An embroidered alphabet: letter P

Ipsden Church in Autumn

Feet! Suddenly winter boots that have served me well for several years have let me down and a week ago, after a day of walking round Cheltenham – not very arduously –  I returned home with a painful tendonitis along the top of one of my feet. A few years ago I bought 3 pairs of near identical boots and all, much resoled and heeled, have worked well with insole supports. Obviously no longer. After a  weekend resting my foot (which fortunately combines well with knitting and sewing) action was necessary. Skechers Go Walk shoes have been brilliant for me over the past few summers and put a stop to painful plantar fasciitis – (tendonitis of the bottom of the foot, aka policeman’s foot), so we set off into Cheltenham on Monday morning to see if we could find some Skechers shoes and boots that could see me through winter(s). Thank goodness, we were lucky and I came away with 2 pairs of suede loafers, a pair of suede lace up boots (not my first choice of style but they were too comfortable to ignore) and a pair of men’s leather chelsea boots, which latter I also persuaded my husband into (in his size naturally). Daily walks and lots of rest and I’m relieved that just 8 days later, the pain and swelling has subsided and things are definitely getting back to normal. Rarely have I spent so much money with such joy and I can now more happily face the coming winter!

Embroidered letter P (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The alphabet continues with a rather glorious life affirming P. This is modelled directly on another of Jessica  Hische’s brilliantly conceived capital letters but with the addition of little golden leaves at the end of its curls. These are all too appropriate now as the trees, which seemed to stubbornly hold on to theirs for longer than expected, have suddenly had enough and just in the last few days have decided to shed vast numbers of mainly very yellow leaves. Derwent May in his Nature Notes column in Wednesday’s  Times newspaper confirms this and says it is turning out to be a very yellow autumn with reds little in evidence.

Embroidered letter P with golden leaves (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

In fact,  generally, British woods tend to yellow in autumn as relatively few native European trees go red before leaf fall – rowan being one of those few and wild cherry which can go quite scarlet. Introduced species, like acer and the North American oak, dot our landscape with red but these are comparatively few and far between. Curiously yellow and orange pigments (flavonoids and carotenoids) surface as chlorophyll declines and is reabsorbed, while red pigments, or anthocyanins are newly manufactured. Autumn, or Fall, is much redder in N.American and E.Asia because more trees of ancient origins have survived. Evergreen tropical trees, the early ancestors of deciduous trees,  didn’t lose their leave in autumn; they then evolved into evergreen temperate trees, which of course also didn’t lose their leaves and from these deciduous temperate trees evolved. It is now thought that redness of leaves evolved before the mass leaf dropping habit of deciduous temperate trees.  Perhaps the red pigments provided protection from leaf eating animals which are now long extinct, or perhaps red is a signal to bring animals to the tree so that they can harvest the seeds and berries.  Some think red pigments may  have anti-fungal qualities or protect the leaf from the damages of sunlight as it transports important chemicals out of the leaf and into the safe keeping of the twig. It may be that redness evolved for one reason but then in a happy accident turned out to be useful for other reasons. Scientists are just not sure.

Sketches of various Ps found online

Sketches of various Ps found online

In 2002 I went to American Sublime, Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880 an exhibition at Tate Britain which showed American artists taking a romantic view of their own landscapes and out-turnering Turner in their depictions of  suns setting on an idyll of meaningful landscape.  The Hudson River group of artists was founded by the Englishman Thomas Cole and included Frederick Church and Jasper Cropsey (I don’t think you had to have a surname beginning with C but maybe it helped). The British public was as entranced in 2002 as it had been in the mid C19th. When Queen Victoria saw Cropsey’s Autumn – On the Hudson River she thought he must have exaggerated the colour and in her forthright way, told him so. He later sent her a package of brilliantly coloured leaves – the only real reply. (Church and fellow Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford went on with others to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880: Andrew Wilton &Tim Barringer (Tate Publishing 2001) Catalogue to the Exhibition

Autumn can be wonderful – but to appreciate it properly, you do need sun and preferably no rain. This week we have been lucky.

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An embroidered alphabet: letter O

At home for nearly a week, I’ve been getting down to knitting Fair Isle samples for C******** jumpers for 3 grandchildren (can’t bring myself to commit the word to paper during the second week in November), ordering the right amount of wool and trying to get ahead with the embroidered alphabet. Overtaken by sudden lassitude, embroidery and knitting have been a welcome use of time.

Embroidered letter O with roses (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

On Monday I fondly imagined the small person’s entourage heaving a joint sigh of relief as he returned to school after his 2 weeks of holiday. Later in the day I discovered the small person was in fact still at home having been diagnosed with chickenpox. Return to  school has been postponed for another week . Not being very badly affected by the virus, he had the more energy than ideal for parents and nanny who had all dearly been looking forward to getting back to the normal routine (walls and bouncing were frequently spoken of together.) “I suppose we want the very small person to get it too,” sighed his mother, weary after a difficult night.

Embroidered letter O with roses (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Meanwhile, back in Cheltenham, yesterday and today my husband led two more art appreciation classes for Cheltenham U3A. They are very much art appreciation rather than art history as he’s keen to get people to look at art and talk about what they see rather than what they think they ought to be seeing. People either get this sort of approach and come to enjoy it or they don’t like it at all and would really prefer to be lectured to (and these tend to not come again).  As people get to know each other and feel more comfortable, they become more confident in their comments and there is almost always a lot of laughter. What’s funny is how often people express a strong dislike of say a non figurative painting but 20 minutes later refer back to something about it that has, almost against their will, made an impression and stayed with them. Surprisingly often you can feel people changing their minds about a painting or a style as they speak about it –  trying out a new idea much like you’d try on a dress that didn’t look quite what you wanted on the hanger but suits you surprisingly well once on. If only such a tonic could be had on prescription.

Sketches of various Os found online

Sketches of various Os found online

But, to get back to embroidery, here is an O decorated with trailing roses, to remind us of a season now long gone. In fact cold as it has been recently, there is at least one rose blooming in our neighbours’ garden. Stalwart blooms, battered by rain but heads still held high, an object lesson in survival. It’s things like roses in November and tramping through a wet town to talk about what art’s all about that get us through winter – well that and family, friends, music, catch up radio and television, knitting, sewing, good food and a bit of chocolate from time to time that is (oh and reading …and all those other things I can’t now think of.) So for me this afternoon it’s catch up radio and a bit of embroidery.

Detail of embroidered letter O with roses (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

For more red roses, see here  and here  and for whitework ones, see here and here and for the funniest book I think I have ever read that takes Lewis Carroll’s painting of white roses red and runs amok with it, see here.

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