Tagged: love

Jan 17

Persuasive labels

 

In my Etsy shop you’ll find Persuasion labels. These sew-in tags feature a searing line from Jane Austen’s book of the same name, plucked from the love-letter of Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot. He’s explaining how he’s on tenterhooks. His old love for her continues, but is it still reciprocated…? As he waits for her reply, he writes:

I am half agony, half hope. 

If you’ve read the book and not bawled your eyes out at this point, your heart must be stonier than mine. Persuasion isn’t an easy read if you’ve been waiting for fortune (in love or anything else) to turn in your favour. Not to be recommended, possibly, if the powers-that-be appear to be conspiring against you. But do read it. It’s about endurance and stoicism and – eventually – joy. The moral of the story is that the good things in life are worth waiting for, with the stress very much on the waiting; Austen’s working title should have been Delayed Gratification.

So, who would use a label like this? And how? Well, late last year I got an order for some of these labels, all the way from Singapore. A while after I despatched them, a lovely message came in from the buyer, Lala, with a link to her blog, Girl with a Sewing Machine. And there was the label. Looking wonderful. Stitched inside the waistband of a skirt she’d made for the Yellow Skirt Project.

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

 

Doesn’t that red-green-yellow-pink combo just kerpow? And here’s a full-length shot of Lala wearing her cute skirt.

 

Lala in her yellow 'Persuasion' skirt. It persuades me!

Lala in her persuasive skirt

 

Lala calls her skirt ‘The Grapefruit Chardon’, based on the Deer and Doe pattern. She goes on to explain on her blog that she’d heard about the Persuasion labels here on Roobeedoo‘s blog. And here. I’d missed Roobeedoo’s mentions completely, so am really grateful that Lala pointed them out. It gives me a real kick to think that these labels are being worn inside real pieces of clothing, flying an invisible flag for persistence, endurance and (not least) sew-in labels.

At school in the 1970s, my drab grey and bottle-green school uniform was marked with Cash’s name tapes: my mother let me choose the lettering, and I went for the biggest, boldest font available: large red capitals on a white ground. I didn’t want my obscure Welsh name to be indecipherable. These labels were tremendously reassuring: they would be legible; they would withstand the laundry, they would stay on through the forlorn rummage of the lost-property bin. For me, they also signified how much I (as well as my uniform) was cared for. I don’t think there was an option to attend that school without sewn-in labels (that was how things worked back then) so presumably some of my peers had the same feeling. For me, those labels were like a talisman, a St Christopher ferrying me (in my uniquely named me-ness) safely through the world.  Once I had kids of my own, it had to be my guilty secret that I actually enjoyed the chore of sewing their labels into their first school uniforms. It felt as if I was nurturing their specialness too, in the way that mine had been. And, though I could not be with them as they took their first solo steps into the significant places beyond home, my stitches could touch their skin. For me, a Sharpie scrawl on a laundry tag is just not the same. I know, I know! My name is Eirlys and I’m a label purist.

Since then I’ve discovered old laundry marking labels, usually with a couple of elaborate embroidered initials only. These are mostly red thread on white cotton. Intricate. Delicate. Beautiful. Most of us don’t send our clothes out to laundries these days, so don’t have to mark our smalls and detachable collars with these dainty anachronisms. But they are still delightful, and add a touch of elegance to a making project. If you’re wanting antique labels with your own initials, they can be found – with a little persistence. Do drop a comment below if you happen to be an antique textiles dealer who sells them. 

 

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Antique laundry labels

 

If you’d like some of these ultra-romantic Persuasion labels, you can buy them over here. I  also have some I love you labels which you might sew into a homemade garment or wearable vintage find for your beloved (or would-be beloved) on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure it’ll do the trick.

 

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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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Feb 14

Valentine’s soup

Lovely beetroot soup

Beetroot soup with orange & ginger

Something to warm the cockles of your heart today: beet soup with orange & ginger, one of my favourite winter warmers.

I must admit that I took the picture a couple of years ago. Sorry it’s out of focus. The yoghurt heart was not contrived but a complete, happy accident. Whatever you’re doing, enjoy your day. May something good surprise you!

I heart beet soup

I heart beet soup

 

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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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Mar 23

Mum’s the word

If you still haven’t found any goodies for Mother’s Day on 3rd April, I can help.

Ribbon reels

Little ribbon reels in china cup on vintage scarf

Besides these little reels of ribbon oddments, I have others with vintage ric-rac and baker’s twine (that lovely and oh-so-useful striped string from the US). There are vintage brooches, hankies, buttons,  sewing books, Sylko (and other) cotton reels, handmade stitcher’s beeswax, gorgeous textiles and scarves – just to name a few – and pretty Mother’s Day labels to sew into anything you buy. Or not. You could just leave one in the bag with her pretty gift(s) and she’ll get the message. All will be available from my vintage haberdashery stall this Saturday 26th March at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair, Friends’ Meeting House, Bath, 9.30am-5.30pm. Hope to see you there!

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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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