… or I could call this a right old Rag Bag. I remember we had a rag bag at home, in the 1960s. I think it was an old pillow case, but gigantic, filled with bits of material, ripped sleeves and worn out clothes. It was a great big bundling thing that lived at the bottom of the airing cupboard and never really delivered anything useful. My mum dragged it out sometimes, no doubt with a task in mind, and the contents were all pulled out, sorted through, recognised and remembered again, and then stuffed back in. Great game.
So think of this post as a pillow case, a sort of eclectic blogging which is another way of saying – hey, anyone wanna look at my holiday pics?
First up – a quick visit to the Alhambra in Granada. Amidst all the splendours of palace and garden we stumbled upon what was probably the mop and bucket cupboard, a small space leading nowhere. The ordered blues and greens of the wall tiles have that beautiful random quality which gardeners and designers always strive for, but is actually really hard to achieve. The patched area in the middle is intriguing, done by an apprentice or a renegade labourer?
I love the regularity of these geometric patterns. And yet both surfaces, with their subtle blend of colours and soft textures, manage to transcend the colouring book mentality. There is order, but there is also an artisan’s personal selection, a decision maker who has stamped these places with his mark.
And then, as if imbued with Moorish magic, wondering about life in the 15th Century and wandering the cobbled streets of the Albaicin, we have indeed tumbled back in time, to a quasi medieval Europe where the men wear very warm woollen gear and sport large cosy hats – and the market doth sell quantities of vintage fabric and old tin baths. Only joking – it’s a scene from Game of Thrones
Next stop Oxford for a few days, lots of culture and colleges and celebrations – and cycling in the heat to the Tandem Festival
This was such a lovely festival and we were blessed by the wonderful hot weather, pints of local cider, wonderful vegan food, great music and an atmosphere that was utterly relaxing.
I have never experienced such a blissful night under canvas, snoozing in a wild flower meadow while the bands played on, my only challenge during the night being a couple of trips to the long-drop toilets.
There were lots of other people there too. And bikes of course.
Back in Oxford we headed out to Wolvercote Cemetery where our cousin Bridget Crampton is buried. What does one do at a cemetery – say hello, remember happy times, think of family? All of those of course, but it’s also helpful if one can recall where the burial took place. We meandered about for an hour and decided a return trip was in order preferably when the sexton was around, then waved goodbye and set off for the pub.
Enough of this gallivanting and back home the weld crop is taking over the garden. Coincidentally weld is a medieval plant – and has been used for centuries to obtain a yellow dye for fabric and cloth.
It’s all very well growing plants that have been around for hundreds of years but I am clueless here. Reading up about dyeing online has been intriguing but confusing.
What I want to make is this bodice as presented by the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex. The museum has a great film about dyeing with madder. And there is a link here with another excellent film made by the historic clothing project which is all about researching and making historically accurate working clothes. Loads of sewing in this clip too! It’s so interesting to hear about working clothing of the poor rather than silken finery of the privileged few. The Weald and Downland is such a wonderful museum and is well worth a detour if you’re ever in the Sussex area.
Really I want to go back in time, to be this woman dressed in yards of linen and live hand to mouth from the garden. So after too much deliberation I decided to chop up some of the multitudinous plants and see what happened. It was a bit like making soup but without the appetising smell. I don’t think it is toxic.
I simmered tons of this stuff for a couple of hours then after it had cooled I dropped in two pieces of cloth, one cotton, one linen, and left it overnight. In the garden. I think the technical term might be ‘steeping’.
The result is definitely yellow.
Here are the pieces after drying and ironing. Indoor and outdoor shots. The outdoor one, on the right, is most accurate; the fabric is the colour of chamois leather.
Finally back to the sewing room with my trusty Friday group. They were very polite about the furniture rearrangement.
Right that’s it. Time to put these scraps back into the sack in the airing cupboard and publish this post. And I am reminded of a strange poem I wrote, when I was struggling with some writing, and felt it would be so much easier to be sewing instead.
Writing a Shirt
Shake out instead a length of linen
cut from a cumbersome roll
spread it smooth along the table,
the print arrows of tissue pattern
lying with the straight grain of fabric
and then stitch together order
planned like maths in a gingham apron.
That would surely be easier –
yet any garment sewn by these hands
betrays the mark of maker,
bespoke dropped shoulder, discrete
lengthening of body and sleeves;
even so, I would rather write a shirt
and stitch a hidden label tight into its nape.