Tagged: hearts

Dec 31

Scrap of the week #27

 

This little heart is made from a small scrap of window-cleaner’s scrim, a leftover from a waistcoat I made twenty-something years ago. Yes, a waistcoat; I really, really like utility fabrics: ticking, scrim, hessian, calico, cambric: plain, simple, honest, serviceable (that wonderfully old-fashioned word) fabrics, and I have a habit of trying to use them in unusual ways. I think I pushed the envelope a bit with that waistcoast which sagged and bagged enough to test the sartorial patience of a hobbit. But it’s good to experiment. Anyway, if evidence were needed that I really do cherish all scraps, this little piece of insignificant scrim is it. Remember: there are no worthless scraps, just scraps waiting for the right project to come along.

Love heart

Scrim is a loosely woven light canvas cloth made of cotton, hessian or linen. The only version I’m familiar with is the linen window-cleaning type, held in high esteem by glass cleaners because of its absorbent, lint-free and and non-smearing properties. I bought this way back whenever in John Lewis, but you can also find it sold by the metre at upholstery suppliers or in packets from purveyors of old-fashioned cleaning supplies, and very good value it is too. The handle improves as it is washed and worked. Scrim of a slightly different variety is also used much in the theatre as something onto which or through which to project light for various effects; there seems to be a wonderful product called sharktooth scrim which I’ve yet to encounter, but when I do I’ll count my fingers and toes afterwards.

A word full of chewily onomatopoeic potential, ‘scrim’ sounds like it should be anglo-saxon or medieval but is actually late eighteenth century, and of unknown origin. If there hasn’t been a Dickensian character named Scrim (of spare physique and mean as mustard) there really should have been. Please put me right if there’s a literary creature out there bearing the name and you’ll really make my day.

To create this little heart, I wanted to use counted cross stitch technique, something I’ve only done in small amounts but which I’ve long admired, particularly in the form of classic marking stitches, the day-to-day needlework which would have eaten women’s time a century of two ago. Time for me to have a go. I first embroidered my motif, following an old DMC handbook of marking stitches, carefully counting my threads. Note that I left my small square of scrim intact for the embroidering – didn’t cut out my heart until I’d completed the embroidery part, because I needed all the fabric I could muster to hold well within my tiny embroidery hoop. When cross-stitching, it’s good to place your work in an embroidery hoop to keep it stable and supported, particularly on something as flexible (for that read ‘wayward’) as scrim, or these soft linen scraps featured as my previous Scrap of the Week. It’s also worth lining your hoop in white cotton seam binding or strips of cotton if you’d prefer (as shown below – you can see towards the bottom how it’s been stitched to secure it) to minimise creasing of your work caused by the hard edges of the hoop. It will also help your hoop grip the work securely.

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For the stitching, I used regular skeins of embroidery cotton. And you know what? It was fun. There’s something very satisfying in simply following a chart. All you have to do is crunch the data.

Amongst my most treasured sewing books are copies of these old DMC needlework books: The Embroiderer’s Alphabet is one of my favourites. Just look at this beautiful page picked at random.

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Issues of the books are undated but the first was published around 1910. It was reissued time and again in English, German, French and Italian. Most of the book is cross-stitch charts, running to some 90 pages. The designs are eye-wateringly elaborate.

Imagine monogramming your sheets, towels or hankies like this?

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Maybe adding a suitable crown?

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Or just embroidering a seasonal scene on a cushion, or nightgown case?

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I am listing some DMC cross-stitch books on Etsy. This 8th edition of The Embroiderer’s Alphabet is sadly missing its back cover, but the pages are clean and tight in their binding still. And, wonderfully, all of the glassine transfers are intact.

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Back to my scrim heart, once finished with the embroidering (it didn’t take long), I cut out two heart-shaped pieces (my template was a large cookie-cutter) allowing a small quarter-inch seam allowance. I seamed the two together, remembering to leave a biggish hole down one side of the heart for turning and filling. I clipped the curved edges at the top of the heart to ensure that they would sit nicely, trimmed the point at the bottom of the heart (same reason), then turned my heart right side out and filled it with wadding (but it would have been lovely with lavender). A quick slip-stitch of the opening and it was complete.

Sending you love and cross-stitchy blessings this New Year’s Eve! Roll on 2013!

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Dec 29

For the love of gingerbread

 

“Maybe my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine.”

