Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Very Merry Christmas!

It is cold here and getting colder. But we seem to be more or less ready for Christmas, and we're a week early. Which is just as well since wearing my other hat as a fiction writer, I have a good many edits and revisions to do before 5th January. So as well as socialising, and meeting old friends, I'm going to batten down the hatches, drink a little mulled wine, eat some Christmas food ....and write. That's the plan, anyway.
But before I do, let me tell you about our Christmas tree. We always have a real tree, but this year, in the UK, the price of Christmas trees has risen beyond belief. Still, I can't bring myself to go for an artificial tree. My dear dad would probably come back and haunt me. So last week we wandered around the big stores in a state of shock, until we spotted the little handwritten ad in our local shop. Late afternoon saw me in wellies, tramping through a muddy, icy field, in the wake of a young man wielding a chain saw. Don't worry. This was nothing illicit. He has his own small plantation. We chose our tree and - rather sadly - watched as he cut it down. It was a little uneven. 'The horses got to that side,' he said. But that was fine, because it stands against the wall beautifully. It was sad, and somehow magical. After all, the trees you see in the big stores have all been cut down too, probably cut down and transported for many miles. And we always recycle. So, sad and Christmassy and magical. All tree-buying should be like this: the sound of rooks congregating, a cold, angry, wintry sunset, skeletal trees, and the lights of the ancient farmhouse burning through the gathering dark.
Now, the tree stands in our cool conservatory, in all its glory. Outside the garden pond is frozen and the blackbirds are making the most of the remaining grapes, the ones we didn't cut but left to sustain the birds through the winter. Even the 'burn' is frozen. All the same...

A Merry Christmas to all customers and readers of The Scottish Home, and a very happy 2011!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Embroidered Tablecloths

I came across another batch of wonderful but sadly neglected old embroidered tablecloths the other week. It always saddens me that these are so generally undervalued, but at least with the fashion for all things retro and vintage, they have been given a new lease of life. There's nothing quite so comforting on a winter's afternoon, as a table, set for tea, preferably with some home made cakes - all served from delicate porcelain cups, on a lovely, old, hand embroidered tablecloth. This one is so beautifully made that the flowers look three dimensional.

Friday, November 05, 2010

St Kessog of Loch Lomond

Above is my husband Alan's most recent picture - of St Kessog, an early Celtic Saint, who may well have been the patron saint of Scotland, before Andrew was accorded that honour.

There are several versions of the story of St Kessog. One is that he was born into the royal family of Munster, in approximately 460 AD, and even as a child was associated with miracles. Other versions of the tale have Kessog born in Strathclyde, and travelling to Ireland, to study, before returning to Scotland. But since, at that time, the two peoples were so closely inter-related, and since there was a great deal of travelling between the two places, it perhaps doesn’t matter that we will never know for sure. He was believed to be a disciple of St Patrick, was tutored by St Malachoi and it is certain that at some point he was sent to Strathclyde, as a missionary, coming to Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond, at the beginning of the sixth century.

The Celtic Church of that time was quite austere and its holy men believed in living the simple life, in tune with the natural world and the changing seasons. Kessog, although an important man in the early church, was no exception. Tradition says that he built his ‘cell’ on the beautiful and peaceful island of Inchtavannoch (Monk's Island), opposite Luss. Nothing remains of St. Kessog's original buildings, although we can assume that they were very simple – possibly circular beehive huts in the manner of Skellig Michael in Ireland. Ruins found on the island are those of a later monastic building with an ancient graveyard.

The name Luss means herb or plant, and there would probably have been rich grazing around here on the sheltered and fertile shores of the loch, so it would have been a good base. Kessog would, however, have travelled throughout the region, on his missionary work, and there are many ancient names, associated with him, including a Kessock Hill, near Inverness. He was eventually killed at Bandry, just to the south of Luss, between 520 and 530, which would have meant that he had reached rather a great age for that time and place! The legends and stories say that a Pictish chief paid men to murder him. He was said to have been killed on the druid's new year (March 25th) near an ancient druid site, which means that his death may have had political overtones, especially if he were – as seems likely – a strong and successful missionary, whom people loved. The site of his death used to be marked by a cairn, although it has disappeared over the years, as have the few relics directly associated with him.

We know that, as a bishop of the early church, Kessog would have had a crozier, as a mark of his office. This was passed down to the Colquhoun family, who were known as the ‘guardians’ of St Kessog, and may even have been blood relations of the saint, but it has disappeared, over time. It may have been hidden or destroyed during the troubles between the Macgregors and the Colquhouns in the early 1600s

Kessog would also have had a bell with which he would have called his people to prayer. This would almost certainly have been the traditional celtic ‘square’ handbell (such as Mungo would have used, in Glasgow, and which is now on that city’s coat of arms). There is some evidence that Kessog’s bell survived until the seventeenth century when it was sold and subsequently lost.

The painting depicts him as being both strong and kindly, which he must have been, to live for so long, and to attract so many followers to Christianity. He is holding both his crozier, as a mark of his office, and his bell, He wears the traditional celtic saffron-dyed tunic, and a rich purple wool cloak, which would also have been a sign of his office. The Celts were known to be good at making this dye, but it was difficult and expensive to produce, and would have been a mark of the status of the wearer. Nevertheless, Kessog is quite simply dressed, in tunic and leather brogues, as befits the plain man he undoubtedly was. He wears a small sword, partly since this would have been a practical necessity, at the time, and partly as a sign of his name, which means ‘Short Sword.’ He is also known as ‘the soldier saint’ and is the patron saint of soldiers. Behind him is Ben Lomond, and an outcrop of his island, with the heron in the background . This bird was a celtic symbol of individuality, patience, solitude and independence, all of which seem to be suitable symbols of Kessog himself.

