Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tabby and twill

The photo is a bit out of focus, but here's a domestic cat (Pheobe) showing how her well her camouflage is adapted to the domestic environment (!)
Tabby stripes and twill stripes:
Leaving cats aside for the time being, this blanket is one of a small collection we have woven by Keith Stow, a weaver living in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, who I understand finally retired about 3 years ago. I wish I'd bought more of his beautiful blankets! I also love wearing a couple of hooded jackets sewn up from a similar fabric to the blankets. All 100 per cent wool.

The label he wove under was "Stows of Sowerby". I have an old "Craft Trail" booklet for the south Pennines with a page about the business. Keith Stow had worked as a spinning overlooker until he was made redundant in 1980. He and his wife were living in a farmhouse with a large barn, suitable for setting up his weaving business. It is my understanding from a conversation I had with the intermediary I bought the blankets from - at a Derbyshire crafts centre - that he started hand weaving, but the popularity of the blankets was such that it justified getting a large Italian mechanical loom, and in fact the craft booklet says he had three working looms.

It was discovering these blankets - I think probably 8 years ago - that caused me first to look at a woven cloth and wonder about how it was designed and made. The Craft Trail booklet tells me that they are based on a blanket that Keith's wife, April, inherited from a Swiss grandfather. They are a bit different to anything I had ever seem before. They are woven in 4/4 diagonal twill and fulled. The weft colours are in bands, the blanket above has five different weft colours but an extraordinary number and range of colours in the warp. I think it probably that he used production line ends from local mills.

When I heard that Keith Stow was retiring, I also heard he was wanting to sell the business. For several days I seriously considered whether it would be practical for me to take it on. I looked into the cost of obtaining premises (lease or freehold) and first year overheads. As I was doing accounts for a small business that had three different premises I was in a good position to work out costs, and I scoured estate agents for anything available within 20 miles. I decided it was not the right business for me when I realised that I'd be lucky to get suitable accommodation for a business (adding up costs for lease or mortgage, business rates, utilities, insurance) for under £7,000 per annum. There was also of course the cost of the business to consider, and whether changing the distinctive trading name would loose customers - it couldn't be "Stows of Sowerby" if I moved it to a Derbyshire village.

As a fairly new weaver, I thought that although I could find the money it was a gamble I had a fair chance of losing on.

I still feel rather wistful (if only we had an empty barn!) I really love these blankets - so do the cats. They prefer pure wool.
Annie-cat would like us all to know that black cats also suit twill blankets!! or vice versa?


callybooker said...

What a gorgeous cat, I mean blanket. I knew the cats were gorgeous already... I love the colours - both warp and weft - they are very unusual.

deborahbee said...

I agree with you (and the cats) the blankets are beautiful. It makes me wish I had a much wider loom!

Geodyne said...

Funny how some things are just the wrong time, isn't it?

Gorgeous cats - and blankets. They make me wish I were able to make a living making them.

Life Looms Large said...

I'm not even a cat person, and I love the pictures of the cats on the blanket!

Those blankets are gorgeous!! I bought my big loom because I want to make some blankets and throws - so it's great to see such beautiful examples of handwoven blankets. (Not that anything I make will rival that!!)

Thanks for sharing them!


Dorothy said...

I shall pass on the compliments to the cats - after having a big black neutered male cat for 15 years (the late and handsome Oscar) I am continually surprised that these girl cats are very girlie and very pretty. Annie even shows a preference for pink cat toys!!!

Regarding weaving blankets, I hope to weave a blanket on my loom someday by the doubleweave double-width technique, Rachel Brown explains how to do this in "The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book".

Trapunto said...

Maybe if I buy a couple of lovely wool blankets, cats will come camouflage themselves in my domestic environment?

That's an interesting story about your look at buying the weaving business. Even with plenty of capital and a good plan, it's hard to keep something like this going; it's as if you need entrepreneurial fairy dust in addition to everything else.

Barbara Blundell said...

Fabulous blankets ! Makes me want to have a go at weaving ! Cats seem to appreciate them too

Dorothy said...

Trapunto - fairy dust is so much "being in the right place at the right time" and real magic if/when it does happen ;)

Barbara, I'm delighted by your comment as it tells me I have succeeded in creating for you the same discovery that I had when I first saw these blankets. Thanks for letting me know.

ra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ra said...

Oh my goodness, have a look at this post from my blog from June 2006 (you'll have to scroll down to the very last post). Coincidence or what?

Anyone want to buy a loom?

Dorothy said...

Ra - thanks for the comment - I read your post from June 2006 about visiting Keith Stow. Those lovely yarns you bought look rather like some of the colours in my blankets!

Janet said...

The blankets are wonderful - and the cats too, of course. I have woven several blankets and found the results very satisfying. Wish I had a place for my big temporarily retired Glimakra loom.