Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Somewhere, way up high...
In the top of an Ol' Apple Tree
Sings a Redbird.

Its notes are clear and strong...
It sings for its mate...
In the top of an Ol' Apple Tree.

And down below
There stands a Crow,
Keeping his eye on the prize!

(Check my post "Seeing Red" for updates of the 1700s lady's pocket)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wearing History

I've always been a shoe hound, and still am to a degree. Why, even as a child, getting new school shoes was my favorite thing about starting school---even more than getting school supplies and organizing them! And, as a little girl, I adored the fairy tale "The Shoemaker and the Elves" (I hope you grew up with fairy tales). As I told you in my previous post "Seeing Red," for my upcoming birthday I ordered a pair of Fugawee Historical Footwear, intended for folks who are involved in re-enactments (which I don't do...but you never know what I'll do next!). Well, this red pair just jumped off the page for me, and I love them (the laces of which can be switched out with different colors)! They are very comfortable but will become more so with wear, as the leather softens with use. The design is from the early 1700s (you know, Remember's time) :). They are leather, dyed, you say?? Yes! According to Early American Life Magazine, while Colonial men's shoes were always black, women's and children's could be black, red, white, blue, green, or purple (wow! purple shoes!).  Laces were typically worn during the 1600s, while straps and buckles came into fashion in the 1700s. And these shoes are what is referred to as a "straight last," meaning that they are fashioned from one wooden shoe last, so when you get them, they will conform to your feet over time (so it's important to mark at least one shoe for consistency).

Last night I was watching Outlander reruns (the new season begins in September)...and lo and behold! my red shoes were on the feet of the character Geillis Duncan :) as she was being carried off to be burned at the stake for witchcraft! Yup, that just about fits the time period...early 1700s.

Speaking of Outlander, while I was in Scotland, I visited the Culloden Battlefield...part of a religious civil war where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to its bloody end in which 1200 to 1500 Jacobites were killed...the last of this war to be fought on British soil. It is an historical landmark which has been restored to as close as it originally was. It was a grey and windy day, an appropriate and somber backdrop to this memorial gravesite. The stones you see along the pathway are memorial stones representing the various clans that fought and perished there...

I'm of Scottish descent but we didn't go far enough to find our clan's stone (the Campbells, some of whom, though they were often associated with the government's cause, fought and died for the Jacobite cause there on the Culloden Battlefield).

The most popular memorial stone was that of the Fraser Clan, as you can well imagine...

I'm a history buff, as you can probably tell from my writings and creations, my favorite era always having been Colonial America. I believe this started from when I was a child, my parents having taken my sister and me to Colonial Williamsburg. That one visit led to my passion for herbs and history and antiques and needlework...and now the fashion of the times.

And who would've thought that my red shoes would tie into my trip to Scotland this summer!

It all all connects. Yes, it does.

***With a nod to Early American Life Magazine, Volume XXX, Number 2 (April 1999).

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Friday, August 25, 2017

Seeing Red

I go through color phases...greens, yellows, purples...and now RED. I recently ordered a pair of shoes, red ones, for my birthday, but not what you might be thinking. :) They are historical re-enactment shoes from the early 1700s (and really cute, I might add). No, I am not a re-enactor, though if I lived in the Northeast, I imagine that would be something I might pursue. But more about the shoes later after they arrive. They have sparked in me a new early 1700s ladies pocket, which will be stitched all in red, or predominantly so, thinking I may want to include various shades of grey. Today I stained a very fine piece of linen, so fine that I will be forced to "free-hand" my design, so that will be interesting and a challenge for make it look good (and old) without the precision of counting stitches.

Here is what I have thus far, the linen a bit darker than what you see here. I will probably go back and stain parts of it later. Now tell me you don't just LOVE those reds!!!  All will be hand stitched, design and pocket.  More later as I excited!!! (That's what red does to a person...).

This is a rudimentary (very) sketch of my design...the tree trunk, methinks, will be thinner than what you see there, as I don't want it to dominate too much.  You can see that the tree is split, going off either side of the slit of the pocket. It will be an apple tree of sorts, the apples red, the leaves a grey-green most likely, with two red birds perched at the top. Off to the side of the tree trunk are two plants, upon which will sit two blackbirds, the year 1722 also split and to the outside of the plants. The picture on the right shows the shape that the pocket will take. I didn't want to draw on the material, so I pinned, giving me a clear view of my borders to guide my stitching...

