Thursday, May 29, 2008


About 5 years ago, while holidaying with our daughter in New Zealand, Bernie and I visited a town called Paeroa, about 45 minutes travel from Matamata. In recent years, Paeroa has become famous for its Antique and Secondhand shops. Because we had other commitments, we only had time to visit a couple of these wonderful stores.

Right at the back of one of the shops, I came upon an old basket with some Needlework bits and pieces, including a couple of balls of old embroidery thread, the sort they used to call "buttonhole twist", in lovely shades of pink and green.

I took these to the counter and the lady serving commented that one of them seemed to be wrapped around "an old crochet pattern or something."

That night, I unwound the balls and discovered that one of them contained an old letter. I will let it speak for itself. I have broken it down into paragraphs - no doubt paper was too precious for such niceties. Otherwise it is as it was written.



Dear Madge

Glad to hear from you. It was your turn to write so wondered what was wrong. I am sorry to hear of poor Colin. What a time you have. So now I hope he goes ahead and gets nothing else. You would all have a nice day the day you brought him home.

I bet Boofy does look nice in her outfit.

We haven't had spuds for a month. Isn't it awful-you feel as if you haven't had a meal. Bread doesn't take there (sic) place.

Well on Monday I had to rush Brian off to Dr. as Joy hit him near the crown of head with axe. It didn't need a stitch but the Blood was every way so couldn't tell how deep it was. Really I think what happened was she was digging a hole in the ground & he was sitting down so he must of brought his head up sharply & caught the axe, otherwise if she meant to hit him it would have split head open. What a life!

Brian hasn't been well for some time. His double teeth must be the trouble.

Well Jack has been called up. So just wonder if he will pass. Boss wants to appeal but Jack won't have it. Where we will get I don't know as no houses to be got & to make things more damnable I am carrying again!!! (double underlined) Missed two months. Got pills but no good. Don't know how it happened as we have used the sheath all the time. So you can tell how rotten Jack feels having to join up.

It's getting somewhere to look after kids is the biggest worry. But if he's overseas by then I will put them in a home for the fortnight. Then I will know they are not ill-treated - or at least I'll no (sic) nothing about it!! Last time when Harry & Rae was with Mrs Sale & have just heard she treated Harry awful & Mrs Floyd knocked hell out of Joy. So am not having that again.

I get into town more now as have new neighbours & (they) have a lorry so go in once a week with them.

Jack got plenty of seed spuds but can't plant anything now. His hand been weak with the missing finger - might pass him as unfit.

Well hope all the colds have left you by now. We have been very free of them. Haven't heard from Mrs Floyd so don't know how her twins are doing.

By Jove I hope Stalingrad can hang on. The Japs are having a lovely time. I guess we are in for more hardships soon - make some of us sit up.

Am pleased you have a nice neighbour. Will say cheerio for now. Best wishes to all



The letter is undated, but the second ball of thread contained a torn piece of newspaper, containing death notices, most of them around January 21st 1944. Just imagine - this precious letter has remained inside this ball of thread for nearly 60 years, only to come to light perhaps when Madge passed on, and her goods ended up in a second-hand shop.

And who was Madge - was she Mary's sister, or perhaps a girlfriend with whom she could share confidences and concerns?

I wonder if Mary is still alive - she would be very old. How did she feel when she looked back on those difficult days. Did her courage and stoicism sustain her through those difficult days? Jack was obviously a farm worker, and their house came with the job. Did he get called up? Did she solve the problem of having the children minded during her confinement with what seems to be her fourth child.

Tuhikaramea is a little distance out of Hamilton, but Mary is somewhat isolated without transport. She doesn't really feel sorry for herself, but her love and concern for her children shows through.

And I cannot help wondering about that thread. Some of it had been used - was it to embroider a doiley, or perhaps an apron? Did it help to put some colour into Madge's life, and help soothe through those hours when she sat listening to the grim war news on her radio?

If ever I feel a little sorry for myself, I need to think about Mary of Tuhikaramea, who was dealing with so many hardships - shortage of food staples, sick children, accidents in the family, an unwanted pregnancy, a husband who may be going off to war, possible eviction, childcare issues, loneliness and isolation.

