The secrets at the fascinating Peak alum works

What a fascinating place Peak alum works is. !  Well worth a visit.


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Alum was discovered here in 1640 and the works were build to process the calcined ore and to export the alum flour. The remains are above a beautiful bay shown here at low tide , with Robins Hood bay in the background .

The invisible quarries of the Peak Alum Works

Peak Alum works were built because of the locally sourced shale rock which could be quarried and then processed to make alum.   Today there is virtually no sign of the of the quarries that once changed the face the of the hillsides.  They have been covered by gorse and bracken and have disappeared into the landscape.


The Peak Alum works were operational from 1650 to 1860 when a cheaper route to alum was discovered.  The shale from the hillside was calcined then passed to the extensive

The shale from the hillside was calcined then passed to the extensive works.   Here with crystallisation, with urine and seaweed brought in by sea the shale was converted to alum for export.

Today the peak alum works are owned and maintained by the National Trust.
You can still see  parts of the buildings and the channels were the liquor flowed during the process from cistern to cistern.

The top of the transport system is still visible but I will have to make another visit and walk round the beach to see the route up from the shore.
All in all a wonderful place to visit. It shows that the recovery from such extensive industrialisation is possible as it is now  part of the beautiful Cleveland way .

Chaos at home : Now is the time to make stitched felt

Did you ever have a time when you needed to try something new ?  Here are my ideas to be creative with stitched felt when my house is chaotic as it occupied by builders

The renovation and building work we planned on our house before we moved back to the UK is now well under way.  It will be wonderful when it’s finished but currently there is total chaos in our house and not much opportunity for wet felting.  But there is plenty of time for other things.

Last weekend I went to the felting day with the IFA region 10 felters.  The challenge for our stand at the knitting and stitching show at Harrogate in November is geometric man made forms.

This challenge made me think of the wonderful stitched felt of  Chung-Im Kim  which I saw  in the Netherlands in 2014.

tumsae detail

Beautiful delicate surface texture , with tiny tiny stitches.

I decided to do some stitched felt experiments with some natural Shetland felt I made I while ago.   Trying to simulate the surface texture effects Chung-Im Kim used.

Hand stitched Felt

Maybe I am getting the hang of a technique that reproduces the effect. But it is quite time consuming and I feel my stitching is clumsy.

This make me thinks of fields , and I wonder if there is a way  to reproduce the beautiful effect you get when looking at the patterns of fields using this technique.


I persisted and extended my shetland piece in all directions.

stitched felt

Quite an interesting effect- rather more rough and ready

Stitched felt with the sewing machine

Doing this made me think about using my sewing machine, to create a similar effect.   I took some hand dyed shibori felt.

shibori dyed felt

I then used a similar idea of a grid to create a small piece.

stitched shibori felt


So although I have done no felting I think I have enough to keep me occupied until the chaos is over in a few months time.  Both pieces with be on show at the Harrogate knitting and stitching show between the 23rd-26th November 2016.


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Just on  my doorstep

Since I moved back to the UK I have been pondering a theme for a series of local felt pieces. I now live on the edge of the North York moors a really beautiful area with a fantastic coast line which has a really interesting industrial heritage. In the photo above you can see the costal town of Staithes with the Boulby cliffs in the background.  My first thoughts on a theme were something related to the mining of ironstone in the area and the subsequent development of the steel industry, which has sadly recently closed.  Whilst researching I came across another older industry that is far more directly related to my work.

I discovered that during the reign of Henry VIII , a local source of Alum which was critical to the textile industry as a mordant was sought in order to break the papal monopoly. This was in the 16th century.  I still use alum for my natural dyeing. After searches all over England suitable aluminium containing ore was discovered not 10 miles from where I live.  Subsequently North Yorkshire alum mines and processing supplied the whole country with alum until the 19th century.   There are even alum mine workings within walking distance from my house and I never knew. 
The quarrying of the ore was followed by a complicated process taking months , where the ore was first calcined ( heated) , then leached , urine was added and eventually via crystallisation  purified alum crystals were made.  How really exciting – to someone like me who is  fascinated by processes like this.  So I am now on a voyage of discovery , looking for the traces of this old industry.

My first visit to the original mine in Guisborough shows no real traces of the original industry , maybe not really surprising as its so long ago.  The area is crossed by a long distance footpath and is used by the local motorcycle club for off roading. 

I have no idea if my investigation is going to result in some felt masterpieces , but for now I am just going with the flow and I know I am just at the start of a really interesting research project.