This is the first in a planned series of pictures of saints - if you're interested in commissioning a picture for your church or school, please contact us through this blog.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Paradise Lost

Over the years, on the Scottish Home, I have blogged extensively about The Isle of Gigha which - for me at least - was like a little piece of paradise. Some years ago, I wrote a history of the island and its inhabitants, God's Islanders, which was very nicely published in hardback by Birlinn. We visited the place just about every year, usually staying in the same little cottage, down by the seashore and, when the island was the subject of what was then the biggest community buyout in British history, we were very happy to make our small contribution to the island economy. The book was, of course, a labour of love. It was never ever going to be a project to make me rich, nor did it, but I adored the island, so the time was never wasted.
Over the years, 'our' little cottage, Ferry Croft One, had become a bit shabby, while the price had crept up, but we didn't mind. We didn't mind the slightly faded decor, or the large burn mark on the kitchen floor where some careless visitor had set a pan down, the shabby furniture, the chipped paintwork, or the fact that the bathroom window opened all by itself, the shower was a bit dodgy and the bathroom tended to be icy, even in summer. We loved the little house, loved being on Gigha, and looked forward to our visits.
Last May, we arrived, to find that Ferry Croft One had been very nicely refurbished. It was a bit like finding that the Fairy Godmother had waved a magic wand in our absense, and we had a very happy week on the island. Which was just as well, because, as it turns out, it will probably be our very last visit to Gigha after an association lasting some forty years for my husband, some twenty five years for me .
We paid £385 for the week, which was a rise on previous years, but still seemed reasonable enough especially in view of the refurbishment. Much as we love it, this is by no means luxury accommodation. The cottage is open-plan, with a mezzanine containing two single beds. There is a smallish double sofa bed, downstairs, and the kitchen is part of the living room. There is a tiny hallway and a  bathroom, with a shower over the bath. It will, therefore, sleep four, but only if you know each other very well . We have visited it with close family and on one occasion with a close friend, but there is no possibility of privacy (except in the bathroom!) and it is essentially a two person cottage, with room for young kids or grannies. Still, we were very comfortable there and appreciated the new decor, furniture, bedding, etc so, a few months ago, I went online to book a week for next spring. I thought I might get some intensive writing done. I actually considered booking a couple of weeks. Except that the cost is now £485 for the same week, rising to £610 in summer. A quick search online reveals that this is very much at the high end of the market for such a small cottage in Scotland. We could rent an almost comparable cottage on Arran, sleeping two, for £285 at the same time of year. For £400 we could have a two bedroomed luxury barn conversion on Coll and take some friends with us, without living in each other's pockets for a week.
I wrote to the Trust, expressing my concern and, while I was at it, wondered if it might be possible for the hotel to stock my book, since it isn't for sale anywhere on the island.
 'We appreciate that our prices are not low, but the community is in a difficult position...' the management team replied.
As, of course, are we all, especially those of us who work in the arts. But this does beg a vital question: shouldn't the need to maintain self catering accommodation to a reasonable standard be 'built in' to the business model? Why should the customer have to pay a vastly increased price, not for luxuries but simply for the standard of comfort and cleanliness one would expect as a matter of course?
The management team finished by informing me that they would be more than happy to have 'your published book about Gigha on sale at the hotel as we do encourage sales of merchandise. We would normally look for a percentage of the sale of the item and this is currently 40% of the sale price.'
I've replied, briefly, pointing out that when I say that we can't afford to stay on Gigha, that is exactly what I mean. There is no longer any accommodation on the island that is both affordable and acceptable and I can only assume that they are after a different class of visitor. 
I've also pointed out that whether or not my 'piece of merchandise' is on sale on Gigha makes no difference whatsoever to me at this stage. And any negotiation about percentages must be between them and my publisher. My suggestion - which I doubt if they will be following up on - was entirely for the benefit of the island. Ironically, while all this was going on, I had a very nice email from the Trust's administrator, asking for some help with a piece of historical research which she wishes to undertake for the island. Well, it was kind of her to ask me, the research is very worthwhile, and none of this is her fault. All the same, I don't think I'll be doing it, somehow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Still Laundering

Sometimes it feels a little like living in a laundry here, especially when there has been a sudden influx of textiles. I seem to have been washing things for weeks which is probably because I have. This morning we had the first real sharp frost of the season, here in the West of Scotland, and the grass is still crisp underfoot. The car would have to be scraped if I was going out this morning. (I'm hoping it will have thawed out by this afternoon!) But the sun is shining now, and I've been pegging laundry out already, because - so somebody once told me - a little frost is excellent for whitening old linens. This is definitely the case. And they smell very fresh when they come in as well!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Laundering Old Linens - An Update and a New Product Range from Ariel

I've been trying out Ariel's new stain removing powder over the past week or so. I must confess that in the past I've always used Vanish on my old linens, with a great deal of success, and force of habit generally means that you stick with one product. However, my initial impressions of Ariel's new product are rather good, with one small exception, which I'll detail in due course!
I buy most of my antique and vintage linens at auction, in large mixed lots, generally from house clearances, so preparing them for sale is a long and time-consuming process. First of all the boxes must be sorted (this is the exciting bit!) so that you know exactly what you've got, which items need light laundering, which need more serious attention, which are so delicate that they need special care, and which items can be recycled back to the saleroom, or the local charity shop because they don't quite fit into my online shop.
Once washed, of course, they have to be dried (preferably outside in the fresh Scottish air - but winter makes this a bit difficult!) ironed with our big industrial steam iron (my husband is a dab hand at that, and quite enjoys doing it) checked for faults, and then stored away with lavender to deter the moths.
Many of the linens, especially table linens, have been stored away complete with original tea stains, or have crease lines along hundred year old folds, so some of them demand very careful laundering. At the same time, linen is a very forgiving textile, and you can wash it at quite high temperatures, and can also use whitening products that you would be very reluctant to use on more delicate pieces.
I normally pre-treat the worst marks with a stain removing gel, which I leave on for a little while, and then wash on a long 60 degree wash - the one usually marked cottons. (I  never boil anything - I think a boil wash is too harsh for old textiles of any kind.) For this I will use an in-wash whitener such as Vanish or - more recently - Ariel along with my usual non-bio detergent. For this process, I have found the new Ariel stain removers to be very effective, although I must confess that a sheet with a horrible, old, yellow sellotape mark (it had been in its original packaging, which, over fifty years, had left a deposit on the sheet itself) took a couple of washes and the application of gel to remove, so it wasn't instant, by any means! However, I was impressed enough to go out and buy a bottle of the gel stain remover, and used it to wash three large, old, and rather badly marked damask tablecloths, again on a long 60 degree wash, with detergent, and the gel poured onto the top of the linen in the machine, as directed. It worked very well indeed, and these tablecloths are, so far as I can see (they are hanging out on the line in the sunshine, even as I type this) bright white and very fresh.
The only problem, however, was with the bottle itself. It is a large bottle and the big screw-on clear plastic top is used to measure out the liquid and pour it into the machine. Because it is a screw-on top it has a rather narrow neck, and the bottle itself is in quite a soft plastic. Twice now, I have found myself with the 'gel' (which is actually more of a liquid than a gel, in my book, being quite runny) splashing out over my fingers, the floor and the laundry basket. And the second time, I was aware of the problem and it still happened. So, 9/10 for the product and 3/10 for the packaging of the gel, folks!
Will I use it again? I probably will. And where two products are equally effective, price becomes very important.
What I haven't yet experimented with is soaking. Many of my old textiles are so badly marked and so very delicate, that the only way to deal with them is to soak them in a weak solution of stain remover in lukewarm water, sometimes over a number of days, changing the water, very gently, and handling them as little as possible. I rinse them in the bath with the shower head, rather than pulling at the delicate fibres, and finally, I give them a very gentle wash in soap solution, rinse them well, with fabric conditioner in the last rinse and dry them flat. I haven't yet tried Ariel in this way, but I'll be experimenting over the next couple of weeks, and will let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Old Linens, Vintage Furs and a Wee Grouse

