Monday, October 16, 2006

Canal crafts - the skill of the boatwoman

What is this beautiful hand made item?
At a quick glance it could be an iced birthday cake.
No, you say!
Or a lace garter – elegant enough for a bride to wear!
Believe it or not, this is a pair or horses’ earcaps made in fine lace and decorated with brightly coloured tassels, the type crocheted by the boatwomen on the canals to keep the flies from the boat-horses’ ears a century ago.
On her website, Liz Bryant displays the crafts of the boatwomen who decorated their barges by trimming the shelves, portholes, chimneys and even their horses with lacework in various designs.
I find it sad that this sort of tradition, like the barges themselves, is dying and unlikely to return. Today, women’s hands are now occupied on production lines or keyboards, while few fingers learn to master a spinning wheel, a crochet hook or even a pair of knitting needles.
Having read about the skills of the boatwomen while researching my latest novel, I made sure the traditonal lacework was mentioned.
In my own defence, I can say that in my latter years, I learned how to spin sheep wool, alpaca fibre, cashmere and mohair and have made jumpers from my own wool.
I can tan a calf and goat hide and have made many a teddy bare and soft toy. I’ve even tanned a fish and snake skin.
And when my boys were growing up, I taught them both how to knit.
I wonder if today’s society has really progressed.
I don’t think most people could survive today without technology.

Elizabeth Bryant, an accredited Master of Crochet and Cabin Lace in the Waterways Craft Guild, continues this tradition, making crochet nets in a wide variety of traditional and original designs.
I thank Elizabeth for the image of the horse’s earcaps.
You can visit her site at:

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