You can see how the riven trunk is shaping up! Smaller branches, some with leaves and others apples, will spread out. Right now I'm just outlining...there will be plenty of filling in with various shades of red-brown, brown, and dark grey for the tree. Then, the little red birds and apples will pop!

The picture on the right shows that I've begun filling in. It's important to stitch in the direction that the bark would be on an old apple tree. And I will add some grey and silver to the bark, as right now my tree resembles more of a mesquite tree! Old apple orchards fascinate me, especially when they still bear fruit. Lest you think I'm creating a dead gnarly apple tree, you will see that this Apple King will bear much fruit and have delightful silvery-green leaves here and there!

So now all of this has led me to research apple trees in art. My, my! The concept of an old apple tree has apparently engaged and intrigued artists for a long time!  Here are just a few...I love all three. The first is Old Apple Tree, by F.T. McKinetry; the second is a pen and ink, The Old Apple Tree, by Rivke Katz; the third is my favorite of the three: a New England pasture old apple tree (1919), by Hermann Dudley Murphy. Aren't they wonderful?!! Interesting, too, that they've got great splits in their trunks!

As for a real apple tree...well, this one is the apple of my eye...wowza!

My stitching looks a bit like pen and ink sketching, and I liked it at first. But I decided to throw in some silver rivulets in the bark to suggest age and so that it doesn't look like it's a bad stitching job. I mustn't overdo the silver, though, and it needs to be less evenly spaced. Aaaannnnnd...the first apple...! I polished that little apple, and I think it looks better.

The left side of the Old Apple Tree is done...I think. I may add another apple or two to make a few clusters, like the real photo above.  There is a little redbird on the tippy-top branch, singing to its mate...but the mate is not stitched yet! They will be facing each other, each about to fly to the other...

The Old Apple Tree is complete.  Now I will stitch two crows, earthbound. One will be picking at seed on the ground around the tree...the other will be looking up at that big juicy apple on the low branch to the right. I think I will call this pocket "Eye on the Prize." :) The linen to the right in the first picture will be used for the backing, while the red tick in the lower picture will be used for the lining of the pocket. I'm not sure that is historically accurate, as I believe only blue ticking existed in the early 1700s, while the red came along later. But I just can't justify using that beautiful linen for both the lining and the backing. The cord there will be used for tying the pocket around the waist. I stained it also with black walnut dye.

The first crow is complete...thinking I will stop here and get on with sewing the pocket!

So now I have sewn the lining, a red ticking, to the back of the front of my pocket. Looks sloppy, but it doesn't matter as, cotton twill tape will be sewn over all the edges, combining the back of the pocket to the front.  I like how it's turning out! Next I will sew red ticking to the linen backing...

I have begun hand sewing (no machine here) the cotton twill tape around the edges to join the front to the back.  Cotton twill tape is not easy to find.  It has to be ordered, so I am using what I have to complete the sewing of back to front and then will probably have to order some for the top part that will go across the top and tie around the waist.  Anyway, it's not pretty...I would have to describe it rather as "utilitarian."  Which pockets were. I know I will be staining it, as the back linen is just too prettily perfect. :) I know's darn sturdy, lol! When I finally complete my early 1700s Ladies Pocket I will post some historical information about pockets, along with the completed piece, crude as it will be...

It's coming along...I could be moving faster, but I have been wrangling with allergies. Still am, but the pocket must go on. For one thing, I'm ready to be done with it. For another, I am looking forward to the next project. As for the pocket, did I say "utilitarian?" How about "rude" (as in "roughly made") or "naive" or "primitive?" Yup. It's all of these...might be perfect for a re-enactment, though...

The pocket is finally completed...I dipped the whole finished piece in a dye bath of madder root and black walnut husks, "aging" it quite a bit. The cord, however, is historically inaccurate (as is perhaps the red ticking lining), but it's what was on hand. The stitching is very primitive, and I like the effect.

So now I have the red shoes, the embroidered pocket...all I need is the rest of the clothes to go with it, and then I'll be set for the 1700s, lol!

