Copenhagen drain covers: gotta catch ’em all!

Well, maybe not ALL of them. I noticed some days ago that many of the street access covers are much more attractive than those in London. Like New Orleans’ ‘Crescent City’ water company meter covers, they add interest to the street. Also note that most of the pavements/sidewalks are cobbled. And despite frequent street sweepers, there are lots of cigarette butts: it’s surprising how many people smoke in a city full of organic food shops!

We were puzzled by a frequent but irregular ‘whoosh’ sound outside the flat. It wasn’t the lift bridge, the rumble of car tires over the wide pavement. Nothing was moving, but still there was The Noise. Yesterday morning we worked out what it was:

Nyhavn has so many tourists, so much garbage, that these bins are self-emptying: the whoosh was the vacuum sucking the waste to a central, more accessible collection point.

Another indication of just how many people visit the bars (and drink Copenhagen’s own beer): the beer is delivered by tanker. This one holds 9000 litres.

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Copenhagen: last day

I’d seen and done all the things on my ‘A’ list, so we decided to visit the Cisternerne, an unusual attraction that also required a long walk – thus justifying one last smørrebrød at Torvehallerne.

Immigration is an issue here as elsewhere in Europe. This set of billboards seemed to me an honest attempt to bring the problem into the open for discussion.

We walked past Pumpehuset, built in the 19th century to supply Copenhagen with water from the lakes Damhussøen and Sankte Jurgens Sø and now a concert venue.

We walked through areas of housing, past urban schools with what look like innovative, interesting play areas. I didn’t stand on the helicopter landing pad, but I did bounce gently on the nearby trampoline. The playground surface is soft, resilient made from recycled tires.

We walked through the Carlsberg brewery. Copenhagen sits on an area of moraines and other glacial deposits with many sand lenses trapping clean water. The brewery was built here to use the water, although it soon exhausted that supply.

Past the elephants and into the park to find the wide flat lawn and fountain over the Cisternerne. The yellow building is the Frederiksberg Palace. The cisterns were built to supply clean water to the city after a cholera outbreak in 1853. Originally the water was open to the air, a vast ornamental lake in front of the Palace. To prevent contamination the  cisterns were covered in 1891 and the lake was replaced with the lawns and fountain. They remained in use until 1933, and full of water until 1981. When Copenhagen was European Cultural Capital in 1996 the cisterns became an exhibition space. A single large glass panel is a reminder of the glass museum that was located here:

The current exhibition, by Eva Koch, fills the three vast chambers (4.2m high) with echoes of the First World War. Very effective. 

But the cisterns are notable for the stalactites and stalagmites forming rapidly as ground water penetrates cracks in the concrete, dissolving and redepositing the lime.

Back up the stairs into humid heat and we walked to Torvehallerne. I had admired the stair rails the last time we walked this way – there’s much more pre-20th century metalwork here than in London, where it was recycled into materials for WWII.

Torvehallerne! Smørrebrød! Øle! (ale). I met Brianna in the queue, on her way back to the US after a year in Europe; we talked about home vs Home and the fact that after 36 years away Home is now where A. and I are, not the place where we feel it should be.

A leisurely meander back to Papierøoen to sit in the sun and sip beer; a serendipitous shower allowed us to claim deckchairs.Until it was time to find pizza and wine to console us: we leave tomorrow morning.

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Copenhagen Day Four: Roskilde and the Vikingeskibsmuseet

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

A long time ago, at a Medieval Textiles conference in London in 2011, I was held spellbound by Anna Nørgård talking about spinning and weaving sails for the reconstructed Viking Age ships at Roskilde. I took copious notes – I still have them on file – and clearly remember purposefully forging through the crowd to handle the samples of yarn and sailcloth, as it came off the loom and after waterproofing with fat from whatever animals had died recently. I promised myself that one day I would go to the Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseet and see the woollen sails on the ships. 

