Little Bitty Pretty One: Vintage Swedish Baking Cloth

IMG_6470Little bitty pretty one,

Come on and talk to me . . .

Sometimes, when I see just one perfect vintage treasure, that old song from the 1950s pops into my mind.

Some items are just so simple and understated and perfect, that I wish I knew their full story. I wish they could talk and tell me where they came from, who made them and used them and loved them. “Come on and talk to me . . . “

Such is the case with this little baker’s cloth, with its sweet red embroidery of a pastry-crimping tool

I actually do know more about this cloth than many vintage linens that find their way to me. I bought the cloth on eBay and the woman who sold it to me sent along a note.

IMG_6475My little cloth came from Sweden and has been used by three generations of girls in one family. It was used to cover rising dough for bullar (buns), which are made with cardamom, and limpa bread, which is scented with anise and fennel.

But, of course, I’d like to know more. When was it made? Were the women who used it homemakers, who made all their own breads, or was this kept for rare occasions of holiday baking?

Who did the stitching? A practiced hand, certainly; the stitches are infinitesimal! Did she make a practice of decorating her kitchen linens in this simple, effective way? Did she pass her skills down to her daughters, and through generations?

When did the little towel come to the United States? Was it a gift from a mother to a daughter who was leaving home and moving so far away? Was it brought to America as a little reminder of home, and family, and tradition?

And why was it sold?! It’s so small and easily stored or displayed—surely the previous owner could’ve found a spot for it?

But, she didn’t. She passed it along to me, saying, “It has been well loved, and we hope you will have your day brightened by the cheerful red embroidery!”

I have, indeed, had my day brightened, and this little bitty pretty one continues to be well loved!

What little bitty pretty treasures in your home just make you smile and say, “Come on and talk to me”?

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Spring Sale on Chocolate!

caramel sampler-3Candy-making season is beginning to wind down. It’s very difficult to temper chocolate in warm weather and I’m just sure it’s going to get warm here in the next month or so (I sure hope so, anyway!)

Before I close the door on the candy shop for the summer, I am offering loyal American readers/friends a 20% discount on candy orders. Sorry I can’t make this available to all!

If you are hankering for candy, use the coupon code SPRING2014 upon check-out in my Etsy shop and get the discount!

 

 

Making Maple

maple article - Version 3My father died when I was seventeen. I have lots of old photos of him but this one, published in the local newspaper over 50 years ago, is one of my favorites. In it, he’s drawing off maple syrup from the evaporator on our farm.

My father was a farmer. He worked the farm with my grandfather, on land the family had been on since the late 1700s. Like many farmers he also drove a school bus, and then he went on to hold an administrative position in the school system and to serve as town supervisor.

Farmers may epitomize the concept of “hands at home,” growing crops and tending animals, fixing machinery and building what needs to be built. Highly self-reliant, with lives governed by milking times and the changing seasons, family farmers have always been at the center of what it means to be American.

My father was a dairy farmer; my sister and I didn’t like the milk we got at school or in restaurants because it didn’t taste like “Dad’s milk”!

But, of all the things he made, we liked the maple syrup best! For a short, intense period in early spring, when the temperatures are above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night AND before the tree get buds, many North Country farmers add “sugaring down” to their list of daily chores.

According to the article that accompanied this photo, my father hung about 700 buckets on sugar maple trees on our land. From these he collected upwards of 600 gallons of maple sap that would’ve been boiled down to produce about 150 gallons of maple syrup. He sold much of this locally.

But none of that mattered to us kids. For us, the process meant sweet sips of the thin sap straight from the tree and lots of lovely maple syrup on our pancakes!

maple article - Version 2

Weaving Hands

Just look at these busy, happy hands!

As one of the people behind these hands, learning the most basic techniques of weaving, I can tell you that the hands often felt awkward, inept even. The hands faltered but did not fail. And the inexpert, novice hands were guided by the expert, experienced hands to a place of satisfaction.

I told you about a month ago that I’d been meaning to learn to weave (IBMTD) and that I’d found a workshop to take.

It had been a long time since I had taken a course. I like to think I can learn things on my own, by doing research and reading. I’m often stubborn about seeking guidance and asking for help. I tend to flap about and try to teach myself and make a lot of mistakes and get frustrated.

But, having just finished the workshop, with my husband and two other weaving newbies, I’m reporting back and also want to encourage you to take a course the next time you want to learn a new skill. And, P.S., weaving is a wonderful route to go, if you haven’t tried it before.

The workshop was perfect. Run by our local arts council, we had a teacher who is both an expert weaver and passionate about introducing new people to a craft she loves. As a bonus, she is also a retired teacher, so she actually knows how to teach!

Examples of our instructor's work

Examples of our instructor’s work

The workshop was limited to only four students so we got to know each other well and got lots of specialized help. None of us had any background at all in the craft so we learned together and from each other.

We learned on very simple frame looms; basically these were made of four pieces of wood and some nails to wrap string (the warp) around.IMG_5973

At first I thought I’d hate these looms—I wanted to learn on a big, fancy floor loom! I wanted to make shawls and blankets and twills and tweeds.

But we all learned to love our small, portable frame looms.

With the guidance of our teacher, we each made a small tapestry, incorporating many basic weaving techniques. We learned a new vocabulary, along with the skills—warp and weft, of course, but also sumac and tabby and rya.

The neatest thing about this kind of weaving is that it could be almost entirely improvisational and encouraged experimentation and creativity. Whereas loom weaving, as I understand it, relies heavily on following patterns and being very precise, our weaving evolved mostly without plan.

We chose colors as we went. We added different textured yarns and string and other fibers. We were shown how to incorporate shells and metals and stones and beads.

It was as if we couldn’t make mistakes and that is a wonderful, liberating way to learn!

We had our final class yesterday, put the finishing touches on our masterpieces, and sat back and appreciated them.

As the final session of class wound down, we got great news! Our instructor has arranged with the arts council to allow three of us to continue to the next level. In two weeks, we’ll start a new workshop to learn to use harness looms and to thread the heddles and sley the reed (whatever that means)!

I’m excited about this new venture but I know I’ll miss my homely little frame loom.

When I looked at our finished tapestries, the best part was seeing how different they were. Four people started at the same place, with access to the same materials and techniques, and created four entirely unique tapestries.

I’m sure there’s a profound metaphor for life here somewhere . . .

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Aunt Ada’s House

I like this post a lot–and, because I like it a lot, I hope you will, too. And I hope you had an “Aunt Ada’s House,” where you felt as loved and protected.

Mot Juste

Entry Gate - Edited

Aunt Ada’s house had a white picket fence.

Like the zigzag cut edges of a square 1950s black and white photograph, the fence surrounded the entire perimeter of her one-acre property.  Her cozy, clapboard-sided Cape Cod—white with red shutters and trim—occupied a corner of this picket fence photograph.  And although a 60-year-old photo may fade, my memories of Aunt Ada are as sharp and clear as ever.

***

When I was a young boy in the late ’60s Aunt Ada was in her late sixties.  Technically, she wasn’t really my aunt—not my mom’s or dad’s sister—she was actually my paternal grandmother’s sister; but I grew up calling her Aunt Ada.

Short and plump, she had wispy brown and grey hair in a style befitting a woman her age.  She was soft-spoken and amiable.  From even my earliest memories, her face, although slightly withered from age, was always genial, always companionable. …

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