Update on upcycled silk scraps – Part I

Norwich-Shawl-Last year I entered a competition ‘Norwich Shawls: Past Glory, Present Inspiration’. It was to feature both exhibits of original shawls and new textile work inspired by the shawls. At the time I blogged about the initial re-dyeing and reusing of my silk scraps in preparation for working into a hooked textile wall hanging. My work wasn’t accepted, but it was an interesting experience and gave me the opportunity to find out about the weavers and wearers of Norwich Shawls and consider how to interpret their legacy.

Now as I write, with my Art Historian’s hat on, I know that the production of a creative work and the audiences’ reception of a creative piece, is not without context. As far as the original, very expensive (then and now) Norwich Shawls are concerned, there is plenty of context. The Norwich Shawl was popular in one form or another across the nineteenth century with at it’s height, a royal wearer. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had provided the weavers of Norwich the chance to exhibit their shawls. When Queen Victoria visited the exhibition she saw some of their work and was duly impressed with the beautiful shawls and later ordered two.

Originally Norwich Shawls were produced by weavers working from home and many of the weavers and their families had a hard and precarious existence as recounted in the following extract.

REPORT OF VISITS TO HANDLOOM WEAVERS, 1850 (Extracts from the Morning Chronicle, 29 Jan 1850, Letter XVII)

As usual the loom was in the upper room, which was used as a workroom, bedroom, and in winter, to save a second fire, as a sitting-room. A diminutive little woman – all Norwich weavers are so – was busily engaged at the loom, and during the intervals of putting the fresh bobbins on the shuttle, I obtained the following information from her:- ‘I do the best kind of barege work. If I commence work at light, and keep on till eleven at night, without being called off to do anything else, I can weave eleven dozen in a week, and I should get 11s. 11d. for that – that is, 13d. a dozen. I pay a girl, who does the winding, 2s a week and her dinner; then ‘beaming on,’ candles, and other expenses would be about 10d.- so that would leave me 9s. 1d. for my week’s work. I am rather a privileged person, and if there is any work to be got, I usually have the preference, but I am often obliged to ‘play’… I suppose for the last twelve months I have played four at least. I am married and have four children; they are all at school. My husband sometimes works the other loom. When I do not have this girl to wind for me I can get it done for a penny a dozen.’ A person unacquainted with the process of winding could scarcely form an idea of the quantity of manual labour thus performed for a penny. The ‘dozen’ referred to is a dozen skeins, each containing 560 yards, or 6,720 in the dozen; and this quantity has to be transferred from the hank or skeins to small bobbins for the shuttle, by means of a small wheel, turned by the hand of the winder. A great loss of time constantly takes place in consequence of the threads of silk breaking, and of the constant change of bobbins required when full. At the winding it is physically impossible to earn more than from 2s. to 3s. per week. Of course, the great proportion of this kind of work is done by young 8 children or old persons; but that is not always the case. The person employed as winder in the above instance was a young woman of eighteen years of age, and she received 2s. a week and her dinner; but in addition to winding she was expected to assist in the household duties, in taking care of the children, and other matters, while the woman was at work.”

bridewell-museum
The Jacquard loom at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, Norwich, Norfolk.

During my research I read about the advancements in weaving technology through the nineteenth century and, in particular, the ability to weave complex patterns with the invention of the Jacquard loom. Specifically in Norwich the industrialisation of weaving was a slow process. The first power-looms introduced by Henry Willett in 1828 were met with a negative response from the city’s hand-loom weavers who smashed the windows of the Willett & Nephew factory premises viewing the new technology as a threat to their livelihoods. Nevertheless, modernity advanced, albeit slowly, and towards the later half of the nineteenth century the larger, more complicated, all-silk Norwich shawls were mostly made on Jacquard looms either in large workrooms or factories.  The Jacquard looms were usually too big for domestic houses and so factory life became the norm for most Norwich shawl weavers.

This is a short video showing the Jacquard loom (pictured above right) in action.

Despite, the industrialisation of the weaving process throughout the 19th century the employment of children in the weaving business was routine both in a domestic and industrial setting. The more I read and learned, the less I felt like ‘celebrating’ the ‘Norwich Shawl’ as simply beautifully woven pieces. The context of their production was as significant as their history of being exemplary textiles prized and owned by a few lucky ladies.

