The Knitting Tourist and some other Knitting News

‘This essay is meant for those who intend to work with their hands at any craft. Its subject is the serious and fundamental necessity of handwork as an essential function of the life of man.’

– Ethel & Philip Mairet, 1918, An Essay on Craft and Obedience

I found this tantalising snippet of writing along with some beautiful white Shepherd’s smocks and the old sign from Ethel Mairet’s Natural Dye Studio in a fortuitous moment last Winter when I walked into Ditchling Museum in Sussex after searching the nearby hills for this.

The passionate words of Mairet struck a chord in me when I read them, especially placed as they were near small bundles of dyestuffs and woollen samples emerging from the very place where I had just been walking.

‘Weld or dyer’s rocket was always used at Gospels for yellows and with indigo for green. It grew in the old quarries on the Downs and in the Summer we collected it in large quantities, drying it in the sun outside the Dye Shed’

– Margery Kendon, remembering Ethel Mairet’s natural dye studio (Gospels)

The Dewpond I had visited that day was on the same South Downs where Mairet’s weld grew, and its presence ensured that the sheep that grazed there would have a place to drink. Dewponds represent an important link in the sheep-to-shoulders chain that connects the ground under our feet to the wool that we wear.

Other links in this chain once included (and still sometimes do include) the fashioning of crooks, the handbuilding of shelters in which to stay in the fields when sheep are lambing and the gruelling manual task of sheepwashing – which (in Sussex and Kent) took place in long, man-made ditches that sheep were run through before market day. Add to this the stages explicitly involved in wool processing – the grading, sorting, washing, carding, dyeing and spinning of fibres – and you begin to see just how many hands wool passes through on its way to becoming yarn. Reading the words of the Mairets on that day in Ditchling, I was inspired to think about those hands; about who they belonged to, and where they lived, and about what is now left of their labours that may be seen.

Charles Mitchell, at the old Pyecombe forge, where the distinctive shepherding crooks of Sussex were once made.

The old Pyecombe forge today; now a private residence.

Romney Sheep, near Icklesham, Romney, Kent

The Knitting Tourist is an article I wrote for Twist Collective about my search for these places and about unearthing history in the landscape so that connections between walking and knitting may be made, and you’ll see from the front page of the article that I was successful in hunting down the same Ditchling Beacon Dewpond that is featured in the tatty 1990s walking book photocopy shown here!

I thoroughly recommend Barbara Parry’s article The Ram is Half the Sweater in the same issue and especially love Twigs and Leaves by Robin Melanson, Ysolda’s beautiful Vine Yoke Cardigan, Seagrass by Carol Sunday and Cottage Garden by Cheryl Burke.

Since researching my article for Twist Collective I have been delighted to discover that Aragon Yarns do actually sell yarn from their own flock of Romney sheep and are based in Kent, and that the legacy of Ethel Mairet lives on in spirit, with their colour range on offer being largely inspired by (if not dyed with) the flora and fauna of the locale.

I have also been inspired by this beautiful story about Louise Fairburn’s Wedding Dress, created from her own Lincoln Longwool Sheep, and by the glorious news that Nancy J Clemance has been shortlisted by the Cultural Olympiad committee for her proposed Hutliving Project, where ‘artists from a wide range of discipines will make creative responses to individual shepherd huts across the region’s countryside.’

In the words of Alan Butler: Vive la Mouton!

8 Responses to The Knitting Tourist and some other Knitting News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright statement

You may transmit content found on this website (excluding my knitting patterns which are protected under International copyright law) under the following conditions:

- You always attribute my work to me, Felicity Ford, including a link back to this site
- You do not alter my work
- You do not use my work for commercial purposes

To discuss any other uses of my work, please contact me directly on the telephone number and email address provided at the top of this blog.

Creative Commons License
All the work shown here by Felicity Ford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

From time to time I feature images, sounds or words on this blog which are not my own: in all such cases the original copyright owner is named. International copyright law requires that in order to republish their content, you must seek out their permission.

Thank you for respecting these terms and conditions.

Search Form
%d bloggers like this: