Love Your National Parks: 2014

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This was a tea towel that Jai and Roger gave me for my birthday three years ago, following their holiday near Kielder Water in Northumberland.  It is a beautiful tea towel with the National Parks of England, named, with a picture representing each.   The pictures are striking, with such vibrant colours.  The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 lay the foundations for the setting up of the National Park idea.  National Parks were set up for two purposes: firstly, to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area and secondly, to promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Parks by the public.  You will always hear on the news the dilemmas facing National Parks.  Recreation and tourism, in reality, fund the upkeep of the National Parks but tourism will bring traffic congestion and erosion.  For me, National Parks are special places, precious places, beautiful, glorious, wild, isolated and many other adjectives which can describe them but they also have to be living landscapes for the people who live there.

The strange thing about this tea towel is that there are sixteen National Parks in the United Kingdom, designated at different times, from the earliest in 1951 to the latest in 2010 (South Downs) and one is still being discussed for Northern Ireland, yet on this tea towel there are only eleven; the eleven for England.  This tea towel isn’t called Love Your English National Parks.  So the ones that are not included are the Brecon Beacons, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia and the Cairngorms.  I wonder why that is.  It includes the Broads, one of the sixteen but not strictly a National Park because it is managed in a different manner from all the rest.  Somehow this doesn’t feel right but hey ho!

The idea of a tea towel about the National Parks brings back so many memories for me, memories of at least 45 years ago.  I did a degree in Geography at Swansea University.  Geography is a huge and vast field, even for an undergraduate.  There are so many options; it’s certainly not about a big map of the world and knowing what the capital cities of each country are.  One of my options was Rural Social Geography;  it included Nomads of Sudan and the National Parks of Great Britain.  It is hard to imagine two more diverse topics.  Both were fascinating.  I was the only one of my friends that understood the politics of the Sudan Civil War but I also had a fascination for National Parks.  Of course, when I was at university there were only ten National Parks.  Brecon Beacons was on our doorstep and we spent a lot of time walking in that area.

But my earliest memories of the National Parks are of the Lake District, where we spent a number of holidays because my mother had family in Millom, on the edge of the Lake District.  The Lake District for me will always be associated with Beatrix Potter, not Beatrix Potter the author but Beatrix Potter the farmer, the breeder of Herdwick sheep, the woman who wanted to save the Lake District from development, rather preserving it for working farmers.  As I got older, the Lake District continued to have a draw for me; we used to camp at Patterdale near Lake Ullswater, usually in the pouring rain.  Alfred Wainwright sums up the Lake District for me; I have all his books and I have spent many a happy hour following the paths he trekked, knowing I was never going to be able to physically follow in his footsteps but I can read about his journeys.

The Peak District is, for me, the start of the Pennine Way, the walk I always wished I had been able to complete.  It held a mystery for me; I probably know the route as well as anyone, having read about it, looked at pictures of it, knowing I wouldn’t manage it.  I have always said that you should never keep looking back, regretting things you haven’t done; in the main, I don’t have such regrets except I would truly have loved to have walked the Pennine Way.

The Pembrokeshire Coast was an area that I explored while I was living in Swansea, an area that is certainly underrated, such beauty.  If you look at my tea towel collection, you will know that I have holidayed in the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, the Broads, Dartmoor and Exmoor and Northumberland;  but I have never been to the New Forest and probably have only skirted through the South Downs.  There are plenty more places for me to go (and some will have tea towels, of that I am sure).

Use Water Wisely: 2014

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When I worked as a Social Worker, people would ask me what I did for a living and when I said I was a Social Worker, one of two things happened: dead silence, it was a conversation stopper or people would appear to blame me for every child that was wrongly taken into care (even though I worked with disabled adults).  I think it is because people rarely take the time to understand the intricacies of other people’s jobs; their knowledge functions at a superficial level.  I fall into the same trap; I can make the same wild generalisations through lack of knowledge.  Pete used to ‘work with computers’.  My assumption has always been that Pete knows everything about computers: everything from a Mac to a Dell, from programming to setting up a website, from fixing a computer meltdown to how to retrieve material that you have lost.  I didn’t really know what he did so I just assume.  Don’t get me wrong, I never thought he would know anything about hacking.

