Showing posts with label Sewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sewing. Show all posts

Friday 19 May 2017

Doodles in tapestry wool ...

It's exam season ... <groan!> 😩 And, if there's one thing worse than having to go off and sit a whole bunch of exams yourself, it's going through the ritual of exam season second-time-round with your kids. We've had a busy old time of it recently catching up on spellings and grammar, arithmetic and mathematical reasoning for Emi's SATS exams, and now he's headed for his end of year exams in all the other subjects.

To keep hold of my sanity when my interest in spotting adverbial clauses was waning, I dug out the little bit of tapestry wool left over from my last project. And sitting there in the quiet as Emi studied, I thought about a beautiful clematis, deep purple blossoms and waxy green leaves, coiling its way up a bamboo support.

My inspiration came from a recent gardening triumph of my mother's. Now I have to explain that my mum is the most green-fingered person I know. She has a really special gift for getting things to grow from cuttings and seed that she handbags on her travels. And, yes, that really is a verb! Over the course of my lifetime she's carried home most of her large, colourful garden in her handbag.

 She recently blew my socks off by growing the most exquisite clematis from a cutting that she took from my uncle's garden. Last time she showed it to me it was gorgeous: all healthy green leaves and swollen buds breaking out into showers of impossibly-exotic purple blossoms. I was deeply envious.

And so, sitting there in the kitchen with my son and a stack of SATS papers, I found myself day-dreaming about glamorous purple clematis vines. My left-over threads didn't run to the exact colour scheme that nature had created; I didn't have nearly enough deep purple, but I improvised and this is what came out:

Monday 1 May 2017

How to tailor your tassel ...

Gosh that title sounds a bit dodgy ... but I'll bet it grabbed your attention πŸ‘€

The purpose of this strangely-named post is to explain how to make luscious tassels. Let's be honest, there's nothing quite so under-whelming as a half-hearted tassel. You might as well just not bother if you're going to put some limp, skinny, under-weight effort on the fringe of whatever it is you're trying to embellish. Save the wool, and do something else! Sew on feathers, or add some sequins. Do something else, because tassels should be opulent and extravagant. They have to be full-bodied and curvaceous to be tassel-tastic!

On my recent Queen of Hearts Stole I chose to go a bit overboard with some really lux tassels. I used over 80 g of wool making 30 tassels to sew on either end. It was very extravagant as I'd only used 540 g to knit the entire stole, but the investment really upped the wow factor of the finished item.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Bias Binding ... it would be wrong not to ...

It's so easy to make ... it would be wrong not to give it a go.

Everyone who sews has bits left over when they cut out their patterns, and everyone who sews can put some pretty bias binding to really good use. Think of all the things you could trim with a little injection of colour in a fabric that you love ... . If, like me you, enjoy clashing colours and patterns, then this bias binding gig is totally for you.

Jazz up the neckline of a plain white T-shirt, or the edging of a pillow. Use it in your dress-making to add interest to your creations. The possibilities are endless, and it's always an especial delight when you get to use something that might otherwise be thrown away.

The thing about bias binding is that it has to be cut at  45ΒΊ to the selvedge of the fabric. Woven fabric has threads that run lengthwise, parallel to the selvedge, the warp threads, and threads that run across the fabric at right angles to the selvage, the weft threads. If you pull it lengthwise or widthwise it's pretty sturdy; the warp and the weft are woven to work against one another, holding each other in place, and it doesn't stretch very much. If, however, you pull it at a 45ΒΊ angle to the selvedge, the warp and the weft scissor up and down, and it stretches beautifully, which makes it perfect for edging curves or corners, around which it can be mitred.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Teddy Bears with waistcoats ... 🐻

Here in the UK our clocks have moved on to British Summer Time. Personally I wish they stayed on BST all through the winter months. It would be great to have that extra daylight into the winter months. The sun is shining down here in London, the mercury has risen and the spring bulbs are bringing bursts of colour everywhere.

