Friday, February 7, 2014

The Tailor and Ansty, Blue Bags and a little Colour Theory

A book has been following me around for the past month or so. It began with a simple conversation with my mum over Christmas, about a possible workshop I might be doing in the Gougane Barra in Cork. (Will tell more soon!!). She told me a story about a trip she did, years ago, to see a play The Tailor and Ansty. There ensued an amazing conversation (with step-dad and friend joining in) about the Tailor and Ansty and a bag of blue.

The Tailor and Ansty is a book by Eric Cross, a work on non-fiction about a couple, The Tailor and his wife Ansty, a beautiful old couple who lived in the Gougan Barra in the 1940's. The book, when it was published, was scandalous (apparently). It caused outrage, was banned by the censure board, talked about for two whole days in the Dail (Irish government). Worse still, The Tailor and Ansty, themselves, were vilified, ostracized by their community. One priest called to the house, and made Tailor get on his knees and burn his copy of the book, in his own fireplace.  Its has a  fascinating history and I recommended wholeheartedly, you go out and buy the book! Woefully un-scandalous to say the least, just a lovely piece of prose about a lovely elderly Irish couple. I was amazed I that I both hadn't read the book, but that I hadn't even heard of it! A book that is, definitely, my cup of tea

So, why is this book following me around? The folks repeated a catch phrase of The Tailor, "The World is just a blue bag, knock a squeeze out of it when you can". Of course I said, What is a blue bag? Oh, the stories I heard then, of mothers and grannies washing the net curtains, the nappy cloths (no Pampers in those days), the tablecloths... I was very curious about this blue bag, how can a blue bag make whites white? Visiting friends over the Christmas holidays, who live near enough to the Gougane Barra, I got to hear more about The Tailor and Ansty, and the local lore about the book and the couple.

On visiting another friend a week later, walking in the front door, there was a copy of The Tailor and Ansty, she has just started reading it! If that's not following me around, I don't know what is. I hope to go back to the Gougane Barra soon, and I will take some photos and edit this post to include them. It is the most wonderful place.

So, the textile connection, (there has to be one). The Tailor, as he was commonly known, was an actual Tailor. A retired tailor, with tools lying idle in the other room, there is lovely little references throughout the book of him mending, replacing buttons, and talking about the processes of spinning and weaving, the bawneens and fabrics of old.
But I was caught by his catch phrase  "The World is just a blue bag, knock a squeeze out of it when you can". I was determined to find out more about the mysterious blue bag. I much prefer genuine websites by people with a real interest then robotic Wikipedia, and I luckily came across a great website a history of domestic paraphernalia. (Bookmarked for future reference!!)

Here is what the had to say about Laundry Blue:
"Before we had modern laundry detergents with optical brighteners, there was a mysterious little blue bag which was stirred around in the final rinse water on washday. This was laundry bluing or blue. A factory-produced block was the "modern" (mid-19th century onwards), commercial version of older recipes for whitening clothes, with names like stone blue, fig blue, or thumb blue. It disguised any hint of yellow and helped the household linen look whiter than white". 

So, how does it work? Well, for this I went to Wikipedia:
"White fabrics acquire a slight color cast after use (usually grey or yellow). Since blue and yellow are complementary colors in the subtractive color model of color perception, adding a trace of blue color to the slightly off-white color of these fabrics makes them appear whiter. Laundry detergents may also use fluorescing agents to similar effect. Many white fabrics are blued during manufacturing. Bluing is not permanent and rinses out over time leaving dingy or yellowed whites. A commercial bluing product allows the consumer to add the bluing back into the fabric to restore whiteness".

Very interesting! In signwriting, you add a hint of black into white before using, to bring up the white on signs. I never thought of it applying to fabric! I am very interested in colour theory, and the practical applications, but I haven't delved into it for a while. I must dig out my colour theory books again for a read.

I'd nearly forgotten why I started this post. I was just going to show you something I made for my mothers birthday. My mums birthday is mid-January, and its hard to think of something o get, when you had the same trouble at Christmas. So, I decided to get her a copy of The Tailor and Ansty, her own being lost many years ago, (hence, me having not read it before). I found 2 secondhand copies, different editions, one for us both. Then with all my research into bluing, I had look to see if it was still available. Low and behold, there it was, in the Carbolic Soap Companies website. A lovely English company that sells retro soap, and real washboards.

The book and the soap wasn't enough, I had to make a blue bag to put them in. I embroidered The Tailors favourite saying onto it, packed them off up and sent them to the mother. She got a laugh anyway. And thus is my epic tail of a book that followed me around for a month and reminded me of my love of colour theory.

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