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Meet the dolls 4 – The Coal Miner

The final doll in my final university project. I planned on seven, but really, when it came down to it, my obsession to the little details just took the time and I think I’d rather do four dolls really well, than rush seven.

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The coal miner is more modern and I’ve named him not after a Yorkshire coal miner, but one from Spennymoor in County Durham. Norman Cornish, a coal miner from the age of 14, who took advantage of art classes for miners and became an artist in his 40s. (www.normancornish.com)

I’ve even used some modern technologies, sewable electronics to make a working head lamp.

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I’m sure many folk are thinking why have I made a coal miner when I’m making dolls that represent traditional crafts, and at first the coal miner was the doll I was going to leave until last. Then a few weeks ago I was with my parents and a programme was on the TV which showed a clip about the Lofthouse colliery disaster from 1973, I’d have been 1 years old (yep, I’m sticking with 35 being my current age). My mum looked up and said, ‘oh, your dad was there’.

No, my dad wasn’t a coal miner, although he was a Bevin boy in the war. He was a Salvation Army officer and spent a lot of time providing support to the men during the search for survivors. It reminded me also of a time when years later, as a young Salvation Army member I was collecting money door to door in a nice middle class Lancashire area. It was during the time of the miners strikes. I remember one door opening and a man telling me he wouldn’t give to the Army because we gave to the miners. I didn’t get it being so young, but as I remember the story I decided the miner had to be made.

The dolls represent traditions that are dying out or how I sometimes feel about knitting, becoming only for the privileged. When I was young, people made their own clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy ready made. Now we’re in a place where poorer folk shop at Primark and the wealthy go on sewing classes or extravagant knitting holidays.

I was talking to a lady in the cafe at the National Coal Mining museum a few days ago about crafting. She told me she was a quilter and began quilting to use up all the scraps that she had left over from dress making. But then her husband spoke – describing what she does. He said she buys a yard of fabric, cuts it into pieces and sews the pieces back together to make a quilt. Quilting was once, using up your left over fabric, doll making was using up your left over wool. Now though, there is a worry that crafting is moving from the working classes to an expensive and privileged hobby.

It’s not wrong though (to be a wealthy crafter) and perhaps my gripes should be for another post.

The coal mining industry is another craft (because it is incredibly skilled) that has been lost and although the dolls have been made as a celebration of Yorkshire life and craftsmanship, I wonder if, in the future they’ll be seen as a look into a forgotten past.

 

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Meet the dolls 3 – The Knitter

Betty, our knitting doll has been named after Betty Yewdale who, with her friend Sally, were sent to a knitting school in Dent to learn to knit. They hated the school and ran away. Their story is well told here Betty’s tale

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The knitters were often known as the terrible knitters of Dent and like me, they knitted during church services (Hooray!) but unlike me they knitted very fast.

One of the many items knitted in Dent are the fine gloves, knitted similarly to Sanquhar gloves in a fair isle style pattern.

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So, my doll had to have her own knitting and is currently up to the fingers of her second glove. The first one (which took me 6 hours knitted on five 1.5mm double pointed needles) is in her basket along with her balls of wool.

She has a hand knitted plain shawl and a hand carved knitting sheath tucked into her leather belt.

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I think the hardest part of making this doll was remembering to stop making the second glove so Betty could hold the knitting.

Betty has been made after visiting the Dent Village museum and falling a wee bit in love with the people in the museum. Dent Museum

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Meet the Dolls 2 – The Clog Maker

My second doll is Frank the clog maker.

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He’s connected to Walkleys clog shop in Mythramoyd, West Yorkshire www.clogs.co.uk

Walkleys is a true must visit place if you’re ever in the area, but if not, they deliver. Imagine having an amazing pair of shoes made just for your feet for the cost of a pair of trainers. But having a pair of locally made shoes from the Craftsmen and women at Walkleys is perhaps one of the highlights of this project, the doll is named after Frank Walkley who started the company in 1946. Yes, I am a big fan!

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Frank has a crocheted flat cap, another Yorkshire must have accessory (for the Yorkshire working man, not the women or gentrified hipster! – personal opinion!)

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I managed to carve some small clogs for the dolls feet and well, not perfectly, but the fit, managed to make a functioning shoe. He’s also holding his next clog in progress.

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Meet the dolls 1 – The Fisherman

You’ve seen pictures of him already but let me officially introduce you to William, the fisherman.

