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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  1. Posted September 5, 2020 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Next time my husband gives a masterclass in Cheltenham I shall tell him to look for the dragon and onion street lights!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted September 6, 2020 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      When he does, email me and we could meet for coffee – beneath an onion and dragon lamp.

      • Posted September 18, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        What a lovely idea! I think the masterclasses are put off until next year, now..

        • Mary Addison
          Posted September 19, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          Next year will be good. I don’t think many of us are going very far before then.

  2. Amara Bray
    Posted September 7, 2020 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    I too am looking forward to entertaining people again. I really miss dinner parties at home! Ok stampeding off now to Google the dragon and onion street lights!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted September 7, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Yes, I agree, Amara, I’ve especially missed having people to lunch in our garden, tiny though it is.

  3. Neela Mann
    Posted September 14, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Mary! Thank you so much. Your company, as always, lunch or not is delightful. The dragon and onion lamp posts were designed by a very special Borough Surveyor called Joseph Hall. He also designed the Neptune’s Fountain in the Prom and Strezzo Palace. It was originally an electricity substation in Clarence Street. When first built it didn’t have the decoration on top. One of the councillors wives said it looked like a cow barn so they added the top bit!
    Cheltenham is endlessly fascinating historically. And I love imparting the stories to such willing and enthusiastic listeners such as Mary.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted September 17, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Well Neela, I hope you like the cushion when you see it in the flesh.
      I think David tried to take on the Strozzi Palace as part of the art gallery and museum at some point in its history!

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