Antique Fibre Tools Connect People and History

16 November 2022

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Ad description: Cover of the book Sheep, Shepherd & Land, and the words, "THE book about Canadian Wool, by Anna Hunter. Photos by Christel Lanthier. Buy now."

Ad description: The words, "The socks you knit won't last forever, but you can make them last for years and years. Shop now." Also featuring the cover image of the Sock Mending Guide.

When I joined last month’s Digits & Threads Studio Hours for Caitlin ffrench’s talk on rug tufting, I didn’t expect to solve a mystery. As Caitlin demonstrated the tufting gun that she uses to create her naturally dyed colour wheel rugs, I instantly recognized the gun’s components, despite only having heard of rug tufting in passing.

You see, I have a habit of collecting random, fibre-related tools. It started small: knitting needles from a local Value Village, worn-out hand carders from a yard sale in rural New Brunswick, knitting and spinning letterpress blocks from an antique market near the yarn shop Loop in London, England.

So, when, last August, I wandered into an antiques store beside the Annapolis Royal Farmer’s and Traders Market, I was instantly drawn to the fibre tools. I picked up an elegantly shaped niddy noddy, its smooth wood the colour of deep caramel from years of use. The owner noticed me cradling it and started to point out other fibre tools. He handed me the most wonderful sock darning form, its dark blonde wood the shape of a small foot, with a short handle and knob that fit comfortably in my palm.

The most intriguing find was a metal instrument with a sharp point that was directly attached to a bent wooden handle. A second piece slid back and forth, extending a metal shaft in a frame: a set-up that resembled the curly-q thread guard on my Singer sewing machine. The owner thought it was a rug hooking tool from Cape Breton. Whatever it was, I knew it needed to come home with me—along with the niddy noddy and sock darning form. And until that Digits & Threads Studio Hours in October, that mystery tool sat on the desk in my studio.

All images by Julie Rosvall.

Copyright © Julie Rosvall except as indicated.
Image description: White woman with shoulder-length hair wearing a green cardigan over a black dress holds a large white metal wheel on the side of a letterpress machine.

About Julie Rosvall

Julie Rosvall grew up in New Brunswick, and moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia in 1998 where she started her career as a textile artist. In 2010 Julie began experimenting with printmaking, exploring transferring the patterns & textures of textiles to paper. Her current practice is now focused on textile relief prints and copper soft ground etchings of knitted swatches and shawls. Julie has started & moved on from two satisfying fine craft businesses. The 1st a farm wool shop which she is pleased to say is still a vibrant part of the fibre arts community. The 2nd was with her husband & partner Peter, where they produced custom architectural concrete, garnering international attention for design & quality. Julie is a juried member of Craft Nova Scotia and Craft New Brunswick for spinning, dyeing, knitting, printmaking & architectural concrete. From 2003-22 Julie worked with Craft Nova Scotia, and is committed to continuing to foster the fine craft community, and make connections within the culture sector and through collaborations across industries. Connect with Julie at her website, podcast, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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