Roger is in the same position’ Roger is ‘in water’.  It conjures up a picture of a very tall man (Roger is very tall) in olive green waders and a lumber jacket, striding up a river, or maybe a man with a sink plunger in his hand.  Roger worked for a while on a project in Gambia ‘to do with water’.  Roger has a PhD ‘in water’.  If you ask his wife what he does for a living she will say “Roger works in water”, sounds even worse.  For me, water comes out of a tap; it can be on a meter; water is something to be saved in water butts; water is something not to be wasted.  For a number of years, Roger worked for a consultancy firm on ‘water solutions’; I’ve no idea what it was he was trying to find a solution for – too much water and floods, too little water and droughts?  Does sewage have anything to do with water?  I always felt sorry for Roger, knowing that no one could explain his job beyond ‘Roger’s in water’.  He might have made some technological breakthrough, breaking boundaries and none of us would know.  In January this year, Roger changed his job; he works for Severn Trent.  Now none of us have to say that ‘Roger is in water’ but that ‘Roger works for Severn Trent’.  It doesn’t mean any of us know any better about what he does but everyone has heard of Severn Trent so that’s OK.  We come back to the problem of when I was a Social Worker.  If there is a flood, water shortage, burst pipes, the roads being dug up for new drains then we all assume that Roger knows the answer or, of course, he will take the blame.

This tea towel came as a pair; I gave the other one to Roger because ‘he’s in water’.  It was produced by Southern Water, to give advice, in a simple way, on a useful object.  Katie Chilman of Brunswick House Primary Class Bodiam (4B) won the competition for the design of the tea towel.  It is a very clever design with ‘raindrops’ offering pieces of advice about how to use water wisely: ‘showering is better than bathing’ or “fix dripping taps’ or ‘collect rainwater by using a water butt’.  Roger does all this; he takes a shower, has water butts and mends a dripping tap.  He now has a job that he loves, doing what he loves; I still don’t know what that is but, with confidence, I can say ‘Roger works for Severn Trent’.  A happy ending.

 

Blickling Hall: 2017

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The few days I spent in Norfolk, recently, meant that I had plenty of time to do things, not in a rush, just wandering around, not travelling vast distances.  I loved it.  The purpose of the trip was to go to Blickling Hall for their Proms Concert.  I’d never been to Blickling Hall, yet another place I had always promised myself that I would go.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the secondhand book shop.  In several National Trust properties, I have seen the odd bookshelf with a few books on sale.  This was something different; this was a proper secondhand bookshop, books in categories, everything from Alexander McCall Smith to Michael Connolly, from the history of the First World War to biographies, books on trains, stamps, gardening, cooking and much more.  It was so well organised; the sort of place that you just want to wander around.  There are some very old books, as well as those that hardly look as though they’ve been read.  Twenty years ago, I would have spent all day in there and come out with a pile, taller than myself.  These days, I only really read on a Kindle but I still love the feel of a bookshop, especially when the people behind the counter know exactly what stock they have and where to find it.  The exciting thing for me is that I am trying to find good homes for the books that I do have; I like the idea that if people I know don’t want them, the National Trust might be able to make the odd pound from them.  My next target is to deal with my books.

Having moved from the bookshop, I found the ordinary shop and there it was – a Blickling Hall tea towel in a choice of three colours: blue, black or green.  Can’t be bad.  I chose the black one because I liked the stark contrast of the colours which I think sets Blickling Hall off very well.  Moving on to the Walled Garden; this is the first year of a five year Walled Garden Project.  Blickling Hall has always had a Walled Garden (until it fell into disrepair in 1930s) so this project is about restoring it, on a slightly smaller scale, and making it into a productive Walled Garden.  It’s really interesting to see the start of the project where the 60 different varieties of apple tree and 20 varieties of pear tree are at the beginning of their life but are already bearing some fruit.  The borders are filled with blocks of colour of dahlias, gladioli, roses; flowers that are used in the house.  The vegetables are grown in such an ordered manner, as in times of old.  What a wide variety of vegetables too.  There are benches scattered at the ends of pathways.  This is a lovely Walled Garden that would certainly be worth coming back to next year to see how it has developed.

