wooden spoon

The humble wooden spoon has an honoured place amongst my beloved tried & trues. Plain, modest, and common, yes. Impossible to improve upon, remarkably adaptable, ecological, economical, ergonomic, and quite simply, essential, very much so!


I like to keep a collection of wooden spoons of varying shapes. (Why yes, that’s my handmade pitcher, all glazed and grand.) Some are reserved for tall pots of savoury things, others are strong and sturdy and kept for the physicality of baking. I try to keep the baking spoons from doing the work of the cooking spoons, so that I don’t end with a garlicky cake. I’ve a spoon of my grandmother’s with a lovely curved hook to balance the spoon on the edge of a pot. I’ve very old dark ones, rubbed with olive oil over the years, stained by berries and tomatoes. I’ve a weakness for variety and will buy unusual shapes as I come across them. They never scratch a surface, not smooth steel or enamel, nor do they bend, melt, or release toxins of any kind. Easily washed, easily stored. These are the sorts of ancient tools one keeps for a lifetime, or two. I’ve heard that even the finest chefs will point to the ordinary wooden spoon as the most essential tool in the kitchen. One day I’d like to make one myself.

Autumn sets me to baking, mm, maybe apple-cream-turnovers! Did you see appleturnover’s quarterly yet? Fratelli’s recipe comes with every subscription.


Watercolours, in all their simplicity, make my list of indispensable art materials. Like a set of good, rich drawing pencils, and a fine black pen, a paintbox of fine colours is essential.


I like to make sure my children have professional materials to work with, and watercolours are an inexpensive, non-toxic, easy-to-clean solution. We share our materials, though I must watch that the best paintbrushes aren’t left in murky water to permanently turn left!


Archival watercolour paper is tempting, and gorgeous brushes are needful things, never mind box easels and palettes, but I am regularly amazed at the effects that can be achieved with the simplest materials.


Water, pigment, paper. These are so elemental in artistic expression, and we return to the old materials again and again. I bring out the watercolours in the summer especially, inspired by that wonderful old tradition of painting en plein air. Peaceful habit. Ever so grounding. I’d like to sit down to paint more often.


p>These paintings are my children’s experiments, very old and very recent; they’re completely different from their pen and pencil drawings; I love how materials can break you out into new territory. You might like to see some gorgeous pen and ink drawings that my lovely friend Sania Pell made with her child. Ever so inspiring.

tailor’s chalk

Like a set of wooden drawing pencils, or an ink-filled fountain pen, I adore tailor’s chalk for its simplicity of form.

tailor's chalk © elisa rathje 2012

Just a flat shape to grip, a sharp edge to mark fabric with, a pure substance that harms neither the cloth nor the tailor. I have great respect for the ecology of a product that leaves nothing to throw away when it’s done. Even a broken piece remains useful. I love to use this chalk for measuring and marking in quilting and dressmaking. And isn’t it a pretty object?

bicycle clip

There were a number days of such beautiful weather, they put me in mind of riding bicycles to the beach. On our little trip to Winchester I came across a set of bicycle clips just like the ones my father used to lend me to keep trouser legs from sweeping a pattern of grease from the gears. Simple and effective. Also a little bit nerdy in a charming, bicycley sort of way, particularly when forgotten on as one walks round the shops.

bicycle clips © elisa rathje 2012

Well yes, I did fall for the graphic design, too. However, there will be no bicycle riding for me til these spring storms blow well and truly over. I shall be quite preoccupied with rather an exciting photo shoot in the old cottage next, so I hope you’ll forgive my absence! I’ll be back next week, hoping for May flowers.

hair brush

The hair brush is probably about as ancient a tool as a knife; artifacts show up across every culture. In 1777 William Kent got started manufacturing them, and they haven’t changed a whole lot ever since. I’m partial to a wooden brush with natural bristles, a round one, or a flat one with pneumatic rubber cushioned bristles, like Mason Pearson made in 1885, around the same time as production started on my tried & true hard-rubber comb. As a child I admired an ornate silvery brush and mirror set in the family, the sort that was popular for brides for the last one hundred and fifty years. But it is the long traditions of brushing and styling hair that I’m even more interested in. I’m very pleased to have a guest who shares with me a delight and fascination with practices that ground us and connect us, the wonderful Kim McCabe. I like her perspective and asked her to give me her take on the tried & true hair brush, as someone who works with attachment and parenting.


My great-grandmother used to brush my grandmother’s hair one hundred times every morning.
My grandmother did the same for my mother.
My mother didn’t have time.

Now all too often we associate doing our daughter’s hair in the morning with hurry and stress. Tension arises as hair is tugged, child remonstrates, and mother chastises. We miss the opportunity that it gives mother and daughter to spend special time together. Tugging at tangles is not necessary. If we set aside ten minutes and take the tangles slowly, it can be a time of intimacy. It can be a pleasure for both.

Rather than approaching it with a sense of dread, brushing our daughter’s hair could become a morning ritual where we chat about the day ahead. It can be a ritual that continues long after she could be managing her hair for herself because it has become a precious way of checking in with each other at the start of each day. Sometimes things can be discussed that are not so easily spoken of face to face.

These daily snippets of quality time weave the strong web of the mother-daughter relationship. It is worth it, and it may even transform the morning mood at home.

My sweetheart likes to brush our children’s long hair while they watch a film together on the sofa. Then they come to me to show me their beautiful hair. It’s a sweet ritual, I hadn’t noticed it so much til now as a way to bring them close. I’ve grown my hair quite long and have been trying to persuade them all to plait it for me – and I’ve been practicing different knots and twists on the children’s hair. It’s such a friendly thing to do, I shall be keeping in mind another purpose beyond getting out all those tangles. Thank you Kim.

Kim McCabe works with mothers and their coming-of-age girls and writes the brilliant, perceptive Rites For Girls.