Archive for the 'Arts and Crafts' Category

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

If you live in country Victoria or have the means to get there (I may have discovered the real reason why Airforce 2 dropped Hilary Clinton in Melbourne instead of our capital Canberra) then you have until this Saturday the 28th of November 2010 to see a fabulous exhibit of Australian Fairy Art from the Victorian era at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

After stopping in Castlemaine recently to visit Tute’s Cottage I drove onto Bendigo especially to see this exhibit – it was well worth the drive.

Beautiful Bendigo

Bendigo is an extraordinarily gorgeous town. The Victorian architecture surrounding Queen’s Park, at its heart, shows the amazing wealth and opulence of the goldfields at their peak. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring but I only had enough time to see the exhibit and get on my way back to Melbourne. I have been eagerly anticipating this exhibit since February as it promised to explore the transposition of the English Victorian Fairy Art craze into an Australian context – very pertinent to our interests at TQS.

The exhibition was beautifully mounted with works from national collections, ‘never been seen before’ works from private collections (fancy how special a family would feel to own their very own fairy art) and illustrations from period books. I loved it but left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

For me the best works of the exhibit were the two beautiful painting by the Australian painter Frederick McCubbin. Frederick’s work is well known to many Australians as his triptych called ‘The Pioneer’ has graced many a lounge room wall, biscuit tin and tea towel.  It is a stunning work that subtly shows the impact of settlement on the bush. As time passes from left to right in the triptych more and more of the bush is cleared until you can just see a hint of a city in the distance. Unfortunately familiarity has bred contempt for McCubbin’s work and I get the sense that we don’t love his painitings as much as we could – too sentimental for modern sensibilities perhaps.

McCubbin’s fairy paintings have the same sombre mood as ‘The Pioneer’ until you begin to catch glimpses of the winged creatures hidden in the bush. The only clue to finding the fairies quickly is following the gaze of the small children in the paintings. In a way McCubbin is encouraging us to look through the eyes of childhood to see the bush in a new way.

Another highlight of the exhibit was a chance to see new prints of the ‘Cottingley Fairy Photographs‘. These faked photographs from 1917 show two young girls and fairies frolicking in a garden. If you haven’t ever read about the Cottingley Fairy Scandal and the role of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creater of Sherlock Holmes, it is worth following the link above. Given that the girls cut the fairy images out of a popular children book of the time – it is a wonder that anyone thought they were real. I suppose sometimes we just need to believe – and that might be why I love the Cottingley Fairy Photographs. The Cottingley Fairies are also behind the plot of the 1997 fantasy film – Photographing Fairies.

So why did I leave unsatisfied? While the craze for fairy art was an English Victorian era phenomenon it didn’t really take off in Australia until the Edwardian period – so not so much Australian fairy art of the Victorian era. The catalogue to accompany the exhibition is OK but not great. I was left disappointed by the lack of Australian context provided in the curator’s notes. Here there is a brief discussion of Victorian England’s representation of the fae as mischievous, wanton and dangerous as a salve to the taming of the wild by the industrial revolution, when an enormous proportion of the population forsook the rural life for cities. In Australia the burgeoning of fairy art in the Edwardian period is seen as a retreat from the horror of war.

I think that Australian fairy art of the Edwardian period is another version of the ‘Lost in the Bush’ myth of Australian settlement. It might surprise non-Australians to know that in Primary School we are all read and re-read the story of three young children who stray from their parents and become hopelessly lost in the bush. The children become increasingly frightened, the older sister (my hero) snaps gum of Eucalypt trees for her brothers to eat and covers them with her skirt to keep them warm at night until eventually at the point of no hope they are rescued. This is our ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and our cautionary tale about the wild wood, nature as savage and unknown. Europeans decided very early on after drought and flooding rains that the bush was out to get us. Fairies are a way of making the Australian bush safe. They are chubby cherubs looking out for us or as the Australian Girl Guide rhyme says of the bush spirit the Melluka,  ’I'm a Melluka but you will find, though I play tricks, I’m always kind’.

The answer to the question is of course ‘Yes’!