In the meantime I've been busy getting a project ready for the lovely ladies who are going to be my guests in Barcelona over Easter. I'm so very excited to be hosting them in one of the greatest cities in the world.

We're going to be working on some Barcelona Bears as our holiday project. This pattern had its first incarnation to celebrate the wonderful one-day wool fair that is Festiwool back in the autumn, but it's making a come-back with a splendid new spring waistcoat to keep the bear warm in this chilly weather.

I've shared the knitting pattern here: Festibear, and if you'd like to learn how to make his waistcoat just read on for my paper pattern and instructions.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Heart Yarn Bag

Why not use some of your left-over yarn to make yourself a Valentine's Day gift with this heart motif yarn bag? You could use it as an extra small handbag, or make it for a little girl. I'm sure she'd love it in pink!

I designed this bag to hold my ball of yarn when I'm working on my feet. Often when I'm at yarn fairs, or teaching, I find myself walking around trailing yards of yarn in my wake as I try in knit on the go. I noticed that many of my clever neighbours at the yarn fairs get around this problem by using little yarn bags, suspended from their wrists that neatly hold their yarn as they pace around. And this is my take on the yarn bag.

I decided to combine the knit panels with some tweed that complimented the colour and texture of the stitch-work, and then I made an acetate lining to go inside to keep everything ship-shape. If you're not keen on sewing you could simply knit the side and bottom panels and forego the lining. It would still totally work. Just read on for my pattern:

Thursday 22 September 2016

Knitting tote bag ...

Happy Autumn Equinox, my lovelies!

I've just finished making a batch of these super-quick tote bags for a wonderful group of ladies who've asked me to organise a knitting group get-away in deepest, darkest Devon. The idea is to hand out their knitting kits in custom-made tote bags that they can then carry them around in, and which will also help (super myopic) me to spot all my gorgeous ladies in a crowded bar. Brilliant idea: win/ win for all concerned!

We're staying down by the Exe estuary, so I thought I'd go with a jaunty nautical theme.

Just read on for the pattern and instructions.

Friday 15 July 2016

TGI Friday ...

And TGI the holidays!

Finally school's out for summer ... and we're already on the road! We're bombing up the motorway to Holyhead to catch the fast boat to Dublin. The weather doesn't look entirely congenial to sightseeing, and, as I'm incapable of not turning up 8 hours early for the ferry, we may have a soggy time exploring another epic Welsh castle. I'm really grateful to Edward I, back in the 13th century, for giving me so many stonking stop-off castles to kill the time until the Dublin Swift weighs anchor.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Georgian Embroidery Workshop ...

Last Wednesday I headed over to Osterley Park, where their lovely volunteers were hosting a Georgian embroidery workshop. It sounded amazing, and, whilst my terrible eyesight makes embroidery a bit of a challenge for me, I was intrigued to learn about a group of ladies who were keeping alive the skills of the eighteenth century needlewomen. Bravo to them!

As it turned out the workshop was on whitework, which involves white stitch-work on the finest and most delicate of cotton cloth to produce an effect (when done well!) not dissimilar to that of fine lace. With my limited experience and wonky eyes it would have been difficult to have come up with something that was a greater personal challenge for me. However, the wonderful ladies assured me that they would not be put out in the least if I failed to place a single sensible-looking stitch in my fabric. The object of the workshop was to learn, to be inspired and to enjoy.

The ladies leading the class had very kindly brought along their own favourite books on the topic, which they invited us to look at for some inspiration.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

When a silver thimble was wedding bling ...

Yesterday morning I was racing through gallery 116 at the Victoria & Albert Museum when I chanced upon a little exhibition called A Stitch in Time. Well, in truth it's little more than one display case on the bridge of the marble stairway that runs up to the third floor, so it's a teeny weeny bit extravagant of the good folk down at the V&A to bill it as an exhibition, but, nevertheless, it made me stop and think.

Until the second half of the nineteenth century us regular folk - not the Great and the Good with their fashionable tailors, costumiers, hosiers and milliners - would have had to get by with home-made clothes. Today sewing, knitting and the other textile crafts are regarded as hobbies, something we do for fun, but back in the day they were essential life skills for all but the wealthiest heiresses.

