Tag Archives: Texas

BASKET UPDATED

I wrote about a basket given to me by Ron’s mother here and received a very interesting email from Biljana, a reader presently living in Thailand. She had information to pass along with reference to these Asian baskets – isn’t it amazing how the Internet can link people from across the globe?

Biljana is much interested in this type of basketry, and thinks that the Taiwanese basket given to me by Ron’s mother is not a funerary basket at all. In our email discussion on it, I had written that Taiwanese clients of Ron’s – guests to dinner in our Austin home – were excited to see the basket and told us it was used to take food to a loved one’s grave. She replied: “I am of the opinion that it is actually a wedding (rather prewedding) woven cane and wood (later lacquered) basket that is usually exchanged between families involved.”

She had further information: “The golden painted woman on the basket lid looks like more like a potential bride getting ready for her marriage ceremony than a candidate for heavenly departure. In those baskets the families of bride and groom sent to each other some presents, usually oranges ( mandarins) as a sign of respect . Mandarins are usually fruit of choice in Chinese culture as they consider them an auspicious element.”

She continues: “Black and red colours and golden gilding are also a combination for some baskets – here we have to be careful, as different Chinese groups use different colours, shapes and materials.”

Biljana’s emails are full of fascinating information about various Chinese cultures and subgroups; about how they migrated through the subcontinent, thus dispersing their techniques and symbolism and acquiring new knowledge in the process.

She sent the photograph I’ve included here – it’s one of her baskets and Biljana describes it: “I have a three tier one (antique) that belonged to a Peranakan family. Peranakans are Chinese Malays, a combination resulted in intermarriages between Chinese and local population in Malaysia and Singapore (we lived there also)… So, I am sending you a picture of my own with same combination of colours, but meant to be given on a wedding day, each tier filled with a group of gifts sending a message of wish for prosperity, longevity …. This type of basket is called “Bakul Siah” or “auspicious basket “. In them wedding gifts were transported and exchanged during 12-day wedding period and even from the engagement day.”

I’m delighted to think that a basket bought in Taiwan some 60 years ago journeyed to Texas across the Pacific, was enjoyed for many, many years and then became mine. Since I’ve had it, it has crossed the Atlantic and traveled through Europe and today sits atop a bookcase in Greece. Much has certainly been woven into its life, and now it’s brought me the friendship of a kindred spirit living on the continent where my basket was so carefully made.

Biljana, thank you very much for all the trouble you’ve taken to add to my knowledge of these baskets. And yes, I fully agree with you that people should share such information as they have, and that it’s always important to open a discussion. I’ve learnt a great deal from you and intend to discover more.

NEW BEGINNINGS

 Yes, it has been almost a year and many thanks to those who wrote to inquire. We very much appreciate your concern. And yes, it was a medical emergency that landed us in Split, and no, we weren’t heading there. We were on our way to London and then Austin when Ron became ill. British Airways was absolutely fantastic to us, insisting on getting Ron to medical attention after a doctor on board noted that his blood pressure had dropped to a life-threatening level. I could write volumes on what ensued – perhaps I will someday – but it must be said that the Croatian doctors and hospitals treated us with nothing but care and concern. We will be forever grateful.

I was almost rigid with fear when Ron was taken away in an ambulance and I was put into a taxi. This was intensified when it became clear to me that I couldn’t speak. Not in the usual sense, for all those who know me will tell you I have no trouble prattling on. No, I couldn’t find any words to exchange with the taxi driver who spoke no English. Why should he? I have some knowledge of a few languages but of the Slavic languages I’m mostly ignorant. Being unable to communicate aroused a primal terror in me. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

We spent more than a week there – our departure being delayed by reams of red tape – during which time we fell completely in love with the Croatian people. Croatia became part of Yugoslavia after the First World War. Its history, like that of all the Balkans, is a turbulent one. Centuries of occupations and revolutions, suffering and oppression, were compounded by the Communist takeover following the Second World War. To that must be added the horrors of the Bosnian War at the end of the last century, the aftermath of which continues to resonate.

Today Croatia is a member of the European Union. The country is forging ahead, eager and hardworking after the domination and degradation of Communism. There’s a buzz, a vibrancy, and it’s to their credit that most of those we interacted with spoke good English. This surely augurs well for the future.

We hired a charming young tour guide to take us on the long drive to Zagreb where we would continue the journey to London. He exemplified the enthusiastic spirit pervading the country with his spanking new and spotlessly clean Mercedes, flawless English and most informative running commentary.
Apparently Bill Gates spends a lot of time in this beautiful country, and we can fully appreciate why.

We spent the next several months in Austin, a busy time with family and friends but I managed to finish writing a book to be published in April, 2017.

An uncomplicated return trip and here we are again, back in Greece. We stepped out of the car, four days of travel behind us, and were greeted by this

Here is a tiny part of the new arrivals –

There’s plenty to tell, but it will have to wait. We’ve had what’s being described as the worst winter in the last 50 years. It has really been bad – it’s still very cold but at least no more snow. We’ve been a haven for homeless animals as we are the only people in the area at this time; we’ve taken them all in, never fear, and they have plenty of food and shelter. Those that are sociable have all been neutered, but those that sneak up to eat once darkness falls are a problem. This is a subject for another time, but meanwhile, in addition to our longtime pets, we have 14 cats and 3 dogs.

The garden has been pretty much destroyed by snow and ice, but spring’s putting in a tentative appearance, and the wildflowers are raising their heads to take a peak at it all.

