Thursday, January 31, 2008

Seven Things

I've been tagged! Bebe over at Peaches and Dreams has asked me to reveal seven things about myself.

1. My favourite flowers are orchids. I know...being a big earth-friendly artsy-craftsy person I should name some kind of non-hot house flower, but I just adore orchids and have since I was a kid. They are my favourite houseplants--so beautiful and the flowers last forever!
2. The only food that I really detest is Salmon. It's a sacrilege--I come from the Pacific Northwest and I won't eat one of our most celebrated foods!
3. I have a deeply engrained hatred for painted wood. It drives my batty! When I was a kid my mom painted all of the wood furniture in our house white (or blue!). It made me cry (*edit* my mom would like everyone to know that she only painted furniture white as a last resort). It's funny, too, because I actully love the look of shabby chic, just not the painted furniture part (I suppose it's okay when the wood is really, really cheap or in bad shape, but otherwise I can't stand it!).
4. I am addicted to U.S. politics. I try not to talk about the news because I am so passionate about it (I never argue with people unless I know them really well--or not at all--). My husband makes fun of me--he can tell when I've been watching CNN because I'm in such a mood afterwards!
5. I also love watching the stock market. It started when I was a kid and my Grandfather would sit with me and try to explain stock splits and dividends. If I had more money I would play on the market all day! (I should probably steer clear of gambling).
6. Although I've never played a sport, I absolutely love watching the beautiful game--soccer (or football, as it's properly called in Great Britain and most of the rest of the world). I've tried to become a hockey fan but it's just not in me.
7. I have reduced my coffee consumption to a sensible single cup a day, but in college I drank about 16 shots of espresso a day. Yikes!

And there you have it! Now it's my turn to tag 7 friends.

1. Fete et Fleur
2. The Beauty of Life
3. Pink Purl
4. Keep Up With Me
5. Vivian In Stitches
6. Loving Her Beautiful
7. Wanderulust and Pixie Dust

1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person that tagged you.
2. Post THE RULES on your blog.
3.Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

Craftsman Magazine

In yesterday's post I mentioned the work of Gustavus Stickley, founder of Stickley furniture and the legendary Arts and Crafts periodical The Craftsman. As an addendum, if you are interested in reading more about the Arts and Crafts movement (and Craftsman design in particular), take a moment to browse through some vintage issues of The Craftsman magazine. The University of Wisconsin's Library of Decorative Arts has made this great resource available free online for anyone interested in learning more about the movement. All issues from between 1901 and 1916 are available through the site.

This link was sent to my by Brad from over at Tree Frog Furniture. Brad makes beautiful reproduction Arts and Crafts furniture and his blog chronicles the creative process along with photos of his work. His craftsmanship and creativity are evident in the beautiful (and useful) work he produces.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Stickley Furniture

I was doing a bit of browsing this morning and ran aross the most amazing furniture company: Stickley. Stickley furniture has been in business for around 100 years and still continues to produce beautiful work.

The company begain in 1901, when Gustavus Stickley founded an Arts and Crafts journal called The Craftsman. The periodical expounded the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, but it had a uniquely American flair. In 1903, several years after starting the magazine, Stickley founded the Craftsman Home Builders Club, which was devoted to "organic architecture." Some of Stickley's primary architectural principles were that:

    • A house ought to be constructed in harmony with its landscape, with special attention paid to selecting local materials.
    • An open floor plan would encourage family interaction and eliminate unnecessary barriers.
    • Built-in bookcases and benches were practical and ensured that the house would not be completely reliant on furniture from outside.
    • Artificial light should be kept to a minimum, so large groupings of windows were necessary to bring in light (thank you Wikipedia!).

Gustavus Stickley's brothers, Leopold and John George Stickley followed their brother in the business of crafting Mission style furniture in the 1920s with the introduction of the popular "Cherry Valley Collection." Although Alfred Audi purchased the company in 1974, the Audi family has tried to remain true to the legacy of the Stickleys.

I strongly recommend a visit to the Stickley website. They have a really neat virtual room planner where you can create your ideal Arts and Crafts inspired space! Their Mission, Edinburgh, 21st Century(don't let the name fool you), Pasadena Bungalow and English Oak lines of furniture are all inspired by Arts and Crafts designs. They also sell beautiful handmade Persian rugs, including William Morris inspired Hammersmith designs! (I would contact them first before ordering them, though...I would want to know more about the labour conditions under which they're produced).

I'm sure most of their products are too expensive anyway, but it's certainly fun to look! The other nice thing about Stickley is that their products are sold all over the world (so much for local business, but it's hard to find good solid wood furniture in Canada, so I was really excited that they have a store that sells their products in Calgary--McArthur Furniture).

The piece I have pictured above is the "Roycraft Little Journeys Table" from the Mission collection and it comes in oak and cherry.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My First Completed Needlepoint Project

If some of you were wondering why I don't post pictures of my needlework, hopefully this answers your questions! The incredibly talented Paula, over at The Beauty of Life asked me to post a picture of my first project, so I decided to swallow my pride and go ahead.

I started this little project a long time ago (if the colours look weird it's because most of them got lost somewhere along the way). I finally decided to go ahead and turn it into a pin cushion on Sunday. I managed to figure out how to sew the pillow based on some instructions found on the internet. I cut the backing from an old pillow that was falling apart but was made of pretty good fabric (I even recycled the stuffing!). So at least it's pretty green. It may not be that attractive, but I suppose that's alright for a pin cushion. Hopefully my next effort will turn out better!

