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

Creative retreat

I’ve just returned from a week away with a group of artists I belong to. We do this every so often and it’s special because they are special people and the creative vibe is huge, and doubly special for me because it’s in my native Cumbria, in Grasmere.

I used the time to consolidate and develop what I learned over the last few months of Considering Weave with Jude Hill. I was travelling by boat and train and bus, so no large looms for me, but I managed to pack several little ones in my case! These are tiny weavings, just a few cms wide. I’m enjoying working at this slow, small scale. The whole Considering Weave class has been very good for me, and I’ve signed up for Jude’s ‘Small Journeys‘ to continue travelling along with her as and when I can.

In Grasmere, we had beautiful surroundings, excellent food and lots of fun, with a constant flow of ideas, encouragement and constructive critique.

The space that emerges between our perspectives is ‘dialogic space’, a liminal realm of possibilities where new ideas emerge and innovation thrives. Drawing the ideas that emerge in this ‘dialogic space’ back into our practice helps us to reinvigorate it. (Permission to Speak by Dave Camlin)

There were excursions. Some of us revisited the wonderful Allan Bank, a National Trust house where dogs are welcome, you can sit on the chairs and make yourself at home, and there is something creative going on in every room.

I went for some walks among the trees and by the river – something I do miss, living on Tiree. So much visual inspiration. So much green.

It was a lovely week.

More considering weave

I’m continuing to play with some of the ideas and thoughts that are flowing in and from Jude Hill‘s class, Considering Weave. Mixing up cloth and wool and thread. Mixing up tapestry and rag weaving and twill. Not being precious. Not worrying about ‘wasting’ time or materials. Just following the intention of the moment and watching what happens.

Considering weave

This summer I’m taking part in a class with Jude Hill – Spirit Cloth – considering weave and its relationship to stitch. I’ve never done a class with Jude before but I’ve long loved her ‘what if’ approach and it’s stimulating to be part of a curious, experimental community for a few months. We’re currently exploring weaving into cloth, a kind of intentional darning. I did a little darning last summer while I was travelling backwards and forward to Wales (where Alan was walking), inspired by the work of Hilary Hollingworth, and by the Big Mend group on Flickr.


Where  I wove across a hole (as opposed  to laying the warp as long stitches across the surface) I found it hard to stabilise the edges – now, watching and listening to Jude with her respectful mastery of cloth, I have learned how to do that, and gained new inspiration to try again.

Out of those experiments came this piece, ‘Island Patterns’, worked on handmade felt, without cutting.  There is more of a distinction between the background and the weaving than if you fill a hole with weave. Less integration. More floating. I love weaving at this tiny scale.



Last night. thinking ‘what if’, I  wove some little windows into the work I currently have on the loom.


And this morning I filled them with cloth.



I like the change of texture and scale. Looking forward to exploring this further and seeing where it goes.



Playful weaving

A few weeks ago was the 7th Tiree Tech Wave – the Tech Wave is a twice yearly design and tech retreat run by my husband Alan. This year I decided to join in the fun with ‘Weave at the Wave’, a ‘come and play’ session each afternoon in the cattle ring.


We had five looms set up, a couple of rigid heddles, a small tapestry loom, a table loom on a stand and a Saori loom with 4 shafts, plus some mini projects weaving on cards and CDs, and a box or two of LilyPad Arduino bits and pieces for e-textile experiments.

I forgot to take any pictures but there are some here by Jacqui at Tiree Living, and these are a couple of partly woven CDs. (If you want to try this I recommend  this tutorial by Make It… A Wonderful Life.) People of all ages enjoyed making these.


Someone started this lovely skinny scarf on the Ashford SampleIt  loom and borrowed the loom to finish it at home. It’s hard to believe she’s never woven before.


With the e-textiles, one person made dreadlocks that light up, and another wove a headband, then stitched a circuit into it that lights an LED from a battery.

I hope we’ll be able to do this again in the Autumn. In fact I wish I could think of a way to do it more often.

Since as a result I have both my ‘big’ looms set up with a cotton warp, I’ve been doing some playful  weaving of my own with colours and patterns.  (My looms are tiny as looms go but big when compared to our living room!)