Janet's thread

A weblog, mostly about knitting but other topics appear

Origins December 1, 2016

Thomas F  Blower, my 12th Great Grandfather 1520-1568, came from Lavenham in Suffolk England.  Lavenham is a charming town.  One of our sons lived in Ipswich for several years and we visited nearby Lavenham one frosty day in December.  Lavenham was a wool center  in    medieval times and I especially enjoyed the displays regarding weaving and spinning. Right  now I can’t find my photos from that time but here are a few relating to weaving and spinning.


2EDAD  Shakespeare



close-up-of-janet-at-loom-april-04 Me at my loom in Dublin

And here are images from the internet






Saint Distaff Day January 7, 2016

Filed under: Spindle spinning,Spinning,Spinning wheels — Janet @ 2:22 pm

As a textile person I can’t resist honoring this day.  January 7

St. Distaff Day


Embellishments For Scarves August 25, 2015

Filed under: Festivals,Handcrafts,Spinning,Viking Days,Vikings,Weaving — Janet @ 7:26 pm

Over the weekend I attended Viking Days at the Nordic Heritage Museum.  A very lively festival with numerous Viking themed activities, craft stands, a tattoo artist, wandering personages of Medieval Origins, and of course Viking food and drink.

embellishments 172  at the forge      embellishments 152  tattoo artist and eldest granddaughter

embellishments 192 I brought one of my knitted scarves along and got a  few ideas for small embellishments.  If my readers have any suggestions, their ideas would be most welcome.


Textile Tools: Medieval Images of the Distaff June 11, 2015

Filed under: Spinning — Janet @ 4:45 pm

Wonderful images from my blogging friend Lene n Finland North of the Arctic Circle.

Dances with Wools

This woman is shown beating her husband with her distaff!

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Scarf Number 7, and other miscellany December 17, 2014

IMG_4751  a pale/muted scarf this time

I know I wrote that I  was going to knit something different after I finished Scarf 6, but the the needles were nearby. as was the stash, and I just wanted to carry on with  another scarf.  Call it convenience, or call it compulsion – am I being influenced by another blogger, The Sock Lady – she (Lynne Rettburg) lives in the wilds of British Columbia and spins and knits beautiful multicoloured socks.

Last Sunday I went to the local monthly meeting of the Northwest Regional Spinners Association.  They meet once a month in the Ballard Library using the same venue as the weekly story reading for little ones.  So I knew the venue well and I had been to the spinners meeting once before two or three years ago.  I enjoyed the group but somehow what with one thing or another it took me a long time to return.  What is the saying?  Life intervened.

Life nearly intervened again.  Church in the morning, lunch, Ballard Farmers Market (had to skip this), assemble my knitting and arrive at the party minus my wheel an hour late.  This was a conscious decision since I had read somewhere (My Ballard weekly paper?) that it would be 0.k. to just knit at the meeting.  My wheel is getting heavier with the passing years!

When I arrived, a group of singers, dressed in red, were singing carols just outside the meeting room in the lobby of the library.  Lovely.  I entered the room, looked around, no familiar faces, couldn’t see any empty chairs.  Hmm.  Tried to feel confident since after all I was a member, although a lapsed one.  Soon, a person named Chantal came up to me and was very welcoming.  Another chair was fetched from the cupboard and I plunked myself down next to another very friendly woman named Miley.  After a refreshing plate full of festive goodies, Miley introduced me to each of the 10 plus members sitting in the circle.  All busy talking and spinning.  Needless to say this turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoon.  And next month I’ll make every effort to attend AND bring my spinning wheel.

Pictures to follow when I figure out how to post photos from my I-pad.


A Trip Remembered September 5, 2011

Filed under: Knitting,Scotland,Spindle spinning,Spinning — Janet @ 6:12 pm

Looking through my files this morning I came across the following bit of writing.  It is an account of a trip Ian and I made in 2004 to  Mull in Scotland.  Read on, if interested.


 ISLE OF MULL, SCOTLAND  JULY 24-31, 2004    

“I should have brought my knitting” – this is what I said when I entered the room of the hostel where my companions for the next week were gathered.  This no frills Knitting and Spinning Week had been organised all the way from Tasmania, Australia, with more local co-ordination from Orkney far to the north in Scotland.   Fifteen of the twenty-five members of the group were staying in the hostel, Creich Hall; the rest of us were staying in b&b’s nearby.  The definition of b&b is a broad one – two people were staying in their van.  Each of us had travelled many hours and days to get there – several came from Australia, a large contingent came from Oregon and other parts of the U.S., one person from southern Germany, another from France, several from England, several from Scotland, myself from Ireland. 