Reading Fantasy for Pleasure

The Daily Telegraph printed an excellent essay a few years ago entitled "Tolkien Was not a Writer." As a huge fan of Tolkien's work, I was initially a bit put off by the title, but on closer inspection, I found it hard to disagree. As a kid, I found The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings difficult to read, though I soon realized the great payoff as the stories began to take on a new life in my imagination. Tolkien may not have been the world's greatest, but the power of his storytelling was (and is) incredibly compelling.

I think this is the case with a lot of great fantasy writers. Reading George MacDonald's Phantastes or William Morris' The Well at the World's End is tranporting--whether or not either of these stories would have had a shot at garnering a literature prize. These works have a deeply enjoyable, mythic quality that transcends most forms of literary criticism--something C.S. Lewis really appreciated about them.

In his essay "Toward a Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Fantasy Criticism," Bruce Edwards discusses C.S. Lewis' treatment of the writings of George MacDonald and William Morris. While Lewis recognized these authors' shortcomings (he once said "if we define literature as an art whose medium is words, then certainly MacDonald has no place in its first rank--perhaps not even in its second") he enjoyed reading their work, and sought to have it recognized for its contribution to the mythic tradition. Edwards argues that, unlike many critics, who attempt to "reclaim" literary works by forcing them into popular critical categories (Lewis hotly contested Freudian analysis of George MacDonald's writing), Lewis sought to "rehabilitate" the writings of Morris, MacDonald and others by appreciating their unique qualities (70).

Image from Kelmscott edition of The Well at Worlds courtesy of University of Glasgow

By the way, you can purchase a gorgeous edition of George MacDonald's Phantastes through illustrated by Arthur Hughes, the Pre-Raphaelite painter (he and George MacDonald were close friends).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Victorian Fantasy

I finally received a copy of Bruce Edwards excellent essay "Toward a Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Fantasy Criticism" from the library today. It is included in a volume of essays entitled The Victorian Fantasists, edited by Kath Filmer and published by St. Martin's Press. I highly recommend the book as a whole. There are some great essays on William Morris and other great fantasy writers.

I will be doing a more in-depth review of articles from the book later, but I thought the book's introduction by David Jasper merited some attention as well. While reading it, I had a sudden epiphany: In the same way that many of my favourite fantasy writers use a sort of idealized version of the Medieval period for the setting for their novels, many of today's fantasists are using the Victorian times as a loose basis for their own fiction (the Steampunk sub-genre of fantasy literature is the best example of this--Golden Compass is the most obvious example of this genre that I can think of--if you've read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels, they are also rather Victorian-inspired).

The nineteenth century is so evocative that I think we are naturally drawn to it. The world of Victorian fantasy was rich partly because of the romance and ritual that permeated everyday life. Bebe over at Peaches and Dreams made reference to this on Saturday, when she was writing about the movie Kate and Leopold. The 19th century was a time filled with ritual and thoughtful contemplation of what might today seem unimportant details. As Bebe notes, "a man spent time learning about the Language of Flowers so that when he sent (or gave) a certain lady a bouquet, his intentions would be clearly defined." Sadly, she goes on to note that "the rituals are so unlike today, where running into a supermarket for the first plastic-wrapped, turbo-preserved bundle or dialing for a teddy bear mixed assortment is commonplace." Sad, but true.

Of course, while the 19th century might seem romantic to us today, men like William Morris who actually lived through it were already bemoaning the rapid changes of the industrial revolution. I suppose it's all a matter of perspective. Do you think fantasy writers in the future will be inspired to write about our generation? Perhaps. I suppose you could say that the Harry Potter series is an example of this, but the stories are so infused with Medieval elements that I think it's difficult to see them as being very contemporary. In any case, I think both the middle ages and the Victorian era will continue to hold a great deal of romantic power over readers as well as writers. How could they not?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Prologue to William Morris' The Earthly Paradise

I often write about William Morris' designs and prose works, but today I thought I'd include a small exctract from his most beloved poem (and this site's namesake), The Earthly Paradise.

Written between 1868 and 1870, The Earthly Paradise was Morris' most successful work. Originally published in four parts, today it is usually sold as one volume (my 1905 edition is 445 pages!). Luckilly, the poem is made up of twenty-four long narrative poems that are tied together in a framework similar to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (you will recall that in the Canterbury Tales, the travelers entertain themselves by taking turns telling stories while on a pilgrimage, so it's actually quite easy to read.

In The Earthly Paradise, a group of "gentlemen and mariners of Norway," lured by the prospect of discoverying a mythic Earthly Paradise, have become stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, where they discover the descendants of a group of Greeks who landed there long ago. Together, the islanders and Norse strangers gather each month for a year, and tell lovely stories from ancient sources--Greek and Norse. Thus, the poem is also divided by month (with two stories, one Norse, one Greek for each month of the year).

The poem is highly entertaining and very easy to read (there's some archaic language, but overall it's modern english).

What follows is a small extract from the prologue to The Earthly Paradise. In this section, Morris is asking his readers to seperate themselves from the reality of their modern lives and to try and imagine the world of Geoffrey Chaucer's time, in which his poem is set:

Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small and white and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green;
Think, that below bridge the green lapping waves
Smite some few keels that bear Levantine staves,
Cut from the yew wood on the burnt-up hill,
And pointed jars that Greek hands toiled to fill,
And treasured scanty spice from some far sea,
Florence gold cloth, and Ypres napery,
And cloth of Bruges, and hogsheads of Guienne;
While nigh the thronged wharf Geoffrey Chaucer’s pen
Moves over bills of lading—mid such times
Shall dwell the hollow puppets of my rhymes.

