Renaissance Handworks

When a friend of mine said she was plannning to start a blog about her beautiful creations, I immediately asked her to write an article for me. Paula makes exquisite, handstitched historical costumes, think costume drama, Elizabethan gowns, Renaissance garments embroidered with pearls, just as you imagine ladies in the Royal Courts of byone days wearing. If you are at all interested in history, you will love Paula’s work.

This is what Paula said.

My passion was awakened at the age of six when my Grandma gave me a children’s Singer sewing machine. It was basic, with only a chain stitch, but this was how I created clothes for my dolls. I was also intrigued whenever I saw Tudor portraits and people wearing sumptuously highly decorated materials that twinkled with gold embroidery entwined around precious jewels and pearls. paula6

Tudor reproduction, Buckland

Little did I realise that this ‘magpie’ instinct would lead me to other things later in my life! As a child my greatest joys were the sewing lessons at a convent school. The hours of tedious theory and early lessons in practical applications have stood me in good stead and became the building blocks for this lifelong passion. Quickly these lessons developed a pattern. I would carefully cut out my project and prepare the ground work with tailor’s tacks before going home. By the time I returned to class a week later, the garment would be complete and my teacher would try hard to find fault but never did! My exam results were always in the high 90s. To some this might sound big headed but to me it was a natural process like breathing. As a teenager I was always making my own clothes, this then continued when I married and had children of my own. At one point I even worked in Quality Control in a busy factory manufacturing shirts. All these added to my knowledge of construction.

Like many I have dabbled in various forms of needlework apart from making clothes. For many years I created cross stitch pictures, some took months to complete but it was a great way to learn patience. Then twenty years ago I decided to take my City & Guilds in Creative Studies. At the same time I became a re-enactor in a large 17th century based society called the Sealed Knot. This was heaven for me; finally I found a way to marry together my keen interests in textiles with historically based garments. The C&G gave me the much needed inspiration to research, experiment and improve my needlework skills. Quite early into the C&G studies I decided not to make samples that sit in a box under the bed, if I was going to make things, I also wanted to use them! paula3

This is my reproduction of a 17th century coif panel in progress.

Research, research, research became my mantra. I couldn’t get enough of it. I toured museums in Scotland and England to feed the frenzy of more knowledge. Books, postcards, photographs and notes quickly filled and previous voids in the house! Creation of costumes was another aspect. Modern dressmaking techniques just didn’t produce the correct finished lines so I adapted and realised that this was more like engineering construction as opposed to the more usual dressmaking techniques.

I revelled in the museum visits; the hours spent practicing my new embroidery skills and even relished the research/design processes. Members within the Sealed Knot began noticing the outfits I was making for myself and the family. These differed greatly from the usual costumes that the members saw at the weekly musters and often I would be approached by others to see how I had constructed my garments. Frequently I would receive comments like ‘You look like you’ve walked out of a Vermeer painting’ or ‘How come we can’t get ours to look that good?’ but the best remark was ‘This is how we should be looking!’ You just can’t get better compliments than those from your peers.

A chance request from a local Embroiderer’s Guild to do a talk gave me another avenue to explore. It was then that I went out doing just that, speaking to groups and finally exhibiting at Sulgrave Manor alongside other known embroiderer’s and costume makers. One of the strangest was to address a group of metal detectorists but they gained an insight as to how buttons (that they frequently found) were made and how they were utilised on an historical doublet.

An example from Buckland Abbey
An example from Buckland Abbey

So what now? Life, like for most people got in my way. I had to turn my back on this enjoyable aspect of my life to earn a living but more recently, to gain an honours degree. I am now ready to take up my needle again. Life has thrown another curveball in my direction and the need to develop another way to earn my living. Yet again, I am planning to pick up where I left off but this time with even more appreciation of the history and skills my forebears put into their textile creations. My interests have now widened to encapsulate different historical periods. Already my brain is leaping somersaults and I can visualise medieval motifs aping the exquisite illuminated manuscripts that were a sign of conspicuous wealth. The Viking Age is another aspect that I would love to indulge in. Mythical beasts sinuously curving around golden stitches and intricate Celtic knot patterns seem to fill my imagination.

I am looking forward to 2014 and being able to start in a new direction. My acquired skills from a lifetime of sewing, my C&G and degree studies are now enthusing me to start researching again. I have taken up knitting too as perhaps my eyes and hands are no longer up to more intricate works that previously I could spend hours working at. Until I try I won’t know what I am capable of, but one thing is sure, I will fully enjoy whatever way my future interests will take me!

Paula Kelly BA (Hons).

I  hope that you will all pop over to Paula’s new blog. If you follow her it will be interesting to see her blog develop and her work evolve , a real treat for the history buffs amongst you . She can be found at

Meanwhile here are a couple more photos, including a recently knitted family heirloom, click for a slide show.

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Lazy Poets Thursday Tanka

My Dartmoor series continues with some contented locals.


