Substance & Story – Exercise 1.2

Although I haven’t been writing on here, I have been busy working through Part 1, in fact I am nearly ready to get on with Project 3, so I have made myself STOP with the practical work and get organised with writing up my notes and research.

Having identified my three pieces, I was ready to write down the answers to the substance and story questions. Like the practical exercises, I found that many of the answers overlapped since all three of my items of Welsh blankets.

Piece 1: Substance


The first item I will write about is the oldest. It is made from sheep’s wool, most likely Welsh. There is no label, but this also helps to date it, since labelling only came into effect later on, at the end of the war as a way of keeping a control on price and quality, part of the rationing system. The wool has been spun and dyed with natural materials, although not sure what. Maybe madder? Since the cloth is woven, it is best not washed. Jane Beck said something about an old saying (?) that

The blanket is a carthenni (double cloth), dating from the turn of the century, about 1870. It was produced by Daniel Lewis on a 4 heddle loom. He wove all his blankets on this loom, which apparently is quite a feat for the complex designs that he created.

Much of this information is thanks to Jane Beck, who has read and researched much. Traceability is important, although ownership can sometimes be a grey area. In this case, this blanket is woven by one man from his own home. However it took some time for even an expert to work out and find who made it. Is it harder to have a personal voice in textiles than in fine art? Textiles can often carry a function, so they can journey from home to home. There are many parts to a process. With blankets, there are the farmers and their sheep. The carders, the spinners, the dyers, the weavers…. A textile can pass through many hands and last many years.


Piece 1: Story

It is clearly well worn, there is some damage particularly on two opposite edges of the blanket. It looks like it happened when it was folded up as they are in the same position along the edges. Possibly due to mice? Long term storage? Even so, it is still durable and sturdy. It still feels very strong and weighty. Also like many things, it is often the earlier ones that are better quality. Made to last! There don’t seem to be any repairs to it. I quite like fraying caused by the edges.

I imagine that this blanket will have kept someone very warm. Which was necessary at the turn of the century, where people in rural Wales may have been living in cold, damp cottages.

The blanket pattern is known as ‘Lampeter Star Quilt’ designed by the maker, Daniel Lewis. It is the same pattern as the second piece, also made by him that I chose. There is a border running all the way around. Mills and weavers stopped adding borders on two of the sides as a way of reducing waste. Without a border, the cloth could be woven and cut on the loom, and then a new blanket started straight away without rewrapping the loom.

The last part of the story questions relates to nostalgia, but I have chosen to answer this section after I have discussed my other two choices, since I think it will be repetitive in how I approach the question…

Piece 2: Substance


The second blanket has a similar provenance to the first. It was made and designed by the same man, hand woven in his house in Barley Mow, Lampeter. The main difference is that it is dyed with aniline dyes. It amazes me that it is actually the same pattern as the one previous, and goes to show how transformational a colour palette can be in the textile world. The 2 ply (‘double cloth’, as discussed in this post ) means that the front and the back are very different.

I assume the original wool came from the fleece of a Welsh breed of sheep, since it would make sense for the woollen industry in Wales to be directly connected to it’s rural, agricultural landscape and sheep farming industry.

Most of the information has come from Jane Beck. She has researched widely and her website is now part of the National Web Archive. I have also used the book she lent me, The Welsh Woollen Industry, J.Geraint Jenkins; although Jane advised that even some of the information in there was not accurate.

Piece 2: Story


This blanket was made in the 1920’s, the indicator being the use of aniline dyes which became widespread post war. It seems to have been well kept, with no sign of wear. The colour way seems unusual to me, which is why I picked it from Jane’s collection. Jane and I both agreed that Daniel Lewis had a creative and personal approach to his weaving, and seemed to have a natural flair and feel for how colours and patterns would work in a weave.

I thought that his designs and colour palettes (amongst the others in Jane’s collection) were very forward looking and this one in particular looks quite contemporary.

Piece 3: Substance


The third piece is also a Welsh woven blanket, made of both wool and cotton. Although there is no label, a discussion with Jane led me to learn that this was likely to be a blanket from North Wales. There were a handful of cotton mills turned woollen weaving mills in Flintshire who were experimenting with using a cotton weft possibly to use up the left over cotton from their time as a cotton mill. ‘Holytex’ (or from what I have read in the book, ‘The Welsh Woollen Industry’ might be an abbreviation for Holywell Textile Mill) was the last cotton mill, originally built in 1777 for cotton spinning, and converted for wool manufacture in the 1830’s/

Much of the information about this piece is more a process of deduction using Jane’s knowledge. But it is not clear which mill produced this. All that is known is that it is Flintshire, cotton and wool blanket with natural dyes, most likely one of them being madder.

Piece 3: Story – to be continued/updated


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