I went to the concert because Only Men Aloud were performing; the Blickling Estate is a good place for such an event since it covers 950 acres.  It was the best Open Air concert that I have ever been to, not only because the weather was fine, the picnic was tasty and we had got there early in order to get a good view but because the programme was excellent, the sound system good and of course the fireworks.  It was certainly the end of an amazing day and yet another place I would always want to return to.

Felbrigg Hall: 2017

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I have often been to Norfolk, for the day, for a few days, for a week; I love Norfolk.  I love the gentle nature of life round there; I love the beautiful scenery and coast, the houses with pebble decorations and I love the fact there are a lot of National Trust properties.  Felbrigg Hall is one of those places that I’ve always said I would like to go but, you know how it is, there was always a reason why I never quite made it; usually because there wasn’t enough time.  I was in Norfolk for three days last week, staying near Felbrigg Hall so there wasn’t any reason why I could not visit.  When I got there, the only thing I could think to say was “Why didn’t I go here before?  I really missed an opportunity”.  I have learnt, as I grow older, that you should never put off things you want to do because you don’t know what the future holds.  My first visit was glorious, especially since the weather was a delight and I had plenty of time.

There was an irony that I visited at this time.  I love Twitter, in the main, and as long as you don’t take it too seriously because there is only a limited amount you can say in 140 characters.  Having said that, Twitter does have a lot to answer for.  Recently, I have noticed a lot of Tweets about the National Trust making volunteers wear ‘Rainbow’ lanyards and badges.  There have been pictures posted of volunteers refusing to do this or older volunteers looking very grumpy about it.  It has given people the opportunity to make a lot of homophobic comments.  But, of course, Twitter doesn’t give you the space to tell the whole story.  My visit to Felbrigg Hall was my first visit to a National Trust property since this outburst on Twitter.  Yes, all the volunteers were wearing the ‘Rainbow’ ribbons to hold their identity badges; no one looked grumpy, no one was making a fuss about it.  Around the property were some postcards entitled ‘Prejudice and Pride’, explaining one of the National Trust’s latest projects.  The strap line for this project is ‘For ever, for everyone’.

The card explains that many National Trust properties were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality.  ‘Prejudice and Pride’ is recognising the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and is the reason that the National Trust is exploring it’s LGBTQ heritage and the generosity and creativity of some of people who have bequeathed their properties to the nation.  That much fuller explanation, not possible in 140 characters, makes a lot of sense and explains the importance of the ‘Rainbow’ lanyards for all volunteers.  I’d be asking why anyone would refuse to wear a ‘Rainbow’ lanyard; this is about the diverse heritage of our historical properties.

Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the last Squire of Felbrigg, was known as a ‘shy, gentle, unmarried man’; he was responsible for the restoration of this amazing property and bequeathed it to the nation.  Until ‘Prejudice and Pride’, Robert’s life was only partially documented, and neglected to acknowledge what most people around him always knew and accepted, that he was gay.  He is more frequently described as “the bachelor squire” or “one not for the ladies”.  There is a short film, narrated by Stephen Fry, about the fascinating life of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer.  The National Trust have a new podcast series about Robert’s story and that of many other LGBTQ people who have contributed to the National Trust.  ‘Prejudice and Pride’ is much more interesting than the, sometimes offensive, comments posted on Twitter.  “I found myself able to live at Felbrigg and lead the life I have ever since, amongst my books and my trees……”  I can understand that; it is such an amazing place of peace and tranquillity.

What I really loved about Felbrigg Hall was the beautiful Walled Garden, carefully tended, and the Orangery, once the home of more exotic fruits but now a pleasant place to contemplate while you admire the gardens.  The tea room in the courtyard was a delightful place to share a cheese and black pepper scone followed by a fruit scone with a nice pot of tea, served in some lovely china!!