If you would like to read more, the text to The Earthly Paradise is available online at The Internet Sacred Texts Archive's website. Curling up with a good book is always more fun, even if it isn't free, so if you like what you've read, you can always get a lovely hardback version. Amazon doesn't seem to have anything under $400, but Alibris has affordable copies starting $6.68!

(image courtesy of

Friday, January 25, 2008

William Morris and the Design of Red House

Certainly the most interesting piece of architecture left behind by William Morris is Red House, his home in Bexleyheath, Kent. Although practical considerations forced Morris to leave Red House after only five years, it stands to this day as a testement to the creative vision of Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites. The house is now in the possession of the National Trust.

Red House was built in 1859 and became a cooperative project that combined some of the best talents from within Morris' group of artist friends. While Morris' played a large role in putting together the elements of the house, his friend Phillip Webb was the house's architect, (Webb also sketched the birds found in Morris' trellis wallpaper pattern). Webb and Morris chose a gothic-inspired design and worked with natural materials, including the red brick after which the house was named. The rooms in the house were naturally designed--in true Morris fashion--to be not only beautiful, but useful. Webb's approach to designing the house was truly visionary, and he made every effort to use local, natural materials and traditional building methods (Todd 24-28).

The entire undertaking was a labour of love and it was important to Morris that the house's design fit in with his overall philosophy of craftsmanship and design. In fact, it was Morris' frustration with his inability to find simple, quality home furnishings that inspired him to begin creating his own furnishings. If it had not been for Red House, there very well may have been no Morris and Company.

As a result, the furniture within the house was designed by Morris and Webb. Phillip Webb even designed Morris' china and wine glasses! Many of the exquisite details in the home were created by Morris' friend and fellow artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones assisted Morris by designing beautiful stained-glass windows and wall-paintings for the dwelling.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti also played a role in decorating the house, and he once remarked that it "was a most noble work in every way, and more a poem than a house…but an admirable place to live in too"(National Trust Website) . I would absolutely adore to visit it one day!

For further reading, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of Jan Marsh's William Morris and Red House(published by National Trust Books and available in hardback). It contains some gorgeous photography of Red House, along with delightful stories about it's construction and all the exciting things that went on within its walls while the Morris family lived there!

Source: Pamela Todd. William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.

A Few Tidbits

A couple of small housekeeping issues:

I just bought my first domain! I'm very excited, though I don't quite know what to do with it yet or how to organize it. The address is the name of this blog-- However, right now if you type in you are automatically redirected to the blogspot address (since I've become comfortable with blogger I think I'll just stick with it for now).

I've also removed snapshots from this website. At first I thought it was a cool idea to be able to preview websites before going to them, but later I just found it annoying. Hopefully it will make reading this blog a lot more pleasant!

Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

William Morris' Trellis Pattern

I finally ordered my needlepoint kit from Beth Russell, so I thought I'd do a little more research on the design so I could share it with you all!

Inspired by the trellises at Red House, Trellis is widely regarded as William Morris' first wallpaper design. Pictured on the left is his original pencil and watercolour sketch of the design, composed in 1862 (image courtesy of Beth Russell Needlepoint ).

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum's website, trellis' pattern "is said to have been inspired by the gardens at Red House, which were organised on a medieval plan with square flowerbeds enclosed by wattle trellises for roses." The image of the roses weaving their way through the man-made trellis speaks very clearly to the interaction between nature and culture. The rose is "a domesticated plant that is still very much part of the natural world of display and defence, desire and threat"(24).

Moreover, the coupling of the lovely climbing roses and their prominent thorns convey the theme--found in many of Morris' poetic works, including The Defence of Guenevere--of the close relationship between beauty and danger (23). Likewise, if you look closely, you can also see the mayflies Morris has included in the picture (one is visible in the first coloured block from the top), symbolizing the delicacy and transitory nature of life, while the birds give the design energy and vitality(23-24). Again, as in Morris' poems, this design "implies that no easy distinctions can be made among wild, domesticated, and human nature, house, garden, and beyond"(24). Everything is as interwoven as the image itself.

While many of William Morris' later wallpaper designs eclipsed trellis in complexity, it remained a favourite of Morris throughout his life. Trellis was Morris' choice as the wallpaper for his own bedroom at Kelmscott house.

Bentley, D.M.R."Discontinuities: Arthur's Tomb, Modern Painters, and Morris's Early Wallpaper Designs." Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris. Ed. David Latham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. 17-30.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Redesigned Vintage Clothing

I saw a fascinating feature today on Preloved, a company in Toronto that recycles vintage sweaters, pants and other items and transform them into one-of-a-kind designs. The company has been around since 1995 and sells their products at small stores all over North America. They have three different product lines: Preloved, Handcut and BLoved. Preloved combines used and new fabrics, Handcut is made of 100% used fabrics and BLoved is made with all new fabrics (the clothing from this line is more simple in design and meant to compliment the clothing from the other lines).

Redesigned vintage clothing is a great idea, because, while you might be able to find some decent clothes at goodwill, most of the clothes could use a "nip/tuck" to bring them up to date.

