Monthly Archives: July 2015

Raising the Nap

My alter-ego is a yarnster, someone who mucks about with wool and such like. A soggy Sunday visiting friends in west Wales gave the perfect opportunity for a trip to the National Wool Museum, which satisfied the wool enthusiast in me but also piqued my amateur botanist side too.

A wool museum might seem an unlikely place to encounter plants… apart from adding colour in the dyeing process, but the natural dye garden is currently under re-development. No, I was intrigued by the use of plants in the actual conversion of wool to yarn.

 After shearing and sorting, the first step of the process is willowing as the fleece is too ravelled for immediate spinning. In the industrialised age, it is the willowing machine which combs the wool, teasing out the tangles with a metal-toothed roller. This transforms the wool into a kind of candy-floss cloud of fibre. Of course, this was originally done by hand: the wool was thwacked on a ‘felking board’ using sticks. These were probably cut from willow, and most likely explains the name of the activity.

Another combing task was carding, and turns the soft fluffy fibres into ‘rolags’ or ‘rovings’. By hand, this was done with carding bats which had metal or wire teeth. But the earliest carding bats had teasel or thistle heads. The scientific name for thistle is Cardus from which the word carding is derived. The Welsh for teasel is ysiau’ r cribwr and translates as “the vegetable of the carder” or “the carder’s plant”.

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Carding bat with teasel heads

After the wool has been spun and woven into cloth, teasels play another role: they are used to “raise the nap”. That is to say, they are again given a combing function, applied to the surface of the cloth to give a fluffy appearance. This finishing technique melded nature and machine as teasels were used in the Teasel Raising Gig – it used 3000 teasels in an iron frame over which the cloth passed.

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Close up of teasel heads in the Teasel Raising Gig

The replacing of teasel heads was a very skilled job, so much so that a “Teasel Man” toured the mills replenishing teasels in the gigs as required. The dried flower heads had to be positioned carefully in order that they gave an even finish to the cloth.The majority of teasel heads were bought from specialist gardens in Somerset. But eventually, the teasel raising gigs were replaced by the Moser Raiser which substituted metal teeth for the teasels.

IMG_1388The Latin name for the fuller’s teasel was Dipsacus fullonum subspecies sativus (now simply D. sativus), indicating its place in the fulling and finishing process. This is different from the wild teasel (pictured in the header image) which has weaker spines. Unsurprisingly, one of the vernacular names for teasel is “brushes and combs”.

It is always pleasing to be able to combine different interests. Even more so if it is in an unexpected way, like at the wool museum.

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Tree Following: July

I visited my weed tree a few days ago, before the onset of rain. It’s been very dry in London for the past few weeks, and the earth around this sycamore is parched and dusty. Even the weeds have died off..

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                        No Weeds

On the tree itself, much seemed the same.. until I spotted red protrusions on some of the leaves. I had to clamber into the fork of the multi-stem to get photo. I tended to call these nail galls before, but actually those are more pointy and appear on lime trees, hence their Latin name Eriophyes tiliae. The ones on sycamore are Aceria macroryncha. The galls are caused by mites which feed on the fresh leaves, and each mite can stimulate a number of galls to be produced. In May, the mites will lay eggs into the galls, and the growing larvae will feed on the the lining of the galls. Having only known that these galls were caused by mites, I didn’t know anything about the lifecycle and behaviour before. Now I know, I’ll have a closer look at these galls to see if I can spot the small holes fringed with hairs on the underside of the leaves, through which the mites gain access to the galls to lay their eggs.

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Aceria macrorhyncha mite galls

I’ll be keeping an eye open for the development of Tar Spot, a fungal disease which affects Sycamores in London. As yet, I’ve seen no sign on this tree.

If you haven’t already visited the Loose and Leafy blog, head over there for more tree following links.

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