My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel piqued my interest following the two recent royal weddings in England, which must have required prodigious feats of planning and organizing. Queen Elizabeth II’s own wedding took place seven decades ago, when she was still a princess and her country was grappling with the myriad deprivations caused by WWII. Discovering that the story was told from the points of view of the embroiderers of the wedding dress clinched the deal, and I raced through this fascinating book, enthralled by the details of the experiences of the ordinary women who created this most important gown. The narrative unfolds in two far apart years and places, London during 1947 and Toronto in 2016.
Norman Hartnell functioned as couturier to the royal family during the 40’s and 50’s, and he and his army of seamstresses and embroiderers would create Elizabeth’s top secret wedding dress, with much stress and drama along the way. One of these skilled embroiderers was a real life French refugee named Miriam Dassin, who later in the century would become world renowned as a talented textile artist. Miriam, who features prominently in the book’s historical narrative, will also play a role in the 2016 segments. The second is the fictional Ann Hughes, who takes her in as flatmate. Through their eyes, the reader experiences the making of one of the world’s iconic textile creations, the struggles of commoners during this prolonged era of deprivation, and the contrast between their lives and those of the aristocrats that cross their paths.
The modern narrative focuses upon a bequest made to Heather Mackenzie by her grandmother, a parcel of exquisite embroidered and beaded flowers. Her Nan had emigrated to Toronto from London in 1947, but since she had never mentioned embroidery to Heather, what was the purpose of the bequest? Her attempts to solve this mystery lead her to England and France, where she will serendipitously encounter Miriam Dassin, who had worked alongside Heather’s grandmother at Hartnell for a brief time.
Friendship, family, romance, struggle, betrayal, and glamour all coexist in the pages of The Gown, which is well worth reading by those with an interest in textiles, history, WWII, and the endless ways in which humans can make lemonade when life hands them a lemon.
Back in 2011, the now defunct Caron Connections website posted a brand new, truly original design for a crocheted throw with matching pillows. Don’t remember ever seeing this spiral pattern used to such good effect. Truly impressive! The very talented designer is Lisa Gentry. 8(US) hook, using worsted weight yarn.
Thanks to reader Sabrina, who brought the broken link to my attention. After a search of the internet, I was actually able to track down this great pattern, which is now available HERE.
It’s been so long since anyone has seen either a tenter, or the hooks on one, that the word and the idea behind it are now quite mysterious, but at one time, the phrase on tenterhooks would have evoked an image that was immediately understandable.
Tenter hooks were L-shaped staples, much like a bent nail, placed at regular intervals on a rectangular wooden tenter frame. When cloth emerged wet from the fulling process it was stretched out on these hooks, preventing it from shrinking as it dried – hence the phrase ‘being on tenterhooks’.
It comes from one of the processes of making woolen cloth. After it had been woven, the cloth still contained oil and dirt from the fleece. It needed to be fulled and blocked, much like handknitters treat their finished garments today. After fulling, the cloth was stretched taut on frames, or tenters, and the tenter hooks were the metal hooks used to attach the cloth to the frame. At one time, it would have been common in manufacturing areas to see fields full of these frames (older English maps sometimes marked an area as a tenter-field). So it was not a huge leap of the imagination to think of somebody on tenterhooks as being in an state of anxious suspense, stretched like the cloth on the tenter. The tenters have gone, but the meaning has survived.
Tenter comes from the Latin tendere, to stretch, via a French intermediate. The word has been in the language since the fourteenth century, andon tenters soon after became a phrase meaning painful anxiety. According to the folks at historicjamestown.org, where this photo appears, the figurative use of tenterhooks to describe someone’s suffering or suspense goes back centuries. For example, in 1601 Robert Chester wrote in Love’s Martyr or Rosalin’s Complaint: “Rack on the tenter-hooks of foule disgrace.”)
(information from World Wide Words, Exeter City Council Time Trails, and Historic Jamestowne)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
More than just a book of patterns, Folk Socks opens with a useful series of concise articles on the history of stockings, beginning with ancient examples made with cloth or leather, the transition to naalbinding and then knitting, the growth of the stocking as fashion accessory, and the transition from hand to machine production. There are also brief sections on knitting tools and knitted stocking traditions in countries throughout Europe. This is one of the best short accounts I’ve seen. Nancy Bush knows her stuff and how to present info in an interesting way. She also provides a good tutorial of the “anatomy” of socks and the various techniques used to knit the individual parts, including “clock” designs.
The rest of the volume contains patterns designed to represent traditional socks/stockings from 18 different countries. These patterns are beautiful, but many are quite complex, requiring sophisticated knitting skills and experience. I would be able to make most of them, and if planning to use them for display purposes, might give them a try. All but a few would be very time consuming to produce, however, and nice as they are to admire, I’d never wear them. I enjoyed reading Folk Socks, and have referred back to it many times in my work as amateur textile historian.
An updated edition of this book is now available.
Over the years I’ve occasionally added felting articles to Dances with Wools, but except for mittens, not very many actual patterns. Several years back, I subscribed to another fiber arts blog, Crafts n Coffee, and while I enjoyed my explorations over there, the site appears to be no longer active. This adorable needle felted snowman made its appearance, and it looked like so much fun to make that I saved the photo for future crafting. It’s simple enough to make without a pattern, and if you’re not into needle felting, the two balls that make up this little guy could be made by wet felting some fleece (rolling it around between the hands like making dryer balls or cat toys.) My granddaughter wants to call him, what else, Frosty!