The spirit of the harvest…

HTop to bottom: A westcountry ‘neck’ and a Suffolk horseshoe.ere’s a clue: Staffordshire has the knot, Suffolk the horseshoe and Devon has the Topsham cross. Any ideas what I am talking about? Other local names include Maiden Cross, Boat and Turnip while in the westcountry they were often called a Neck. Today, we generally just refer to them as corn dollies.

I’ve always rather liked these intricate and rather beautiful woven shapes and have had various designs hanging on beams and on mantlepieces over the years. In fact, this blog was inspired by me finding the tattered remains of a dolly that had fallen behind an arrangement in the kitchen fireplace – oops, housekeeping fail Joanna!

It is said that the name corn dolly comes from a corruption of ‘corn idol’ and that this straw ‘idol’ was a winter refuge for the ‘Spirit of the Harvest’. Normally the spirit lived in the growing crops but when they were cut it became homeless and so the hollow straw woven corn dolly provided a winter sanctuary.

As with so many old traditions, the concept has its roots in the pagan ‘circle’ – as in everything is born, dies, and is reborn, just the harvest is sown, it ripens, the crop is harvested and then the spirit, represented by the corn dolly, is eventually ploughed back into the soil where it grows again.

Each county had its own variation on the corn dolly theme resulting in lots of different shapes and designs. In Devon, the most traditional design was the ‘neck’, which was always made from the last sheaf of corn to be cut on any farm. Linked to this was the tradition of ‘crying the neck’ in which great ceremony was displayed when cutting the last sheaf.

It appears that there were two sorts of tradition concerning the last ‘neck’, it was either taken in as it was or made into a corn dolly. Either way, the neck was kept until after Christmas and then on ‘Plough Monday’ (the first Monday after Twelfth Night) it was cast into the first furrow and returned to the soil, this would ensure a good harvest for the year. If the dolly was not ploughed under then the harvest was doomed to failure.

Wheat straw was the easiest material to plait and old varieties with long hollow stems – such as the wonderfully named Maris Widgeon, Flamingo or Squarehead Master – were used. Today, farmers grow shorter stemmed cereal varieties and modern harvesting methods cut the straw shorter. Finding ears of corn with stalks long enough to make corn dollies has become difficult and sadly they have largely faded into harvest lore. And yet, a few farmers still grow the old, long stemmed cereal varieties for thatching and some people who have retained the skills still make the dollies. So, if you are lucky, you might come across a ‘dolly maker’ at a country show and craft fair.

Well, I’m debating sneaking outside and digging a small furrow and burying the remains of this particular corn dolly specimen. I’d hate to blight the crops, and it might do my garden good. I’ve just got to manage it when Richard isn’t looking…!

 

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Vinegar – magic in a bottle!

I was rummaging in the slightly chaotic kitchen cupboard where I keep my vinegars, herbs and spices when I discovered that I had about ten different bottles of vinegar of varying antiquity. There, alongside my favourite balsamic, were also bottles of apple, red wine, white wine, cider, white and malt vinegars, plus a couple of others too tattered to identify. I’d obviously bought different types of vinegar for different recipes over the years and then not used them again. Never being one to waste anything if I can help it, I started Googling vinegar and its uses and, as so often happens with the internet, was amazed at all the fascinating things I discovered!

Laundry
Did you know you can clean your washing machine with vinegar? No, neither did I! If you pour 450ml of white distilled vinegar into the dispenser and then run a full cycle, without clothes or detergent, it will clean out soap scum and disinfect the washing machine.

White vinegar, either distilled or full strength, is also amazingly useful for removing stains. I found too many to list them all here, but to give you an idea, white vinegar can tackle bloodstains, ink, rust, orange juice, black coffee and beer! 

Cleaning
I think most of us know that vinegar is useful for cleaning windows and you can also buy household cleaners based on vinegar. But why not try making your own?  Simply fill a recycled spray bottle with 2 parts water to I part distilled white vinegar and a couple of drops of washing up liquid for a quick clean solution.

Outdoors
As we seem to be enjoying a bit of an Indian summer, you might still manage the odd BBQ, or lunch outside. To keep flying insects at bay, you can place bowl filled with apple cider vinegar near some food, but away from your guests, and by the end of the day you’ll find lots of uninvited guests floating in the bowl!

Health & beauty
The healthy and beauty benefits of apple cider vinegar seem to be endless! From constipation to corns and from arthritis to warts it seems to be a cure-all. If you look online, or consult a reference book you’ll find lots of suggestions on how to use apple cider vinegar. Here are just a couple I came across: 

  • If you suffer from arthritis, try placing 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and honey in a glass of water, and stir vigorously, then drink. This mixture is said to help relieve pain.
  • If you have warts, put apple cider vinegar on a plaster and wrap over the wart. Replace the plaster each night and, after about a week, the wart will have gone!

Vinegar has been revered throughout the ages – it is mentioned many times in the Bible. The Romans used it, as did Hannibal, and it came to the rescue in all sorts of ways in the Middle Ages, not least as a protection against the germs of the Black Death. So, the next time you put it some malt vinegar on your chips (naughty!) or more healthily some balsamic on your salad remember, there’s a lot more to vinegar than just a nice taste!

 

 

 

 

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The language of flowers…

I saw a post earlier this month on Facebook about the rose being the birthday flower for June and I thought “Aha!” Time to remind myself which flowers are for which months, as it can make a lovely, apt, birthday present for friends who love their gardens or, like me, just love having flowers in the house. It also reminded me about the ‘language of flowers’…

Sometimes called ‘floriography’, the language of flowers is all about sending messages through the arrangement of flowers. Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years but interest in floriography really took off in Victorian times. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings that could not be spoken aloud in buttoned-up Victorian society! Armed with floral dictionaries, Victorians often exchanged small ‘talking bouquets’, called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which could be worn or carried as a fashion accessory. It’s a rather lovely idea and such a shame that now, most people just text or tweet each other – so unromantic!