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As with all my dolls in my uni project he’s made from all locally sourced materials. He’s 99% wool (a wee bit of Alpaca and a pipe cleaner). He’s filled with British lambswool and a pipe cleaner (made in Huddersfield, 30mins from my home, but I picked it up on my home from Uni, so technically carbon footprint is as low as it can be.

The pattern for the doll is the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that I wrote some time ago and is available on both Etsy and Ravelry. I searched worldwide for a 100% wool in flesh tones, but couldn’t find any, so I had to dye my own. I used a small dye manufacturer a little less local (Sheffield), about a 45min drive away.

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The yarn is Cheviot, a Northern sheep with hard wearing but mid softness, not scratchy, but will stand up to whatever a child puts dolls through. The wool is from British sheep but is spun in Huddersfield.

All the white, greys and brown clothing on the dolls is using a commercial yarn, Illustrious, by West Yorkshire Spinners, I used this to show off wools variety of natural shades. Each doll also has a dyed wool item of clothing.

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William has a blue traditional Gansey and a matching cable hat.  The gansey includes the tradition underarm gusset and a pattern based around the Scarborough and Whitby ganseys.

He is linked to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, a small museum near the seafront in Scarborough but is an amazingly friendly place to visit, They even have a Scarborough Gansey on display and several examples of gansey stitches.

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Saturday 21st April 2018

I’m writing this on Sunday since I didn’t finish my knitting till 3am and wanted to show it here.

I visited the Scarborough maritime heritage centre today.

Each doll is going to be linked to a place that represents the character of the doll and I chose this heritage centre for personal reasons over than popularity.

When I asked people to recommend a place that represented Ganseys in Yorkshire I had a lot of suggestions of commercial places in Whitby and Filey. I’m not opposed to linking with a commercial business, in fact the next doll is linked to a shop, but where I can I want to highlight some of the lesser known tourist centres.

I chose Scarborough for my own links to the area, it’s where my grandparents lived and I’ve a lot of lovely memories of the town.

As I’ve been around the town I’ve also noticed the friendliness of people. I’m staying in the Grand, it’s one of those places you look at as a kid and think it’s only for the posh people. It’s a ‘grand’ building and the staff are wonderful, but the building is not being looked after (my bedroom window was kept shut with gaffer tape).

It’s a shame that British seasides often have the reputation they do, but there are signs that Scarborough is fighting back. Looking for toilets yesterday I found the indoor market, it’s not the bustling place I remember, but new artisan businesses are popping up and although perhaps not as much use to the locals as it once was, for tourists it’s a must visit place.

The heritage centre has a small shop space but is packed of interesting things to see. The volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and friendly and I had a good chat about Ganseys.

One glaring ‘mistake’ Gansey knitters will spot on my Gansey is that it isn’t a Scarborough one, it’s a blend of Scarborough and Whitby styles. The traditional Scarborough top half is more a moss stitch, but I chose to add cables instead as a more interesting pattern. I explained this and was told that the Scarborough Gansey is older and perhaps the reason for the lack of details is that cables hadn’t reached us from Aran. Well, who knows.

We chatted about the myths of Ganseys, whether it’s true that the styles of jumpers were to help you be identified and relocated to your fishing village if you drowned at sea. If you read Penelope Hemingway’s book on River Ganseys you might agree with her (and me) that this was a myth.

As well as Penelope’s book, I’ve also spoken to the owner of Propagansey who is extremely knowledgable about Ganseys.

If you think about the Gansey in a more realistic way, since patterns were not written down at the time, the pattern was passed down through family, as the family married the pattern spread through the village. It wasn’t an identification system, just a local pattern being taught through family generations.

But it’s a nice story.

I also found out that a black Gansey represented death, so was not a good idea to make whereas White meant you’ve been married less than 5 years.

A few years ago I went to the in the loop conference and listened to Annemor Sundbø (https://annemor.com/english/) who studies traditional Norwegian jumpers. A lot of the styles have a similarity to the Gansey in that the bottom half of the pattern is different to the top half.

These jumpers have a black and white pattern on the top half and a plain white non patterned bottom half. Annemor suggested it was simply that white wool was less expensive than black wool and since the men tucked the jumpers into their trousers is was a way of using cheaper wool for parts of the jumper not seen.

