Friday, January 28, 2011

Witney Antiques' Latest Catalog

Many of you know that Witney Antiques in England have a needlework exhibit each year, and that they publish an accompanying catalog with wonderful photography.  Most of us don't get to attend the exhibit, as we live in all the four corners of the world, so the catalogs become so important to us as the "next best thing".  Becky and I recently got our copies of the latest and here is my review:

'Wrought with the Needle'
Art Treasures of English Domestic Embroidery
Elizabeth I to George II

The photographs in this book are the real delight - they are absolutely astounding and give several views of many pieces, often in microscopic detail, allowing you to see each thread, coil and purl.  The stitches stand out and are easily seen and studied.  

The examples shown are testament to the extraordinary period for embroidery that is embodied in the "Elizabethan Era".  How Witney gets such remarkable pieces to exhibit is a mystery to me, but they always have wonderful examples of every type of needlework being shown in the exhibits and the catalogs.

Text for the book is written by Rebecca Scott and Joy and Stephen Jarrett, and are carefully researched and well-written.  You will learn much about Elizabethan styles and materials by  reading the book.  Photographs are by Justin Jarret, and they are the real jewel here.  Until you actually see the gold and silver metallic threads, the vivid colors of the silks and the lifelike rendering of three-dimensional figures on these artifacts, you can't truly appreciate them.  The photography does justice to the amazing skill of the needleworkers.  If you've never bought another of the Witney catalogs, I would say this is a glorious place to start!

While I've never quite managed to get to Witney for an exhibit, I did once spend time in England, just missing the exhibit dates by a few weeks.  Joy Jarret invited me to come anyway, saying that many items from the exhibit would still be there, with just a few pieces gone that had been loaned or sold...  I was so excited!  We were staying in London in a cute little flat in the Notting Hill Gate area (nope, didn't see Hugh Grant OR Julia Roberts, though I DID see the famous "blue door").  What follows is an excerpt from the travel blog I put up so my friends could come along with me on this needlework adventure.

Off we go from London into the countryside on "the Oxford Tube" which is a bus service from London to Oxford, where we switch to a city bus that drops us in Witney about 45 minutes later - just down the street from Witney Antiques. We have all seen those wonderful catalogues they publish - now I was going to see the real thing!

The Oxford Tube is a very modern coach with wi-fi ports, very comfortable seats and I daresay, air conditioning when needed, though in November, it really wasn't necessary!  When we arrived in Oxford, we waited nearby at a city bus stop, and were soon picked up by a regular, local bus you would expect to run just through the streets of the city of Oxford.  But it took us out into the countryside as well.  We threaded our way through some very narrow lanes with dry stack stone walls on each side - very picturesque!  

When we arrived in the lovely old town of Witney, we were already charmed, but when we were let off at a corner down the street from Witney antiques, we were stunned to see how beautiful the building was.  The whole town seemed to be made of buildings out of this wonderful old stone.

Each fall, they do an exhibition and publish a new catalogue - and I've missed this year's "Stitched in Adversity - Orphanage and Charity School samplers" by just a few weeks, but of course, many of those pieces are still at the store, and there are rooms of just samplers to look at!

Joy Jarrett, the proprietor, meets us at the door and we are ushered in - the first pieces we see are 17th C. embroideries - many of them raised work. Joy shows me a large Elizabethan panel which is in perfect condition - she has just received it from the framers - I'm the first person to see it! This room has some real wonders - my favorite was a piece of raised work with the most masterful purlwork I could imagine! All the foliage is little loops of purl in many different colors of green - I've never seen it in so many colors. Such an effective use of it. Also in this room is a gorgeous casket - beautiful silk embroideries all around - it's displayed on a rotating platform, in a glass box - just incredible - in very fine condition. Another favorite is a piece depicting Orion and a dolphin singing together (I'm sure I've mixed up the story somehow - it was one I didn't recognize - at any rate, you have Orion and a dolphin (you can see the scales on the fish) and a ship in water) - all in the most wonderful metalwork!

Then we head upstairs to the sampler gallery - three rooms just filled with the most gorgeous samplers - all in exquisite condition. Many are German band samplers with areas of spots - most with an Adam and Eve - absolutely marvelous! Fresh, vibrant colors - Joy tells me most of those are from one collection which had been seized by the Nazi's in the '30's and not brought out until the 1990's when they were repatriated to the family of the original owner, and they sold off the needlework. So they have not been exposed to light and are in fantastic shape! 