We drove home from Great Western Auctions, in Glasgow, at the weekend, with three boxes of old linens and - incidentally, because I was really after the tablecloths - a few truly vintage furs. Now I'd be the first to admit that I'm not keen on real fur. Or at least, I always prefer to see it being worn by its original owner. Mind you, many years ago, when I lived in Finland, I could understand the value of a fur coat and - most certainly - of a fur hat. 45 degrees below is pretty cold. You stick to metal at that temperature. And the huge fur hats that almost everyone wore in winter suddenly seemed completely practical. Since then, though, any fur I've worn has definitely been of the fake variety. However, my box of very old furs turned out to be so beautiful that I'm going to have to sell them on. Because fur is very much 'on trend' this season, and if people do want to wear it, I think it's better that they wear something very old, very beautifully made, recycled - and from a non-threatened species. The box contained a gorgeous mink jacket, an equally gorgeous mink coat - both of them beautifully lined, and stitched with an elegant monogram - a slightly less gorgeous calfskin jacket and an evening stole in what I think is musquash. Furs do tend to arouse irrational feelings, and I often wonder if those who post so vociferously online about them are vegans who never wear leather of any sort. I suspect most of them aren't. But as I say - I don't wear fur either.  So perhaps I'm a hypocrite!
But that isn't my 'wee grouse'.
Here at the Scottish Home, we buy most of our old linens at auction - boxes of old tablecloths and many other items, all crammed together, most of them very grubby with age, with the teastains and fold marks still on them. Then, we sort them, treat them, launder them (sometimes twice!) and iron them. We photograph them and list them online. And when they have been bought, we package them in acid free tissue, sometimes with a little lavender bag, for good measure, and post them in nice white padded envelopes. Most of them can be used straight from the package. Only occasionally, when something is very special, perhaps in its original box, do we sell it as it is.  In short, we aren't just recycling - we are treating these things with the respect they deserve, and rehoming them! 
So what is my wee grouse?
Well, I'm afraid it's with other dealers! I often find myself browsing around antique markets, looking for stock. Sometimes, I'll find stalls with lovely well-cared-for linens and lace. But much more often, there will be boxes and bags of vintage tablecloths, doilies, napkins, bedlinen, etc, all heaped together, often under a table, or spilling out of drawers, and occasionally being trampled on the floor. Somebody has bought them at auction, and now is re-selling. Which is what dealers do. It's what we do! But these people don't really care for the items in question. Well, they care just enough to price them up. So if you check for a price tag, you'll find that it's rather high!  Which may well be the worth of the item. But only, I think, if you have taken the trouble to add a little value, in the shape of some TLC yourself. Maybe it shouldn't irritate me - but it does. I think most of all, it pains me to see these lovely items still being treated as a vague mass of clutter. They deserve better than that. I know, because I handle such things - and appreciate them - every day!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Caledon Villa - A Very Beautiful Home!

I met Ode Krige online, as a customer of my Scottish Home store - we clearly share a passion for all things antique and vintage! She was kind enough to send me some photographs of her collection, in situ, in her lovely old guest house: Caledon Villa. I thought I'd like to share some of these images with my readers - they are so beautiful - and it's lovely to see how old and treasured European items can be mixed and matched with, for example, the vivid Ardmore pottery, made in South Africa. I wasn't familiar with these ceramics - but aren't they wonderful?

And here's what Ode has to say about the guest house:

 'Caledon Villa Guest House, built in 1910, is situated in the historic heart of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, South Africa.
We pride ourselves in the personal care of our guests and invite them to share in the cultural heritage of an old Afrikaans family. Existing exhibitions include family heirlooms, an anthropological section with African beadwork and a porcelain and doll collection from Eastern Germany. Apart from being a university town near Cape Town. Stellenbosch is known for its special ambience and scenic Cape Dutch houses in the winelands. Worth a special visit!'

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Victorian Tartan Wool Shawl

This is a 150 year old Scottish crinoline shawl with a genuine West of Scotland provenance, in a very subtle, slightly faded, green and purple tartan. Sadly, it's also full of moth holes, but it's a fascinating reminder of a previous fashion craze! I don't know what the tartan is - have tried to search for it, but with no success. The craze for tartan began in the early 1800s, with Walter Scott's deliberate romanticising of the Highlands, but these tartan shawls became very fashionable when Victoria was at the height of her obsession with all things Scottish (including her Highland servant John Brown!) These huge crinoline shawls were for warm outdoor use, when the crinoline hooped skirt was also in fashion, i.e. about the mid nineteenth century, so this is a rare and interesting survival.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Adding a Little Value

