Beetroot Dyes

During this 65th anniversary year, articles of interest from old Guild newsletters will be reprinted. This article was first published in May 1965.
Beetroot are plentiful just now so this is an ideal time to try them as dye material. The old stringy ones discarded for culinary use are quite suitable for the dye pot. First wash off the dirt then cut into pieces and tie up in a muslin bag. Boil until a good colour has been extracted. Wool should now be entered into the dye pot with one or other of the following mordants:

  • Alum – for old gold shads and with a particularly strong dye a bright bronze is obtained
  • Bichromate of potash – bronze
  • Copper sulphate – sage green
  • Cream of tartar and tin – apricot
  • Alum and aluminium and soda – yellow

Note: Be sure you have washed all the dirt and natural grease from your wool before attempting to dye. Move the wool gently about in the dye pot to be sure of equal dyeing. Odd ends of skeins of white wool can be used very successfully after dyeing to add life and interest to standard patterns.

Finishing Cloth

Most people including some weavers, have no idea what happens to a piece of mill-woven cloth, between the time it comes off the loom until it is ready to use. These processes are collectively known as “finishing” and, in most fabrics, are as important to the quality of the cloth as the weaving itself.
For hand weavers, the finishing of linens and cottons is more or less straight forward; but wool processing presents many problems. Some weavers, who are not prepared to face the complications of home finishing, send their tweed or other woollen or worsted weaving to a mill for finishing. In order that they should know what happens to their work there, we list below the various processes as given by Morris Woollen Mills of Redbank, Queensland.

Read More

Ursula Wohnlich (1942 – 2012)

Ursula Wohnlich was born in Hannover, Germany, in 1942 in the midst of World War II. Her father, Josef Wohnlich, was Swiss and her mother, Else was German. Ursula had a brother, Hans (Johannes) Wohnlich.
At the end of the war the family moved to Switzerland where they started again. Ursula did quite well at intermediate high school and was accepted into a course at EMPA (Swiss Materials Science Institute) in St Gallen where she completed a laboratory technicians course specialising in Textile Testing. Ursula subsequently worked at EMPA as a textile testing laboratory technician.
In 1970 Ursula migrated to Australia. She knew Australia had sheep, so she figured it would also have a large textile industry – and she was right, at that time. Having arrived in Sydney and established herself in a single room flat in Surrey Hills she was lucky enough to get a job at the University of New South Wales in the School of Textile Technology. Initially she worked in the yarn laboratories on annual Wool Corporation funding. Over the 27 years Ursula worked in the School of Textile Technology she was involved in a number of areas including yarn manufacture, textile testing and textile physics, firstly as a technical officer and later as a senior technical officer.

Read More

Japanese Style

Chieko Fukuda sent us some ideas from the Tokyo National Museum on how to design kimono fabric.
Many of the patterns seen on kimonos are based on the rich and varied seasons of Japan.
Whether in patterns heralding a new season or in cool autumn and winter designs worn during the sweltering summer, traditional kimonos are full of elegance and sophistication.

Read More

Smithsonian conservators develop new technique to determine age of silk artefacts

Conservation scientists have developed a new technique to authenticate and determine the age of silk artefacts held in museums and collections, the Smithsonian Institution announced Monday.
Carbon dating is too destructive for most silk items, scientists said. The new method uses the natural deterioration of silk’s amino acids to determine its age by calculating that change over time — a process known as racemisation. Archaeologists and forensic anthropologists have used this process for years to date bones, shells and teeth.

Read More

Nazis, needlework and my dad

After six months held by the Nazis in a prisoner of war camp, Major Alexis Casdagli was handed a piece of canvas by a fellow inmate. Pinching red and blue thread from a disintegrating pullover belonging to an elderly Cretan general, Casdagli passed the long hours in captivity by painstakingly creating a sampler in cross-stitch. Around decorative swastikas and a banal inscription saying he completed his work in December 1941, the British officer stitched a border of irregular dots and dashes. Over the next four years his work was displayed at the four camps in Germany where he was imprisoned, and his Nazi captors never once deciphered the messages threaded in Morse code: “God Save the King” and “Fuck Hitler”.