Life isn’t worth wasting time, regretting all those things that you haven’t done but Felbrigg Hall was certainly a place that I should have visited before.  But I’ve done it now and it was good and certainly worth a return visit.  And, of course, there was a tea towel; the “cherry on the cake”.

Swimming Pool Open: 2017 (original date unknown)

This is a smallish, fluffy, terry-towelling, tea towel with a very cute picture.  It is unlike most of the other tea towels that I own.  But I love it and it now has some very special memories; I suspect some people may be shocked by the manner in which I acquired this tea towel.  I am not ashamed; I can hold my head up high (or can I?).

Today I was visiting Alan and Christine.  Alan and Christine were my next door neighbours for about 12 years, until they moved to Norfolk about two years ago.  We have kept in touch through email, by some fleeting visits when they have returned to Leicester  briefly and when we have been able to call and see them in Norfolk and spend the day with them.  Keeping in touch has not been easy because of the personal traumas that we all have been through in the last couple of years.  But we have succeeded in maintaining contact because Alan and Christine are the sort of people that we may not have seen for over a year but we can pick up where we left off, with no false pretence of friendship, just a real interest in exchanging news of family, holidays, illnesses, friends, gardens, animals, cars, moving and much more.  I like that, that is exactly what friendship is about, going with the flow.

Alan and Christine were just the sort of neighbours we all should have: not interfering or grumpy, always helpful; the sort of people you could ask advice from about everything from disposing of dead mice to building a garden gate; they were the sort of people who would look after the cats and chickens when we went on holiday, and we would feed their fish and garden birds and water their plants in return; Liz and Christine would exchange advice on growing vegetables and swop plants; Alan built me some flower troughs from some spare decking, in exchange for using up the remains.  One of the most poignant moments was the four of us digging a grave for Charlie the Cat, in the pouring rain, all shedding the odd tear.

So, today, we visited Alan and Christine and, needless to say, at some point, the subject of tea towels came up.  I merely asked Christine if she had a favourite tea towel (always on  the look-out for a potential Guest Tea Towel for the Virtual Tea Towel Museum); she said she didn’t, in fact, couldn’t remember what she had.  She disappeared into the kitchen only to return with 6 or 7 tea towels.  I asked if I could take a photo of her holding some; she was agreeable.  Of course, I got excited about seeing tea towels I had never seen before; she offered me this one and, I am ashamed to say, I accepted, with no hesitation.  She then offered me three more and I accepted those as well.  I have to ask myself, was that a polite thing to do?  Do you expect guests to come to your house and go away with four of your tea towels?  Well, I certainly wouldn’t; I wouldn’t let one out of my sight but what about other people who are not so obsessive about tea towels?  The answer is that it is, possibly, an extraordinary thing to do but, however, I am so grateful to Christine because these are some lovely tea towels.  They will be integrated into my collection and the subject of further Blogs. I have promised to send Christine a couple of my ‘duplicate’ tea towels, that I haven’t rehomed yet, in exchange for her gift to me.  I’m not sure she was so excited about this as I was to get her four tea towels!!

Today was a delightful way to spend a warm sunny Friday, chatting, drinking loose leaf tea in the garden, going out for a meal and finishing off with a piece of home-made cake. Thank you, Alan and Christine and I bet you are excited about guessing which tea towels you are going to get!!

PS: Explanation of the photographs – there is a picture of Christine with her tea towel before she handed it over.  Izzy was very excited about this and wanted to get in the picture so you don’t get the full beauty of it and then one of me holding it so you can see the full detail.  I’d like to reassure my friend Fee that when it appears in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum it will be photographed in the ‘standardised’ manner!

Sylvia Pankhurst (and the Fidget Spinner): 2017

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I like the title to this Blog; it has the air of a 1930s Agatha Christie murder mystery.  What is the connection between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner?  Is there a link between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner?  Will we ever find out?

