheap!)


I hope it keeps raining...I have a lot of reading ahead of me...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mushroom Dyeing in January

I've been a bit lazy and not written any posts for this blog in the last few months.  September saw us traveling with Rick Steves Tours to the Baltic, in October I was back in Minnesota for a week for my mom's surgery, and in December we got a new puppy - life has not been the same since!  Oh, and then there's work...

But after attending a recent 'Dye Day', where several local spinners and dyers got together to jointly rent out an art center so we could make a mess in a warm place, I thought it was time to share again.

Violet Hedgehog mushrooms

 This fall in the Pacific Northwest we had the PERFECT weather for mushrooms.  I have not seen a year like this since I started hunting for these fungi!  One of the many finds this year was a mushroom known as the Violet Hedgehog or Sarcodon fuscoindicus/Hydnum fuscoindicum (depending on the taxonomy source).  Although it doesn't appear every year, this year it was very abundant.

It's a rather discreet tooth fungi that often grows in large clusters on the ground under salal, evergreen huckleberry, douglas fir and hemlock trees in our region.  When I went to identify my first find this year, I was surprised that it was missing from most of my mushroom ID books.  I had to head for the mushroom 'Bible' - Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora to find out more information.

The cap of these mushrooms ranges from 4-18cm, can be a bit depressed and is relatively dry.  The color ranges from a violet-black to raisin colored with a lighter colored margin. When you slice into them, the interior is almost black.  What helps to make this so distinctive - aside from the color - is the teeth on the underside of this mushroom.  When looking for them, they often blend nicely into the duff on the forest floor and unless you know what to look for, they are easy to miss.

Underside of the Violet Hedgehog mushroom

 I was able to collect about 3 pounds of these hedgehogs last fall.  I sliced them all up and dried them.  My three pounds was reduced to a scant 4 ounces!

This week, I got out my 4 ounces of dried mushrooms, soaked them in water and sat down with the book The Rainbow Beneath My Feet - A Mushroom Dyer's Field Guide by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alan B. Bessette. I also reread a post from one of my favorite blogs http://riihivilla.blogspot.com/2011/11/sarcodon-squamosus-experiments.html by Finnish Dyer Leena Riihelä (Although she is not dealing with the exact same mushroom I am, they are closely related).

After all of my reading I proceeded to boil my mushrooms for about 2 hours in water, then I raised the pH of the dye bath with ammonia to about 8 1/2 and boiled them for another 2 hours.  (All of the sources I read suggested that in order to extract the blue color from hedgehog mushrooms the pH needs to be in the 8 to 9 range.)  I then let them cool overnight in the dye liquor to await 'Dye Day' the following day.

On 'Dye Day', I added water (and ammonia to keep the pH in the 8 1/2 range) to my dye liquor/mushroom combination and proceeded to bring it up to 185 F.  As the dye pot got closer to 185 F, the bubbles on top developed a bluish tinge.  At this point I strained out the mushrooms and started to add a sample skein to the dyepot.  The dyepot had lost it's blue tinge without the mushrooms in it and was only a dark brown/green. The sample skein stayed about the same color as when I added it to the dye pot. As any reasonable person would do, I panicked!  All this work and no blue!  After a consultation with some dyer friends, we added the mushrooms back into the pot and much to our pleasure the blue color started to reappear.  My sample skein immediately started to turn blue.

Using a dried dyestuff to yarn ratio of 1:1 (4 ounces of dried mushrooms to 4 ounces of total yarn), I added one skein of my handspun Shetland that was mordanted in a 10% alum, 5% cream of tartar solution prior to dyeing.  At about 20 minute intervals I added a second skein and then a third skein to the dye pot.  None of the skeins stayed in the dyepot for longer than half an hour.  When rinsed, the only color to rinse out was a brown/green color...not any of the blue.

As a further experiment, I removed some of the dye liquor without the mushrooms to a separate pot, added a small amount of a copper liquor solution I had made following Jenny Dean's recipe in Wild Color. This pot was held at 185 F for about half an hour.  The color of this skein was a very light green.

Blue skeins from the dyepot with hedgehog mushrooms and pale green skein from the dyepot with the copper liquor, mushroom dyepot liquor - but no mushrooms.

What I have concluded (which may or may not be accurate) is that the brown/green color that rinsed off and remained in the dyepot with the mushrooms may potentially be the brown spores of these mushrooms. There appeared to be some oxidation occurring in the dyepot (with mushrooms) when it was in the simmer temperature range and oxygen was being introduced to the solution.  At no other time did the surface of the dye liquor turn blue.  In my dyepot, I was only able to extract the blue dye when the mushrooms were in the pot.

I am looking forward to mushroom season next year in hopes that I will find more of these wonderful mushrooms.  I have also saved the mushrooms used in this dyepot (they are still a really dark blue-black) with the hope that I can extract more dye from them in the near future! 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Finnish Travels - Pt.3

As someone that has spent her life making textiles, I would have to say that I am in love with my tools.  Tools are such an important part of the process of knitting, weaving and spinning.  They can even make a difference in the quality of the finished product.  Not to mention that a beautiful, well made tool is a joy to use!