The timing of this entire holiday was determined about 6 months ago by the availability of evening cruises on the fjord (in reality a large brackish waterbody, no cliffs. This is Denmark, not Norway) in vessels built at the Skibsmuseet, plus A Birthday date. 

The twin pointy things visible over the rooftops are two spires of Roskilde Cathedral.

So at long last on Thursday morning we walked north to Nørreport for the train to Roskilde.There is more to see here:  Roskilde Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first Gothic cathedral in Scandinavia, the first Gothic cathedral built of brick, and the burial place of Danish monarchs since the 15th century. 

It’s impressive. Very impressive. Strangely approachable, almost homely in warm red brick by comparison with the   more usual cold grey stone. Someone was practising on the organ (the oldest parts of which date from 1555).

Medieval wall paintings cover some of the chapels. Those in St Birgitta’s chapel date from the early 1500s.

The main theme, though, is the death of Danish monarchs. There’s a good summary here with photos, albeit not English text.

The chapel containing the monuments to Christian 9 and Louise, Christian 10 and Alexandrine, and Frederik 9 and Ingrid is stunning in its relative simplicity. Tombs of grey granites and marbles and white marble statues (the ‘three sisters of the Little Mermaid’: Grief, Memory and Love. The sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s wife was the model for all four) are bathed in light from the dome, reflecting off the white walls. It’s Northern and beautiful, and too busy for a photo while we were there. 

The chapel of Frederic 5 has a similar feel but the neo-classicist style is more ornate.

I was rather taken by the use of dead blacke velvet to cover some of the coffins. Intending no disrespect to Juliana Maria, my eye was caught by some of the gold trim … It looks very like brocaded tablet weaving.

Christian 1’s chapel is also richly painted with frescoes from the second half of the 1400s.

It’s worth several hours.

Follow the signs, walk down the hill to the harbor, and we’re there.

The café serves good food and information

While we waited for our lunch (it had been a long morning and would be a longer evening), i bounced around the workshops in the yard. Especially this one: the rope maker. He was at lunch, but the materials – and a counter covered with sample ropes were there to be admired. Look closely at the cones of hemp yarn visible at right: that’s the last stock of hemp yarn tight-spun for  ropemaking in the world. If they want more they’ll have to commission it, and the minimum order is enough to rig an entire ship larger than any Roskilde have.

In addition to the ‘Viking’ boats, the ship museum builds and maintains a collection of traditional working boats. They’re building another take of the Gislinge boat, a working boat from c. 1130. She should be ready for the water some time in November 2016.

Early log boats (hollowed trees) were enlarged by adding boards to raise the side, sewn together with fir or spruce roots, or lime bast.

The rope maker was back! We talked about lime bast vs seal hide, and he showed me how to make rope from bast. I’ve studied Youtube to no avail, but now I think i understand.

It’s more wrap than twist, although there is twist. The winder is used to add a little more twist.Starting the loop at one end of the rope. Each piece of bast rope is made to order, a specific length, with the ends finished in a specific way.

I spent ages watching and asking questions before i took my leave and we headed into what is for most people the main event: the building housing the restored original Viking boats.

A 1:10 model of one of the boats, used to work out the principles before planning the full-size replica.

Down the far end, in good light, we saw a warp-weighted loom of linen yarn and someone sewing: Anna making linen ‘summer’ sails for the 2016 Gislinge boat.

We talked about nettle and linen and the Must Farm finds, and then it was time to go and wait for the evening cruise. Not in fact one of the big and rather temperamental Viking boats, but a replica Norwegian working boat – with a hand-woven, hand-sewn greased woollen sail. Not hand-spun: it would take too long for one spinner who also has to weave! Anna spun samples that were sent to the mill. I don’t have many photos: I was a little reluctant to have my phone out while we were on the water. 

Apparently this is an old sail, wearing thin, so the wind goes through it more than it should. It catches more wind when freshly dressed, but people in the boat object to melted grease dripping from the sail in hot weather. 

