Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Old Books

Anna's Bible
We live in a time when books stores are becoming extinct, literature can be downloaded to a screen and page turning is being replaced by a tap of the finger. And yet, for me, there is nothing like a real book. Second hand books especially are my favorite because the carry their own histories to be guessed at in addition to the story they hold printed between the covers. If a used book is marked with clues of its past lives, I hold it all the more dear. Today I share with you three books owned by my Great Grandmother's sister, Anna Esbensen. The three books are really the Bible in three volumes and its written in Danish. Anna was a nurse who came to the USA and settled in Utah. She was quite formidable I hear. I love to turn these thick old pages, wonder at the Danish script printed in a fancy type full of flourishes. They feel dry and rather ancient, as if they will start to crumble if handled with anything but the most loving touch. Somebody in my family has clipped a type-written card to give us the barest bit of information about them. Gently turning the pages I find other clues to the former lives of these three that traveled together from across the sea. Some of the other clues include water stains, Anna's signature including her middle name of Christine, the mysterious #38 written in different locations, two small flowers pressed between the pages long ago, faded now and delicate, a four leaf clover that sheds light on the flowers perhaps because an old receipt for a print bought at an arts and craft shop dated 1962 was found between the pages with the clover and it carries my aunt Janice's name. Could she have also pressed the flowers? I love the lives of old books! What Kindle carries the crumbs of past days or whiffs of little mysteries between screen shots? If I ever get the chance someday, I would love to pour over even one page of an ancient codex handwritten and illuminated by cleric scribes on vellum. In the days that saw the dawn of the printing press, the literary world wailed with woe over the cheap quality of the books it turned out in comparison to the handcrafted variety. I remember this fact when I feel like wailing over the advent of books read on screens. The books on screen have their uses no doubt. Embrace the old but treasure the new, I rememind myself. And these old books are certainly treasured.

Type written card
Each volume has a lot of wonderful engravings

From a long ago summer
Luck between the pages sent from the past

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bug Yarn

The lovely shades of dead bugs
Over the weekend I went to a meeting of my local wool guild. It is one of two such guilds I belong to. This one is knitters and spinners of wool, the other one is spinners and weavers of wool and is a more organized guild, a chapter of the national hand weaver's association but more on that some other time. Sunday I had a wonderful time talking about wool with some like-minded enthusiasts, knitting together and listening to them talk about the pending lambing season about to get underway in their various barns. One of the guild members is also an entomologist. She found herself with a rather large quantity of certain kinds of insects she no longer needed for the study an agency was conducting. She is one of the delightfully creative people in this guild who seem always to be thinking, "Hmmm. . . . what could I make out of this?" What she decided to try was using them to dye wool! She ground up a dry batch of bark beetles in her blender (!) , then a batch of tussock moths, then a batch of yellow jackets, and lastly she ground up a batch of dragon flies in that blender of hers (mental note: no milkshakes or smoothies at her house when you visit).  She then boiled some length of wool with different kids of mordants (copper, zinc, table salt, and alum) and put the yarn by sections into the different batches of bugs after adding cold water to them. And look what she got! Evidently, bark beetles make yellow, dragon fies make mauve, yellow jacket make muted pink and tussock moth makes purple. Who would have guessed? Now she has a skein of wool yarn striped in lovely colors of bug dye. here's to creativity. . .and the insect world! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Italian Lace

Bought on Burano

A view of Italian Island life.

