Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maine Lake Culture: An Introduction by Beth

I never really knew there was such a thing as Maine lake culture until someone mentioned it to me about a decade ago now.  It's like a fish in water:  the fish has no idea that there is this thing, water, because it is so immersed in it, it doesn't see it as a separate thing.  So it was for me with "Maine lake culture."  From the time I was a toddler, I spent many summers at my grandparents' lake cottage, from here on referred to as "camp" in the Maine vernacular, and the way of life there just was how it was.  I had a sense of its peace and magic, but what I didn't know was that I was sharing in a culture, a tradition, a way of life that is unique yet recognized by others who have lived it also.  I know it is this way in Maine, and may be in other lake regions across the United States and the world.  For those unfamiliar with it, I will try to give a brief introduction, a sense of something that seems to be on my very DNA, and that I can only hope to articulate a little bit.

My grandparents' camp (remember, this is Maine-speak for "cottage") was on Policeman's Cove on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  It was, by traditional tale, the second oldest cottage on the lake, built either late 19th or early 20th century.  It was rustic, utterly beautiful in its primitiveness, with warm worn wooden walls bearing the hand scrawled names of those who came before us, with dates going far back in the century.  The stairs creaked as my grandparents ascended and descended; the phone on the party line hung on the wall in the stairwell.  There was a wood stove in the main living area that gave off an aroma I still associate with "camp smell."  When I started going there we did not have indoor plumbing, but rather used a two holer a little distance from the camp.  We bathed in the lake as well.  I have only the most shadowy memories of the outhouse, memories which include being pretty freaked out by the possibility of a spider or two crawling out of the "hole," because when I was still quite young my grandfather built an addition on to the camp with a fun new family room and a modern bathroom.

Where to begin with the sights and sounds of camp life.  Mornings were a treat for the senses.  I would awake to the sound of the lake lapping the shoreline, just a few yards from the front doorstep.  Often I would also hear my grandmother in the kitchen, the sound sometimes followed by the smell of frying donuts.  Usually the air was crisp at this time of day, and the coolness would flow through the sheer curtains in the bedroom windows.  Later in the day, as the lake became busier, there would be the sounds of motorboats and masses of kids swimming in the cove.  At evening, we heard bullfrogs in the cat in nine tails, people laughing over dinner in the surrounding camps, and the low hum of slower boats coming in from fishing.  We played board games and card games, my grandmother read us The Jungle Book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and other great stories.  We watched almost zero television, although my grandmother enjoyed Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in the daytime.  There simply were no computers or internet.  I swam, hiked the nearest hill with my grandmother to pick blueberries, ventured down the wooded trail to see the old "Elder Cemetery" near which earlier generations of a family had lived and farmed, their cellar hole then almost covered over with trees growing up from it.   I wondered who they were and how they lived, and my lifelong love of history and old dusty things began.  In 1987, on our way to honeymoon in Nova Scotia, my husband and I stayed there for a night even though my grandmother, by then widowed, had gone home to Pennsylvania for the winter.  In 1991 we took our first baby son there to splash on the beach, and so that a new generation of our family might have this incredible contact with what seemed like pure good.

There is so much more to tell, but fast forward to 1999.  I was 34 years old and living (grudgingly) in suburban New Jersey.  We were working on making a permanent move to Maine when I got the news that my grandmother had sold the camp out of the family.  I was crushed, but not as crushed as I would be just this past July when, on a run down the old camp road, I discovered to my absolute heartbreak that the current owners had demolished the antique cottage and were building new.  I stopped.  And I cried.  Right there on the property, for a very long time.  And then I walked back to my own camp on Little Sebago Lake, Sunset Haven.

We purchased Sunset Haven in 2005, having made the move to our primary home, the Parris House, in 2000.  We bought it because it was beautiful , antique, and rustic, much like my grandparents' camp, and we bought it because we wanted our four sons to know Maine lake culture, in all of its magic.  It was an added delight that it was on the same lake I grew up summering on, just one cove over on the eastern shore.  It benefits from the same spectacular sunsets I watched as a child.  The water laps the beach with the same soothing regularity that it always has and always will.  Happily, there are many more loons on Little Sebago than when I was a child, and their cries and songs can be heard all day and all night.  Many of the children and grandchildren of the people I knew of in the 1970s are still on the lake, and I have met new families and friends there as well.  Spider Island, to which I often rowed when I was 9 or 10 years old, is still within view from Sunset Haven, its sandbar jutting out for summer picnickers and swimmers to play on.  I never saw Little Sebago in the fall or winter when I was a child, but now I have the luxury of seeing the fall colors reflected on a still lake early in the morning, and the animal tracks in the snow in winter.  I get to see the lady slippers occasionally in the late spring, and see the loon babies on the backs of their mothers.