Purple King Climbing Bean and Fairy

Victorian fairy folklore is full of cautionary tales about farmers who failed to heed the warnings of fairies: don’t plant your potatoes here, don’t call your cows without using their proper name, don’t use all the milk without leaving us a saucer by the front door (so like living in a share house) and the ever popular don’t forget to leave us a corn-dolly from your new harvest. Ruin, failed crops and disappointment in love follow all who don’t do as they are bid.

As a gardener I am fully prepared, if the fairies at any point tell me where they want the carrots planted, I will do as they say (actually I would do pretty much anything to get carrots growing properly)!

Pollen pants means that it is both 'Hammer Time' and a Bee - so not a fairy!

If you look carefully through my posts you will see that on a number of occasions I have been lucky enough to accidently capture images of the fairies that live in my garden – I could tell you how many there are – but the fairies don’t want me to spoil the fun.

Victorian Photocollage

Victorian Photocollage

I nabbed this quickly from Jezebel and thought I would put it up here: Victorian photocollage. From the Met site:

Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects. Such images, often made for albums, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. The exhibition features forty-eight works from the 1860s and 1870s, from public and private collections.

I am going to look into this further!

My Victorian Money Bag Is Finally Done!

My Victorian Money Bag Is Finally Done!

So remember that money bag I started a while ago? I finally finished it! It’s supposed to have a simple ring inserted around it, but I didn’t happen to have any that weren’t gold (my mom prefers silver), save for this skull ring I got for Halloween a few years ago. My mom isn’t into the skulls, so I only put it on the bag so everyone could see what it should look like all finished. When I send it to my mom it’ll have a plain silver ring in the same spot, plus a little silver button ornament for the bottom of the bag.

Finished Money Bag. The Skull is the size of a quarter.

For my next project, my package from the completely awesome Undergardener arrived just in time. She had mentioned that she had some laceweight wool she had spun up, but had no use for and offered to send it to me. I, of course jumped at the offer, and when I opened up my package and saw this, I was super excited!

Handspun laceweight wool. Quarter included for scale.

This yarn is the perfect size AND color for making some lace edging. I plan on buying a plain handkerchief, knitting up just the right length of edging I need, and then hand sew the edging onto the hanky. Then, when I send it to my mom I can include some smelling salts so she can daintily use it to revive herself after she dramatically faints onto her couch from the shock of reading about my latest crazy exploits on my blog!

Experiments in Victorian Floristry Continue…

Experiments in Victorian Floristry Continue...

in which I am both Under Gardener and Lady’s Maid.

Well time travellers I feel that I have a good handle on how to make floral buttonholes now. Emboldened I decided to tackle the task of creating a floral hair decoration and dress garland. “Why ?”, I hear you ask – well as I have learnt floristry in large Victorian estates was the responsibility of the Head Gardener.

Roses for 'The Duchess'.

Supplying flowers for an exacting Mistress must surely have been one of the Head Gardener’s most terrifying tasks – I can imagine many a stout and tweedy fellow quaking in his Wellingtons at the though of displeasing ‘Her Upstairs’. Luckily my dear friend ‘The Duchess’ has a beautiful head of hair and the patience to put up with a very inept Lady’s Maid.

The hair do.

Step 1: Make a Pony Tail.

Step 2: Pull the Pony Tail back through the hair.

Step 3: Split Pony Tail into 3 Plaits.

Step 4: Turn the plaits up and pin.

Step 5. Place pinned roses in hair.

Step 6: Poke small flowers around roses.

My own unruly head of hair is evidence that I don’t know very much about hair styling. In order to work out how Victorian ladies wore their hair I looked at more than a hundred images on-line – these were not very helpful for the uninitiated and frankly a little scary. Severe was definitely the ‘new black’ of the Victorian age.

It seems that early in the Victorian period hair styles were very controlled and neat and as the era unfolded hair styles became looser and less formal. Clearly my untidy hair marks me as a natural Edwardian. I watched the film ‘The Young Victoria‘ again for inspiration and found Queen Victoria’s hair do’s were just too complicated to try as a first go – all those tiny plaits, perfect neatness and twirly bits. I decided to pick an informal style which would allow for some margin of clumsiness. I found this clip with a demonstration which was a big help.

Well the Duchess and I had a very fun afternoon but I learnt that I would be a rubbish Lady’s Maid. It took me about an hour to put together a hair style that probably should only take ten minutes. Luckily as an Under Gardener all I would need to do is make sure that I grew the appropriate roses and picked them as instructed – whew!

