Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Ted

This is one of my favourite teds. He's very old, and - as you can see - a bit fragile, but immensely loveable.

He does feel the cold a bit, however, hence the blanket and the woolly scarf. Got to look after our venerable old bears ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Trees

I have to have a real Christmas tree. I'm certain it's because my dear, late, Polish dad wouldn't have an artificial tree in the house. I would rather have a few pine boughs in a vase than a plastic tree. My husband, on the other hand, isn't particularly bothered, though he is willing to trail around after me while I look for exactly the right tree. Preferably one that doesn't cost a small fortune. This year, we visited Homebase and B & Q before finally finding what we were after in Dobbie's. The thing that irritated me about the first two stores was that almost all their trees were in nets already, and there was absolutely nobody about who could be asked to unwrap them, so that I could look at them. Call me old fashioned, but I'm not going to spend £20 - £25 without having a good look at what I'm buying. I've since compared notes with a friend from the North of England, and she has had the same problem. The stores are getting lazy. In Dobbie's on the other hand - where the trees were no more expensive - there were two obliging young people on hand, to show off the trees, net them up, and make sure you had help loading them into your car. Good for them.
Alan had been insisting that we needed a narrower tree this year. He has a point. At various times over the holiday season, we have a number of visitors and the tree is in danger of being knocked over in the rush. But the one he confessed he would have brought home himself looked as if it had been put through a shredder. I told him that if he had come home with it, I would have cried. What we eventually bought is something called a Lodge Pole Pine - an elegant, umbrella shaped tree. I confess to a few misgivings of the ecological variety, but then I'm aware that even these trees need to be thinned out! It is a truly beautiful Christmas tree and now that it is trimmed, I'm even happier. Oh and it smells lovely too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Laundering your linens for Christmas

- or - perhaps more to the point -laundering your linens after Christmas, when somebody has spilled a glass or a bottle of red wine, or when your lovely damask tablecloth is a warzone of turkey fat, squashed sprouts and Christmas pudding stains.
Actually, the old linen damask cloths can be very forgiving, as I've found over the years. It's possible to persuade even fifty year old stains to fade. I favour a UK product called Vanish. For most immediate marks, you can simply add some to your wash, and launder in the usual way - though for linens, I've also found that a hot, but not boiling, cotton wash is best. A boil wash is supposedly possible, but I've always found it a bit too harsh and it will result in creases that are very hard to get out.
There are other versions of the same product on the market which will allow you to target localised stains - you spray on, and then leave for a little while before washing. For the worst cases, I soak in a solution of the same product, and change the water occasionally, before washing in the machine in the usual way. The trick is to make sure that the tablecloths are well rinsed - which a machine will probably take care of for you! And handle them very carefully when they are wet.
I don't starch the cloths for storage - the starch goes a bit sour, and doesn't seem to do the cloths a lot of good - but for special occasions, I will use a spray starch as I'm ironing.
Frost is good for whitening these old linens, as is sunshine. Outdoor air - if you can peg them outside in the old fashioned way - will freshen them. And I'm told that, in big houses, the damask banqueting cloths were stored wound around broom handles, so that they wouldn't be creased.
Anything more delicate - of course - has to be handled with extreme care. When in doubt, please do ask the experts. If you decide that you must launder old lacy cloths (and the dust and dirt can be very damaging) then please don't wring them, or use chemicals. Use a dedicated soap solution of some sort, and rinse them with warm water from a shower head. Gently, gently. Dry flat between soft towels, press (gently again!) on the wrong side, preferably with some kind of cotton cloth on top - and store away from sunlight in acid free tissue paper. I wash almost everything, because I have a great many textiles through my hands, and many of them are, literally, filthy with age and dust. But I have had one or two disasters. Very few though. Handle everything with care, think before you act, remember that old dyes are probably not colourfast and will most likely run - and watch out for candlewax! You can press most of it off with a hot iron, with blotting paper underneath, but it will still leave marks. Best to sit your candles on a Christmas plate or tray of some sort!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

New Christmas Picture - Glasgow in the Forties.

Our Christmas Card for this year is called 'Hope' - and it's a scene from Glasgow, in the immediate post war period. I love the picture - the original is in acrylics, on canvas board - and think that this new, complex, vibrant and yet intimate style is Alan's best yet. There's nothing sentimental about this, and yet it is at once nostalgic, heart warming and moving.