Saturday, 1 January 2022

Christmas Ornaments, Old and New

What's the oldest ornament on your Christmas tree? Mine is probably the fairy on the top.

She hasn't always been a fairy though. She started life as a Rosebud doll back in the 1960s but her career as a doll was brought to an abrupt end when I dropped her in the back yard and her head broke. Mum carried out some emergency surgery (her hair covers the scars) but, wanting to avoid more tears the next time I dropped her, suggested that she might like to be the fairy on the Christmas tree. You can just about see her in this photo from Christmas 1966.

And yes, that's me in my red nightie gazing up at at her happily. Over the years, she's had various changes of clothes ... well, not so much clothes as bits of lace wrapped round her and sewn in place.

Next time, I'm going to make her a new pair of wings - less, shiny cardboard, more floaty gauze I think.

This year we have been sorting out my late Mum's house and, amongst other things, we divided up the old Christmas decorations. Which leads me on to another treasured ornament. Can you see the Father Christmas on the swing in that old photo?

I have no idea why he's on a swing; I must have missed that part of the traditional story. He has a fine handlebar moustache though. He was always one of my favourites and, this year, he's on my tree.

He doesn't look bad for a gentleman of sixty.

The newest decoration on my tree is this lovely felt cat, made for me by my daughter.

Fans of Judith Kerr will recognise Mog the cat who definitely doesn't approve of Christmas, hence the glum look. When she sees a tree moving about she takes refuge on the roof and refuses to come down ...

                        'Mog stayed on the roof. Some white things fell out of the sky. Some
                         fell on the roof and some fell on Mog. They were very cold.'

To find out what happens next (don't worry, there's a happy ending), you'll have to read Mog's Christmas.

Have you got any treasured ornaments on your Christmas tree?

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Badges and Brooches

When I was taking photos of my Round Nesting Boxes recently, I rooted out some of my old badges and brooches to put in them.

Before putting them away again, I took some photos as I thought you might like to see some of them. In the smallest box there's what you could call my magpie brooches - shiny ones!

I love the pretty costume jewellery you find with a coloured stone surrounded by metalwork.

The ones on the right are useful for keeping shawls in check; I've had all three of them for many years. The rest of the metal brooches are a mixture of fun ones and those associated with particular places / organisations / groups - I can't think of a word that covers them all.

The yellow oval is from the Children's Liver Disease Foundation, the charity I support through my work and the blue one next to it is from the Ring of Tatters. The three crests below represent the Universities my children and I went to. The one in the middle is Birmingham where I read English in the early 1980s. The red birds are Queen's where Jack read Maths and the last one is Lincoln where Rose read History.

In the next box are a selection of homemade brooches.

There are felt ones, beaded ones and a few based on Dorset Buttons, all made by me ...

I recently got a wonderful new book on Dorset Buttons from Gina-B Silkworks (their website is a great place to lose yourself) and am looking forward to working through it. When I do, I'll share my progress with you. In the meantime, here's a little brooch I made recently for a friend's birthday/

The other handmade brooches are much older, dating from the 1950s and 60s.

Patterns for these embroidered brooches would have been found in magazines of the time. Several of these were embroidered by my Mum as a young woman, others have been bought by me in antique shops.

What's next? More pretty old brooches.

My collection of china posy brooches, mostly dating from the mid twentieth century. These were made by various Staffordshire potteries and I just love them.

Most of mine were picked up in charity shops and the like but I have one given to me by a friend that belonged to her late mother and that dark red one was my Great-Grandmother's. One day I'm going to make a little fabric cushion to display them on.

The last two boxes have more humdrum contents. First, there's my collection of Shakespeare badges.

Before being struck down by Covid (and the never-ending Long Covid) Jack and I were regulars at the RSC which is only half an hours drive from here. As well as the programmes, I was building up a good collection of quotes badges too.