Dress Garlands

Next step was to make a matching dress garland for the Duchess.

Rose Garland.

The DVDs that I ordered of the BBC’s Victorian Flower Garden, Kitchen Garden and Kitchen have finally arrived and I have loved watching these three fabulous series again. This clip shows the enormous amount of foliage that really grand Victorian women would wear on formal occasions. Attending a ball must have been like watching a swaying garden!

In the photo above you can see my attempt at a garland.  I used thin paper-covered milliner’s wire and tied the roses to the wire using green paraffin tape. The paraffin tape melts as you mould it with your hands and gives a very realistic effect of all the roses growing from a single stem. I’ve not been able to find out what Victorians would have used but a very knowledgeable gardener I work with suggested that Head Gardeners would have used thin gauze silk. I think the garland turned out OK but would be better if I had added more greenery and some smaller flowers amongst the roses.

Next floristry challenge will be to dress a full dining table but I plan to leave that to the spring – which for me here in Melbourne is next September.  In the mean time back to the garden as it is past time for getting the winter seeds in the ground.

Finally we have a photo of the Duchess’ beautiful companion modelling her own garland.

Beautiful B

Starting Over

Starting Over

So…you know that stocking I had started? The one where I had knit only half of an inch in two hours because the yarn and needles were so small? Well, I just couldn’t take the idea of having to knit on it for forever and then having to make a whole other stocking after I finished it, so I unraveled it. As a knitter, the pain of being forced to realize that a project you are working on is not going the way you’d like and having to admit defeat is like having your heart ripped out! So the decision to frog and start over is never taken lightly.

Because it takes so much time to knit items on needles so small, I realized that I really did need to limit myself to items that were also small, like purses and lace edgings and probably another set of mittens in the future.  However, just in case you’re thinking that I totally pussed out I just want you all to know that for my grand finale I will still be knitting up a Victorian Undervest out of pure silk (I should have saved up enough money to buy the yarn for it by the end of the year).

Anyway, so on to my new, smaller project. I chose to knit up a Money
Bag.  The pattern comes from Interweave Knit’s reissuing of the Weldon’s Practical Knitter series.  The money bag pattern is in the volume one, fourth series book. The best part is that they’ve converted these old patterns into pdfs, and you can simply download them onto your computer.

So tiny!

The Money Bag required the same yarn and needle size as the stockings, so I got busy with my size 0000 needles and looked forward to casting on. Little did I know that the way the bag was constructed, from the bottom up would cause me huge amounts of grief!  The pattern told me to cast 8 stitches onto 3 needles (3 stitches on two needles with 2 on the third needle) and then knit a round before starting in on the increases. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to do an increase stitch with tiny needles and tiny yarn, but I couldn’t really make out the bit of yarn between stitches to make the increase. Adding to that was the problem of only having 3 stitches on needles that are 8 inches long and slippery because they’re steel. I had to cast on 6 times before I was able to get past the problems of having needles fall out of the stitches or dropping a stitch while trying to increase next to it. I had nearly given up, ready to take the needles and stab something, anything (it’s a good thing my boyfriend was out in the office) but my 6th cast on attempt thankfully turned out stable enough for me to continue.

Then I noticed something. This bag was looking mighty tiny. I wondered if perhaps my gauge was off, and I had picked the wrong needles. I checked my needle size and it was correct. Then I really looked over the pattern, and when I got to the part about how to make the handle I realized that this bag was supposed to be tiny. It says “cast on 8 stitches and knit a strip of 2 inches in length in garter”.  Two inches!  Then I reread the part about adding a ring to the bag. When I had first glanced over the pattern I had thought to myself, “Where am I going to find a ring big enough for this bag?” Well, it turns out that when they say “slip a gilt ring over the top” they really did mean the size of ring that fits onto your finger!

Now, call me stupid, but then I couldn’t figure out why a bag that one would use to carry money in would be so tiny.  I had to really puzzle over this until it finally dawned on me that this was over 200 years ago, and money went a hell of a lot farther back then. At the most, most people would only need to carry a few cents around, and hardly anyone, unless they were super rich would even be using paper money!  So wow. Now I can’t wait to finish making this, and you can see how small it’s going to be by the picture I’ve taken, using a quarter for scale.

