Hopalong Hollow....

Hopalong Hollow, where the Blueberries grow sweet, and the moss feels soft beneath your feet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A fascination with thread.

 What has color, delicacy combined with strength, texture, beauty AND function?
 THREAD.
I love thread in all it's forms. I love thread for all the reasons I mentioned above and more. Thread is to the needle-worker what paint is to the artist and, like paint, thread has utilitarian use as well as aesthetically  pleasing uses.
 To me, this box of old twist looks as lovely as a box of watercolors.
 I gather it all: floss, twist, yarn, thread, purl, cord, worsted. I am a collector of old twisted fibers.

Sewing thread has been around for eons. Ancient thread was made of catgut, plant fiber, and sinew but thread as we know it today, is thankfully, much different.For most of history, thread was handwoven, it must have been a laborious task.

The Chinese created the process of spinning thread from silk...courtesy of the wonderful little silkworm. With hanks of silk being imported to Britain, mills sprang up everywhere. No longer was thread hand-spun, the machines had taken on the spinning job, with the assistance of workers. Men, women and even children as young as 4 worked in these mills 9 hours a day and 6 days a week.


Threads were spun of
 silk and linen

That is, until, in 1812, when Napoleons blockade made it impossible to get the imported  Chinese silk and a replacement was needed to produce sewing thread.

Enter Cotton Thread
  Cotton became the fiber of necessity and newly imported American cotton made it's way to Scotland, where  Clark (of Coats and Clark) became the 
first producer of cotton thread. 

In the beginning, these threads were on skeins..

 

but that was before the invention of the 
sewing machine. 
I still find skeins of twist to be the most pleasing to the touch and the eye.

 Welcome the Wooden Spool


The earliest wooden spools were actually quite tiny.
In the 1820's, wooden cotton reels were invented.
At first, the wooden spools, made of Birch, had no marking upon them as they were produced in a limited amount, chiefly for the home stitcher.
 You could put a half-penny deposit on the wooden spool of thread, and when the twist was used up, you could have the spool re-loaded with more thread;
 
But with the invention of the sewing machine, the demand for the wooden spooled thread became enormous and mills began producing it in abundance . Mills began placing  paper labels on their brand or stamping and embossing the spools with trademarks. 

 No longer was it necessary to re-fill a spool, you simply bought another, and another, and another. Imperfect or flawed wooden spools were sold by the bucket-full as firewood.
 


 Wooden spools were used up until the 1960's. I've found some threads in my stash that date from 1855. 
You can often date your thread by checking the trademark or the purpose for which the thread was made.
 
such as darning thread. When was the last time you darned a sock?  
 or a glove or your UNDERWEAR?!!! I know I have never done any  of the above.
These clever little boxes of linen tatting twist were made in 1917. See how the thread comes out of the hand?

  So the next time you reach for your thread...


  to stitch a sampler, sew on a button or raise a hem, think about the history of that slender length of twisted fiber.
You will appreciate it all the more. 
Maybe we will discuss the history of needles at some point?
 and buttons too....
 P.S. All the painted illustrations in this post are from my book, "Mamsey Bear and Mopkin".
If you are a lover of thread, or a needle-worker of any sort, you would thoroughly enjoy this story.



37 comments:

  1. Jeri dear, This was purely a delightful post!! Such a lovely collection of wonderful threads and fibres, and so much to delight the eye!! I enjoyed this so much!
    Many blessings love and warmth, Linnie Lou :-)

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  2. I absolutely adored your post. You brought back so many memories of looking through the drawers in my grandmother's sewing machine cabinet. I loved the look of the coloured threads on little wooden spools. I remember her sticking a light bulb in the toe of "barn socks" and darning them with a big darning needle. Nobody darns socks now. They just throw them away and buy new ones. What a lovely collection you have! -Jenn

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    1. My mom used to darn socks. I wish I had that aqua colored blown glass darner she used.

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  3. Hello. I loved your post. It made me wish that I could sew or knit. I have attempted to sew up socks very often, as I am as broke as they come and socks are expensive. But I can't say I made a very good job of it. :P

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    1. You can easily learn to stitch. With your interest in self- sufficiency, I recommend that you pick up a book on sewing techniques, you will be so happy you did!

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  4. Jeri Landers, YOUR COLLECTION of thread is just fantastic. Great photos, beautiful vintage spools and brand names that I REMEMBER. I have a few wooden spools that I keep handy just for the love of it. My mother would take me every Saturday (we'd walk) to the Five and Dime just to buy a spool of thread (wooden, of course) for her latest Barbie doll dress project for me. Now when I see a spool of thread as such, I turn 6 years old again. Thank you.

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    1. The Five and Dime! I loved those little stores. They had such variety,among the usual goods, there would be a sewing section, pet section, and a SODA FOUNTAIN. Do you remember those? Cherry coke floats?!!!!

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  5. Fantastic post, thank you! You have a stunning collection.
    I love old wooden spooled thread. Its the prices on old sewing notions that gives me the giggles. I imagine clothing and quilt restorers must use vintage thread for authenticity.

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    1. No kidding on the prices, I don't even look for sewing birds or metal thread spinners, the prices are too high.

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  6. I wish we lived closer Jeri. I too love all the sewing things and see it often though I don't use it. I think the last time I sewed something was a button. I do love it. I have some bone crochet needles one of which was making a lace doily. I loved the lesson on the threads and all your containers. Glad you put them all to use.

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    1. Donna,I made most of my clothes in high school, by choice. But the really old sewing implements remind me of a time when clothing was made at home by necessity.