We rowed out of the harbour (i like rowing, except for the person behind me who couldn’t keep stroke) until we caught the wind and could raise the sail. We sailed out, around the island and back; tacking was required. A. had the tiller for most of the journey back and was told he’d done very well fir someone who’d never sailed before. It’s not easy trying to keep the wind in the sail AND the boat making progress to the harbour. Then we rowed back into the harbour and i still liked it, except for the same person behind me.

And then we walked to the station and caught the train back to Copenhagen. 2300 hours was a long day of fun.

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Copenhagen Day Three (most of it, anyway)

For at least the last week our weather app has said this will be the wettest day, so we declared it Museum Day, just in case the app was right. 

So, after breakfast at the Lagkagehuset on Torvegade in Christianshavn – where we ate yesterday, and they remembered me as the English person with the skulls – we walked to the National Museum of Denmark. And then around the block because it wasn’t open yet. A, poor man, was following me, and I had one goal: Danish Pre-history (which is to say Danish history before anyone wrote it in words). 

I have, therefore, A Lot of pictures. Well over 100, in fact. Here are some of the highlights…

The skeleton of an elk that died in a bog nearly 9000 years ago.Probably not of natural causes: the small bone point was amongst the bones, the harpoon and shafts nearby.

A fragment of fish spear stll bound to its shaft with BAST FIBRES(!! my emphasis), 8000 years ago.

The skull of Porsmose man, bone arrow through his face and another through his sternum. It was striking (ha, not funny) how many weapons were on display in the Prehistory section. Admittedly they survive when other organics might not, but still: imbalance.)

This is so amazing I have trouble finding the words to explain its significance: an ard. The first, the earliest plough. Probably pulled by one human, guided by another. An agricultural revolution before the concept existed.

Crops and domesticated animals: a strainer for making cheese.

And then the main event, at least for me. The tour groups clustered  around Egtved Girland her reconstructed garments

but I looked into the hollows where Skrydstrup Woman‘s eyes should be, and was lost.

There were other graves at Skrydstrup, with textiles, but as I looked at her I felt she could be looking back. Are we answers to her unasked questions?

Then I learned new things about sun symbols,and something I’d never heard about before, the Bronze Age concept of the Journey of the Sun across the sky. Their webpage has the diagram, but not the explanation: the sun travels around and across the flat earth. At sunrise a Fish pulls the sun up over the horizon from the Night Ship to the Morning Ship, and is then eaten by a Bird. At noon the Sun Horse takes the sun from the ship -incidentally the stylised ‘s’ of the sun horse(s) looks exactly like other assumed sun symbols in the iconography of Near East rugs and embroidery! In the afternoon the Sun Horse delivers the sun to the deck of the Afternoon Ship. In the evening the Snake passes the extinguished sun to the night ship.Part of the totally engrossing Journey of the Sun display.

Ninth-century BC blankets found with the body of a woman in a bog in Jutland. Think of the woman, but also note that one blanket appears to be thoroughly fulled.Me leaving noseprints on the glass as I peer at said blankets.

As we walked through pre-history I counted spindle whorls and other mentions of ‘women’s work’. It wasn’t difficult: no discussion of spinning, weaving, cooking. (As opposed to weaponry, battles, injuries.) One Bronze Age spindle whorl (shale) and about 5 Viking age (pottery). Ninth-century AD gravegoods from women’s graves in Jutland, including tortoise (shaped like) brooches and spindle whorls.

Finally the display of Viking Age domestic finds from Trelleborg included spindles and loom weights.Huh. No wonder the ‘Viking!’ exhibition at the BM was all about shiny and killing people: it was telling the same story. 

But Skrydstrup Woman has forgotten more than we will ever know.

And then we went to the Glyptotek followed by Groms pizza and wine and ice cream. It’s raining, but tomorrow should be dry.Tomorrow is Roskilde and the Viking Ship Museum.

