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Leah's blog

December 2016

THE HYGGE FACTOR

The Hygge FactorThe buzz word this winter is the Scandinavian tradition of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah). Magazines are full of suggestion how to hug your home with cushions, throws, scented candles and log fires as well as comfort food to survive the dark dreich dog days of winter to come.

Any country dweller will tell you we’ve been doing it for decades, warming up stone walls , small windows and draughts with shutters, peg rugs and handmade quilts on comfy sofas before a blazing fire.

 

 

Chistmas QuiltI indulged my inner quilt maker with a beautiful quilted Christmas table cloth but now the thought of spilling goose grease or mulled wine over it would be a pity so now trying to find a place to display it.

I have a humble Christmassy mat I made years ago which can any amount of punishment. One thing I love at this time of year is to light the lamps at dusk , close the shutters and curtains when the wind and rain( never snow these days) rattle round the house, then hunker down with a good book and a box of chocs or put on the carol CDs and recall singing them in choirs.

 

The simple pleasures of the season are to be enjoyed so enjoy them like a warm hug and give to those charities that provide comfort for the homeless and destitute. Surely that’s the best hug of all...Happy Christmas Leah

 

Tea Room Talk

Have you noticed how the humble tea room has come into its own?  Historically  they were places where women could meet privately away from  male company to  chat and gossip and share information.  The early Suffragist Movement was born in such gentile establishments. 

The Willow Tea RoomsOne of the most famous tearooms, designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh in Glasgow,  is  the Willow  Tearooms with its startling décor and waitresses trained by the owner Miss Cranston.. Thankfully a version of it still exists there. 

Being a fan of Afternoon Teas I ‘ve  sampled a fair few in my time from the golden glamour of the Ritz, to the famous Bettys tearooms in the North. Some have been lavish and others like the Christmas Champagne tea  to which we took  our American sons  were disappointing . The portions were meagre not enough to fill one son never mind four of us. 

But all around us in the Dales are fabulous cafes serving delicious cakes and pastries in elegant settings .  My agent took me recently to a famous London store where we wereserved dry chocolate cake and tasteless sandwiches that we had no hesitation in sending back and they cut the Bill. 

Ye Olde Naked Man CafeGive me a country town one every time and don’t the names  evoking nostalgia? The Copper KettleThe Settle Down are some of our local cafes but the most famous is  Ye Olde Naked Man which derives from an ancient house plaque on its wall depicting a Man covering his tackle with the initials of the owner. In our village we have a similar image called The Naked Lady.

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Curlew CafeMany years ago I also ran a café  named  The Curlew after tearooms in the town long closed. My experiences  were mixed but are the basis of both my latest novel : Dancing at the Victory Café and the new short story in my Newsletter: The Hard word.

There is something so comforting about tea and cake surrounded by books and chatter. I love the White Rose Café in Thirsk for doing just that. If I  were younger  running a place like that would be my  dream job but Café life is tough and tiring and not always as  profitable as I found to my cost but here’s to the British tearoom, long may they prosper!

Leah

July 2016

secrets of the button box

Secrets of the Button BoxCheck in any sideboard and you will often find several ancient biscuit  tins of long forgotten makers containing relics of a bye gone era of make do and mend: suspenders, hooks and eyes,  crochet and button hooks, elastic and needle cases that somehow have got passed down when family homes were cleared or downsized. The most poignant of them all for me is the button box for it contains a family history of long lost jumpers and coats and sewing projects recycled with their precious buttons preserved in a rainbow of colours and sizes.

The Last Pearl by Leah FlemingHaving just completed my latest novel: The Last Pearl and still thinking all things to do with pearls ,I decided to make my door wreath for the annual village show  out of all the pearl buttons collected over the years in the bottom of  my tins. This reminded me of the recent trip I made to the States while researching the book where I found myself in the mid western city of Muscatine Iowa, once the epi-centre of the pearl button industry in the mid to late nineteenth century.  This was the era of long sleeve blouses and shirts edged with pretty buttons, arm length gloves, waistcoats and lacy dresses. Pearl buttons finished off the article perfectly.

 

Button WreathMuscatine also known as “ Pearl City” sits on the Mississippi River just as it turns direction forming a curve full of muddy sloughs where clam shells grew to enormous size and thickness. It took a German immigrant to devise the sort of machinery to take the humble clam shell, once it had been searched for pearls and stamp out blanks that could be polished, edged, decorated into different shapes and sizes. This business gave welcome employment to men and women of the town as well as the itinerant clammers who camped in rough conditions to fish  them out of the river.