'Though she be but little, she is fierce' (Midsummer Night's Dream) struck a chord with so many that you can now find it used on all sorts of merchandise. Also shown are quotes from 'Love's Labour's Lost', 'Much Ado About Nothing', King Lear', 'As You Like It' and many more.

The contents of the final box might best be described as 'all the rest'.

There are book badges ...

... lots of puffins as I'm a collector of Puffin books. The Elmer badge was one of several I made for a  session at the Puffin shop in Covent Garden in 1991 when David McKee was signing his books.

The little boy at the front of the picture is my son, Jack, then aged three and yes, I knitted his Elmer jumper.

A few political badges next - that 'Don't blame me, I voted Labour' badge has been useful far too many times since I got it in 1983.

'For the many, not the few' was the slogan of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party - says it all.

These next ones are a mixed bunch. I particularly like my 'Santa's Little Helper' badge and the one about turning into your mother - happened years ago here! Quite a few of these were bought at News From Nowhere, a wonderful bookshop in Liverpool.

I also bought this card at News From Nowhere which is part of my Christmas display every year ...

The last collection are my knitting badges. And, before you ask, no, I can't remember where I got them but I think it was online so you could probably find them.

Aren't these great? Which ones do you like best? Perhaps the fact that I like 'Knitting for the Resistance' and 'Armed with pointy sticks' says something about my less than placid nature!

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Busy Bees

I thought you'd like to see something a bit different today. I don't normally accept commissions but when my son asked if I could knit bride and groom bees for his friends' wedding cake, I couldn't resist the challenge. It was actually a celebration of their wedding which had to be cancelled last year because of Covid restrictions. They got married in a registry office instead and have only just been able to mark the occasion with friends and family.

Why bees? I don't really know, other than they like bees. The theme of the wedding was 'Alice in Wonderland' so it could really have been any creatures. I'm quite glad they didn't want a pair of Cheshire Cats.

Designing the bodies of the bees was quite straightforward, although it was a bit tricky trying to keep the small enough. The real problems came when trying to give them antennae and legs. A combination of pipe cleaners and thread wrapped wire did the trick though.

For the wings I used more wire, wrapped with cream yarn. So far, so good. Then I had to turn them into a bride and groom. 

For the groom I just added a purple felt tie (somehow, this photo looks unseemly) ...

But oh, that veil for the bride ... I could only find one piece of lace and it was too big, too floppy and looked ridiculous. Fitting a veil on something with wings is hard. In the end, I starched the lace and pressed it into folds give it a bit of shape and then gathered the head end tightly and sewed on some tiny pearl beading. I thought the little artificial flowers made it look more like a veil and less like a bit of old net curtain.

I had the bees finished about a week before the wedding and they were very pleased with them. Here's a photo of the bees on the cake. Not a very good photo - taken by Jack on his phone in poor light conditions - but you can see them.

All the decorations on the cake, except the bottom log and the bees, were made out of icing. Isn't that amazing? Even the cup and saucer which look just like china.

Here's wishing Ian and Tori a long and happy life together.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Aunty Ivy and the Lobster

Let me start by introducing you to Aunty Ivy. She was actually my Great-Aunt and she was born in 1899. Ivy was the third child of Annie and George Cannons and their first daughter. They would have eight children all together, six of whom survived infancy. Here is Ivy at the age of  13 with two of her younger sisters.

Eva, seated, was 8 and the little one is four year old Ada. I know their ages when this photograph was taken as their mother had written them on the back but I also have that most useful record for all family historians - the family bible.

It's big, very heavy and has the family births, marriages and deaths recorded at the front. Here is Ivy, between the two babies who died. At the top of the list is her brother George and the last entry on the page is for Eva who was born in 1903.

Over the page are the last three children: Ada, John (always called Jack) and Ida, born in 1908, 1911 and 1915 respectively.

You've seen Eva and Ada already; here is George with his baby brother Jack in a photograph taken when George was 15 and Jack six months. Jack's middle name of Noel was given to him because he was born on Christmas Day.

