Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Sagittarius embroidery (from Woman's Own magazine. 1960s?)

Sagittarius embroidery (Woman’s Own magazine. 1960s?)

While sitting sewing with the cathedral embroiderers, I heard someone (well into her 8th decade – just to give you context) saying that she got interested in embroidery through women’s magazines and their free transfers for decorating tablecloths, pillowcases and tray cloths. There now, doesn’t the idea of tray cloths sound dated – almost, but not quite, as dated as antimacassars. Which is funny actually because the one thing I have found really useful are my mother’s tray cloths. The road to church is bumpy and full of pot holes and there’s nothing so irritating as the unlovely accompanying rattling of a tray of  20 or so uncushionned mugs. (No plumbing in church; the dirty mugs come back with us.) At first I put a folded tea towel on the base of the tray but then I realised the ideal thing had already been invented so off I went and hunted out the last few of  my mother’s tray cloths.

Aires embroidery  (design from Woman's  Own magazine 1960s?)

Aires embroidery (design from Woman’s Own magazine 1960s?)

I also employ other of my mother’s favourite bits of table paraphernalia for which we think we have no use today. The silver plated hot water jug is great to have at hand for those who like their coffee a bit weaker than the rest of us and a plain linen damask tablecloth – a bit less shouty that Cath Kidston’s or Emma Bridgewater’s patterned best –  looks discreet and elegant in a church setting. The silver plated sugar bowl also comes along too – or I would never otherwise use it. My mother was an intermittent churchgoer with, I  suspect, a largely unexamined faith but  I know she would enjoy the fact that I use for church what was once her best.

Zodiac embroideries (from Woman's Own magazine 1960s?)

Zodiac embroideries (from Woman’s Own magazine 1960s?)

But, returning to thoughts of what got me going with embroidery, I realise that for me too, the original inspiration came from women’s magazines. My mother had a regular order for Woman’s Own which I enjoyed reading. (though “TV’s Linda drinking too much booze” – one of current issue’s headlines on the front cover would have had her cancelling her order right there and then – but then on the surface they were gentler times.)  These embroidered signs of the zodiac in particular caught my eye being very much of the moment – in colour and design they were definitely a step up from daisies on a tablecloth. I wanted to embroider them all.  As it was I just did 4 – 2 of which I gave away. Sagittarius and Aires you see here. I now only have the pictures for 9, although I can visualise Pisces the fish and Aquarius the water carrier. (Love the lion.)

Zodiac embroideries (from Woman'sOwn magazine, 1960s?)

Zodiac embroideries (from Woman’sOwn magazine, 1960s?)

I never got round to framing them or putting them on display because, although I am quite happy to have fun dipping into the occasional well written astrological prediction, astrology isn’t really my thing – or the thing of many other people it seems. Plenty of people would love their own monogram but nobody has got excited about their own embroidered astrological sign. Which is a bit of a shame in the case of these Woman’s Own embroideries which are well designed (would love to know who did them), charming, bright and cheerful and positively sing out their origin in the 1960s. Finding them calls to mind Hornsea pottery, Mary Quant daisy dresses and bottles of nail polish, Aqua Manda perfume (available again but not I think in that lovely  chunky bottle), Pucci printed silk – Oh I could go on and on…

Sagittarius embroidery: detail (from Woman's Won magazine 1960s?)

Sagittarius embroidery: detail (from Woman’s Won magazine 1960s?)


Anyway I just thought  you might enjoy this little interlude of non Christmas images and  even perhaps have a trip down memory lane to the 1960s … if you’re old enough.

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  1. Posted December 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I was a Sixties baby, but not early enough to have been reading magazines. I waited until the Eighties and was inspired by my grandmother’s collection of 1930s The Needlewoman magazines instead!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 13, 2015 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      A cache of old magazines is a very tempting way to lose an hour – or day – or too. I wonder when The Needlewoman magazines ceased publication.
      I remember the double fronted Needlewoman shop in the middle of Regent Street – still there in the 1970s. I often walk down Regent Street and try to work out where it was but the facades have changed so much.

  2. Louise
    Posted December 13, 2015 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    How pretty they are, well designed and beautifully executed. The wonderful colours of the 60s spring to mind – pinks and oranges put together, greens and blues too. Mary Quant, paisley, Peter Max. I wasn’t a teenager until the 70s, but it was the visual impact of the 60s that I remember best.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 13, 2015 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      It sometimes seems some time has to pass by before we – or perhaps I mean I – can get cultural periods in perspective but I do remember fashion being very colourful and such fun.

  3. Posted December 13, 2015 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh but you are wrong! I have recently made a collection of tray cloths because I have a theory that some of the best domestic embroidery is on tray cloths because they are small. The keen embroiderer could try out new techniques or designs and then pass them on as small gifts just as the enthusiastic knitter tries out stitches on socks rather than investing in the wool/labour required for a bigger project. I use all of my tray cloths and get much pleasure seeing the various designs. I would definitely have bought one with that Sagittarius design if it had appeared on eBay before my husband gently suggested that we had enough for this lifetime.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 13, 2015 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      Well I’m glad I’m wrong then Alice, although I suspect you are in the vanguard of discernment and thus something of a rare bird. Today, rather than care for tray cloths, it’s seems fashionable to find them hanging in art galleries with spidery black thread trailing across the bright poppies and daisies, defacing their innocent gaiety in the expression of shocking or unpleasant sentiments. It is comforting to think you may have saved your stock of tray cloths from this ignominious end.
      Thank you for mentioning my Christingle post on your blog.