It's actually inside out right now.

Two Hours Into What Seems Like Infinity

Two Hours Into What Seems Like Infinity

It seems that back in Victorian times, silk was the fiber of choice to knit with. Silk undervests, stockings, mittens, lace–you name it, it was knit with silk. I made the mistake of trying to knit with silk when I first learned how to knit (like the very next day after I had just learned to knit, purl and cast on–I really should have known better) nearly 4 years ago and it ended in a disaster of EPIC proportions. I still break out in a sweat whenever I think about The Incident That Shall Not Be Named, Unless You Want To Die. Anyway, so when I found this out, I was a little anxious. I knew my knitting skills had progressed enough to where I wouldn’t have to worry about a second disaster, so I was all prepared to meet the challenge head on. Then my challenge met my wallet, and my wallet bitch-slapped my challenge straight into a future month or year where I’ll actually have lots of money to spend.

Turns out that over 120 years later, 100% silk laceweight yarn is expensive (When I mean expensive, I mean at least $50 a skein expensive and it would take 2-4 skeins to make anything besides a pair of mittens or a bag) Too expensive for my budget and grand knitting ideas, so while I’ve been able to buy the correct needle sizes, I have been unable to buy the correct yarn fiber. My mom finally told me what colors she preferred, so armed with this information I hit up my local yarn store hoping to find some cobweb lace yarn (cobweb means it’s super skinny) that wasn’t alpaca (too fuzzy) or expensive.

At first I was annoyed that my mom had chosen such blah colors (light grey and cream), but when I located some undyed (which happens to be cream colored, yesssssss!)100% merino lace weight yarn for only 6.95 a skein, I immediately felt much better and scooped up 3 of them pronto. I had also picked up a pair of size 0000 (1.25mm) needles, so I was now ready to begin my next Victorian knitting project–a pair of lady’s stockings. Actually, a pair of “Lady’s Ribbed Stockings no. 2″ to be exact.

Last month I had purchased a great pamphlet titled “Weldon’s Practical Stocking Knitter (Third Series)” that was originally published in 1886. At first I wanted to make the “Gentleman’s Bicycle Stockings” because they had cables in them, but then I got hold of my senses and figured that it would be hard enough knitting with such small needles, why add cabling tiny yarn to the mix? Plus, I’m pretty sure back in Victorian times any ladies who would wear stockings intended for gentlemen would be heartily frowned upon, and I thought it’d be more accurate to keep gender stereotypes intact.

American Idol was coming on, and it was a 2 hour show last night, so I figured it’d be the perfect time to sit down and cast on for the stockings. Imagine my intense dismay when the 2 hours flew by and this is all I had to show for it.

Knitting Victorian stockings isn’t necessarily hard, I discovered especially since they’re pretty much made exactly the way top down socks are made today (just a lot longer and with decreases for calf shaping), but with such small needles and tiny yarn it takes forever. And the worst part is that once I finish the first one, I’ll have to make one more! I just can’t win.

The First Mitten Is Done, & Now I’m All Fired Up

The First Mitten Is Done, & Now I'm All Fired Up

The first thing I have to report is that I finished the first mitten.  I have to say, other than wishing I could have used different yarn (I can’t afford to buy 100% silk laceweight yarn right now, so using what I already have is necessary at this time) because the alpaca fuzz obscures the pattern too much for my taste–I’m pretty happy with how it came out.  It’s so delicate and airy and not at all what would have come to mind when thinking of mittens. I guess these kinds of mittens were worn for fashion reasons, because I’m not sure if these would actually keep my hands warm if it were below freezing.

The palm side of the Lady's Fancy Mittens.

The top side of the Lady's Fancy Mittens.

Now that I’m done with the first mitten, I’m on the prowl for a new project.  I’ve done some preliminary internet searches, and I came across what I consider to be a quite decent sized list of Victorian pattern books that people have taken the time to scan in every single page of each book and they are now available to download as pdfs. Genius!  All the books are ones that are in the public domain, probably because they’re so old. I also managed to find a  handy needle conversion chart, so now I know exactly which needles to use when I read the pattern instructions.