In Part II, I will discuss my creative response to these contexts and the final work I submitted to ‘Norwich Shawls: Past Glory, Present Inspiration’ as well as photographs of other textile artists’ contributions that were exhibited. (Sadly, for some reason which couldn’t be explained, photos weren’t allowed at the Exhibition and it was firmly policed by the volunteers, but I did capture a few snaps on my phone. I would just comment that some of the contemporary artists’ work featured in the Exhibition was/is displayed on the artists’ own websites.)

 

Advertisements

High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks

High-summer-lilies

August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.

White-lily

Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.

Rich-colours-arrangement

What a difference in just 8 weeks!

 

Out-now-Thalictrum
Meadow rue – thalictrum aquilegiifolium

A couple of months ago everything in the garden looked as though the abundance of summer would never arrive and then suddenly here it all is. There are plants bursting into flower and flowing all over each other.

Here are a couple of examples that have so far withstood the torrential rain we’ve been experiencing, but, sadly, I have to report my old fashioned roses have been hammered.

But, after a quick tour round the beds I see there’s plenty of potential waiting in the wings. There are lilies, perennial poppies and some knautia all in bud.

Of course, the open, cheerful and always reliable oxeye daisies are a favourite with the bees. They also look beautiful and fresh in the early morning sun (when we have some!).

Early-morning

Unusually it’s been rain, rain, rain

In-the-rain-Agapanthus-NorfolkRegular readers will know that as I’ve mentioned before I live in the driest region of the UK. Summer in East Anglia is renowned for open, sunny skies above a patchwork of golden fields of wheat and barley blanketing the gently undulating landscape.

Contemplation

Not this July, it’s been leaden skies and rain, rain, rain. Last Saturday in the Norwich area more rain fell in a 24 hour period than would normally fall during the whole month of July. Low lying areas are flooding, the fields are sodden and all the delicate flowers in my garden have been bashed to death.

I shouldn’t moan too much as earlier in the month there were a couple of bright days ideal for some scarf photography.

And, early yesterday morning before the showers swept up the country from the south west, I managed to photograph those resilient summer flowers that can withstand a summer downpour.

Summer-flower-garden

Guild of St George Alderman builds Dragon Hall

Medieval-carved-dragon-on-arch-Dragon-Hall

Originally, a hall house in Old Barge Yard, Norwich, Dragon Hall was remodelled and extended during the 15th century by successful merchant, alderman and member of Norwich’s Guild of St George, Robert Toppes (c.1405-1467). Toppes wanted a building that was both a showroom and a warehouse with easy access to the River Wensum. This striking timber-framed building was known then as Splytts and the main showroom was the magnificent first floor hall (85ft by 21ft). Here merchant Toppes would have laid out his fine woollen cloth, the famous worsted wool, to be traded and exported to Europe. And, at the same time he would have set out his recent imports from the Continent to sell to his Norwich clients.

dragon hall model
Dragon Hall model showing how the main showroom/hall may have been used to display and trade woollen cloth during the 15th century.
crown post timbers
The crown-post roof of the main hall.
Dragon Hall, King Street, Norwich.

The showroom was made impressive by a high crown-post roof displaying arched braces and tie-beams. And, in the spandrel of one tie-beam we can still see the fearsome carved dragon (top photograph) showing traces of medieval coloured paint. Some of the roof timbers we see today are original 15th-century beams and these too would have been painted. The showroom/hall was lit by three projecting full-height windows on the west side and one similar large window on the east, river side, of the building. This would have been a bright, innovative, outstanding commercial space in its heyday.

Dragon Hall external east facade
East side of Dragon Hall, King St, Norwich showing the first floor full-height window.
Timber and brick 15th-century medieval trading hall originally known as Splytts.
c.1430s

Away from the showy hall the rib-vaulted, brick undercroft provided warehouse space.

brick built vaulted undercroft
The rib-vaulted undercroft provided a secure storage area.

Nowadays visiting Dragon Hall you can see the sensitive restoration (1979-1988) which has peeled back centuries of patchwork remodelling and, interestingly, at the same time leaves some very early reworking detail in place such as a three times altered doorway.

Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.
Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.

I said no photographs, please

Blackbird-nest-building

“I think that means you behind the lens – I can see you”

'Now I saw that. You just took another picture, didn't you?"
‘Now I saw that. You just took another picture, didn’t you?”

“Look, I don’t want everyone knowing where I live. Privacy, please.”

"Go away and get on with your own work now. I'm very busy today. This is only a 10 second break. You may not realise this, but nest building is a rather labour-intensive business."
“Go away and get on with your own work now. I’m very busy today. This is only a 10 second break. You may not realise this, but nest building is a rather labour-intensive business.”