Sunset Haven has cable TV and high speed internet service.  We have simple yet modern kitchen appliances and central heating there.  We have two bathrooms!  But Sunset Haven is also about one hundred years old, and we make sure that its integrity as an old Maine camp is preserved and cherished.  What I have tried to illustrate in words, I will now show in some pictures.

Welcome to Sunset Haven...

Clockwise:  Lake side of camp with "sunset viewing deck,"  our long driveway in fall, driveway "welcome!" side of camp, our big tree thermometer to keep us apprised of the Maine weather.

Left to right:  We keep oil lamps in the camp, we only have vintage rotary phones, our antique lantern (electrified now) above the kitchen table, some found and meaningful objects, including a beeswax candle from my grandparents' camp.

We still read books, do puzzles, and play board games at Sunset Haven.

Sunset Haven's interior is vintage.  Someone long ago did a paint-by-number we've never had the heart to take down.

Breakfast on the deck is a treat.  If it's too cold it's better to cozy up in by the kitchen window.

Come on down to the water...sit a while on the dock or around the fire pit.

Maybe even get your toes in the water...or in the soft pine needles...

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Every Maine camp should have a boat house.  This is ours.  And we're real serious about that "No Smoking" thing even though the sign was already there when we arrived.

I hope this post has given you an impression of what Maine lake culture is about, although I have saved the most important aspect for last.   The magic of those Maine summers on Little Sebago would not have existed without the abundant and unconditional love my grandparents lavished on me.  Love is the foundation of Maine lake culture.  Families and friends come to the lake to relax, to play together, and to reconnect, in a peaceful, breathtakingly beautiful environment that reminds us of what really matters. Many, many times I have gone to the lake for solace in a crazy world, have felt the wind on my face, the cool water on my feet, and the spirits of my grandparents just over my shoulder.  These lakes are eternal, just as love is eternal, and this is the very heart of what we experience here.  

Collecting Vintage Cookbooks by Jen


When I was a preteen, I used to spend a lot of time at my granny's home in Dallas. 
She always got up at the crack of dawn to start her homemade biscuits. These were the kinda biscuits that had to rise twice. She had to put them in the warmest part of the house. In Texas without central air conditioning a warm spot was not hard to find. After a few hours of allowing the dough to rise and punching it back down again, she'd roll them out, cut round shapes with a glass and place them in a cast iron skillet for baking. No one could replicate her biscuits fresh and flaky, hot out of the oven.  Every morning whether she had company or not, there were fresh biscuits. Most afternoons, she started making her sour dough bread. She wouldn't even think of purchasing bread from the grocery no matter how convenient.  I was fascinated. She rarely used cookbooks but the ones she had were old and worn and dog-eared. I think this is why I've always had a love for vintage cookbooks. I didn't really start collecting them until about five years ago and every time I venture into an antique shop or stop at a neighborhood yard sale, I look for old and unusual cookbooks and pamphlets.  

Here's my collection. Hope you enjoy! 







These are some of the most special in my collection..  Teena in the Kitchen was my mother's as a teenager. The scrapbook of recipes belonged to my great grandmother Buck and the book atop the scale was written by my great grandmother from East Texas.  It's a collection of childhood stories, folklore, poetry and her favorite recipes.  I have two binders with my own favorite recipes that I hope to one day pass along to those who will cherish them as much as I do these. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cindy's Powerball Kidney...An Opportunity to Assist One of Our Own

Many of you have enjoyed seeing Maine hooker Cindy Mitchell's gorgeous work both in our newsletter and on our social media pages.  Cindy has been diagnosed with a very rare kidney disease and is required to have dialysis several times a week.  She is on the list for a kidney transplant as well.  This illness is very expensive for Cindy and her family, and this dynamic, talented, and giving person could use a hand.  We think of hooking artists as a family, and we hope that some of you may feel moved to contribute to Cindy's fund.  Thank you in advance for anything you are able to give.  

For more information on how the funds will be used, and to possibly contribute, please see Cindy's web page at Giveforward by clicking here:  Cindy's Powerball Kidney.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Very Special Rug Story, Dedicated to Liz and Her Family

 One of the most challenging things Jen and I do in our work is take on custom projects for our customers.  They are challenging because we are always so hopeful that the work of our hands matches the vision in our customers' minds and hearts when all is said and done.  We recently had the opportunity to create a rug from the artwork of a very wonderful young woman, Elizabeth, who passed away from this earth last year.  This is the most meaningful work we have yet had the privilege to do in our new company, and we are so grateful to Elizabeth's aunt, Jeanine, for approaching us and entrusting us with this project.  I would like to tell the story of this rug's development here, but more importantly, at the end to include Elizabeth's story as it relates to the rug as told by her family through one of her sisters, Nicole.

