Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Old Crochet, Tatting and Embroidery Pattern Books

My mum taught me to knit and crochet when I was young. And back in the late sixties, early seventies crochet because a useful craft, because crocheted dresses and smocks were very much in fashion. Somewhere among my vast quantities of books (every room in this house has books in it!) there are my mum's old Stitchcraft Pattern Books - she used to buy the magazine, and had them bound together. Just glancing at them takes me back to a more innocent but - for me, anyway - very happy time. My mum could knit, embroider, sew and crochet and the clothes she made for me back then, some of which I still have tucked away, were the envy of all my friends. In fact I wore the pink crocheted smock (below) which she made for me back in the very early 70s, to a 1960s party only a couple of years ago!


Sometimes, I'll find a bundle of old pattern books at the bottom of a box of vintage linens and I'm currently listing some of these in three lots, in The Scottish Home on eBay. Some of them are instructions for tatting, which I find very pretty, but still don't know how to do. Many of them are for crochet doilies, edgings, gorgeous filet crochet trims for tablecloths - I recognise some of the patterns from various items of old linen and lace which I have listed over the years. And some of them are wonderful survivals from the 1930s,  paper transfers for all kinds of embroideries, including instructions for Mountmellick embroidery.

The ads at the back of these booklets are fabulous. 'Every lady knows the pleasure derived from the making of dainty underwear, the embroidery of which is enhanced by using Briggs Trousseau Pure Silk, for fine embroidery on underclothing,' says one. How times have changed! There are ads for Old Bleach linens from Ireland, 'bleached by the sun' and for wool from Templeton's Mill in Ayr, sadly long gone.

I love ephemera such as these - they are the kind of things that transport you straight back to the past. You can read as many history books as you like, but nothing beats the immediacy of these booklets that recreate so vividly a world we have lost.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

House Martins

I've been looking out for them for a little while now, although it's still quite early, for Scotland. We said goodbye to the house martins that congregated in the village, way back in September. It's always a sad day when the last one leaves, because it's a sure sign that winter is on its way. And then we forgot about them, and fed the robins and sparrows and most of all the jackdaws that populate our chimneys right through the winter. I love these birds - they seem to be such characters, such individuals, as I watch them out of my bathroom window! Perhaps they appreciate the central heating. Smoke doesn't seem to bother them, and they have been replenishing their nests for some months now. But round about now, we generally remember the swallows and the house martins and hope they make it back again. Then a friend said that the swallows and martins were on Arran and I thought it wouldn't be too long before they were back here, too.

Sitting out in the garden tonight, drinking a glass of wine with relatives, we saw the first of them, three or four, those characteristic shapes silhouetted against the sky. More will come. And soon. There is the remains of last year's nest, on our gable end, and the fiery little sparrows have not yet commandeered it. So we're hoping that the house martins hurry up, that soon we'll see them swooping past, that they will build here again. They're lucky birds, you see. Or that's what we believe. It's a lucky house that shelters them. And we're always glad when they choose our house for their summer season!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Our Cottage Garden - Angelica and Rhubarb Fool.

