Among the ancient Inca, the Aclla Cuna or Virgins of the Sun were selected from girls aged 8-10 who had special beauty. They spent their lives in temple convents and prepared food, corn beer and tended the sacred fire. They also spun very fine thread and wove garments for the emperor to be used in special ceremonies and sacrifices.
Vadmal (Wadmal) is a woven wool cloth that has been felted. Felting the fabric after weaving, thickens the cloth and makes it wind and water resistant as well as warm. Vadmal is generally woven in a tabby or a twill weave on warp weighted or floor looms.
In order to felt the fabric, there are two methods that can be used. The wet fabric can be pounded in a hammer mill for several hours in order to flatten and thicken the fabric. The hammering process creates a fabric that looks more like “real cloth” and produces a stable fabric with very little nap and the wool keeps its shine. The wool fabric can also be pounded and stamped by placing the fabric in a large bucket filled with water and stamping with your feet.
Vadmal can also be felted using a wet felting method. The woolen cloth can be felted by hand by rolling or using a washboard and also by washing the fabric in the washing machine until the fabric stops shrinking. This process can take up to 10 machine washes. The wool fabric can shrink up to 60% in size. Wet felting creates a cloth that is fuzzier in appearance than one that has been pounded.
Vadmal cloth has been used for clothing since the Viking Age. Vadmal was so popular that the woven and felted cloth was used and traded as legal tender in many Scandinavian countries. Vadmal was a major export in Iceland and the length, width, thread count of the fabrics were set by law.
Vadmal fabric is still used today in most of the Saami traditional clothing, hats, mittens, bags and other items. The vadmal clothing is often decorated with pewter thread embroidery.
A few years ago on a wonderful holiday to Corfu, Greece I purchased a beautiful sample of a Greek Flokati rug. It had been woven by my friend, Agathi the weaver, in Kassiopi, Corfu. She very kindly explained to me how these wonderful rugs are woven. The shaggy weft wool pile was made of handspun wool from local sheep. Her sister had done the handspinning and Agathi woven this fluffy rug that now sits on my rocking chair.
The warp and ground weft is a 2-3 ply wool yarn woven in tabby weave. The handspun wool is cut into 15-20 cm lengths and then laid in between weft sheds, going under 3 raised warp threads. A shot of weft yarn is thrown across, change shed, and then the weft pile is woven back through 2 warp ends. This locks the cut pile firmly in place. Then 3 shots of ground weft are woven in tabby, before another row of handspun cut pile is laid across.
Flokati or Floccata rugs have a long history in Greece dating back some 1500-2000 years to villages in the northern mountainous regions of Greece. Sheepskins were used for warmth and the long shaggy pile of sheepskin was duplicated by weavers who inserted the wool locks into their woven rugs. These shaggy pile rugs are somewhat similar to the early rya pile rugs of Scandinavia, but the method of knotting the pile differs. IN a Flokati the cut pile is laid across the weft. In a Rya rug, the cut pile is wrapped and looped around the warp threads.
The definition of Flokati: “A Hand-woven shaggy 100% wool rug made in Greece.”
In 1966 the Greek government set standards for the Flokati rug industry. The law specified that for a rug to be classified as a “Flokati, it must be hand woven in Greece and must be made of 100% wool (warp, weft, and pile). Total weight of the rug must be at least 1800 grams of wool per square meter. The Flokati must be subjected to the water friction process for the pile to unravel and fluff out.
In the 1960’s Trikkala was the centre of the flokati rug industry and the wool market was held there in May and handweavers came from surrounding villages to buy their fleece, weaving tools and cotton yarns. There was a factory headquaraters in the centre of town where wool was carded and spun by machine. Weavers wovek the rugs in their homes, workig on narrow looms, threaded with singles yarn. The tufts were inserted without knotting at irrgular intervals. Because the looms were small and the woven rugs were thick, they had to be cut off the front roller of the loom frequently. The pieces were stitched together to create the larger rugs.
After weaving, the rug was heavily felted by heavy beating and immersion into pools or waterfalls. The flokati rugs were woven in natural white or alternating striped natural colours of browns, greys and creams. Natural dyes were also used on some of the rugs. Flokati Rug Sample
I had about a meter left of wool warp on my loom after I wove a number of handspun blankets, so I thought I would try to weave a bit of Flokati.
Using the same wool yarn as was used for the warp, I wove several shots of tabby weave.
Cut the handspun yarn into 15-20 cm lengths. I cut a piece of cardboard into a width of 10 cm and wrapped the handspun around it. Then cut the lengths of pile.
With an open shed in tabby weave, lay the cut pile ends across the weft, passing each thread under 3 raised warp ends. Repeat this across the width of the warp.
With the same shed still open, weave across a shot of the wool ground weft.
Change the shed.
I like to work from the right to the left, so I pick up the right side of the cut warp pile, and feed it back through 2 warp ends to the left. Repeat this across all of the handspun cut pile.
With the same shed still open, weave across a shot of the wool ground weft.
This locks the flocati pile firmly into place.
Weave another 2 shots of ground weft in tabby.
There will now be 3 shots of tabby weave between the row of pile.
Lay in another row of cut pile across the width of the warp as above. Each row of pile should be about 1 cm apart, with 3 rows of ground tabby.
I will be weaving this Flokati rug sample with different types of handspun wool, to see what works best.
When it is complete, the rug will be fulled by washing and beating in the bathtub, to fluff out the pile.
Tenntrådsbroderi, or embroidering with pewter or tin thread is almost a lost art. The Saami used tin thread since the 1600’s to decorate their clothing. The tin was obtained by melting down old pewter plates and dishes and was spun into thread. The use of pewter thread has recently become fashionable in jewellery items such as pewter braided reindeer leather bracelets worn by actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch.