A good wife and mother had many talents, and not least among them was the ability to clothe her family. Being nifty with a needle was, for many, as important as being able to read and count. It was certainly a talent that a young woman would have wanted to flaunt. Oh, yes, back in the day being nifty with a needle would have been regarded as just a little bit sexy.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

The Curtain Factory Outlet ...

Have I ever mentioned that I've got a bit of a thing about curtains and soft furnishings ... .

No? Well, my secret is out: I love 'em!

And now let me share another secret with you: if you're looking to shop where the trade go shopping, where there are over half a million (yes, that's right a cool 500,000 +) bales of fabric to chose from, and all at very reasonable prices then it's the wonderful Curtain Factory Outlet, up in Finchley, North London that you're after.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Mama Pepita's sewing machine ...

It's a sad thing, but I never knew my mother-in-law. She died twenty years before I became part of Mr B's family, and it is one my abiding regrets that I never got to meet her. Right up until his death my father-in-law used to sit on the terrace, and tell me how wonderful she was. He missed her every day of his long life without her. He used her name as the password for anything that needed password protection. It may not have been very secure, but it told you everything you needed to know about their marriage. And dear Papa was the most devoted of husbands, staying true to her memory through thirty years of being a widow.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Never need to buy shorts again ...

My Emi is a terror with his trousers. They're always worn out before they're outgrown. And the real disaster zone is the knees. The other bits are mostly fine, but the knees, especially the left knee areas, are always shredded. It's the same with his grey school trousers and the eye-wateringly expensive high-tech tracksuit bottoms that he wears for games.

Now if there's one thing I hate it's having to throw something out before I've had my money's worth, and this business with the trousers has been leaving me feeling very short-changed for quite a while. Even the charity shops didn't want his trousers after he'd done with them. They were much too polite to say so, but I'm sure the trousers with the shredded knees all ended up in the big van that comes round every week for the stuff that can't be sold.

Happily I've hit upon a way of making them last another season.

We go from this:

To this: 

Happy days! In fact I've just been to work on a batch of 6 pairs of last year's jeans, all suffering from serious trauma to the knee area, and I think I've sorted him out with as many pairs of shorts for summer as he's likely to need. The ex-trousers were all a bit on the short side, but, once they're transformed into a pair of shorts, that length issue becomes much less critical. And, as old Skinny Malinky is a total bean pole, they're all fine and dandy around the waist. 

When I'm messing around with denim the first critical thing that I'm conscious of getting right is the colour of the thread that I use for the turn-ups: it has to be a heavy-weight thread that matches the thread colour on the top side seams of the rest of the garment. If I'm short of thread I can usually get away with a different colour in the bobbin for the underside stitches, provided that my sewing tension is just right and my stitches are knotting invisibly as they're supposed to do in the middle of the cloth sandwich that will be the turn-up. 

And the next thing I need is a heavy duty needle for my sewing machine.  Have you ever noticed how the inner leg and outer leg seams on denim jeans are always different? The outer seam is always an open seam ironed back flat, whereas the inner leg seam is closed with the two edges overlocked, and it provides a cloth-sandwich on the turn up that's just about the thickest thing most domestic sewing machines will ever have to sew across. 

I use a US size 16/ European size 100 needle, which is just about as heavy a needle as my little domestic machine is comfortable with. 

Having collected together all the tools and thread, I turn the  jeans inside out, and mark the length for cutting off the lower part of the leg. With Emi's jeans I have a wonderful consistency in that his left knee is alway torn exactly 43cm down from the waistband giving his shorts an inside leg cut-off at 23 cm, so I simply cut to that, which works fine length-wise with a 4cm rolled seam around the bottom.

I measure down on the inside leg, and marked where the cut-off should be using a tailor's pen with wash-away ink.

Making sure that my line is straight across the leg, I cut away the damaged lower legs of the jeans. 

