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Jill Goodwin

For much of the past year I’ve been spending alot of time learning and experimenting with plant based dyes. What has really excited me has been learning about the colours that are within the landscape that I live in. This is so closely related to the Norfolk Horn project. I want the colours I use to be related to its place and its history. Before this I had only ever used acid dyes – I think I wrote about this in a very early post – like many I hadn’t used plant based dyes because I thought they were time consuming, not very light fast, drab and not particularly environmentally freindly when you look at the chemicals used as mordants and modifiers. Never say never. The Norfolk Horn project was the catalyst that got me thinking.

One of the classic books on the subject is A Dyers Manual by Jill Goodwin. Jill was incredibly knowledgeable and very well respected. Her book is a classic text on the subject. It was, and continues to be an inspiration to dyers since it was first published in 1982. It has been the one book that I have kept going back to. In particular the section on woad. Ian Howard of Woad -Inc recomended Jills work to me when I started my journey with woad. Sadly, Jill died in 2013 aged 95. Like many of us, whilst we will be very familiar with her through her writing we have no real idea about her. There is so little. So it was with some amazement that I stumbled across this little peice of tv gold on the East Anglian Film Archive :

Jill Goodwin on woad Kelveden Essex 1976 Copyright © 2011 The East Anglian Film Archive of the University of East Anglia.

Enjoy

http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/836

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Felt resistance is futile

I am still waiting for the Norfolk horn to come back from the mill all spun up into what I hope is some wonderful sproingy feisty sheepy yarn. I am so anxious, its taking a very long time.  But the delay has given me lot of time to keep on with research into the Breeds history.

A fact that I keep coming across in my Norfolk Horn research is that its fleece is difficult to felt. It was this characteristic that made it not particularly desirable for the making of woollen cloths and probably went some way to explaining why it was the cheapest wool on the markets during the Medieval Wool Boom.

After weaving, woollen cloths are fulled. Fulling is a controlled process where the cloth is purposefully felted to shrink it slightly pulling the weave together to make a warm soft and light cloth. Clearly to make this process as economic as possible you would want a wool that felted with some degree of ease.

In contrast Worsted cloths are not fulled. They are cleaned and pressed to give a smooth silky surface that keeps any textural details that were woven in.

It is this resistance to felting that gave it its low price and is what made the Norfolk Horn so desirable to Norfolks Worsted cloth industry. If you have access to a plentiful supply of a cheap raw material you would be a bit of a dufus if you couldn’t come up with the perfect use for it. Wouldn’t you? It made perfect sense to make the best of what you had.

But just how felt resistant is Norfolk Horn wool?  Obviously this is another one of those not quite scientific investigations – we have no idea of what the ancestors of the modern Norfolk were like but we can surmise that the  wool characteristics would not have been too dissimilar.

Now, I was quite fussy about what I sent off to be processed by the mill. I really want this yarn to be the best it can be. So as you can imagine I have had quite a bit of reject ‘waste’ fleece left over. The stuff sprayed in various dayglo shades of orange, lime green and blue, the coarse stuff and daggy bits. That has been sat around under the eaves of the shed since last summer.

The really poopy nasty stuff I used as a mulch on the veg patch. The remainder is still useful and I had this in mind for insulating my workshop. When we built the workshop it was on a limited budget (is no budget a limited budget?). Running out of money when it came to things such as a window and a door.  Luckily Sean acquired a large sliding patio door that would fill the gap until I had saved enough to finish the job. Which is now.  Yay!  Bit late as the cold is now past.

I didn’t want to spend ages cleaning the fleece and as I wasn’t going to spin it. I thought I would experiment a bit and test out that felt resistance characteristic.  Actually that is a bit of a white lie, as you will find out as I recount this story.

I wondered what would happen if I shoved it through the washing machine. Normally I would carefully soak and hand wash  to preserve the lock structure and blah de blah. But who has time for that if its not going to be spun.

After an overnight soak in rain water from the butt the fleece was drained on a rack for a bit before putting it through a 40oC wool wash cycle.

IMG_20180314_165539987And it was amazing!  Fluffly, clean, unfelted.  I could actually work with this and spin it!

The second batch was again put in the butt water overnight, drained and then…

Sean “ do you want me to put this through the wash?”

Me, from the garden “yes please that would be great. Put it on 40oC”

Sean “ok”

Should I have mentioned that would be a Wool wash cycle?  It was fairly self-evident it was wool, wasn’t it?

Well apparently not. This is what happened on the normal 40oC cycle:

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So what are the magic three things you need to felt wool? Heat, soap and agitation.

The results of this suggest that yes Norfolk Horn is indeed resistant to felting. But it is not entirely immune.