The best thing about this concept is that with a little sewing knowledge, you can begin replicating their ideas yourself. On the show (Three Takes, which is on Slice in Canada--I don't think it's shown in the U.S.) the designer and founder of the company showed how, using a very simple tank top pattern, you can turn an old sweater into a cute vest. One thing that was key was turning the sweater upside down so that the old "bottom" could be used as a neckline or for the sleeves (you can see this technique being used int the sweater pictured above).

There are a lot of great articles all over the internet about how to recycle your used clothing. I see so many people on the streets every day that have found ingenious ways of recycling old tees (it was quite a trend a couple of years ago). Teens, in particular, really love the opportunity to take part in the design of their clothing. Overall, I think the popularity of companies like Preloved and others is a real sign of people's desire for new choices as consumers (and producers!). People seem to relish the innovation required in order to make use of vintage clothing items--and if they don't have time to do it themselve, many are choosing to purchase items from companies like Preloved. Jennifer Welch, owner of Virginia Wells, a San Francisco-based vintage clothing store, recently made the connection between her business and a growing Arts and Crafts movment in an interview with Green Living Online :
"In the late 19th century, the Arts and Crafts movement was a backlash against
the mass production that had come about after the Industrial Revolution. Today,
with increased technology and globalization, people want more integrity,
simplicity and utility - we yearn for grass-roots accessibility and to see
the individual instead of the advertising
William Morris always argued that people need to play an active role in the creative process in order to feel fulfilled as artists and human beings. I think the popularity of redesigned clothing is definitly a sign of this.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Quilts of Gee's Bend

(This quilt was designed by Arlonzia Pettway in 1982. It's based on the "housetop" pattern and can be found in Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts. Tinwood Books, 2002).

Yesterday, as part of her show's Martin Luther King Day celebrations, Oprah did a small feature on the town of Gee's Bend, Alabama (with some video of the town's famous quilters), where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in 1965. During the 1960's, the small isolated black commmunity of Gee's Bend became involved in the Freedom Quilting Bee--a civil rights related campaign that provided an opportunity for African American women to preserve their quilting traditions by selling their handiwork to outsiders.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to examine the quilts of Gee's Bend several years ago for a professor who was writing a book on the history of cotton. It was incredible story about how a group of women were able to transform quilt making from a survival skill that helped their families through long winters into a viable and thriving business that significantly augmented their household incomes.

The isolation of the Gee's Bend community was a significant factor in preserving the aspects of African culture that made the Gee's Bend quilts unique. Many of their methods of quilt making had been preserved since the time when African Americans had first arrived in Alabama as slaves:

…the appliqué tradition that flourished in the American South was brought over
by slaves from Benin (formerly known as Dahomey), West Africa. In the Benin
tapestries, stories from oral tradition and history are illustrated with
appliquéd figures. Animals are used to symbolize kings or central figures of
proverbs or folktales. The influence of Benin appliqué tradition on the Bible
quilts of Harriet Powers, an ex-slave from Benin has been firmly established by
scholars, particularly in her technique and animal symbolism. Another intriguing
aspect of Harriet Powers’ quilts is the merging of Christian religious symbols
with the African cosmology of the Bakongo people. (Fry, 12).

The quilters of Gee's Bend often use much simpler designs than those described above, but they are still infused with vibrant colours (the quilters also make use of unusual materials, such as denim from blue jeans).

Sewing was a survival skill for the earlly members of the Freedom Quilting Bee. Nettie Pettway Young (a founding member) recalls:

Sewing is almost my heart. I just love to sew and quilt quilts with my mother.
When I was six years old I started helping her sew. I went on to making quilts
and learned how to make all the different quilts she knowed how to make:
Bricklayers, Monkey Wrenches, Grandmama’s Dream, Grandmother’s Choices, Coat of
Many Colors, Broken Stoves, Wild Geese Chases, Cross Cut Saw, Stars, Sweeps, and
Bear’s Paws. We growed up making those quilts. I don’t know why they spell out
from but we made ’em through our own parents. I guess she did learn from her
mother, ‘cause her mother was making quilts and quilting ‘em, too, when I knowed
my grandmother.
I growed up sewing. I used to make all my kids’ clothes. I
never bought clothes. I made the clothes(Callahan, 194).

The quilts of Gee's Bend became incredibly fashionable during the 1960s when Diana Vreeland of American Vogue began featuring them in photo layouts in her magazine(Callahan, 64). However, as the business acumen of the quilting bee members increased, it helped ensure that their co-op would survive long after quilts lost their trendy appeal. The quilts remain popular today and are often exhibited in fine art galleries.

Callahan, Nancy. The Freedom Quilting Bee. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1987.

Fry, Gladys-Marie. Stitched from the Past: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South. (New York: Dutton Studio Books, 1990).

The quilts of Gee's Bend are incredibly unique. To view more of these masterpieces, check out their website.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

William Morris and C.S. Lewis

I am always surprised at how truly and deeply interconnected my interests are. The other day it occured to me to do a bit of research into the connections between William Morris and C.S. Lewis. I've been a great fan of Lewis since I first read The Chronicles of Narnia as a young girl. My interest in William Morris began somewhat later. While I was familiar with his designs and political philosophy from reading books on the Pre-Raphaelites, it was not until my third year in university that I picked up a lovely 1905 edition of his poem The Earthly Paradise at a used bookstore in Olympia, Washington. Since then I have been enamoured with his imaginative writing and impressed with his ability to create modern quest-type fantasies well before they became widespread during the 20th century. Like Lewis and Tolkien, Morris was steeped in Norse and Arthurian legend and he created beautiful and mysterious fantasy novels that have retained popularity among fantasy readers in spite of intense criticism. While Morris prose abilities may have been limited, one can only imagine what he may have been able to produce had he focused on a single enterprise (writing) rather than choosing to develop such a myriad of talents (writer, designer, political activist).