The link between Sylvia Pankhurst and the Fidget Spinner might be tenuous but there is a link.  A couple of days ago, I received, unexpectedly and surprisingly, two gifts.  It is not my birthday; I am not celebrating anything and it certainly isn’t Christmas but there is a kind of link about how I got them.  Hamish came to stay and had a couple of Fidget Spinners; although I’d heard about them, I’d never seen them and certainly never seen one in action.  Hamish gave me a demonstration.  I was fascinated.  A couple of years ago, I would never have been able to go near one because it would have set off a stream of epileptic seizures but, with the aid of good medication, I could enjoy the pleasure of a Fidget Spinner.  Hamish is really good at getting it spinning for very lengthy periods; he let me have a go and, while I managed the technique, I couldn’t get it to spin for long periods.  It obviously takes practice.  The following day, Hamish was carrying a Fidget Spinner and said he would like to give me it because he thought I could learn to use it, with practice.  I was delighted and it was his better one, reminding me of the Falkirk Wheel.  I have been taking delight in this ever since, using it while I research my Tea Towel Blogs, relaxing and focusing.  I am so pleased with this gift; I know how difficult it is to give away part of a valued collection.

The interesting thing about the Fidget Spinner is that there is controversy surrounding it.  Catherine Hettinger, a chemical engineer, supposedly invented it in 1993 and had a patent on it as a ‘Spinning Toy’.  She let the patent lapse in 2005 because she could not find a commercial partner.  In 2014, Scott McCoskery ‘invents’ the same thing, to cope with his fidgeting in meetings, gets it patented, advertises online  and reaps the financial rewards; Catherine Hettinger has no claim on any royalties.  Life is unfair; and it is a woman, in this case, that life is unfair to.  Hamish has since sent me a video, showing me how long he can keep the Fidget Spinner going for, putting me to shame but I am still practising!!

So, where does Sylvia Pankhurst fit into this story?  On the same day that Hamish gave me a Fidget Spinner, Luke sent me a tea towel through the post.  I can always spot a tea towel in the post, that thin plastic envelope, that feel of material through the packaging.  I had no idea what it was going to be.  Look at it! Beautiful, maroon, striking, thick cotton and Sylvia Pankhurst with a great quote: a quote that says something we would all believe in but a million miles from where we are today.  I have the Votes for Women and Emmeline Pankhurst tea towels but, for me, Sylvia is the Pankhurst that I love most; the Pankhurst that challenged the mould.  Sylvia was a suffragette but didn’t agree with the stance her mother and sister (Emmeline and Christobel) took in relation to the First World War: they backed the war effort, she didn’t and attended the International Women’s Peace Conference in 1915 in The Hague.  Sylvia wanted to continue campaigning for Women’s Suffrage during the war but the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) didn’t.   She refused to enter into a marriage contract and change her name.  When she was pregnant, she refused to marry her partner and was  disowned by her mother.  She argued with her mother about WSPU support for conscription, and support for what she saw as a middle-class cause. The WSPU did not link itself to any political party while Sylvia felt they should back the Labour Party, and did join herself.

After 1928, when all women achieved the vote, Sylvia continued campaigning – for Maternity Pay, Equal Pay and Child Care Facilities and we still haven’t achieved that.  More than that Sylvia became a staunch supporter of anti-fascism and anti-colonialism.  She supported Haile Selassie in fighting the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and was invited to live in Ethiopia in 1956; she died, and was buried, there in 1960, an ‘honorary Ethiopian’.

Sylvia was thrown out of the WSPU and the Communist Party because she did not conform to all their policies.  I love that rebellious nature.  However, Sylvia also trained as an artist; she designed all the posters, banners, pamphlets etc for WSPU.  In 1907, she toured the north of England and Scotland, painting working class women in their places of work.  I think these are amazing, and well-executed, paintings and really demonstrate her commitment to working class women and their rights.  Brilliant!

