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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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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Part 1, Project 1, Exercise 1.1: The Archive

IMG_2504I ended up in the same place despite taking a different route! I had been in contact with the National Wool museum, however after having waited a period of time for their next reply and not hearing from them, I got to thinking of somewhere else I could go, that might be nearer and a bit more accessible. I desperately need this as I am already so frustratingly limited with the little time I get to work on this course. Anyway I am glad for  having these decisions to make because I got led to a meeting with a fascinating woman who holds a collection of Welsh blankets. Jane Beck owns and runs a shop housed in a beautiful tin shed. She sells both heritage, antique blankets and brand new ones that she has made for her at the mill. She also has her own private collection and was a wealth of knowledge when I went on my first visit to meet her this week.

Of course I thought I would just go in, select 3 blankets, take lots of photos and that would be that. But it’s not going to work like that. For starters, look at my title image! I left armed with pages of written notes and this book (one of the ‘bibles’ for those who want to know anything about this industry) with a return date next week for the next instalment.

Jane kindly gave me her time and knowledge and began by leading me through the different categories of heritage blankets she has for sale in her shop.

IMG_2498The first two columns are made up of blankets mainly from the 1950s. Some are a little earlier, just post war. You can tell those by the more grey and brown palettes which used up the old military yarns. The rest are pastel pinks and greens, typical of the 1950’s popular colour schemes. One interesting point is that blankets always came in pairs.

The third column houses ‘Carthenni’ bedcovers that can be differentiated by having fringes. That is, if made in Carmarthenshire; the features of a Carthenni change from county to county. These were woven on both narrow width looms and power looms.

The fourth column shows the tapestry blankets from the later 1950’s and 60’s. These were woven as a ‘double cloth’ weave using two types of weft and warp. These were encouraged by the Rural Industries Board. This was due to seeing a rise in working class tourism. Women were working, families taking holidays to the seaside, and the Welsh mills capitalised on this. These blankets were sold on market stalls, in little shops (where they were paid for in instalments) and larger department stores. These tapestry style blankets have regained popularity in recent years. One of the most well known patterns is the ‘Caernarfon’ design. Jane gave me lots of information about the history of this pattern, and I am possibly considering selecting one of these as one of my 3 archive pieces as they seem to be so iconic.

In the final column are the older Carthenni, some dating from the turn of the century. You can see the difference again through the colour schemes. Whilst the late 50s and early 60s designs use strong oranges, reds and browns, the earlier ones have yellow, blues and green. I like a lot of these older ones. The older tapestry ones feel thicker, and were handwoven mostly in North Wales.

Jane and I also talked about the tradition of having a mill in nearly every parish. The common practice was to being your own fleece and get it weighed. I learnt a little bit more of the processes from fleece to blanket, the different types of dyeing such as batch dyeing and hank dyeing. About natural and synthetic dyes and interesting snippets such as how the Germans controlled the dye industry and how as a result of the war there was a dye drought. The Americans then developed new synthetic dyes.

Mills in West Wales had kept going through  military contracts buoying the Teifi Valley. However the end of the wars saw their demise. There was a surplus of yarn to use up, wool was going out of fashion and synthetics were becoming all the rage.

I feel like I have only just skimmed the surface and look forward to returning and  picking the 3 pieces to work with.

Textiles As a Discipline

In your own words, write a definition of ‘textiles’ in its broadest sense. What materials do you consider to be ‘textile’ materials? When is a material not a textile? Can you identify any examples?

Something you can feel. That’s all I equate it too at it’s most simplified term. Textile is something tactile. Something you touch. It is more than fabric, more than cloth. Textiles can be flat or constructed. But when is a material not a textile? I think textiles is something that is made. It is constructed and made up of. Is it just when something is woven, threaded, stitched, knitted together? What is the difference between textiles, fabric and cloth? I would think the word ‘textile’ probably carries the broadest meaning. If textile is anything fabric or cloth based, does that mean that other materials such as plastics, glass, wood, metals are not textile? When looking through the big name dictionaries, they generally point to textiles being something that is made up of a natural or synthetic fibre. I don’t really understand the properties of other materials enough. The word textiles derives from the Latin textus meaning ’tissue, literary style’, from Latin textilis, from text-, meaning ‘woven’.

Maybe textiles is any material that is constructed? Made up of either different fibres mixed and joined together, or the same fibres put together.

I have found myself thinking about the permanence/impermanence of textiles. How what is the longevity of a piece of fabric or cloth?

• In what ways could textiles have stories or narratives attached to them? There is a lot you could think about here, both in terms of the story of or behind the textile and the story potentially told by the textile. Try to give some examples.

Textiles permeate life, like paper does too. Everyone, everybody deals with textiles in some way, no matter where they come from, what their culture is, what values they have.

For instance there are many stories connected to:

Quilts, blankets & rugs

Denim

Making bark cloth

Silk Route

Whole cities and communities dedicated and dependent on aspects of textile production. It has brought people together, protected them, given them the freedom to live in less hospitable places. It tells stories of identity.

Typically, as I have sat and written my answers and thoughts to the questions, I end up with even more questions. Love this process! These thoughts feel incomplete, but I think that is partly where I stand right now in my own textiles journey.