Happy May Day, Beltane or what you will!
For today’s Endeavourers Reveal, we were asked to make an art quilt on the theme: ‘a scene from a book’. As someone who spent best part of their childhood in one book or another and a deal of adult life as well, my real challenge was which book to choose. So many books! So many scenes! And the surprise, the joy of opening a new volume and discovering something entirely new and unexpected inside.
I wanted to capture something of the spirit of that, and, after much pondering of the logistics I found the book (or I should say ‘books’) I was searching for on a shelf.
It used to belong to my mother-in-law and, for many years, housed a bridge set (with two pack of cards, pencils and a score pad) but, serendipitously, it provided me with a very simply solution to my quest to make a little quilt for this quarter’s them that would be a scene actually inside a book.
Of all the days of the year, to me, May Day is the most magical. The very edge between Spring and Summer when the hedgerows are at there most glorious, the world is bursting into leaf and the air is a chorus of bleating lambs and birdsong so (after very much pondering and procrastination) I chose a book set in a village not far away from where I live in East Susses, England, which captures the magicalness ordinary life in our beautiful countryside.
The book I chose is called ‘Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep’. It was written by Eleanor Farjeon and the illustrations are by Charlotte Voake. I first discovered this book when my youngest daughter was six years old and if you know a little girl who is five or six, I can recommend no better gift than this book together with a skipping rope :)
To cut a fairly long story very short and give you the bones of it – which is no way intended as a substitute for reading the real thing – Elsie Piddock lived in Glynde under Caburn. Lots of other girls lived there too, and when she was very tiny, she would hear them skipping outside after school.
“They lived mostly on bread-and-butter, because their mothers were too poor to buy cake.” And this is the rhyme they sang as they skipped. I printed it onto fabric but, unfortunately, it didn’t fit onto my quilt!
When Elsie was three years old she begged for a skipping rope but her mother said she must “Bide a bit til you’re a bigger girl, then you shall have one.” But then her parents heard her skipping in the night with her father’s braces so he made her a baby rope from a cord and she was ‘a born skipper’ and ‘skipped like never so’.
By the time she was seven years old, even the fairies, who skip in the new moon on Mount Caburn, had heard of her.
One night their skipping master, Andy Spandy, sent for her and she went skipping up the hill in her sleep.
After that, for one year, Elsie Piddock went once a month at new moon to Andy Spandy and he taught her all the fairy skipping steps. Then he had taught her all and, as a prize, he licked the handles of her rope and when he gave it back one was made of Sugur Candy and the other of French Almond Rock and he told her, “Though you suck them never so, they will never grow less” and for so long so she was small enough to skip with her baby rope she could skip all the steps he had taught. After that, she could no longer skip the fairy steps but she still skipped better than any mortal.
And it was Elsie Piddock who began the custom of skipping in the new moon on Mount Caburn, which continued on and on even after Elsie herself had grown up and put by her rope and moved to another village and the stories of her her skipping had become legend…
After a long time, when nobody remembered how the custom had started, another little girl was heard sobbing on Mount Caburn and voice ‘that might have been the voice of a withered leaf’ asked what the matter was.
A new Lord, who had grown rich in trade, had bought the estate. He had raised rents and stolen common rights and had plans drawn up to enclose the top of Caburn so the villagers must always walk the long way round and the little girl was sobbing because there would be no more skipping in the new moon.
The withered voice told her “They are to go to the Lord and tell him he shall have his way and build on Caburn, if he will first take down the fence and let all have ever skipped there skip once again by turns, at the new moon. All, mind you…”
And the papers were drawn up and on the night of the new moon everyone went to the top of Mount Caburn and the skipping began. First the toddlers, the young girls, their mothers, their grandmothers…
And when, at last, it all seemed to be over, the Lord shouted, “Done!”
“No, if you please,” said a gentle withered voice, “it is my turn now.”
It was Elsie Piddock, very old and shrunken small enough to skip again with her baby rope, which had allowed her to suck sweet all her life – even when times were so hard there was not even butter to go with bread, let alone cake. She skipped on and on, skipping all the fairy skips that Andy Spandy had taught her.
All the fairy skips except the last skip. And she has never stopped skipping there since.
When I came to make my quilt, the size of the book/box was a challenge so I began with making Elsie, who is 3 1/2″ high. You can see the steps of her making in The Smallest Doll.
For the background I used a scrap of an old silk skirt (also used for the border of my last Endeavourers quilt) and added some simple hand quilting, the moon and the stars using sewing sewing thread. Then I knitted the grass and stuffed it lightly to make the scene a bit more three dimensional.
Andy, Spandy – the fairies’ skipping master is appliqued and embellished with stitching. Truth be told, I had grander plans but being never home alone and without endless interruption makes it quite hard to get properly immersed in a project!
I hope you enjoyed the story and will look out this lovely book because neither my summary nor quilt go an inch towards conveying the charm of the original.
And, in the meantime, I hope you will pop over to The Endeavourers Blog and visit my fellow Endeavourers, whose quilts are always guaranteed to delight and surprise :)
Janine @ Rainbow Hare