A bit like how my mum used to only iron the front of my dad’s shirts because when he wore his jacket no one saw the un-ironed back!

Could this be why some Ganseys are plain on the bottom half? Why put all that effort into the part of the jumper not seen?

I also still have a family mystery to solve!

Some time ago I found an image in a book, The boats of the Somerset levels by Mike Smylie, I have very little information on my dad’s family so anything helps.

The image shows my granddad, beside the river on Salmon parade in Bridgwater, Somerset. He was a salmon fisherman and the last in a line of boat builders.

I’ve also found this painting on Bridgwater’s council website. Somewhere I remember reading the painting dated 1902 and shows Pocock boat business on the river, the white cottages on the right of the river were where dad’s family lived.

And that is all I have to prove that my dad’s family existed!

I was interested in the fishing net used by William Pocock and had searched the internet for information but found only one similar item in a museum in America!

https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/human-origins-and-cultural-halls/northwest-coast-hall/tlingit/tlingit-collection/fishing-and-hunting/scoop-net-of-whale-sinew

I showed the image to the people at the heritage centre, but they’ve never seen one like the one in my grandads image.

So I’ve emailed the museum in America and the Blake museum in Bridgwater to see if they have any information.

Why? Because despite my lack of woodworking skills I’ve been trying to make a miniature version of the net!

And so, with miniatures in mind, I’ve a few last images.

I’m making a doll to represent the terrible knitters of Dent, terrible as in, they were terribly good at knitting!

With a knitting gauge of 5 stitches per centimetre and 1.5mm needles I set myself up in the hotel coffee lounge to set about making a version on the Dent gloves.

There is a good book about dales knitters, recently republished by Penelope Hemingway (https://theknittinggenie.com) which includes a pattern for some Dent gloves.

This image of a pair of Dent gloves comes from her blog page and is the pair I took a bit of free licence with!

I didn’t manage the fringe at the bottom, although… nah! Too fiddly.

I managed a date, which took up a lot of space and some of the pattern. The plan was to make mittens, thinking it would just be crazy to attempt gloves, but as I reached that part of the gloves I thought what the hell!

I also only made 1 glove since I wanted the doll to be midway knitting the second one, although I might just make the second one.

So finally… without further ado… my version of the Dent gloves…

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Friday 20th April 2018

I’m in Scarborough hoping to get some good photos of the fisherman doll that I can use for a display. I think I’ve got some good images, but I’m using my ‘proper’ camera so have to wait till I get home to see them properly.

I’m staying at the Grand hotel, which is one of those big hotels on the cliff that you look at as a child and imagine what it must be like to be rich enough to stay there. Turns out it’s not that expensive. I was a bit early for booking in so I sat on some benches watching the ocean (which wasn’t doing much). There was a couple on a bench that I thought made a nice image, they were squashed to one side and he had his arm around her.

Later I went along the harbour and posed the doll against some nets.

Tomorrow I’m visiting the marine heritage centre. I didn’t think I’d have the photos done tonight, so I’ve got some spare time which I’m going to spend drawing. Going to try and overcome the worry of painting in public!

I’m not sure how best to use the images I get of the dolls. It all comes into the thinking of how I’m going to display them. I’ve an old set of step ladders at home, only short ones, but they’re covered in slashes of paint. My thinking is to use that as the main display to stand the dolls onto.

The well used steps might add to the character of craftsmen that the dolls portray. I was thinking of adding the sketches I’ve done to one big piece and printing it off as a backdrop of Yorkshire Folk, perhaps I could print it onto fabric.

As with each dolls patterns I’m almost tempted not to write the patterns down, but describe how I made the doll instead. I don’t know and would appreciate hearing whether people want the pattern… the doll pattern and most of the clothes of course is already available online, but items like the Gansey are not yet published.

Should I keep these dolls as only made by me, or share with everyone?

I also have to write a 50 word description of my project. What do I go with?

Locally made? Bridging a gap in the market? Celebrating forgotten crafts? Lost crafts?

There’s so many parts to this I don’t know which to choose.

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Thursday 19 April 2018

I’m off to Scarborough tomorrow with the little fisherman doll.

Today was a busy day of packing and repacking because I always carry far more than I need with me.

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos of travel sketchers and looking at a minimalistic approach to painting and drawing equipment.