― Tove JanssonTravelling Light

 

I’m guessing I’m not alone in adoring gingerbread. Spicy, warming and irresistible, it also comes with a raft of great stories, often intertwining themes of love and death. Fine medieval ladies offered their jousting knights gingerbread favours, sometimes pressed into heart shapes. In German fairytale, Hansel & Gretel were lured by the cannibalistic witch’s gingerbread house. And America gave us the Gingerbread Boy who ran away from the old couple who’d made him, but who would also eat him. Why the link between gingerbread and cannibalism? If there’s a psychoanalyst in the house, please make yourself known.

As befits a foodstuff that’s been with us since the middle ages, there’s quite a range of recipes. We have gingerbread: the cake and gingerbread: the biscuit. And before that we had gingerbread: the pressed mix of ground almonds, breadcrumbs, honey and spices (or just some of the above), from which the pre-impalement knightly nibbles would have been constructed. Here’s a nice article about some of the oldest gingerbread, complete with recipes. Different nations and regions have boasted gingerbread superiority. It’s a wonder we don’t need a dedicated Gingerbread Council at the United Nations.

For the past decade or so I’ve been making the biscuit kind of gingerbread for my own family at Christmas time. I may be in denial, but it’s my observation that it engenders a simple pleasure response from my nearest and dearest and very little, if any, conflict. Sometimes I go to town and ice the gingerbread to hang from the Christmas tree. Sometimes I just leave it plain for eating right away, warm from the oven. It’s got to the point where Christmas doesn’t feel quite right without a batch, the scent of the spiced baking suffusing the house. Mince pies I could do without, but I would really miss gingerbread. This is a little curious because it wasn’t something my own mother made.

Gingerbread hearts

Gingerbread cooling

This year’s batch was plain and simple, and my youngest helped stamp out the shapes.

Another thing that I’ve fallen for over the past decade or so is the Moomin books of Tove Jansson. I didn’t encounter them as a child, but my own kids have loved having them read to them. Besides a pleasing blend of cosiness and adventure, and a variety of quirky characters, there is an extraordinary emotional honesty within those books which is rare in children’s literature. If you’d like to know more, there’s a wonderful documentary about Tove Jansson currently viewable on BBC iPlayer. I’ve only recently discovered that she wrote books for adults too; reading them is one of my least onerous new year’s resolutions.

 

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Jan 12

Hearts & Garlands

 

 

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. I don’t usually give it a huge amount of attention. 2012 is slightly more interesting though because it’s a leap year when girls are traditionally entitled to pop the question.

This set me thinking about unusual and ingenious declarations of love. Well, how about making a garland which speaks your mind? You could sneak in a secret message, hide a billet doux (‘Be Mine!’) amongst a string of pretty paper hearts. Or forge hearts out of meaningful papers: maps of where you met, for instance, or even old  – be sure they’re really expendable! – photos. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Heart garland, folded

Heart garland, folded

 

Well, if you can get to Bath and are free on Thursday morning on 26th January, do come along to the Hearts & Garlands workshop and discover 5 different heart-themed strung decorations, all upcycled from scrap textile or paper. All materials are supplied, though do bring along any special ephemera that you’d like to include. We’ll be using a variety of  tools and materials and you’ll also get a garland kit to take home (besides whatever else you make on the day). Here’s where you can book your place. There are more details of workshops/classes on my Classes page .

Scrap paper garland

Make me!

 

A word about the venue: Crockadoodledo is a delightful location where you can paint crockery and also find a charming selection of handpicked gifts and cards, many made locally. Parking nearby is largely unrestricted. Crockadoodledo isn’t open every day so do consult their website or give them a ring before you set out.

 

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May 14

My first sewing machine #4: Abby Harris

Abby Harris of Bubs Bears

Abby Harris of Bubs Bears

I’m delighted to be able to present the story of Abby Harris‘s first sewing machine, another interview in my continuing series. Do check out my previously posted interviews with Ruth Singer and Julia Laing.

I met Abby when we were both running stalls at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair here in Bath. She was selling her lovingly hand-crafted Bubs Bears, which are often upcycled or contain vintage elements (such as some lovely buttons which she bought from yours truly). Leaving a small ecological footprint is clearly important to her. Abby also makes bespoke keepsake teddies, crafted from a customer’s personally significant textiles, such as baby clothes, wedding dress, or the garments of a lost loved-one. Some are patchworked from several special garments. She creates lots of other charming items including peg bags, lavender hearts, bags, cushions, button pins, magnets, hair clips and cards. Abby blogs, can be found on Facebook here and sells on Folksy.