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


You often hear the expression "men and their wheels."  Well, allow me to introduce Buttermilk, one of my wheels...spinning wheels, that is. I don't want to say this too loudly (lowering my voice and casting surreptitious looks around), but she is probably my favorite. She is the oldest of my wheels, circa late 1700s, very early 1800s. And she is from Kentucky, my having purchased her from a woman in Lexington who had bought her decades earlier at an estate sale of a prominent family. She is referred to as a great wheel, or wool wheel, or walking wheel, the spinner having to walk away from the wheel (spindle) to draft her fiber and then toward the wheel (spindle) to wind on.

After sealing the deal long distance (but not before much study and communication), we drove to Kentucky in my (at the time) little Versa. Although I had measured and remeasured, there was still a fear of her not fitting in my car. But after removing the drive wheel, which measured 45" in diameter, she fit. Thank goodness. I laugh today thinking what a great commercial I could've done for Nissan, saying, "Yes, I fit this great wheel in my Nissan Versa!"

And she weighs a LOT. Not the drive wheel, but the bench (approximately 41 inches long) and legs are solid.  In fact, the bench is a sort of "half log," crudely notched on the ends, measuring seven inches wide and 3 inches deep. The bench is shorter than many great wheels' benches...and rather steeply sloped, which suggests she may be Appalachian.

She also has a slide tension (all nails in this wheel except in the rim), and no holes for securing the spindle, a sign that she is what is referred to as a "primitive," her spindle needing to be lashed to the upright posts and held with corn husks! You can see above right that I've braided cornhusks (after soaking them) into loops that hold the spindle, and then have lashed those loops to the two uprights (maidens, they're called) with hemp twine. Most maidens have holes through which leather bearings go through, which hold the spindle in place. As I said, mine is a primitive...and I love her all the more for that. You can see that I've spun a bit of Icelandic wool there. :) By the way, this is the kind of wheel which pricked the princess' finger in the fairy tale, putting her to sleep.  See that spindle? No such spindle can be found on a treadle wheel!

She has a huge hub (hubba, hubba!!), and it's past time for me to remove the drive wheel and grease the hub again. I line the hub with felted wool, which I grease thoroughly with a white grease used for garage doors (it won't damage anything). And she has such handsome legs...they're turned! I consulted an antique furniture restorer (and spinning wheel restorer) and he is the one who said, judging from the pics I sent him, she was most likely from the late 1700s, very early 1800s at the latest. Her "paint" is not buttermilk paint after all, like the woman who sold it to me claimed (it was what she had been told). Rather, he said, it is oxidized oil based paint with earth pigments, another tell-tale sign of its age. I still call her Buttermilk... :)

She also has a secondary smaller wheel post, perhaps because her bench is so steep and short. Can you see the very heavy main wheel post, with the smaller one angling out (below left)? And I know she was used a lot, as her spokes are worn in various places by fingers ever turning the wheel during its spinning can tell by comparing the spoke on the left to the one on the right how much thinner it is through use.

One of my favorite characteristics of this wheel is her hand carved spokes from branches. And you can see that the maker balanced the wheel with dabs of pewter, or maybe lead, so that it would spin evenly.

Her rim is made of lighter wood, I think, and has one groove (some wheels have two or three). They have been joined with small nails and some sort of metal sheathing...

Buttermilk has a 60:1 ratio, which means for every turn of the wheel, 60 turns occur on the spindle, which makes for fast spinning! Much faster than a treadle wheel.  The bigger the diameter of the wheel, the faster a wheel spins wool.

It is an honor to own such a treasure. And there is magic in spinning...especially on a great wheel!

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Monday, August 21, 2017

Green Witch's Garden: Eclipsed!

Call me a nerd, but this whole Eclipse thing has been very exciting for me! Such a natural phenomenon is so mystical and beautiful...I was going to take pictures of my Garden in various stages of Eclipse. And I did. But I made an exciting discovery in the middle of the process...something none of my science teachers ever taught me (or perhaps I wasn't paying attention...that's more likely).  And that is this: Rather than use Eclipse glasses or pinhole boxes...just depend on Nature. That's right! The Trees filter out the light and create the image of the Eclipse on the ground. The Three Sisters (my three large oaks out front that have grown together) painted, with their leaves, a glorious design of shadow Crescents, alllllll over my sidewalk! Honestly, I was like a little child when I made this discovery. :):):) I have since heard they are called "Sun Dapples." Lovely.