Jason Tips His Hat To Lady Bird

Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B Johnson, together with Helen Hayes founded what became the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center which is both stunningly beautiful and a significant educational resource.

Mrs Johnson, Texas-born like her husband, devoted considerable time, energy and enthusiasm to promoting knowledge and appreciation of the vast number of native Texan plants, encouraging the planting of indigenous species and in so doing gave the state of Texas an immeasurable gift.

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Bluebonnets

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Indian Paintbrush

Texas fields and highways are awash with color each spring as the flowers bloom, as is many a private garden whose owner appreciates the beauty of the flowers and the ecological advantages of planting them.

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This year the blooms have been breathtaking in their color and abundance, thanks to some well-timed early spring rains, even though Texas still suffers from a severe drought. Bluebonnets are amongst the first to appear; so intense is their hue that the fields seem blanketed in a dense blue velvet. They are followed by Indian Paintbrush, Winecap, Primrose, Mexican Hat, and daisies to name just some of the wildflowers which call Texas home.

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Such beauty! To mark their appearance Jason got a new hat from some bits of yarn in my stash, and even though he’s missed most of the wildflowers of the Pelion this year, he didn’t complain.

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DARN IT!

 

Kate Davies, whose writing is always most interesting and informative, has sparked some lively debate with her blog posts of September 21 and September 23. Her discussion makes mention of “women with multiple demands on their time” and reminded me of a particular chore which women of previous generations were expected to include in their daily household tasks. The maintaining of clothing and domestic linens in good condition, pretty much a never-ending task, required various forms of mending, among which the darning of holes played a large part. Along with the iron (my blog post Iron Age) a household would have its darner. This would be dropped into the sock, or held at the back of the damaged piece of fabric to highlight the hole and provide a backing for the repair work. My mother’s olive wood darning egg fascinated me as a child, though to be honest I do not recall her ever using it, and is no doubt the reason I collect darners.

The variety of darners is endless. This humble tool was made in many societies, in all manner of materials, both for local use and as souvenir items, often reflecting some aspect of the country or region of manufacture.  Some were designed so that the tops unscrewed, allowing needles to be stored in the handles.

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Needles Inside

They could be egg shaped; the most common appear to be eggs-on-a-stick.  Plain wood was usual; indigenous woods might used on souvenir darners; painting in colours or designs made the darner more cheerful, perhaps relieving some of the tedium of the task, or at least catching the eye of the buyer. Mushroom shapes were always popular  and lent themselves to decorative painting whilst there’s a touch of whimsy in these darners, rather reminiscent as they are of a foot.

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Egg-on-a-stick 1

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Egg-on-a-stick 2

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Egg-on-a-stick 3

 

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Mushroom 1

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Mushroom 2

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Foot

 

Glove darners were tiny, and essential if a lady was to maintain her gloves in good condition, while much larger darners would have been used in the repair of trousers and jackets.

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Glove

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Trousers and Jackets

This patented gadget was intended for the repair of stockings; the handle unscrews to reveal a tiny latchhook. By contrast, an advert in The Modern Priscilla of January 1911 urges those who “want to quit darning” to purchase their stockings instead, which, mind you, were guaranteed only for four months. After that, I suppose you either bought new ones or reverted to the hated task!

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Stockings

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I found this bundle of handknitting samples in a fleamarket in Texas. All are made of cotton; some of them have name labels attached. Are they from a school? And if so, during what year of schooling were the girls (for it most certainly would have been girls) expected to learn these skills? The work is well done, in fine gauge, and must have been quite time-consuming. There are samplers of beautifully worked stitch patterns, while four of the swatches show examples of darning. All necessary skills for a young woman back in the day.

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So important were needlework skills that cheerful scenes of domestic bliss, and particularly mother/daughter learning activities were frequently depicted on the packaging though I have my doubts as to the eagerness on the part of daughters. Sons of course were spared!

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The foreword to The Sunlight Book of Knitting and Crocheting published in Chicago in 1912, trills:

“A woman is never quite so captivating and utterly feminine as when her lap is filled with a fleecy cloud of yarn, and from beneath her darting needles falls away some soft, pretty knitted affair.”

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Several years ago I was discussing knitting with an elderly village woman, now long gone to her rest.  She rummaged about in a chest and produced this perfectly round sea-washed pebble, which she gave me. “What use have I for it now? I don’t want to remember those days.” She’d always kept an eye out for suitable stones, she told me, to use for darning her late husband’s socks. He’d been a shepherd, constantly wearing holes into the many socks she’d knitted him. She made it quite clear that sock knitting was a chore: preparing the fleece, spinning the yarn on her drop spindle, knitting the socks, and then the never-ending darning. All done mostly by lamp and candlelight, and after the hard work of the day. Knitting was not for her the pleasure it is for so many of us today.

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In addition to her mending, the housewife of yesteryear frequently had to “make do and mend”. Every scrap of fabric and clothing was precious, particularly during and after the two Great Wars of the 20th Century. Women’s magazines carried regular articles on ways to remake clothes, such as cutting a man’s shirt down into baby clothes, or unravelling a damaged sweater in order to salvage the yarn for another project.

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Many of us repurpose fabrics today, though for the most part more from a sense of using a wonderful textile, or having something unique, such as this bag made from a thriftstore vest, which in turn was sewn from patches of ethnic Indonesian cloth.

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My darners are no longer used, but what stories they could tell!