The next thing to do is to turn the cut edge over on itself to form a rolled seam and pin it in position, making sure that it's even all the way round. 

Now I add a row of tacking stitches in an easy-to-spot-coloured thread to hold everything in place whilst I sew.

As I mentioned I'd saved up a big batch of worn-out jeans, which I was able to process as a job lot. I cut them, pinned them and tacked them all together before I got my machine out.

I used the cut-offs to make sure that I'd got all my tensions right before I started sewing on the hems of the shorts. Then using the hem-lines of the bed of my machine as guides to keep me straight I sew the rolled hem in place. I've also got a magnetic hem guide that I can secure to the bed of my machine to physically guide the material through correctly, but I'm usually too impatient to use it. 

When they're all sewn up I press the seams out nice and flat with a hot iron. 

And Ta Dah! Here they are, Emi's spring/ summer 2015 shorts collection:

I could pretty them up with some little patches, but as I'm a bit short of time I've left that for another day. I'm tempted to have a go at some machine-embroidery using the cut-offs to make decorative patches. I'll keep you posted if I make anything worth talking about. 

And, whilst I can't pretend that any of this is going to win me a place in the Great British Sewing Bee, I can't hide the fact that I feel pretty good about taking something that was destined for landfill and turning it something really useful. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on A Focused Journey

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Hearts & Kisses Fairisle cushion ...

I'm showing all the symptoms of having developed an obsessive compulsive disorder with knitting Fairisle. I've always been a lover of bright, vibrant colours and this technique really plays to that passion. It embraces colour: the bolder the better.

Now I like to have something to celebrate. I've moaned a lot about what a miserable month January is on the basis - amongst others - that it doesn't have the decency to throw up one good excuse for a party. So, by the time I get to February, I'm really looking forward to all the fun and nonsense that is St. Valentine's Day.

If you'd like to spruce up your boudoir ahead of the big day you may like to make one of these:

Go on: embrace your inner girl and go pink!

I've got grand plans for a cluster of these little cushions in contrasting candy colours, which should look good scattered on the white bed linen of a guest bedroom. I had a couple of cushion pads that were looking rather tired in their current garb so I decided to use one of those. It measured 44 cm x 33 cm or 17"x 13" if you prefer Imperial, and I designed my cover to fit. I think it's a standard-size rectangular cushion over here in the UK.

I chose Peter Pan merino baby which is a lovely soft squidgy wool that comes in a pleasing selection of candy colours. I chose this dusty pink (colour code 3036) as my main colour with a cream contrast (colour code 3031). This wool knits on 4 mm/ US size 6 needles.

The pattern is worked in stocking stitch, which is alternating rows of knit and purl going back and forth for each row.

Cast on 99 stitches in your main colour (pink in my case) and work two rows in stocking stitch.  If you would like to make a larger or smaller cushion you can increase or decrease by adding or subtracting stitches in multiples of 11.  I've designed my pattern to work over 11 stitches and 20 rows. You may also like to use circular needles, but work them straight. I always prefer to work with circulars when I can as they're much more portable and place less stress on your wrists if you're working with a heavy fabric.

Now you need to follow my graph for the patterned rows that follow, repeating each group of 11 stitches across your row until you reach the end. You will have 9 hearts in total working across. Each square is one stitch, and you change colour as shown by the colour of the squares. Please remember when you work a purl row that you have to follow the graph from right to left.

Keep going until your work is almost 33 cm long. I worked 4 sets of hearts and kisses to get to the bottom of my cushion, and then I finished off with 2 rows of stocking stitch i.e. 1 row of knit and 1 of purl. Then cast off.

When you're done it's really important to block the knitting to straighten it out and get it to the exact dimensions of your cushion.

I pinned mine to the dining room carpet with blocking pins (long pins with bar ends - you can buy them on Amazon). Using a tape measure check and double check that you've got it the right length and width. You really don't want to pull it out of shape at this stage.