The last thing is that I went ahead and ordered two more sets of needles. I chose to order the two smallest sizes.  The needles arrived in the mail on Friday, and Holy Crap!

The penny is there for scale.

The top needle is the smallest size I’m used to using (size #1), and I like to make socks with them. It’s 2.25mm in diameter. The last two needles are the new ones. The middle one is a size 000-000 and it’s .75mm in diameter. The bottom needle is the one that’s really freaking me out. I am completely and utterly terrified by it. It’s a size 0000-0000 and only .5mm!

Also, I just want to say how glad I am that I decided to become part of this blog.  I’d never really given much thought to Victorian patterns before, but now that I’ve decided to go all in I find my interest in knitting has skyrocketed. Not that I’m not always excited to knit, but it’s like the heady excitement I had when I first learned how to knit and knit successfully is back!  I’m happily spending hours pouring over Victorian patterns and daydreaming about making delicate silk undergarments. I’m so excited about all the knitting projects that will be ahead of me this year and I’m even starting to think about continuing on with Victorian knitting even after 2010 is over.

Deciding to Go Hardcore

Deciding to Go Hardcore

I was hoping to show a lot more progress on the fancy lady’s mittens by now, but the problem is that a) I try to have a life (and other hobbies) outside of knitting and b) I’m still trying to finish up projects I started last year.  It’s not like I haven’t made progress, as you can see by my pictures below. I mean, I’m past the thumb gusset and finally at the point where it’s easy knitting the rest of the way until I start doing decreases to close off the mitten and finishing up the thumb.   Now that I’m past the gusset, I’ve got the pattern memorized and I’m not afraid of losing my concentration anymore.

Top of Glove

Palm Side of Glove

However, I have also been doing more research on knitting in the Victorian era, and what I have discovered scares me.  Earlier I found out that women tended to knit stuff like lace, doilies,  stockings or gloves–things that require tiny needles and thin yarn. I didn’t realize how thin and tiny until I decided to look into the whole “knitting silk” issue.  Turns out they weren’t kidding about knitting all that stuff with yarn made from 100% silk! I don’t know if any of you have ever knit with silk before, but depending on how it’s processed it can be super slippery.  Now imagine trying to knit slippery yarn using metal needles! The needles they used were so small they couldn’t make them out of wood, so metal is the only option available.  Then I found out how a lot of women found it fashionable to knit little beaded evening purses with yarn so thin it was the size of sewing thread! I just about fell off my chair, and if I were the type to wear pearls I would have clutched them!

At this point, it has become obvious that I have to make a decision. Do I really want to knit such complicated things? If so, that means I’d have to buy the right yarn and needles and devote a lot of time to finding projects that won’t take forever to make and that also won’t be so hard to understand that they’d make me want to kill someone. I don’t usually plan out what I want to knit in advance, but since I enjoy a knitting challenge I thought it’d be in the best interests of this blog to step up and make an effort. And so, I have decided to go all in.  That’s right, 2010 is going to be the year of Victorian knitting!  For my grand finale I think I will even attempt to try my hand at making one of those insanely complicated beaded evening purses, although I’m not going to go completely crazy and make one with a mosaic design that has 400 beads knitted into a square inch. No thanks, I’d like to keep what remains of my already thin grasp on my sanity! As a comparison note, if I were to add beads to the mittens I’m making now, they’d only have 100 beads per square inch.  However, the upside of committing to this whole adventure is that my mother will probably be very happy because she’ll be the recipient of everything I make, and it’ll make any knitting I do after 2010 seem like a total breeze!

Lavender and Great-Grandma’s Laundry

Lavender and Great-Grandma's Laundry

It’s a hot hot summer’s day here in Melbourne, Australia, and in a fashion entirely inappropriate to the position of Under Gardener, I’m in my back yard drinking Pimm’s and Lemonade while harvesting Lavender.

Lavender is widely quoted as one of Queen Victoria’s and hence the Victorian era’s favorite scents.

It is generally known that the Queen is a great believer in Lavender as a disinfectant, and that she is not at all singular in her faith in this plant… The royal residences are strongly impregnated with the refreshing odour of this old-fashioned flower, and there is no perfume that the Queen likes better than Lavender-water, which, together with the oil for disinfecting purposes, Her Majesty has direct from a lady who distills it herself.” Fragrant Flowers, 1895.

