Monday, February 20, 2017


Truly, then, what is a great Queen?

She is…unsuspecting.
But she knows her place.
She also knows what is good for her people.

She is passionate.  And strong.
She knows the hearts of others, be they true or deceptive.
She governs with a firm hand…but also a loving heart.

She wishes she were invisible at times.  Just to be a woman.
And seeks inspiration which is blind to others.
But she is taken away with the possibilities that others cannot see!
And is absorbed with the problems of which others have no clue.

A True Queen rules with gentility and strength and wisdom.
And knows that what she commands is best.
At least, in her heart…

***Inspired by my current obsession with Queen Victoria, and all of history's queens…

***Picture taken during my travels to Portugal…the  18th-century National Palace of Queluz, aka "The Little Versailles of Portugal"

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Black Work

Despite the Snowdrops and wild Daffodils poking their springtime heads up through patches of snow, it remained bitterly cold, and so Goody Prymm and Remember turned their thoughts to things best done indoors.  The pottage prepared and bubbling on the hearth and herbed bread baking under kettle, they had a bit of what Goody Prymm called "luxury time," a rare thing indeed, a time to pursue those things that bring delight and serve no other purpose than to please.  While Imagination stitched, Remember was poking around the lean-to when she happened upon some unusual-looking linen wrapped in cloth and which had been hidden from view…linen that had writing on it.  Bringing it to Goody Prymm, she queried about its origin, Goody Prymm's face eliciting a smile that hearkened to other times.  Sitting on the settle next to the warming fire, Remember listened with curiosity and wonder about that linen.  It was really quite old…going back to her beginning days in Ipswich.  She had brought the early-woven linen over the ocean from England, but after a time of living and bartering in Ipswich, Goody Prymm had much better linen upon which to embroider and so put away the transported piece.  But what of the writing, Remember intimated.  Imagination laughed softly and explained that she had thought to use the linen as pages to add to her Book of Cures and so had made her own ink from oak gall nuts which grew on trees.  By adding rainwater, ale, salt, and a few other mysterious ingredients, and then cooking it, she had managed to make a kind of ink.  The writing that Remember was seeing on the linen came from that ink, though the color had changed over time, giving it a rust-like hue.  Feeling the texture of the linen and running her fingers over the words thereon, Goody Prymm smiled, having forgotten about it and was quite surprised that it had not corroded after all this time.  Why didn't she use it for her book, Remember wondered.  Goody Prymm simply responded that life was much more demanding back then, and other things took precedence over a few pages for a book.

The found linen opened up their conversation, Imagination working away on her black silk embroidery as she talked about the early days and Lancashire, her home, when Goody Prymm was a young girl.  Remember hung on her every word, with an endless curiosity about Imagination's world.  The tales she wove were like paths twisting and winding through the woods of the past, offering truths and wisdom with every turn.   Holding the black silk thread in her wizened fingers, Goody Prymm described the beauty of Spanish Work, also called Black Work, which had been taught to her by her mother and passed down through the women in her family, harking all the way back to Goody Prymm's great great grandmother, who lived in the time of Catherine of Aragon.  It was Catherine, she said with a rare touch of pride, who made Spanish Work desirable in England, the beautiful garments stitched with all manner of tendrils and flowers and birds in black silk on stark white linen, and embellished with gold thread and sometimes red!  Through these stories told by her mother and grandmother, Goody Prymm had developed a secret respect for Catherine of Aragon, who was a woman of great intellect and education, something Goody Prymm greatly admired.  Remember marveled at the words spoken and asked if Goody Prymm still knew how to do Black Work…and would she please teach her…

Knowing this was coming, Goody Prymm suggested she pick out a piece of white linen for her Black Work.  Excited at the prospect, Remember stood and began swiftly walking to the lean-to, when she paused and turned slowly, saying softly that she would rather use the linen with words on it---Goody Prymm's words---as the ground for her stitching, that is, if Goody Prymm didn't mind.  This pleased Imagination no end for, though she had never had a daughter of her own, she now had Remember to carry on the knowledge.  And it was goode!

***With a nod to "Iron Gall Ink," from Traveling Scriptorium Library:  A Teaching Kit by the Yale University, and the blog of Sidney Eileen "Basics of Elizabethan Freehand Blackwork Embroidery."