The connection between C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald is well known and has been explored by many writers. However, William Morris' fiction was an important influence on the work of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (Tolkien acknowledged Morris' The House of the Wolfings and The Root of the Mountains as inspiration for The Lord of the Rings).

Lewis first read William Morris after borrowing a copy of The Well at World's End from his good friend Arthur Greeves. In Lewis' correspondance with Greeves, Morris is mentioned more frequently than any other author besides George MacDonald (75 times!). In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, Lewis writes that Morris was his "great author" throughout his youth (source: The Cumberland River Lamp Post). C.S. Lewis later wrote two lectures on the subject of William Morris in which he defended Morris against his literary critics, arguing that "even the sternest of theories of literature cannot permanently supress an author who is so obstinately pleasurable" (source: J.P. Leishman, "Rehabilitation and Other Essays" The Review of English Studies, 1940). It has also been suggested by Robert Boenig that the character of Prince Caspian was in fact based on Morris' Child Christopher (link to article).

I'm excited to do some more research on the connections between Morris and Lewis. I've ordered an essay by Bruce Edwards entitled "Toward a Rhetoric of Victorian Fantasy Criticism: C. S. Lewis's Readings of George MacDonald and William Morris" which I hope to read very soon. I can't wait to share my findings!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Keeping a Nature Journal: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

Early in the New Year I always try to surround myself with the work of great writers and diarists in order to hopefully inspire myself to create something beautiful. I am particularly drawn to the idea of keeping a nature journal. There's something so satisfying about being able to record the natural beauty that is all around us. And, as many of you creative bloggers out there know, there's nothing like the natural world to inspire creativity.

One work that continuously stands out from the rest is Edith Holden's The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It is one the most beautiful nature diary I have ever seen, filled with lovely drawings and watercolours of the wildlife she observed near her home in the village of Olton, Warwickshire in 1906. If you have ever thought of keeping a nature diary, then this is the perfect inspiration!

Holden begins each month by jotting down some of her favourite poems and quotations about the month or season. Throughout the month she writes about the local flora and fauna she observes in the countryside during that time of year. For example, on today's date in 1906 she wrote:

Today I saw a curious Oak-tree, growing in a field near
Elmdon Park. From a distance it looked as if half of the tree were dead and
the other half covered with glossy green leaves. On examination the main
trunk and two of the main branches proved to be of a species of oak
that has mossy acorn-cups and large, deeply serrated leaves;--leafless in
winter. Growing out of the crown of the trunk and forming fully half of
the tree was an evergreen or Cork Oak, in full foliage. The join in the
two trunks was scarcely perceptable (6).

On the page facing she includes a lovely illlustration of a "Moor Hen" (I've never really seen anything like it--it must be unique to Great Britain). The artwork is beautifully done, though not so far beyond my own artistic skill that I fill defeated before I even begin trying to follow in her footsteps. Holden's The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is an essential volume for nature lovers and history buffs alike. Plus, the 1977 facsimile edition is beautiful that will add a touch of loveliness to your bookshelf. In fact, the book was so popular when it was released for printing in 1977 (after being discovered in the bookshelves of an English country house) it triggered the release of a vast array of associated products, including stationary and even bath products! While the stationary is nice, perhaps you could take some inspiration from Edith Holden herself and purchase some nice watercolour paper and produce your own by drawing the local wildlife!

If you need a little help getting started, I recently ran across another fabulous book on how to create a nature journal, entitled Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover A Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. My Mom was actually assigned this book for a course she took on Environmental History at Evergreen State College. I am so jealous of the book! It contains really valuable information on how to draw from nature and is both informative and inspiring. If you need to brush up on your drawing skills, this great book contains lots of exercises that will have you wielding your paintbrush with much greater confidence!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

William Morris and The Revival of Handicraft

This morning I've been reading an essay by William Morris entitled "The Revival of Handicraft" (which can be found in Morris: On Art and Design). It's a great inspirational work on the importance of the Craft Movement, written by Morris in 1888. I always find it amazing that over a hundred years ago, writers were already expressing concerns over what Morris calls "the giant fabric of commercialism"(197). One thing that always becomes apparent to me when looking at historical documents is that there truly is nothing new under the sun!

Some of the things he says in this essay sounds so strikingly familiar (and modern!) that it seems they could have been written yesterday:

"it is common now to hear people say of such and such a piece
of country or suburb: 'Ah! it was so beautiful a year or so ago, but it has been
quite spoilt by the building.' Forty years back the building would have been
looked on as a vast improvement; now we have grown conscious of the
hideousness we are creating, and we go on creating it" (195)

Well, a lot more than 40 years have gone by since Morris wrote that sentence, and it seems nothing has really changed in that regard since the time of Morris writing. We continue to erect vulgar buildings and create an endless supply disposable consumer goods and we no longer have the excuse that we are unaware of the consequences. On the contrary, we are well aware of the harm we cause, but continue to do the same in any event.