Another one that caught my eye was a small strawberry sampler with many beautiful stitches all in bright red and cream - very sweet and pretty - I think not counted because the vines are very curved in a very natural pattern in stem stitch - it was so eye-catching. I'd not seen another like it - Joy says she knows of two similar ones but not any others.

We'd arrived around 11:30 and about 1:00 Joy suggested we might want to run next door into their local pub for lunch and come back again later, which we did. Witney is a lovely little hamlet with the gorgeous old stone buildings (one of which holds Witney Antiques) - and the pub - The Three Horseshoes - is one of these - very charming. We had "Cottage Pie" by the fire with a glass of wine - just a delightful sojourn. 

Then we were back and Joy was showing me some of the other orphan pieces - three wonderful huswifs, which she has had framed in reversible frames. Terrific pieces! A last look around, and we were ready to head home. 

What a beautiful day - just a delight. If you do go to England, I thoroughly recommend stopping at Witney - Joy is so gracious and knowledgable - you'll have a lovely time talking samplers with a fellow needlework lover!  Be sure to let her know you're coming, though, as it's a bit out of the way to travel to and find the shop closed for the day.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pandora's First Day in America

We last left Dora on the docks in Boston, wondering why James had not met her ship.  She took out the letter he'd written and read it again. (You can click on the letter to read it more easily)

Just as she finished reading, a crewman bustled by with his seabag on his shoulder.  Dora stopped him and asked the whereabouts of Captain Doble.  "He be right over there, miss." and he pointed to a distinguished looking gentleman who was scanning the crowd departing the Diligence with an air of concern.  As she started toward him, he seemed almost to recognize her and came to her at once.  "Miss Boxworth, I presume?"  He had such kind eyes...  "Yes, and you are Captain Doble?  But where is James?  He was to meet me here"  "Yes, I know - if you'll just come with me - first we should get you situated and comfortable".   

The captain picked up Dora's small bag and shouted to a sailor to deliver her trunks to an address in town,  turned and walked toward the city streets.  As she followed him, Dora looked around wonderingly.  This new place was certainly a busy, bustling place.  People hurried back and forth - shipbuilding was going on over there, offices and shops were down this way, and then suddenly, they were on a charming street lined with pretty houses.  She noted it was called Water Street and wondered if James lived here to be near the docks.  She was about to ask, when Captain Doble turned into the yard of one of the prettiest houses on the street and said "Here we are." This couldn't be James' house - he wouldn't be so successful just yet, so it must be Cap't. Doble's home.

Inside, a woman about ten years older than herself, and very pregnant, stood at the fireplace stirring a pot and warning a toddler to "stay away from the fire"...  At their entrance, she put her spoon down, wiped her hands and took off her apron.  "Hello- I'm Charity Doble, and you must be Dora."  She held out her hand to her guest in the modern way, and Dora took it gladly.  She was glad to be ashore and to be among people who were obviously friends of James'.  But where was he?

Mrs. Doble said "Sit yourself down, girl - you must be so weary after that long journey.  I'll put the kettle on and we'll have tea brewing in a twinkle!"  Dora was happy to sit and have a cup of tea, but why didn't anyone tell her where James was?  Perhaps he was off on a different ship - not Captain Dobles' of course, since he was here.  Well, she was sure they'd tell her in good time.

Once she was comfortable, and warmed by the fire, Captain Doble sat down with Dora and his wife, and said, "Now, you've questions, I'm sure.  First, let me tell you that you are welcome to stay here as long as need be, and if you'd like us to arrange passage home, of course, we can fix that up in no time.  It's my very sad duty, however, to tell you that James has perished on our last voyage out."  

Suddenly there was a ringing in Dora's ears - the room seemed to spin, and she later recalled dropping her tea cup before she fainted dead away.  As she awoke, she was aware that she was lying on a cot with a blanket over her, and she could hear  Charity scolding her husband.  "Well, what kind of a way was THAT to tell her?  No wonder she's fainted!  One minute she thinks he's coming through the door any time and the next you tell her the whole world has changed!"  So it wasn't a mistake... James was dead.  What would she do?  What COULD she do?

After awhile, she sat up and moved back into the main room of the house.  When they saw her, the Dobles jumped into action, making sure she had a comfortable chair near the fire, and then waited to see what she'd say.  Slowly, Dora began to speak.  "Well, I hardly know what to think to do.  I've no money in the world to pay for passage home, and I wouldn't be welcome there anyway.  No, I don't think I'd like to go home.  Oh!  James' mother - she must be told.  I'd best write a letter immediately."

