Pocket lucet

Mahogany lucets: one for me, one for my brother.

Mahogany lucets: one for me, one for my brother.

Lucet – or lucette? Bumbling through my battered old An Illustrated Companion to the Decorative Arts I came across the mention of this cord-making gadget, and knew it was another bit of historical textile technique I’d love to try, which looked good for pocket-sized projects on the go.

I opted for no handle for my lucet and drew a rough shape that I thought would be a comfy fit for my hands. My handy husband chopped out the shape with his jigsaw, and with a bit of sanding by me and a drop of tung oil it was ready to go. Top of the Youtube results on a search for ‘How to lucet’ was easy to follow, and although I found my first few minutes a bit of a tangle, it was surprisingly easy to get the hang of the basic square cord.

My lucet braiding its first braid.

My lucet braiding its first braid.

So, as for our ancestors in Britain, who would’ve used them? The Halldor the Viking website says that there’s no evidence for Anglo-Saxon or early Medieval lucets in Britain (though presumably some of those Vikings bought their lucets with them?), while the Soper Lane website explains that the use of the lucet had waned in popularity by the late 12th/early 13th century, before becoming popular again in the 17th century. This makes me wonder how people kept their clothes on between 13th and 17th centuries, if cording was so important for attaching hose, bodices and so forth? The lovely Lucet Co website suggests continued 19th century use of the lucet, and the V&A online catalogue lists one lucet, boxwood, 1800s – no image.

In Oct 2002 British Archaeology mag mentioned a Medieval bone lucet found in the excavation of St Leonard’s hospital, York. Penelope Walton Rogers, however, was more cautious in her 1997 write-up of the small textile finds at Coppergate, York. I’ll keep finding out more about the archaeology reveals about lucets, and in the meantime try to learn some new braiding techniques too.

Back to my lucet… What I’ll do with these cords I have no firm idea yet, but friendship bracelets, lanyards and shoelaces seem a good place to start, and I’m going to make a larger lucet so I can make a yoga belt and dog lead too.

Waiting for woad

So this is my woad planted 13 days ago.

woad day 1





And here it is today.

woad day 13





13 days ago.

woad day 1





And today.

woad day 13





You get the idea. Not a jot of difference. Am I an exceedingly impatient gardener? Yes. Did I read the seed packet? Yes (planted woad on 30 March, just skimming in there at the end of the month – as it said plant Nov or Mar). Did I ignore the best advice to start off indoors in little pots? Yes. Am I wishing I hadn’t? Yes.

But I’ll wait, idly dreaming of Istatis tinctoria and the wonderful indigo textile creations that await me with my own homegrown blue. Or failing that I’ll buy some more of the stinky woad powder and crack on anyway.

(I should have known this would be tricky. My daughter informed me that growing woad requires a farming level 25 on runescape.com – whatever that means – the things you never knew your kids knew?!?)

Philippa’s centenary quilt


Patches in progress for Philippa's First World War centenary quilt project.

Patches in progress for Philippa’s First World War centenary quilt project.

Now this is really neat! No, not my sewing – this First World War centenary quilt project.

Set up by Philippa McCray a few months ago, her project aims to encourage people (any of us) who like sewing and who wish to honour those who died in the war to pick up their needle and stitch the name of a fallen British or Commonwealth serviceman on a patch as an act of remembrance.

Find details of how to order your centenary quilt patch kit (minimum donation £3.50 per kit) at www.spanglefish.com/firstworldwarcentenaryquilt. Once you’ve embroidered it, return it to Philippa who will be piecing together the names to create an enormous quilt (or perhaps several?).

And as well as an unusual means to remember the war dead, Philippa’s project is also an innovative fundraiser too. The money raised from the centenary quilt project will be divided equally between Help for Heroes and Quilts for Injured Servicemen.

All four of my great-grandfathers served in the First World War, but thankfully they all survived, so I’m stitching the names from our village war memorial rather than those of my ancestors.

