Our first Studio Hours of 2023 began with a reflection on community as we enjoyed Julie Rosvall’s presentation of her many fibre tool acquisitions and the people she’s met along the way—an “in-person” version of her recent D&T article.
Julie’s textile tools connection began with a neighbour in St John, N.B., Barb McKelvey, who used to “rescue” looms and spinning wheels. Later, while living in the Gaspereau Valley, home of celebrated weaver Mary Black, she made connections with master spinners and weavers Gwen Hewey-Parsons and Nelda Davis.
Her first major fibre tool purchase was a late 1700s walking wheel. Nelda made a new drive band out of kitchen string from the hardware store and started spinning. That drive band is still in use. The wheel has now taken up residence on the back of Julie’s desk, and, while she doesn’t spin on it much anymore, she treasures the memory of working with Nelda to get it.
Julie once picked up a rotary iron from the side of the road. It does work but the electronics are a little suspect, so she doesn’t leave it plugged in. Her husband once found her an antique swift/skein winder and presented it to her as a Christmas gift. She showed us some carved blocks for fabric printing, articles that are commonly found in antique shops.
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She loves to enable friends with their tool acquisitions. One fun story included dangling a large, assembled loom from a second-story barn loft as the seller (a metalsmith and rigger) managed a pulley system to lower the loom out of the barn and into her truck.
She showed a letterpress print block of a spinning wheel image which she found in the flea market outside Loop London, a market that’s been visited by other D&T members as well.
We also saw a 1942 Singer sewing machine. A member in the chat reminded us that all Singer sewing machines have a serial number on them which you can look up to find the age of your machine, and a participant shared her 1922 New Jersey model.
One delightful item that Julie found at a yard sale is a Little Red Spinning Wheel, a plastic toy for making i-cord, which brought back memories for one member. Julie then shared a video of the 1962 television advertisement for the toy.
Julie says that tools also just find her, and she shared a photo of a large horizontal warping reel which she has on long-term loan. Having a truck is also an asset—she is the official loom mover for all her friends.
One item that spawned considerable interest was a folding wooden drying rack that extends into a beautiful arch. Chat participants expressed their desire to reverse engineer the ingenious piece.
Another special tool is a 1970s Ashford Traditional wheel originally owned by from weaver Jackie Mackay, who unfortunately passed away before she and Julie could work together.
Julie says she loves her tools, and even though she’s short on space, she won’t give them up until they go to the right person. That said, it’s not really about the tools. The most important part is the connections and experiences with friends and with people steeped in the textile traditions of the Maritimes.
Show and Tell
After Julie’s presentation, we moved into show and tell of other people’s special tools.
Andrew shared a 1941 knitting instruction book, noting the difference in styles of knitting instructions from then to now.
Cheryl’s husband’s mother was a milliner and she passed along a wonderful collection of Singer sewing machine attachments to make rolled hems, ruffles, and gathers.
Glenda shared her Leclerc combination skein winder and bobbin winder which spawned a brief discussion about how Leclerc would make new products with leftover pieces from production runs.
We saw Kim’s 1970s Kenmore sewing machine, a coveted model known for its durability, and its pristine instruction manual; another member mentioned hers—an avocado green model!
Kathy shared mending and rug-hooking tools from her great-grandmother, and we admired the well-shaped wood handles, worn smooth from their long history.
Yulia shared her “Frankenstein” CPW (Canadian Production Wheel) spinning wheel, inherited from her father, that has marks from four or five makers and an unusual tilting mother-of-all.
After seeing all those wonderful tools, we also saw a couple of delightful, finished textile projects. One member shared her new heavyweight toe-up socks made from handspun yarn. The feet were made from a custom blend of Southdown, Suffolk, and alpaca, with added silk and pineapple fibres for strength (blend from Small Bird Workshop), and when she ran out of that yarn, she worked the legs in purple Romney yarn, as the feet/heels see the most abrasion and other, less durable, yarns can be used on the leg.
Another member shared her fibre-to-finish project of flip-top mittens in a 50/50 llama/wool blend. She had tracked all her time spent, from carding through spinning and knitting, and found that the fibre to yarn step took about twenty-one hours while the knitting took about twenty-two hours.
Images by Julie Rosvall.