I love my old linen and lace. Can get excited, just rummaging through boxes of old textiles, wondering what I'm going to find next. I was thinking about this only the other day when I visited an antique centre, not a million miles from here. It's a huge warehouse of a place, with various dealers renting space. Some of them have their goods beautifully arranged, labelled and properly priced, but others seem content to use this simply as storage space, with everything more or less dumped haphazardly in whatever area they are renting - furniture, architectural antiques, textiles. I got quite cross about the textiles in particular, and here's the reason why. People don't know how to treat it with love.
When I buy a box of old linen and lace, I sort through it all, as soon as possible. This preliminary 'sort' will let me know what I want to keep and what I don't. There will be a very few things that are damaged beyond hope of repair. There will be a few more things that may be of use to somebody but not to me. These will be put back into the saleroom at some point or - more often - donated to my local charity shop. The rest - the majority of items -  will be sorted out according to their uses: tablecloths, bedlinen, 'small stuff' such as lace edgings, hankies, doilies and so on. Next comes careful laundering. This is important because the dust harms delicate fibres and I like to get rid of it as soon as possible. Some things will have to be soaked, some washed carefully by hand,  some can go straight into the machine. I never use a boil wash, but I'll launder robust linen tablecloths on a long 60 degree wash, with a proprietory stain remover of some kind. Other items, fragile silk and wool, I will simply store carefully in acid free tissue, away from bright sunlight, with lavender to freshen them up. I have a huge old linen cupboard, which I clear out occasionally. It's amazing how often you can forget what is lurking at the bottom of a shelf - I found two stunning antique mixed lace cloths, carefully folded away, the other day. I had bought them a few years ago and forgotten all about them!
After the laundering and drying - outside in the fresh Scottish air if possible - comes the ironing, with a commercial pressurised steam iron, and - where appropriate - some spray starch. Believe it or not this is my husband's job, and he makes a very good job of it too. It is also at this stage that faults can be checked and noted, although no matter how closely you examine something, there will always be one or two that 'get away' which is why, when I'm selling online, I always offer a refund if a customer is disappointed.
Now all of this certainly 'adds value' - but I honestly don't do it just for that reason. I do it because I, myself, value these lovely pieces of old needlework. I like to think of the people - usually women - who made them, who devoted time and trouble to them. To me, these things are precious, and should be treated as such.
Which leads me back to that antique centre. What was really distressing, for me, was to find - in some areas at least - boxes and bags of rather lovely old textiles, simply abandoned to cold and dust. Linen tablecloths with fine crochet edgings, flung in a heap, with the dust of years still on them.  But with astonishingly high prices all the same - too high, sadly, for something so obviously unappreciated and unloved. If you are going to get into this business, you have to love that you deal in. Otherwise, how can you possibly enjoy selling it to somebody else?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Tablecloths Coming

Our weather has turned very wet and windy over the past few days. Last night, in particular, I was reminded of the first line of that wonderful Ted Hughes poem -  'This house has been far out at sea, all night' - which was exactly what it felt like. Anyway, it puts me in mind of upcoming winter festivities, and reminds me that in October and November, people always start to visit The Scottish Home, looking for large tablecloths, preferably large white, linen tablecloths that will look stunning for parties of all kinds. I've been stockpiling a few, so will be listing as many of them as I can, online, between now and Christmas.

A few weeks ago, while summer was still in full swing, I found myself advising a good friend about laundering the linen tablecloths which she had used for her birthday garden party. We attended the party, staying with her in her beautiful old Oxfordshire farmhouse. The celebrations went on just about all weekend, because some of the guests came back for lunch the following day - but as order was restored, we were left with a pile of tablecloths marked with food and wine stains. Linen, however, is remarkably forgiving. I recommended that she use Vanish, or some similar proprietory stain remover, and give them a good long machine wash - not a boil wash, which is unneccessarily harsh - but a two hour 60 degree wash, and then hang them outside to dry in the sunshine. To her surprise, she found that even one or two old stains disappeared and the cloths looked as good as new, all ready for the next celebration!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An Old Willow Pattern Irish Linen Tablecloth

I love willow pattern crockery in blue and white, especially those wonderful old earthenware platters that you sometimes come across. There's something about old blue and white ware that goes extremely well with dark wood furniture. Now, 'brown furniture' has had a spell of being deeply unfashionable here in the UK. You can still pick up an Ercol oak dresser with matching table in your local saleroom for the proverbial 'song.' Less, in fact, that you would pay for flat pack chipboard. Much of it has been transported, in containers, to the USA, where they seem to appreciate this solidly built and really very attractive furniture rather more than we do. However - as so often happens in the antiques business - times and fashions are changing. It has a lot to do with ideas of recycling, or upcycling, I think, with the fashion for all things vintage, both in clothes and household goods. (I've been wearing vintage for years, since I was a student, in fact. I like to think I was ahead of my time, rather than just poor!) We may not all be quite ready for a complete resurgence in the intricacies of Victoriana  but people are certainly beginning to appreciate real wood, either the lovely chunky simplicity of genuinely old oak, or the later equally lovely lines of well made oak furniture from the 1900s.

All of which also goes some way towards explaining the growing popularity of lovely old linens, for bed and table alike. Why spend a fortune on new polycottons, when you can get fabulous antique textiles for a good deal less.  In one of my recent auction lots of old linens, I found a new and unused (albeit very grubby)  'double damask' Irish linen tablecloth, patterned all over with an absolutely gorgeous Willow Pattern design. Not only that, but woven into the cloth itself is the actual willow pattern story:

'Koong Shee, daughter of a rich mandarin, loved Chang. But her father, wishing her to marry a wealthy suitor, shut her up in the house to the left of the temple. Chang, disguised, effected her release and the lovers, pursued by the Mandarin, fled to Chang's island.They lived happily there until discovered by the wealthy suitor who burned down their home when from the ashes, their twin spirits arose in the form of two doves.'

So unusual - and imagine such a tablecloth being used - as was probably the intention of the company that made it - with a willow pattern dinner service. What a talking point that would be!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Indian Summer

We have had a rainy July and August, here in the West of Scotland,  but now the September 'Indian Summer' as it's sometimes called, seems to have set in, with bright, if a little chilly, sunny days and rather more chilly nights. In fact, I note with some misgivings, that 5 Celsius is forecast in Glasgow for tonight which is pretty wintry. All the same, I like this time of year, like it, in spite of misgivings about the slow slide into winter that it brings in its train. I like gathering blackberries, and sloes, making apple and blackberry pies, and sloe gin for the wintry months. I Iike the blonde stubble in the fields when the harvest is done, and the vividness of the colours, and the way you can almost feel the season changing around you. The house martins which have been nesting in our eaves are still there at the moment, with the final brood of almost grown chicks poking their heads out and pretty much ready to fly. I suspect that in another couple of weeks they will be gone. And, as always at this time of year - wearing my various business hats - I'm thinking about my writing, (a  novel to be revised before the end of September, so that my agent can send it out, while I embark on a first draft of a new project) and my online antique textiles shop to be refreshed and restocked for autumn, with winter parties in mind - lots of lovely table linens and napkins for dinner parties and other celebrations!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Gorgeous Madeira Work

I've been listing some absolutely gorgeous Madeira work tablecloths in my Scottish Home eBay store, this week. They are so beautiful, and the work is so fine and detailed that they must have taken somebody many hours to make. They have obviously been professionally laundered, many years ago and then  put away. This one, pictured, still had the blue tissue paper from the laundry between the folds! They are part of a wonderful lot of old linen which I bought at auction in Glasgow, recently, and may well have come from one of the city's big, beautiful houses. They certainly look as though they have been treasured. Whenever I talk about old linens, somebody invariably asks me 'but what do people DO with them?' When I reply that they - er- use them for the purpose for which they were intended, i.e. as table and bed linens, I see a certain amount of scepticism setting in. There are people who simply can't imagine appreciating anything this old, and they certainly can't imagine having to launder and iron it. When I tell them that there are actually people who enjoy this, who love caring for these old textiles - and I'm one of them - they just shrug and turn away. Fortunately, not everyone feels the same!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Culzean Castle