More of Abby's makingsSome of Abby’s charming makings
Recycled sweater bear

Upcycled sweater bear

ScrapianaTell me about your first sewing machine, Abby. Can you remember its make, model and colour?

Abby: My first sewing machine was a Toyota, I don’t remember the model but it was a fairly basic one.

Abby's first sewing machine

Abby's first sewing machine: a Toyota

Scrapiana: Was it gifted or borrowed?

Abby: It was a joint birthday present for my 21st (I think) birthday from my then boyfriend and my parents.

Scrapiana: Nice gift! Do you still have it? If you got rid of it, where did it go?

Abby: I do still have my first machine as I only stopped using it last year after 15 years. At the moment it is on loan to my mother-in-law as hers is broken, but soon I hope to get it back so my eldest daughter can use it as she is showing a keen interest in sewing.

Scrapiana: How lovely that your daughter will be able to use it too! So, what’s your earliest memory of sewing? What did you make, and who taught you?

Abby: I remember doing a bit of sewing at school. I think we made and printed our own t-shirts; mine had yellow footprints on it. Other than that I learned mostly from watching my mum. She studied fashion at college and used to make all our clothes, as well as doing dressmaking and alterations for other people.

Scrapiana: At that time it was quite unusual to have your mother making all your clothes. I imagine she made a great sewing teacher, then. What was your first big sewing project?

Funky floral bear

Abby: My first big project was a dress for my daughter to wear to a wedding. It was a real challenge as it was a silky fabric and had two layers. But it fit her, and she got lots of compliments. I’ve never tried making another though!

Scrapiana: What did your first machine do especially well, or particularly badly?

Abby: It was terrible at keeping the correct tension, and kept jamming the fabric up under the foot. In hindsight I should have had it serviced regularly – when it finally got so bad last year that I had to take it in to be looked at, they gave me a good telling off when I admitted it hadn’t even been oiled in 15 years! While it was being serviced they loaned me an old Bernina. When I saw it my first thoughts were “oh my God, I am not going to be able to do my work on that!” It was ancient and I thought it would be awful. But I soon learned that it was the quietest smoothest machine I had ever used. I didn’t want to take it back!

Abby's borrowed Bernina

Abby's borrowed Bernina

Scrapiana: What machine do you have now? Is it your dream machine? If not, what would that be, if  money were no object?

Abby: I bought my new machine last year. My local shop gave me a great discount due to it being the old colour; the new machine with the new colour was about £200 more! It’s a Husqvarna Sapphire 850 and I love it! It has many functions which I’m still yet to learn how to use, but the fact that all I have to do is move my foot up and down and it almost does the rest for me is wonderful.It’s not a beautiful machine to look at, so if I could morph it with a pretty old black antique machine then I’d never want anything different!

Abby's new Husqvarna

Abby's beloved Husqvarna

Scrapiana: I have a strange confession, Abby, which is that I give each of my sewing machines a name (Josephine, Winifred etc), making them almost animate to me. Have you given any of your machines a name? And would you ever speak to your machine? – to encourage or to upbraid it, for example?

Abby: I haven’t named my machine. No, I don’t really speak to my machine. I might declare my love for it… though only when no-one else could hear me!

Scrapiana: Ah, just as I feared… it’s only me, then. Abby, thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my questions! It’s been lovely to hear the sewing-machine journey behind Bub’s Bears. Your business certainly has its heart (lavender-stuffed, of course) in the right place.

Stack of hearts, mid-construction

Stack of hearts await lavender stuffing


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May 04

Larkhall Festival

I had a very busy time on Saturday afternoon showing the Eastern fringe of Bath how to make little lavender hearts from what began as an old blanket. This was one of the larks of the Larkhall Festival.

Larkhall Festival - Scrap Heart Workshop

Larkhall Festival larks - scrap blanket workshop

Preparing on the Friday was fun; I was able to watch the royal wedding from behind a pair of scissors, cutting out 150 little individual hearts. Can you see how it influenced me as I compiled my groups of ten? No, neither can I.

Blanket hearts a la royale

Cutting out materials for the scrap blanket hearts

And I didn’t shed any tears. That was just blanket fluff in my eye, honest.

Then I grabbed a load of lavender.

Lavender jar

Big jar of lavender

And a few embroidery threads and balls of mohair (which I like to use for the blanket-stitching, though the latter’s not so very good for beginners as it tends not to behave). I took my trusty bunting (made twenty whole years ago for my very own wedding and loaned out since to a gazillion garden parties & fetes), and Mimi’s fish, just for the company and inspiration (“One day, small child, you could upcycle something like THIS!”)

