Welsh Nursing Shawls — Siol Fagu
The traditional Welsh nursing shawl, siol fagu, is made of pure wool Welsh flannel. It is six feet square, including six inch fringes on all four sides.
Nursing shawls were a staple product of the Welsh woollen mills. The shawls are practical for carrying a baby, the baby being held in front, high up, with the mother’s right arm free, the left arm helping support the baby but still useful. It provides warmth for the baby and mother, and easy communication between them. When the baby is in the crib it serves as a crib cover.
The grandfathers used to be seen carrying the babies in shawls on the seafront in Swansea on Sunday mornings, giving the young couples a chance to sleep in. This also ensured continuation of the family.
There were many varieties of shawls made, from heavy blanket shawls to lighter weight flannel. Melin Teifi, operating in the old Cambrian Mill in Dreyfach (maintained as a museum by the Welsh Folk Museum) continues to make the traditional flannel shawl. The older equipment has been renovated to allow the shawls to be made in traditional fashion.
The shawl is woven leaving fringe material on the sides, and, at intervals, gaps in the weaving for end fringes where the shawls are to be cut from the woven bolt.
After the shawls are cut from the bolt the fringes are twisted by hand. A few adjacent strands are taken and twisted against the back of the hand. The fringes do not have the uniformity of machine twisted fringes found on modern rugs but are a distinctive mark for the shawls.
The shawls are then fulled in an old style fulling mill with wooden drop hammers. This tightens the weave. Next, most of the water is removed in a centrifuge. The drying is completed in drying sheds in the tentering field, protected from birds. When adequately dry (not bone dry) the shawls are pressed in a press heated by a coal fire from underneath. The shawls are made into a pack on a board, with cardboard sheets between the individual shawls, fringes left outside. After drying in the hot press the shawls are put in an unheated blanket press to cool and set the press in the shawls.
In use, the shawl is first doubled as a triangle and placed over both shoulders. The baby is then lifted into place on the left shoulder and the corner of the shawl on the left is wrapped around the baby. The corner of the shawl on the right is then dropped under the arm and wrapped around the baby. The right arm is fully free.
The shawls are useful as a cosy wrap, or as a throw for a chair or couch. In the nineteenth century shawls were used as outer garments by both men and women.
1. Weaving shawls at Melin Teifi, Wales
2. Fulling Mill with drop hammer
4. Drying shed
5. Making pad for pressing shawls.
6. Putting pad of shawls in hot press
7. Shawls in hot press
8. Shawls in unheated press to finish
9. Selecting threads for fringe
10. Twisting group of threads
11. Twisting group of threads
12. Finishing twist
13. Completed fringe
The Welsh nursing shawl can be worn as a regular shawl, used as a lap robe
or blanket or worn in the traditional manner while carrying a baby, as shown
14. Shawl folded to triangle on shoulders
15. Left side around baby
16. Right side dropped under arm
17. Right side under and around baby
18. Shawl and baby in place
Although we no longer carry these shawls, they are available through Melin Teifi, collocated with the Museum of the Welsh Woolen Industry, in Wales. Melin Teifi is still producing these shawls — the same quality and made in the same manner as the heirloom
shawls passed from mother to daughter in Wales.
Our Welsh Brooches, part of our extensive Celtic Jewelry collection, make excellent
fasteners for the traditional Welsh shawls.
For more information …
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