Saint Valentine’s Eve and the Victorians of Norwich

Make-your-own-Vic-style-ValentinesCelebrating Saint Valentine’s Eve – a new idea perhaps, but not so, in fact an old local Norwich jollification. During the evening of February 13th wrapped gifts labelled with ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ were left on doorsteps all over the city.  Anonymous admirers then knocked on front doors and hastily retreated. In 1862 one local resident Helen Downes commented, 

‘We do not here content ourselves with lace-cut papers, but everybody sends everybody real presents anonymously; and, as on all gift-bestowing occasions, the children come in for the lion-share.’

During the Victorian times in Norwich the weeks before Valentine’s Eve found the shops so busy with extra trade that additional temporary sales assistants were hired. The folks of Norwich were shopping for Valentine’s gifts. The grander gifts on offer included workboxes, vases, tea caddies and umbrellas or for a very lucky lady a ‘Norwich Shawl’.

Norwich Argus newspaper
Local retailers advertise their Valentine’s gifts in the Norwich Argus, Saturday, 5th February 1876.

However, the most typical gifts were gloves and perfume together with the familiar Valentine’s day card. Victorian Valentine’s cards were elaborate affairs with embossing, paper lace, feathers and even hand stitching.

According to the information at Norwich’s Bridewell Museum both young and old took part in celebrating St Valentine’s Eve. The museum is dedicated to the history of Norwich and as part of displays showing the story of local commerce it has a superb collection of high quality Victorian hand stitched Valentine’s card. Similar examples are sometimes sold nowadays by antique dealers and I’ve also found a few vintage survivors (pictured above and below) on Etsy from Moon Maiden Emporium, The Jewel Mystique and SCDVintage.

I couldn’t help but think how we so often assume we are living in the most consumer conscious times, but nothing is new and the Victorian Norwich shopkeepers obviously spotted a lucrative opportunity over a hundred years ago. Of course, you could just have a go at making your own version! (Sorry no delicate sewing with silk and lace trim just wrapping paper, doilies and reproduction Victorian scraps.)

Vic-style-homemade-Valentines

Pulls Ferry – and time flows on

Pulls Ferry
Pulls Ferry, River Wensum, Norwich.
September 2014
Most of us are so wrapped up in our everyday pressures we often fail to stop and appreciate little gems in our familiar surroundings. Pulls Ferry marks the site where a channel from the River Wensum was made into a canal during the building of Norwich’s Norman Cathedral. High quality limestone was brought from Caen in France to build the Cathedral. Limestone shipped from France was ferried up the River Wensum and along the canal to the cathedral site. The flint archway and gatehouse tower in the photograph were built over the canal in the 15th century, and the house (obscured by summer foliage but visible in Victorian sketch) in the 16th century. The canal was eventually filled in sometime in the 1770s.

Pulls Ferry Sketch drawn 1896
Pulls Ferry
Sketch drawn 1896

During the 12th century it was important for Norwich as England’s second city to have prestigious buildings. The Cathedral together with Norwich Castle were conceived of as a pair and, significantly, as such a pair, they were both dressed with Caen stone. This is the same Caen limestone that was used for Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. It is possible to view the erection of such buildings, in an almost modern ‘corporate identity’ manner, as the powerful stamping of the Norman mark across the country during the 100 years that followed the taking of England by William the Conqueror and the Normans.

Now or then?
Now or then?

An early bird doesn’t always catch the worm

Queue-outside-DM-shopAs part of a rather clever marketing campaign the folks at Dr Martens had a special few minutes this morning when they opened their stores and sold their classic Monkey boot at its original 1960s price – that was £3 – nowadays £110. Obviously there was a limited stock at this low, low price and obviously there was a long, long queue snaking up to their doors.

My daughter and I launched a two-pronged attack, she went to Schuh at Marble Arch in London and I trekked into to join the queue outside the Dr Martens in Norwich. When I arrived it was already over 100 people long with some determined people queuing since 3.00am, but I thought I’d wait anyway. Even in England where we Brits are famous for queuing you still get the odd queue-jumpers. This pair of lads shuffled up to join their friends and then stood their sheepishly as a wave of muttering rolled over them. As it was no-one this far down the queue got anywhere near the £3 boots, but we were all given 25% off vouchers by a helpful shop assistant at 8.50am.

Despite my failure, all was not lost because my daughter (a true early bird) in London got the boots she wanted at the 1960s price.