About my great-grandfathers – just for the record – and in case someone out there has these chaps on their tree too! Three of my great-grandfathers’ war years have been relatively easy to trace. They were: George Spencer Hallas, 1 West Lancashire, Royal Engineers; Samuel Ramsay Hill, East Africa Transport Corps; and William Henry Dwerryhouse Burke, 2965, 6th Rifle Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. The fourth one, however, has got me stumped, so far! I’ve got him returning from Brazil to the UK in December 1914 – I’m guessing coming back to join up – and we’ve got loads of tantalising family clues, but I haven’t deciphered him from the official records. He was John MacPherson and I’ve been told he was in the Black Watch and served in the Scottish Horse at Gallipoli as an ambulance driver/stretcher bearer… I’ll keep looking!

Stitching at the South Pole


Charles Royd's hussif - First Lieutenant on Scott's polar expedition

Charles Royd’s hussif – First Lieutenant on Scott’s polar expedition

For all the remarkable, if sometimes controversial, things about Captain Scott’s Antarctic venture, when we visited the Polar Institute in Cambridge, one of the little items on display that spoke to me most were the hussifs. Filled with the essential stitching repair kit the men needed to keep their equipment in good order, a hussif seems such a simple homely item – in total contrast to their epic journey and ultimately tragic end.

Now, my husband has also been known to wield a needle from time to time to repair a sail, I had a go a making him a hussif, based very roughly on the one Scott and Royd stitched for themselves, so that he can keep his sailing sewing needles, threads, twine and palm  all in good order. It’s not a thing of beauty, but I’m hoping it’ll be useful and I thought I’d share it with you here.

My homemade hussif attempt.

My homemade hussif attempt.




Almost-complete 1940s tennis sock from Odhams Complete Family Knitting

Almost-complete 1940s tennis sock from Odhams Complete Family Knitting

In true 1940s vein I’ve had to make-do-and-mend with the colour scheme of these tennis socks – going for a jaunty yellow n’ white stripe, due to shortage of white yarn. I’ve also knitted them in alpaca – the right gauge and beautifully soft. But durable? I’m not so sure – these might have to be exclusively bed socks.

The pattern is from Odhams Complete Family Knitting and appealed to me being on two straight needles rather than multiple double-pointed ones. If anyone would like the pattern I can scan it in and email it to you – it comes with a lovely matching tennis cardy pattern.

Here’s the church, but where are the people?

Today’s searches in Leicester Record Office put me in mind of that children’s rhyme:

Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, look inside and here are the people

Apart from – there were no people. I just wasn’t finding anyone in the baptism or marriage registers today, not even getting warm with an ancestral sibling or cousin to cheer me along, so I’m going to have a little moan about it, and hope that a long-lost relation out there somewhere will stumble on my cry for help – and help!

I’ve found trees on Ancestry mentioning my folk and everyone else seems to be happily gadding back to the late 1700s. But I’m well and truly stuck in 1857 with the birth of my 2x great-granny Helen Mary Spencer in Hawick, Scotland. The marriage of her parents (Henry Spencer and Mary Jarman/Jerman/German) remains elusive, as do their baptisms (c1827 and c1832, based on the census returns).

Oh yes, the census. Well that has been a genuinely interesting journey for me as I’ve used it to plot Henry and Mary’s citings in Leicestershire and Roxburghshire in 1861 and 1871, seeking employment as framework knitters where best it could be found, before, by 1881, they seem to finally settle down in Scotland. But the census has thrown a few spanners in the works too. Such as why are my Mary and her children sometimes living with a Daniel Spencer, and other times with Henry? My Henry did have a little brother Daniel, and we can find a marriage of a Daniel Spencer and a Mary Jarman, if not a Henry-Mary one, so maybe she married one brother, then the other? Or are there two Leicestershire-born Mary Jermans of the same age?

