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Sometimes, I find myself acquiring vintage textile objects that are not particularly attractive and possibly possess little in the way of craft merit. All the same, I can’t pass them up – vintage is not that common. One such item I have in my collection is an awkward and rather cumbersome cottage tea cosy.

This truly is the ugly duckling of my collection, and like that duckling, it has endearing qualities. The walls and chimney are constructed out of really thick, almost pelt-like, woolen fabric which looks kinda felted. The roof is textured upholstery fabric. The bottom is trimmed with woven wool and it’s lined inside with green polished cotton. It’s a sturdy little number and, I imagine, would do a very good job of keeping the tea pot insulated.

The front has a cute wee door at left and a picture window in the middle. The windows (there are three in total) are quite something – frilly lace around the inside, transparent plastic to stand in for glass and criss-cross cotton glazing bars. Cottage garden favourites hollyhocks and delphiniums grow up the wall. A large, almost bare tree growing next to the door curves around to the side wall.

Around the back, delphiniums are joined by sunflowers and other colourful blooms. No back door, just another picture window.

The fourth side is dominated by a slim, upright tree with yellow catkins dangling from its branches. Above the tree is a wee attic window – there should almost be a small face peaking out, though that would possibly be a little disturbing.

It’s far too chunky, the roof reminds me of a mushroom cap and the chimney sags alarmingly, but this cosy also has some very sweet features. I love the flowers and trees – in contrast to the clumsy attempt at grass and the dodgy glazing beads on the windows, some of these are very well done. The maker put a lot of time into this cosy. It’s an odd combination of amateurish and more accomplished work. I can’t help wondering whether more than one person made it. This ugly duckling won’t be turning into a swan anytime soon, but I’m still very fond of it.

Postscript

My fellow collector Fran McGowan has sent me a photo of her cottage tea cosy – it’s the knitted cousin to mine. The maker was very sensible and included a detachable lining, which must have made getting rid of tea stains much simpler.

Fran's cottage tea cosy

My aha moment was staring at the magnificent array of textiles from Rosemary McLeod’s collection at Lower Hutt’s Dowse Gallery.  Initial thoughts of dreary linen were quickly replaced by total entrancement in the exquisite detailing.  Raving later to my mother about these textile treasures, I was delighted when she gave me various family pieces.

The first example was embroidered by my maternal great-grandmother during the 1940s.  It was later displayed near my desk in the futile attempt to imbibe the cheery “Good Morning” message as a new workplace mantra.  While this thought didn’t last, there is still something special about holding a piece of linen that has been worked on by past generations.  I’m grateful to my maternal grandmother for retrieving this and other pieces that could have easily been thrown out.

The above tea cosy was embroidered by my paternal grandmother.  I remember her as a fantastic knitter but never knew about her other needlework talents.  She also did the tatting for these two 1940s doilies embroidered by my great-aunt.  Destined for the op shop, a random conversation about recent linen purchases lead to them being presented to me instead.  It makes me wonder what other textiles are lurking around in family cupboards!

The last piece is part of a tablecloth embroidered by my mother who for many years has rescued unfinished pieces dumped in op shop material bins.  Now completed, the tatting was done by an elderly neighbour who has since passed away.

 I’m very appreciative to all of these women who have created such lovely work and memories.

August 2017
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