little miller

Now, if you’ve been following closely for a while, you might recall an antique grinder I acquired at a village shop near the cottage we once lived in. I have great affection for the mill, and for cooking with my family in that old kitchen, so I made a little something with some images I came across the other day.

Simple pleasures.

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p>(If you’re fond of short appleturnover movies like the little miller, you might like to nose around the old schoolhouse. Along the lefthand side of the page, you’ll find it.)

chromatic pitch pipe

One of my most beloved possessions is a chromatic pitch pipe. It belonged to my Finnish grandfather, a luthier, a fine woodworker, and a beautiful singer.

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Its purpose is to set a pitch to tune an instrument or to sing a melody; I use it when I play my guitar (my grandfather made that guitar, another beloved thing). The design is constructed on the chromatic circle, one of those mathematical, musical patterns I appreciate very much. It is in fact a basic harmonica, descended from the 18th century pitch pipe, which could be used in place of a tuning fork.

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The other side. Isn’t it charming? I love its simplicity and clean typographic design. You can still find these new. Do you know, I’d quite forgotten, I met a piano tuner the other day and learned a couple of things – I’ll show you soon.

knaves acre

Knaves Acre is the 400-year-old cottage in Sussex that we had the utter delight to live in for a couple of years. Such a community, such wonderful countryside, and a beloved circle of friends. The old cottage is featured in the summer issue of the British interior design magazine, Heart Home. There are beautiful, inspiring spaces in every issue, do go have a look. Would you like to see Knaves from their perspective? Here are some of the images.

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In my studio, the hand-crank machine on the long antique table, usually covered in fabrics, papers, clay pieces, but sometimes transformed for a party.

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The old treadle. Those steps lead up to a reading room in the eaves, and the door opens to the deck and a spectacular view across the weald.

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I do love shelving in a studio for yarns and fabrics and excellent tools. I like to see my things, and know where to find everything at a glance.

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Our daybed, much transformed since we acquired it, with the pillows I sewed as studies in linen all across it. Friends would sleep here, and it is the best place to curl up with tea and a book. I’m very fond of the craft cupboard in the corner.

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We studied at the little round table in the mornings and shared our meals there in the evenings. I like to keep an old crate full of study books and pencils nearby, and basket for napkins and mats. I always thought of the ledge beside it as a mantel, though the little wood stove is opposite.

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The writing desk that I fixed up, and its companion, the painted chair. I love to have a place dedicated to writing and image editing, and all the small things that surround that sort of work. Well positioned between the wood stove and the windows! The doors lead to the rambling old garden, once an acreage, with a pond and a swing and a greenhouse in it. And a cliff!

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The settee is an upholstery project, my first. Next to it a table I revived, and my tall girl’s bluebird typewriter, with a story in it as always. The flowers all round the cottage were picked at Blooming Green.

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Up the steps are the bedrooms, with the painted bed and pot cupboard. The vaulted ceilings are something else! From that window we could see the Bluebell steam by in the distance.

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And through to the girls’ room, tiny but perfectly formed. The truckle bed helped the space function well, such a cosy little room in the eves. One wall was entirely lined with shelves full of books and beloved games.

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I loved this kitchen for its marble counter in one corner, bright windows beyond the hob, and open space to stack my own pottery along with pieces I’ve collected. (And for its old edition of Mrs Beeton’s.) It was fascinating, and so much fun, to watch the lovely editors and photographer Paul Craig working to tell the cottage’s story, looking at the space so differently and shooting from angles I’d never have expected. We ate the tarts I’d baked, and had a lovely time.

handcrank sewing machine

The culture that produced our extraordinarily strong, elegant, exquisitely engineered handcrank sewing machine must have envisioned a very different future than one of planned obsolescence. All its parts are built to last, and they have done, so exceptionally well that using it is like looking deep into history without the translation of a word or photograph. If I had the skills to build a machine, I would study this antique. Watching the bobbin winder alone is a delight. Working the crank is surprising, nothing catches, only smooth, magnificent turning movement. Absent of the electrical, the digital, it’s an object that I find at once enigmatic and much more accessible than any contemporary machine. Such a design! The children stitched their hand puppets on it with ease.

handcrank sewing machine © elisa rathje 2012

It’s no surprise then, that this gorgeous little singer from the early 1900’s, with its curved wooden case and elegant paintwork, is the star of a couple of movies I’ve been making with my sweetheart. This is a sneak peek of the singer on set. Our little moving pictures will have homemade projects to go with them, I’m bundling the kits up now. Do sign up for the appleturnover quarterly to get an early invitation to the appleturnovershop opening, I’m aiming for later next week.

Oh! If you’re in England and you’d like your own vintage sewing machine, my dear friend Sarah has a shop full of them.

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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.