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Copenhagen Day Two, part ii

Across the Indershavnbroen (which opened on the 14th July, only 2 weeks ago), bear left, left again, then follow the crowd to Copenhagen Street FoodMicro-brewery beer, good food, sun, boats. Just as we finished our second plate of food, we inherited two comfy chairs. So we sat and enjoyed another beer while the sun sank behind the Skuespilhuset (Royal Danish Playhouse).

Then we passed our chairs on to the next generation and walked back to the flat. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

We really like it here. 

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Copenhagen Day Two, part i 

In case I finish this and have the energy to write another one later; it’s only 15:30. Or I might lose the will to write, post what I’ve done, and finish it later. We’ve come back to the apartment to rest our feet: I don’t know how far we’ve walked so far today, but we started at 0800 and haven’t stopped much – although we weren’t walking fast.

Over the Inderhavnsbroen (foot- and bicycle bridge) for a quiet walk along the canals to find breakfast in ChristianshavnThen across Knippelsbro, with a quintessentially European vista. Amongst other things the street lamps are really lamps hanging over the street.Incidentally all the towers in that photo should be vertical – the preview suggests some lens distortion.

The pointy tower to the left is truly fabulous, a good reason to try the ‘real’ pocket digital camera. Let’s see what it can capture… it worked! From the tip, which seems to be a skewer of alternating orbs and crowns, the tower spirals down, each ridge apparently ending in a human torso plunging head down, arms extended. It crowns the 17th-century Børsen, or stock exchange: a warning against pride and greed?

A tiny streetside water park, one of many little reminders that the planners remember people live and walk in this city.

We’d decided to check out Torvehallerne, the Copenhagen equivalent of London’s Borough Market. I admired the fire hydrants, each adorned with a fireman’s helmet and two fireman’s axes: two major fures in the 18th century destroyed much of Medieval and Renaissence Copenhagen. According to Wikipedia, the rebuilt city incorporated straight streets and wide splays at the corners so ladder wagons could reach fires more quickly in future.

Torveshallerne was extremely inviting, but we weren’t hungry. Yet.The huge fish head at right belonged to a mahi-mahi, the rest of which lay as huge fillets on the counter.

We kept walking. Over Dronning Louises Bridge and up Nørrebrogade in persistent drizzle. We left the street to walk through the peaceful green of Assistens Kirkegård, Copenhagen’s main cemetery. The older areas are now park, while the centre is reserved for modern burials. We left the cemetery, turned southwest onto Jagtvej, and walked and walked and walked. Bike and computer repair shops gave way to sandwich bars, then restaurants. South on Gammel Kongevej, past increasingly expensive boutiques. By the time we reached the Planetarium we were hungry. (A planetarium! Neither of us have been to one since childhood. Maybe we’ll go tomorrow.) But nothing on the street looked as desirable as the smørrebrød we’d seen at Torveshallerne… which was just a little further, really. So we walked northish along the Sankt Jørgens Sø, then right a bit. Lunch was worth every step!

Then we set off again, as the lunchtime rainshower slowed.A thing you do not see in England: rainwater flowing out of the downpipe and across the sidewalk aka pavement to the gutter.

We walked across the end of Kongens Have to pick up a walking route to the Kastellet.

Along streets of houses painted oxblood and yellow ochre, with hollyhocks springing between the granite paving setts.

Along Sankt Pauls Gade, past the earliest surviving part of the Nyboder naval barracks built from 1631-1795. Apparently that yellow ochre is now known as ‘Nyboder yellow’ although the barracks were originally red and white.

