I met and interviewed a lovely local Traveller who was happy to be referred to as someone I met, rather than by name, so I’ll just call her “Laura” (I’ve been watching Little House on the Prairie…) I enjoyed our chat very much, and while she originally thought she didn’t know much that could help me in my quest to find out about things made here, she remembered some lovely items once we started chatting!
Interviews with strangers can be a bit stilted. In most cases, on meeting people, one tends to chat about things in common and then move onto personal histories and other family details once you know each other better. In interviews, you need to go straight to the questions and in this case, ask about personal stuff, so I’m glad Laura was so lovely about it.
We had a good chat, including about how Travellers came to become a group – they, well, they travel! For work in particular. For example, Kent for the hops, Wales for the potatoes, the Fens for the strawberries. Being on the road, in their own houses (Wagons, Trailers, Bender Tents) they developed their own crafts to decorate, use or sell. There’s many immigrants to the Fens area, and the Travellers are often seen as a similar group as they’ve been coming (and going and coming back) for many years, as did others who came for the picking season, and some have chosen to settle here. I have met Londoners who used to come to pick fruit and then came to settle permanently, and of course we now have Eastern Europeans coming to do the work and settling. It is an ever changing environment in more ways than one.
One of the crafts that I was particularly interested in was the embroidery. There’s a style that Laura tried to describe, and which I will do some more research on to see if I can capture and repeat it. She explained that the women had black pinafores on which they embroidered flowers in outline and leaves in full. I showed her some books, but we couldn’t find quite the right picture, so hopefully I’ll be able to find out more.
Lacemaking was something that came up, and while Laura acknowledged she’d seen it, she couldn’t think of a particular pattern, so again, we’ll see if I can investigate further. I found other evidence of lacemaking in the area, so it’s not specifically a Traveller craft, but as it’s so portable, it makes sense that they did it as a way to decorate their homes (rather than in a commercial sense as it is better known in an historical context).
My family use wooden pegs, for washing, but also we make them into dolls and gnomes. The Traveller wooden pegs have metal around the top, presumably to make them last longer and be stronger. I thought this was an interesting adaptation.
Baskets and brooms were all made from the materials available (baskets are becoming a real theme of this project!) and also using wood, flowers were whittled for decorations.
(to be continued…)