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  7. Jeri, thank you so much for this fascinating post. You've got a remarkable haberdashery collection. I did not know of the Napoleonic connection to cotton thread, and also learned many other interesting bits from you.
    I've saved lots of my now vintage wooden spools, some of which still have their original cotton threads. I remember when polyester blended thread entered the sewing arena.
    Well...I do darn socks that I particularly like and want to keep in circulation. I am also practiced as the art of mending jeans through fiddly darning, with reinforcing fabric underneath the weakened denim areas. I've mended other items via all sorts of patchworking and applique additions. Hand stitching can be quite relaxing and can have attractive results, too.

    Please do consider a future post on the topic of needles. Lots to cover there, I imagine. xo

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    1. Frances, Fiddly darning sounds like fun! If your darned socks were those you knitted, I can understand repairing them, they must be wonderfully warm.

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  8. Dear Jeri what a lovely and informative post. I rarely sew these days but at one time made clothes, cushion covers, curtains, etc. Inherited some of my grandmother' wooden spools of thread. What a small item can make one remember with fondness when technology was not here and much was done by hand. Thank you dear for sharing. Hugs

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  9. What a wonderful collection you have amassed! I particularly love the button boxes and the wooded spools. I have a wooded darning mushroom but have yet to use it to darn a sock, although last week I repaired a tiny hole in my new cardigan. A stitch in time saves nine or so they say.

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  10. What a lovely history lesson, dear Jeri! Your collection is delightful! I'm looking forward to learning more about the needle. xo ♥

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  11. Dear Jeri,
    What a wonderful post... And so very informative. You have the largest collection of threads I have yet to see.. The colors are just beautiful! I believe what I love even more are the gorgeous wooden boxes in which they reside. And yes, I love the story of Mamsey Bear and Mopkins.
    Thank you so much for sharing your collection.
    blessings,
    Penny

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    1. Penny, I love those little wooden pyrography boxes and have collected them for many years because they come in so many shapes, sizes, and designs.

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  12. Mamsy Bear is indeed a delightful read, as was this post. So many grandmother memories in those spools. My husband says my Indian Name would be "She who plays with thread"!! Great post. Would love one on needles too.

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    1. Charlene, You must recognize some of the yarn in the top picture? Seeing how beautiful it was in the basket actually inspired this post!

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    2. Yes I did!!! So glad it's loved.

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  13. Very interesting history. I love colors so your basket of twist is very appealing!

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  14. Loved your thread story! I have an interest in old sewing items of any kind. I also have a Brooks thread box similar in size to yours. Does yours have paper floral designs on the top and sides? Do you have any sewing birds or thimble holders? I am looking forward to reading the story of Mamsey and Mopkin. {Was wondering if you left out the "it" in that last sentence? After placed...}

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    1. WOW! I can't believe it, you are correct! I did leave out the "it"! Why did we never notice that before?!!! Well, it is a good thing we are about to reprint the book, first editions often have bloopers in them, I guess that is why some people collect blooper books. My Brooks box has a cottage scene on the front, but I have seen them with many different covers; it must have been part of the appeal in purchasing the box of thread. I haven't any sewing birds OR thimbles.Lots of pin cushions, needle packets and sock darners.

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  15. Oh Jeri ~ What a delightful and informative post! I too love threads but do NOT have the collection that you have.

    Your Mamsy Bear and Mopkin was my favorite so far of your books, because of my love of working with threads.

    Happy Holidays there in the Hollow ~ Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

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    1. Lorraine, I knew you would love Mamsey for that very reason.

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  16. This was so interesting! I stitch and love my thread too, the colors, their names, all of it. Did you ever hear of the Japanese ceremony for putting to rest old needles? It's on Feb.8th in some parts of Japan, Dec.8th in others. I think it's a lovely custom.
    Mary

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    1. I must look into this interesting ceremony. I read that needles were sometimes so valuable, that a group of women would share them.

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  17. I have a small collection too-and by the way, I live not too far from Rochester, NY- which is written on one of your boxes. It's fun to collect sewing notions and to think about the ladies that used them. I MUST get your books! I have to confess I have not read them! Shame on me!

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    1. Debra, You would like my books, I know you would.

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  18. I love twist too (thank you, Beatrice Potter)! My mini spools are the cutest, but I love the old darning thread colors too. And wooden spools, oh my! I just wish my goodies were half as organized and beautifully displayed as yours, Jeri!

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    1. I had to run to re-read Beatrix Potter's "The Tailor of Gloucester" when I read this posting - "no more twist!"
      Tickled someone else thought of it too!
      Mary

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    2. My favorite Beatrix Potter story of all, in fact, it is why I often use the word twist instead of thread... it is so much sweeter.

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  19. Loved this post. It's interesting about how initially the thread didn't come on spools. I feel bad now that it no longer comes on wooden spools but on that crappy plastic stuff----somehow it just doesn't seem as "real". I guess it's cheaper to ship since it weighs so much less. When my mother died my sister and I divided up her thread collection (huge-----since she was a wonderful seamstress) and I came away with three of those little flat boxes that hold about 30 or 40 spools each. Some of the spools are the old wooden ones and the prices on them are amazingly low compared to today's prices. Unfortunately my collection is not nearly so decoratively displayed as your is but very functional none the less.

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    1. Oh, I hate those plastic spools too. I have seen some wooden spools with little metal embossed caps on them. I would really like to find some of those.

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  20. Ah, I am a lover of threads too and having vicarious envy of your beautiful collection - I do use my older ones sometimes, but generally I just like to admire them, and am poring over the pictures of your gorgeous stash! Perle threads are my modern favourites.

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