An unnervingly ferocious Valkyrie guards the park surrounding the Kastellet, a star fortress built in the 17th century and in use until 1839. It defended Copenhagen against the British Navy in 1807; the British attacked in order to capture or destroy the Dano-Norwegian Navy to prevent Napoleon getting it. For the last two days I’ve been trying hard – and failing – not to think about BRexit, the (truly) infamous British vote to leave the EU, but this brought it to both our minds. It is simply incredulous, beyond belief, that a civilised nation would want to turn its back on an organisation founded to prevent war, to promote negotiation, discussion and cooperation instead of bloodshed. I refuse to believe it will happen.

Here, have a Little Mermaid. A. wanted to avoid it completely, but I said that would be too predictable and we must therefore make a point of proving we’d seen it.The cruise ship Wind Surf in the background is really more interesting.

As is The Zinker, on the Nordre Toldbod dock. A’s legs for scale: it’s big.

As we headed down Tolbodgade towards Nyhavn, we passed yet another gateway leading through the street front of a building to courtyards and other buildings hidden from public view. A sliver of sunlit greenery can be seen through the part-closed door.

The flat we’re in is accessed by a smaller version with less green (only algae on the cobbles).

Looking back at the street entrance.We passed many more today. They seem to signify something about the past character of the city, a feeling that its inhabitants felt it necessary to conceal their private lives and spaces in more dangerous times. Modern Copenhagen is more outward-looking, street cafés, picnics in parks and a wealth of open spaces for everyone to enjoy. A city of the 21st century, a European city. We like it here.

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Copenhagen Day One

Well, more accurately 0.5. We left Luton at about 11:30 (Ryanair doesn’t seem to be the most punctual of carriers) to arrive at Copenhagen Airport at about 14:00, about an hour flying plus an hour of time zone. I’d booked a flat via Tripadvisor’s AirBnB equivalent; I texted the owner from the airport as requested, but thanks to (stupid) smart phone country-switching, he didn’t receive the texts. We waited an hour before I rang him to say we were here. No hardship: the flat is on Nyhavn, in the touristic centre of Copenhagen: we sat on the edge of the canal in the sun and enjoyed the view.

The flat might be perfectly located, but it’s not anything like perfectly fitted-out. It will suffice. We’re not here for the flat.

We dumped our bags and went out to explore. I have found the first few hours of a ‘drop-in’ holiday (short journey, no time to disconnect from the Everyday and shift to Holiday) can be tricky. We wandered slowly through the start of the rush hour (bicycles everywhere!) feeling at a loss until we came across Kongens Have, the Kings’ Garden, a park around Rosenborg Castle. A free music festival was starting slowly with chill-musik; we bought beer, sat on the grass and started planning in a leisurely fashion.

Aha! The Round Tower (Rundetaarn) is open until 2000 and it’s only 1730: let’s go and see the city from above!

It’s amazing. The seductive regular irregularity of the steeply-spiralling brick floor is wonderfully lit by the windows ser into the white walls.

There’s an antique privy.

There’s a beautifully-restored view of the bell loft in the attached church. But best of all, there’s a fabulous view from the top.

Mälmo in Sweden is just over there, under that storm.

And look at the old railing! Every panel is different, all based on Viking knots and curves. Not high enough or strong enough for modern health and safety, so there’s a stronger, higher one inside it.

Tycho Brahe‘s observatory is at the very top of the tower.

We meandered back to Nyhavn through streets that feel delightfully European. The older buildings are too ornate – and the new ones too Scandinavian-modern – to be English, too northern to be French. It feels very like Amsterdam, which isn’t surprising. The street art shows a delicacy of touch and humour – here stainless steel inserts between the grey stone paviours create a stream of illusory water flowing under the feet of the shoppers.

After dinner we bought ice cream cones from Vafflebegeren and ate them while walking to try to stay warm. Total fail, so after admiring the opera house we retreated to the flat to get warm! 

Tomorrow? We will decide once we’ve seen the weather forecast. It’s supposed to be damp, but drier than Wednesday, which looks like ‘hide from the rain in a museum all day’.

