This picture is testament to the alluring charm and beauty of antique treen. It also illustrates how the passage of time treats each piece in an individual way so leaving that piece uniquely imprinted by time. To the rear of the picture there are two items of turned treen which are now a faded, mellow, mellifluent colour. The Peaseware jar was varnished when it was made, a coating that has now partially degraded leaving a random pattern to its surface, and in in so doing simply adding to its charm.
The knitting Sheath in the foreground which is dated 1768 appears as if it has been a venerated object, for it looks as if it has never been used, as if it has been swaddled and tucked away in a draw regarded as a very precious item since the day it was made. It is beautifully carved and its cagged balls are very smooth – the sign of a loving hand – but never a faint heart.
The other sheath which is fruitwood is a complete contrast giving the impression it has had a busy but unrevered life, though its industry has help it develop its fabulous colour and patination. Having been at the sharp end of commerce and exposed to the elements for hundreds of years its chipped areas have turned black with age, a colour that one associates with a smoky atmosphere, so leaving a lovely contrast with the rest of its surface. Lamentfully in comparison to the other sheath its single caged ball is very crudely carved – reminding me of that famous maxim ‘Fair lady was never won by rough balls’
One of the great things about chip carving is you don’t have to be Grinnling Gibbons to do it [geometry aside] all you need is a pair of sharp tools and a pair of sharp eyes.
The Stay-busk also chip carved is one of the very rarest types having a sliding panel to its reverse side so as to accommodate some keepsake or other, may be a love letter, or a lock of hair. It is ‘touching’ to learn that when such a busk was worn, this secret compartment would be pressed close to the wearer’s heart, and as if to draw attention to this point on our busk’s exterior side, at its head on the side that is convex there is a carved heart with two arrows piercing it. It was decorated by a young sailor and presented as a love token to a maid called Betsy Farewell before he finally set off to sea.
His parting couplet is inscribed upon the busk :-
‘Without regret you heard my last adieu
Nor felt for him who more than dies for you’
In sympathy its chipped areas have turned a silvery grey colour having filled with dust over the years.
These wondrous items of treen I find strangely intoxicating, never failing to stir my emotions especially in terms of how tactile they are. I can be restfully meditating at home when I find their naked form beckoning me to some shadowy sultry corner of our cottage and succumbing to their inanimate titillation I raise my arms and lift them from their solitary confinement, fondling, caressing and stroking them, the oils and perspiration of my skin only adding to their broody seductiveness – and of course the really marvelous thing about this relationship with bits of wood is – you know it’s not going to end up in the divorce courts!
There was a time when throughout the British Isles knitting was a way of life – a daily event and never more so than in the Yorkshire Dales where there was a fervent industry and where after dusk folk would gather together and have knitting parties. Here I quote from an article by W. Ruskin Butterfield from the Connoisseur January 1919.
“As soon as it becomes dark, and the usual business of the day is over, and the young children put to bed, they rake or put out the fire, take their cloaks and lanterns, and set out with their knitting, to the house of a neighbour where the ‘sitting’ falls in rotation, for it is a regularly circulating assembly from house to house through the neighbourhood.
The whole troup of neighbours being collected, they sit and knit, sing knitting songs, and tell knitting stories. Here all the old stories and traditions of the dale come up, and they often get so excited that they say: ‘Neighbours, we’ll not part tonight’ – that is – till after 12 o’clock. All the time their knitting goes on with unremitting speed. They sit rocking to and fro like so many weird wizards. They burn no candle, but knit by the light of a peat fire, and this rocking motion is connected with a mode of knitting peculiar to the place, called ‘swarving’.