Then take a steam iron, and holding it really, really close to the surface of the cushion but without actually touching it, press the steam button and infuse the yarn with steam. I like to use fragrant ironing water for this as it adds to the sensory experience. 

Now just leave your cushion in place until it's dried out - overnight ought to do the trick. When you unpick your creation it will have magically conformed to the shape in which it was pinned giving you something that's much easier to work with. 

You could knit a back to match in the same pattern or in plain stocking stitch, but I chose to back my knitted front panel with some jersey crepe that I found in the same candy pink. I'd originally headed out to my local fabric store thinking hopeful thoughts of a lovely, plush short-pile velvet in that wonderful tone, but there was none to hand so I compromised on the jersey crepe rather than spend a week searching all the shops for the exact thing that I had in mind. Life's just too short. In any event I like the contrast in texture when you back a knitted panel with another fabric. 

I cut the crepe to the size of the cushion allowing a 2.5 cm seam allowance all the way round (i.e. I cut a rectangle of 49 cm x 38 cm along one selvage of the cloth to keep me straight and to make sure that the stretchiest part of the cloth ran the depth of the cushion), and then sewed it into a rectangle, killing the raw edges with a double seam all the way round. Keep checking with your measuring tape each time you pin and tack a seam to make sure that you've not pulled it out of shape, and that it measures the correct finishing size (44 cm x 33 cm in my case).

 When you've sewn the backing to the correct size you need to stitch it to the knitted panel (wrong side to wrong side) with an over-locking stitch that allows a little bit of movement as between the two. Jersey was a good choice of backing as it's quite stretchy, but if you're working with something stiffer you will want to use lots of small overlocking stitches that allow for a little movement.

When you've got 3 sides done, slide your cushion inside the envelope and sew up the remaining side. 

By the time I'd got it all sewn together it was starting to look quite good. I reckoned that I could have left it like that and it would have been fine.

Here it is before I cut the thread from sewing it up - you can still see it dangling from the top right hand corner:

Moreover if you leave it like this without any further embellishment you really get to appreciate the contrast in textures between the front and the back.

But I decided that I'd knock up a quick i-cord trim to go all the way around the edges of the cushion.

If you'd like to do one it's the easiest thing in the world to make.

Cast on 3 stitches, and knit one row. When you've got to the end of the row, don't turn your work around. Push the stitches back to the top of the needle they're on and start knitting the next row using the live end of the yarn, which will be at the wrong end of the row. You simply pull it across each row and it closes the fabric to create a tube. And you keep knitting and sliding the stitches and then knitting the next row without ever turning your work until you've got the length of trim that you need.

I've knit this row, pushed the stiches back up the active end of the needle and pulled the live end of the yarn across the back of the row to knit the next row WITHOUT turning the work around.

When you've got it the right length just sew it around the edge of the cushion, sewing the two ends of the trim neatly in place. Start and finish sewing the trim at one of the bottom corners of the cushion, so that the join is not going to be noticeable when the cushion is sitting upright.  I also didn't cast off until I'd almost attached all of the trim so that I could rip it back a bit to get the perfect length. It's a bit fiddly as the i-cord is very stretchy which makes calculating how much you're going to need a bit tricky. As a result it's best not to cast off until you've got most of it sewn in place and can see exactly what you need to finish.

And bingo! Hearts and kisses: you're all set for Valentines Day!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Texture Tuesday and image-in-ing

Monday 12 January 2015

My Grandma's old Singer sewing machine ...

A long time ago when I was a little girl I had a wonderful Grandma who loved to sew, and another equally wonderful Grandma who loved to knit. I was truly blessed.  The two of them were good friends, but you know how they talk about people being chalk and cheese? Well that whole notion of folk being so very different from one another that they belonged in different elemental groups might have been coined for my grandmas.

Sewing Grandma was very musical. She played the organ at church on Sundays. Knitting Grandma was a born raconteur, who loved parties and dancing and young people. Sewing Grandma liked to have her friends over for dinner. She made her own preserves and baked a mean Victoria sponge. Knitting Grandma loved street markets and bargain-hunting. She liked stand-up comedians, soap operas and a good night out with her friends.

