Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom

Every Sunday I get an email newsletter from Andy Ross at Global Yell in Shetland. Today’s included a post about research into linen making in Shetland and there was a photo of a little book with a linen cover – ‘Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom’.

This sounded irresistible and I went looking for it online, discovering there are a few copies for sale in antiquarian bookshops and each one is too rare and costly to contemplate. I did find treasure, though.

  • The whole book has been digitised and is in the California Digital Library and so available for all at The Internet Archive. It’s full of poems and prose about spinning and weaving, with delightful illustrations and woodcuts. You can really get a sense of the physicality of it even through the screen. There’s a page-turning mode so you can view the pages close up, including the tactile linen cover, and there are various formats to download.

    book page

  • There’s a review of the book in the Spectator Archive. This is a charming extract:

    The paper was made by hand ; the cover is of unbleached flax spun by Langdale cottagers, and woven on a hand-loom ; the printing has been done at a hand-press. A kindly thoughtfulness has given the names of all, or as nearly all As it was possible to give, who have had a hand in the work. Editor, publisher, and illustrator we are accustomed to know by name ; but it is good, also, to be aware of our obligations to spinner of thread and weaver of linen, and binder.
    The Spectator 7 DECEMBER 1889, Page 11

I found a quirky personal connection as well. As the review in The Spectator mentions, the linen of the cover was spun and woven in Langdale, and the first illustration in the book is a view of the Langdale valley. And one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet here is that we have been away for a while, setting up Spinners, a holiday flat in Grasmere, just a few miles from Langdale. The view in the book is almost the same one we chose for a kitchen splashback at Spinners!


As I virtually ‘thumbed through’ the book (isn’t it interesting that thumbs are also digital), I saw that the foreword was by a man named Albert Fleming, who had facilitated a revival of spinning and weaving in Langdale in the 1880s. I hadn’t known anything about the textile history of Langdale before today, but when I’m next in Cumbria I’d like to try and find out more about this. I’ll leave you with a couple of lines quoted by Albert Fleming that really resonated with me – does anyone know what this is from?

It takes the ideal to blow an inch aside
The dust of the actual

“Shouting quietly”

I know I’m not alone in finding self promotion difficult to practise, despite understanding how important it is. That’s why I’ve just crowdfunded Pete Mosley’s forthcoming book "The Art Of Shouting Quietly", subtitled "a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls". If you’re one who feels reticent about mentioning your achievements and sharing your successes, this might be a good book to take a look at.

Promotion is rather easier when someone else does it for you, and I’ve been delighted and a bit overwhelmed this month to be featured in an art quilt magazine, Patchwork Professional. The magazine showcases a number of well-known textile artists producing beautiful work and I feel honoured to be included.

Patchwork Professional cover

The magazine is German and I only have a Google-translated idea of what the article says, but it looks lovely, with lots of images.

magazine pages

It’s a celebration of my work and the Isle of Tiree where I live, drawn from what I’ve posted here on the blog, and crafted into a coherent story by the editor of Patchwork Professional, Dorothee Crane. My thanks to Dorothee and her team for getting 2015 off to such an exciting start for me!

quality and participatory arts

Since starting the Art and Social Practice course I’ve been subscribing to the free Mailout newsletter, which is full of useful information. The most recent issue mentions a paper by Francois  Matarasso, ‘Creative Progression: Reflections on quality in participatory arts‘, which is based based on a case study of this project by Helix Arts.

We are the stage of reflecting critically on our course projects (effective deadline Thursday lunchtime when  we set off for Shetland!), and there is lots of relevant food for thought here.

“Change, like quality, is an neutral term. The extent of its desirability depends on the nature of a change … an artistic experience may change someone’s experience of living for the worse” p.4

“The use of phrases such as ‘high quality art’ is dangerous because it makes it harder to discuss and determine the value of arts practice, while also tending to exclude those who believe themselves less able than professionals to recognise quality in art.” p.4

“We may not be able to define excellence, but we can certainly identify good and less good, admirable and acceptable.” p.5

Matarasso identifies “five stages of a process: conception, contracting, working, creation and completion”. p.5


He contrasts the personal transformative purpose of the arts in general with the “concepts of social change, whether at an individual or group level, associated with participatory arts in the minds of many funding bodies” and questions whether artists should or even can act as agents of “social instruction”. p.6

“Uncertainty of outcome is a characteristic of art practice. An artist cannot guarantee the success of an idea, a task or even a project, although, if working with others, they might be expected to guarantee the standard of their processes.” p.6

He notes that, in medicine, “complexity makes individual health outcomes unpredictable, so medicine uses probability” for forecasting and decisionmaking, and argues that such methods would be “more appropriate and more useful than those currently employed in British arts policy and management”. p.6

He stresses the importance of including theoretical questions in the “conception and planning of a project”, to have any chance of testing the “quality or value” of activities, and use time scale as an example. In a long programme, some people may gain most from a short segment like a workshop – “Six hours of energy, excitement, focus and limited commitment”. Whereas adult education may transform cumulatively, participation in art can be intensely and almost instantly transformative.

A “clear articulation of how and why specific arts interventions are expected to result in change is an essential theoretical basis” to participatory arts practice and evaluation.

I’ll come back to this in a second post – Matarasso goes on to say some very interesting things about success, ‘good failure’ and ‘bad failure’, and about empowerment.

Matarasso, F (2013), Creative Progression: Reflections on quality in participatory arts, UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 3:3.


A few weeks ago when I was surfing (does anyone say that any more?) the web for information about the arts and wellbeing/mental health, I found a Pearltree. (This one.) Pearltrees has been around since at least 2010 but I’d never come across it before. In its own words it’s a ‘visual and collaborative library. It lets you collect, organize and share everything you like.’ You store links – that’s all I’ve been doing so far – and also images and notes, in a visual hierarchy of ‘pearls’.  You can also connect other people’s ‘pearltrees’ into your own, forming richer networks of information, and there are features for sharing pearls socially, for researching related pearltrees, and for working as a team.

I like the way the information structures collapse into little pearly dots and expand into circles, really more like flowers than trees, so there’s always a sense of delight using it. I’ve created a pearltree for my Art and Social Practice course and one for Craft and Making, among others. I’m finding it a very useful tool.


finding my way back

This blog sorely needs an overhaul – when I look at it and see how much there is to update, I quail. I could start by posting something, a few bits and pieces to get started again. Just do it, or whatever it is they say.

Soooo…. I’ve been printing a bit on fabric, just playing around with techniques, trying out different blocks and having fun. The Tiree Tapestry Group (which is astonishingly almost a year old) is holding a simple printing workshop next weekend in the cattle market, and it’s in preparation for that. Who knew that the calyx of a tomato would print a starfish?

printing on fabric

printing on fabric

What else? I’ve been enjoying reading about this collaboration/exchange between Jane McKeating and Jilly Morris; it’s a fascinating insight into their processes, ideas and self-awareness.

And I’ve been thinking a lot – about how to carve out time for making, about continuing to learn, being committed. Reflecting. Seeking balance.

beach reflections