An embroidered alphabet: letter I

Embroidered letter I (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

For me blogging is primarily a mini essay attached to a bit of embroidery. In the short term, family can dip in to find out a bit about my week, while in the longer term I like to think my grandchildren might find it interesting. Unsought bonuses come when people like school friends or former neighbours get in touch or, like this week, when I took up the offer of having coffee with someone who had invited me when first we came to Cheltenham.

Embroidered letter I (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

With volunteering at The Wilson (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum) and being a trustee at the Holst Birthplace Museum, my husband gets out and about much more than I do. He is forever bumping into people he knows – whether from 40 years ago or from yesterday. Sometimes he even bumps into people he didn’t know he knew, which happened on the day he was walking  through the upper floor of the museum’s coffee shop with one of the museum’s curators (except they’re called cultural producers now! ugh!) His companion stopped to talk to a group of women knitting and, being a people sort of person, he joined in too. Imagine his surprise when someone asked “Are you David? Clever woman, from a walk on, speechless, non visible part in a minority interest craft blog  she had identified the man before her as my husband… Since that day, he’s met her several more times in The Wilson and last week I felt it was about time for me to take up her offer of coffee before I she thought I was incredibly rude.

Dover Handbook of Ornament and a very simple embroidered columnar I

Of course, we got on like a house on fire, talked about family (both had 3 daughters – not to forget my son Alex), working in libraries (both done that ), moving houses (we’d both done too much of that), losing treasured things in the moves (both done too much of that too) and that was even before we got on to knitting and what we liked about the museum, the cultural scene and Cheltenham in general. Three and a half hours later, having passed judgement on numerous common family conundrums, drawn in Ben for a chat (he runs art classes in the museum),  given the thumbs down to several autumn TV dramas and wavering uncertain thumbs up on others, we thought we should go home. And all that from this little blog. Remarkable. We shall meet again.

Handbook of Ornament: Franz Sales Meyer (Dover Publications)

This week I have embroidered an I which is a difficult letter to make a lot of with its simple straight up and downness and general lack of curving lines of beauty. Names like Imogen, Isabella, Iona, India and Ianthe are gloriously beautiful but somewhat disadvantaged in the monogram stakes by that uncompromisingly uncomplicated initial letter. Reaching into classical architecture for a column seemed the only way to unite elegance and beauty, though now I’ve done it, I find  something sad about  a single column on its own…If you ever want lots of details on all sorts of ornamentation, the Dover publication shown below is worth seeking out.

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Ipsden Altar Frontal update

When  Anglican clergy leave a parish where they’ve been incumbent, it’s an accepted convention that they move away and don’t return for a visit until at least two years have passed.  Fortunately, our two year purdah was well up when my husband was asked to take a funeral while the current incumbent was away on holiday. A road traffic accident leading to a drawn out period between death and funeral meant it was important to the family that there should be no further delays.

Ipsden altar frontal: bladder campion (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

A sad occasion, there was also much joy, which would have been just what the deceased would have ordered. Tall, thin, craggy and with a forward lean sufficiently far away from the vertical to be audacious, he was rarely to be seen out of Harris Tweed, cotton twill check shirts, corduroy trousers and his wife’s hand knitted socks (the latter fine enough to go on display in the village craft show). A dog – or four – were usually nearby. Not long after we arrived, he appeared at the vicarage front door with a grandson in tow and holding out a rabbit – roadkill – which he offered us. Seeing my ignorance as to how to deal with it, he went through the house to the back garden and showed me, carefully making a single cut and slipping the little rabbit fur coat off the flesh with the minimum of fuss and no mess. His wife later appeared with a suitable recipe. My cooking wasn’t a great success – my heart wasn’t really in it. When snow came to the village, we often found it difficult getting our car out and he would be one of the first to offer to give me a lift to my bus stop on the main road a mile away  – in his Land Rover, an ancient Defender, naturally; he would also arrange to meet me off the bus in the evening after work. Speaking about him at the funeral, his nephew described how as a schoolboy he was asked to leave Marlborough College after he and some friends were caught red handed with tins of black paint as they were attempting to turn the famous local white horse (carved into the chalk) into a zebra! Amid much laughter, his wife of 60 plus years declared this was news to her. He could be straight to the point of rudeness but always liked it if you had something challenging to say in return. Grandsons, nephew and great nephew, all pall bearers, each wore one of his ties – school, regiment, etc – a nice touch, I’d never seen done before . ‘Best of British’ someone had written to his wife.

Ipsden altar frontal: bladder campion (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Around this funeral, the vicar and I moved in a bubble of warmth. Kind people  tsunamied us with offers to help – one came to fetch us in the car from Ipsden and another returned us home, both bringing us up to date with significant happenings for themselves and the village during the hour or so travel each way. Two nights with a local farmer and his wife found us sleeping soundly in a soft bed amid the utter stillness only a night in the country can provide. Although only a few miles from Reading and about an hour from London I had always been surprised at how dark nights could be and how easy it was to pick out the constellations in the velvet black night sky – in fact it was easier to do this than find your way down the hill from one house to another in the village and on such nights you couldn’t leave the house without a decent torch. (En passant, it turned out that all four of us had read Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men, (Faber and Faber, 2002) a terrific book detailing the early days of the industrial revolution when group of British entrepreneurs and scientists regularly met for discussion and exchange of ideas on the Monday nearest the full moon because that was when evening travel was possible and they could be sure of being home by midnight. I often think I would have fared very badly with no electric light at night – no sewing, no reading. Perhaps a bit of knitting, but not Fair Isle!)

Jenny Uglow: The Lunar Men (Faber & Faber, 2002)

Well, we moved from one occasion to eat, drink and chat on to another .. and then another and then yet one more… By Saturday brunch we had also hugged, kissed and embraced enough to keep us warm for a lifetime. We had loved life in Ipsden and in many ways we would have loved to have stayed. We had moved on but friends, if nurtured will always be friends. We littered Ipsden with offers of lunches in Cheltenham, so the ball’s in our court now.

I now know where I’m going with the altar frontal. Here is another flower I realised I needed. Bladder  Campion, not the prettiest of names and though quite a  pretty flower, it is not an especially pretty plant. The vicarage garden was full – even overrun with these long straggly stemmed white flowers. At first I thought it was the sort of plant you needed to get rid of or it would take over the garden and I spent much time pulling up its long white roots. I quickly realised that any bits of root material left in the ground would generate new plants and from then on I largely left it alone to put up its little white flowers between the other things I actually wanted to grow. Though prolific, it never quite took the garden over completely. As a chalk loving plant it really has to have an appearance on the quilt. Sorry no pictures at the moment of trying the quilt on the altar. Hope to post one when I have written a thank you letter to our hosts as I took no pictures.

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