We were at our local 'stately home' today - Culzean Castle - for a picnic. Last year I bought my husband a large picnic hamper for his birthday so that we could have civilised picnics, in the old fashioned way, with a tablecloth and real crockery! (Like the picnics which Mole and Ratty indulge in, in the Wind in the Willows.) To be honest, the weather in Scotland during July and half of August has been fairly hideous, so we haven't had a picnic since late spring - but today was the perfect day, so we packed the wicker basket with goodies, and set off. Culzean is the National Trust for Scotland's major attraction in this part of the world, so it tends to be extremely busy on warm sundays, particularly since this is the last weekend before the Scottish schools go back. But if you go reasonably early, you can find all kinds of quiet nooks and crannies, often with convenient picnic tables. Ours was at the back of the fabulous walled garden, so we had a walk round first and admired the herbacious border, which - at this time of the year - is wonderful. I'm so envious. Our cottage gardens look lovely in spring, but they never seem to look quite so beautiful in high summer. Culzean's Head Gardener is a woman, and - although I have been visiting the castle for years - I have to say that I have never seen the gardens looking so utterly gorgeous as they did today. Apart from the stunning borders, I particularly loved the row upon row of traditional, old fashioned annuals, such as Larkspur, Love-in-a-Mist  and Asters - plants which I haven't seen massed together like this since I was a child. The gardens sell plants, too - which is an excellent idea. And they aren't 'bought in' as they are at so many visitor attractions. These are genuine plants from the gardens, so that when you see something growing, and like the look of it, you might just be able to buy it. I came away with a deep purple astilbe called Purple Lance - a beautiful plant which I had been coveting as soon as I saw it in the border. 

Monday, August 09, 2010

Great Western Auctions, Glasgow

  Finally bit the bullet and found our way to the Great Western Auctions in Glasgow. This is a large auction house, on the west side of the city, and we had been meaning to go there for a long time but various other commitments had always intervened. On Friday, seeing from the online catalogue that a very large lot of old linens was listed, we set off early for viewing day. The auction house is in Whiteinch, along the Dumbarton Road and we only managed to get lost three or four times on the way there! (Glasgow must have the worst set of road signs of any major city in the western world, and we don't have sat nav. I have managed to get comprehensively lost, driving about Glasgow, more times than I care to remember.) The auction house is a large building which looks like an old church.  I had a good rummage through the linen, which contained some spectacularly beautiful pieces, and decided that it would be well worthwhile to attend the sale. The following day - having only got lost once this time, though that involved almost heading through the Clyde Tunnel and finding ourselves back on the wrong side of the river! - we attended the sale.
The Auction House is tucked away beside a lovely old pub called Granny Gibbs. You can read a bit more about Granny Gibb herself, here but meanwhile the present day pub is handsomely decorated with flowers and hanging baskets, and extraordinarily friendly. With time to spare, we went in search of tea. The pub is currently having a new kitchen added, and they aren't serving teas or coffees but the lovely lady behind the bar made us big mugs of tea and chocolate biscuits, and then wouldn't take any payment, but just asked us to put something in the charity box on the counter! I've a feeling this is the sort of thing that only happens in Glasgow and it's one of the reasons why people fall in love with the city!
The Auction Rooms were friendly too - all the staff were cheerful and helpful and its a place I'd be delighted to go back to again. I'm sure I will. The linens were sold quite late in  the day, and I managed to buy them, bidding nerve rackingly against TWO telephone bidders. (Not something that usually happens with linens!) I paid rather more than I wanted, but not quite as much as I thought I might have to. A few lots later, I watched several boxes of vintage clothes hitting the roof in terms of price, and was rather glad that I hadn't wanted them! But, of course, Glasgow is a great centre for vintage fashions, with lots of extremely fashion conscious students and other people, and a plethora of gorgeous vintage shops.
Now begins the real work of sorting, and deciding what can be sold, what can't, what needs laundering and ironing - a huge task - and what is perhaps better left in its original condition. There is so much of it, that this could take a whole week. I'll post more about some of the individual pieces, which are stunning, as time goes by. But one little fact emerged which I did not know, and it's part of what fascinates me about old textiles, and how much they still have to teach me. Among the linens was an old, unused, boxed Madeira tablecloth and napkins, very pretty, with its labels still attached. These told me that - as you can see from the picture above - they were made in 'Madeira Island' - of Irish (or Iresh, as one of the labels reads) linen. I've been admiring old Madeira tablecloths for years without ever realising that they were embroidered on imported Irish linen!
The Great Western Auctions

Friday, July 30, 2010

The French Connection - Old French Whitework

When I was ferreting about an antique market in the South of France, near Perpignan, a couple of years ago, I found two beautiful old bonnets, in finest muslin, with delicately embroidered whitework. I was immediately attracted to them, because they seemed to me to resemble Ayrshire whitework so closely, and of course, as I've blogged about before, here,  Ayrshire embroidery began when Lady Marie Montgomerie returned from France, with a little sprigged and embroidered baby gown which she lent to her friend, Mrs Jamieson of Ayr, who copied the stitches - and started a whole cottage industry. These are, I think, day bonnets for young women to wear over their hair - they are a bit big for baby bonnets. The stitches with their sprigging and delicate infills, do resemble Ayrshire Whitework (although I have to say that a good deal of the Scottish whitework which I have seen, is even finer!)

What really fascinated me about these as well, however, was the fine muslin. I have never seen anything like it - it was like tissue paper - and had been crimped, probably with an old fashioned goffering iron.