My journey to get to the Retreat had started several days previously with a short flight from Dublin to Glasgow, a wonderful 3 hour train journey on the historic West Highland Railway from Glasgow to Oban, 2 nights in Oban, then a  45 minute ferry trip from Oban to Craignure, and finally a 1 ¼ hour bus journey  to our b&b near Fionnphort.   Our arrival at the b&b was like something out of Wuthering Heights.  As we drew nearer to Fionnphort the bus driver pulled to the side of the road and announced that we were outside Achaban House, where we were to stay.  We unloaded our bags from the bus – feeling we were in the middle of nowhere – trudged across the cattle grid and up the hill in the rain to the lone house.  We expected the Hound of the Baskervilles to start howling at any moment.  All was well though and our hostess appeared and showed us our room – and gave us a lift down to the local pub for lunch

Having had lunch we tried to find out where the Retreat was to take place.  It was not immediately obvious.  We had previously enquired from our hostess at the Achaban but she had no idea, nor did anyone in the pub or the shop.  It was a mystery.  The locals were intrigued but had no idea where such an event could be taking place.  There was certainly no hostel in Fionnphort – the nearest one was on Iona, another ferry trip away to the west. Failing that, there was a hostel in Tobermory, even further away to the north of the island.  Eventually one young fellow, enjoying his pints in the midafternoon in the local pub, thought it might be in a hall down the road and off to the left – far far too far to walk – assessing myself and my husband.  (A typical assessment from someone who would think that 50 was old.)   When asked for a lift he of course replied that he was drinking so that would not be possible.

So off we marched, walking about a mile  back along the road  to our b&b, none the wiser.  We carried on walking past our b&b to the next turn on our left and not far from the road was indeed Creich Hall and lo and behold, this was the place.  Only a 10 minute walk and within sight of our b&b.  Serendipity!

Later in the afternoon I wandered over to see if more people had gathered and yes, there they were, over 20 people seated in a circle surrounded by wool, spinning wheels, knitting.  I was introduced to one and all – some of whom I had met 2 days previously in Oban.   Gradually over the course of the week these names and faces gathered momentum, so to speak.

Meeting the members of the group was such an integral part of the pleasure of the week.  A few months previously one of the members of the group had set up a website and a yahoo group whereby we could communicate and get to know each other online.  Some members posted pictures and short bios to the website and we had a steady chatter online as the weeks went by in anticipation of the week when we would all be together – knitting and spinning.  So we had some idea of what to expect come the big week.  Reality proved to enrich our online acquaintanceships – although in many cases gears had to be shifted to adjust to what the person was actually like compared with what our online perception had lead us to expect. This just added to the fun of the whole experience.

Our week together was a rich one – friendships forged, much knitting and spinning, visits to local tourist attractions.  Just absorbing the “atmosphere of Mull”.  For many of us, it was heaven on earth. 

Following our initial get-together on the Saturday, some of us took the short ferry trip to Iona on Sunday and attended the ecumenical service in the Abbey.  On the bus from Craignure to reach our b&b near Fionnphort I had sat next to a woman who was going to visit her daughter on Iona.  Said daughter had been on Iona for 2 years as the Director of Music.  So when we went to the Abbey for the service I began to understand how big a job that would be – the congregation was so large and the explanation of the various programmes carried out by the Iona Community made it clear that Director of Music had indeed a full-time job.

We had a lovely day on Iona – clear and warm.  A wonderful introduction to one of the many attractions to be found in the area.  One member of our group even got a serious sunburn, rather to her later regret, but it does indicate how good the weather was – that day.

On the Monday a tour had been organised to Ardalanish, an organic farm a few miles away from the hostel.  What a wonderful visit it was.  Minty and Aeneas MacKay were so welcoming.  And they were so good in explaining the history of their farm and their work in trying to restore the agricultural life of the area.  Their practices are based on a system of crop rotation to restore the fertility of the land and animal husbandry in harmony with nature.  Hebridean sheep and Highland cattle and 3 sheep dogs surrounded us as we made our way between the farmhouse and the barn where Bob the weaver did his weaving on a power operated fly shuttle loom which he had rescued from somewhere in Wales.  Many of us bought fleece and yarn spun from the sheep.  Bob did a brisk trade.  Later in the day there was a local craft fair at the hostel and Ardalanish had a stall.  More sales of blankets and clothing made from Bob’s cloth.  Minty was also selling meat from their animals.  A tall and handsome young Norwegian tourist came in to our workroom to model the rich brown kilt made up from material woven by Bob.  The tourist was so pleased to have found such a unique item.

