Pearls of wisdom

Surely one of the most popular embellishments for card makers – pearls manage to be pretty and elegant without being overly showy, classy rather than brash I always think! Of course, the pearls we use are synthetic, but a real natural pearl is a thing of extraordinary beauty.

If you have been to see Mama Mia II (like me!!), you will know there’s a scene where a young suitor opens an oyster for his beloved (no names, no plot spoilers!) and there just happens to be a great big pearl nestling in it! In reality, finding a pearl in an oyster is very rare… but in fiction, of course, anything can happen!

So what is a natural pearl? I always think it is incredible how they are produced… Pearls are made when a small object, such as a grain of sand, is washed into a mollusc. As a defence mechanism to an irritant inside its shell, the mollusc creates a substance called nacre (mother of pearl). Layer upon layer of nacre, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as ‘baroque’ pearls, can occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, ‘pearl’ has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, and valuable.

The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but are extremely rare, which is why they command such high prices. These wild pearls are referred to as ‘natural’ pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the vast majority of those sold. Imitation pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewellery – I think most of us of a ‘certain age’ probably own a string, but their iridescence is poor compared to genuine pearls.

Pearls are cultivated primarily for use in jewellery, but, in the past were also used to adorn clothing – think of the Elizabethans and their bodices encrusted with pearls. They are also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines and paint formulations.

Whether wild or cultured, gem-quality pearls are almost always pearlescent and iridescent, like the interior of the shell that produces them… hence the rather lovely term ‘mother of pearl’ as found inside the mollusc’s shell.

Cultured pearls are formed in pearl farms, using human intervention as well as natural processes. As with natural pearls, the initial formation of cultured pearls is the response of the shell to an ‘irritant’ – a tissue implant. A tiny piece of tissue (from a donor shell is transplanted into a recipient shell, causing a pearl sac to form into which the pearls structure starts to form. There are a number of methods for producing cultured pearls and one is by adding a spherical bead as a nucleus and most saltwater
cultured pearls are grown in this way.

So what makes pearls so beautiful? The unique lustre of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the pearl’s translucent layers – the thinner and more numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the lustre. So it’s the overlapping of successive layers causes the iridescence that pearls display. So now you know!

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Dowsing – discredited medieval practice, or useful skill?

Dowsing on Dartmoor!

As you probably know by now, I am interested in traditional remedies and ancient beliefs. I like to keep an open mind and try and discover whether things might be true or not, rather than just dismissing them out of hand. I’ve always been fascinated by dowsing, or water divining, and was reminded to look into this ancient practice last week when I drove past a sign for a dowsing convention in deepest Dartmoor! Actually, given it is such an ancient and fascinating landscape, I shouldn’t have been that surprised… What did surprise me, once I started looking into it, is that there is no scientific evidence that dowsing works – I had always thought there was.

Dowsing is a type of ‘divination’ used to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus. Dowsers, or water witchers, claim that their divining rods cross over when the presence of water is detected below ground. It is regarded as a pseudoscience after numerous studies showed it was no better than chance at finding water.

A Y-shaped twig or rod, or two L-shaped ones — individually called a dowsing rod, divining rod or witching rod — are usually used for dowsing. The scientific explanation for what happens when people dowse is that ‘ideomotor movements’ – muscle movements caused by subconscious mental activity – make anything held in the hands move. It looks and feels as if the movements are involuntary.

Dowsing has been around for a long time and originated in Germany in the 16thCentury. In 1662, dowsing was declared to be ‘superstitious, or rather satanic’ by a Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, though he later noted that he wasn’t sure that the devil was always responsible for the movement of the rod! Nothing like sitting on the fence! In the South of France in the 17th century, it was used in tracking criminals and heretics. Its abuse led to a decree of the Inquisition in 1701, forbidding its employment for purposes of justice.

And there you have it – a bit of a cranky practice with no place in today’s world. But hold on a minute… in 2017, 10 of the 12 water companies in the UK admitted they are still using dowsing despite the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness! This discovery was made by the science blogger Sally Le Page after her parents reported seeing an engineer from Severn Trent Water “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe” near their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The disclosure prompted calls for the regulator, OFWAT, to stop companies passing the cost of a ‘discredited medieval practice’ on to their customers. Extraordinary!

Some water companies, however, insisted the practice could be as effective as modern methods. Sally Le Page asked Severn Trent why it was still using divining rods to find pipes when there was no evidence that it worked. Replying on Twitter, the company said: “We’ve found that some of the older methods are just as effective than the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.” Well, that’s all right then!

Photo credits:

Top image:
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/91c89d”>Visual Hunt</a>

Water witcher: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/8f7aff”>State Library and Archives of Florida</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/6ba9d8″>Visual Hunt</a> / <a href=”http://flickr.com/commons/usage/”> No known copyright restrictions</a>

Woodcut: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/b0d021″>Jeff Dray</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/f771b4″>VisualHunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”> CC BY-SA</a>

Group dowsing: 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

 

 

 

 

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A fan of fans!

I have been a fan of fans, so to speak, for ages and I was thrilled when Practical Publishing chose fans as the theme of my latest boxed set with them. The set (and it’s fantastic value) will be available on the website for pre-orders on Thursday 10th May and then on my upcoming Create and Craft shows on the 17th and 18th May. But back to being a fan of fans…

While there are endless possibilities for crafting, fans were, and still are, extremely useful devices for cooling yourself down on a hot day. Both highly decorative and practical, I think the loss of the fan as an everyday accessory is a great shame as it makes a great prop. You can fiddle with it (in lieu of cigarettes!), flirt coyly from behind it and use it to make a point by snapping it shut or perhaps even prodding someone with it!