Sylvia Pankhurst was the subject of controversy even after she died.  There is a statue of Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst outside the Houses of Parliament, near the Victoria Tower Gardens, recognising their work for Women’s Suffrage.  House of Lords has always blocked any movement to erect a statue to Sylvia Pankhurst because of her opposition to the First World War, even with the support of Betty Boothroyd, the then Speaker of House of Commons.  The centenary of women achieving the vote, in 1918, has raised the issue of a statue once more and it will be based on Clerkenwell Green in Islington, recognising her work with the women of East London.  The campaign highlights her significant role in the rights of women.  Roger Chadwick, Chairman of the Funding Committee said “Sylvia Pankhurst was a remarkable woman.  Her work paved the way for London to become the most dynamic and exciting City in the world because of the diversity it welcomes and encourages.  She knew then what we all recognise today: that our strength comes from embracing and valuing people irrespective of their sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, race or religion”.

I just want to thank both Hamish and Luke for their gifts; that was genuine kindness which gave me a great deal of pleasure; being able to use a Fidget Spinner while reading up on Sylvia Pankhurst has been such a joy.  What great memories while I wipe up.

 

Tea Towel Crafts: 2017

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I can almost feel my friends reading the title of this Blog and thinking “Barbara has definitely gone bonkers”; maybe they are right but this was great fun.

My friend Gwyn has appeared in many a Tea Towel Blog: everything from Morris Dancing to Cemaes Bay, from Mah Jongg to Llanfair.., from the National Garden Festival in Stoke to Paris, not to mention various chicken and cat Tea Towel Blogs plus, of course, Gwyn’s Mother’s Tea Towels.  Why has she made so many appearances?  Simples.  I have known Gwyn for many years, more than 35 years, first as work colleagues and then through friendship and a shared love of cats, amongst many other things.

Gwyn has cancer; she has had three primary sites and now secondaries.  She is on her third bout of chemotherapy; the first two were intravenous and made her lose her hair but both times it grew back, beautiful, thick and curly.   This third bout is by a weekly tablet which leaves her feeling very tired.  Last week, Gwyn was getting bogged down with the number of hospital appointments she had to attend, the number of blood tests; it was taking over her life; she didn’t know how she would find time to visit her 95 year old mother-in-law on the south coast or plan a holiday.  So I helped her come up with a time table.  Being ill, surely, can’t just wipe out any ordinary things that you want to do.  There is a weekly blood test then two days later waiting for the go-ahead to take the tablet, there is a three weekly visit to the oncologist, a three weekly injection and then a four weekly injection, other hospital procedures.  Gwyn also goes to the fortnightly drop-in at the local hospice; that’s the bit she enjoys, being pampered, doing crafts and creative writing, spending time with people that you do not have to explain your condition to (and Pete can go too).  I was amazed at how much her life is dictated to by the routine of medical appointments.  So what has this to do with Tea Towel Crafts?  You know me, can’t tell a short story.

While I was at Gwyn’s I saw some outdoor solar light bulbs, that had been hand painted.  I asked her about them and she told me that this is what she had done at the drop-in one week. They were beautiful and I could see that they would make an attractive feature in the garden; I said so.  She suggested that we could do a session one day.  Agreed.  I would bring the lunch and she would get the light bulbs from Poundland.  We had a fantastic day and now both our gardens have a display of solar lights.

I didn’t realise I could get into crafts.  The next session was decorating tote bags with fabric paints.  Gwyn, knowing my penchant for a tea towel, suggested a session of tea towel decorating.  This was like Seventh Heaven!  This was definitely indulging a fantasy.  Not only was I going to get a tea towel out of this but also a topic for a Blog.  ‘Two for the Price of One’ in my book!

So what do you need?  White, 100% cotton, ethically produced, standard tea towel; stencils of birds, farm animals, wild animals, wild flowers, leaves, trains, dinosaurs, chickens, cats, owls, kingfishers and letters; a whole range of both thin and thick fabric pens, not glittery because that’s not really suitable for a tea towel.

Scrap paper for trying out colour and design.

For inspiration, there was the French Pastries to start with, while we mulled over our initial designs, traditional prawn cocktail, 1960s style, for a little snack a bit later on, followed by ‘Build Your Own Sandwich’ a couple of hours later, interspersed with cups of tea.

We started slowly: why didn’t Pete follow a career in graphic design because the attention to detail of his trains was phenomenal.  He was adding shading to his designs by ‘mixing’ colours; this is sophisticated stuff for a first timer.  However, and we were none of us surprised, he took a long time on his design.

