Oil Lamps and Old Lace

In a favourite chair on a shady deck under the tall pines, I’ve been devouring Bellewether (Simon & Schuster, 2018), the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley.

Set in the present and in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War, the story features a Colonial house on the tidal shores of Long Island. In the present day, the centuries-old house is being turned into a museum honouring one of its owners, a Revolutionary war hero. As she researches the house’s history and acquires artifacts for the museum, curator Charley learns of the local legend of a daughter and her forbidden love, a captured French officer billeting with the family. The 18th century love story is told with plenty of historical detail and atmosphere. I can almost touch the wind-bent reeds and smell the salt-whipped air as I imagine two-masted brigs sailing down the Sound. Privateering and shipwrecks, tobacco and West Indian trade, draft-dodging and slavery all make an appearance, in Kearsley’s concise style. And, as always, suspense and the paranormal are handled perfectly: Charley’s encounters with the house’s resident ghost and a mysterious light in the woods had me shivering deliciously.

An aside: As I wrote this article, long past midnight after everyone else had retired to bed, the “ghost ship” once again slipped eerily past our island. The Wenonah II, a ship modelled after the Victorian-era steamers which once plied the lakes, was returning to the town wharf carrying only a skeleton crew. With no passengers aboard, the large vessel sailed like a shadow, with a minimum of lights sketching its outline. She made barely a sound as she passed and was visible for just a few moments before disappearing through the Narrows into the bay. How fitting as I write about a tragic tale of lost love, old houses, ships and ghosts!

The bookmark I made for myself – a lover of antique keys – uses ivory crochet lace and moss-green grosgrain ribbon, embellished with a key charm.

Our 107-year-old cottage was made for reading. There are Muskoka chairs (also known as Adirondacks) placed at the most scenic points of the island, perfect for a relaxing afternoon read. In the evenings, too, with no television, radio or other distractions, we read. My mother, siblings and spouses spend our holiday together, and a family that stays together reads together. And page-turners need bookmarkers to hold their places whilst lemonade or cups of tea and a biscuit or two are fetched. So, for the female bookworms amongst us, I made some vintage-looking bookmarks of lace and ribbon, finishing each with a small charm to match the recipient’s personality or interest. They’re easy to make and can be hand- or machine-stitched.

This ivory cotton crochet lace bookmark with pale blue grosgrain ribbon and silver-plated heart charm is for my mother.

To make these bookmarks, choose 1” to 2” wide lace that has holes running down the centre, big enough to accommodate the ribbon you want to use. Gauge the length you’ll need from the book(s) you’ll be reading (I used a paperback). Double that length, cut the lace and fold in half, lining up the holes. (The folded end will be the top of the bookmark.) Pin if necessary, and stitch up both long sides. Using a darning needle, thread ribbon (I used 1/8” polyester satin and 1/4” grosgrain) through the holes up one side and down the other, making sure there’s a loop of ribbon at the top end to attach a charm. Trim the ribbon, keeping half an inch of excess. (Optional: singe the ribbon ends carefully with a flame to prevent fraying.) At the bottom end of the bookmark, turn ribbon and lace ends to the inside about 1/4”, and stitch closed, making sure the catch the hem and ends of the ribbon to keep them in place.

Instead of threading narrow ribbon through the holes, you could sandwich a wider piece of ribbon between the layers of lace so that the colour peeps through.

To finish the bookmark, add a lightweight metal charm using one or two jump rings through the ribbon loop at the top (or through holes in the lace itself, if not using ribbon). In addition to the types of charms shown here, you could use an initial, a faux birthstone or a tassel.

These two white cotton eyelet bookmarks were made for nature lovers. I chose an owl charm for my sister and peridot-green satin ribbon to match her August birthstone. The butterfly bookmark with apricot ribbon went to my sister-in-law.

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Scale

Once again getting in just under the wire, this is my submission for the Photographic Monthly Meet-Up hosted by Wild Daffodil. This month’s prompt is Scale.

My interpretation is a chainmaille pattern called Dragonscale. I’d never tried it before, probably because it’s a rather daunting-looking weave that’s classified as intermediate in terms of difficulty. However, despite a slow start and some frustration, I did eventually get the hang of it, coming up with this sample piece made of green and silver anodized aluminum rings:

For this Dragonscale piece I used 14 gauge 3/8″ ID (9.9 mm) green anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 4.9) and 18 gauge 1/4″ ID (6.7 mm) silver anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 5.5) which worked perfectly for this weave. Gauge is SWG; supplies from The Ring Lord.

Dragonscale is a relative of the original European 4-in-1 weave used to make medieval chainmaille armour. Two sizes of rings are used to produce a dense yet flexible weave; I chose to go big for my first couple of pieces, just to see how they’d turn out. Some clever maillers make awesome accessories such as pouches and bracelets from Dragonscale, even reenactment clothing and armour. Inspired by some lovely Fairy Dragon Eggs crafted by Mrs. Cobs over at Cobweborium Emporium, I wanted to use this pattern to make my own version of dragon’s eggs. There are examples of egg-shaped Dragonscale pendants online, but there aren’t any tutorials to be found, so I had to fiddle a bit to figure out how many rings and rows I needed. I was able to make this blue “egg”:

Using the same ring sizes as the green sample, the egg is 4 large rings across and 12 rows high, with a few extra rings added at the top to create a more oval shape, plus a large ring as a hanging loop.

