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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Whitework embroidered cushion with AEDC monogram

Whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Embroidering these whitework cushions gave me so much pleasure – there’s little to beat the contentment and tactile delight to be had from pulling smooth cotton thread through almost gritty, slightly resistant linen and seeing the sheen of the resultant flat stitches covering the cloth like a fine cashmere blanket laid softly on top of a billowy duvet. Gradually your design emerges as the needle dives in and out, the thread is pulled up and then the action is done again and again. I hate embroidering using a frame because the very rhythm of in and out in a single move of the needle that gives life to the stitches is replaced by stab, stab, stab – stab the needle up, stab the needle down. I find no joy in sewing like that at all. Well, each to his own and if you’re sitting in an embroidery class with a frame in front of you, good luck to you with that. Of course all goldwork needs a frame – which is where my ignorant 18 year old self went quite wrong with the Elizabethan jacket – some lessons need to be learned.

Whitework AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This cushion is a thank you to the  couple who had us to stay in York with near zero warning on our last outing before lockdown. Both are artists, one a potter and hat maker and the other a fine artist. Their house was a welcome stone’s throw from the station on a rising street that led up from the river to the main road through the city and as it was a miserable and rainy afternoon, with the prospect of more bad weather during the rest of the week end, the nearness of the house to everywhere we wanted to be was a relief. None of us had met before but such was the community of friendship around Bruce, our now dead mutual friend whose life we had come to celebrate, that hospitable people throughout the city were offering up spare beds left, right and centre to anyone who needed one.

Detail of honeysuckle on whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I had known Bruce since Oxford days and had met him fairly conventionally singing madrigals … I think. Our new friends didn’t so much meet Bruce as have Bruce very gently thrust himself upon them – which he had done often to so many people – mostly successfully. Bruce had bought 2 handmade straw hats for his goddaughters in Columbia Road in London, whether in a shop there or in the famous market, I’m not sure. He was always very good at supporting infant businesses producing crafts and hand made items and knew all the best places to go to – whether in Peshawar, Delhi or London’s East End. One hat turned out to be a bit too big. A label on the hats gave an address in York and sometime later Bruce, by then himself settled in York, remembered the address and the too big hat. So, one morning he presented himself at the appropriate front door asking if he could have his hat made a bit smaller. The woman who answered the door agreed the hat was one her company had made but was a bit taken aback by the request as it was her home not her office, it was a Saturday morning when she might hope not to be working and her family were in the middle of a birthday breakfast celebration in the garden. So she did what you do at times like this and invited Bruce to join them. Life would never be the same again for them. Bruce made life better  in so many ways – as long as spontaneity and a certain amount of unpredictability don’t ruffle your feathers.

Fern detail on whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Being invited into somebody’s home is like stepping into an autobiography – family photographs in mis matched frames propped on a radiator shelf in the hall, favourite crockery on open shelves in the kitchen, walls obviously laboriously stripped back to lime plaster of 100 and more years ago hung with painted and sgraffitoed canvases of oversized plants. The house had a distinct pared back unpretentious aesthetic but was a backdrop to lived lives rather than sterile perfection. Click here to see the house and read more about it.

Detail of agapanthus seed heads on whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Not long after we left I sent a package of Neal’s Yard toiletries, which I knew they’d use, but it didn’t seem enough. Anita had said she liked whitework and taking a lead from the dried flowers and grasses both in vases and in David’s paintings I decided to embroider a simple arrangement of leaves, seeds (and a couple of honeysuckles which I find had to resist) around their four initials. For a while  I hesitated as to whether I should use unbleached linen but fortunately photographs of their bedroom on the Remodelista website linked to above showed their bedlinen was white.

Detail of whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

We have had a great deal of rain  this week. Some days so wet we didn’t even venture out to take a walk. The weather is unusually wild for this time of year as storms  from across the Atlantic follow each other in such quick succession I can hardly keep up with them – Kyle became Ellen and now we have Francis. It doesn’t augur well.(I’m not at all clear how Kyle comes before Ellen as I thought they were named alphabetically but perhaps that’s because Kyle was a tropical storm and the others are temperate ones. Who knows!)  There is a definite autumnal feel in the air and my husband abandons his work on the table outside a little bit earlier every night. Having said that, today has been much calmer. It was quite nice in the morning and we went food shopping in warm sun. Sheets have dried on the line and our neighbours have had a man come in to lop branches off their apple and cherry trees. Evening and the rain has returned.

Detail of whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Good news if you’re a lover of milk chocolate in the US as scientists have found a simple way of enriching it with the potentially beneficial  antioxidents associated with the bitter darker variety. Researchers in the States have found that adding an extract from peanut skins, which wold otherwise be discarded as waste, does the job brilliantly – in fact a majority of the tasters preferred the enriched chocolate. This has not yet been tried with British milk chocolate.

Whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Whitework hand embroidered linen cushion with AEDC monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

 

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