Inspiration from a spinner's perspective

Inspiration from a spinner's perspective

Kate Larson keeps an ever-growing flock of Border Leicester sheep and teaches handspinning and knitting regularly in central Indiana and around the country. She recently recorded A Spinner's Guide to Colorwork Knitting, a web seminar though Interweave. She manages the Spinner's Connection Blog here at and keeps a blog of her own at We've invited her to share a little bit about her article on Dorset buttons in the most recent issue of Jane Austen Knits.

Dorset buttons are a great way to use small bits of precious handspun. Learn how to make your own dorset buttons in the newest issue of Jane Austen Knits. Photos: Kate Larson.

Kate Larson: Fiber artists have long found inspiration for their work in the world around them. From colors and patterns found in nature, to garment shapes and gender roles, those who create cloth both interpret and contribute to the culture of their day. What inspires you? 

The creative works of other artists can also be a great source of inspiration. Authors like Jane Austen, who evoke a clear vision of a world that is not our own, inspire many fiber artists to envision the textiles surrounding their favorite characters. The newest issue of Jane Austen Knits is teeming with inspired interpretations of Regency Era garments, accessories, and more. 

As a handspinner, I find as much inspiration in the materials and methods used to create historical textiles as in the extant textiles themselves. In reading about the history of Horned Dorset sheep, a breed that my family raises on our farm in Indiana, I learned about the button-makers active in Dorset, England, during the seventeenth through late nineteenth centuries.

Dorset buttons were traditionally made with linen thread. Looking to learn more about processing flax? Check out Spin-Off's free ebook on spinning flax.

These button-makers originally used small disks of horn from local sheep. The disks were covered in linen cloth and then wrapped in linen thread to form intricate patterns. By the early 1700s, linen threads were wrapped around wire rings to create a variety of button styles. These small, soft buttons were perfect for the sheer fabrics popular during Jane Austen's day. 

Modern textile artists can use what we learn about historical textiles, like dorset buttons, and the people that created them to inform our work as we move forward. We can recreate these buttons in creamy handspun linen and handmade brass rings still made in Dorset, or we can explore other fibers, yarn styles, and colors. We can knit, crochet, or weave entire garments inspired by buttons alone.

Learn more about the history of dorset buttons and how to make your own in Jane Austen Knits 2013.


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