I watched an online craftsy class by Katherine Ewing called Luminous Watercolour Mixing which uses a six colour palette. Three cool primary colours and three warm primary colours. Its a great palette for producing some brilliant bright colours, which all look great together.

I’ve also been looking at more figure painting videos on YouTube. So far all my drawings are similar, simple sketches with little or no colour. I’m hoping to try some different techniques on the beach!

I’ve finished two dolls so far, and am now working on the knitter, based on the terrible knitters of dent. I knitted a miniature shawl using 2.25mm circular needles, that’s what I’ve been knitting in church the last few weeks (yep, I Knit in church, but I’ve not yet been struck down!). I knitted the shawl in undyed lace weight wool and dyed it as a finished item. I also dyed some of the lace weight yarn black so I can make some miniature dales gloves.

The gloves are similar to Sanquhar gloves, which are knitted fine and take a long time. I’m lucky in that my eyesight, while not being able to recognise people across the room, is perfect for small close up work. I made a swatch to try and get the right needle size and settled on 1.50mm knitting needles (DPNs) the gauge is 5 stitches per centimetre. So now I just have to hand Knit a miniature pair of gloves, easy right?

However, since my dolls don’t have fingers I had to decide whether to go with tradition and make gloves (imagine the mini fingers) or to make something that would fit on the dolls hands. I’m thinking practicality over tradition, so I’m hoping to manage mittens.

It’s these little details that makes the plan of 8 dolls more unlikely. I woke up a few days ago thinking that perhaps I could make a folk musician complete with accordion! It was at that point that I decided I was my own worst enemy and my attention to detail would become the death of me.

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Wednesday 18th April

I’ve two dolls finished so far, many more to do.

I took them to a meeting this morning at the request of a friend who wanted to see them in person.

The question came up about making and selling dolls. I’ve long believed, as many crafters do, that people don’t want to pay for the time it takes to hand make items. My dolls can take up to 3 days to make, that’s 3 days non stop. Even at minimum wage the dolls would be out of the price range of most folk.

I also believe that the fun in doll making would soon disappear if I had to make dolls constantly. It’s something I enjoy, but I could go insane if I had to make them day in, day out!

Plus I’d miss the fun of hearing from people trying to make their own doll. I sell the doll pattern on Etsy and Ravelry (search for my little crochet doll), it’s not the cheapest doll pattern, but my website (www.bettyvirago.com) and Ravelry have several free outfit patterns for additional outfits.

I enjoy sharing the techniques of doll making and even though not every doll made is the same as mine, they’re all lovely.

The dolls are based around Yorkshire people, so another part of my research has been drawing people in public. That’s quite an achievement for me, since I’m a little shy at getting out my drawing book in public!

Today I found an Italian cafe opposite a very busy bus stop and spent some time drawing people waiting for the bus. It gave me a little bit longer than I’ve usually had when I’ve been trying to catch passers by.

One guy took my attention partly because of how he was standing.

Legs wide apart, arms in pockets, shoulder length shaggy hair. Knee length boots and trousers, no not trousers. What are they called? They stopped at the top of his boots.

He wore a flat cap on his head. It got me thinking. For him, the flat cap was a fashion statement. I noted that it was like the gentrification of the working mans clothing. Making the poor look fashionable.

This evening I spent some time on YouTube, looking at how other people draw and paint people. I found this interesting video on drawing people in different perspectives.

Drawing people

Tonight was also my weekly knitting group. I knitted the skirt for my third doll, the knitter, then measured it against a doll only to find it was too tight and I had to start knitting it all over again. Skirt done, but so much more to do if I’m going to have the number of dolls that I’d like.

I’m heading to Scarborough this weekend to take photos of the fisherman doll ‘on location’. Each doll will have a charity or business that they represent, I’m hoping it will highlight some of the smaller, lesser advertised places on the map.

I’m wanting to link the fisherman to the Scarborough Maritime heritage centre.

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My Final Project

My final project (I mean my final Uni project, I’m not quitting!) is based around doll making. I’ve been a doll collector and maker for years, but I wanted my final project to push my doll making and make something that celebrates another love of mine, traditional craftmaking.

I want to create a series of dolls, using materials which are as natural and locally sourced as possible. Each dolls character will take on a craft or career and will be linked to a small business or charity that promotes the craft.

Hmmm, am I explaining this right?

An example;

Here is William, a fisherman. He’s the first doll of a possible 8.

