A weaver’s notebook…

Phew. Tax return done. Thank heavens for that; life can continue. But now that I’ve moved the great heaps of paperwork, I’ve uncovered something much more interesting than a load of petrol receipts.

I’m not a weaver; let’s get that straight. Like many people, I did a bit at school and that was that. But I am a member of the Llyn Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. Last year one of our members was in a local charity shop and was stopped by one of the volunteers. ‘I know you do all this stuff,’ she was told, and was handed an old handwritten notebook. One quick look, and it was bought.

I’m fascinated by it, but I haven’t been able to find out very much.

notebook 1

It was found in the loft of a local house by the new owners, who also know nothing about it or about the person who wrote his or her name in the front – A J Easton of Carsaig Drive in Cardonald.  Quite a few of the entries are dated; the earliest is from May 1925, and the last one is ’26/3/26′.

Cardonald is a southern suburb of Glasgow, not that far from Paisley with its long history of the textile industry – something it shares with other areas of Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, where the original emphasis was particularly on cotton. So perhaps A J Easton was an apprentice in a weaving shed somewhere (possibly not one concerned with the classic ‘Paisley’ design, as the book seems to be mostly concerned with twills). Certainly the notes start off fundamentally, defining ‘trade names of standard weaves’ and four different ‘classifications of textile fabrics’: felted, knitted, lace and woven structures.

It’s all the samples that I find fascinating. There are many which are ‘bought in’ as it were, but a lot are in the same combination of navy and cream, accompanied by charted diagrams, and do seem to have been woven by the same hand.

notebook 2

They’re as fresh as a daisy (sorry; just been advising someone to avoid clichés like the plague and I just can’t get my head around doing what I say rather than what I do, ahem).

I’ve been trying to work out what the samples are made from, and I think – without wanting to be destructive in any way – that they’re wool, or at least the navy and white ones are (many of the others are, indeed, cottons). A J Easton often uses the term ‘yarn’ in the text, which doesn’t really help pin anything down.

notebook 4

This is a page from 19 January 1926 – coincidence that I should post about it almost exactly 88 years later, on a technology unimaginable at the time – and is headed ‘On the Appearance of Twill Weaves’.

Another staggering thing about the book – well, not to a weaver of course – is the sheer amount of maths, and here many of the exercises do specify cotton: ‘a bobbin contains 4oz of 20s cotton yarn, give the length of yarn on the bobbin’, for instance, or ‘which is the thicker yarn, 20s cotton or 25s worsted?’ (Happily, there are the calculations and the answers; 4,200 yards and ‘worsted’.)

For myself, I am lost in awe and wonder (agh, clichés again) at the maths being done in imperial weights and measures. As someone who often relies on a calculator for metric maths, as most of us do now, I’m amazed. And there are detailed costings, too.

notebook 3

Some of the later exercises are completely staggering, even – I suspect – to someone quite at home with imperial measures. Take this: ‘If a cloth has to be woven with 60 ends per in; find the sett of the reed in the following systems: a) Bradford. b) East of Scotland. c) Glasgow. d) Belfast.’ And he/she has done it, too. There’s definitely a focus on Glasgow (often being asked to find the ‘sett Glasgow equivalent’ to something from elsewhere), which isn’t surprising. I know this level of mathematical skill was once commonplace, and that the entire British Empire ran on clerks who were adept at maths like this, but wowser.

And I’ll continue to be fascinated by the samples, even though the maths of their construction means very little to me. I just think they’re delightful, and can I have a bigger piece, please? Like several metres? Sorry, yards…

notebook 5

I’ve asked some of the older people who live in the place – Porthmadog – where the book was found and nobody remembers an A J Easton, or indeed anyone who came down here from Glasgow, so perhaps the book was passed to a relative. But if anyone can throw any light on the person, the book or even the system in general use in the 1920s textile industry of Glasgow and its environs, please let me know, because:

If it wasna for the weavers, what would ye do?
Ye wouldna hae your cloth that’s made o woo.
Ye wouldna hae your cloak neither black nor blue
If it wasna for the wark o the weavers!

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46 thoughts on “A weaver’s notebook…

    1. kate Post author

      It’s lovely, isn’t it? I suspect not many of these have survived – I’m going to try contacting a couple of museums. Once I’ve cleared it with The Guild, who are – after all – the book’s new owners.

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks for those links, I’ll give them a try. I’ve also had a good tweet from a weaver studying at GSA (Glasgow School of Art) saying there’s a similar one in their archives, so I’ll try the archivist there too.