Tin thread is quite difficult to work with and requires a lot of patience and practice to make. This is a how-to project for making a reindeer leather keychain with tin embroidery.
Working with tin and leather can also be quite hard on your hands so if you have any hand, wrist or shoulder problems, please do not try this project. If you do this project or any other needlework project be sure to take frequent breaks and or work on a different type of project, to give your hands a rest.
You will need:
a small piece of reindeer leather, about 9 cm x 7 cm
a narrow strip of reindeer leather, 1.5 cm x 24 cm
Tin thread, about 1 meter length
a small square of wool felt, wadmal or a sturdy piece of wool cloth, about 7 cm x 7 cm
light iron on interfacing, linen fabric or natural cotton fabric, about 7 cm x 7 cm
fine leather needle
silk thread or good quality polyester thread
invisible sewing thread
metric graph paper
fine permanent marker felt tip pens
Sketch the pattern onto metric lined graph paper. This pattern has been drawn on 5 mm lined graph paper.
Trace the pattern onto iron on interfacing using a permanent marker. I have marked the end points of each snowflake with dark blue ink. This makes it easier to see the end of the stitch when you are embroidering.
Iron the interfacing onto the back of the small piece of wool felt or fabric. In this example I have used a small piece of handmade wool felt but you can use wadmal (which is a woven wool fabric that has been felted) or other sturdy wool fabric. I have also used linen fabric for the pattern rather than interfacing, because I happened to have some in my stash.
I have stitched the fabric onto the felt using a basting stitch.
You will need about a meter of tin thread for this project. If you have a longer length of tin such as on a spool, don’t cut it at this point. Instead I sew with it while it is still on the spool and cut the end when I am done, so that I don’t have any waste as the pewter thread is quite expensive to buy.
Tin thread comes in a number of thicknesses ranging from .25 to .5 in diameter. For this project I have used .3 but you can use a finer tin thread .25 or a thicker one if that is what you have on hand.
To make it easier to thread the end through to the back of the felt, you will need to unravel a bit of the tin from the core thread. The tin has been spun around a core thread. Pinch the end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger about 2 cm from the end. With your other hand give a bit of a twist to the thread. The tin will untwist and can be stretched out.
Starting at the centre of the snowflake thread your sewing needle through the felt and pull the unraveled ends of the tin thread through to the back of the work.
Tin Thread Embroidery
Thread a sewing needle with the invisible nylon thread. I find it best to tie a couple of knots at the end of the thread, one on top of another to make a secure knot.
Sew a few stitches to secure the ends of the tin thread to the back of the fabric.
Using the pattern drawn on the back of the work as your guide, follow carefully along the lines as you stitch the tin thread to the wool felt. Pull the needle to the front of the work, and stitch the tin thread to the wool felt. Work your way along the pattern being careful to keep the stitches in line with the pattern. Use very small stitches to sew the work.
When you get to a corner, push the needle through to the front of the work, and wrap the tin thread around the needle to form the corner. I give the tin thread a bit of a pinch to help hold the shape. Sew the corner securely in place. Pewter thread is quite soft. The thread can break while you are working with it, so do this carefully.
Once you have stitched your way around the pattern cut the tin thread leaving an end of about 2 cm. Pinch the end of the thread and unravel it as before.
Thread this through to the back of the work.
Draw an outline cutting pattern for the key fob on a piece of graph paper and cut it out.
Using this paper pattern cut the embroidered felt to the shape of the key fob pattern.
Cut a piece of reindeer leather using the same pattern.
Put the cut reindeer leather and the embroidered felt together. Using the leather needle threaded with polyester or silk thread, stitch around both of them using a whip stitch. Fold the end section of the reindeer leather under and stitch into place.
To make the key fob a bit thicker insert a small piece of plastic or other thick material in between the felt and the leather.
Reindeer Leather Edge Finish
Fold the 24 cm strip of reindeer leather in half and cut a small slit in the centre. This will fit over the top part of the key fob.
Sew the leather edge to the key fob using small backstitching.
A few weeks ago I had a lovely holiday in Kassiopi, Corfu. I had visited there a few years ago and had discovered a very talented weaver who has a small shop on the main street of Kassiopi. I was very pleased to see that she is still in business and is doing well. She is expanding her style and line of goods as her daughter-in-law is now learning to weave and is adding some of her own handwoven products to the shop.
Agathi studied weaving, sewing, crochet, needlework and textiles at a specialist school in Crete. She first started her shop in the early 70’s by crocheting and selling her products out on the street to the tourists who would pass by her home. Fairly quickly she was able to expand into a shop and she has successfully run her business and worked there since.
Agathis has a loom in the middle of the shop that always has a new project on it. During the summer months, you can see Agathis busy at work throughout the day and into the late evening.
Agathis showed me a beautiful bamboo reed that her mother used to weave with. The bamboo dents occasionally broke but they could be replaced by cutting and filing another piece of bamboo.
Not only weaving – Agathis is proficient at crochet, needlework, embroidery, weaving and just about any other textile craft. Her shelves are brimming with handmade products that she has produced. I could spend hours at her shop, marvelling at what she has made. Every piece has a story behind it, and she is very happy to share her wealth of knowledge.
Crewel Work – Chain Stitch Embroidery
Handwoven Linen dyed with Natural Dyes
(Red and Yellow Onion Skins)
Hand woven Throws
She also has a larger loom that she puts up during the winter months so she can weave wider projects such as throws and blankets.
Mario’s Olive Wood Workshop
Agathis also has a very talented son, Mario who specializes in woodworking using olive wood. He also has a shop in Kassiopi and ships his products worldwide.