I've decided that the time has finally come to let these go, so I'm listing them on my eBay shop this week, but I won't be too sad if they don't sell!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

John Ditchfield's Gorgeous Glass

We have been visiting close friends who live in the countryside between Blackpool and Lancaster for many years now, without realising that they live very close to the glass blowing studio of the amazing John Ditchfield.  Last Sunday, we went to his Glasform studio and saw a demonstration that was quite magical in its skill and intensity.
Although textiles are my passion in life, I have always had a liking for glass of all kinds, whether it be amazing stained glass, or those small, slightly misshapen drinking glasses that you sometimes come across in charity shops, and realise that - against all the odds - they may well have survived for two hundred years and more. But there can be few things as exciting as watching a master glass artist at work - and John is nothing if not a master and an artist. There's something enticing about the way in which a magician of this kind makes the work look easy - when, in reality, it's both difficult and dangerous. Watching him, you forget the high temperatures and the volatility of the material  - until, of course, you see the sparks flying!
His pieces have been described as the antiques of the future, by David Dickinson, among others - and I've certainly seen them fetching high prices at auction. You'll have seen them yourself perhaps - paperweights, mushrooms, lilypads (complete with silver frogs) and other natural forms in amazing iridescent colours. But not everything here is in miniature. Outside the studio are a variety of large and striking glass sculptures including the strange flowers above.
But my favourites are definitely the vases. The shapes are simple and very beautiful, while the patterns and colours in the glass are endlessly complicated and enticing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Vintage Patisserie

Anyone watching The Dragons' Den this week would have been treated to the sight of the charming 'Angel' with her Vintage Patisserie business. The presentation was as enticing as the cakes, and - given the enormous popularity of all things vintage - this did seem to be an idea whose time has come! The dragons clearly thought so too, and Angel got her money and the help of a couple of dragons. The Vintage Patisserie sounds like a business after my own heart. Ever since I was a little girl and used to go to salerooms with my mother, who collected pottery and porcelain, it has been the vintage and antique textiles that have enticed me. And many years before they became really fashionable, I also loved vintage clothes and costume jewellery, scouring charity shops for lovely old items that I could wear myself. Now, with my own online shop, The Scottish Home, I source, launder and recycle (or should that be upcycle?) a variety of old textiles. My customers come from as far afield as Korea and Japan (where they seem to love embroidered teacosy covers in particular!) as well as much closer to home. I adore the rescue aspects of all this, as much as anything else. It's so rewarding to buy a box of embroidered or lacy table linens, at auction - sometimes dusty and grubby because they may have been stored in an attic - soak them, wash them, freshen them and then see them go to new homes, and a useful life!  I can't count how many times people have said to me 'nobody wants these any more, do they?' But actually, you know, they do. So good luck to Angel with her wonderful vintage look, her stylish cakes and clothes, and her planned Vintage Patisserie. I haven't seen anything quite so exciting since my first visit to Demel's in Vienna (another fabulous vintage patisserie) many years ago!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 Tips on Placing Antiques in the Home

This week, The Scottish Home is delighted to introduce a guest post contributed by London Interior Designer Greg Kinsella. We find these tips fascinating, since it's a sad fact that too many of us impulsively buy wonderful antique or vintage items, but are then not entirely sure how best to display them in our homes!

There are certain rules of thumb you can employ for placing antiques in your home so that they exude just the right amount of charm without being pretentious or over-bearing. Here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your treasured collections:

1. Grouping

Any savvy merchandiser will tell you that placing an odd number of similar pieces of collectible antiques in a display will create the most appealing arrangement. So when arranging items on a shelf, follow this rule to draw the eye. Also you want to be sure not to group items of different genres together. In other words, it is better to have a shelf just for your glass antiques and come up with a different way to display antiques of another material or style.

2. Furniture Placement

To create a specific sense of an particular era, you can make theme placements for your antique furniture that feature a certain style in a room. For instance, if you have a collection of furnishings from a certain era, put them all in the same area and add any knick-knacks that match that time period in the same area, especially lamps and artwork.

3. Colours

When you paint the rooms containing your antiques, try to paint at least one wall the same color tone as your displays and furnishings. For pottery and earthware collections, choose a soft beige or brick red hue that will accent their natural colors If you are working with items like French provincial furniture, consider using a soft yellow or cinnamon color to highlight the decorative inlays and hardware features.

4. Mixing Vintage with Modern

Don't be shy about adding a few antique pieces to your ultra-modern rooms. The contrast between the old and the new accents your antiques and softens the stark effect which often results from the clean, modern lines of contemporary room designs.

5. Lighting

If your beautiful antique collection is not well lit, it runs the risk of not being noticed. Use embedded lights in display cases that eliminate shadows and have different watt bulbs for various items. Also consider overhead lighting fixtures or recessed ceiling spotlights to accent antique artwork or furniture groupings. A pair of vintage lamps strategically placed in your groupings can be used to add splashes of light to accent your most valued collections

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Bonnie Old Blankets

There is nothing quite like an old Scottish pure wool blanket for warmth, beauty and comfort. Most of the examples I come across here in Ayrshire are from the now defunct Skeldon Mill on the bonnie banks of the River Doon - and I've blogged about these on The Scottish Home before. But blanket weaving was widespread in Scotland and occasionally I come across other lovely examples. Just last week, I found two splendid soft woollen blankets with the label 'Lammermuir', registered in Scotland and Canada. I haven't been able to find out anything more about this presumably old blanket mill, although there is a new company - Pride of Lammermuir - in the foothills of the Lammermuir Hills, making the most beautiful traditional woven textiles.

People used to acquire these as wedding presents - some of them seem to have been put away and saved 'for best' and never used, which is a shame, since these are the most forgiving of textiles, and can usually be washed, even in a machine.

They look fabulous used as throws on a couch, or chair, or to dress a bed - or on children's beds. You have to be careful that a child with sensitive skin doesn't react to the wool, but I've found these blankets to be so soft that it's seldom a problem. Sadly, here in Scotland, these vintage blankets are so often thoughtlessly cut up for 'dog blankets' which seems like a crime to me.

In the old days, most village weavers would have woven their own blankets which were then taken to be treated at a 'waulk mill'. You can often see this term in placenames, especially in Southern Scotland, and in fact we have the remains of an old waulk mill just outside this village - and documentary evidence that the landowner, up in his big house, would sometimes have been paid rents in 'good woollen blankets'. Given the nature of our winters, they would have been very welcome indeed!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lovely Old Buttons, Lovely Old Box

A little while ago, I found this lovely box of linen covered buttons, among various old linens at auction.

