An embroidered alphabet: letter W and interesting things about flowers, road signs, etc.


Hand embroidered W in William Morris style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Woke to thick covering of snow and many unhurried mohair like fluffs of the stuff floating by the window. Both milkman and paperboy had made deliveries on time and when I stuck my head out of the window the main road shone wet but not icy. In London the night’s blanket of snow had almost disappeared by the time the small person and his father left for school (good thing it was not a day for early morning choir practice). Our snow has lasted longer but is definitely disappearing (now lunchtime). We are warm and contented and very happy not to have to go out – though we might, but then there’s joy in the fact we can choose whether to or not!

Hand embroidered W in William Morris style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

A nice little William Morris style W with an oak leaf  – not sure whether I’ve seen it with the oak leaf somewhere or whether I added it myself; wondered about adding a little acorn … but haven’t. Surprised myself by enjoying using green on its own , though it may just be because this particular shade (DMC 166) has a wonderful metallic gloss about it. It was a simple and satisfying letter to embroider, what with the colour of the thread and the bosomy curves.

Acorn leaf detail of hand embroidered W in William Morris style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Opium Poppy update: Sadly the fields of Ipsden will no longer shimmer with the brief flowering of the opium poppy (see photograph – a scattering of snow in June?). Last week, the farmer we stayed with (who used to grow them) said,

 “Until about 15 years ago virtually all the poppies required by the only factory in the UK capable of converting poppy straw into opiates, in Edinburgh owned by Johnson Matthey,  were grown in Tasmania.  The bright idea was to grow some on suitable soil in the UK. This developed well such that about 15% of the factory’s input was grown in the UK, the balance continuing to come principally from Tasmania.  The variety grown in UK, papava somniferum, produced approx 70 % codeine, 15 % morphine and the rest other opiates such as fentimol and methadone. 3 years ago a grower in Tasmania developed a variety which could be converted into nearly 100% codeine, which is what Johnson Matthey were looking for.  As this grower licensed the variety, all UK contracts were abruptly cancelled.   A small business in the UK continues, but only to produce seed, which is I think mainly exported to the US  ( where poppy growing is forbidden) for the cake and biscuit market.” Now we know.

Sketches of various Ws found online

Snowdrop story update:  Ann Treneman in her Notebook in this morning’s Times newspaper says that when Anna Pavord moved to Devon she noticed a distinctive snowdrop in her garden. She sent a sample to John Sales, a specialist with a passion for snowdrops who told her it was a wild species from the Caucasus and Georgia. When Pavord queried how it had got to Devon, Sales suggested The Crimean War, after which returning soldiers came back with bulbs in their pockets. That a local regiment had fought there adds credence to the story and I now find I want to believe it.

Sketches of various Ws found online

Thundering Tantabus: Ann Treneman has a fondness for unearthing interesting words and phrases which she, an American, albeit one who has lived in the UK for a long time, comes across.  Last week she used the phrase “raining stair rods” which few under the age of, I don’t know 60 or 70, will understand for whom fitted carpets or rugs on wooden floorboards are all they know (little vicious wooden batons with protruding claws being used on stairs instead). This week she quotes a reader who has written to say that the distant rumble of thunder would cause his father to come out with “Tantabus is coming”.  I thought I might adopt this expression but then I realised that I’m not quite sure why I would want to invoke a daemon who turned dreams into nightmares.

Margaret Calvert’s Roadsigns: I mentioned Margaret in this post about typeface and my embroidery of gothic letters for a wedding monogram. This morning’s Times entertained me with a letter from a man who enjoyed devising alternative interpretations for them. He “always enjoys slowing down as he passes retirement homes, reminded by the signage (scroll down to Warning Signs) to look out for elderly pickpockets in action”. Once seen like this, you can’t get it out of your head!