I loved them both, and I miss them more than I have words to say.

One day several months' ago my father came upon Sewing Grandma's old sewing machine. It was in a very sad state. It had been left exposed to the elements when a roof had collapsed and wasn't looking any the better for the experience. Someone who didn't have any emotional attachment might have described it as a piece of old junk.

When he told me about it my father was slightly taken aback by the depth of my sadness to hear of its demise.

You wouldn't want that old thing, would you? he'd asked, looking at me as though he'd never get his head around how my head worked.

Well, of course, I'd have loved to have it. It was the sewing machine on which I'd learnt to sew as a little girl, way back in the happy, sunshiny days when I'd had the kindest, sweetest, dearest teacher in the world initiating me in the mysterious ways of the Singer bullet bobbin. This old sewing machine had been one of my grandma's most precious possessions. It was something that she'd sat at for weeks of her life, making clothes for her family and soft furnishings for her home.

And my kind and generous father went off and quietly restored it for me. He's a wizard when it comes to fixing things. On this occasion his work was clearly a labour of love. And what he's done is nothing short of miraculous. Would you like to see my new/ old sewing machine?

Well. OK. Here it is:

Isn't it a stately thing of beauty? A real dowager duchess of a sewing machine.

It feels so steady and safe to work with. Amazingly after all it's been through it goes like clockwork. It's got none of the fancy schmancy stitches that are downloaded as part of the standard software onto a new machine. Heck it's only got one stitch and it can't even do that in reverse to create a backstitch lock, but I love it. And you can bet your bottom dollar that this is the machine I'm going to be working on from here on in.

I love the solid integrity of it all. Just look at the way the bobbin threads:

And the bobbin! Well it's such a delicate, Edwardian-looking little slip of a thing:

And you know what? It really is Edwardian. The serial number just beside the bobbin threader possesses a special magic all of its own. The Singer company have kept very clear, very detailed records of all the machines they've made over the years. With very little on-line detective work I was able to date my Grandma's machine to the year 1910, and to learn that it had been manufactured at Singer's Clydebank factory during the first half of that year.

If you've got an old sewing machine and you'd like to find out when it was made the International Sewing Machine Collectors' website is a pretty good place to get the low-down. You can find them here: Ismacs serial number list. It also lets you know which model number you've got, and the year in which it was made.

Sewing Grandma bought it as a pre-owned item at an auction in Belfast sometime in the late 1930's, so I doubt that it came with an instruction manual. None of us can ever remember seeing one. These days, however, if you know which model you've got you can download a manual from the Singer website. You can find them here: Singer Manual downloads. Amazing! Sewing Grandma would have been very impressed.

And now all I've got to do is put this grand old lady back to work again.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on image-in-ing

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Irish linen ... and the Wellbrook Beetling Mill

Here in Ulster we pride ourselves on our traditional Irish linen.  Just about every family home boasts a snowy, white table cloth made of fine linen damask that gets pulled out on high days and holy days. Often it's something very precious that's been handed down from grandmother to granddaughter with beautiful hand embroidery that was worked by candlelight a hundred years ago.

For centuries the very finest linen in the world has been produced here. In the old days small farmers up and down the Province grew a field or two of flax, rotating it with their other crops from year to year. When the flowers bloomed in August the flax was ready to harvest, and everyone descended on the fields to pull the plants out by the root. They didn't use knives to cut the stems so as not to waste any of the valuable fibre, which descends down into the roots. At a time when the dark shadow of famine still stalked the land it was important to capture every useful part of the plant and not to waste anything that could be turned into profit to put food on the table.

The flax was then threshed to remove the seeds and the outer straw.

Next the flax plants had to be retted, a process whereby they were soaked in water to break down the outer parts of the plant stem making it easier to extract the useful fibre within. To this day when you go out walking in the Ulster countryside you come across small, black ponds, fed by diverted streams. Once upon a time these were the flax holes, in which the flax was left to rot. My mum (who's really not that old) vividly remembers the putrid smell of the plants when they were pulled out of the fetid water for the next part of the process.