This post will mostly be a photo essay of some of the amazing textile tools I came across in the Ostrobothnian region of Finland.

Painted spinning wheel at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa

Several spinning wheels at Stundars Museum in Solf

Spinning wheel in the priests house at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförening in Korsnäs

This upright wheel was on display at the Ostrobothnian museum in Vasa.  The sign said it was an early 18th century wheel from the town of Karijoki.  It was the only wheel of this type that I saw in the local museums.  I would like to have had a closer look at it.  Based on my own experience with upright wheels, this appears to be missing its flyer.  The distaff also appears to be in an unusual location.

I was really awed by the painting and chip carving used to create a number of spinning tools.  Here are several images that are from the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa.

Distaffs and a lazy kate from the late 1700's at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa.

The lazy kates in this image date from the early to mid 1700's.  Note the beautiful pulleys used for a counter balance loom.

This display at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa included several unique distaffs as well as a rigid heddle for band weaving that came from Voitby in Mustasaari.

This exquisite, carved distaff at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa was made by Anders Andersson Bäck from Kronoby as an engagement present for his future wife while he was working at sea as a ship's carpenter.

I loved all of the detail carved into this lazy kate and the one behind it that I saw at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförening in Korsnäs.

This skein winder/counter is also known as a 'clock reel'.  This too was located at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa.  It is the first one I have seen with a clock face painted on it!

This pulley on an old counter balance loom at Stundars in Solf caught my eye.  I am in the process of restoring an old 19th century American counter balance loom and was impressed that such care went into making this small part.

On a visit to a Vasa antique store shortly after our visit to Stundars in Solfs I came across this loom pulley. I couldn't resist bringing it home. It is a real treasure for me to have!

A short note/observation:  I was surprised to find several very old, carved and painted distaffs, loom parts and spinning wheel parts in the local antique stores.  While visiting my relatives in Molpe, I was pleased to see that they had a spinning wheel in the entrance of their home.  They told me that it was quite common for people to have one in their homes.  However, most people do not know how to use them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finnish Travels - Pt 2

Blankets on display at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings

As a weaver, I was really excited and surprised by all of the wonderful weaving that I saw in the Korsnas region of western Finland.  Even though the Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings museum is a tiny regional museum it is filled with surprises around each corner.  There are several rooms with coverlets and blankets that have been hung to show off their range of color and weaving style.  Several are woven in plain weave and several are woven in monk's belt.


More woven coverlets and blankets at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings

A display in one of the rooms that focused on the history of seal hunting in the region suggested that some of the coverlets would have been used for decorative purposes on top of a sheep skin 'blanket'.  A close look at the 'blanket' showed the seams where several skins had been sewn together.  The 'blanket' was displayed fleece side down.


Monk's belt coverlet on top of sheep skin 'blanket'.

Several of the coverlets were displayed as curtains on the box beds.  In the displays I saw, the curtains were often woven in monk's belt patterning.


Bed curtain on box bed displayed at the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vasa, Finland.


While visiting the city of Vasa, I had the opportunity to also go to a few antique shops.  Much to my surprise, I found one of the old monk's belt coverlets for sale. After picking the moths off of it, I brought it home (it also did a stint in my freezer for good measure).  The piece was obviously woven after the use of aniline dyes came into use.  The ground appears to be a mix of a florescent yellow two ply cotton yarn and a red single ply cotton yarn.  The pattern is a bright Barbie pink handspun singles wool yarn.  The blanket was woven in two narrower panels and then stitched together by machine. ...If you saw me on the street, you would find that I always wear shades of brown, olive or blue with lots of gray mixed in, so it was quite a shock to me that I really liked this bright coverlet!


Monk's belt coverlet from antique store in Vasa.  Actual block size is about 1/2" square. 

The sett on this colorful coverlet is about 60 epi with close to 50 pattern picks per inch and 50 ground picks per inch...and I thought that I did fine weaving on my coverlet patterns at 32 epi!  Each of the two panels was woven 25" wide and 65" long with a tiny 1/4" hem on the ends and a bit less for the center seam. 

Weaving from the Bengt Carlson farm in Molpe

The other woven treasure I returned with was an single panel of a monk's belt coverlet or bed curtain given to me by the wonderful folks we stayed with, Bengt Carlson and Greta Björkqvist.  The ground appears to be a black two ply cotton with a sett of 60 epi. The red and green part of the pattern is a single ply handspun wool while the yellow and white accents are a two ply commercial cotton.  The picks per inch in the pattern are about 50 ppi for both the pattern the ground.  The piece measures about 26 1/4" wide and 73" long with a tiny hand stitched hem on each end.  However, at some point this panel had one of the long sides turned over about 2" and was then hand hemmed.  Perhaps for use as a decorative valance for a bed?  (There is no evidence of fading on the back side which would suggest it had been used for a window valance). 