At least one early bird caught the worm. Dr Martens Cappers  at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)
At least one early bird caught the worm.
Dr Martens Cappers at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)

Forget-me-nots and the Erpingham Gate

Sir Thomas Erpingham was a fifteenth-century English nobleman who distinguished himself when in charge of the King’s bowmen at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As an important and significant Norwich figure he made substantial donations to the city’s religious institutions. Charitable donations during the medieval period were more than just duty, they allowed an individual to display their status, but, more importantly, financially supporting the church purchased a speedy journey through purgatory and up to heaven. A wealthy knight like Thomas Erpingham made a very significant earthly and heavenly mark when he provided the funds for the building of a new gatehouse at the entrance to Norwich Cathedral.

The gatehouse was built between 1420 and 1435 and has a single arch supported on each side by semi-hexagonal buttresses. The arch is divided into two decorative schemes, the inner order is the twelve apostles (probably) set in a series of niches, and the outer is a series of twelve female saints. The carved foliage, used as a visual linking device running up the arch, has been weathered over the centuries, but you can still see that it is oak leaves and acorns. The buttresses are covered with shields and devices of the families of Erpingham, Clopton, and Walton (those of Sir Thomas Erpingham’s wives), but I couldn’t pick out the forget-me-not design which apparently also makes up part of the Erpingham heraldic achievement.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the forget-me-not sculptural detail so I’ve had a good hunt round the Internet. One of my past Art History lecturers, now retired, has spent six years accompanied by his photographer wife, surveying the public sculpture of Norfolk and I’ve studied her excellent, up-close and detailed photographs and I’ve found the forget-me-nots. It is a single flower motif carved above a shield, above a falcon rising on the outer front columns of the buttresses – second panels up in this early nineteenth-century etching by Cotman – still a bit difficult to see though not as eroded as now.

erpingham gate cotman
Etching of the Erpingham Gate by John Sell Cotman, 1818. 10″ x 8″

Below is a ring from MagpieHouse showing a contemporary version of the single, more architectural form, of the forget-me-not motif. When you are looking at weathered architecture it certainly helps to know the basic design shapes you are looking for, but it is only when the scaffolding goes up for repairs that accurate recording and high quality photographs can be achieved.

The fifteenth-century forget-me-not sculpted motif is in the middle of the upper niche in this photograph on the right.

forget me not
The simple five petalled flower of the forget-me-not.

The pleasure and the pain – Internet shopping versus the mall.

Tiles detailI spent last Sunday in the garden, came in wind blown and muddy, balancing on one leg to get my boot off lurched towards the door and ripped the curtain down. How clumsy? After sorting myself out I examined the curtain damage and realised it was beyond repair.

Royal Arcade Norwich
The Royal Arcade, Norwich.
A beautiful example of Arts and Crafts architecture, 1899
Now, I never really liked the curtains, but I chose the fabric as the least objectionable of a poor selection in a big department store about a decade ago. At the time I had been to four different specialist shops (two have since folded) before ending up in the John Lewis soft furnishings department. I ordered from their swatch samples and had to wait a couple of weeks for delivery.

It wasn’t really a painful experience just irritating and certainly not pleasurable. This time I’ve spent a couple of evenings on the computer searching through an almost overwhelming choice, have had swatches arrive speedily and have received my chosen curtain fabric this afternoon. Less than a week and with so much choice – Internet shopping – a great improvement, but I had missed something.

The Internet purchasing was efficient and the choice amazing. Even some of the eShops were beautiful too, Fabrics and Papers, for example, but I was still stuck at home on my computer. I suppose in an ideal world we’d have the choice that’s available online, but sourced locally and found round the corner in a delightful emporium staffed with smiling, helpful assistants.

Royal Arcade Arts CraftsHere, in Norwich, we are lucky enough to have the Victorian’s version of a mall, the Royal Arcade. A charming Arts and Crafts shopping arcade designed by local architect, George Skipper, and built in 1899. The souvenir guidebook published at its opening tells us about the agreeable activity of shopping in the Royal Arcade.

“Dainty lady and robust manhood may dally over the delights of shopping, undisturbed by the vagaries of the weather.”

Nowadays, the Royal Arcade is home to a variety of shops including longtime residents, The Colman’s Mustard Shop and Langley’s Toy Shop, and a recent newcomer Macarons & More selling delicious cakes. In the 21st century we all wish we had the time to dally over the delights of shopping and perhaps purchase a box of macarons.

polychrome arts and crafts
Look up and see the polychrome brickwork and colourful tiled details of this fine Arts and Crafts architecture.