Have spent the week struggling to divide my time between work and gardening. Not that gardening isn't work - just that it isn't paid work, or even potentially paid work. But our large cottage garden is just at that point in the year where it all suddenly starts to get away from us- and since were away last week, it's doubly urgent to try to get on top of the ground elder (hollow laugh) before it gets on top of everything else.
It's the time of year when the angelica starts to grow with a vengeance. It's also the time of year when I promise myself that I will candy some stems before they get too 'woody' - but so far, I haven't done it. Maybe this will be the year. I'm a bit haphazard in my country pursuits. I love making things, but the need to earn a living does rather get in the way of my attempts to float about the garden with sunhat and trug, looking elegant and gathering my own produce in the manner of those illustrated magazine articles or television programmes that make country life seem so enticing.
You can see the fresh green leaves in among the tulips and hyacinths, and a fair mixture of weeds, in the picture. A friend from England gave me an angelica plant a few years ago, and now it self seeds at the bottom of the garden. I let it grow where it wants, just pulling up the odd plant when it gets too prolific. It smells wonderful, good enough to eat, and forms a very beautiful plant - tall and stately with enormous seed heads which I cut and use in flower displays. Last summer, when we had our village 'open gardens' event, it was the big talking point among the steady stream of visitors - hardly anyone knew what it was, which makes me think it might not be very common up here in Scotland. It certainly likes our garden though.
The big clump of rhubarb alongside the angelica is also growing at a rate of knots. I made a luscious rhubarb fool yesterday, cooking the rhubarb in the slow cooker with brown sugar and some chunks of crystallised ginger, draining off most of the juice and making it into extra syrup, with a bit more sugar, (Nigella suggests adding this to champagne. I may give it a go with Prosecco since we don't quite run to champagne yet) and then folding the fruit and ginger through a mixture of whipped cream and Greek yoghurt. You have to chill it, preferably overnight. Not exactly low calorie, but delicious!
Whenever my late mum served up something from the garden, even if it was only one vegetable in a whole meal, my dear late dad, who loved his garden, loved to grow fruit and vegetables of all kinds, would heave a sigh of satisfaction and say 'Everything home grown then?'
This lunch time, my husband ate a mouthful of rhubarb fool.
'Mmm,' he said. 'Everything home grown then?'

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Old North Country - English - Home (just for a change!)

Just back from a week in England, reminding myself of how many of my roots are still firmly embedded in the North Country. We had a couple of nights in very comfortable self catering accommodation in a small and highly picturesque Cumbrian village called Orton, but it was when we were walking through the village that we saw the above fascinating house and barn. The first time we saw it was at twilight on a misty, murky night, and it looked exceedingly ghostly. The next morning, however, the sun came out, and I could take some pictures. The date above the door reads 1604, but the house looks Elizabethan and I suspect that the date records some kind of rebuilding or alteration. This is Orton Old Hall, (as opposed to the Jacobean Orton Hall, which was where we were staying) better known as Petty Hall, after one of the families which fell heir to it, some time in the 1600s. The building is stunningly beautiful - even the glass in the windows looks as if it might date from 1604 or earlier!
Later that day, we discovered this waterfall, about mid way between Appleby and Orton. Driving across open moorland, between the two places, we paused to breathe in fresh air. The sky above the moorland was loud with skylarks - a bird I don't hear too often these days, even in the part of rural Scotland where we live. It reminded me of all those days with my mum and dad, when I was a little girl, spent walking and picnicking on the Yorkshire moors, not a million miles from this place. If I could ever bring myself to leave Scotland, I think it would only be to go back to Yorkshire or somewhere nearby. Somehow, the North Country always feels like home.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A Wonderful Victorian Beaded Crinoline Shawl

I'm about to list this wonderful Victorian 'crinoline' shawl in my eBay shop, The Scottish Home, but it's been a joy to have it in my possession for a little while - and yet again a learning experience for somebody with an interest in textiles. It's a huge shawl, but the pattern is designed to be folded in half, and then made into a triangle, so that it looks lovely when worn and the two areas of dense embroidery and beading show up to best advantage. (For some reason, the fringe doesn't quite fit in with this, or perhaps I'm folding it wrongly!)
The fabric is fine, soft wool, dense black, although it looks a little grey in these pictures. The embroidery is exquisite, and looks like the fine Chinese embroidery you get on those wonderful Cantonese shawls, which may well be the case - perhaps made for the export market. And among the embroidery is lots of beautiful black beading, jet beads? That's what they look like, but I can't be sure.
I assumed at first that this was a 'mourning' shawl, since the Victorians wore their mourning for a very long time after bereavement - but in fact, black itself was fashionable in Victorian times, so this may simply have been viewed as the very classy and expensive shawl it undoubtedly is. The fashion for black in part originated with Queen Victoria who spent most of her long life in mourning for poor Albert, but the knock on effect of this was that ladies wanted to imitate her!
This is a beautiful textile though and -  apart from a small scattering of moth holes in one little area - it is in almost perfect condition. You could wear it on any fashionable evening occasion and guarantee that nobody else will have one like it!