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.

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