Whitework cushion with fern embroidery

 

Whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

For plants that are all leaf and no flower, ferns attract a passionate following. But, when you stop to think, a lack of distracting flowers let the leaves  to reveal themselves to be real stunners, whether the feathery froth of the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum), the sword-like Hart’s Tongue (Asplenium) or the sturdy, pinnate fronds of something like the common wood fern (Dryopteris) whose new leaves uncoil themselves from tight spiralling fiddleheads, like little slingshots poised in the moment before firing.  For many of us living in a temperate climate, they are the saving grace of damp gardens shaded over by tall trees or rescue from despair dank, rather dark basement areas where little else has chosen to flourish. Of Dryopteris, my  little Royal Horticultural Society handbook (Ferns by Martin Rickard) says, somewhat ominously, “They will persist for a very long time, often outliving their owners, despite neglect.”

Detail : whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

When I was a student in Oxford I lived for a time in a flat at the top of one of those wonderful, part crenellated and gabled North Oxford houses on Rawlinson Road. The house was occupied by a botany fellow at Jesus College, I think, who took such delight in leaves that he banned most flowering plants from his garden. A large window above the front door, filled with ancient intertwining knotty stemmed geraniums, leaves (mainly) pressed against the glass in a constant battle to get to the light, declared it to be the house of a botanist, more clearly than any sign could have done. We ventured little into the main part of the house but once I went into the kitchen, and passed by, or through, a gorgeous little room with black and white floor tiles and delft tiles around the fireplace. A design classic I’ve spent more than half my life wishing I could replicate!

Detail : whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

During lockdown Daughter No 2 stayed in an elegant North London town house decorated in Scandinavian tones of off white and greys. The garden, divided into three little ‘rooms’ was leafy with a few white flowers. Fern prints hung on the walls. This cushion is a small thank you for my daughter’s time there.

Detail : whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This week has seen the death of two style icons who figured large in the life of anyone who was a teenager in the 1960s.

Diana Rigg was not only beautiful and alluring but had a lovely natural voice which she used in well modulated tones. For a while I had Emma Peel’s flick ups hair style and perhaps even my diction improved. In later years she got a bit heavier, styled her hair in a simple bob and wore her wrinkles with dignity. I particularly enjoyed her appearance in Detectorists where she played her real life daughter’s mother and a gentle, witty, wise mother-in-law where lazier scripts and acting could have made her a harridan. We have yet to see her lasting acting appearance in the new All Creatures Great and Small but reviewers loved her in the role and I’m sure we shall too.

Detail : whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

We knew Habitat before we registered who Terence Conran was. But it was because of him that we, along with most of the UK,  took to the duvet, though only a man who rarely made his own bed could say “A few shakes and in 20 seconds the job is done. That’s how you make your bed.” He also introduced us to orange Le Creuset  which many people spent the rest of their lives trying to justify replacing until, quite suddenly, recently, the colour became fashionable and we embraced the volcanic orange all over again. My first husband and I had a Habitat kitchen, most of which we got in a sale. The sliding doors were solid wood and, having had a supposedly handmade one since, I now know the carcasses were not so very different. The drawers were the weakest element as the wooden fronts fell off with irritating regularity, no matter what we did to mend them. The sofas and soft seating I didn’t care for, especially if upholstered in brown jumbo cord – and I think I was right as years later they were still with us,  tortured into a second life, teetering on their way to death and destruction in student accommodation across the country. But the catalogues were genius and for a brief second even brown jumbo cord looked almost ok when photographed in a Parisian flat, everything painted white, floor to ceiling windows and acres of wooden floors. Lured but ultimately not taken in. For years, Conran’s  ‘House’ book was a staple on shelves wherever you went and the go to textbook when you needed inspiration to solve a design problem. In spite of my criticisms, I can still recall the frisson of going into a Habitat store and coming out with a cheap but well designed item – wooden spoons, a water carafe, a Bialetti coffee maker for the hob or a metre of bright furnishing cotton for cushions.

Detail : whitework cushion with embroidered ferns (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I like ferns so much I used leaves as stencils when I repainted a chest of drawers and blogged about here. It might also seem from this photograph that the walls are painted Le Creuset orange. In fact they are a lipstick red, which only worked because so much of the red lies behind about 15 ft of bookshelves! Delft plates from Isis Pottery in Oxford  show my love of blue and white pottery has remained strong.

