Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three)

One evening last week, as part of the Museums at Night season,  I went along with some friends to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, London – home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society to see this event exploring the connection between the making of textiles and song.  Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three) – a traditional method used by shepherds in the north of England to count sheep, as well as a method used by knitters to count stitches.

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Tables were set out around the edge of the great hall, adorned with baskets of yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks,  so that everyone could take part in the event by knitting charms and keepsakes to be added to the Mandala made by textile collective & gallery Prick Your Finger, celebrating the communal activity of making.

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Meanwhile the floor was filled with folk singers and dancers.  One of my old schoolfriends sings with the Dulwich Folk Choir so a little group of we ‘girls’ went along to enjoy seeing her take part in the song and dance.  We had a bit of a lark with our knitted ‘charms’ one of which was a short strip of cable stitch, which one bawdy onlooker thought resembled a certain bit of the female anatomy!  Not sure I’d agree ….

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T’ sang was — “‘Sally an’ I, Sally an’ I, For a good pudding pye, Taa hoaf wheat, an’ tudder hoaf rye, Sally an’ I, for a good pudding pye.’ ” We sang this (altering t’ neams) at every needle : and when we com at t’ end cried ’ off,’ an’ began again, an’ sae we strave on o’ t’ day through.”  This extract gives a good idea of what is meant by ” a Knitting Song.”

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Here’s a glimpse of friend Alison, and all her singing buddies, getting stuck into one of a number of songs, such as the Cotton Breeches song

“Oh father, father I am married
Oh that I had longer tarried
For the women they do swear
That the breeches they will wear”
(from the song, Will the Weaver, collected from John Burton, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex), and

the Cotton Breeches dance. Danced by a woman on a table with skirts tucked in
(Dance collected by Clive Carey from Alfred Bishop, Thaxted, Essex)

Other delights of the evening were Dancing of the Bobbin, partaking of the ale, admiring the textile artworks by Freddie Robins,  Basket weaver Shane Waltener, Folk artist Stewart Easton, and the East London Textiles  McGrath Makers Group and just generally being in amongst a huge session of good-natured communal making.   Knitting along at the next table was  Julie Arkell – a well-known textile folk artist who runs her quirky creatures workshops in knitting shop Loop, in Islington, London.

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An interesting event forming part of an exhibition running in and around Cecil Sharp House until 25th September.

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4 responses to “Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three)

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