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thoughts on seeing a piece of antique lace

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere that I’m a hand spinner. I use my hands and various tools such as spindles and spinning wheels to make what I’ll loosely term ‘yarn’  from loose fibres by twisting them together. It’s an ancient skill. Yarn and the cloth made from it doesn’t usually survive to be dated (it rots, especially the early yarns made from plant materials), but sometimes the impressions of texture and pattern made by cloth and string in mud or soft soil do survive. Fragments of clay found in the Czech Republic show the pattern of cloth thought to have been woven 27,000 years ago. Some of the ‘Venus’ figures found in Europe dating from 20,000 BC have carefully carved string skirts, some so detailed that they show the skirt string is plied. Left dangling loose, a single strand of twisted fibre rapidly untwists to become loose fibre. Only if two strands – known as singles – are plied, twisted together in the opposite direction, will the dangling string remain string. Given the skills demonstrated by the things that have survived, it’s been suggested that people – probably women, as men are traditionally hunters – have been spinning fibre into string/yarn for over 40,000 years.

That’s a long time.

That’s many, many generations of my female ancestors. Only for the last 300 or so of those 40,000 years have women not needed to spin, at least in western Europe, where I come from. I am descended from a long line of women who could spin, and spin well, because the yarn they spun was needed to cloth their families, to be sold for money to pay the rent or feed their families. In the early days the string they made would have been knotted into nets to catch fish and birds. If my ancestors hadn’t been good, productive spinners, they and their children wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t be here.

So, as I’m spinning, I think of my ancestors, spinning. I didn’t gain my skill directly from their hands – my mentors passed on their own skills from their hands to mine – but my hands are doing the same things, going through the same motions, as those of my ancestors. Spinning unites us, hand to hand, across nearly 40,000 years.

Lynn, I search out antique handspun textiles because handling those textiles, learning new skills by examining them, is a direct link with the people who made them. For me, it’s all about the people, not the finished piece. I don’t care if something is tattered, too badly damaged for a ‘serious collector’: the ragged edges and loose threads mean I can see how it was made, whether the yarns are plied or singles, estimate their grist. I can extract individual fibres (of wool) to estimate staple length and fineness of fleece. Knowing these things I can try to replicate the yarn. Spinning it, I remember with respect the person who spun the original.


So. Here is a piece of linen lace in the style of Alençon, in northern France, dated by style and condition to the 18th century (1701–1799). Pre-Industrial Revolution, there’s no doubt the thread used for this was handspun and, for lace, of the finest quality at the time. Because in this condition it is of no value to a collector 48″ of this cost £5, but to me it’s beyond valuation. It’s 48″ of people’s lives: the skills of the flax grower, the processors, the spinners, the lacemakers.


Detail of the lace magnified 20x. The lens circle is 1cm in diameter.



The damage allows me to examine the individual strands of yarn more closely.


Above, a damaged area magnified 20x, showing what seems to be a single thread.

Below, the same area magnified 80x. 


The lustre of the individual threads and the ‘hand’ of the fabric, even after more than 200 years, suggests this is linen. I am awestruck by the fineness of the fibres in the yarn: having done some flax processing myself (this link shows the basic principles), I have some idea of just how tricky it would be to get fibres this fine. Having spun flax, I have some idea of what it takes to spin this fine. At this point I’m not even sure whether this is plied or a singles yarn. I did find a description of the spinning process in Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper, Vol. 4 1865 on Google Books:

“Why, the flax of which the old Brussels and the point d’Alençon were made, was cultivated on purpose; it was chiefly grown in Brabant, Halle, and Courtrai, and had to be spun in underground cellars, because contact with external air made the thread brittle. The thread was so fine as almost to elude the sight; the spinner had to go by the sense of touch, examining every inch as it left the distaff, and at the slightest irregularity stopping the wheel. The room was kept in darkness, except for one single ray of light arranged to fall on the thread, which was thrown up by a background of dark paper … “No wonder,” said Goody, “that fine lace is so costly; why, I have read lately, that at the present moment, hand-spun thread is often sold at £240 sterling for one pound only.”