The finished piece is almost the size of a real chicken’s egg. To get the shape, I folded the squarish rectangle in on itself (the weave goes cone-shaped when you do this – and I almost did, too, trying to get this thing done). Then I “stitched” up the small gap at the back with a few extra rings wherever the existing weave allowed. The back isn’t as neat as I’d like, and the egg doesn’t quite taper to an oval at the top, but it’s a start.

The shape is perfect, however, for acorns and pinecones – all I need are the right colours, and I’m off to the races. I might carry on with the green sample, perhaps introducing other colours to make a small wall hanging.

And, just so I can weigh in on another type of scale for this challenge, here’s a photo of my brother – an avid fisherman – proving that holding a small fish up to the camera to make it appear bigger Just. Doesn’t. Work.

The April photo challenge starts tomorrow, and the prompt is Yellow.

Speaking of colours, my theme for this month is A Blue & White Love Affair. (I’m not so into yellow, just so you know, but I sure do love blue in all its beautiful hues, especially when it’s partnered with white.) Stay tuned!

The Stone Cottage Syndrome

I’m attracted to stories in which the protagonist (usually a woman who’s divorced, widowed or otherwise on her own) flees her city life and heads deep into the British countryside or to a far-flung island to work through grief, research a paper, write a book, or inherit a deceased relative’s dilapidated cottage. Even before she crosses the sagging threshold, the heroine struggles to cope with the challenges of unfamiliar surroundings, eccentric villagers and the surly yet handsome neighbour who lives in tortured angst down the dank, hedgerowed lane. As our fish-out-of-water negotiates how to repair her leaky roof or feed the wheezing coin-operated boiler (encountering mysteries, ghosts and the occasional moonlit pagan ritual along the way), as she unblocks chimneys and scrubs ancient grime from the massive oak worktop, she gradually sweeps away the dusty echoes of the house’s – and her own – past. And as she cleans up the mess of her own life, she helps her odd neighbours come to terms with their respective wounds and secrets.

I call this recurring fixer-upper theme the Stone Cottage Syndrome. It’s not so much a syndrome as a device many authors I’ve read seem to use. It could very well be considered cliché, but, if done right, this motif can set a scene that’s both wildly romantic and hauntingly eerie. In other words, right up my ivy-covered alley.

DSC_7967 (7)From my bookshelf are some novels which use the cobweb-clearing Stone Cottage device to very satisfying effect:

  1. Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart, who’s permanently entrenched near the top of my list of favourite authors. The main characters of Stewart’s adventure romance novels – intelligent and determined females all – find mystery, peril and love in foreign climes. This one takes place on an isolated Hebrides island with no motorcars and post that comes by ferry thrice a week. (Hodder and Stoughton, 1991)
  2. Running Wild by Victoria Clayton. Leaving her unsuitable fiancé at the altar, the main character flees to a decrepit cottage in Dorset. (Orion 2001)
  3. As with Thornyhold (which I’ve discussed before but easily belongs in this category as well), the first time I read Mary Stewart’s Rose Cottage, I devoured it in a couple of hours and immediately went back for a second helping. And I learned what a green baize door is; you can’t have a proper English country house without one. (William Morrow, 1997)
  4. Mandy by Julie Edwards (otherwise known as singer/actress Julie Andrews) is a sweet children’s novel about a young English girl who stumbles upon and secretly fixes up an empty cottage and its overgrown garden. Shell rooms, wildflowers and plucky orphans – what could be better?! (Harper & Row, 1971)
  5. Speaking of resourceful kids, my next selection features three of them, stranded in Wales during a heavy blizzard. Snowed Up by Rosalie K. Fry (who also wrote The Secret of Roan Inish) doesn’t have an adult lead character, but young cousins who must work together to survive a frightening night in a freezing, abandoned stone farmhouse. This book made a huge impression on me when I was a kid and has survived many a zealous purge, remaining with me to this day. Plus, this tale taught me the meaning of the word ‘swede’. (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1970)
  6. When it comes to meticulously researched historical romance and superb storytelling, Ontario’s Susanna Kearsley is hands-down my favourite author. (BTW, this blog is a Harlequin-free zone; no ripped bodices and heaving bosoms here. Ever.) Beginning with her first novel, Mariana, each story features an element of time-slipping, ghosts or past-life regression. But, like the zombies of The Walking Dead, these suspension-of-disbelief devices take a backseat to the real story, which is about actual historical events – and true love. In The Winter Sea (Allison & Busby, 2008), my favourite of her works, all of these are expertly combined in a remote cottage setting, and there’s even a derelict Scottish castle thrown in for good measure. This story riveted me from the get-go, and I wept at the end. For half an hour. As if that weren’t enough, The Firebird (2014) is the sequel to The Winter Sea, and both share ties with 1997’s The Shadowy Horses. Go read these, and all of Kearsley’s books. Posthaste.

Honourable Mention:  In Veil of Time by Claire R. McDougall, not only does the heroine find herself holed up in a remote cottage complete with ancient standing stones, she astrally projects (in a cool, totally believable way) to 8th century Scotland as well. Many parts of this novel were entertaining, but I found the ending a tad abrupt and disappointing. (Gallery Books, 2014)