In a land far away, Italy by name, and  in a time long ago, over one thousand years, there thrived a tiny little town on the tiny little island of Burano off the coast of Venice. It is said there that a fisherman out in his boat, away from shore, and who was engaged to be married, resisted the temptation posed by a singing mermaid that came up al
ongside his boat. So impressed was the Queen of the mermaids later upon hearing that report of a mere mortal withstanding the beauty of the singing mermaid for the sake of his love on shore, she fashioned a bridal veil out of the foam and bubbles of her swishing tail in the sea and presented it to the fisherman to give to his bride. Ever since then the island of Burano has been known for its lace production. My sister, Tracey, lives in Italy and upon visiting her this past fall with another one of my sisters, Karin, the three of us took a trip to Venice. We went aboard one of the small ferries that run between Venice and the small islands off shore which include Burano. It was late in the day and very quiet on the island. There were few tourists if any and it was locals who stepped off the boat with us, coming home from the city of Venice to their dinners. I was charmed by the small lanes, bright flowers in window boxes, and the pastel colors of the buildings which legend says was originally done so the fishermen could pick out their homes while out at sea. As luck would have it, most the shops in the tiny village square were closed. If I had realized sooner about the textile heritage of Borano I would have made getting out to it sooner in the day a focus. As it was, I rather learned while on the ferry! (this trip to Venice hadn't been well planned by us. It was more or less a whim, if you can believe it, a car trip we took just to get out for a while, something hard for me to imagine now, back home in the states as I am. But, when you live in Italy you can just get into your little car and drive to these iconic places for the day, which is more or less what my sisters and I were doing from Tracy's home in Naples). I could tell I had missed something glorious, but I felt lucky to be there at all, so I didn't spend much time lamenting and still don't. However, there was one little shop still open and inside it was full of lace. The woman in the shop could not speak my language and I could not speak hers, but I picked out an item from her, a little lace butterfly. I tried to verify that it was indeed made there by local woman and was unable to express my question clearly to her. No matter. I made my purchase and a memory. This little lace butterfly, regardless of whether it was actually made on Burano by the local lace cooperative women or not, which it may or may not be, it is a treasure I add to my textile collection along with the stories and memories of that day walking the little lanes beside pastel houses and gardens by the sea on a island in Italy where lace textiles are honored and have been for hundreds of years. For now it sits in a frame in my front room. Some day it will enter the inherited chest of treasured family textiles and needlework to be passed on to another generation, and the story of that day on the island with my sisters has been written down to go along with it.  

The water roads of Venice

My sisters and I in Naples, Italy in October. I am on the far left. Tracey, in the middle, lives in Naples. Karin, on the righ,t is the fashionable one. They made great cappuccino in Italy!

Venice on a beautiful October day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Antique Sampler

My great great grandmother's girlhood  sampler

It lives under glass in a frame with handles and sealed with velvet.
Once upon a time we taught little girls to write with their needle. This is an old sampler so fragile it lives under glass. I wish it had a date stitched into it. This sampler is from my paternal grandmother's side of the family and must have been stitched by her mother's mother, Adelaide, who came out to California from Monticello, New York in early days and started up the Monticello Steamship company with her husband Zephaniah Hatch. These ships were what ferried people and items across San Francisco Bay before any bridges had most likely even been thought of and one of which is now a museum in the harbor to this day. This sampler has been lovingly kept. It is done on cotton canvas with blue, green and various shades of cream thread that at one time may have faded from more vibrant colors. It is about 12 inches by 8 inches in size and is a prized piece of inherited textile treasure. The alphabet in both upper and lower case are cross stitched along with the numbers one through ten inside a border or flowering vine. There is a small heart as well and a saying that speaks to my heart as if my great great grandmother were speaking directly to me with my love of needle work and books. At this time of my life in which I am making adjustments and seeking new direction and definition for myself, I find this advice cross stitched on this sampler long ago and read by me today: "You the hour to divide, let the needle and the book you heart guide". I think my new direction lies in thosewords, writing, literature and needlework. Thank you, Great Great Grandmother Adelaide. 

Close up of work and the motifs, including the little heart.

Look at the "X" It is a different style and takes up more room than the "Y" and "Z" and the motto looks almost done in freehand.  You and so the word "You" in this picture. The work wasn't carefully planned out at the stitcher ran out of room and the little heart is meant to stand in for the word "heart" to save room. That human error makes this piece of textile treasure all the more dear to me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Feels like Spring

Winter is breaking up and Jenny (my dog) and I took a beautiful walk the other day. What strikes me is the light and texture of nature. Winter is breaking up and it's starting to feel like spring around here. This being my first year out of Alaska I was surprised. People say it is warmer than normal for a regular February. It feels so good to be outside and one of my favorite things is to just walk around and be out in it all. I took seventy-one pictures of! I won't post them all here and some I will save for later, but this gives you a flavor of my neighborhood. This is a farming area. Lots of wheat is grown here and some of it is already starting to come up. Winter wheat gets planted in the fall. When the snow melts away we can see that some of the summer crop has already begun. So, let me show you around a bit. . . 

There is still some snow. Jenny loves to lay in it.
We have a little river that flows through town.
Surrounded by hills, it's part of our walk to climb them. Jenny beat me to the top.

Our town

Our local church zoomed in on from the hills

You can just see the clump of trees down there behind my house. but you can't see the house from here.

A busy place during harvest. This is part of the grain elevator. Trucks pull in and out of here to unload their wheat.

Old timer
             Thanks for coming along. Lets go home and get some hot chocolate.