Woollens in the Wash (blanket, or doona/duvet?)


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Every year, depending on the weather, I haul the woollen blankets off all the beds, wash the grubby ones, and store them until the cold weather returns. I dig up the cotton cellular blankets for summer. I think last season I didn’t take the woollies off the beds, the summer was so mild.

This year, I ended up with piles of blankets that were all really dusty so I took them to the laundromat. 4 loads, at $6 per load. Done in 22 minutes. Hanging in the not-too-bright sun to kill off all the remaining dust mites.image

they smell fine…so fine.

I read today an article about the blankets v. doona (or ‘duvet’, depending on where you’re from) debate. Apparently (so says the BBC) the royal bedrooms are to move from blankets to doonas. [The article also had a really specky image of a brown bedroom and an astute house-husband 'making the bed' by hoisting the doona into the air as his 'wife' sits at the dresser painting her nails. *snort*]

So why not a doona? Everyone uses them. I used to, as well. I guess I’ve dictated the change in my household because of a personal preference… is that a case of weilding power over the #littlethings ??! I dont know. Doonas cook me. When I used them in my twenties I would stick my feet out to cool down. Now, if I’m in a hotel room (with their ubiquitious doonas), I end up sticking nearly my whole body out to cool down, with a corner of said doona over my kidneys. It’s not perfect.

Every now and again I put doonas on my kids’ bed in lovely doona covers. They complain about being too hot and bad dreams. So blankets.

Truthfully, though, I’m not really sure why I prefer blankets. I’ve tried the light-weight doonas; they’re too-hot too. It’s highly possible I could find a doona that suits. But that would mean buying it. And I have all these beautiful blankets! and they all have history…


Retsol Rug, here for a link to historic info


Some people might be freaked out by the thought that several bodies have rested, coughed, sweated, slept, cried, died, made love, dreamed – under the very blanket they do the same under. I’m not worried about that – in fact it has a kind of settling effect, a comforting illusion of human permanency.



‘Blanket’ is a verb as well as a noun…



My old dog went through a phase of naughtily jumping onto beds while no one was home. In making his guiltily selected spot more comfortable (or to annoy me and provoke attention whether negative or otherwise) he would scratch at the made bed to bring together several folds for comfort. Unfortunately, this resulted in his tearing of several blankets, over several occasions. So I darned them, with woollen yarn. Not invisible stitches of beauty, by any means. But serviceable.



As a result, most of the blankets have great ungainly stiches in places. Mostly, these are colour-coordinated…

I think the most enjoyable aspect of a blanket is in the underlying textiles technology. Such a clever and simple invention – but a dying manufacturing industry in Australia. I’ve visited the Creswick Woollen Mills, which still manufactures blankets (the Waverley Woollen Mill is the oldest, still-operating mill in Australia). The big looms only operate spasmodically…the blankets made per week there would barely cover a sheep’s back. Compared to a woollen doona, the technology required is much more complex to create a blanket. I dont know much about an industrial loom, or an industrial spinning mill – but I think that there a lot of rapidly moving parts in them there machines… It makes me think of pre-industrial revolution times, and how intensive human labour instead created the blankets to sleep under. Clever humans.


Federal Woollen Mills, Geelong. Now real estate for boutique businesses…once the mill was busy enough to have ITS OWN WOMEN’S CRICKET TEAM… wow. Check it out here

So anyway, I now have a stack of clean blankets, ready to fold away into blanket boxes, along with a natural moth deterrent that I found here, because mothballs are bad, bad, bad. That smell NEVER goes away, and it basically kills the critters because the solid naphthalene is constantly creating a poisonous gas. ugh. double ugh. Instead, I’ve chopped a heap of the lemon scented geranium and it’s hanging upside down, drying, after which I’ll bag it into pillow cases to put in the blanket boxes. Nice.

James Dixon & Sons Pewter Teapot souvenir from Princeton, NJ

IMG_1049It turns out that this little teapot, $15, from a thriftshop in Princeton, is quite a find. Not that it makes it any more valuable, really, – except perhaps it makes me wonder even more about its origin and the tables that it has been at and the conversations it has heard. If a pewter teapot could hear, that is.

The stamp on the bottom says ‘James Dixon & Sons’ (the surname of which holds interesting and enjoyable memories for me by itself) and has a couple of numbers stamped above and below. The  whole teapot is rather battered, and appears repaired with thick welds. The handle is made of wood of some kind. There’s a mother of pearl flower as the knob, with a couple of yards of cotton string wound along the knob pin; presumably to keep the knob from rattling around. Inside, on a piece of card, is written in old school cursive (from about my dad’s vintage, say, mid 1940s) “antique pewter tea pot (from Fronee’s)“. Curious.

A little internet digging produces this site which shows the various marks according to the company’s manufacturing history. Apparently, the mark of my teapot suggests a date between 1835 and 1851. Before 1831, there was only one son. In fact, James Dixon had his second son in 1838. [Is it my imagination, or does it look like the 's' in 'sons' on my teapot has been stamped separately?] At this time also, trade with the United States was booming, during which the pewter and other metal household ware was termed ‘Britannia Metal’. However, after 1851 the place of manufacture was added into the stamp (‘Sheffield’ [England]) and trade to the US was severely restricted by the war in 1861. James Dixon died in 1852, and a few years later (1864) a massive dam broke in Sheffield, killing over 200 and damaging the factory. Later, James Dixon Jnr decided to revive an earlier stamp of a trumpet, used on wares from 1879 onwards – some of these were of electro plated metal, called British Plate. Toward the end of the century, the company became a partnership and continued to expand up until the Great War. W Milo Dixon continued the business from 1941 onwards.