Morris worked his entire life to revive the arts and crafts of ancient England and to give them new life. He also managed to maintain cautious optimism concerning the future of the movement, arguing that "we are right to long for intelligent handicraft to come back to the world which it once made tolerable amidst war and turmoil and uncertainty of life"(195). He really saw the arts and crafts movement as a worthy cause in spite of his own culture's disinterest in reevaluating its priorities.

The England of Morris day was not that different from most places in the west today, though as I've said in previous blog entries, I think the Internet has really expanded the market for quality handmade goods and is making them more widely available. Perhaps there is still hope that "we can choose to forgo gross luxury and base utilitarianism in return for the unwearying pleasure of tasting the fullness of life (196).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Oberon Designs

Although I love the convenience of blogging, I still treasure keeping a "real" (as opposed to virtual) journal. Oberon Designs is one of my favourite companies. They create gorgeous journal covers out of cowhide that are finished with cast pewter buttons. Each design comes in your choice of nine different colours.

They are absolutely beautiful and seem to last forever. I have one small journal from them, and one larger one. I use the small one to take sketching with me (and for quick notes) and I use the larger one for actual journaling.

While the journals are pretty pricey ($54 for the small 5x7 size), they are refillable, and you can buy hardbound inserts for $13.50, so once you get over the initial expense, they are pretty affordable. Also, all their products are made in Santa Rosa, California, so you don't have to worry about some giant corporation getting wealthy off of cheap goods manufactured by poorly paid labourers in China. They're a great company that really cares about craftsmanship and has been around for a long time.

Oberon has expanded their business to make a number of other goods, including these beautiful lead-free pewter hair clips (most run around $14). They also make lovely bookmarks and jewellery. They've also begun to make gorgeous leather handbags, moneyclips, cardholders, portfolios, organizers and ornaments (I was particularly impressed with the handbags--it seems almost all leather handbags are being made in China now--even pricey designer bags!). I've been looking at handbags on Etsy, but although their cloth bags are gorgeous, I think most of the designers there have a way to go before their leather handbags become competitive. If you are a talented leather worker, start an Etsy shop because I'd love to have a nice handmade leather bag!

At any rate, Oberon is a really cool company with a conscience. Unfortunately, shipping costs to Canada are really high, so I probably won't be buying anything from them until they offer reasonable postage. I guess that will motivate me to buy local!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Re-Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder

One thing I brought back to Edmonton with me after Christmas was my collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. If you haven't read them, you've been missing out!

I love to read through them whenever I get the chance, and I've started over again with Little House in the Big Woods. Of the books, my favourites are probably Big Woods and Farmer Boy. Farmer Boy is the story of Almonzo's boyhood--a lot of people have never read it, but it's a real gem, and quite different from the other stories, in that Almonzo grew up on a successful working farm in New York State. He also had enough to eat growing up, which sets his story apart from Laura's as well!

In re-reading the books I'm constantly amazed by things I didn't really understand the first time I had them read to me. As a child, it never really occured to me just how poor Laura's family was. When I re-read Little House on the Prairie, By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter in highschool I realized for the first time that they were practically starving throughout all three books (literally starving in The Long Winter). Looking back I'm really amazed that Laura not only survived her childhood, but went on to write incredibly upbeat books about it!

On a slightly different (but still related) note, I've been trying to be a bit more organized lately, and I'm thinking of tweaking Ma Ingall's little poem on household management to make it fit into my life:

"Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday."
--Ma, in Little House in the Big Woods

Now, I'm lucky to be married to someone who does the ironing for me (I would burn everything!) so that means I'll need to find another activity for Tuesday. Also, churning butter is no longer necessary in this day and age, so...I think I'll be baking on Tuesday and cleaning on Thursday which leaves Friday and Saturday for me!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Review of Miss Potter

My husband and I finally got a chance to see Miss Potter last night, starring Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor. We both loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Beatrix Potter--as well as those who haven't a clue about her (more on that later). Anyhow, I've been a fan of Beatrix Potter books for as long as I can remember. Our family even named a cat "Tom Kitten"! I remember spending hours composing my own illustrated imitation-Peter Rabbit books--her books definitely inspired my creativity as a child.

While I knew a bit about her life from a BBC documentary I saw years ago, this film did an excellent job of bringing her to life. The movie captured Miss Potter's brilliant imagination and her independence. While the film concentrates primarilly on her adult life, it also examines her secluded childhood and burgeoning creativity through several well-conceived flashbacks. Throughout the film she gains remarkable independence and incredible success with her work. Although the film makes use of artistic license in order to make Beatrix Potter appear more independent than she actually was (for instance, in real life her parents her parents bought Hilltop Farm, not she herself)--I believe it is otherwise true to the spirit of her life's story. Furthermore, the film is a feast for the eyes. The views of the Lake District are breathtakingly beautiful and the interior shots are very well done. The soundtrack was also lovely--I'm a sucker for any score composed by Rachel Portman, but her music was particularly appropriate for the tone of this film.

One thing that took me a bit off-guard was how much my husband enjoyed this film. Prior to seeing this movie he had never read a Beatrix Potter book, and I think he was prepared to indulge me a little by watching it with me (I know it's hard to believe that anyone on the planet has never heard of Peter Rabbit, but DH is from South America and I think Beatrix Potter is a bit less of a celebrity there). In the end, he loved the movie and was totally captivated by Beatrix Potter's illustrations, stories, and her life (this happens quite frequently in our house, though--the other movie he had this reaction to was Anne of Green Gables--I think he likes stories about spunky women!).