I do hope she did not have to wait too long before they could enjoy potatoes again!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Here are a couple of pictures of the project in the previous posting, showing some of the details. I really should try and do this more often, as well as showing progress pictures.
Oh for more hours in the day! (Especially hours when my energy levels are high. I mostly seem to 'get going' in the late afternoon, when all the animals want to be fed, and even the humans start asking "What is for tea?)
The ribbon roses. I am sure they have a name, but I cannot think of it. I just tie a knot in the ribbon to start them, but they can also be started with a french or colonial knot before threading the needle back down the ribbon.
The words of the hymn "I come to the Garden Alone" are rather faint, but are in keeping with the antique misty character of the page. And those who know the hymn will be able to decipher the words!
The tatted flowers at the base. These are made using tatted rings which have a big picot loop between every pair of knots, and I make groups of them close together. This is a variegated thread designed specially for fine tatting - I think it is called 'cordonnet.' You may be able to pick out the loose thread I still need to neaten off!

We are getting towards the middle of the fabric book Round Robin. Each month I find myself working on something completely different, and am presented with challenges which encourage me to explore new ideas and techniques. It is a wonderful growing and learning process.

This month I have been working on the page I am doing for Diana from Wellington. Here below is the "Inspiration" picture that Diana has chosen.

Two or three months ago I had firmly decided that I wanted to 'tat' a black cross to represent the wrought iron cross. Now my tatting is somewhat 'tatty', and I needed to simplify and reduce the pattern I had - something of a challenge for me. Nevertheless I managed to produce the cross, and set it aside until it was my month to work on Diana's book.

When it arrived, along with the three pages worked by other participants, I found it was not a project I could finish quickly. I needed time for ideas to evolve and mellow.

First I chose the background - some cream silk which I 'antiqued' with some walnut ink spray.

For some reason, that much-loved old hymn 'In the Garden' kept coming to mind. It is one that is often sung at funerals on Norfolk Island. So I printed the words onto a piece of old dressmaker pattern tissue, tore around the edges, and adhered it to the silk.

Then I got out my newly-purchased Lumiere paints and splodged them around to mask where the tissue edged the silk background, and to give a 'glow' to the scene.

Next I applied the tatted cross, but wished I had made it more elongated, because the pages are fairly tall and slim. But I was definitely unsure of my ability to tackle another cross!

At this stage I needed to put the page aside for a few days while I let the piece talk to me and tell me what it needed next.

Although I had not intended portraying the arch originally, I realised I needed to add some height to the composition. Inspired by the line of the hymn "While the dew is still on the roses", I added an arch of roses. These were done with some peach coloured hand-dyed ribbon which I also 'antiqued' with walnut ink.

To produce these roses, you bring your ribbon to the front, tie a knot about 5 cm from the fabric, then use your needle to zig-zag back through the ribbon to where it comes through the fabric. You take it to the back, then gently pull it through, twisting gently as you pull. The result is a fairly natural-looking rose.

Once again I found myself putting the page aside - in a spot where I could look at it frequently - while I awaited further inspiration. Finally I knew what I needed to do to finish it off. A pedestal was added from the same silk background fabric to anchor the cross. It all looked a little stark still, so I first needlefelted some wispy foliage using green wool roving. Then I decided to get out my tatting shuttle again and tat some more greenery to go around the base.

Finally some narrower silk ribbon, in the same antiqued peach shade, was used to make french knot flowers randomly scattered on the gound and among the foliage.

I have tried to capture the peaceful, nostalgic, thoughtful tone of the piece and I think Diana will like it.

Meanwhile, here are the interpretations of the three participants before me. The one with the door has Diana's original image behind it.

Diana's book is going to be quite beautiful!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


What has been going on in our lives recently?


Charles brought him up to show us. The feathery curls have gone and now he is a little boy instead of a baby.

Grandad admires it - but William is not sure what all the fuss is about!


On Friday, Bonnie had a special birthday - with a surprise party!

I think she was genuinely surprised when she walked into the Restaurant to see 70 or 80 of her friends there!
It was a lovely party, with lots of familiar faces, laughter and good reminiscencesBonnie with daughter Karenne and the chef - and a wonderful birthday cake, big enough to feed us all.

A happy moment with daughter Marylin and with Julie


Peter has been talking about it and planning for it for a long while, but the day finally arrived. Peter is off to do something different with his life. He is not sure exactly what it will be, but he would like to do a stint in the mines, and hopefully have some new experiences and save some money!