MeasuringWorth says £240 in 1865 would be between £20,690 and £471,100 in 2015 pounds. I am stunned.

I hold the lace and I respect the people who made it. I remember with respect the people who, generation upon generation, developed the skill to make things like this. They may not be my personal ancestors, but without them we wouldn’t be here.

All that from a piece of old lace.

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The less time I have, the more I want to do

When work is busy, I find myself dreaming up more projects for what little leisure time remains. The less time I have, the more I want to read, make, travel, buy. I’ve begun to suspect that some of this is a form of promising myself that I WILL be able to do these things at some unspecified time in the future, when I am at leisure to devote my leisure to the things I want to do. [Mostly. I don’t want to clean the bathroom, but I’ll still have to do it or risk our early deaths from disgust, embarrassment or horrible diseases.] There was a time when I could not resist a nice handspinning fleece – and didn’t bother trying. I just promised myself that there would be a time when I had time to spend sorting, washing, drying, combing or carding, spinning and then using that fleece. Fortunately a summer spent washing and drying and starting to comb some of the hoard taught me a lesson: I already have a lifetime’s supply of wool to spin. Not to mention cotton, silk and flax.

More productive and more fun than buying promises to myself is devoting some of my precious spare time to artistic mending. A couple of years ago I found an umpteenth-hand denim jacket in a flea market. It had a peculiar odour and was covered with a fine red-brown dust, but it fitted me: I bought it. I wore it a couple of times before washing it, which was just as well because I had time to start to love it before the washing machine revealed patches of incipient disintegration.

The yoke is in the worst condition, possibly due to exposure to the sun. I decided to learn sashiko [not sashimi, stupid computer] stitching by using it to attach a lining to the yoke, with embroidery thread shading from blue to red because colour can be fun. I tacked the lining to the yoke with a grid of white sewing cotton and began stitching. When I reached the first badly damaged area where only the white weft of the denim remains, I realised that sashiko alone would not be enough to take the strain, so decided to further reinforce those areas. I duplicate-stitched the twill furrows in various shades of blue; the more I did, the more my technique improved. I really like the finished effect (it’s better from a distance when you can’t see all the imperfections as below).


The rectangular area marking the position of the label on the inside of the yoke posed a problem. I could try to stitch through or skim the label and continue the sashiko across it, or I could use it to define a feature, which is what I did. I designed a motif suitable for cross-stitch, picked 6 shades from my ancient hoard of embroidery thread, donned my most powerful magnifying glasses, laid out a 6×6 thread grid, and started counting and stitching. Then stopped, counted, ripped out, and counted again before stitching again. Clearly I need practice at both counting AND stitching.

At this point I reserve judgement as to whether a motif was the right decision. Looking at the back of the jacket in its entirety, I think I’d have done better to continue the sashiko. But, with more work on the motif than in the photo above, it’s working and I like it. Even if variations in the thread thickness of the soft, worn denim mean that the stitching lacks precision: to paraphrase Tara, it loses precision but it gains life.


I could rip out the motif and the grid, re-do it elsewhere on the jacket, and continue the sashiko to cover the yoke. And I think I want to expand the sashiko beyond the yoke, too. After all, it’s only time. I should use the time I have to do my best. Who knows, this jacket may long outlive me. I do sometimes imagine people decades or centuries from now looking at something I made and wondering about me and my life, as I wonder about those who made  the antique textiles I look at today.

Speaking of which, who wants to see some antique lace?




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Planning another Summer of Blue

I had planned to focus on indigo last summer, but in the event various other things intervened – although I did accomplish more than I posted. I must show you my shoes!

I’m making tentative plans for more blue this summer.