I was so enamored of this little miracle that I went inside to fetch an old board I've been saving for...well, for whatever.  I love the little Crescents sprinkled on the wood...maybe I'll use the picture in a future installment of Remember's story. She would like this very much. :)

And maybe I'll paint tiny Crescents on the wood, sort of memorializing such a wondrous moment.

I could show you pics of my Garden in several Eclipsed stages, but they don't hold a candle to these, at least as far as I'm concerned.  One last little photo for you...Eclipse Crescents in water, in my ground-level birdbath (I do that for the non-flying variety of critters)...

I hope you took time out to enjoy this incredible moment that occurred in our skies this day. Perhaps you drove a long way to witness the event...but sometimes such miracles can be found in your own Garden...if you look.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mary Prince Rowe's Sampler

'Tis almost finished!!  I decided to make it into a needle book and, wow, I couldn't have done it better than if I had actually planned it that way!  :). Originally, it was to be a small fictional sampler based on history, but my imagination ended up taking it places that probably a woman of that time period would not have stitched.  Then again, there are historical samplers with names, and houses, and trees, birds and phrases, so perhaps it's not too far from reality after all. If you would like to read about the historical facts behind my design, you can visit my June 30 post "Mary Rowe's Sampler."  In the meantime, though, I will tell you about its construction.  All of it is handmade, hand stitched.

It is stitched on 36 count linen which I dyed and stained in a walnut bath. The original linen was beautiful, but a stark white, so I knew I had to tone it down. It is stitched in DMC threads---one over one---the outer edges stitched in a vintage cream linen thread from my mother's collection.

The front side is the  picture...all symbolic, from the bittersweet branches in the corners to the house with one lighted window, to the trees both dead and alive, to the crows...

The back side says what it is really about...literally...the nine Gloucester women who were accused of witchcraft in the autumn of 1692 and ultimately released because of the travesty that preceded them.

Three of those names are of special interest to me as I could be related to them. The 1722 is the imaginary year of the stitching and the two initials beneath it are Mary's, who died the following year in 1723. I felt as though it may have been her final word regarding the injustices of the past.

The edge has "Innocent Unafraid" stitched thereon, the Rowe family motto ("Innocent But Unafraid").

When unfolded, there is a worn and tattered needle page of linen, crudely stitched to the backing, which is a simple brown cotton, the same kind of material that might have been used. Although Mary came from a prominent family, they most probably were thrifty in their use of materials.

 The needles you see on the linen page are from my mother's lace making box, full of vintage linen and silk threads. They, along with about 20 more needles, were attached to a business card of Helene Von Rosensteil, Inc., Costume and Textile Conservation in Brooklyn, NY.  My mother, I know, helped to restore antique textiles at the Witte Museum at one point...and she learned the art of lace making, even having taught lace making classes in England, so I can only guess they are something special.  They are certainly special to me. So I will display only four in my needle book, saving and putting the rest in their original box.  From my research, I believe that the pinheads are made separately from the you see how tiny they are??? You can compare them to the staples next to them (see below).

Folded out, this is the needle book...which, if you have been following, is quite familiar to you already.

So, all I have yet to add is a linen yarn loop at the bottom of the front side (when it's folded) and a cloth/brocade small button at the top of the back side (with all the names), which will serve as a clasp of sorts.  I am hoping to find the perfect button among a collection of buttons that my husband's mother gave our daughter when she was only five. It would be the perfect touch. When I complete it, I will post the picture here at the bottom.

I have always been fascinated with the history of witchcraft trials, especially in North America. According to I. Marc Carlson's Historical Witches and Witchtrials in North America, between the years 1645 to 1662, 58 (?) people were tried, 75% of whom were women, and 36 executed. Between 1663 and 1692, over 250 people were arrested in New England, 19 of whom were executed, while 3 died in prison and 1 died under torture. Mary Prince Rowe (also referred to as Martha Prince in historical records) and the other 8 were a part of those spared. Why were they spared? Spectral Evidence was no longer justifiable in the courts and the courts were closed.  It is interesting that so many records and details have disappeared.  It makes me wonder if, as the Puritans began to lose their hold on communities, the records were destroyed in shame. I do not believe history should be "white washed" or "sanitized."  When that happens, we lose the truth and key to our past, which helps us to understand ourselves better...and change things for the future. But I digress...or do I...

Finished!  I added a sweet little material button from Granny's button jar, which I stained lightly with walnut dye, and closed with brown linen yarn!

© 2017 Nancy Duncan