Thanks to the very capable Polly for helping me out. And to everyone for being so patient while I made my way round to you to help thread needles, tie knots and finish off loose ends. Teaching sewing is fun. It’s such an eye-opener, for one thing. Polly asked one very small boy if he knew how to thread a needle. Yes, he replied. A couple of minutes later she looked back at his needle to find he’d meticulously wrapped his thread ever so neatly around the full length of it. Hmmm. I guess that would be one way to legitimately ‘thread a needle’, just not the one we were looking for. She could hardly bear to disappoint him by unfurling it again. That brought me up short as I realised that sewing terms, like any other technical jargon, are fraught with confusion for the complete novice. We quickly forget the strangeness of language, once we’ve digested and understood it.

I was aiming for this type of thing, but the results were more vibrant and various. Blanket stitch wasn’t always the stitch of choice for participants (even if they started out doing it, they frequently ended up producing something else, even if not intentionally) but there was plenty of personality, and I was delighted to see lots of personalising and initialising going on. The lavender seemed to be loved by all, and children were witnessed ‘losing their needles’ in the lavender box just so they could scrunch their fingers through it again and again. And why not? We were chilling. The needles were reassuringly blunt, by the way.

Though tolerant of irregularities and differences of approach (there’s usually more than one legitimate way of doing something) I find myself driven to correct one thing: tying a knot in the thread behind the needle. This one makes me twitch. I don’t know but assume (can anyone confirm?) that this is how sewing is taught in primary schools when kids work with Binca and yarn. I feel that this makes the yarn and needle behave a little oddly and try to encourage simply leaving a longer thread-tail. Am I alone in having this aversion?

I’ve decided I should get off my derriere and offer sewing upcycling classes. Venue tba, but somewhere in Bath. Do leave a comment or get in touch with me via my email (eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom) if you’d like information about these. Be sure to mention if you’d be interested in children’s or adults’ classes, and if daytimes, evenings or weekends suit you best. And don’t forget to leave a means of contacting you.

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Feb 14

Threads of feeling

Threads of Feeling catalogue, John Styles

Exhibition catalogue showing red woolen cloth heart for Foundling 10563, a girl, admitted 22 November 1758

‘5,000 rare, beautiful, mundane and moving scraps of fabric’ is how curator John Styles describes the extraordinary archive inspiring Threads of Feeling, an exhibition of the textile tokens left with abandoned children 1740-1770 which is currently showing at the Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury, London.

Being a foundling was a cause of great shame in eighteenth-century London. So, in an attempt to avoid the associated stigma, a baby’s name would be changed on admission to the Foundling Hospital, and the mother’s name would not be recorded. Instead, a textile swatch (or ‘token’) would be given by the mother, or cut from the foundling baby’s clothing, and pinned to the printed registration form (‘billet’) issued on receipt. As the hospital emphasized in 1745, ‘if any particular Marks, Writing or other thing shall be left with the Child, great care will be taken for the preservation thereof’. Despite the anonymity of admission, a mother retained the right to reclaim her child, and a small textile scrap might be all there was to facilitate identification. Sadly, most mothers didn’t return: of 16,282 admissions between 1741 and 1760, only 152 came back.

Putting aside the human stories for a moment (which is difficult), and approaching this archive with the mindset of a textiles historian, these scraps are very exciting indeed. They represent a rare survival of everyday textiles worn by ordinary eighteenth-century women, forming Britain’s – possibly Europe’s – largest collection. There are about forty different named fabrics catalogued, their variety illustrating that the poor had access to a surprisingly wide range of colourful fabrics, even before the Industrial Revolution. It may be that the collection is somewhat skewed towards the colourful and patterned as their purpose was the later recognition of a child, but the collection is so vast that it also contains quite plain, mundane fabrics. What makes the Foundling archives so special is that the object (the swatch) is united with text (the Hospital’s clerks’ handwriting)  and the two together form the only means we have of identifying many everyday eighteenth-century textiles. The clerks’ jottings include the rather familiar sounding calico, flannel, gingham and satin (though their eighteenth-century counterparts weren’t very much like the fabrics we know today) and the now lost-to-us camblet, fustian, susy, cherryderry, calimanco and linsey-woolsey. The printed billet form itemised the ‘Marks and Cloathing of the Child’, offering an intriguing glimpse of the everyday dress of the period, most of which I can only hazily imagine: biggin, forehead-cloth, head-cloth, long-stay, bibb, frock, upper-coat, petticoat, bodice-coat, barrow, mantle, sleeves, roller etc. Some scraps were cut from the mother’s clothing, some were taken from the baby’s own (caps, cockades and topknots, detachable sleeves). Baby clothes might well have been made from a mother’s worn-out garments, upcycling being nothing new. And a mother’s clothes might be surprisingly fashionable: her gown might be made from one of the new cotton or linen printed knock-offs of an unaffordable and impractical (unwashable) silk.