I had hoped that the tadeai, the Japanese Indigo Polygonum tinctorium, would survive the mild winter in its house but even though I added fleece and bubblewrap when the nights dropped to -4C, there’s no life in the stems. It may be an obligate annual, or it may simply have flowered itself to death late last autumn without setting any seed, alas.

I admired the few remaining dead leaves somewhat wistfully: look, they’re blue!


And then cut most of the stems off. I’ve left a few root masses with stubs of stem for the moment, but there was no green in the pith and the roots I pulled up looked brown and dead, so I doubt anything will shoot. But I sowed seed as well; the seed tray is now sitting indoors in the warmth where I am already watching it hopefully.

I took cuttings  – lengths of stems with leaves – from the plants last October when we returned from our holiday and put them in a jar of water. As might be expected from a Polygonum the cuttings formed masses of roots from the submerged leaf nodes, but the rest of the nodes sent out flower shoots.  I pinched them out and more appeared. The cuttings were extremely well-rooted and looked reasonably healthy in late January when I potted them, but just continued to try to flower until they died, leaves slowly shrivelling. A friend who rooted cuttings in August says two are still alive and seem well, so I wonder whether the trick is to catch them before environmental cues set the growth points to ‘flower’ mode. I will try to test that this summer, as cuttings would be the best way to maintain a line that dyes well.

The woad looked reasonably happy. As a biennial this is its year to flower and seed, with leaves that yield little or no blue. I left the plants last year thinking to gather the seed – these were grown from seed I harvested two years ago – but there isn’t really enough space in our tiny garden to keep plants for seed especially when they attract so many Cabbage White butterflies to lay eggs on my salad rocket! The woad is no longer happy: it is composting and I’ll sow more in the Brassica Bed shortly.


All this plus ‘standard’ indigo vats means there should be more blue this summer. But what shall I do with it? I’m designing stencils to print with fresh indigo leaves, because that was immense fun. But there’s much more fun to be had: a friend sent me two fascinating books.



This is the work of Mrs Akiyama, who made a personal study of the natural dye plants of Awa in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. Awa is famed for its Polygonum tinctorium indigo dyes; there are pages detailing dyeing with fresh and dried indigo (if I’d had more dead leaves I could have dyed with them!) as well as many other plants. And there are notes on working with bast fibres, as well as information on finishing yarns and fabrics after dyeing.


The other book tells me what to do with what I’ve dyed:


No more peering at fuzzy videos on YouTube! With luck this will be a summer to remember.

To finish, a reminder of last summer.


Super-cheap runners, sold as ‘cotton’ (I have my doubts, see below). I washed them thoroughly with dishwashing liquid and rinsed them thoroughly too, then dumped them into a standard thiox indigo vat on the stove.^1 No matter how many times I dipped them, the uppers would not go darker than this; given the depth of blue in the soles. I wonder whether the fabric is in fact polycotton.

The first dyeing attempt was extremely patchy when it dried. Blotches of pale fabric near the heels, more blotches on the toes. I left them outside in the weather for a week or two to think about their sins while I sulked. Then I needed to exhaust the vat, so I reheated it, added reducing agent, and chucked them back (dry, I think), out of curiosity rather than any expectation of success. Imagine my surprise when, after two or three dips, they emerged a relatively solid and respectable pale blue. After washing thoroughly and drying, I considered decoration: stencilling with fresh tadeai was the obvious answer. I cut an assortment of crude paisley stencils and discovered that stencilling on curved surfaces is rather tricky. But the end result is a pleasing variety of blues produced by a variety of indigo techniques, especially when embellished with tablet-woven laces.

It’s a great shame that the shoes are so uncomfortable :-/

^1: A caution. If you try this, be prepared to spend ages scouring melted runner-sole off the sides of the pot. A hint: reheating the pot gently softens the stuff a bit, but it still requires a lot of effort.


Posted in Indigo, things for feet, Uncategorized, Woad | Tagged , , | 3 Comments