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Crochet Shawls: Connected with Hugs and CALs

Crochet CAL

For several weeks now I’ve been thinking rather a lot about shawls; their history, their function and their design  potential

I’ve written before about The Norwich Shawl and it’s glorious history. Queen Victoria commissioned two Norwich shawls after admiring them at the 1851 Great Exhibition and for much of the  19th century decorative woven shawls were the ‘on trend’ accessory for women of all social classes.

It’s also fascinating to track the demise of this once ‘must have’ wardrobe staple as fashions evolved and the shawl became almost obsolete in fashionable society. For the last few years of the 19th century, and for most of the 20th century, shawls became a rather self-effacing accessory, associated with the elderly, the frail and the ubiquitous huddled masses en route to an unknown future.

In the 21st century, it is still a brave designer that sends models swathed in shawls down the runways of London Fashion week; and I love Burberry Prorsum for having the courage to do this two years running.

Burberry

A shawl presents infinite possibilities. It is a conceptual blank canvas that can be any shape, size, colour or gender. It can be functional or decorative; high fashion or utility. A shawl has the power to comfort and make the wearer feel warm, safe and protected. Like a shell, but soft and forgiving. Being wrapped in a fabulous shawl is a gentle and tender embrace.

Fringed prayer shawls feature in Judaism and there is now, particularly in the USA, a movement for knitting or crocheting a more generic ‘prayer shawl’ which is blessed and given to someone in need of comfort. I was reminded of this recently when I was contacted by Anne McCrudden about the Shawl Hugs project she has started. Shawl  Hugs is a project for anyone to make shawls for people who are going through a tough time “ they may be experiencing physical or mental health problems, going through bereavement or struggling in some way.”

“Shawls can be tangible symbols of love and support. They can be warm hugs of happiness and empathy; a place of escape to relax, rest and renew; something to hold on to when all else is slipping away. Wrapping another in a shawl made of your loving thoughts is a gift not only for the person who receives it, but for yourself as well.” 

shawl hugs

The project includes live workshop events where anyone can drop buy, learn to knit or crochet, pick up a pattern and get started on their own, unique, shawl. The next event is on Thursday 12th May and you can find out more about it here.

This is such a great way to connect with others, and in my own work at The Mercerie I also used a shawl, earlier this year, as a way to connect with people all over the world.

In February I launched my first on line CROCHET-ALONG which ran over 6 weeks and I was amazed and delighted by what happened. I loved watching the progress of so many variations of the Folklore Shawl. I was stunned by how fast some of you work (yes, that’s you Lee!) and thrilled to see so many different colour variations – take a look at some of the projects…..they are so beautiful.

I adore this blue version by Lee.

lees Shawl V1

Marion’s multicoloured version is just fabulous – I’m going to try this….

marions

Lee managed to make TWO!!!

Lee's 2

Heather was the first to finish…..

Heather's

Aimi hooked up her black and red version pretty quickly too.

Ami's

Oh – and here’s mine. Shamefully still unfinished!

green folklore

If you made a shawl as part of this CAL; wrap yourself up in it……and that’s a big hug from me to say THANK YOU!

 

 

Ps. I’m running a ‘Joining Motifs’ crochet workshop on May 14th if you’d like to give this pattern a go – but need a little help getting started.

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Crochet Shawls, Strangers and other Norwich Stuff

Crochet Bohemian Shawl

If you head north east out of London for about a hundred miles, just before you get to the North Sea, you’ll find Norwich; a fine city. Once an impenetrable gated community, Norwich is now circumnavigated by the ring road and the crumbling remains of a city wall.

Like many people, my historical knowledge of the place where I live is sketchy, anecdotal and riddled with holes and questionable facts. 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) 52 churches (one for every week) rivers running red like blood (the madder dyes) and a cockerel as big as a donkey (on the top of the cathedral spire – according to my grandmother)

In geographical terms, Norwich is rather off the beaten track but it is possible to trace a route through history to a time when it was a city second only to London and a thriving textile hub.

Knowledge and evidence of our grand textile history has become rather threadbare over the years but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and I wonder how many of my ancestors might have spent long hours weaving in their dimly lit garrets, or suffered the dire consequences of working with toxic mordants in the dye houses of sixteenth century Norwich.

I wonder how they might have viewed the new community of ‘strangers’ –  the highly skilled Dutch and Flemish weavers invited into the city to mobilise and modernise the city’s ailing textile industry, and to escape religious persecution.

Like all new immigrant communities The Strangers brought with them many things that impacted on the City. The Flemish brought with them their pet canaries (canary breeding became so popular in Norwich we named our football team after them) and even the Norwich dialect is said to have been influenced by this community, who at one time made up almost one third of the city.

The greatest impact, perhaps, was made on our textile output. They introduced revolutionary technical changes, mixed fibres and improved finishing processes.

The Norwich dyers were also prized for the quality of their bright, clean, colourfast dyes. Red dyes were particularly prized and one red dye became known as ‘Norwich red’ produced from the madder plant which was grown locally and later important from Turkey.

The new fabrics were lighter, silkier and had strange names like camblet, Say,Tammy, Callimanco, mockadoes, Fustian of Naples, Bombasine, stamin, serg, and dornix. Collectively they became known as Norwich Stuffs.

As the fabrics became more delicate, like the fashionable ones on the Continent,  the need for a big warm shawl increased and Norwich was to become hugely important in the production of the very fashionable ‘Norwich Shawl’. Not to be confused with the Paisley Shawl – no really – don’t EVER make that mistake. I did once – and was told off very severely by a textile historian. Paisley is in Scotland. Norwich is in England. You see – they are different!!

Shawls were manufactured in Norwich from the 1780’s but by the mid 19th century Norwich was producing some of the most exquisite, and expensive shawls in the world – inspired by the beautiful textiles imported from Kashmir

Norwich Textiles

Image: http://locutus.ucr.edu/

Much of the history of Norwich is wrapped up in a beautiful wool shawl and I’m very pleased to see shawls, wraps and oversized scarves return to the contemporary fashion scene.

Shawls make the perfect knitting or crochet project if you’re one of those people who can never quite get the fit of a jumper right, or if you’re rather too impatient to work a third tension square….shawls always fit!

I recently added The Bohemian Shawl to my collection of crochet patterns and it takes more than a hint of inspiration from the textile history of Norwich.

Bohemian crochet shawl

I may wear it one evening soon and take a walk through the city, past Strangers Hall, the Maddermarket Theatre, The Woolpack, The Dyers Arms, Canary Way, and, finally, down Weavers Lane, and  think about the rich history of this very fine city.

I shall also be running a three part crochet masterclass in Norwich this Autumn where you can make your own version of this gorgeous shawl. We will cover a huge range of stitches and techniques and you can choose your own colours from a range of Debbie Bliss yarns at Norfolk Yarn wool shop.

crochet shawl design

Crochet shawl

Crochet Shawl Bobble Trim

Full details can be found here

Oh – and I’m going to include the instructions on how to work the lovely pom pom trim in the next issue of The Mercerie Post!

You can register here.

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