Whitework embroidered alphabet: letter I

A whitework alphabet: letter I (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

There will be no coasting gently through the last 2 months of 2019. A general election has been announced for December 12th and now the next 6 weeks promise to be  even more tumultuous and disruptive than the run up to the Christian festival we shall try hard not to name usually turns out to  be –  especially if you have two or more of the following – small children, an extended family, a job, a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), uncomfortable winter shoes, an insubstantial winter coat and a cat who has decided not to leave the house until spring. (Strike that last one. Deciding not to leave the house is very helpful as we can go away and the cat sitter won’t have to worry about letting her in and out.) I only mention this as from now on I shall be zig zagging up and down to London more than usual to support the political journalists in their domestic needs – hence, embroidery as well as blog posts will probably become a bit more erratic.

Whitework Dragonfly (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

And aren’t I glad it’s Great Western Trains to and from Cheltenham. On Tuesday I went to Euston to meet daughter No 3 and her two little charges off the Virgin train from Chester. With a big suitcase, a large backpack and a car seat, getting off a train and maintaining control of the 2 year old was always going to be a real challenge – one not helped by the train being delayed by about 40 minutes due not only to a signalling failure but also, apparently, cows on the line near Rugby! Many Virgin trains were cancelled or delayed and the concourse was as packed at Nottingham Forest’s Trent End used to be on a match day in its heyday (no seating and few rails to lean on). I gather this is not unusual for Virgin. And Euston Station is not the loveliest of places at the best of times. Paddington and GWR, I salute you for making my journeys to and from London so pain free and even enjoyable – would I be willing to come down to help so much if journeys were regularly disrupted…

Whitework butterfly and beetle (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This week I is for insects and fluttering around a capital I of appliquéd silk are  dragonfly, beetle and butterfly. Insects, with their often intricately marked bodies, many jointed appendages and wings of lace filigree (not all have wings), make good subjects for embroidery.

Insect Emporium by Susie Brooks and illustrated by Dawn Cooper (published by Red Shed Books, 2016)

I borrowed  Insect Emporium by Susie Brooks with illustrations by Dawn Porter from the grandchildren. Full of large and very colourful images, the book is visually very gorgeous, though almost more as a design source book  than a teaching aid, for the text is minimal (but then I’m not really their target audience!). Screen printing a set of curtains or a full 50s style skirt with big bold praying mantises, dragonflies or stag beetles in shades of lemon, lime, coral, aubergine and turquoise is very tempting, reminding me of a couple of couture embroidered stag beetles in just these colours on an Alexander McQueen shirt (see below). Of course, they appear with my I in whitework … but now I’ve had the idea of curtains – well, perhaps a hanging – I’ve got very excited. The list of things I want to do just gets longer and longer…

Alexander McQueen shirt with beaded and embroidered beetles


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Whitework embroidered alphabet: letter H


A whitework alphabet: letter H (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)


Oh the bliss of returning to knitting and sewing after a summer spent surrounded by storage boxes, their half forgotten contents and random bits of household furnishings – my welsh grandmother’s brass kettle (which I can neither give away nor know what to do with), an iron curtain rail for a rather large bay window (now cut down by a local blacksmith for our sitting room window) and Chinoiserie lamp bases I’d like to use but don’t have room for (to be kept as, in line with Marie Kondo’s test, they give me joy). Happily, many other things have found an immediate home. A little girl in London now enjoys not one, but two dolls’ houses, (one upstairs and one down, gratis her two maternal aunts) – in a house with so many stairs, a real blessing. Boxes of Sylvanian Families (rhino, leopard, gorilla, fox, tiger  and frogs), 20 plus years old but in mint condition and still in their boxes, are equally welcome, though we are rationing their appearance – possibly over several years! And that Vileda mop handle tucked away in a corner is eagerly awaited in London where two mop head replacements bought in error lie temporarily useless.  Six white bowls and the odd jug or two will also be absorbed into the London kitchen. Sometimes not throwing things away is so gratifying! Anyway the gist is that the end is in sight and our garage, industrial shelving down both long sides, is very nearly the thing of wonder I have spent sleepless bits of nights fantasising about. Ahhhh. Modified delight.

A whitework alphabet: letter H (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Back to the whitework alphabet, here is H for Hare – only the hare is racing so fast in front of the H that you have to imagine a large part of the letter! John Lewis-Stempel has written movingly about them in The Running Hare (2016). Even more exciting,  he has a new book just out called The Private Life of the Hare (2019). A farmer, trying to farm in the ways of the past, he set about trying to encourage hares on his land. Unlike me he has seen them up close and has formed a vivid impression of their singular appearance.

“…a jack hare, rocking-chair gait peculiar to the species. He stops and glares with golden eyes. Hares have the chiseled head of  horses, the legs of lurchers and the eyes of lions.”

Bronze hare by Sue Maclaurin

He held one once when it had become entangled in sheep netting, needing of all his rugby-playing strength to keep a grip and block out the pain. Yet what does he remember but the soft velvet feel of this most undomesticated of animals. I say undomesticated yet, extraordinarily William Cowper, the C18th poet, kept 3 as pets. Having suffered several mental breakdowns, he found the animals, which came individually to him as abandoned leverets, a solace and comfort, a sort of animal Prozac, their presence in his cottage raising his spirits to such an extent that he was able to write again and even produce his best work (“The Task”). He built little wooden rooms with litter trays beneath for each hare to retire to at night but in the day time they had the run of the house, particularly enjoying dancing on the turkey carpet. I seem to remember reading in one of these books (probably The Running Hare, which daughter No 1 got interested in and took back to London with her) that one of the hares would even sit on his knee, look him in the eye and tell him when he wanted to go out. It’s no coincidence that one of the three was called Puss.

John Lewis-Stempel’s books.
Meadowland & The Running Hare

“the countryside of England, before the depredations of agri-business from the 70s onwards, was a sort of heaven, running with hares. I just want it back.” A hill farmer, with sheep and no crops, he has a desire to see arable land farmed in the old way. In The Running Hare  he takes on a short term tenancy of a smallholding to see what he can achieve.  He has just one year to put a field to growing wheat and permitting wild flowers and wild animals in the arable, for in the second year he has to return it to grass. Read the book and see how successful he was. Whether farmers en masse can – or would want to – do what he did  is to open a Pandora’s box of speculaltion. 

John Lewis-Stempel: The Private Life of the Hare (pub. Oct 2019)

Whatever the farmer in Ipsden was doing he must have been doing something right, for there were hares in the field behind us. I’ve never got close to them but we used to see them from the vicarage window, though only ever in the snow when they’d leap around energetically for a while and then sink back into the snow and then stay like that immobile for hours,  small smudges of brown in the sea of white, usually two adults and a younger animal. Their home, called a form, was no more than an indentation  in the earth, usually between ploughed furrows. Practically as soon as they’re born leverets have their own form and are visited by their mother for suckling once a day. It seems such a precarious existence, particularly when you think the fields are full of those alpha predators, foxes and the skies above the Chilterns are flooded with Red Kites. Our tiny Cheltenham garden is a delight but though there’s lots of greenery, there’s no wildlife … and hardly any birds. It’s swings and roundabouts. Here we hardly ever use the car and walk everywhere. In the country, you went FOR a walk but almost anything else – going to work, shopping, going to church, meant getting in a car. Now the most basic aspects of life require evaluation and introspection.

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