 Shelter beside rocks

grazing in peace without fear

Scotch black-faced ram sheep

shaggy fleece hangs soft and pale

soon they’ll fetch you for the shear.

The lazy poet is as much about words as photography, hence the image is small. You can click to see a larger version if you want. 🙂

Buckland’s Small Treasures

As you know I was captivated by Buckland Abbey. It isn’t the most grand of National Trust houses but for me it is an interesting one, packed with history and little surprises. Here are a few of the things I enjoyed.
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I know, it’s just a chair leg, but imagine all the ankles that have brushed against it.

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Time flies indeed.

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I loved the little incense boat.

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A 17th century sea chest.
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Elegant porcelain.

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A model of the Golden Hind.

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This chess set has Lord Burghley as King, Queen Elizabeth as Queen and Sir Francis Drake as the Knight. Each of the Pawns is a miniature Golden Hind.

Jakes Sunday Post: Concept

Jake says ‘CONCEPT – something thought or imagined: something that somebody has thought up, or that somebody might be able to imagine, Broad principle affecting perception and behavior: a broad abstract idea or a guiding general principle, one that determines how a person or culture behaves, or how nature, reality, or events are perceived the concept of time Understanding or grasp: the most basic understanding of something has little concept of what is involved, Way of doing or perceiving something: a method, plan, or type of product or design.

So the challenge week is to come up with an interpretation of this – difficult eh? If I had known yesterday how useful these photos would be I would have tried harder, taken more time and well – shoved people out of the way 🙂 Anyway I hope you get the gist.

2012 Dec 08_2241Isaac Merrit Singer’s prototype for a sewing machine.

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A beautiful early model

2012 Dec 08_2232Isn’t this lovely?

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2012 Dec 08_2250I think this is my favourite. I learn to sew on a very old treadle machine when I was a small girl.  What an incredible concept from My Singer and how different the world would be without sewing machines.

For more  concepts visit





Dartmoor Ponies

I was up on Scorhill yesterday, a beautiful blue sky day and there were quite a few ponies around. I’m sure I photographed this grey mare in 2010, she hangs around the same spot.   As well as this years foal, last years was still close by and I managed to snap them as she herded them away. I had the zoom lens on so I wasn’t too close.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Faces

I’ve decided to post some animals I’ve met in various places for this weeks photo challenge, hope you like them!

She was the ‘beauty queen’ at a camel sanctuary.

Closer to home, in the New Forest, Hampshire UK.

A baby at Kuala Gandah orphanage.

Mole national park, funky beastie!

I’ll never like them but I suppose they’ve earned their place on this planet, Paga, where they are seen as sacred.

If you want your children’s children to be able to see me please don’t destroy any more of my habitat.


On foot with elephants

I missed the elephant in the swimming pool by one week – in Mole national park, northern Ghana. It had strolled up the hill for a chlorinated swim by way of a change. But it was okay because I got closer to them than I was comfortable with, in a jeep, with my friend and two rangers. One of these guys was smaller than we were, and I am sure that an angry elephant would have been no more frightened of him, than of one of the baboons that were as populous as sparrows in my garden. The second warden came complete with a safari suit and a rifle. Or maybe a replica rifle. I don’t think I’ve ever been very close to a real gun, but it didn’t look like it could shoot a bullet big enough to even graze the hide of these healthy, well fed  pachyderms. I could only hope that the plan would be to scare them away with a little bang.

We were bullied, no ahem, persuaded into exiting the jeep, which was tied together with string anyway, to take photos of each other with three of the giants in the background.

‘We need to drive around that way, a bit closer’ said small warden without safari suit.

‘Closer, why closer?’ ‘I don’t want to get any closer thanks’. We were perhaps thirty feet away.

‘Please, speak in whispers and if they smell us they may charge, we have to be behind the wind’ he said. Now, I hadn’t felt any wind, it was as hot as well …Africa, as still as a graveyard before a thunderstorm, and my adrenaline was telling me to run back to the jeep pdq. These guys are probably used to re-assuring wussy travellers who like the idea of a gentle stroll, to see some cute wildlife just like Attenborough, but then turn chicken in the end.

‘Don’t you want to show your friends how close you were to elephants?’

No actually I want to throw up but I suppose that would be too noisy.

‘Okay, I guess I probably should do this.’ They led us closer and I snapped the two of them with my friend. Then I realised that I had to turn MY back on them, no more than twenty feet away. Needless to say my face tells all in that photo. I’m glad I did it; I still love elephants – from a distance!

We only stayed in Mole for two nights. It was a brilliant experience, a lot more rugged than a safari I did in Botswana a few years earlier, where the lodge was the height of luxury. In Mole, the water and electricity in our chalet was only on for a couple of hours a day and there were creepy crawly things that I’d rather forget. The atmosphere was great though and the view was about as good as it gets. Just before sunset herds of elephants of all sizes come to bathe in the waterhole down below the veranda. A much more relaxed way to see them!