Friday 23 February 2024

Flax Spinning at the Durham Guild

 The Durham Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers meets every month. Our February meeting was a real treat.  I am not a spinner but the talk and demonstration was about  flax spinning. 

Cath Snape 
Our talk was from Cath Snape from the York Guild who became fascinated by flax spinning. She showed us some of her woven materials and different types of carded flax. She demonstrated how to wind carded flax onto a distaff. The traditional distaff was harder to fill, but the distaff made of a bound tree branch made winding on
 the carded flax seem easy.

winding flax onto a bound branch

First I must show you a recently restored double flax spinning wheel. This is a German 'double-flyer "wedding" wheel. This type of wheel was typically given to a bride as part of her trousseau and would have a name plate on the front. It is designed for two-handed spinning of flax. 

German 'double-flyer "wedding" wheel.

This wheel was bought by a wonderful Guild member who enjoys renovating old weaving and spinning equipment.  He has also built carders and plyers of his own design.  The Guild is enriched by his love of craft and his engineering skills. He had to mend and sometimes reconstruct broken or missing parts.  

dressed distaff

She demonstrated how to spin flax on a modern spinning wheel. However it was her demonstration of two handed flax spinning which was amazing. She told us about the history of this type of spinning and said that she was not an expert but her smooth action and the resulting linen thread was wonderful. She had her own double-flyer wheel. It must be quite unusual to have two such wheels in the same place. 
She had placed her carded flax onto a towel which she explained could be flopped over one shoulder for spinning. However, the flax could also be rolled up in the towel and placed on her lap.  Her dexterity was amazing. 

A truly inspiring talk.

Susan J Foulkes

February 2024

Thursday 1 February 2024

Bolivian weaving

 I was given a wonderful Christmas present from a friend in the USA. It is a ch'uspa made by a Bolivian weaver, Alicia Solis in Huancarani, Bolivia.

It was purchased from Dorinda Dutcher who was a Peace Corps worker in Bolivia.  She worked to assist spinners and weavers to support them towards becoming independent by arranging classes in spinning and dyeing. Dorinda has wound down her work and helped the weavers towards organising themselves to have full responsibility to determine what comes next. 

Here is a link to the work that the project accomplished.

On the web site there is a few short  documentaries.

I searched the web site to see if Dona Alicia is mentioned. 

Here is a picture of her. It shows Doña Maxima Measuring Doña Alicia for a Pollera in Huancarani.  

As Dorinda writes on her web site.  'The weavings are a highly personal gift because the weavers weave a bit of their story into their work as they sit at their loom.'

Here are some pictures of the beautiful bag. 

The ch'uspa

Close up of the strap

Sides of the ch'uspa finished with tubular weave.

Close up of pattern in centre of ch'uspa

Close up of tubular weave pattern

This beautiful ch'uspa is my first example of traditional Bolivian weaving.  It is a perfect present for me. Thank you so much.

Susan J Foulkes    February 2024

Monday 1 January 2024

A Woven Belt from Paraguay

As you will know from my blog I am fascinated by patterned weaving, particularly belts and bands. I have been researching these items for a number of years. My main focus is on northern Europe but I also have examples from other countries as well.  Whenever I travel I always look out for woven bands. I have been fortunate in that a few people have donated their belts to me. 

All my purchases are carefully wrapped in archival quality tissue paper and kept in sealed boxes.  I bring them out for talks and for research. I have already donated a few to a museum, but I thought that I should get my paper work up to date.  I have spent some time taking a quick photograph of all of my acquisitions. I measured them all and I am writing a detailed( as far as I can) description of each band and belt. I am intending to donate them eventually to a museum and I thought that this information would be invaluable. 

 A few years ago, my next door neighbour kindly gave me three woven belts from Paraguay.  She had worked there for a year in 1976. She was given three belts as a present. I did not have any further details than this so I asked if she could tell me any more about these particular belts. 

This is the Faja belt that intrigued me because it is heavy and sturdy.  

Large belt:   Length  209 cm              Width: 10.5 cm

Fringes: 20 cm

She found a great video from El Estribo in the Paraguayan Chaco.

She also spent some time translating it which entailed remembering her Spanish. It was very kind of her to take the time and effort to do this. Here is the transcript.

El Estribo video:The Southern Enxet People: Women of El Estribo Sell Handicrafts

Elodia Solano: “I’ve been working with crafts for many years. I learnt from my mother and my grandmother. From the time I was five years old I enjoyed it and I learned watching my mother work.” 
[‘caraguata’: a type of hemp grown in Paraguay]
“I do all kinds of work with hemp, [making things] like belts, bags, key rings, bracelets, necklaces. I make them all with hemp. I also make products with wool, things like belts [fajas], ponchos, horse blankets [?], these I make with wool from sheep. 
Besides [that] I also have experience. Sometimes they invite me to Asunción [capital city of Paraguay]. I get money for my journey from among my people [or family?] and I go. Along with the products of other craft workers: they put a price on and I take theirs too.

