knitting preview

Things have been deceptively quiet on appleturnover lately. Behind the scenes my sweetheart and I have been working flat out, shooting four new homemade pictures for the old schoolhouse. We filmed the Knitting Series in my mother’s bright studio in Deep Cove, and like the Quilting Series, the camera looks over my shoulder as I work, to help you see, step-by-step, every method needed to cable-knit and honeycomb-stitch your own handwarmers and mittens.

There were many props to prepare, and organise, diagrams, storyboards, patterns and notes to draw up. Then we began editing (though my sweetheart is in England just now, so we are using high technology to collaborate!) returning to the intertitles that we loved using in the Quilting Series. For these movies we’ve added the dimension of animation, so another aspect of my art practice has reappeared. Lovely. We’re not drawing so much as writing on the screen, to help illustrate the old techniques clearly. As ever my work is a strange mixture of traditions and technology. I’ve designed printable patterns to take you through each step.

short & sweet heather green handwarmer kit

short & sweet heather green handwarmer kit

short & sweet heather blue handwarmer kit

short & sweet heather blue handwarmer kit

short & sweet heather pink handwarmer kit

short & sweet heather pink handwarmer kit

long & elegant smoke grey handwarmer kit

long & elegant smoke grey handwarmer kit

What do you think of the knitting preview? Watch all the tutorials, free, you’ll find them in the schoolhouse in the column to your left.

pen & ink

Until a dozen years ago I wrote a lot of letters by hand. Even now I handwrite daily, scribbling in little writing books and sketchbooks with my beloved fountain pen. This autumn we spent a day in a 1920’s schoolhouse in the village museum, and I watched the children learn to write with nib pens dipped in ink. I came away determined to revisit the old fashioned pen & ink.

pen & ink

Like so many technologies, writing using a metal nib with a reservoir dipped in ink has progressed rapidly from exciting innovation through to common practice, finally retiring as an art form. Like stone lithography, turning wood on a pole-lathe, throwing pots on the wheel, composing on a typewriter, hand-stitched books and hand-spun wool, I am ever so fond of the obsolete art form.
calligraphy practice
No surprise then, that calligraphy took my heart. Practice, practice, when to dip the pen, touch it to the edge of the bottle to release excess ink, how to hold it, the pressure, the angle;
pen & ink & blotter
Remembering to clean the nib on a scrap bit of cloth, when life interrupts. I’ve used pen & ink as a drawing tool, but as a writing tool I am enraptured with it.
calligraphy with pen & ink
What elation. No, I will not cook dinner! No! I will not sweep the floor! I only want to write and write and write. The best sorts of materials result in beauty even in drips and splashes, scratches and mistakes. This ink is beautiful but takes an age to dry. I think of blotters, and I wear stains on my fingers. I love the idea of a person’s ‘hand’ and that one can recognise it. Forgeries, postcards, old documents, accounts. I gaze at the old things as on a painting. I deeply appreciate the digital age for its effortlessness, but oh, I adore the beauty of the handmade. Slow? Yes! Messy. Indeed! Can there be a balance?
I’ll devote a spot at my writing desk (first the poor desk must recover its legs, heartlessly broken off on its journey to Canada!) to the nib pen, its leather inlay was designed just for this. So were loveletters – though I fell in love with my sweetheart at the dawn of ubiquitous email, and most of our writing is digital. As my sweetheart is far away in England just now, I think the odd messy, handwritten, ink-splashed letter might be just the thing for us. And you?

writing desk

One of the traditional skills I’ve been studying is quite compatible with a predilection for fixing up old furniture. The fine art of haggling. I once read that if the seller doesn’t bargain, they always feel they should’ve asked for more, and if the buyer doesn’t bargain, they always feel they should’ve paid less; when they both negotiate, everyone goes away feeling quite satisfied with themselves. At any rate, between antique shops, online auctions and vintage markets, I’m in training. Just recently I bargained my way into a great deal on a neglected old painted secretary desk. The writing desk came home with us, to be refinished like several pieces I’ve worked on at the old cottage.

writing-desk

The yellowed paint was sanded a little and lightly coated with Old White chalk paint, and I removed old paint from the ornate handles with a dull scouring pad; they came up beautifully, though I admired some of the texture and left it. The good old fashioned leather inlay needed a gentle scrubbing and oiling to restore, it’s a beautiful surface to write upon with just a sheet of paper, though I’m usually working in a sketchbook or writing book. My fountain pen will be a natural match for the piece, when it returns from Germany where it is kindly being repaired, as I had the ill fortune to drop the lovely thing and crack it. Now the desk needs a coat of wax to protect its surface, but I’ve been too impatient to use it!