      Reply
  1. Ange Sewell

    What a fab find. I’m a weaver and love seeing old weaving journals and notebooks. The calculations look like they’re working out the size and thickness of yarn, which would then be used to calculate how much yarn would be needed to weave the sample. Their is a Bradford system of yarn size so that might be what it is referring to. I hope you find out more about the history of the notebook.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks, I agree – love old craftspeople’s things.
      I had a load of spinners round for lunch, and some of them are weavers, so I talked about this and showed them the book. They thought the same thing about the calculations (but I’m still in awe; wouldn’t care to do them myself). I think I may be getting somewhere…

      Reply
  2. kiwiyarns

    How absolutely fascinating. It definitely looks like an apprentice’s book – something they used in their classes or whatever they were at the time. Maybe you’d have more luck finding out more about it if you approached a textile museum?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Yes, I think you’re right. Some of my spinning lunch guests thought the handwriting was rather masculine, but whether a man would be more likely to be an apprentice than a woman in the textile trade I’m not sure – possibly… I’ll keep everyone posted!

      Reply
  3. Beth P

    Wow! I am so jealous… finding something like that is such a treasure trove! If you find out more I hope you will post again about your great find!
    Hugs from snowy cold New Hampshire
    Beth P

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Certainly will, and there’s been a lot of response on Twitter – got some good leads. Work, what work? This is much more interesting!

      Reply
  4. Annie Delyth Stratton

    I am entranced by this sample book! How very lucky you all are to have access to it. I am forever amazed by the links we have to the past, each one linking further back. We can trace our fibre linkage back thousands of years this way. If ever I am in Scotland, I hope this is in a museum where I can see it. It is a treasure.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      It’s beautiful, and I think one of the reasons I particularly like it is that it’s a witness to ordinary history – you know, not kings and queens but craftspeople. Maybe ‘beautiful’ isn’t quite the word – it’s a bit messy and the pencil has dug through the pages. Oh, I don’t know, I’ll settle for beautiful.

      Reply
  5. Lydia

    Wonderful piece of textile history and now in the very best of hands too…. have fun tracing A J Easton – who know where the adventure may lead. Love to read about it all.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Things are beginning to happen, with some possible links at the Glasgow end. And I may even have tracked down a possible original family at this (Welsh) one, thanks to a friends 103-yr-old mother… watch this space!

      Reply
  6. Sue

    What an amazing slice of history (is that another cliche? Sorry!) and how fortunate that it fell into the hands of someone with an interest in textile art, rather than being tossed away. I am rather curious to know what happens next – do keep us informed as your investigations continue, won’t you?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I’m so glad the woman who found it took it to Oxfam rather than skipping it, and that the volunteer in Oxfam knew about my friend’s love of textiles. So many chances for it to be missed, doesn’t bear thinking about…

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Oh, I am glad it’s not just me, a non-weaver, being awed by the maths! I like weaving but I’m terrible for instant gratification, and if that gratification is delayed by maths…

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks – that fits. Now I wonder who / why A J Easton’s notebook ended up in Snowdonia? A friend is asking her mother who is over 100 and who lived on the same street where the book was found. There were a couple of Scottish families my friend remembers but neither was Easton. Maybe a relative by marriage? Enquiries continue!

      Reply
  7. Andrea

    Wow! As a weaver, I would love to have access to this book for the patterns. The samples are lovely. So glad it ended up in the hands of someone that cares about textile arts & can appreciate it! Perhaps it will eventually end up scanned on the net. It would be fabulous to see the whole thing for those of us in the States.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Parts of it are really lovely. The start is a bit uncertain (apart from the maths, that is), and it fritters out a bit at the end, but in-between it’s lovely. I’m trying to take some more detailed pics… watch this space!

      Reply
  8. Sandra

    When I was working on my master weaver certificate I did a notebook like this of methodical exploration of twills. It’s like a weaver’s version of vocabulary lessons. Since I’m American everything is calculated in inches and yards. Some things never change.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I take my hat off to you working in inches and yards – blimy… Hang onto your notebook (I’m sure you will); I’d love to know more about how this one ended up in an attic over 300 miles away from Glasgow. I’m learning more and more with every response; thank you!

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I’m glad they shared! There’s more to come – watch this space. I’ve lots of leads and much more info… (I’m sure much of it will be obvious to weavers, but I’m not in such exalted company!)