What a shame that in Paraguay our compatriots don’t buy many of our products! The prices that we charge seem dear to them. Why are those prices high? Firstly, because it costs us a lot to get the products out of here. We rent vehicles, and besides that we have to walk great distances to get the materials from the bush.
For example, take the hemp plant, it has many spines/thorns and it’s hard work to get the fibre clean. We have to process it three times for it to become ready. Then we make the yarn and soon afterwards we begin the work of the fabric [weaving?]. Working with the Carandilla Palm demands the same effort.

However, foreigners do buy from us; they appreciate us. They just ask the price and buy straight away. Other times we don’t sell anything and we go back with all our products. We keep them until the next market [holiday?], and I take them again. I live tirelessly going back and forth. And I’ll never tire. Because this is my work.”

In the video Elodia Solano holds up a similar belt to the one I have.  It was made for men who need extra back support when riding. 
I have no idea if the individual motifs mean anything or if they are particular to a region, village or family.

Here are two of the motifs on my belt.

If anyone  has any further information I would love to know more about this belt. 

January 2024

Susan J Foulkes

Susan J Foulkes

Friday 1 December 2023

Seasons Greetings 2023

I made this book some time ago but it is very useful at this season.  It is available from Blurb as a paperback book or an instant downloadable PDF file.

All profits from the sale of this book go to a charity - the British Heart Foundation.

Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish storyteller and author, loved to make paper cut outs to illustrate his stories whilst talking to children.  They must have been fascinated to see his large hands wield a pair of scissors to produce a cut out which illustrated his story. He is given the honour of making the first paper Christmas heart in 1860. It is displayed in the Hans Christian Anderson museum in Denmark. 

This book contains the instructions for making Christmas heart baskets. These were traditionally made of paper, filled with sweets and hung on the Christmas tree. 

I have put together 27 designs for you  to try. They can also be made in felt. 

A felt pincushion, a paper basket with sweet and a felt heart basket.

YouTube Videos

I made two YouTube videos. This is my channel.

1. How to make heart shaped paper baskets.

2. How to make heart shaped felt baskets.


Here is another idea for a Christmas present for anyone who loves craft. 

This book has just been published by Schiffer and is available on Amazon.  It is written by Anita Osterhaug, who is editor emerita of Handwoven, the largest-circulation fiber arts magazine.

It contains 25 practical projects. I was privileged to be asked by Anita to write a project for the book. Here are the contents pages so you can see the range of activities that you could try. 

This book would be an excellent present for anyone who loves crafts and likes to try new activities. 

Seasons Greetings to everyone. I hope that you have a happy holiday and a peaceful New Year.  

Susan J Foulkes   December 2023

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Inspiration for designing striped bands

 Here is an excellent YouTube video about weaving narrow bands with a backstrap.  I love the humour and the clear way everything is explained.  I have not tried weaving whilst vacuuming!

I weave most of my narrow warp-faced bands on a Swedish band loom. I thought that this month I would talk about one aspect of inspiration for designing stripes

Inspiration from paintings

My inspiration for the colour stripes on these two bands comes from Kazimir Malevich. He was  born in Kiev to Polish parents.  He was part of the Ukrainian avant-garde which was an avant-garde movement in Ukrainian art from the end of 1890s to the middle of the 1930s.  I love his work. One of my earliest blogs was about an exhibition of his work in London. 

Here is a mug decorated with one of his painting .

  I used the colour order of the stripes to design a cotton band. 

cotton band on band loom

This cotton band has 36 ends of 16/2 cotton. 
Here is the drawdown.

The warp order is
Black - 4; Blue - 2; Orange - 4; Green - 8; Black - 2; Pink - 6; White - 2; orange - 4; Yellow - 4.

I used a yellow weft so that on the black selvedge is shows as a dotted pattern along the edge.  
I like the asymmetry of the colour order. 

The second band

The second band is from another painting called the Red Army. 

Two mugs with Malevich paintings.

It has 78 warp ends of 16/2 cotton in six colours. the colour order is asymmetrical.

Here is the drawdown.

Here is the warp order.

Black  2               2              6             8                            6
Red         4                                     2                           2
Blue            4                                                4
Yellow            2       2                              6            4
Green                           10                                 6
White                                       4

Both these bands were very easy to design.  I used the colour order on the painting and tried to ensure that the width of each stripe was in a similar proportion to the original.

Another design inspiration.

Recently I went with my friend Moira to the Durham Book festival for a reading of  Cuddy by Benjamim Myers.

I thought that I would design a narrow band using this cover as an inspiration.  

I liked the design of the waves.

Here is the simple design that I made.  The colours are not straightforward as I wanted to give the feeling of merging in the colour order.  Each warp end is two strands of 16/2 cotton.  This means that I can mix colours. So for some warp ends there are two shades of blue. 

