linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

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The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

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Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

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Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

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Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

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Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

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potter’s case

There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.

potter's case

Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.

potter's case

I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.

potter's case

I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.

potter's case

Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.

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.

jelly mould

The jelly seems singularly English to me. I didn’t eat them for years, being a vegetarian, but having turned to eating animal foods from organic, sustainable sources, and in becoming interested in using the whole creature, gelatin is something we’re eating now. I was so pleased to find organic gelatin powder, so we’ve been making our own jellies.

jelly mould

When I was at Liberty for the lovely book launch for Decorate I came upon a beautiful glass jelly mould in a traditional shape, and fell hopelessly in love. We saw a few at the antiques fair but their material was questionable, so we kept looking. Found! I am rather fond of a bubbly elderflower presse as a jelly. I’d like to try floating edible flowers in a jelly, perhaps made right in a champagne flute (with champagne!) as we saw on the achingly inspiring Treats from the Edwardian Country House. I will be so happy when we can use our own fruit to make jellies, I’ve planted out the strawberries today, though we may miss them entirely this year. Perhaps they’ll establish a beautiful patch for next. Have a lovely weekend! I’ll be twittering and pottering in my studio tomorrow, though the garden is beckoning with increasing urgency.

wristwatch

We’ve spent an extraordinary day in sunny London, music lessons, art museums, restaurants. Most days we don’t live by the clock, but on such a busy day when we need to meet people, catch trains, make reservations, I like to wear my wristwatch.

wind-up wristwatch

The watch belonged to my maternal grandmother. It’s a petite little thing, a wind-up Tissot. I adore winding it up and setting the time. So do my children, I have to get them to take turns. I know the battery is a useful thing, but I find the ritual winding of the watch ever so gratifying, in great contrast to the annoyance of a dead battery. The scratches and cracks make it all the more dear to me, like writing across it. I took it to see a wonderful clockworks in Crouch End, and the lovely fellow there gave it a new strap and sent us on our way. I’m so glad there are mechanical things like this old fashioned wristwatch that last and last. Especially when I’ve used my phone for texts, maps, videos, photographs, train schedules, emails, websites, and telephone calls, until it has expired for the day. As I’m about to, myself.

market basket

A basket is an elegant, traditional solution for frequent, local grocery shopping. Only in recent history has it been somewhat overlooked in favour of the plastic bag and the superstore, and thankfully, cloth bags, shopping trolleys, and the chic basket are experiencing a revival. If you’re lucky enough to live where you can buy food from little markets and farm shops, like we are here in the village, the shopping basket is essential. I’m tremendously pleased to have found a beautiful Moroccan basket, so popular in France, at a fair in London this past weekend.

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The one I’ve chosen has both long and short leather handles, is sturdily built, and can hold quite an astonishing amount. Look for a strong weave, firmly attached handles, and fair trade. If it gets misshapen, simply spray lightly with water, reshape, and air dry immediately.

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Naturally I tested the basket at the fair. One is obliged, of course. It held my handbag, a few crockery finds: long wished for pitcher, sugar bowl, and platter, from various vintage stalls. A nightdress made from a Victorian pattern, from the wonderful British traditionals shop Twice. A handmade wooden spatula from British & European woods by Croglin. I almost lost my head for many more things at the market, and could have fit them all in easily. Perhaps not the vintage sideboard. (Speaking of finds, being our first spring in our cottage, we keep discovering flowers! The bouquet pictured was plucked from an unexpected drift, hidden away behind the garden shed.) Traveling home to Sussex was a breeze, the market basket sits so effortlessly on my shoulder. I’m very impressed. We’re off to fill it with food from the farm, time to make some cream cheese and yogurt and begin to prepare for exciting visits from dear old friends and family. I’m wishing for beautiful April days to take the basket on picnics and adventures.