After a few weeks when the outer parts of the stems had rotted away the flax was taken out and dried off before being scutched,which involved beating off the remaining external fibres using long wooden knives.

The long strands of useful fibre were now hackled, that is to say they were drawn through a succession of increasingly fine-toothed hackle combs, which were essentially beds of nails to remove any remaining chaff. This remaining chaff was known as the toe, from which a rough, inferior textile for poor men's clothes were made: hence the expression toe rag. Next they were spun by hand into linen threads for weaving.

Once the linen cloth was woven on a loom it produced a loose, open grained fabric, which was then beaten, or beetled, to close the weave and produce a denser textile. And this is the point at which the Wellbrook Beetling Mill just outside Cookstown in County Tyrone comes into the picture. Built in the 1760's and operated commercially until the 1960's, it's the only surviving beetling mill in the Province that remains operational.

It's powered by water from the fast flowing Balinderry River which is diverted into a mill race that raises it some 15 metres to fall and hit the water wheel at the side of the building. There's a sluice gate that operates the on/ off switch and can be controlled from inside the building where there are seven beetling machines, two of which are still operating.

When you take a tour of the premises they'll open the sluice gate and start one of their engines.  The noise will impress you even though you're standing on the floor above looking down from the viewing gallery. I can only imagine how deafening it must have been for the folk working on the same level as all seven machines when they were in action. And many of those poor folk were children of as little as eight years of age, just like my Emi. They were better at dodging and diving between the machines, where they worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week for a few pennies. Most of them skipped school completely to earn the small pittance they were paid. Literacy rates were low, many were injured, their lungs weakened by the straw debris in the air that they breathed throughout their long workday and almost all of them suffered impaired hearing as a result of the unrelenting noise of the beetling engines.

The smaller children would start off measuring out the skeins of linen thread for the weavers on a clock easel such as the one in the photo above. Because they weren't able to take time off to go to school few of them were able to count. As a result the clock easel had an internal mechanism called the weasel. When the requisite number of resolutions had been made to measure out the correct length of thread (usually 80 yards) the weasel would pop. This is believed to have been the origins of the nursery rhyme:
Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel. 

It's a bit chilling to think that such a popular nursery rhyme should have its origins in such grim and exploitative child labour. And it makes me look rather differently at the antique table linens that my mother and I have cherished down the years. Some of them are heirloom pieces that my grandmothers embroidered, and others are wonderful finds that we've snapped up as job-lots at auction. Often these wonderful fabrics go unappreciated in a world where everyone wants a low-maintenance, non-iron tablecloth or an oilcloth that doesn't need anything more than a sponge-down. But for those special occasions when you might think of dressing up the table, inviting a few friends over and making something really wonderful for dinner there's nothing to compare with the timeless beauty of fine linen damask. Have a look at some of my grandmother's handiwork and see what you think:

My paternal Grandma embroidered the cloth in the photos above as a centrepiece for her dining table, and the reverse side is almost as pretty as the display side. Her needlework is so very, very neat. What makes it all the more amazing is that she was as short-sighted as I am, and must really have struggled to thread her needle in the gloom of her not very bright lights with her heavy glasses that slipped to the end of her nose every time she bent over her work.

I can't say that Emi is desperately impressed with any of this. He enjoyed the booming racket of the mill, and the splashing majesty of the waterwheel when the sluice gate opened, but flowery antique table cloths are totally not his scene.

Every night when I get home
The monkey's on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel.

For now I'll keep them safely wrapped in tissue paper, and take them out from time to time when we've got something really special to celebrate but it's hard to forget the story of the weasel and the sacrifice that went into producing them.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

If you're over in this neck of the woods and you'd like to check out a little bit of our industrial heritage you can find the website for the Wellbrook Beetling Mill here:Wellbrook Beetling Mill. It's run by the National Trust and makes a great venue for a weather-proof afternoon out.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on the Alphabet Project