It was a smelly business, dragging shells down river in barges, offloading them, searching for gems, boiling them and  delivering them by the barrow load to the factories that sprung up  to develop the new trade and seize the opportunity to retail their finished product all over the country and beyond.

Fortunes were made and lost by the Button Barons. As with many manufacturing industries, over fishing lead to the decline of the clam in size and quality . It was no longer cost effective to import them. All that was left was a pile of rotting shells on the shoreline some of which were ground into fertilizer.  One by one the factories went under as fashions changed and the use of plastics replaced pearl in women’s clothing.

All this I discovered on a fascinating trip to the Muscatine History and Industry Center where you can see the whole process from clam to beautiful pearl button displayed along with films showing how clammers fished and used their equipment.

There is just one button factory left in the city which turned early  to plastic production and managed to survive the Depression and war. Fashions changed zips, Velcro fastenings and a slow decline in home dressmaking all played their part in the demise of the humble pearl button but they are still collectors items.

My poster shows how they were stitched onto pretty cards as piece work by women in the home and complete sets of rarer buttons can command serious money

The genuine pearl button, like all pearls, is cold to the touch and has a rough mottled back but sadly they mostly lie neglected in forgotten tins. I shared these findings with my American hosts who promptly rooted into their cupboards to find  some beautiful specimens, and buckles shown in the picture.

Who would have thought that a search for pearls would lead to an appreciation of the humble button and a four hundred page novel?

Leah

July 2016

secrets of the button box

Secrets of the Button BoxCheck in any sideboard and you will often find several ancient biscuit  tins of long forgotten makers containing relics of a bye gone era of make do and mend: suspenders, hooks and eyes,  crochet and button hooks, elastic and needle cases that somehow have got passed down when family homes were cleared or downsized. The most poignant of them all for me is the button box for it contains a family history of long lost jumpers and coats and sewing projects recycled with their precious buttons preserved in a rainbow of colours and sizes.

The Last Pearl by Leah FlemingHaving just completed my latest novel: The Last Pearl and still thinking all things to do with pearls ,I decided to make my door wreath for the annual village show  out of all the pearl buttons collected over the years in the bottom of  my tins. This reminded me of the recent trip I made to the States while researching the book where I found myself in the mid western city of Muscatine Iowa, once the epi-centre of the pearl button industry in the mid to late nineteenth century.  This was the era of long sleeve blouses and shirts edged with pretty buttons, arm length gloves, waistcoats and lacy dresses. Pearl buttons finished off the article perfectly.

 

Button WreathMuscatine also known as “ Pearl City” sits on the Mississippi River just as it turns direction forming a curve full of muddy sloughs where clam shells grew to enormous size and thickness. It took a German immigrant to devise the sort of machinery to take the humble clam shell, once it had been searched for pearls and stamp out blanks that could be polished, edged, decorated into different shapes and sizes. This business gave welcome employment to men and women of the town as well as the itinerant clammers who camped in rough conditions to fish  them out of the river.

It was a smelly business, dragging shells down river in barges, offloading them, searching for gems, boiling them and  delivering them by the barrow load to the factories that sprung up  to develop the new trade and seize the opportunity to retail their finished product all over the country and beyond.

Fortunes were made and lost by the Button Barons. As with many manufacturing industries, over fishing lead to the decline of the clam in size and quality . It was no longer cost effective to import them. All that was left was a pile of rotting shells on the shoreline some of which were ground into fertilizer.  One by one the factories went under as fashions changed and the use of plastics replaced pearl in women’s clothing.

All this I discovered on a fascinating trip to the Muscatine History and Industry Center where you can see the whole process from clam to beautiful pearl button displayed along with films showing how clammers fished and used their equipment.

There is just one button factory left in the city which turned early  to plastic production and managed to survive the Depression and war. Fashions changed zips, Velcro fastenings and a slow decline in home dressmaking all played their part in the demise of the humble pearl button but they are still collectors items.

My poster shows how they were stitched onto pretty cards as piece work by women in the home and complete sets of rarer buttons can command serious money

The genuine pearl button, like all pearls, is cold to the touch and has a rough mottled back but sadly they mostly lie neglected in forgotten tins. I shared these findings with my American hosts who promptly rooted into their cupboards to find  some beautiful specimens, and buckles shown in the picture.

Who would have thought that a search for pearls would lead to an appreciation of the humble button and a four hundred page novel?

Leah

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