Like the picture of the three sisters, this is a typical formal family photograph of the time. This photo of the youngest child, my Grandmother Ida, is a bit more relaxed.

So, that's Ivy and her brothers and sisters. Their births, marriages and deaths are in the bible and then there we also have a few photographs of them as children and of some of their marriages. Here is Aunty Ivy on her wedding day in 1924.

All but one of Ivy's siblings are in this photo; George was meant to be the Best Man but didn't turn up ... one day I'll tell you the long and mysterious story of Uncle George. Anyway, I think that's Eva standing next to Ivy and Ada at the other end of the same row. The boy in front of her is Jack and the little girl in the middle is Ida.

In the early twentieth century photographs were only taken to mark special occasions so for snapshots of daily life we have to look elsewhere. In my case, this is a huge collection of family postcards dating from 1904 to the present. My Great-Grandmother Annie collected them for the pictures but now we're just as interested in the writing on the back. In a time before telephones, postcards were often used to tell someone which train you'd be arriving on for a visit or that you'd got home safely afterwards. There are lots of the "hoping this finds you as it leaves me" variety that don't tell us much.

There are exceptions though ... this one from 1905 has always intrigued me.

The Edie who didn't want anyone to know about her marriage was one of my Great-Grandmother's sisters. Why the secrecy? The couple's first child wasn't born until 1907 so it wasn't a hasty wedding. Whatever the reason, Edie and George went on to have seven children and were together until George's death in 1940.

Then there's this one from Ivy's brother George (yes, him again).

Written when he was nearly 16 and (I think) working on the railways, George's message to his mother is intriguing. What does "look out for a surprise don't say I didn't warn you" mean? It could be anything from a new haircut to ... well, I don't know what. In the top left corner he's put "Don't worry" which is no help at all. Over a hundred years later, we still don't know what the surprise was.

I mustn't keep getting distracted; this story is meant to be about Aunty Ivy. In 1907 one of Ivy's aunts took her back with them to London for a visit and sent a postcard to her mother to let her know how she was getting on.

It looks like eight year old Ivy was enjoying herself. The upside down postcript at the top of the card reads "Ivy says tell Mother I have not cried. I like being in London".

Like all her sisters except the youngest, Ivy went into service as a young girl, as her mother had before her. This would have meant living in the house of her employer which is why we have various postcards home from her, often addressed to her little sisters. There is this one to Eva wishing her a Happy 11th Birthday in 1914 ...

... and this one to Ada a year later ...

Oh the superiority of the older sister "I expect you think you are a big girl now you are seven year old". I wonder what the knitting was that's mentioned in this next one, again to Eva.

There are also several postcards where the picture is related to the war (World War One, 1914 - 1918). Here is Ivy writing to her father in 1915.

Luckily, George who was now in his forties didn't join the army. He would have been too old when conscription was introduced the following year and I think that his job on the railway would probably have counted as a reserved occupation anyway.

The next card is to Ivy's little brother Jack, not a picture postcard for his album but another one referencing the war.

This next one was a novelty postcard produced with various town names on during the war; Ivy's family were living in Wimborne, Dorset at the time but they did settle in Andover in the 1920s. This card suggests that they already knew the town, perhaps through their father's work on the railway.

When you opened the flap, all you could see was an expanse of solid black which was what it was to be hoped the town would look like in the event of a Zeppelin raid .

This novelty card leads me - finally - to the lobster. It's 1928 and Ivy and her husband Reg are on holiday in Littlehampton. Open the flap and the lobster reveals  a concertina of black and white images of the seaside town.

Very nice too, not what you'd call a chatty card (the Kemps are family cousins) but I expect Ivy's younger sister Ida enjoyed it. But now, nearly a hundred year's later, Aunty Ivy's lobster postcard has got a new lease of life.

Yes, that's right, it's the lobster from the postcard, now gracing a London bus stop. And here it is again ..