So then I start to wonder about the design and the surface details. Do these themselves really typify the patterns and decorations of the mid 1800s? Can it be that old? And is it genuine? A little more digging reveals that a company in Massachusetts was copying Dixon ware – at least their coffee pots, anyway (Reed & Barton). Even more delightful is the idea that this teapot might have been catalogued by a Princeton alumni, Led Loughlin, class of 1912, who wrote a ‘handsomely bound and illustrated with 80 full color plates’ volume called “Pewter in America: Its Makers and Their Marks” which is “far from being dull…[it] gives a vivid picture of colonial life, and the economic, social, financial, and even the marital problems…” Alas – unlikely. But an enjoyable thought nonetheless.

I wonder for a while about whether to use it, to make tea. I wonder – are those welds lead? Would it be safe, given the leaching properties of the acidic tannins? Because…it appears so …useful. It would be a shame if it just gathered dust, wouldn’t it? What first drew me to it in the first place was its similarity to the old, endlessly practical, aluminum teapots used by mothers’ clubs and Sunday School kitchens in Australia. Holding more than twenty teacups’ worth, these were wielded by those who (like my grandmother and nanna) preferred their tea strong and as hot as possible. My Princeton teapot seemed to have that same practicality, as if it could serve the tea that soothes the kind of hiccups that come after crying a lot, or not crying enough.

Funnily, even George Orwell was inclined to agree about this kind of teapot, although begrudgingly. According to brainpickings.org, Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “A Nice Cup of Tea” that as one of his eleven [11] ‘golden rules’ of making said cup, the teapot should be made of china or earthenware. However, while Silver or Britannia ware teapots produce worse tea than army tea (made in a cauldron, and tasting of grease and whitewash), Orwell makes the concession that tea made in a pewter teapot (“a rarity nowadays”) is ‘not so bad’.

So- how much lead is in the pewter? Later Britannia metal pewter didn’t have lead – it seemed to change mid 1800s. The pewter with lead has a bluish tint, and the welds in the base of my souvenir teapot do look bluish…

And other questions remain. Who was Fronee? Why did he/she have this pewter teapot with its wood handle and mother of pearl flower knob? Who had it before that? What will I use it for, if I dont make tea in it?

*sigh*. all good things to wonder, lazily, while the summer bakes and the hot northerly wind blows so fierce – and back in Princeton, USA, residents await their first snow. My teapot souvenir is probably one of only a few of its kind in Australia. Maybe people in the future will wonder how it got here. It’s definitely time for a cup of tea. Add the milk after the tea, mind.

Birthdays – oh!

Zoe – born 26-11-2005, and Ripley – born 27-11-2007. Bless…

Master of Public Health at Melbourne University


FullSizeRender(1)It’s hard to describe this side-step in future-self-construction. It’s a long story that really boils down to the familiar: noone gets a job that they have for the rest of their working life. If that was the case I guess I would still be teaching art, which I started in 1998. Who knows where that would have lead me, now.

If the ‘long story’ doesn’t sound worth reading – skip now, down to something that interests you.

In 1998, my husband at the time had a serious accident and broke his neck. In a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he – and I – struggled to find a life beyond. I was driven to find what would make the human body so fragile. Icu 2

I re-enrolled at Monash Uni: BScience, after tafe units to both remind me and teach me basics of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. This continued into subjects like Microbiology, and Human Physiology – including reproductive physiology.

My husband died in 2004, and I visited his gravestone last year before Christmas; ten years, gone.

But – along with many other things, it had changed my career path. I began teaching science to middle school students, often learning with as much enthusiasm (and sometimes more) as the students themselves. For a greater portion of 3 years, I worked with 14-15 year old students. I also spent some time as an Operating Theatre Technician, where the hours and hours of looking into (from a sterile distance) the human body taught me so much…mostly about the sometimes-tenuous hold humans have on the force of life, but also about the incredible power humans have to change another human’s ‘fortunes’.

My study continued – this time in Psychology. I started and completed a Graduate Diploma in Psychological Studies while on unpaid maternity leave for 7 years. Obviously it goes without saying that I had a new relationship – and two children, now aged 7 and 9 years. My drive to understand the human body turned into a kind of awe for the social human, and not least the two social humans that I had birthed and whose lives I am responsible for. Painting them seemed an obvious way to capture their evolving essence…

The Culprits

The babies grew up, and went to school, so I went back to on-campus study to complete Honours study in Psychology. However, despite regional need for psychologists, it is very difficult to become registered and begin practicing under supervision, without a Masters-level certificate. And, frankly, I didn’t have the marks to obtain a place in a Clinical Psychology Masters program.

So – to Public Health, and especially Sexual Health, my chosen stream of study. I have always had an interest in the efficient and effective transferal of sexual health information to adolescents, and to a lesser, age-appropriate extent, children. Sexuality is one of the aspects of human interaction that has great bearing on the mental state, and as such, can often be the arena for dysfunction and maladaptation. I am particularly interested in understanding the development of the female sexual self; historically, indiviudally, and in the context of the community. This not only takes into account how female gender roles develop and evolve over the course of human history and an individual’s lifespan, but also how the individual acts and reacts, in accordance with her surrounding biosocial environment.

Semper idem

I cant help but feel that this will be a [long] adventure. Perhaps I might even get to practice in my regional community, sometime before I retire at the age of…70.

Semper idem II