      Reply
  9. Enid Thompson

    Ref. the comments about “masculine” handwriting and weaving, I know that men were mill weavers in earlier times, strength and skill needed to work the looms. Farfield Mill at Sedbergh has the services of David ex West Riding mills, and a former weaving gentleman from Keighley came up to introduce himself at a craft fair in Settle early December 2013, where Laura’s Loom* had a small loom available for the public to try out. On a slightly different slant, a few years ago the N. Lancs and Lakes Guild of dyers, spinners and weavers were involved in weaving samples found in an old textile book discovered at Kendal. It may be possible to interest your local spinning/weaving friends in a similar exercise. The North West guild members had to work out the mathematics for themselves, I believe, before setting up their looms! By the way I am Laura’s* non-weaving Mother, but an interested local and family historian)

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      You often see men standing by the looms in old photographs, don’t you? One of my great-great uncles went out to China and then Brazil with a new and complicated loom (as an engineer/designer; he never came back from the latter). I like that idea of weaving up samples from A J’s book – I’m more and more convinced A J was a bloke; you’re adding to that feeling, thanks – it’s a shame we haven’t more detailed weavers in our Guild. We do have some… perhaps I’ll suggest it.

      Reply
  10. Sally

    I tried to post a comment earlier but it didn’t work so I will try again.

    I was suggesting that the work book could be that of an art student as it spans only a few months. I have a friend who is in her 80’s who studied at a London art school in the 60’s and her course was much more general than they are now, she was able to teach weaving, bookbinding and chair caning among other things as she studied it all. The owner of the work book may not have gone on to work in weaving.

    Has anyone commented that the samples are woven on an 8 shaft loom? Industrial looms are usually 16 or 24 dobby looms. Samples are likely to have been woven on a table loom and the most common for hobby use are 4 shafts but I would expect an art college to have 8 shaft looms as well.

    I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Marianne Straub many years ago and she studied at Bradford in 1932 when weaving was more easily available.
    Here is a link about her.
    http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/collections/design-archives/projects/women-designers/dr-marianne-straub

    You could try the Scottish birth records to find the owner as you know that a family lived at that address around that time.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      That’s a really interesting point – and is backed up by the fact that I’ve been told there’s a very similar book in the GSA (GLasgow School of Art) archives. The only thing that does make me think it might have had some commercial basis is the huge number of calculations regarding costings, but there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to an art school student too, of course. I’m going to contact the GSA librarian among others, now that the book’s new owner – not our Guild as a Guild, but one of the members – has said she’d like it to go to a museum or somewhere similar, where people can see it (in some way, either displayed or in archives).

      Reply
  11. Susan

    Just found your blog……what a treat! I agree these are 8 shaft looms and one of the block twill patterns I have done several times in linen. I love it and can’t seem to get away from it!! thank you for taking the time to post these.

    Reply
  12. David J Centner

    Kate, I wove samples for Harrisville Designs, a mill in New Hampshire, USA, some years back. A lot of those patterns look familiar. The book itself might be worth publishing. At the very least it would deserve an article in a weaving magazine. (I wish I could hop on a plane and look at it.) There is a distinguished Textile Museum in Toronto, Ontario. You might want to contact them about the best way to conserve the book and whether it would be worth publishing something from the book or about the book.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      How interesting that many of them are familiar – I guess the same techniques have to be learned over time, and on the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ basis, I suppose it’s not surprising. I might suggest an article to – you’ve given me food for thought!

      I’m still trying to track down a link in Glasgow at the moment… I must chase a couple of leads up.

      Reply
      1. David J Centner

        The classic reference in this field is G.H. Oelsner’s “A Handbook of Weaves” which is available in reprint from Dover Publications. You might find it easily on Amazon UK. All the same, historic pattern books of individual weavers have been edited for publication. Given the importance of weaving in Scotland, this book may have some historic importance. For example, is it the pattern book of a mill? Or might it be one from a croft weaver or from the Harris Tweed group?

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          Interesting…

          I think the owner of this was an apprentice / student though I suppose AJ might have moved on to employment – it starts with real basics. Given the location – west Glasgow, nearer to Paisley – a mill is the most likely place. I think moving further north might have been a stretch, and there’s no evidence of interest in tweeds. Most of the later samples are cotton, which would fit with the address written in the front. Still a bit of a mystery…

        2. David J Centner

          The weave structures could be used with any fiber, but the cotton tie-in adds interest. I know nothing about the history of cotton weaving in Scotland. I would have expected that, apart from damasks for table linens and tough twills (like denim), most of the cotton production would have been printed cottons.

        3. kate Post author

          Quite possibly – most of the cotton weaving was South Lanarkshire and Fife and printed calicoes were a real thing, though most at the turn of the 18/19th centuries. The mill workers were notoriously, er, independent-minded people!

  13. Elaine

    What an amazing find!! I just found your blog today and want to thank you for sharing such valuable information. As a spinner, weaver, and knitter all this fiber info is very interesting to me. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Glad you’re enjoying it! (It’s not always quite so informative. Sometimes there’s moaning. Just been on spinning retreat and my hands hurt.)

      Reply

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