I love growing lavender.  It thrives in our Mediterranean climate and does very well in the free-draining sandy soil in my backyard.  To keep it flowering well I make sure it doesn’t get too dry on hot sunny days. I give each bush a light pruning after I have removed the flower spikes for drying. The pruning helps to keep the bush from getting leggy and in some years encourages a second flush of flowers. Bonus!

Lavender ready for harvest

Victorian Head Gardeners were responsible for harvesting the lavender spikes and tying them into paper cones for drying.  The drying, processing or distillation of the lavender then fell into the domain of the Housekeeper who managed the Still Room with her maids.

I dry my lavender in the same way by hanging the paper cones of flowers in a dry dark spot in my laundry.  It only takes a week to dry in warm weather.  Hanging the flower spikes upside-down also helps to keep the spikes straight which is useful if you are going to use them in dried flower arrangements.

The Victorian House Keeper would place bags of dried lavender flowers amongst stores of linen to perfume the cloth and help prevent attack by Clothes Moths.  My Mum’s Mum, my Nanna, told me that her mother Susan (a Victorian Country Woman ) keep a lavender bush by her clothes line on which she draped her favorite pocket handkerchiefs to dry and pick up the scent of lavender.

Dried lavender, Lavender Bag and Reckitts Blue Bag

I’ve often wondered how women in my family, during the Victorian Period, managed life in the newly settled State of Victoria in Australia.  It’s very easy to find information about the daily life of the ‘big English Victorian house’ but very difficult to find out about the lives of people such as my Great-Grandmother living in rural Australia.  What I know about her is from snatches of stories passed down from Nanna to me. The same is true for my father’s family who, by contrast, lived in an inner Melbourne working class suburb from the mid-Victorian era to the 1980′s.  Stories I do have about my Great-Grandmothers relate mostly to domestic chores and, surprisingly, to how they did their laundry!

The house built by my paternal Great-Grandfather still had its original corrugated-iron lean-to laundry when I was a small girl.  I remember my Grandma boiling sheets in a copper cauldron and then helping her to wring them out through an old winding mangle.  It seems amazing to me now, as I stuff another load of clothes into the front loader, that basically Victorian laundry techniques were still in place in Melbourne in the early 1970′s!

Grandma standing by laundry in mid 1960's

Mrs Beeton outlines the duties for a Laundry-Maid in paragraph 2372 of BOHM. There is another great description of Victorian laundry practice in the novel Lark Rise to Candleford written by Flora Thompson describing her life in late 19th century Oxfordshire.  She explains how the clothes were laundered every two weeks by a visiting Laundry Woman.  Flora explains that washing the clothes this infrequently showed that a family had enough money to afford enough clothes to wait that long between washes (when I don’t get to the laundry this week – this is how I plan to sell it).  Neither of my Great-Grandmas were affluent enough to send laundry out or hire help in.  I can’t imagine what a thankless task it was to boil clothes clean in a hot Melbourne summer – blah!

I am really interested in the idea of ‘blueing’ that both Beeton and Thompson described.  This is the practice of putting a light temporary blue dye in the rinse water for white linen to make it appear whiter. Today washing powder contains sophisticated optical whitening chemicals so the use of blue or Fig blue as Beeton calls it is rare.  So does it work?

When discussing this with my Mum she found that she still had some of Nanna’s Reckitt’s Blue bags in the laundry and was happy to give me a couple to experiment with.  Here are the results.

Using a Washboard to clean hankies - very tedious!

Dunking the 'Blue' tea-bag fashion in the rinse water.

Rinsed one in clean water and one in the blue rinse.

Hmmm - the one on the right was blued. Is it whiter?

I discovered that using a washboard is extremely tiresome. Washing an entire household’s laundry this way would give you the shoulders of an olympic swimmer. It did eventually get the dirt out.  I used an Australian washing detergent from the Victorian era that my Great-Grandmothers would have made from scratch using this recipe.  It is free of whitening agents and available ready made in Australia today.  I remember grating soap on a cheese grater for my Grandma when she was making a batch – it still smells like my childhood to me.

Then I dunked the bag of Blue into the rinse water until the water was a pale blue in colour.