I adore this bit of furniture, I am thrilled to find it is such a well considered design. All of the drawers lock with a charming key, along with the desk that opens and shuts so elegantly. I love that I can lock up my work for the night, put it away, finished. I’m so pleased to have a devoted place for writing, with drawers and cubbies to keep all manner of papers and objects that didn’t have a good home before. My laptop fits it well, and having a dedicated place to work on it means that I don’t feel I am always working, and that work is everywhere. The top of the desk is just right for a collection of inspiring objects to gaze at, though I can see a bookshelf would also fit beautifully, and the leather inlay has clearly been used just as much for cups of tea as for writing. Ideal companions. If I could persuade my tall child to share, I think her typewriter would look debonair on it. My first experiment in painting fabric, an upholstered chair, had one more coat of a linen shade and is the perfect fellow to the desk, pretty, comfortable and ergonomic no less. When not in use the bureau looks dashing in the corner, which I consider an achievement for a workspace. Secretaire. Well made.

read more tried & trues.
read more stories about handcrafted things.

mrs beeton’s

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, a guide to all facets of running the Victorian household.

mrs-beeton's-sweets

I love it particularly for its colour plates of an endless variety of beautiful dishes;

mrs-beeton's-household-utensils

For such beautiful little prints, and such fascinating style and language;

mrs-beeton's-electric-cooking

And for its illustrations and discussion of household tools, solutions, recipes, remedies. It’s an extraordinary bit of history to page through. I had a peek at Mrs Beeton’s apple turnover recipe, of course.

I love that she calls pastry, simply, paste. So it is! Patisserie.

mrs-beeton's-fruit

This is a 1906 edition of the book, first published in full in 1861. I’ve borrowed it from a friend and found it full of yellowed clippings and ads dating back from the 1920’s. Entrancing stuff.

mrs-beeton's-book

The book is available to read online, and for a bit of social history along with a look at Isabella Beeton’s life, there’s Sophie Dahl’s The Marvellous Mrs Beeton.

larders and pantries

Spring sunshine makes me think of exploring the country, the country makes me think of stepping into old country houses, and old country houses make think of wonderful historical kitchens, sculleries, pantries and larders. I love them as much for their design as for the fascinating objects contained within them. I want one! If I were ever to design my own pantry, I would base it on solutions from an old heritage. From all across the United Kingdom I bring you a peek into the larders and pantries of the National Trust.

The Dry Larder at Lanhydrock, Cornwall © National Trust

The Dry Larder at Lanhydrock, Cornwall, NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. image courtesy of the National Trust

Storage tins on shelves in the Dry Store at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. © National Trust

Storage tins on shelves in the Dry Store at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.
, NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. Image courtesy of the National Trust

The Game Larder with hanging bunches of dried herbs and flowers, wooden storage chests and earthenware urns at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire © National Trust

The Game Larder with hanging bunches of dried herbs and flowers, wooden storage chests and earthenware urns at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie. Image courtesy of the National Trust

The dry larder at Lanhydrock, Cornwall © National Trust

, NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. Image courtesy of the National Trust

An old larder at Tyntesfield, Somerset, showing some of the items left by the Gibbs family.
 © National Trust

An old larder at Tyntesfield, Somerset, showing some of the items left by the Gibbs family. , NTPL/James Dobson. Image courtesy of the National Trust

View of the Pantry at Llanerchaeron, near Aberaeron, Ceredigion, Wales
 © National Trust

View of the Pantry at Llanerchaeron, near Aberaeron, Ceredigion, Wales, NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. Image courtesy of the National Trust

Larder at Petworth House, West Sussex © National Trust

A corner of the Larder at Petworth House, West Sussex, NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. Image courtesy of the National Trust

traditional ball

Football (soccer!) in England dates back to the eighth century though it seems that roots can be traced ten or eleven centuries earlier in China. Our beloved local traditional toy shop furnished a good old fashioned brown leather football, the hand-sewn sort that was played with clear through to 1950, when fans wanted a lighter shade to be able to distinguish it on the pitch from a distance.

old fashioned football © elisa rathje 2012

The old-time natural leather and laces are richly coloured and beautifully constructed. I like it, it looks to me as if I’m seeing the real thing, just the way I love to see a very simply constructed, undecorated hammer or spade. A handsome object.

old fashioned soccer ball © elisa rathje 2012

Astonishingly, the design of the football continues to change. Such a long history! A four-hundred-and-fifty-year old football was recently found in the rafters of a Scottish castle. It isn’t so different to this traditional ball that we play with in our garden.