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An embroidered alphabet: letter V and a village pantomime

Hand embroidered V (letter taken from Scriptores historiae Augustae held in the special collection of the University of Glasgow Library)

A sugar sifter of snow fell briefly over England this week and though a pretty sprinkling patchily remained on north facing slopes and in the lower reaches of valley sides, serious blanket covering never materialised. Clutching the well swathed and bubble wrapped altar frontal we took the train Ipsdenwards for an evening at the panto (and, on the following morning, a try on of the altar frontal). Generous hearted as ever, friends enveloped us in a seamless blanket of  kindness. The panto’s writer swooped down from the hills to pick us up from the station and deliver us to another welcoming couple who not only fed us (a superb flakey pastry pie of gorgonzola, broccoli and tarragon), watered us (well wined us), whisked us off to the pantomime and provided the tickets but also set before us a comfortable and well dressed bed.  Much hugging and kissing ensured at the panto. Pretty blissful!

Hand embroidered V (letter taken from Scriptores historiae Augustae held in the special collection of the University of Glasgow Library)

Thursday, the first in a run of four performances, is usually a bit of a slack night for the panto but this time the hall was half full of people nobody seemed to know – real paying customers, possibly only distantly related to performers – a good sign!. The other half was full of locals including at least one ex panto dame who had brought along a garrulous claque of fellow BBC Chorus singers clearly out for a good time and with the voices to prove it.  As usual, the dames – two ugly sisters shoehorned into the wicked queen’s role  in Snow White – stole the show; daytime jobs, one a builder and the other the vicar (my husband’s successor!), were cast aside in the embrace of dramatic artifice. A chorus of children (future soloists in the making) appeared as soap suds, who cleaned the seven dwarves’ house before Snow White got the job (the script in true pantomime form is written around available talent); at half time, without a mutter of dissent, they were taken home to bed. As usual there was much forgetting of lines, ad libbing and audience participation; the director’s 4 month old baby blissfully slept through almost everything, whether in her own mother’s arms or, obligingly, someone else’s.  Live music, a keyboard and a clarinet mostly managed to be louder than the audience. This, the panto’s 20th year, may be its last. There’s no shortage of actors but behind the scenes, the writers, directors, and the costumier are the same handful of people and several have said they would like to have a less stressful December and January next year – who could blame them?

Sketches of various Vs found online

The embroidered V comes from a decorated letter found in an early printed Italian book on the history of Rome, titled Scriptores Historiae Augustae, from the Special Collections of the University of Glasgow and published by Philippus de Lavagnia in 1475. The letters were probably added to the text in the 15th or 16th century and are styled individually – many have exaggerated serifs, while others have none. Some letters are plain, while others are decorated to a greater or lesser extent as the artist fancied. Most letters are enhanced by sprigs of flowers and once more these vary from being stylised to naturalistic, of a single colour to multicoloured. When floral inspiration fails, hexagons of honey combs, stars, dots, squiggles and baroque-like curlicues appear. All of the illuminated letters are on view at the University of Glasgow’s flickr set.  This book is a great source of very clearly drawn exuberant letters with uncomplicated decoration in luscious colours, any of which would lend themselves well to embroidery. The book in its entirety must be stunning.

Sketches of various Vs found online

To translate the V into threads, I appliquéd a little square of silk on to linen using the last of what I think is Bondaweb. This sandwich of fabric provides a nice stable base for embroidery. The creamy white thread is Anchor No 2.

Ipsden altar frontal: It fits! First try on of the completed patchwork. Now for the batting, backing and quilting.

Joy oh joy, the altar frontal fits! The quilting will be no problem but meanwhile I shall be trying a new method of attaching the wadding and backing which doesn’t involve crawling over the carpet on all fours. Plastic drain pipes and pipe insulation will save my knees – I’ll keep the blog posted as to the success of this new technique but it’s got me rather excited!

Coffee with the vicar and his twinkly wife at The Blue Tin Farm Shop followed by homemade soup in the vicarage enabled us to get to know a bit more about each other. The C of E is very bad about encouraging interaction between old and new vicars and, having obeyed the (sort of unspoken) rule of thumb that former incumbent shouldn’t visit the parish until 2 years have passed, we felt it the right time to get in touch. Although I had loved life in the vicarage (1990s, nothing special visually) and felt the view from our sitting room to be incomparably beautiful, I was pleased to discover that revisiting somewhere so dear to us did not wrench my heart beyond coping. (Although on the afternoon of our arrival the vicar, bless him, did find himself overcome by emotion and had to step outside  for a few calming moments with his pipe.) Life moves on.

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