Not to worry, I have the felted fleece dried and bagged. I’m sure I can find a use for it somewhere. Ideas welcome.

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Dutch Ganseys at the Sheringham Museum

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I took myself of the The Stella Ruhe Dutch Gansey Exhibition at the Sheringham Museum yesterday.

The exhibition is the result of research by Stella Ruhe in to the heritage and history of Dutch fishing communities and the ganseys worn by these men. It’s a travelling exhibition of over 60 ganseys reproducing old patterns in modern yarns. The exhibition also includes a few Sheringham Ganseys.

What is a gansey? It’s a close fitting, usually seamless, sweater traditionally worn by fishermen along much of the North Sea coastline of Britain and the Netherlands. Designed to be a very practical item of work wear. Hardwearing, windproof, waterproof. Tough. A tough garment for a tough environment worn by people who had tough lives. I think you get the point.  Ganseys were the work horses of knitwear. Hardcore knitwear.

Everything about them was practical and honed to achieve a windproof, waterproof, hard wearing easily mended long lived garment. From a technical point of view Ganseys were perfect for their function. A simple construction. A basic T shape. Knitted seamless in the round on fine 5 double pointed needles (14 – 17 imperial or less than 2mm) to create a dense windproof textile. Tight fitting, with little ease, often with an underarm gusset for movement. The sleeves a little on the short side to keep the hands and lower arms free. Cuffs knitted after thought to make repairs easy.

Traditionally knitted in dark blue in 5-ply worsted yarn. Although research is turning up all sorts of colours, greys, pale blues, black and red. Decorated with textured patterns round the upper torso, possibly to increase thickness for extra warmth.

Working ganseys were also rarely, if ever, washed and were worn next to the skin. The oils, dirt and grime all adding to the weatherproofing. I can’t help wondering what they would have felt and smelt like. Savoury?

What I find fascinating about ganseys is that despite the practicality of the gansey as work wear space was found for the knitter to express her art and craft in the decoration.  Ganseys were, by and large, knitted by women for their menfolk. Their sons, husbands and fathers.  The stitch patterns (all in simple combinations of knit and purl) were passed along by word of mouth down generations from mother to daughter and transmitted around the coastal communities of the North Sea. Each community developing its own unique pattern and stitch ‘library’. Rich in traditions and heritage, the stitch patterns symbolised everyday life: tools, harvest, landscape and weather. Stitch patterns include ridges and furrows, waves, anchors, diamonds, cables, lightening, ropes and ladders. The textural patterns are clean, linear, abstract and look modern.

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This is a wonderful example knitted by Esther Nurse of Sheringham in 1950. Its the Norfolk II Sheringham in Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Ganseys by Gladys Thompson. It used a 4-ply yarn knitted to a tension of 12 stitches and 20 rows to the inch. Her father died wearing a gansey of this pattern, it apparently fitted so snugly that it had to be cut off. The pattern shows the 3 ridges around the chest common to most Norfolk ganseys. What I really like is the unrepaired hole. I am wondering if its wear and tear of if moths may have been the culprit.

A gansey was much more than just a practical uniform for work. Fishermen wore their ganseys at all times, even having a Sunday best Gansey for Church, weddings high days and holidays. And it is thanks to this that we have some scanty records of these beautifully crafted garments.

As an item of workwear produced by women and worn by working men ganseys are overlooked and largely unrecorded. There are surviving records of boys and men posing in their best ganseys in rare (and expensive) studio photographs or documented at their work by photographers such as Olive Edis.

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Just how fine is this knitting? I love fine knitting. I assumed it was hand knit. It was so beautifully even, crisp and precise and fine. I can appreciate the time this garment took to make, if it was by hand and not machine. It’s truly amazing. A testament to the art and craft of the knitter. I wish I knew the women that made this.

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Mending and repairs. Definitely not a disposable item these were precious garments to be mended and maintained. Or just worn to destruction. There is a lovely picture in the Fishermans Heritage Centre , just around the corner from the Sheringham Mo, showing a lifeboat man at work in a much worn and frayed gansey. The yarn curling and unravelling out from a hole at the cuff. I didn’t note the name of the gentleman pictured, and excuse to go back…

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Pompoms and tassels. These confused me. Would having cord around your neck with fluffy balls on the end not be something of an accident waiting to happen on a working fishing boat? This is a question I hope I can get answered at the 2 day Symposium being held at the end of September.

I ended the visit with chips on the beach watching the world and his dog go by and trying to imagine quieter days before ‘holidays’ were invented.

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You can visit the exhibition from now until the end of September. The Gansey Symposium 2017 is from 29th September to Sunday 1st October.