  4. marge
    Posted December 14, 2015 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Yes, those contemporary pieces are presumably decrying women’s roles in the home, but in fact a bit of colourful embroidery could well have been a rare delight in the days of labour-intensive domestic drudgery.
    Re starting embroidery: I remember being obsessed by the need to just fill in a pattern with stitches – I have no idea where that came from – maybe I saw something in a magazine. I plucked up the courage to ask my mum’s friend if she could procure such a thing (she kept house for a lady who discarded bits and pieces regularly, unlike our house where nothing was ever thrown away). My mum was horrified at my cheek, but Mrs F duly arrived with a small handkerchief case, ready-printed with a flower design, and, joy of joys, some embroidery silks with which to sew it – the rewards of reckless faith!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 14, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Very interesting to hear of your first forays into embroidery. You remind me of how it was also a physical adventure – taking a piece of plain fabric and adding something to it which had not been there before.
      What a kind and inspired person your mum’s friend was.

  5. Posted December 20, 2015 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Hello Mary – Well, I am indeed old enough to have enjoyed the delights of Woman’s Own, Women’s Realm and Woman magazine. My Mother seemed to have an endless supply of terrific magazines popping through the letterbox on a daily basis. I had my share too, June and Schoolfriend, Bunty, Judy, Fab 208, Honey, Petticoat, Look and Learn. To this day I love magazines but only allow myself one a month so, that single magazine has to be the British Country Living which I have collected over here since 1986. Wherever I have moved the magazines have moved with me and are a part of my life.

    I love the embroidery pictures you have shown – very jolly. I have a collection of old Stitchcraft and Needlecraft magazines, some with the transfers still there. I embroidered many when I was little, what happened to them I do not know. Oh, and I also have a collection of embroidered tray cloths which I do use on occasions….. very popular in todays vintage world!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 20, 2015 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Goodness me, we do share a magazine heritage – even down to Look and Learn and Fab 208 (which went along with listening to Radio Luxembourg under the covers and enjoying the beginning of Radio 1) Was there one called Princess? Oh I did love them and my mother’s too.
      I also try to restrain my buying nowadays but I too subscribe to Country Living and sometimes when I pass through Paddington Station I can’t resist Elle Decoration, Interiors or some of the new craft/lifestyle magazines like Kinfolk.
      Glad you give your tray cloths an airing every now and then.
      Happy Christmas to you and your family in sunny Australia.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        Ah, now, I too was listening under the covers to Radio Luxembourg and of course moved on to Radio Caroline and Radio London perhaps this was an early sign of rebellion! The latter stations frequently went off air when there was a storm in the North Sea. Princess was the other magazine I had forgotten about that one…..

  6. Jenny
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I’m very late to this but just had to comment on the White Horses title sequence – a complete blast from the past which had me singing along as the words surfaced from the deepest recesses of memory. So strange, the things that lodge in the brain.

    I’m a lurker, by the way, but always enjoy your posts very much. And I too have a stash of embroidery transfers….what I’d give now to be able to go back to the sewing/haberdashery shop where I worked as a Saturday girl in the 70’s. It was a true Aladdin’s cave of supplies and ‘notions’ going back probably to the 30’s.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely adored The White Horse – and the music comes unbidden to me often.
      Haberdashery shops were real treasure caves to me too but now there are so few left and even John Lewis’s department is much reduced.To be fair, if you know what you want, the online sites are excellent but gone is that rifling through with no particular need to be satisfied. Do you remember The Needlewoman Shop in Regent Street?

  7. Posted December 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    This post and all the comments are such a treat to read. The images of the astrological signs are just lovely; bright and full of movement and fun. The remind me slightly of the work of Pat Albeck, but I don’t know if she ever designed anything for sewing or embroidery. I was born in 1964, so the earlier recollections are lost on me, but I adored my childhood comics. I started with the Twinkle, moved on to the Bunty, then there was a bit of a gap before I eventually graduated on to Jackie magazine, which segued seamlessly (or so it felt) into Cosmopolitan. I was still reading Cosmo avidly when I met my husband in 1989, but some of the advice (‘advice’?) began to feel a little irrelevant as I settled into married life, and I discovered Country Living, which I have subscribed to for over 20 years. I don’t own traycloths, but would have no objection to owning a few. Breakfast in bed should always be served on a tray with a crisp traycloth, a tiny glass with a couple of fresh blooms from the garden (no beasties), and very hot toast. Water jugs, an essential in my opinion, when serving tea from a pot, to ensure it doesn’t become too strong, and also to avoid the necessity of leaving ones guests to put the kettle on again. All very practical in my opinion! X

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 30, 2015 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      I know what you mean about being reminded of Pat Albeck’s work and now you’ve whetted my appetite so I really want to find out who did them.
      I’d forgotten about Cosmopolitan which I’m sure I indulged in from time to time.
      I am not a good riser but that I get up at all is down to my saintly husband who daily brings to my bed a breakfast tray loaded with porridge, a cafetiêre of coffee, a favourite mug and plenty of hot milk. Short sightedness and bleary eyes ensure I pay no attention to the lack of a tray cloth and bear him no ill will for its omission!

      • Posted December 30, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Oh that sounds just perfect,and absolutely no tray cloth required! X

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