Pelle’s Back to Back Wool Odyssey

November 13, 2013

Some you might remember me posting about a wee children’s picture book called Pelle’s New Suit last year.  Our family has read that story many, many times since then and in honour of Wovember, that special month of wool appreciation, I think it is time to revisit dear old Pelle.

IMG_0413Pelle’s New Suit tells the story of a small boy, an outgrown suit and the undertaking of a textile odyssey from sheep’s back, through all the stages of fibre processing to a brand new suit. It was written by the celebrated Swedish children’s author, Elsa Beskow in 1912. 

IMG_0405Luckily, Pelle has a pet sheep to help him on his journey, a lamb that has grown into its first fleece.  We can see him here shearing his sheep with hand shears.  I am guessing the sheep is a Swedish Finewool Sheep (Svenskt finullsfår).  Of Finnish origin, this breed features short tails, polled ewes and rams and very pretty faces.

IMG_0406Pelle takes the fleece to his grandmother and in exchange for weeding her carrots, she cards the fleece with hand carders.  You can see the basketful of lofty, fat rolags in this next illustration.

IMG_0407Elsa had studied art education at the Tekniska Skolan, an Arts, Crafts and Design college in Stockholm and her knowledge of textile production is evident in the small details of her illustrations.

IMG_0408Pelle’s other grandmother spins the rolags into yarn whilst he tends her cows. Her wheel is typical of the Scandinavian style: three legged, sloping bench, double drive, bobbin led and a narrow rimmed drive wheel.  In front of the maidens, you can see an upright and sidebar where a distaff could be placed, presumably for spinning flax.

IMG_0409Pelle now dyes the yarn in a simmering pot with a sack of blue dye he bought at the store. You can see the hanks drying on the line behind him.  I think it is likely that this would be synthetic indigo.  Synthetic indigo had been developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century and by the end of the first decade of the new century had largely replaced the Indian indigo industry.

IMG_0410Pelle’s mother then weaves the blue yarn into cloth on her floor loom whilst Pelle’s feeds and cares for his baby sister.  Again, Beskow has included many loom details in this illustration.  You can see the foot treadles, the heddle frame, the shuttle, the back beam holding the warp threads and the cloth roll take up.

IMG_0411Pelle now has a bolt of fine cloth to take to the tailor who makes the handsome little suit we met earlier.

IMG_0412One of the things I enjoy most about this story, is the depiction of the range of skills involved in the journey from fleece to garment.

Pelle doesn’t have all of these skills.  Instead he exchanges his labour, for the skilled labour of others.  Whilst this model of exchange will never satisfy the bank or pay the electricity bill, it does provide a model for micro exchange which can potentially provide a more valuable recompense for artisinal skills than a monetary amount determined by mass production.

Pelle’s New Suit maybe the sweetest manifesto that ever featured a small boy and his sheep.