It was sad saying goodbye to Mitti, who will miss him terribly. In fact, we all will.

At the airport with godmother Brenda.

We wait to see Peter board the plane.


We all gathered at the Homestead Restaurant. There were two empty chairs - one for Peter, and one for Brandt, who took the opportunity (while the plane fares were cheap) to go and collect more of their stuff from Noosa, and to spend Mothers' Day with his own Mum. But it was lovely to have Marie join us. Marie has no children of her own, but is a wonderful inspiration and guiding figure to us all.

Tina nurses William while his mum eats her meal. The green gecko on his cheek is his first "face painting, but I think he may be blissfully unaware of it!William is keen to learn to use the proper implements, and is already very fond of chips and tomato sauce!!!But he finds it takes ages to spear them with the fork, so he goes back to his favourite occupation of "dipping!"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

One of the delights of my childhood was having the opportunity to have silkworms. It really came into the category of one of those passing fads that got passed around and shared for a period of time, until we all got sick of it, like a schoolyard game.
Some kid would get hold of a few worms, and they would go through their breeding cycle, and sooner or later they would have more than they could handle in the shoe box we all used to keep them in. An exasperated parent would insist that some of them be given away, and so we would all take a shoe box to school, and receive a few tiny worms to start our own farm.

As the worms grew, they developed voracious appetites, and it became something of a preoccupation to find enough mulberry leaves to feed them. Any kid with a mulberry tree was definitely top of the popularity stakes.
It was said that if you fed the worms on violet leaves, you would get lovely purple silk cocoons, and other diets were also recommended for producing all colours of the rainbow. I do not recall us ever putting them to the test, and I only remember the cocoons having yellow silk.
For the first few weeks the worms received our every attention. Our parents insisted that these worms be confined to their shoeboxes in our bedrooms, usually under the bed. Sometimes they escaped, and then there was trouble. I suppose that to our mums, they just looked like white grubs or caterpillars, in spite of the exotic name!

The climax came when they eventually began to spin their cocoons, and the time spent waiting for the moths to hatch was endless and exciting. Meanwhile there would be the occasional experiment of plunging a cocoon into boiling water and spinning off the silk. We grew tired of that process very quickly when we realised it would take years to produce anything worthwhile!
Finally the metamorphosis took place, and the appearance of the dull greyish white of the moths was a little disappointing.
Then came another time of waiting, for the eggs to be laid and hatched – and so the cycle began once more, in more ways than one, because by now, our parents were insisting that we give the new baby worms away. We usually didn’t mind at this stage. The moths had died, and the shoeboxes were starting to get smelly anyway, and some of us had started to neglect our little farms so that the worms died of starvation.
I was reminded of all this when I received my latest parcel from the Thread Studio.
Beautiful silk fibres, silk “hankies”, silk carrier rods, and bleached cocoons, ready for dyeing, silk roving, and the loveliest of all-the crimped and curly silk “throwster’s waste”, dyed in all sorts of variegated and exotic hues.
Silk hankies - layers of silk that can be peeled off in small sheets- with silk "carrier rods", and cocoons, both dyed and bleached.

All these treasures are destined for collages and textile work.
Just running my fingers through it conjures up feelings of exotic luxury. I always say there is nothing so sensuous as silk, although the sensation of smooth chocolate melting in one’s mouth comes fairly close!

Silk roving is carded silk, dyed in wonderful hues

Silk is so versatile, whether it be fabric or fibre. It can be dyed into beautiful vibrant colours. It is not the fragile and difficult to manage fabric that many believe, although it does come in some delicate forms. Old silks used to be treated with a metal substance, so that they would “rustle”. Treated in this way, they used to shatter and disintegrate. This tended to give them a bad name. Nowadays they rank up with the other natural fibres of cotton and wool for versatility and durability, not to mention the sheer aesthetic pleasure they give!

Throwster's waste - collected from the floor when the silk is being processed - provides wonderful texture and richness to textile work

Now - for the strict and purist vegans among us- did you know there was such a substance as "Soy silk"? The fibres are made from a protein that is obtained from manufacturer's waste when Tofu is produced. Not a single silkworm dies inits production - but I bet it does not feel quite so wonderful to the touch!

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