This is the window of The Postal Musem in London where my daughter works as one of the archivists and all those lobsters are on posters advertising their current exhibition marking 151 years of the British postcard. 151 years rather than 150 as the original exhibition was planned for 2020 but had to be postponed because of the pandemic.

Wish You Were Here runs until the end of the year and features postcards from the past, exploring themes from romance and war to the Great British seaside holiday. For those unable to visit the exhibition in person (which of course includes me), this video gives you a tour of the highlights. Some of the postcards you can see in the seaside section are from our collection.

The Postal Museum Blog is a fascinating read too for those interested in social history. Amongst the interesting human stories from within their collections are several posts directly relating to this exhibition. Postcards from the Front looks at the cards sent by soldier Harry Brown to his mother during the First World War, while Seaside Postcards is an entertaining read. I also enjoyed Creating an exhibition in the middle of a pandemic; putting an exhibition on is much more than just sticking a few things in a case.

Another exciting aspect of the exhibition from a purely personal point of view was the fact that some of our postcards were used to create items to sell in the  museum shop. In this video the artist Emily May talks about turning some of the postcards into watercolours which were then used to created things to sell in the museum shop to accompany the exhibition.

Obviously, I had to buy a few things ...

I'm particularly pleased with the tea towel which I shall probably use to make a bag.

In this close up, I can see several of our postcards ...

As well as the lobster, the blue bus and the donkey are ours. Can you spot them?

I thought it would be nice to talk about a few of our other postcards that are in the museum and the people behind them. I didn't have photos of these ones so I'm grateful to The Postal Museum for permission to use theirs. First of all, some gentle seaside humour.

This one was sent by Uncle Jack, who we last saw as a small boy at Ivy's wedding, to my Mum and Dad in September 1956. This is what he wrote on the back ...

The Saturday referred to was the day of Ann and David's wedding and it was indeed windy. This is probably my favourite of their wedding photos.

A year later and my brother Stephen was a new baby and he and Mum and Dad were staying at Mum's parents while they were on holiday in Dorset. I suspect they were looking after the garden and the pigeons (Grandad kept racing pigeons for many years). This is the postcard sent to them by Ida.

The writing on the back manages to include baby Stephen's weight, a roast goose and blue jellyfish - can't you fit a lot on a postcard?

And here we have a photo of Stephen as a baby to confirm that he was indeed putting on weight well, although he doesn't look very happy about it.

We have a whole series of postcards sent to Stephen by his Granny, some of which bear the marks of having been chewed on. He particularly liked ones with a squeaker in but, sadly, these couldn't be used in the exhibition. There were other novelty cards to choose from though. She chose this one a few years later which opens out in the middle in the same way as the lobster card does.

Here is Stephen with his Granny about this time. He seems to have slimmed down a bit.

In 1961 Ida was on holiday in Weymouth and sent Stephen this postcard.

By turning the wheel at the top, more pictures could be seen. Stephen had obviously moved on from just chewing the cards. Here's the writing on the back ...

... and yes, Frances is me. I was born in 1960. Here I am in my pram with Stephen considering me. He looks quite pleased - not sure about me.

I love the sentiment on the front of this next card, again from my Granny.

They were staying at Butlins Holiday Camp and, having brought up four children, including for several years on her own during the war, she definitely appreciated a bit of time off.

One more of our postcards from the exhibition, this one sent to me in 1968.

Suzanne and Carole are our cousins, a few years younger than me. Here we are in our garden at Longstock at around that time (I'm the one in the green dress).

Before I go, I've got one more picture to show you. This is Aunty Ivy's Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1975 and quite a few of the people I've been talking about are there, as they were fifty years before. Apart from Ivy and Reg obviously, the woman next to Reg (with her arms crossed) is Eva and the man with the cigarette in his mouth at the end of the row is Jack. Next to him, wearing glasses, is Ida. I think Ada must be there too but I'm not sure which one she is.