*** 35-count aged "Boleyn Linen" from The Primitive Hare

***The "thymel" is a medieval reproduction ring-type thimble from my collection.

*** The scissors are a Viking reproduction purchased during my travels from the Historiska Museet Stockholm (Swedish History Museum).

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Friday, February 17, 2017

All the World

All the World's a cure!

The Golden Daffodil, a cure for melancholia.
The pure white Snowdrop, a remedy for frostbite.
Comfrey to knit broken bones, and
Sage to ease the throat.

The Elder Flower, infused with vinegar, will revive!
Rosemary Oil for cold, benumbed joints.
Garlic will aid the blood pressure, and
Blue Bottle Cornflower refreshes the eyes.

Seven times seven!  A multitude of Nature's gifts
Provide for the World its cures.

The cures and the combinations as endless as the
Seeds that blow in March!

***With a nod to Culpeper's Color Herbal

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Monday, February 13, 2017


She had been gone several days now.  Still, Remember continued to look out the window for her.  More snow had fallen in the night, though not as heavy, the temperatures forcing them to keep the fire going strong.  When she could stand it no longer, and as soon as the first stark bright rays of the winter sun shone through, Remember told Goody Prymm she was going looking for her.  She was just a kitten after all.  Perhaps she had found a shed in which to take shelter. Bundling up for the cold, Remember set out, Goody Prymm cautioning her not to stay out too long but that she would have steaming pottage and hot herbal tea ready when she returned.

It was February 2, what Goody Prymm called Candlemas, the day lying exactly between winter and spring, though the snow was interminable and spring seemed a distant dream.  Remember trudged through the snow to the village, asking everyone she happened to meet if they had seen a little grey kitten in the past week.  No one had.  So she headed to the woods, though she was cautious to stay on the outskirts.  She had learned the hard way that the woods become another place---an unfamiliar land--after a snowfall.  After several hours, her fingers and toes reddened and quite numb from the cold, Remember headed back home without her dear Smoke.  Before entering, she decided to take one last look behind the lean-to.  Perhaps Smoke hadn't gone too far.  While she didn't see her there, she did happen upon some charming little flowers poking their heads up through the snow.  There were hundreds of them, growing wild and spreading down into the woods!  They were the purest white, their little heads drooping down and just beginning to open wide with the sun's rays.  Leaning down, Remember gently picked a handful, charmed by their sweetness of smell.

Upon entering the house, Remember was greeted by rich smells and a bustling Goody Prymm helping her to remove her outer clothing and taking her to sit by the fire to warm.  Nothing needed be said about the still-missing Smoke, but Goody Prymm commented on Remember's having found her winter secret and, taking the humble bouquet, she put them in water and set them on the windowsill.  They were Snowdrops, she said, also called Candlemas Bells or Mary's Tapers in the old country. They used to grow wild in the woods and shady pastures of Lancashire when she was a girl. Her mother and grandmother never allowed her to bring them indoors on Candlemas Day or Valentine's Day, though, as doing so was thought to court disaster and bring death to the household, the little flowers resembling a corpse in a white shroud.  Remember looked with alarm at Goody Prymm, who dismissed it as mere nonsense, telling her that, though they were poisonous if used foolishly, they could ease digestive disorders as well as the crushed bulbs be applied as a poultice to frostbite.  Goody Prymm always loved that they were the first to flower---and even in snow---a wonderful contradiction!  To her way of thinking, they signaled the passing of winter and heralded the arrival of spring.  In fact, she said, the first sight of them meant the passing of sorrow...

The two women sat at table now, quietly enjoying their hot meal and tea.  They decided that, after their fill, they would gather and dig Snowdrops and add them to their medicinal store.  Soon they were crunching their way through the snow when, behind the lean-to, they stopped to behold the magical sight.  It never failed to take Goody Prymm's breath away…all those hundreds of Snowdrops spreading out and into the woods there on Goody Prymm's property!  And to think they began with the planting of just a few small bulbs.  The women's delight was interrupted with a familiar little sound of mewing behind the wattle fence which juxtaposed the lean-to.  There, cuddled up on a haphazard bed of old dried tobacco leaves, was Smoke!  Remember ran to her and scooped up the little kitten, wrapping her in her head shawl and marveling at the sight of her.  Well now…and wasn't Goody Prymm right yet again!  The Snowdrops fulfilled their promise, not of impending death and calamity, but of life and hope.