In fact, he was so into the film that we ended up seeing all the special features that went with the DVD.Generally the "additional features"are an incredible bore (deleted scenes that should have burned, etc.). Surprisingly, they were actually very good! Even the "making of" feature was fascinating! Rather than focusing on the actors, the features were largely documentaries of Beatrix Potter's life that added a great deal to the value of the movie. One detail I found quite interesting was that Beatrix Potter's father was a friend of John Millais, the pre-raphaelite painter! It's a small world, afterall. Also intrigueing was her early adoption of merchandising to sell her books--apparently Peter Rabbit tea sets, stuffed toys, water bottles and the like are not modern-day inventions--Potter herself created a number of different products in order to promote her books. Interestingly, while not averse to making profits, she did turn down Walt Disney's offer to make Peter Rabbit into a motion picture in 1936.

Another particularly innovative aspect of Beatrix Potter's children's book empire is what she did with the profits. From 1905 onward, Beatrix dedicated herself to purchasing farms in the Lake District to protect them from developers. She also became a breeder of Herdwick Sheep, a rare breed found only in the Lake District (in 1943 she became the first woman to be President of the Herdwick breeders association). Upon her death in 1945 she bequethed over 4000 acres of land to the National Trust--one of the largest amounts of land ever donated. She was certainly an incredibly creative woman and a visionary in terms of her views on land protection.
For more on Beatrix Potter's life, visit Linda Lear's website (she is the author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, available on

(image copyright Momentum pictures)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Craft Research: Craft 2.0

I ran across a couple of great articles today on crafts and the "rebirth" of the Arts and Crafts Movement. craft research: Craft 2.0 is a great article that discusses how the handmade movement ("Craft 2.0") is sweeping the net with the help of organizations like Etsy (which is generating huge revenue--$4.3 million in November alone). I also ran across a neat post on Slow Cloth/Slow Craft by Debra Roby on Blogher. Both these articles were great, and I think they speak to the growing popularity of the handcraft movement.

As I noted in a comment on the Craft 2.o article, this likely means that the new craft movement will have a great deal more success than the original Arts and Crafts Movement. The reasons are fairly simple. While the leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement hoped to convince the people of the beauty and quality of handmade objects, they faced a tremendous obstacle: that of price. Handcrafted objects made by Morris and Company were incredibly expensive to make and eventually became "status symbols" among the wealthy. Thus, a movement that began out of a desire to restore dignity to craftsmen and craftswomen by asserting their right to enjoy the crafting process was eventually reduced to a niche market populated by wealthy art patrons.

I am cautiously optimistic that the Craft 2.0 movement could change all this. The internet is far more accessible to people than William Morris "Morris and Company" shop ever was. And many of the goods available on sites like Etsy are incredibly affordable (check out Pink Purl, for example--Tracy offers tons of beautiful handcrafted art objects at very reasonable prices). I am so excited to see creative people finding avenues in which to sell their art without needing much of a "middle man"--I think it really speaks to the viability of this new movement. I believe people are naturally attracted to beautiful handmade objects. I think many will choose to "buy handmade" if quality handmade objects are available at affordable prices. Unfortunatley, that was never really possible during William Morris' time. Perhaps the time for handcrafts has come!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Photographs of Jane Morris

Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood has had two days of great posts on Jane Morris, one of my favourite figures of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Being a Jane Morris fan, I have my own favourite photographs of her that I would like to share.
These two photographs of Jane Morris, in which she was posed by her friend and lover Dante Gabriel Rossetti, were taken in 1865 by John R. Parsons as part of a series commissioned by Rossetti. I think it is the most beautiful picture that we have of her, and most closely resembles the paintings by Rossetti. The real beauty of her face seems more evident in profile than in photos taken head-on (this is noticible even in paintings--Rossetti almost always chooses to paint her in profile).

If you're a fan of Pre-Raphaelite art, chances are you have seen numerous paintings of Jane without realizing it (such as the famous Proserpine painting, above right). She was one of Rossetti's favourite subjects and was thought by members of Rossetti's circle (including her husband, William Morris) to epitomize Pre-Raphaelite notions of beauty. You will notice that her dress in these photographs is quite loose and flowing--a hallmark of the Pre-Raphaelites, who felt that this "artistic" mode of dress was superior because it did not hide the natural curves of the female body. This might seem a little odd today, as "Artistic Dress" certainly covered the female form than todays clothing. Nevertheless, in comparison with the mountains of petticoats, crinolines, bustles and the like worn by their contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites were certainly more in touch with natural form.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tate Museum of Art Millais Exhibit

The Tate Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Sadly, I live too far away from Great Britain to make regular visits, but I've discovered that it's possible to do a "virtual tour" of the Tate online. The Tate has one of the best online portals I've seen, with in-depth comments on various works of art. Currently the Tate Britain (which holds works by British artists from the 1500s to today) is offering an exhibition of the works of John Everett Millais.

The works that are a permanent part of the Tate collection are available for viewing through the website (many works that are NOT on display in the museum can be viewed online). While I am a huge believer in the benefits of seeing original artworks, the internet can be an amazing tool when it is not possible to see works in person.