This drawdown was the starting point for making the warp of 60 doubled ends. I used two shades of yellow, two shades of green and five shades of blue.  The drawdown was a guide not definitive.

The weft was two shades of yellow 16/2 cotton. 

Weaving length approx.: 6.75 inches
Weaving width approx.. 0.75 inches
The plaited end is made with four groups of threads. Both ends are whipped using West Country Whipping.

West Country Whipping.

This way of finishing a cord or band is found in the Ashley Book of Knots. 

West Country Whipping

  1. Take a length of thread for the wrapping.
  2. Tie is around the end of the band with a simple reef knot.
  3. Turn the end of the band over and tie another reef knot so that is is close to the first.
  4. Turn the band back to the front and tie another reef knot.
This forms a neat way of wrapping the warp ends.
You can finish the ends with a double knot and feed the end back into the wrapping if you want. 

A Five-end plait

I plaited the other end. I divided the warp ends into five more of less equal groups.

Plaiting with five ends is easy. 
  1. Take the right hand group and go over the adjacent group and under the next group to the centre.
  2. Now take the left hand group and take it over the adjacent group then under the next group to the centre.
These two 'rows' form the sequence.  

Continue plaiting until you reach your desired length.

Finish by wrapping the ends using the West Country Whipping technique. 

The completed bookmark

My friend wants to try weaving so I have designed this bookmark for her. I have set the band loom so she can weave her own bookmark. It is going to be a surprise when she comes to visit next week.

Band on Swedish band loom

I have also put a narrow band onto my four shaft table loom so that she can have a go on a second type of loom.  Should be a fun morning.

Narrow band on four shaft table loom

This band is a variation of the  bands I designed for my book The Art of Simple Band Weaving. 

The three designs on page 50; bands 85, 86 and 87 

St Cuthbert and Durham

St Cuthbert stained glass window in Durham Cathedral.

I thought that you might be interested in learning about St Cuthbert.  I went up to the cathedral today to take some pictures.
The book Cuddy is about St Cuthbert (684 - 687) who was Bishop of Lindesfarne. He is buried in Durham Cathedral. His shrine was a focus of pilgrimage in the middle ages.

Notice at entrance to shrine and tomb of St Cuthbert.

His shrine is behind the altar and choir.

steps leading to the tomb and shrine

The red banner dedicated to St Cuthbert is modern.It was designed by Northumbria University academic Fiona Raeside-Elliott and embroidered by local textile artist Ruth O'Leary.
 To find out more about this lovely modern embroidery there is a YouTube video to watch. the St Cuthbert Banner.

Tomb of St Cuthbert
The Life of St Cuthbert was written by Bede ( 672 - 735) who is also buried in the cathedral.

Outside the cathedral there is a carving. It depicts a cow and two milkmaids .

This relates to a legend about how the resting place of St Cuthbert was found. One of the monks accompanying the body had a vision in which St Cuthbert told him he was to go to 'dun holm'.  They did not know where this was. Fortunately they came across a milkmaid looking for her lost cow  - or dun cow - meaning a brownish grey colour - who told them she had last seen her cow at dun holm.  

.......and so the legend was born.


Moira enjoyed her first weaving experience. She tried weaving on a four shaft table loom and on the Swedish band loom.  Once she had finished I showed her how to bind the ends.

Moira's woven band and the bookmark.

She will be coming back for another go at weaving - including disc weaving.

Susan J Foulkes November 2023

Sunday 8 October 2023

Durham Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers

Our personalised bag

 The Durham Guild had an open day on Saturday. Anyone can come in to try various activities such as spinning and weaving.  

We also had a show and tell of scarves and shawls. All the items were laid out for people to see and touch. Here are some of the pictures.

Close up of three scarves

This was one of three lace knits. 

This is my silk scarf.  I wove it some time ago but had not finished the fringing. I was able to complete quite a bit at the meeting and show the scarf as well. 

It was really fascinating to hear about each of the scarves and shawls and see the amazing range of colours and knitting techniques.  Next year the topic will be socks. 

We have a wonderful craftsman who comes to our meetings although he does not weave or spin.  He does mend items and  he is really kind and helpful.

This Saturday he was asked to look at a 100 year old Canadian spinning wheel - a production model.   

It is in a poor state of repair, but Bill is confident that he can resurrect this lovely piece of historical equipment. 

100 year old Canadian spinning wheel.

The wheel is very light and he thinks that is is probably made of Canadian cedar.  It is also badly damaged.

Close up of some of the damage to the wheel

The mechanism seems to be made of cast iron. The foot plate has not been finished when it came out of the mold. 

Cast iron foot plate

The bobbin holder is also damaged. It seems to have been made for spinning fine threads.

It will be quite a task to fettle, mend, renovate, and polish. I am looking forward to seeing the spinning wheel in its new working form in the future. 

Susan J Foulkes October 2023