On Tuesday we had our first workshop and were kept very busy all day by Debbie New.  Debbie had more projects than we could do but it was such a treat to at least get a start on some very unusual knitting.  Debbie has a fascinating approach to knitting.  She is always experimenting and looking at knitting and structures with a fresh and innovative eye.  An inspiration.  We started out knitting a sample strip based on knit and pearl stitches.  From there we moved on to an innovative way of knitting socks – the “Mousetrap Sock”.  And some progressed further to an unusual way to knit a baby sweater.  All to be found in Debbie’s recently published book Unexpected Knitting. 

Wednesday was a touring day again for those who wanted to.  Trips to the island of Staffa, a return to Iona, a trip to Tobermory – take your pick.  And then in the evening there was the Ceilidh (Cayley) in a community hall in Bunessan, about 5 miles away.  Fortunately there were enough cars among the members of the group that lifts were organised to the hall.  Even those who walked part of the way were given a lift in the end.  What an evening it was.  All local talent and a wonderful evening of singing, dancing, bagpipe playing, fiddle playing, etc.  And a very large supper.  All provided by the local and long-term summer residents.  Not many ceilidhs of that sort have been held in recent years so we were very fortunate that we were there to attend this one.

Thursday was another workshop day.  In fact there were 2 workshops, given by Liz Lovick.  And very well organised they were.  Liz had brought so much material with her.  I just marvel at how she managed to transport it all coming all the way from Orkney.  The workshops were on lace knitting and Fisherman’s ganseys.   We were all so busy working away on our projects that we were quite oblivious to  the weather outside.  I suspect that might have been one of the days that it rained but I was blissfully unaware.  These workshop days were very intensive but I never wanted them to end.

Friday was another free day and people either continued knitting and/or spinning and did more sightseeing and walking in the area.  For myself and a few others, this was the day of departure, and the remaining people left on Saturday.  

Prior to the week on Mull each of us had been asked to contribute an 8” x 8” knitted square, done in a natural colour of either our own handspun or a commercial yarn.  How interesting to see the great variety of squares produced – variety in colours and shades and technique  During the week these squares were joined together and the resulting friendhsip blanket has been donated to the Mull community in remembrance of our wonderful week there.

I spent the Friday night in Oban and then quite unexpectedly had a grand reunion with several of the group to take the train to Glasgow on the Saturday.  I sat near Debbie New on the train from Oban back to Glasgow – I noticed that Debbie was doing what I thought were crossword puzzles – I looked more closely and was not surprised to see that she was actually doing problems of mathematical logic – incidentally she volunteered that she hadn’t been able to have her knitting with her at that point but she would have been happy to work on anyone else’s.  Debbie is an enthusiastic knitter!!

Saturday night in Glasgow and then home to Dublin on the Sunday. Since our return I am getting great enjoyment out of reading the emails as to how other people have returned to their homes or have travelled on to other destinations – and how they have got on with their various projects and ideas generated during our marvellous Knitting and Spinning Retreat on the Isle of Mull.

What a magical week it was.  And all initiated by Kerry Edwards from Tasmania! 

I have neglected the spinning side of our week, partly because I didn’t find time to try the spinning.  We all had drop spindles, kindly provided by one of the members of the group, and many of the members did quite a bit of spinning.  They particularly enjoyed using the colourful rovings provided by another member of the group.  And the 2 members of the group who had managed to actually bring their spinning wheels did a lot of spinning.  I have my spindle as well as any number of unfinished knitting projects so at some point I fully intend to have a go at the spinning as well.  And who knows, I might even reassemble my spinning wheel which is languishing in the garden shed.


The above bit of writing is obviously not the end of the story.  Now we and most of the contents of the garden sheds have moved to Seattle.  Mull seems a long way away – well, it is.  But we now, as then, long to go back and revisit Achaban House and Iona and Minty and Aeneas’s farm.  One of the charms of that trip was the ferry to get there.  Now here in Seattle there are ferries going in all directions and one day last week I finally made a day outing of a trip on the ferry to Bainbridge.   I find it a great way to travel.  Pictures to follow in another post.


Syttende Mai May 26, 2011

Last week, 17th of May, was the big day.  Norwegian Constitution Day.  And the big parade in Ballard, and elsewhere of course, Oslo!  I wrote about the Ballard Parade in this post.  The parade here in Ballard was great fun.   And earlier in the day I just happened to have my Norwegian language class at the Nordic Heritage Musuem.  In honor of the day, there were some special items for sale.  And I just happened to buy 2 cards and a magnet which interested me.  The cards were done by an American artist of Scandinavian descent.  Sharon Aamodt.  www.nordicfolklore.com  She had a large selection of cards reproduced from her lovely paintings, but I chose 2 of spinning and weaving interest.