Gwyn’s style was very different: she went for animals (because she likes animals).  Her first design was with owls, with detailed feathering.  She said she regretted choosing the complicated use of colours for feathering because she had to remember how she did it each time (and there were six of them).  However, the final effect was worth the effort.   I had wondered if she chose the owl design because of her mother’s tea towel from the Three Owl Sanctuary, but no, she had no recollection of her mother buying that tea towel.  Her second design was the hare with the great quote “It’s a grand thing to have a hare for a friend” from Elizabeth Goudge.  I can see it finding it’s way into the Linguistics Collection of http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com.  Gwyn has quite a collection of pictures, cushions and sculptures of hares so this was an obvious choice.   Her third design will definitely make the Linguistics Collection – a Bloat of Hippos, inspired by Fiona the Hippo, from Cincinnati Zoo, who was born premature and had to be hand-reared; she is now back with her parents.  Gwyn has been following Fiona on Facebook.  There is nothing like a good Venery Noun on a tea towel.  Gwyn’s style is very much trying new designs, new colours, new techniques so her designs are not necessarily associated with each other.

Liz’s style is also unique; she was inspired by a picture she saw of an animal completely filled in with multi-coloured triangles.  Colourful Cats reflects this, same cat, same design but the actual colours do not replicate themselves.  Liz’s second tea towel was the Kingfisher (or even two Kingfishers) with beautiful feathering.  Pete admired her use of the riverbank at the bottom of the tea towel.  Her third design was based on the fact that she wanted to use the ‘Speech Bubble’ stencil so was farmyard animals and her last tea towel was a tribute to her grandson who likes dinosaurs and is called Rainbowsaurus, using the similar colour scheme of Colourful Cats, but not the same shape.  I quite like the idea of a distinctive style; it reminds me of being able to spot a Stuart Gardiner or Perkins and Morley tea towel – you can spot one from a mile off.

I have a much more straightforward approach, sort of reflecting the sort of tea towels I would choose.  I like to cover the whole tea towel; I am very fond of a repetitious pattern – hence the ducks which were inspired by Jemima Puddleduck.  I like the idea of the same shape but different colours.  I’m not going for the artistic approach like shading or feathering so Autumn Leaves, Chickens and Wild Flowers are much more straightforward.  Pete wondered if I was going to add the veins on the leaves, but that detail is not my style; I go for block colour.

By the end of the session we were getting a bit more picky: ‘Have we got a maroon pen?’ ‘I’d prefer a pen than is a bit lighter brown, perhaps a fawn colour’ and ‘Have we got any other stencils?’.  The fact is that Tea Towel Crafts has the therapeutic value of Mindfulness, except that someone isn’t charging you a fortune for classes.  There is a way of losing yourself in the process, of ‘being in the moment’, there is no need to have a conversation, other than asking someone for the green pen, but there is company, knowing that there are people around.  My tea towels may be rubbish designs but little has given me more pleasure, in a long while, than creating my own tea towel.  Not just me, we all agreed that another session would be good very soon.  I loved it.

So, having worked for nearly seven hours (with a few food breaks) on the Tea Towel Production Line, what happens next?  It is important to iron the back of the design on a ‘cotton setting’ then you can wash them.  What happens to my tea towels? They will be integrated into the tea towel collection, if my friends are lucky, otherwise my friends will find they have a bizarre Christmas present.

I ‘borrowed’ Gwyn and Pete’s tea towels for the photograph on the washing line.  Hamish and Lyra were here so I asked them which were their favourites.  Hamish’s favourite was unequivocally ‘Locomotives by Pete’ and Lyra’s was ‘Colourful Cats’ (although that expression on Lyra’s face might belie that).  Watch out people, you may be getting one for Christmas!

PS: Having set up http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com I think I can safely say that Stuart Gardiner, Love Menu Art and Tabitha Mary will have no competition from me but I do, more than ever, appreciate the attention to detail that goes in to producing a tea towel and developing your own brand image.