Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Intriguing Old Scottish Sampler

I came across this sampler in our local saleroom in the West of Scotland, and am currently listing it in my eBay shop, here.  It is naive, not especially old or neat, but charming and very intriguing indeed.  It was made by one Maggie Blackhall in 1887 and from the look of it, I reckon she was quite a little girl. As well as the more usual alphabets, the house, a tree - with a nice red bird sitting on top of it - a characterful cat and various match-stick figures, there is a sailing ship.The ship (detail below) has its name stitched under it although half the name is obliterated by the frame.

It is, however, unmistakably the Lusitania. Most of us equate that name with the ship which was sunk in 1915, but this was clearly a much older Lusitania - a clipper of some sort. A little online research reveals that a ship called The Lusitania arrived in Albany, Australia, in November of 1887, sailing from London. She had only twelve passengers which suggests that she was a cargo ship of some kind. I couldn't find young Margaret Blackhall anywhere online, but the sampler was sourced here in Scotland and the Blackhall family of Greenock were associated with shipping - there is still a West Blackhall Street close to the waterfront, in that town. It was at this point, of course,that my novelist's imagination started to work overtime! Why was Maggie Blackhall sewing a picture of the ship into her sampler, early in 1887? Was somebody she loved very much - an elder brother perhaps - setting sail on the Lusitania? What became of him? What became of her, for that matter? And did she ever see him again?  These are the kind of questions writers always find themselves asking, and it is in this way that stories are born!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gorgeous Shawls, Tartan and Early Edinburgh

This week, in my ebay shop, I'm listing a couple of amazing and very old shawls - great textile and costume survivals. One is - as you can see from the picture - a beautiful old tartan crinoline shawl. The craze for tartan probably originated with Queen Victoria who loved all things Scottish (including, allegedly, John Brown!) The shawl is such beautiful colours, although it has bits of damage in the shape of moth holes and a couple of little tears, here and there. But something to be treasured, all the same.

 And the second shawl of the week is this delicately beautiful paisley patterned Kashmir style shawl but I'm told that this one is, in fact, a very early Edinburgh hand woven shawl, from about 1820. I hardly ever find something so old and so beautiful, so it's really exciting for me, and my imagination is working overtime on it! I can feel some stories coming on.  It's square, designed for a slimmer silhouette than a crinoline and when I think about it, it dates from the time when this cottage was newly built. The woven border is delicate and intricate and floral while the soft fabric itself is very fine with a wonderful sheen to it.

When you look at the back, (see picture below) you can see that the weaving technique is quite different from later paisley shawls. Amazing and moving to find something which has survived for almost 200 years in reasonably good condition. And something which would have been worn not long after the death of Robert Burns. Which could even have been worn - for example - by Nancy McLehose, Burns' Clarinda, in her later years.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Brenda's Beautiful Fruit Sculpture

We hosted a summer barbecue in our garden yesterday. It started at 2 in the afternoon and finished at about 11 o'clock at night so it was a busy, sociable day. Since barbecue food is quite rich, I'd bought masses of fresh fruit, especially strawberries and stone fruits such as greengages and apricots, and when my friend Brenda Kevan, who was staying with us over the weekend, asked if she could do something, I suggested that she make a fruit sculpture, using a beautiful big turned wooden bowl that Alan bought me a while ago. Here it is:

Isn't it beautiful?

Brenda, incidentally, is absolutely brilliant at interior design and all kinds of associated 'vintage' things. She and her husband John have worked as wedding photographers for many years, and very good they are too, but I think Brenda's first love has always been design - creating a 'look' just for pleasure. Whenever you get a gift from Brenda, it will be beautifully wrapped and embellished with some wonderful and original little extra. One Christmas, for instance, all our gifts had small, flat beach pebbles with our names and the year written on them. I have them still, tucked into my Christmas pot pourri. She has made a design paradise of a little studio at the bottom of her garden in Lancashire, and her house is full of fascinating corners and collections including an outdoor 'room' where - whenever we're visiting - we eat and drink in inspiring surroundings. She's so full of excellent ideas that I always think it's a shame that she doesn't do this kind of design full time. I suspect if given the opportunity, she would be able to provide material (and illustrations) for a dozen interesting books!