            Spindle spinning with the upright looms in the background.  Presumably these women are wearing simple garments of earlier Viking times.

I don’t know at what point the bunad, the traditional Norwegian folkwear, became more popular.  There were certainly many men and women wearing their bunads the day of the parade.  And yesterday in Norwegian language class one of my classmates wore her bunad and explained all about it.  Here she is with her husband, and their dog, on the day of the parade.

      National dress for Syttende Mai

My other purchase was a simple magnet with nice painting of a Norwegian Elkhound.


More Postcards – These Ones Relating to WSD February 13, 2011

As readers of this blog know, I collect postcards, and one of my themes is postcards relating to weaving, spinning, and dyeing.  My friend Bettina of Woolly Bits  – in the west of Ireland –  recently sent me a few cards to add to my collection.  Thank you Bettina.

The cards are from the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life,  near Castlebar in County Mayo.  A wonderful museum if you ever have a chance to visit.

  this card is of an Aran sweater but a most unusual colour.  I know red was worn by the women in the Aran Islands but a red gansey I have never seen.

     the caption on this card is Spinning and Carding Wool, but as Bettina has pointed out, this caption is incorrect.  Only one person is spinning and the other person is beating flax, I think.  Is that retting?

  the caption here is Carding wool, Connemara.  She certainly is carding wool – and looks very hard done by.  Poor woman looks very care worn.


Generations Past February 3, 2011

Since 2002 I have been a member of the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers.  Each month the Guild has a workshop on an appropriate theme.  I have followed each of these workshops with great interest even though I have not necessarily been an active participant step-by-step.    This month’s workshop is on wool combing.  I have been involved with textiles for many years but it is really only fairly recently that I have become more aware of some of the processes involved with wool.    So what is meant by wool combing?  I knew about wool carders but never thought about wool combs.  And now I find that I indeed have an ancestor who was a wool comber, in Edinburgh in Scotland and then in Limerick in Ireland.  According to one of those little blue books that my sister is guarding closely, back many generations on my paternal grandmother’s side, there was a John Murdock who is described as being a wool comber.  Following the loss of his property in Edinburgh, he emigrated from Scotland in 1690 to move to Limerick in Ireland.  Reading between the brief lines in the family genealogy I gather that my great great great…. was a Jacobite.  Following the Siege of Limerick in 1691   in which the family lost property again, my Jacobite ancestors emigrated to the United States, settling on Long Island and then later in Saybrook Connecticut. 

So what did it mean to be a wool comber?  According to a link in Wikipedia giving explanations for old occupations:

Wool Comber Worked machinery combing – separating – fibres for spinning


Well, in the late 1600’s my ancestor would not have been operating machinery – he was living long before the industrial revolution.  So wool combing for him probably meant a lot of washing and cleansing of the fleece by hand and then preparing the fibres for spinning by using handheld carders or strong combs made of wire.  According to this link, he might also have been called a Carder. 

•[L. carduus = a thistle] a cloth-worker who untangles shorter fibers with a wire brush or similar instrument prior to spinning as a step in cloth-making, a/k/a scribbler.

From a site regarding Medieval London I found an illustration of a leather comb  with wires that would have been used further back in time, maybe in the 1500’s.

and from this site I found this illustration:

  woman spinning and carding wool, artist george walker 1814

 And from another site, I found out a bit more about George Walker, as follows:

Walker developed a reputation as a good artist and in 1814 and a local bookseller commissioned a series of paintings for the book Costume of Yorkshire. The book contained forty pictures of local people including: The Horse Dealer, Cloth Makers, The Collier, The Cloth Dresser, Stone Breakers, The Milk Boy, Whalebone Scrapers, Wensley Dale Knitters, Leech Finders, Sheffield Cutler and Factory Children. The book also included the first ever painting of a locomotive. The picture was of Salamanca at Middleton Colliery that had been produced by John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray.


More Postcards Relating to Spinning February 1, 2011

       caption for the above postcard, Old Woman at Spinning-wheel by E.E. Taylor, 1886.  Published by J. Arthur Dixon Ltd., Great Britain, and Printed by them for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Co. Down, N. Ireland

       caption for painting above – Standing Spinner, Jean Francois Millet, French, 1814-1875, Oil on canvas……