***With a nod to Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman's Brother Cadfael's Herb Garden, 1997.
***All images are from Pixabay.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On Walking

It's more than a walk.
Swiftly moving arms and legs are taking me       into and beyond myself.
The late-winter wind blows right through me,
Stirring white caps on the lake's dark blue surface.
Black cawing crows conferencing in the trees above me...
How I wish I understood their secrets!
The fresh green-spring newly-sprouting yellow daffodils in a nearby garden
Bob their heads as I pass.  I nod smiling in return,
And wonder if anyone saw me...

It's a friendly neighbor waving hello.
And the sweet-smelling mock orange that I can almost taste…
While the velvety deep-green moss growing on a nearby boulder
Quietly seduces my fingers to touch.


Why would anyone ever tune out this beautiful world?
Take out the earbuds and
Take in this world that has been graciously given us.

It's more than a walk…
It's a gift.

© 2017  Nancy Duncan

Monday, February 6, 2017

Bone Lace

It was a bright pristine day, a fresh blanket of snow having fallen the preceding night.  Goody Prymm was up early, preparing her wheel for a day of spinning stricks of flax for Goodwife Potts, who would take the finely spun linen thread to the village weaver to be made into a nice holland linen for clothing.  Imagination was busy greasing her wheel and dressing her distaff when Remember entered the room.  She had arisen later than usual, the quiet of the snowfall having muffled the world, making for a more restful slumber.  When it snowed like this, even the animals stayed hunkered down longer than usual.

Seating herself close to the fire, Remember gently picked up the mewing Smoke and, setting the kitten in her lap, stroked its silken grey-blue fur, eliciting loud purrs of contentment.  As Goody Prymm worked, bent over her wheel, Remember casually asked her about the black lace.  Surprised at this, Goody Prymm stood up straight and looked at Remember, who continued explaining that she had long heard about Goody Prymm's black silk lace and wondered at the veracity of the talk in the village.  She had never seen Goody Prymm working on lace, though she knew of the sampler she had stitched, the threads of which were primarily black silk.  Ever surprised by this young girl's questions, Imagination quietly turned and walked to the lean-to and brought out her lace pillow, which she kept hidden, and handed it to Remember.  Yes, it was true, she explained, though after the edict of 1634, which forbad the making and wearing of lace, she did not make it generally known, even though there were a few women in Ipswich who knew of it. Imagination's mother had taught her how to make this kind of lace, so different from needle lace.  Curious, Remember inspected the firm pillow, which had been stuffed with dried salt-marsh grass and covered with Imagination's own homespun linen, the ends of which had wooden slats to help hold the contents more efficiently.  Over the linen was a brown cloth cover she had stitched.  Imagination explained that, when she had first come to Ipswich, she sorely missed her home in Lancashire, and making this lace pillow had given her the comfort of familiarity in a wild new place with a husband she barely knew.  Then Imagination walked to the cupboard, which held so many mysteries, and brought out other objects.  Holding several crudely made lace bobbins in her hand, Goody Prymm explained how she had fashioned them herself out of Bullrush reeds which grew plentifully in the marshes, adding that the bobbins hold the thread as it is woven into lace, while a strip of parchment she was holding in her other hand, called a pricking, was made from sheep skin and used for the design of the lace.  Pins, too, were a necessity for lace making…and plenty were needed!  Goody Prymm had brought with her a bundle of pins from England, considering herself quite fortunate, as many women had had to make use of fish-bones, a much cheaper alternative to the high price of pins, a mere dozen of which had the same value as a bedstead!  Finally, Imagination took out a generous piece of her handmade black silk bobbin lace, leaving Remember wholly transfixed and catching her breath as her fingers lightly caressed the delicate strip.  How she desired to make such beautiful lace one day!

Imagination explained that making lace was no longer illegal, though only the upper classes were allowed to adorn themselves with it, but she only made lace on very rare occasions, as it was terribly time consuming and now a challenge for her old eyes.  Besides, there was a magic in making black silk pillow lace, and it should be made only for something important. Then, taking out her black silk thread, she invited Remember to come sit with her by the window and announced that the spinning could wait until the morrow.

Today, the light was good…a perfect day for making black silk lace.

***With a nod to Marta Cotterell Raffel's The Laces of Ipswich:  The Art and Economics of an Early American Industry, 1750-1840; The History of Lace, by Mrs. Bury Palliser (1911); and Dale Taylor's Everyday Life in Colonial America.

©  2017 Nancy Duncan