It is difficult to see in the photos that I’ve taken but the Hanky dunked in the blue rinse looked blue at first rather than white.

Opinions in this household vary but I really couldn’t see a difference between the blued hanky and the other one.  It could be that the bluing works more effectively on older linen that tends to yellow as it ages.  I might try again if I find a piece of old fabric.

I guess this has strayed a long way out of the territory of the Under Gardener.

So bringing this discussion back to the garden.  My Grandmothers, as their Mothers did, loved the scent of lavender and kept bags of dried lavender with their hankerchiefs.  Grandma used lavender water to spray linen while ironing to help remove wrinkles and scent her sheets (ironing sheets seems unnecessary but I think this was one of her little luxuries). I like growing lavender as it is a plant that connects me to the women in my family and back to my Great-Grandma’s laundry rituals.

If you feel inspired to try Lavender Water here is a modern version of the Victorian Recipe for Lavender Water that I use at home.

Lavender Water

100ml (4 fl oz) Vodka

10 drops Lavender Oil

500ml (17 fl oz) Water

Add all ingredients to a Pint Spray Bottle and shake to mix.  It will keep indefinitely.  Spray it around the house to kill odours, on ironing for smoothing or keep some in the fridge to spray on you on hot days. It is also fairly good at killing the ‘wet dog smell’ on woollens that have got damp in winter.

Just be-careful not to use it as a cocktail mixer by mistake!

Knitting From History, Part One.

Knitting From History, Part One.

When I first agreed to write something for TQS, I wasn’t sure what angle I was going to approach the Victorian theme from. I knew it would probably have something to do with knitting, but that was about it. I briefly thought about copying knit items I’d seen in TV shows and movies about the era (like Mary Poppin’s scarf), but decided that wasn’t good enough. If I was going to do this, I should be completely true to the era.

And so it was that I found myself searching for authentic knitting patterns from the 1800s.  I soon realized that it was going to be harder to follow through on than I thought.  I tend to knit things like sweaters, gloves, socks and hats–which aside from the gloves–are NOT things that Victorians knit at all!  Victorians didn’t really knit clothing, they knit very delicate lacy things, things like doilies and stockings and edgings for their dresses. Things that require needles so small that if I failed at knitting with them I could always try my hand at acupuncture instead! Needles so small that I didn’t think anyone even made needles that small anymore. Actually, I was relieved to find out that there are companies that still make tiny needles, and I plan on purchasing the last 5 sizes I need for future projects, the smallest one being 0000-0000 (.5mm).

Even after finding this out, like a fool I still thought it’d be a good challenge. I found a pattern that looked relatively easy–patterns from the Victorian era assumed that you weren’t an idiot and knew what you were doing. They didn’t bother explaining every last little detail like patterns do nowadays. Nope, they figured that if you were going to knit something you were already an expert. Which, to be fair is rather refreshing but at the same time a little frustrating, especially when they didn’t use the same terms that we do now. It took me 20 minutes to figure out that when it says “throw thread over” in my pattern, that they actually meant I was supposed to do what we call now a “yarn over”.

Anyway, so my first project is a pattern called  Lady’s Fancy Mittens ( It was published in Art Needlework in 1895 by Brainerd & Armstrong.  There were several modifications I had to make, the first being that I did not own the tiny size 0000 needles required for the pattern. The smallest size needles I had were the next size up, size 000 needles. Thankfully I had some lace weight yarn already, but it wasn’t knitting silk like the pattern called for. Frankly, I don’t know if “knitting silk” is really made out of just silk or not and that’s something I plan to look into because I am skeptical. I could also be wrong, but I’m used to that.  I also had to size down the pattern because my first attempts came out a little too large—although I should have known since I was using needles .25mm larger and I tend to knit rather loosely in the first place.

I’m slowly making progress on these mittens. I’m not used to knitting with such small needles, and it’s taking forever. The stitches are so tiny that it makes me want to scream and I can’t even imagine having to knit something like this by lamplight.  I have a feeling that once I finish the first mitten there won’t even be a second one. I was planning on giving them to my mom when I was done with the pair since she’s also really into the Victorian stuff (she’s so serious about it that she even has two Victorian outfits), but I might wind up having to befriend a one handed woman instead!

Stay tuned for Part Two, when I finally finish at least one mitten.