The display isn’t vast (I overheard some other visitors registering their disappointment) but forms a representative sample of an enormous archive; to give you a sense of the scale of it, the storage boxes containing these billet forms line 250 metres of shelving in the museum’s archive. It took me a couple of hours to look around Threads of Feeling plus the permanent displays, so I couldn’t really have wished it so very much bigger. And I didn’t get anywhere near the Handel collection which is housed in the same building on another floor. But that may be explained by the more accessible lure of the cafe (left as you enter the museum) which does a very nice selection of cakes; I’m sure Handel – himself an infamous glutton – would have approved.

Back to the swatches, some samples contain needlework and embroidery, varying from the crude to the expert. Some are ribbon, a universally recognised symbol of love in the eighteenth century, especially resonant in circumstances of separation and loss (think ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’: a much later song carrying an 18th-century sentiment). Ribbons were the currency of romance and courtship, witness ‘fairings’ (gifts bought at fairs), the subject of the song ‘Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?’ which is played as ambient music through the exhibition (suitably atmospheric, if slightly annoying once heard half a dozen times). I discovered that there were gender-specific ways to tie ribbons: military-style cockades for boys, loosely tied topknots for girls (see below). Interestingly, colours which have since become gendered were not so defined in the eighteenth century; pink and blue were used for boys and girls alike.

Foundling ribbons

Four silk ribbons tied in a bunch with a knot, Foundling 170, a girl, 1743

 

I visited this exhibition last month and really loved it, though I found that every so often the weight of sorrow and heartbreak implicit in these textile scraps became overwhelming. Each and every swatch represents an unbearable pivotal moment of separation and loss. It is the notes left by arguably the more fortunate literate mothers – or in this case, a father – which break your heart, this one accompanying a pink and white flowered ribbon:

Ann Gardiner, Daughter of James and Elizth. Gardiner, was Born in St Brides Parish Octr. ye 6th and Baptizd and Registerd in the Parish Church Octr. ye 10th 1757. Begs to have Care Taken on ehr [sic] and They will pay all Charges in a little Time with a handsome acknowledgement for the same and have her home again when they Get over a little Trouble they are in: She is not a bastard Child your Care will be most Gratefully Acknowledged by your most obliged Humble Servant  JG

And this note accompanying a 1760 cotton or linen swatch – printed with a green and black leaf on a shelled background – for a baby girl of just a few weeks old:

…She has had the Breast and tis humbly hop’d it will be continued as she will not in all probability live without it.’

Whether one of the stalwart wet-nurses managed to pull this little girl through isn’t told.

Threads of Feeling expo

Striped camblet featured on Threads of Feeling flyer

 

As it’s Valentine’s Day today, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the heart was just as much a symbol of love in the eighteenth century as it is today. Seen as the literal source of the emotions, it turns up with unsurprising frequency on foundling tokens. There are suit-of-hearts playing cards, hearts drawn on paper, metal hearts, embroidered hearts, hearts cut out in fabric (see above), and even – in the case of one baby boy – a gown cut from a print of heart playing-cards. Fittingly, the only token in the exhibition which figured in the reunion of a mother and her child was a patchwork strip with half a heart embroidered in red thread. Sarah Bender, the mother, who admitted her child on 11 February 1767, kept the reciprocal half -heart on its corresponding patchwork scrap, and ventured back to reclaim her 8-year-old son on 10 June 1775. Alas, I have no picture of this token to show you, nor any artist’s impression of the no-doubt teary reunion, but the token is featured in the small-yet-beautifully-formed exhibition catalogue by John Styles (shown top).

Remarkably, the work of Thomas Coram, the merchant who established the original Foundling Hospital, continues today in the charity which still bears his name – an unbroken thread between those eighteenth-century foundlings and today’s vulnerable children.

Threads of Feeling runs at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1A until 6th March 2011.

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Feb 12

True lover’s nut

Going through old pictures, I found these. They were taken exactly seven years ago.

Walnut hearts

Walnut hearts

It was one of those funny accidental things; the shell just happened to break open that way.

Walnut Valentine

Love in a nutshell

Just like love, you couldn’t plan it.

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