My two woven treasures from Finland

While at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings I also noticed the woven runners on the floor.  These weft faced wool rugs have colored patterning that was quite unique to Korsnäs. 

Korsnäs woven rug

Band weaving also played an important part of the textile production in the area.  These bands were woven on a rigid heddle loom.  They were used for decoration on the both the folk costumes and household textiles in the region.


Woven and tapestry crochet bands at the Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings
 
While visiting Stundars Open Air Museum in Solf, we had the opportunity to watch some of the local crafts people do demonstrations.  Barbro Sandin was using the rigid heddle loom to weave traditional patterned bands.  These particular bands are used to wrap around the waist of skirts for the women's folk costume and to hold up aprons and pockets.


Barbro Sandin demonstrating at Stundars
   
This women's ikat, weft faced wool skirt from the Korsnäs folk costume would have been wrapped with a three meter handwoven band around the waist.  The band was finished with decorative wrapping and tassels.



From the folk costume collection at Brage in Helsinki, Finland


I can only say that I am thrilled that my sister, who accompanied me on this trip, showed great forbearance as I slowed my pace to that of a snail as we explored all of these wonderful places!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finnish Travels - Part 1 
 The Korsnäs Hembygdsförenings


The Hembygdsförenings located in Korsnäs, Finland

From very early in my life I have had an intense interest in my family history.  Like most Americans I'm a 'mutt'.  However, a quarter of my ancestry comes from the Swedes that populate the western coast of Finland.  The only problem was that aside from a few bits of oral history, some old photos and an worn wooden butter box, all traces of those origins had disappeared.  It wasn't until recently after much research and the help of some wonderful people I met five years ago, that I was able to reconnect with my Swedish-Finn roots.  The journey has been remarkable to say the least!

Oldest mans Korsnäs sweater in the museums collection

My great grandfather emigrated from Molpe, Finland in the Korsnäs region of Ostrobothnia in western Finland.  Korsnäs is known for a very unique type of textile that is often a combination of knitting and tapestry crochet. They have a wonderful little museum in the town center of Korsnäs known as the Hembygdsförenings.  Volunteer Inga-Britt Mannfolk graciously opened the museum for us on a Sunday so that we could see the incredible collection of textiles that it housed.


These sweaters are typically made by using a tapestry crochet technique for the top and bottom of both the sleeves and the sweater body.  It's a very durable technique that withstands wear quite well.  The body of the sweater is then knit, often with three woman working together on the 'lice' patten.  The knitted body stretched allowing for expansion as a person aged.  These sweaters were first made in the mid 1800's for men and latter were adapted for woman.

Korsnäs sweater with cap
The tapestry crochet technique was also used on a wide range of other textiles.  The museum had a sizable collection of small bags that were used for money or tobacco from the entire Korsnäs region.

Money bag from Korsnäs

Tobacco bag from Korsnäs
This technique also lent itself to a number of different styles of bands for use with trousers, dresses and blankets.

Decorative band for a sleigh blanket

Sleigh blanket woven in monksbelt with tapestry crochet edge, additional tapestry crochet bands and rigid heddle bands

Breast plate
This unique 'breast plate' for a man would have been worn in the v area inside of a mans vest.


Wrist warmer with decorative fringe

The caps that I saw as well as one pair of socks used the combination of knitting and tapestry crochet.  The mittens however were knitted only with patterns that emulated the tapestry crochet patterns.  I was pleased to see several pairs of mittens for sale in the lobby of the museum along with patterns for sweaters, mittens and hats.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of these textiles as well as how to make them, I would strongly recommend the book, 'Decorative Crocheting' by Marketta Luutonen, Anna-Maija Bäckman and Gunnar
Bäckman.  It was published in 2003 by österbottens hantverk rf in Vaasa, Finland.  The text is in English (as well as Swedish and Finnish) - thank heavens...my Swedish is atrocious!
 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"A Legacy of Shetland Lace"

Published by The Shetland Times Ltd, Lerwick, 2012

Elizabeth Johnston of Shetland sent me this lovely book this past winter.  Most books that are available about Shetland lace are written by writers that are not from Shetland.  This book is actually the work of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers that was founded in 1988.  It's purpose is to preserve and further Shetland's traditional textile heritage.




This knitting book has all of the things that I most love about knitting books.  Not only does it have good patterns, it also has clear directions at the beginning of the book for finishing and grafting.  All of the pattern designers, including Hazel Tindall, have interesting bios so that we get to know who these Shetland knitters are.  



The Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers logo is used to indicate the difficulty level of each pattern using one to five spinning wheels - five being the hardest.


Knitting Advise
 Throughout the book you will find tidbits of knitting advise from these masters written in their native English.  It brings the reader just that much closer to being in Shetland to be able to read all these little gems of wisdom.  It's a book that I highly recommend!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shearing Day at Whoamule Shetlands

Skirting Fleece
Chris and Jerry Lubinski of Clinton, WA on Whidbey Island let me photograph their shearing day recently.  If you'd like to see the whole story, follow this link to my other blog...http://thesheepbarn.blogspot.com