Last fall I received an Etsy message from Jeanine asking if I could make a rug using the following images:

I had made a rug for Jeanine in the past, our "Tesla's First Snow" pattern, and enjoyed working with her so much.  Also, upon seeing this beautiful, colorful, and seemingly whimsical work, I immediately wanted to do the project.  Jeanine explained that the original sketch was by her niece, Elizabeth, and when I expressed my delight in Elizabeth's talent, she told me some of the story behind the art.  The color interpretation of the sketch was done by artist Jessica Breedlove, who kindly gave her permission for us to use it as the color planning basis of the rug.  Jessica's web page is:

Jeanine asked that the rug be 2' x 3.'  In order to create a pattern for it in that size, I emailed the images to Jen's husband, Dan Rosenburg, who was able to enlarge the image and put it on to a 2' x 3' paper for me.  Dan mailed that from Tennessee to Maine for me to work with.  Dan sent a pencil sketch with a lot of detail in it, so that I could overdraw it in marker to include whatever detail level I thought it might be possible and desirable to hook.  Here it is after I overdrew the sketch.

The next step was to get it on to the linen.  I thought I was going to have to use red dot transfer fabric for this process, but as it turned out, I was able to see the pattern well enough through the unbleached primitive linen that we use as our backing.  

The story of the rug's creation is pretty straightforward from there, although most of the wool, probably 95% of what was used, I hand dyed specifically for this rug.  Much of the color variation you see in the completed piece is due to hand dyed mottling in the fat quarters that I used.  The trees, for example, were hooked with a couple of very mottled greens.  I hooked it mostly in a size 6, although the Forget-Me-Nots and details on the cathedral dome had to be hooked smaller.   The rug is simply bound in blue twill binding tape, and labeled as shown below to credit Liz with the design.  Here are some in-progress photos, which I was texting to Dan and Jen throughout the process for their valuable input and guidance.  

Here is the rug completed in a photo Jeanine asked me to take of myself with it in the Maine studio.

Infinitely more importantly, here is a photo of Elizabeth's family with the rug in their home at Christmas time.

Most importantly, here are some photos of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth at a spaghetti dinner fundraiser.

Elizabeth and her beautiful sisters.
I want to end this blog post with what matters most, the story of how Elizabeth herself came up with this design and what each of the elements meant to her.  It is very moving, and it is impossible for me to read it, even now, without some tears.  Having lost a sibling young myself, I feel so much for this family, including with the sadness, I want to say, the joy of simply having had a beautiful soul like this among them even for  much too short a time.  We don't forget, and we don't stop missing our loved ones, but I think I can confidently say they are with us - integral to who we are - forever.  This is Liz's sister Nicole's essay on the meaning behind Liz's art, on behalf of the entire family:

"My family cannot even begin to explain how grateful we are for the beautiful rug that was created to pay homage to my sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare cancer, Rhabdomyosarcoma Alvealor, in November of 2012. She fought long and hard with multiple, major surgeries, chemotherapies, and radiation treatments. Elizabeth ended her battle with cancer August 16, 2014, a month and one day after her twenty-first birthday.

The rug we received for Christmas, a lovely gift from our father’s family, is an original design that Elizabeth drew. Elizabeth was treated at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, where she was introduced to art therapy. She participated in a program called: “Art 2 Canvas” in which she sketched an image, met with an artist, and had it her vision come to life on canvas. That vision is the one displayed on the rug.

Elizabeth’s drawing has a lot of symbolism and meaning: it truly paints a picture of her life. I wanted to share her drawing with you:

The Elephant- represents a 9 year old girl that truly helped and mentored Elizabeth during her time at Children’s Hospital. Kylah, although tiny, was extremely strong, filled with power, and wise beyond her years, much like an elephant.

The Cathedral Top- represents the University of Dayton where Elizabeth was studying. Elizabeth loved her school and will forever remain a Dayton Flyer.

The ground- represents a rugby field. Elizabeth joined the University of Dayton rugby team her freshman year of college and absolutely loved the sport.

The Forget-me-nots- represents the flower of her fraternity AphiO. This service fraternity became a huge part of Elizabeth’s life and she truly embraced their motto: “Be a Leader, Be a Friend, Be of Service”.