I just love the name of these - 'The Iris Box of Superior Buttons, containing an assortment of the most useful sizes.' These must be Victorian or Edwardian - the kind of buttons that you often find on the back of pillowcases, or sometimes on old nighties. There's something incredibly engaging about the design of these surviving items of packaging - they sometimes seem to retain a flavour of the period more than the items themselves - perhaps because it is so rare to find them in good condition!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ardkinglas Gardens

To reach this wonderful hillside garden you have to negotiate the famous (or should that be infamous) Rest And Be Thankful. The entrance is well signposted, just before you round the head of Loch Fyne - where you can visit the famous Oyster Bar, if you want to sample some first class seafood! For those with less deep pockets, however, right next to the Oyster Bar is a little garden centre, The Tree Shop, with an excellent cafe where you can get freshly made sandwiches, home baking and a very good cup of coffee. You can also buy plants, shrubs and some rare trees, grown at Ardkinglas, on the other side of the loch. This is a hillside garden, so you need to be reasonably fit to negotiate the many steps, but the pinetum, where you can see champion trees like these, is more accessible. The formidable Scottish midges were having a field day when we went a couple of weeks ago, so be sure to bring some insect repellent. They don't actually like me, for some reason, and only bite me when nothing more succulent is available. I'm delighted about this, but it does nothing to help my companions, especially my husband, who is always mercilessly attacked. The gardens themselves are beautiful and the trees, including the tallest tree in the UK, Abies Grandis, are absolutely wonderful. There's something humbling about standing beneath one of these giants, and gazing up among the dizzying branches. These are monumental trees, trees with personality - well worth a small diversion, if you find yourself heading west from Loch Lomond.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Rare Old Scots Lowland Plaid

I've only ever come across one of these before - most of them have been so well used that they don't survive or are cut up for dog blankets - but I sourced this here in Ayrshire, which seems fitting, since it's exactly the kind of thing poet Robert Burns might have worn. It actually looks rather as though he DID wear it, as well, since it has so many holes, and has been darned so often over the years! It is a traditional hand woven woollen, lowland Scots plaid, in cream and black check - very large indeed at 42 inches by 120 inches. It's what Burns meant when he spoke of rolling a lassie 'in his plaidie' and seemingly Jean Armour noticed him because he wore his plaid differently from the other lads, as well as tying his hair in a fashionable way - a stylish young man, our Rab!

Often, when I'm handling an old textile, I find myself really wishing that they could talk. Well, they do talk, in a way. Each piece has its own story and it's possible to do your research, and to find out something about that history. Also, wearing my other hat, as a writer, I always find myself imagining what the tale of each individual textile might be. But sometimes it would be very nice to know exactly what went on - who wove this, and where, who wore it, where he lived, what he looked like...
Meanwhile, another bit of news. I'm trying to persuade a friend who is a wonderful interior designer, with a real flair for these things, to do the occasional guest post on upcycling with old textiles. She has more brilliant ideas than anyone else I know, so watch this space for more possibilities.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Hearing a terrible commotion in our conservatory yesterday, a sort of demented clattering noise, we went in to find a huge insect trying to find a way out. With a little patience, we managed to usher it gently towards the open door - but I must admit it was alarming because it was just so big! As my son observed, it looked about the size of a bat when it was flying about. It was a dragonfly, and large even by dragonfly standards. Once outside, it rested for a while on the wall, obviously recovering from the trauma and I managed to take a picture. We've looked it up and think that it must be a 'golden ringed' dragonfly which is the biggest British species. I have seen these before, but usually up in the hills. I'm now wondering if the larva hatched in our pond, or if it came from elsewhere in the village. Dragonflies have short, beautiful lives, and are said to be very lucky. The Japanese believe that they are harbingers of new light, and joy, while in many cultures they are said to herald prosperity! Let's hope so!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Textures and textiles.

Part of the charm of the gardens at Castle Kennedy lies in the succession of viewpoints - like the one on the left. There really is nothing quite like the light in the West of Scotland, and perhaps this is especially true in spring-time and early summer. There's a stillness and clarity about the days that I've seen nowhere else (unless like today, of course, when it has been raining all day!) and that in turn seems to emphasise the rich textures and colours of this landscape. I often think there must be some kind of correspondence between my love of old textiles, my interest in the old gardens, and the colours and textures of the Scottish countryside - and my desire to write about all of these in some form or other. They DO come together quite often, mostly in my fiction, I suppose. I still don't write very much poetry these days, although I did return to it for a brief spell - but it isn't where I'm most comfortable. If I could choose what to do with my time, I think I would spend most of my days writing novels, and short stories, with the occasional play, just to keep me on my toes! But I know that textiles and textures will always inspire me, whatever I write, fiction or fact.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Castle Kennedy

This time last weekend, we were coming home from a spectacularly wonderful day spent at Castle Kennedy, not far from Stranraer. I don't know why we haven't visited these gardens before, but I can recommend them. And - fortuitously - we arrived at precisely the right time of year, since the rhodies and azaleas were at their very best.
There is something soothing about this garden that is immensely appealing - perhaps it's the fact that every vista is so beautiful, and perhaps that the pathways are all of soft grass, which makes the walking very easy. All I can say is that it was one of the best days out I have had for some time - and I want to go back again as soon as possible. Not only that, but they were having a plant sale too - irresistible!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Irish Crochet Lace in Silk

This is another amazing find from the bottom of a box of very old and beautiful linen and lace but at first I didn't recognise it for what it is! Most of the Irish Crochet Lace which I have come across until now has been made in very fine cotton - but this seemed quite different, flimsy and silky. I soon realised that it was made in ultra fine silk thread - which probably indicates that it is older than usual - an Irish Crochet collar, made, with wonderful skill, in imitation of Italian Gros Point needlelace. But crochet it is - and there are shamrocks and roses among the flowers, which are so characteristic of this lovely old form of Irish lace. This looks as though it may have sat on top of a dress - it could be worn either way, with the point at the front or the back. It may well be Victorian. I think I'd be inclined to frame it up and simply admire it!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dressmaking Samplers

I found these pieces of textile, carefully wrapped up in a small paper bag at the bottom of a box full of absolutely wonderful old linen and lace. And just at first, I wondered what on earth they could be! Because I had never seen anything like them before. They looked, at first glance, like parts of a garment, because they had buttonholes, buttons, pintucks, frills and darts. But when you looked more closely, you couldn't imagine what on earth that garment might be. One of them had a date - 1894 - embroidered on it in tiny red cross stitches, with sets of initials. One was in fine cotton, and one in flannel, with the work in blue thread. Every little piece of needlework was slightly different, and all of it very skilled. And then it struck me - these must be samplers of dressmaking - i.e. useful - needlework! I suppose the children of those who were reasonably well off might do conventional embroidered samplers, while the children of those who would be expected to make their living as seamstresses, might produce these 'useful needlework' samplers, so that they would know how to make garments of all kinds. Isn't that interesting? I find these pieces incredibly moving - I've never come across anything like them before and I'm amazed by how difficult it has been to find references to anything similar online. I wonder if they may have been made in so called industrial schools? Certainly, somebody took the immense trouble to keep them safe for over 100 years. So they deserve to be appreciated, and perhaps added to a collection of samplers.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Gorgeous Chinese Five Clawed Dragon