Fern chest of drawers stencilled with pressed leaves

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Whitework embroidered cushion with Renaissance style N

Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

2020 will be remembered as that strange year when we all had to turn inwards and nurture any vestige of  inner hermit to be found in the deep recesses of seemingly set personalities. For me, it’s been a welcome opportunity for hours of indulgent and enjoyable sewing, producing presents I wanted to make but which in other years I would never have had the time.  Strangely though I don’t seem to have produced masses more of things  than in normal times – possibly the things I’ve made have been bigger with more embroidery in each item. A sort of variant of Parkinson’s Law where embroidered pieces expand in size to fill time available!

Detail of Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This cushion is for Neela Mann, one of the first people I got to know when we came to Cheltenham. A writer and  local historian (author of Cheltenham in the Great War) and organiser of literary festivals (Warwick Word History Festival)  – not to mention knitting enthusiast – she introduced me to all sorts of bits of the town I would have wanted to know about but didn’t know they were there to be known about. I first met her a couple of years ago when she joined with The Holst Birthplace Museum to hold afternoon knitting sessions and to talk about what Cheltenham ladies had done for the war effort. During WW I, throughout Britain, knitting became a heroic activity, a sort of moral duty to keep those in the trenches a little bit warmer than they might otherwise have been.  In 4 weeks of autumn 1914, Cheltenham’s women had knitted enough scarves to give one to every man and officer aboard HMS Gloucester. They must have been quick knitters – on 18 December 1918, the Mayoress of Cheltenham asked for more than 2,000 mittens to be knitted by Christmas to be given to soldiers billeted in the town as a Christmas present. Knitting on an industrial scale went on right through the war up to late 1918. Unfortunately there was a downside to all this for women, as both knitting (and sewing) for the troops was unpaid and so deprived working women of one source of household income.

Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Neela is also a great supporter of local foodie businesses and has become a one woman advert for GL 50 a new restaurant near the Wilson. She took me there for lunch one day and we both got crazily swept away by a main course of cauliflower – that is just cauliflower, on its own … but deliciously cooked 4 ways – no, I can’t remember exactly how, which is pathetic as there was just the one ingredient!. I think for dessert, we had a thoroughly conventional but very good chocolate tart. (Chef Jonas Lodge, started out with Raymond Blanc, trained under Heston Blumenthal and is committed to using local ingredients and producing zero waste. Things have of course been difficult recently but the restaurant is still open and Neela is still promoting going there.)

Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

But for a lunch to be good, you don’t just need food, so I was delighted when Neela waved dramatically over my shoulder and pointed to an ornate lamp outside.”Have you noticed the dragon and onion street lights?” And, of course I hadn’t. Yet the little green outside boasted not one but three of these rare and rather wonderful pieces of street furniture – a dragon, head drawn back  poised to breathe fire sits on the coil of a curlicue which spirals around and over the creature’s head to support a glass bubble, which for a brief second when the lamp is switched on must look like it’s been lit from the dragon’s fire. The lamp post itself is surmounted by a splendid onion finial of the sort to win prizes in a horticultural show. Put up in 1897  the half dozen or so still visible in Cheltenham, now Grade II listed,  are early and unusually flamboyant examples of electric street lighting and now I find myself looking at street lighting in quite a different way – and there are quite a few ornate examples in Cheltenham, at least 2 of which were used as meeting places for army recruitment during WWI and which I pass on a daily basis.

It’s only just struck me how the curlicues of my cushion are just like those of the dragon and onion lights!

Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Neela, her husband and her sister-in-law also organise historic church holidays which they scrupulously research, with special attention to where to stay and where to eat. Last year we went with them to visit Suffolk churches and Bury St Edmonds’ eateries. This year we were due to go to do the same sort of thing in Yorkshire – fingers crossed, this should happen next year.

Renaissance style embroidered N in whitework ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

We are lucky that this year’s enforced isolation happened when we had begun to put roots down in Cheltenham. We have never done a lot of entertaining but it will be lovely to have people round to lunch or dinner again – maybe in 2021.

Other hand embroidered Renaissance style whitework letters blogged about:

Letter A (part of the whitework alphabet series)

Letter X (part of the whitework alphabet series)

Letter J

Letter E

Letter K

Letter K

Letter J

Letter M

Arts and Crafts style H

Floral J

Arts and Crafts H and B

 

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