The Birds- each bird represents a special person in Elizabeth’s life whom passed before her.
The Oak Trees- represents her three sisters. Each tree has an initial sketched into the leaves N for Nicole, R for Rachel, and C for Christina.

The Blue Heart (the elephant’s eye)- represents her parents. The blue heart is a symbol of their unending love and support throughout her journey with cancer. "

I want to thank Elizabeth's family for offering us permission to share this story on-line with our friends and customers.  They are brave and generous in this, and we are very grateful.  Wishing everyone a wonderful day, and happy hooking.  - Beth

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sarah Ann Marven 1830s Sampler in Memory of Her Mother

Hi.  It's Jen.  I'm so excited because I just bought my first antique sampler!  
This was dear to my heart because I lost my mother to breast cancer on January 5th of this year. 
I knew I was meant to own it. 
It dates from about the 1830s and has some damage but overall it's still quite extraordinary. 
It was stitched by a child named Sarah Ann Marven.

The verse:
My Mother
She being dead yet speaketh
What say the happy dead
She bids me bear my load
With silent steps proceed
And follow her to God
Till life's uneasy dream
In rapture shall depart 
She bids me give like her
To Christ my youthful heart

And here is the full sampler!
I adore it and hope to make a reproduction cross stitch sampler kit for sale in our shop
I hope this has touched your heart as it does mine :)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Save the Whale! A Restoration Project

Every once in a while we get a request for a special project or custom design.  Each time this happens, we are presented with new challenges, but always rewarding experiences.  This time was no different.

I received an email from a customer who asked if I could possibly finish and restore this hooked rug her grandmother had started working on decades before:

As you can see, the pattern was a vintage Lib Callaway design called "Cape Whale" and was thumb tacked to a wooden frame.  Her grandmother's careful hooking was evident, and I took a deep breath and replied, "Yes."  My next contact was with Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking, who has been my teacher and mentor in this craft, to see if she had any words of wisdom as I proceeded.

I expressed my concern that the original burlap of this pattern was becoming a quite brittle and deteriorated.  Connie suggested that I put a new linen backing on to the piece and then finish the hooking by hooking through both layers.  I carefully safety pinned the linen on to the back and proceeded to hook as suggested, being careful to keep the layers flat to one another as best I could.  This is what it started to look like as I hooked through the layers, around the existing work of the original artisan.  It was important to me not to undo anything that she had done.

At about this point in the hooking, I realized that the wool that had come to me with the original kit for the sky was going to be seriously short.  This required that I take a break and carefully hand dye some new wool to match and blend with the existing colors.  Here is where I was when I stopped to dye some more:

You'll note that I hooked the sky in horizontal rows, which is akin to a style I've seen used in the Canadian Maritimes.  It's not my usual style to hook this way, but the original hooker had started her sky in this manner and it was my goal to hook this piece in such a way that my loops and style would look like hers.

I feel as though I did a pretty good job of getting a seamless blend with the new wool, and when the hooking was complete, it looked like this, front and back (this being prior to steaming):

The back of this piece shows clearly the areas that I hooked.  Anything missing from this view was already hooked by the original artisan.  Now it was time to steam and serge the edges.  This is normally a pretty basic affair, but in this case I was trying to preserve the original pattern markings and tags.  I could not save them on the piece itself - they had to be cut off for binding - but I knew that I could at least save the pieces as a record of the age and origin of this design.  This required pretty careful serging, especially in the lower right corner where the "Lib Callaway" mark came pretty close to the hooking.  Here is the serged piece.  The serging process, in this case, also served to sew the original burlap to the new linen backing at the edges.

I chose to use tape binding for this rug, as I think that is a classic and traditional treatment for a vintage rug.  I used a matching blue.  This photo shows the binding stitched in place, but not yet pressed.

Now it was a matter of dealing with the original pieces I sought to preserve, and also adding a label to the back.  I had originally considered sewing the original pattern markings on to the back, but their relatively fragile condition made me hesitate.  I consulted with Bruce Little of the Frost Farm Gallery in Norway, Maine, who provided an archival plastic envelope to hold the old pattern markings:

I also chose not to put one of our usual embroidered Parris House Wool Works labels on to the back of this rug.  I felt that that would not be appropriate given that it is not our design, nor were we the original artisans working on this piece.  Instead, I chose an old fashioned, hand written muslin label and hand stitched it on:

This is the finished result.  It will be a Christmas gift from my customer to her grandmother, and I can't wait to hear about how it is received!

I hope this post has given you some ideas on how you might similarly restore some partially finished heirloom of your own family's.  Best wishes and happy hooking! - Beth