Read More


Weavers use needles to repair broken warp ends, hemstitch cloth on the loom and to hand finish hand woven articles.
The first sewing needles were made from bone and wood and were used to sew animal hides together. The oldest known bone sewing needle was found in what is now southwestern France and has been estimated to be over 25,000 years old. The oldest iron needle known was found in what is now Germany, and dates back to the 3rd century BC
Needles have also been made from from copper, silver, bronze, porcupine and agave leaves. Now days they are made from steel.

Read More

Alpaca: Word, Beast, Cloth

In Howard Priestman’s book, Principles of Woollen Spinning (1924), he discusses a variety of carding and opening processes. Included in these is a rag machine or devil which is used to grind or pull rags of all kinds of knitted and woven wool fabric. The rags are beaten by a toothed swift and are literally shaken to pieces. In the book, he says:

The product of the devil is shoddy, mungo, or alpaca, as the case may be; shoddy being made from hosiery and other milled goods, mungo from milled cloth, and alpaca, or extract, from any class of material that has been carbonized.

He says that wool is said to be carbonized when it is treated with sulphuric acid or other chemicals, in such a way as to destroy the undesirable vegetable matter and to leave the wool uninjured.
It would appear that a class of recycled woollen material was called alpaca as compared to the wool from the Peruvian animal.
According to the OED, the name is made up of the Spanish (Arabic origin) al plus paco which is described as probably a Peruvian name. The word was originally alpaco.
There is a 1604 citation from a history of the West Indies to pacos, sheep bearing wool, then a 1753 citation to pacos as a species of camel, also known as the Indian sheep or Peruvian sheep. In 1827 another publication says The paco or alpaco was first clearly described by M. Frederic Cuvier in 1821. Then in 1836 there is an advertisement for the Liverpool wool sales offering 400 bags of Alpaca wool, just landed.
Then the name seems to have been transferred to clothing made of alpaca, or of other thin wool resembling alpaca. There is no mention in the OED of any carbonization processed wools. The most recent citation in the OED is to 1900, to a woman wearing a shabby, ink-stained alpaca dress. The name now is used only for the wool of the animal and signifying a luxury fibre.
Here’s a web page that talks about shoddy and mungo and mentions using alpaca noils as well as other noils in the manufacture of cheaper woollen goods: Wool Substitutes And Waste Products

Women Transported

Part 3 of the series written by G Gohl for the HW&SG Journals in 1979/80 concerning progress of the ‘Manufactory’ at Parramatta.
Governor Hunter wrote to the Duke of Portland in April 1800:
“Your Grace may be assured that I do not neglect such means as may be in my power for trying what may be done to establish the weaving of cloth. The specimens sent by this conveyance, although prepared under many disadvantages, may serve to show what may be expected as soon as we have abundance of raw materials in our power. The sheep thrive exceedingly and the specimens of woollen cloth will in some degree show the quality of fleece; the breed of sheep which produced the wool is between the Cape ram and the Bengal ewe.

Read More

Women Transported

Extracted and edited from The Historical Records of Australia [published by the Library Committee of the Commonwealth Government] by Geoff Gohl and republished with his permission.
Contrary to popular belief, the first usable fibre produced in the Colony of New South Wales was flax rather than wool.
Captain Arthur Phillip was given two commissions, the second of which instructed him as follows:

“It cannot be expedient that all the convicts which accompany you should be employed in attending only to the object of provisions, and, as it has been represented to us that advantages may be derived from the flax plant which is found in the islands not far distant from the intended settlement, not only as a means of acquiring clothing for the convicts and other persons who may become settlers, but from its superior excellence for a variety of maritime purposes, and it may ultimately become an article of export. It is therefore our will and pleasure that you particularly attend to its cultivation, and that you send home by every opportunity which may offer samples of this article, in order that a judgement may be formed whether it may be necessary to instruct you further on this matter.”

Read More