All this fruitless skimming round the registers had taken about 5 hours and my eyes had fiche-burn, so I thought I’d treat myself to some idle browsing of the Leicester Journal. As luck would have it, the years I wanted to view hadn’t been filmed so I had the luxurious ‘hardship’ of using the originals. And one item I particularly wanted to read was the bankruptcy notice for William Spencer of Whetstone in the Leicester Journal for 28 December 1810, which mentioned the auction of ‘household furniture, books on Methodism, hose, yarn, counters etc’. Wait, what’s that? Books on Methodism? This William Spencer could be a total red herring, as I’ve not proven he’s mine, but I think I’ll be taking a look at the Nonconformist baptisms next.

And just in case there is a long-lost relation out there who’d like to get in touch about these ancestors, here are the details I have so far, and I would love to hear from you:

Henry Spencer (details according to census entries bc 1827, Whetstone, Leicestershire) married Mary Jerman/Jarman/German (likewise, details according to census entries bc 1832, Hinckley, Leicestershire). My ancestor is their daughter Helen Mary Spencer born in Hawick, Roxburghshire 1857. Their other children are Emma/Emily (born 1862, Leicester), James H Spencer (born Leicester, 1860), a daughter age 5 on the 1871 but I can’t read her name, and Alfred? (born 1869, Leicester).

I think that Henry Spencer’s parents might be William Spencer and Ann (from piecing together the Spencer family in Whetstone in the 1841). The other people online have Mary Jerman’s father as Job Jarman, and Mary born in Ashby de la Zouch. But my feeble census leads say Hinckley, and I just can’t make the connection to Ashby de la Zouch.

And now I’ll wait patiently and hope to hear from someone sometime or other… :)


PS 2 May 2014 I heard from Spencer of the “spencerfamily” tree on Ancestry, and it seems that our Henry and Daniel were one and the same. I’ve updated My Ancestors page on the progress.

Textile-related Acts of Parliament (a few notes)

Whichever way I try and say it, it just sounds plain geeky – so here goes (deep breath!): over the past few months I’ve been ‘collecting’ Acts of Parliament, but not any sort of Act, just those that relate to the textile trade up to and including the 19th century.

If you’ve not clicked off the page yet, bravo – and here’s a quick rattle through some of the reasons why I’m finding them quite so intriguing… Ever wondered how wearing a kilt could have landed you in prison (or even get you transported)? That would be the Dress Act from 1746 (penalising Highlanders following the Jacobite Risings). Did you know you could have been fined for wearing purple? See the Sumptuary Laws of the High Middle Ages? Know that men and boys needed to wear a woolly hat to church on Sundays and holidays, 1571-1597? That’d be ‘Cap Money’. Realise by 1566 that getting caught smuggling wool out of Britain could result in having a hand chopped off? See the much-amended statute of Edward III’s much-earlier reign. Moving nearer to our own times and there was the 1799 Combination Act – which made it a criminal offence to band together to try for better hours or wages – and the raft of 19th century Factory Acts of course.

The more Acts that I gather, I begin to see just how clearly they tell the history of the textile trade and industry in Britain and reflect the views of the wider society (or the ruling elite at any rate) too – sometimes dictatorial laws aiming solely to shore up the king’s finances or protect the interests of the business elite, while at other times supporting the craftsmen, and later aiming to improve the lot of the factory employees.

Now that I’m beginning to grasp quite how diverse the textile-related Acts are, I’m going to be a bit more methodical and make a thorough search and study to try to track down every last one. But, as it states on the Parliament ‘Industry and Community‘ web material relating to textile manufacture: ‘In 18th century Britain, textiles were the largest single economic interest after grain’. So I guess my collection of textile Acts is going to get pretty extensive. Anyway, here’s what I’ve found so far, in addition to the ones mentioned above: Navigation Acts 1699, Buried in Wool Act 1678?, British Weights and Measures Act 1824, Weavers Acts 1555 and other 16th century dates, Calico Acts 1690 to 1721, Wool Act 1699, Factory Acts 1802 to 1850, Statue of Apprentices 1563, and the 1736 Manchester Act.

Then, once I’ve found all the Acts, I’d also like to look at what each prescribed and then to discover the forfeits – just how serious was it for our ancestors when they broke these rules and regulations?