yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

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.

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

thumb-sprinkler

Not so long ago I came across a beautiful Victorian garden tool, simply constructed out of terra cotta. A thumb sprinkler, fascinating object. Like a closed bell, with perforations on the base and a hole at the top, the thumb sprinkler is plunged into a bucket of water to fill, then the thumb-hole is covered. Held over a batch of delicate seedlings, the sprinkler releases droplets just perfect for wetting the earth whilst leaving growing plants undisturbed. An antiquated spray bottle. Not unlike my droplet decanter in design. Clever! I told my dear pottery teacher Katrina about it, and being amazingly wonderful, she made one for me, and one for you. Would you like to see her throw a Victorian thumb-sprinkler on the wheel?

Settling the clay on the wheel; bringing the clay up and down twice over; centering; widening; opening up; compressing; bringing the wall up; compressing the rim; pulling up; compressing; pulling; collaring; soaking up water; wetting with slurry; closing in; refining the shape; coning in; clearing the slurry; cutting in; wiring off.

thumb-sprinkler-s.jpg

The finished, perforated, glazed and fired sprinkler. I’m using it to care for lettuces & seeds in my greenhouse.

Katrina Pechal makes absolutely gorgeous, textured work with volcanic glazes, completely unlike the beautiful Victorian sprinklers she made for us. She also teaches, with astonishing clarity and delight, wheel-throwing in her Forest Row, Sussex studio to adults and children. I love studying with Katrina.

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.

galvanised bucket

Having grown up in one rainy village and moved across the world to another, I’m quite fond of any object that can emerge with grace from a wet winter. The patina on a galvanised steel bucket only improves with weathering and age. The ones I’ve found around this old cottage, and picked up for a fiver at markets nearby, are thick with stories. I guiltlessly leave them out in the wet, forgotten between the compost and the greenhouse when we’ve headed out for a walk in the hills. A couple of them are understated in such an appealing manner, they’ve been invited inside. I keep one next to my treadle to catch threads and snippets, and another stands upstairs beside the tub. Their dull, perfect grey inspired the resolution of a long-considered project, which I hope to show you tomorrow.

the old bucket © elisa rathje 2012

There aren’t many materials that age so beautifully. The stone chimney pot looks better and better, and the deck chairs are growing a distinguished grey, the terracotta pots are patterned with lichen, but most other objects acquire a distressing coat of slippery green in this climate, or worse, they sport mushrooms.

In 1742, French chemist Paul Jacques Malouin described a method of coating iron by dipping it in molten zinc in a presentation to the French Royal Academy. In 1836, French chemist Stanislas Sorel obtained a patent for a method of coating iron with zinc, after first cleaning it with 9% sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and fluxing it with ammonium chloride (NH4Cl).

Zinc-coated. Endlessly useful object, the galvanised bucket, the sort one might comfortably have around for generations without really noticing.