But there… for those of us that still have a bit of romance, or poetry in our souls, here’s a list of birthday plants for each month, plus their significance. This isn’t definitive and you’ll find some differences, but you’ll get the general idea!

January: Carnation
The flower is said to symbolise love, fascination and distinction. Carnations come in every shade and each colour can symbolise a sentiment or emotion. Pink means affection, a white carnation mean good luck, whereas a yellow carnation denotes disappointment or exclusion.

A Victorian tussie-mussie.February: Violet
Although this month is associated with St. Valentine’s Day and red roses, the flower for the month is violet. The flower symbolises faithfulness, humility and chastity. Giving violets in the Victorian era conveyed the message ‘I’ll always be true’.

March: Daffodil
This month is synonymous with the onset of spring and accordingly the flower associated with this month is the daffodil also known as jonquil or narcissus. A gift of these flowers conveys the hidden meaning of friendship and happiness.

April: Sweet pea
The sweet pea is said to symbolise pleasure or good-bye. In the Victorian era, these flowers formed a part of the bouquet that was sent to someone to convey gratefulness.

May: Lily of the valley
The flower conveys sweetness and humility. In the Victorian era, they conveyed the romantic message ‘You have made my life complete’.

June: Rose
Roses are available in many colours and each has its own special meanings, but the underlying message the flowers convey is that of love and passion.

Pink larkspur for contrariness!July: Larkspur
With its simple form, feelings of open heart and ardent attachment are attributed to it. Again, there are different meanings for each colour. Pink denotes contrariness, white expresses a happy nature, and a first love is usually symbolized by purple.

August: Gladiolus
It stands for sincerity and symbolises strength of character.

September: Aster
The name of the flower – which looks like a star – is derived from the Greek word for star and, in the language of flowers, it symbolises love, faith and wisdom.

October: Marigold or Calendula
The marigold stands for sorrow and sympathy.

November: Chrysanthemum
Compassion, friendship and joy. Chrysanthemums have different meanings. Red is for love, white means innocence, and yellow denotes unrequited love.

December: Narcissus
The narcissus symbolises sweetness.

 

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Sparkling Lavinia Stamps

Lavinia Stamps are all designs drawn by Tracey Dutton. I have exhibited opposite Tracey for several years at the NEC – the Hobbycraft show – and every year I watch her demos and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over her talent and the fabulous effects she produces.

The great thing about stamping and crafting in general – and Papercrafting in particular – is that everybody can have their own style and be an artist without necessarily being able to paint or draw. It was suggested when I was about 13 that I might like to leave the art class as I so often wasted school supplies (my paintings and still life drawings were awful!) and instead increase my Latin lessons to include a conversational lesson each week.

Well all I can say is RESULT – I not only got rid of a hugely egotistical young art master who taught nothing and had a bevy of devoted 13-year-old fans, but I got to know a wonderful lady who taught Latin and gave a tea party each week for three of us to speak Latin. Really fun, great company and CAKE … what more can I say!

Seriously though, it left me feeling I was great at Latin but apparently devoid of artistic ability. Well, what nonsense, just because we can’t paint or draw in a traditional way doesn’t mean there aren’t a million other techniques we can all use to create wondrous pieces of art.

Here the Lavinia stamps have been stamped onto colourful backing sheets (we have some on the website here) and then wonderful touches of sparkle and other tints and colours have been added. What’s not to love and I would fight off anyone that said this isn’t art!

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A load of old cordwainers!

Tools of a cordwainer’s trade.I am always fascinated by words and their origins and coming across old names for things always piques my interest. Partner in crime writing, Julia, recently wrote an article about a woman who made shoes and made the point that she was most definitely NOT a cobbler… she was a cordwainer. What a wonderful term! This, of course, set me off and I began Googling and have found out all sorts of fascinating things…

Old names for trades are really quaint and often highly descriptive, what a shame we no longer use most of them. Here are some examples:

  • Carnifex – butcher
  • Cissor – tailor
  • Flauner – confectioner
  • Huckster – seller of small articles/wares
  • Nedder – needle-maker
  • Puddler – wrought iron worker, mixer of molten pig iron into wrought iron
  • Tipstaff – policeman, bailiff, constable
  • Whitcher – maker of chests

A huckster from the 1860s… long before the advent of the website!Hmmm… perhaps I should promote myself as a ‘Huckster’ as through the website we sell lots of ‘small articles and wares’ – what do you think?

If you are called Cooper or Baxter, you may well know that your ancestors were barrel makers (cooper) and bakers (baxter).  But what if you are a Spicer, Leech or Fuller? Somewhere along the line your ancestors would have been (in order) grocers, doctors and felt or cloth makers.

It’s fascinating to see how our names evolve over the centuries. People’s accents and the listening and spelling capabilities of parish clerks are usually responsible for all the different versions of names we have today. She’s not sure, but Julia thinks ‘Wherrell’ is a corruption of ‘wheeler’. As her family originates from Wiltshire, the accent would make wheeler sound more like “woller’ or ‘worrell’ and eventually, ‘wherrell’.

‘Sheen’ is not an easy name to sort out, but most likely it has Irish origins. The original Gaelic form of the name Sheen is ‘O Siodhachain’, which may derive from ‘siodhach’ which means peaceful, so that’s quite nice!

And the difference between a cobbler and a cordwainer? A cobber mends shoes, a cordwainder makes them. The word is derived from ‘cordwain’, or ‘cordovan’, the fine leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. So now you know!

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