I was particularly impressed with the museum's teacher's guide to the exhibition, which is available for download. It would be ideal for art teachers anywhere in the world. The pdf file includes extensive notes, artwork and activities (available here). Even if you're not a teacher, it's an excellent way to become more informed about Millais's work. It is so nice to see so much effort going into bringing art to life!

The museum also has a great store, though I imagine shipping costs must be pretty steep if you're ordering from North America.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Poem on Grief

I ran across this poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson that has been really helpful to me (his poem "Threnody" is also a beautiful piece, written after the death of his son). Emerson was a founder of the transcendental movement and friends with Branson Alcott, father of writer Louisa May Alcott.

All Return Again
It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise. Jesus is not dead; he is very well alive; nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could easily tell the names under which they go.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, January 6, 2008

William Morris Online Edition

The William Morris Society has just announced that the creation of a free "text-searchable scholarly edition" of William Morris' works! Check out The Life and Death of Jason (edited by Prof. Florence Boos) which is already available on the new William Morris Online Edition website, along with many other works expected to become available early this year. Images from the Kelmscott Press editions of his works are also included where possible (the Sir Edward Burne-Jones drawings from The Life and Death of Jason are breathtaking!). These are some of the best quality images from Kelmscott that I've seen online!

This is a very exciting announcement for fans of William Morris' art and writing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Pre-Raphaelite Obsession with Hair

One of the constant topics of discussion between myself and my husband is whether or not I should cut my hair. Although I love my long hair, I get an occassional yearning to chop it all off, a la Victoria Beckham (this usually happens after a long session of removing tangles). Last month in Vogue there was an article extolling the wonders of hair extensions, both permanent and clip-on. I can't help but compare my hair with the likes of Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez and wonder if I should just run out and get a weave.

While this sort of preoccupation with one's tresses might seem a bit excessive, it's nothing new. For centuries womankind have been doing all sorts of things to their hair in order to maximize their sex appeal, from the ancient Egyptians to the pouf-style wigs of Marie Antoinette.
During the Victorian period hair became an obsession.

I suppose the reason it wasn't quite as much a concern in previous eras was that people had become used to wearing wigs and didn't really need to work very hard to cultivate the "loose, luxuriant hair" that "was an emblem of female sexuality in Pre-Raphaelite painting"(Marsh 23). Rather than using pin- or rag-curling methods, the Pre-Raphaelites favoured a more natural way of acheiving perfect curls. "After washing, the tresses were plaited while still wet...and then allowed to dry, creating a naturally crimped look" (Marsh 23).

I'm still debating getting a major haircut. I've gotten pretty attached to my locks, though I'm careful to maintain them as there's nothing I hate more than ratty hair. Really long hair always looks better in paintings, I think!

References: Jan Marsh, The Pre-Raphaelite Women: Images of Femininity in Pre-Raphaelite Art. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987

Friday, January 4, 2008

High-Button Shoes are Back in Fashion

One thing I noticed while shopping at Nordstrom over Christmas break was that high-button shoes seem to have come back in fashion! As a young girl I was always particularly fascinated with high-buttoned shoes, but alas, they were never in style! Franco Sarto's "Alto" ankleboot (pictured above) is a Victorian-inspired wearable fashion. And, at $98.95 it is affordable as well (though I'm not sure about the quality). The shoes would be good for vegans, since they are synthetic. It is available through Nordstrom's website.

I found a couple of sites on the internet that offer more authentic shoes of better quality, but this is reflected in the price. "Reproduction Vintage Shoes" creates lovely "bespoke" shoes, but the price is rather steep--it looks like they cost approximately $650 a pair!

Amazon drygoods (they advertised in the old Victoria magazine for years) also sells a number of reproduction shoes and I would assume the price is quite a bit lower. You can order their shoe catalogue through their website at

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sur la Lune Fairy Tales

I ran across the most amazing site today! Sur la Lune Fairy tales has a collection of 47 original fairy tales with critical commentary and over 1500 illustrations

While the Disney versions of fairy tales have their own charms, their saccharine sweetness can sometimes cause us to forget the power of the original tales. Whether you have never had a chance to read the originals, or you simply wish to reacquaint yourself, this is a great site to visit!

I've collected fairy tales since I was a young girl and my mother began collecting them before she had children. I've inherited much of her collection and have been adding to it myself for years! Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother reading me stories such as Snow White (the original, fluff-free version, of course!). I dream of being able to one day read fairy stories to my own children. Since I love collecting books, I was pleased to see that the Sur la Lune website also includes reviews of new fairy tale books (sometimes it's hard to keep up to date with new books coming out).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The New Year in Art

Happy New Year!

January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was often depicted as two faces looking in opposite directions--towards the past and the future at the same time. How appropriate!

I haven't really sat down to make a list of New Year's resolutions this year, but there are a few things I hope to accomplish in the coming year:

1. Finish some truly satisfying needlework projects
2. Complete my thesis and finish my MA!!!
3. Take some great vacations with my dear husband before the pitter-patter of little feet come to slow us down.
4. Focus on beautifying our home

I had such a wonderful time on Christmas vacation, but it's nice to be home (though it's a lot colder here than in Seattle!). I'm still debating which Beth Russell kit to order. (You can also use the patterns available in her books, such as Arts and Crafts Needlepoint to create your own kit)I'm now thinking I might prefer doing the trellis pattern. The birds look so cute!

What do you think? I think the variation of colours in this pattern are a bit more fun to work with than Sunflower.