I've blogged before about the enchantment of buying boxes of old textiles at auction, and then bringing them home to find out exactly what I've got. I spend plenty of time looking through these boxes on viewing day, especially when I think the price might be high, so I have to judge how much I want to spend without indulging in 'auction fever'. But every now and then, I bring something home and realise that - not only have I got a lovely collection - but I've come across something that I really want to keep. This happened to me yesterday, with what, at first glance, seemed like a nice but not especially unusual collection of old linen, lace and embroidery. I bid on it, bought it, and carried it home. Last night, I sat down to sort through it. It soon became clear that there were some wonderfully fine linens, smooth and cool - this old bleached Irish linen can feel like silk - with embroidery, cutwork and fine crochet edging. There was a little linen bag full of lace, including a piece of something so miraculously fine that I've never come across it before, but suspect it may be Alencon lace from France. There were a couple of unusual 'samplers' not the usual cross-stitch affairs, but late nineteenth century dressmaking samplers, presumably to teach young girls useful skills, like darts, buttonholes, frills, seams, cuffs etc.

And there was the dragon.

Isn't he gorgeous?

He is, I believe, a Chinese, Five Clawed Dragon, immensely lucky and - in spite of his fierce appearance - a Very Good Thing. He is in three dimensional, padded, couched, metal thread embroidery on red silk - a bit worn and damaged in places - with another two dragons above the main man.

I believe this was a Taoist altar frontal, but if anyone knows better, please do let me know. I adore Chinese and Japanese embroideries, but I have to say that they are not my speciality. I would really love to be able to make them my speciality, to research them and to find out much much more about them! Meanwhile, I think I'm going to have to keep my lovely dragon for the moment. I'll sell everything else in the box and see if I can afford him. But he needs a little restoration and preservation, so we'll just have to see.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Time Shift - Irish Crochet and Bel Broid Lingerie

Occasionally, as I've said before on this blog, I come across fascinating things in the bottom of boxes of old linen bought at auction. A couple of weeks ago, I unearthed another of these objects which open a whole world of other interesting references, material for yet more novels and short stories (which I can't find enough time to write although I'm working on it!)
This one is a delicate antique nightie, which I think dates from before the 1920s. My first thought was that it might be French, but it has pretty and undeniably Irish crochet inserts on the bodice and on the little sleeves. It is in some ultra fine, soft, light white material which I think may be old fashioned 'cambric' - a simple, long garment, with the most beautiful whitework embroidery. I can't remember when I last saw such a pretty piece of lingerie. There is a tiny blue label sewn in at the bottom hem, which reads 'Bel Broid Lingerie' and this gave me the clue I needed to find its origin. I found the following on a genealogy site:

Rose Gallagher was born about 1877. She died on 24 March 1941. She is buried at Monaghan, Ireland. Rose and her husband Charles had a factory "The Bel-broid" located in Mill Street, Monaghan, which manufactured hand embroidered linens and lingerie. They operated two embroidery factories, one in Monaghan and one just across the border in Northern Ireland.

So this infinitely stylish garment, which had been stored away in some Scottish linen cupboard for heaven knows how many years, originated in a small factory in Monaghan, in Ireland. The writer and historian in me immediately wanted to know more, much more. But that's one piece of research that will have to be filed away for a little while, since I have so much other writing on hand at the moment, including revising about 120,000 words of fiction before the end of April. But all the same, I may go back to this one. Who was Rose Gallagher? Why did she open the factory, and who were the women who worked there? I'd love to know more. So if anyone out there does know more, perhaps they could let me know, via this blog!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gorgous Embroidered Tablecloths for Spring

I must confess to having a really soft spot for those gorgeous little embroidered tablecloths that so many women seemed to make back in the 1940s and 50s. My dear late mum was one of them, and I still have several of them, beautifully embroidered by her like a little link to my own past. I also have piles of her old Stitchcraft magazines, and browsing through them from time to time, I'm a child again, back at home, with my mum, trying to decide on her next project. Even thinking about it gives me a strange combination of pleasure and sadness! All of which means that when I find a box of beautifully embroidered old linen at auction, as I did last week, I'm disproportionately ecstatic. People who don't have the same passion can never quite understand it, but even my husband, who mostly irons this stuff, was moved to say 'hey - these are so beautifully embroidered. I couldn't tell the front from the back!'
There's an example here, with flowers and butterflies embroidered on linen - all the flowers of late spring and summer in Scotland, honeysuckle, wild roses and many others - exquisite.
I believe, as well, that these little cloths are bang on trend if the country lifestyle magazines are to be believed here in the UK. Sophie Dahl, who begins a new cookery series, on UK television this week, has a fondness for embroidered tablecloths and I can think of nothing nicer, to celebrate Easter, than a proper teatime spread, with cupcakes, dainty sandwiches, and real tea served in china cups - all on these prettily embroidered tablecloths. OK, so we're 'playing at the fifties' a bit! But it's a harmless pleasure, so why not?

Friday, March 05, 2010

An Antique Scottish Sampler

Found a lovely and obviously very old Scottish sampler at auction the other day. From the format, I would judge that it was made in the early 1800s, and by a very young girl at that. There is, sadly, no date on this one, but close examination reveals the name Mary Young, of Ayr and there are also other initials, perhaps her parents and siblings. There is a flowering tree, in the typically Scots 'strawberry' pattern and a number of birds including robins, as well as some small, but rather stately looking homes. The whole thing is faded but charming and when you think that this is a piece of needlework which may have survived for almost 200 years, and perhaps dates from a time when this cottage where we are living was actually under construction - well, it becomes all the more marvellous. Part of the reason why I love textiles so much - such an intimate connection with the past!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Introducing the Sewing Box Toys

Once upon a time, there was a family of toys. They were very very old and a bit grubby and more than a little the worse for wear, which was strange, because they had been living in a sewing box together, quite happily, for many years. But nobody had thought to stitch them, or help them in any way.
There was a big ted with a flat face, a smiley mouth and only one eye. There was a little ted with googly eyes, and black ears. There was a very very small ted with no eyes. There was a fluffy rabbit, with a green ribbon round his neck. And there was the penguin.
What were their names? I'm not sure yet.
Wait for the next thrilling installment to find out!