Archaeological ruins show that the hand fan was used in ancient Greece at least since the 4th century. Christian Europe’s earliest fan dates from the 6th century. This was used during services to drive insects away from the consecrated bread and wine. Hand fans were absent in Europe during the High Middle Ages until they were reintroduced in the 13th and 14th centuries. Fans from the Middle East were brought back by Crusaders while Portuguese traders brought them back from China and Japan in the 16th century, and fans became popular. Fans are well displayed in the portraits of the high-born women of the era. Queen Elizabeth I of England can be seen to carry both folding fans decorated with pom poms on their guardsticks as well as the older style rigid fan, usually decorated with feathers and jewels.

In the 18th century, fans reached a high degree of artistry and were being made throughout Europe often by specialised craftsmen. Folded fans of silk or parchment were decorated and painted by artists.

It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain and elsewhere fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages and that these ‘fan languages’ were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette… However, modern research has proved that this was a marketing ploy developed in the 18th century by a fan manufacturer! I am going to pretend I didn’t discover this fact on Google as I think the language of the fan sounds wonderful and should be reintroduced!

I always associate fans with Jane Austen’s novels and there are lots of fun and interesting fan references on the Jane Austen’s World website.

The website contains the following ‘quote’ supporting the language of fans story, which I am going to repeat here as I’d really like to be able to snap my fan shut to end an argument!

“In the eighteenth century, wealthy Georgian ladies, especially English ones, waved fans at masquerade balls and wore them as a fashion accessory with almost every outfit that they owned. There were daytime fans, white satin bridal fans and even mourning fans. As well as drawing attention to beautiful and perfectly manicured hands, these items played a big part in delicate flirtations. In fact, a whole ‘language of the fan’ had developed in England in Tudor times that became especially popular for middle and upper-class Victorian women who were courting. A folded fan placed against a lady’s chin told a gentleman that she found him attractive, for example, while snapping a fan shut was a curt dismissal! No wonder that the 16th century English writer, Joseph Addison, stated: “Men have the sword, women have the fan and the fan is probably as effective a weapon!”

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The origin of the willow pattern…

I know the most popular colourway relating to willow pattern… is blue, obviously. However, I think it looks good in a black silhouette too.

I have willow patterned everyday plates and blue and white pots and vases galore in my home. I love the romantic feel of the design and like the story that supposedly describes the images – I am quoting here from Wikipedia:

Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates

So when you are using a willow pattern die or stencil or stamp reflect on the sad demise of a mandarin’s daughter that had the misfortune to fall in love with an accountant … I won’t mention this to assorted members of my family that are either accountants or married to one!

These cards show off how striking the dies can look in black and they have set me wondering what it would look like as white images on black, or how about white on pale or dark blue? Love our craft!

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The Mad Month of March!

Whenever the month of March arrives, I always think of Mad March Hares! As a child, I think we were all told about how they box and seem to go ‘mad’ and this eccentric behaviour endears us to this elusive mammal. Alice in Wonderland is also responsible for heightening the hare’s reputation, as it is one of the strange creatures stuck in an interminable tea party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse.

With its long ears, long legs and saucer eyes, the brown hare is a beautiful, yet sadly rare sight in most of this country. I have never seen one in the Westcountry, but I did see some when I lived in East Anglia, many moons ago. Once a common sight, it is thought the brown hare in the UK has decreased by up to 80% in the last century, thanks largely to changes in farming techniques. Where have we heard that before?

Long and brown and fantastically fast moving (up to 40mph!), the brown hare is a member of a group of mammals called Lagomorpha. For many years it was thought they were rodents but we now know that hares belong to their own separate family. The other common Lagomorpha is, of course, the rabbit.

Although vaguely similar, on closer inspection, there are several distinct differences between the two. While rabbits are known for having long ears, the ears of the brown hare are much longer and have black tips. As the two animals move, you can see that the back legs of a hare are much longer than on a rabbit – this makes it look like a rabbit hops and a hare sprints. Rabbits live underground in warrens whereas hares never go underground, preferring ditches along field edges.

Hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and March, in particular, is when they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These mad March hares are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season. However, it’s not the males that are responsible for the boxing (not with each other anyway) it’s the females who start the punch-ups! This usually happens when a male is being too pushy with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a boxing match! Girl power!

Hare mythology has fascinated us for centuries. Ever since the Romans first brought them to Britain, hares have had a role to play in legend and myth. In hare mythology, the hare is a creature with pagan, sacred and mystic associations, by turns benign, cunning, romantic or, most famously in March – mad! We see images of hares everywhere, they are found in carvings on ancient buildings (particularly here in Devon) and are popular in paintings and statues of ‘moon-gazing’ hares are commonplace. The hare and the rabbit are often associated with moon deities and signify rebirth and resurrection.

A study in 2004 followed the history and migration of a symbolic image of three hares with conjoined ears. In this image, three hares are seen chasing each other in a circle with their heads near its centre. While each of the animals appears to have two ears, only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle and each is shared by two of the hares. The image has been traced from Christian churches here in Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East.

 

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