"James' mother has been sent a letter - she probably received it shortly after you left Scotland.  I'm afraid she's been grieving now for some weeks.  As to money - James has left you the money he had saved, along with this letter." And Cap't. Doble handed her a small packet.  Dora started to open it, but stopped.  She just didn't have the heart.  Seeming to understand, Captain Doble said "I believe that this is simply a letter telling you that if anything should happen to him, the money he had saved is yours.  And perhaps a few private words.  But his death was an accident, and he had no knowledge of it beforehand and no time to communicate anything before he was gone."

"How did it happen?"  "We were off the coast of Maine, on our way home, when a Nor'easter hit us.  The winds were stronger than I've ever seen, and the waves washed over the decks.  Every man who was not absolutely needed was ordered to stay below decks, and we were battening down to ride out the weather.  All men above board were tethered to their posts so they couldn't be swept overboard, but one crewman was having trouble getting his rope tied.  James untied his own and went to help him.  Ma'am - he saved that boy's life, but on his way back to his own post, he was knocked off his feet by a ferocious wave and swept overboard.  We looked for him for hours, but the storm was too bad.  We've never found him."  "Then he could have been swept ashore to safety!"  "No, ma'am, I'm afraid not - the water was so cold and we were so far from any shore - no, he probably didn't live more than a few minutes - I believe the water pulled him down and he wouldn't have been able to get to the surface before he drowned.  I'm so sorry to have to tell you this dreadful news."

Dora didn't say anything for a little while, and the Dobles gave her some time to absorb it all.  Charity continued with preparations for their dinner.  It wasn't a grand meal by any means, but tasty and nourishing, and later, Dora would recall her first meal in America with a smile.  She always said "The kindness shown to me in my first hours in America convinced me that this was where I belonged."
Charity's Kitchen
Their meal consisted of an oyster soup or stew, pan fried perch, what Dora later recognized as Boston Baked Beans, and biscuits.  For dessert, a crumb custard.  As Dora shared the Dobles' hospitality, she began to formulate a plan.  She would stay here in America where such a loving family seemed to thrive. Here, she had at least two friends, a little money, maybe, and a place to stay for a little while.  James had also talked of a small house - perhaps that was still a possibility for her.  Surely, she could find some kind of work, and perhaps begin to make her own way in this new country.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in conversation with the Dobles.  Charity, especially, was helpful in advising Dora of some opportunities.  One of the most promising was an opening at a local school for a needlework teacher.  Dora did beautiful needlework, but this was for plain sewing.  Would her darns be good enough?   She'd just have to hope for the best.  

Finally, that evening, as she lay in a strange bed, in a strange city, Dora opened the letter from James.  There wasn't much to his last missive, but of course, he hadn't actually thought it would be his last words to her.  They were "just in case".

When Dora set up housekeeping for herself, she asked Charity for the receipt for the excellent custard they'd had for dessert that first day.  We found it slipped into her journal.

If you wanted to try it yourself, here it is in more modern terms:

Crumb Custard

3 eggs
2 cups soft bread crumbs
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla

Boil together the first five ingredients.  Add the other ingredients and pour into a greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.  Bake at 350 for 30  minutes, or until the custard is set.  Chill and serve cold.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to one and all.  We have so loved reading your Christmas memories - they help to make the season so joyous, don't they?  When I read the comments, I was struck by the fact that it's the little things that people remember, and that warm our hearts.  Small traditions, family jokes, a favorite ornament... all these things add up to precious memories to keep forever!

Thank you to everyone who left a comment for us - we wish we could name you all winners (for you ARE winners to us!), but we did have to choose one.  Julie's husband Vern chose a random number, and Mary in MN - you are the winner of a collection of our products!  Please send us an email at to let us know where to send your goodies!

Do you make New Year's Resolutions?  One of ours this year is to make a little more time for family and our own small traditions - maybe even some stitching!  

So we are taking a little time off, but be watching - we'll soon have new things to talk about on the blog, and certainly, miss Pandora Boxworth must be up to something!

Happy New Year
Bonne Annee
Bo Nadal e Feliz Aninovo
Bliadhna mhath ur
Kenourios Chronos
Sun Leen Fai Lok
Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
Feliz Ano Novo
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

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