I used the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that’s on Etsy, it’s a pattern that I wrote several years ago, so the pattern is mine.

The first problem came straight away when I realised how difficult it was to find wool in flesh colours. Sure, I can get it in acrylic, but I wanted natural materials and the benefits of using wool over acrylic is huge.

I spent quite some time figuring out the dyes to use and searching for a yarn that used British wool and is fully produced in Yorkshire. Despite Yorkshire and Britain once being a huge manufacturer of wool, the majority of British wool is now sent abroad to be spun. I’ve even heard of people shipping the fleece abroad to be spun then shipping it back to the UK to be finished, imagine the carbon footprint!

So using a wool that’s a British sheep was quite easy, but finding a local producer, not so much.

I managed it though and am using a DK yarn made from the fleece of Cheviot sheep. It’s a hard wearing wool from a mountain sheep so will make a doll that’s hard wearing and long lasting.

I considered other breeds, Merino is soft, but not a traditional British sheep and I wanted to showcase British wool. I also looked at Bluefaced Leicester, a favourite fleece. It produces a lovely soft wool, but more expensive and that was also a consideration.

I’d like to bridge that gap in the market by selling flesh coloured wool that I hand dye. Because I’m using British wool and hand dyeing in small quantities it’ll be a quality product. But I also am a campaigner against poverty and can’t justify having a product that’s too expensive. Anyway, the Cheviot wool is still a lovely wool and not at all scratchy or harsh.

Anyway, I managed to dye the yarn. I’m keeping how I did that a secret though, sorry!

The doll is stuffed with British Lambswool, again I could have used acrylic, but the evidence for using pure wool in soft dolls, well non-flammable, takes on the body temperature of the child, wicks away moisture and many more.

So far I’ve got 6 skin tones, I’ve some more to try before I decide on final colours.

My dolls have a wire, pipe cleaner armature to allow them to pose their arms. Thankfully I found a local factory that’s been making pipe cleaners for over 100 years. They’re a small, local, family run business which is just perfect.

So with the mill, the dyer (who’s also a small local dye producer) and the pipe cleaners that’s three small businesses that have benefitted from the dolls so far.

The original pattern has a coloured scalp, but I wanted to change things a little, so I needle felted hair and eyes onto each doll.

As for the clothes I’m using a mixture of hand dyed Cheviot wool and a commercially produced yarn from West Yorkshire spinners, again a small local mill.

I wanted to show off the colour options of wool so the clothes are made from West Yorkshire Spinners new yarn called Illustrious. It’s a blend of Falkland wool and British Alpaca. Those who know me, will know my objection to using British Alpaca (I believe you should buy Alpaca from Peru, not Britain!) but this brand of wool comes in the largest variety of natural shades, which is what I wanted, so I’m compromising a little.

Each doll outfit has one item that’s dyed a different colour. So the fisherman has natural coloured trousers, boots, and underwear (all dolls should have underwear), but his jumper and hat is hand dyed.

This helped make the skin tone less ‘obvious’, without it the doll looked almost monotone, but the skin colour showed up, glaring at me. The one coloured item softened this out.

Anyway, that’s my project in a nutshell really.

It’d be nice to know what people think, especially about the plan to sell the dyed wool.

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Meanwood Valley Urban Farm

Today I was thinking about the Farmer doll so I took a trip to a local farm. Meanwood Valley farm (www.mvuf.org.uk) is a charity run farm near the centre of Leeds. It’s a short bus ride out and a few minutes walk from the bus stop and it’s only £2 for adults and 50p for children.

It was lambing time so lots of wee ones to see, some of the smallest lambs I’ve seen so that was nice.

There was also alpacas, cows, pigs, donkeys, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The farm has allotments for local people and a cafe which was a bit pricey but since it’s only £2 entry I guess it evens out.

I did a few sketches in pen and ink, some better than others

It was quite a nice little trip out, I’m always happy to visit sheep and met a really friendly fellow who let me give his head a scratch.

Anyway, back to the doll… when I think about a farmer I imagine them wearing a waistcoat and flat cap so that’s a must. I’m wondering whether the dolls should have accessories. Perhaps this fellow needs a bucket of feed, but maybe not knitted or crocheted. I’d like to make something out of clay, but it’s all down to time at the moment.

What do you imagine as a farmers outfit?

Well, I’ll leave you with this lovely photo of wee piglets.