thoughts on seeing a piece of antique lace

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere that I’m a hand spinner. I use my hands and various tools such as spindles and spinning wheels to make what I’ll loosely term ‘yarn’  from loose fibres by twisting them together. It’s an ancient skill. Yarn and the cloth made from it doesn’t usually survive to be dated (it rots, especially the early yarns made from plant materials), but sometimes the impressions of texture and pattern made by cloth and string in mud or soft soil do survive. Fragments of clay found in the Czech Republic show the pattern of cloth thought to have been woven 27,000 years ago. Some of the ‘Venus’ figures found in Europe dating from 20,000 BC have carefully carved string skirts, some so detailed that they show the skirt string is plied. Left dangling loose, a single strand of twisted fibre rapidly untwists to become loose fibre. Only if two strands – known as singles – are plied, twisted together in the opposite direction, will the dangling string remain string. Given the skills demonstrated by the things that have survived, it’s been suggested that people – probably women, as men are traditionally hunters – have been spinning fibre into string/yarn for over 40,000 years.

That’s a long time.

That’s many, many generations of my female ancestors. Only for the last 300 or so of those 40,000 years have women not needed to spin, at least in western Europe, where I come from. I am descended from a long line of women who could spin, and spin well, because the yarn they spun was needed to cloth their families, to be sold for money to pay the rent or feed their families. In the early days the string they made would have been knotted into nets to catch fish and birds. If my ancestors hadn’t been good, productive spinners, they and their children wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t be here.

So, as I’m spinning, I think of my ancestors, spinning. I didn’t gain my skill directly from their hands – my mentors passed on their own skills from their hands to mine – but my hands are doing the same things, going through the same motions, as those of my ancestors. Spinning unites us, hand to hand, across nearly 40,000 years.

Lynn, I search out antique handspun textiles because handling those textiles, learning new skills by examining them, is a direct link with the people who made them. For me, it’s all about the people, not the finished piece. I don’t care if something is tattered, too badly damaged for a ‘serious collector’: the ragged edges and loose threads mean I can see how it was made, whether the yarns are plied or singles, estimate their grist. I can extract individual fibres (of wool) to estimate staple length and fineness of fleece. Knowing these things I can try to replicate the yarn. Spinning it, I remember with respect the person who spun the original.


So. Here is a piece of linen lace in the style of Alençon, in northern France, dated by style and condition to the 18th century (1701–1799). Pre-Industrial Revolution, there’s no doubt the thread used for this was handspun and, for lace, of the finest quality at the time. Because in this condition it is of no value to a collector 48″ of this cost £5, but to me it’s beyond valuation. It’s 48″ of people’s lives: the skills of the flax grower, the processors, the spinners, the lacemakers.


Detail of the lace magnified 20x. The lens circle is 1cm in diameter.



The damage allows me to examine the individual strands of yarn more closely.


Above, a damaged area magnified 20x, showing what seems to be a single thread.

Below, the same area magnified 80x. 


The lustre of the individual threads and the ‘hand’ of the fabric, even after more than 200 years, suggests this is linen. I am awestruck by the fineness of the fibres in the yarn: having done some flax processing myself (this link shows the basic principles), I have some idea of just how tricky it would be to get fibres this fine. Having spun flax, I have some idea of what it takes to spin this fine. At this point I’m not even sure whether this is plied or a singles yarn. I did find a description of the spinning process in Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper, Vol. 4 1865 on Google Books:

“Why, the flax of which the old Brussels and the point d’Alençon were made, was cultivated on purpose; it was chiefly grown in Brabant, Halle, and Courtrai, and had to be spun in underground cellars, because contact with external air made the thread brittle. The thread was so fine as almost to elude the sight; the spinner had to go by the sense of touch, examining every inch as it left the distaff, and at the slightest irregularity stopping the wheel. The room was kept in darkness, except for one single ray of light arranged to fall on the thread, which was thrown up by a background of dark paper … “No wonder,” said Goody, “that fine lace is so costly; why, I have read lately, that at the present moment, hand-spun thread is often sold at £240 sterling for one pound only.”

MeasuringWorth says £240 in 1865 would be between £20,690 and £471,100 in 2015 pounds. I am stunned.

I hold the lace and I respect the people who made it. I remember with respect the people who, generation upon generation, developed the skill to make things like this. They may not be my personal ancestors, but without them we wouldn’t be here.

All that from a piece of old lace.

Posted in historic textiles, spinning, thinking | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The less time I have, the more I want to do

When work is busy, I find myself dreaming up more projects for what little leisure time remains. The less time I have, the more I want to read, make, travel, buy. I’ve begun to suspect that some of this is a form of promising myself that I WILL be able to do these things at some unspecified time in the future, when I am at leisure to devote my leisure to the things I want to do. [Mostly. I don’t want to clean the bathroom, but I’ll still have to do it or risk our early deaths from disgust, embarrassment or horrible diseases.] There was a time when I could not resist a nice handspinning fleece – and didn’t bother trying. I just promised myself that there would be a time when I had time to spend sorting, washing, drying, combing or carding, spinning and then using that fleece. Fortunately a summer spent washing and drying and starting to comb some of the hoard taught me a lesson: I already have a lifetime’s supply of wool to spin. Not to mention cotton, silk and flax.

More productive and more fun than buying promises to myself is devoting some of my precious spare time to artistic mending. A couple of years ago I found an umpteenth-hand denim jacket in a flea market. It had a peculiar odour and was covered with a fine red-brown dust, but it fitted me: I bought it. I wore it a couple of times before washing it, which was just as well because I had time to start to love it before the washing machine revealed patches of incipient disintegration.

The yoke is in the worst condition, possibly due to exposure to the sun. I decided to learn sashiko [not sashimi, stupid computer] stitching by using it to attach a lining to the yoke, with embroidery thread shading from blue to red because colour can be fun. I tacked the lining to the yoke with a grid of white sewing cotton and began stitching. When I reached the first badly damaged area where only the white weft of the denim remains, I realised that sashiko alone would not be enough to take the strain, so decided to further reinforce those areas. I duplicate-stitched the twill furrows in various shades of blue; the more I did, the more my technique improved. I really like the finished effect (it’s better from a distance when you can’t see all the imperfections as below).


The rectangular area marking the position of the label on the inside of the yoke posed a problem. I could try to stitch through or skim the label and continue the sashiko across it, or I could use it to define a feature, which is what I did. I designed a motif suitable for cross-stitch, picked 6 shades from my ancient hoard of embroidery thread, donned my most powerful magnifying glasses, laid out a 6×6 thread grid, and started counting and stitching. Then stopped, counted, ripped out, and counted again before stitching again. Clearly I need practice at both counting AND stitching.

At this point I reserve judgement as to whether a motif was the right decision. Looking at the back of the jacket in its entirety, I think I’d have done better to continue the sashiko. But, with more work on the motif than in the photo above, it’s working and I like it. Even if variations in the thread thickness of the soft, worn denim mean that the stitching lacks precision: to paraphrase Tara, it loses precision but it gains life.


I could rip out the motif and the grid, re-do it elsewhere on the jacket, and continue the sashiko to cover the yoke. And I think I want to expand the sashiko beyond the yoke, too. After all, it’s only time. I should use the time I have to do my best. Who knows, this jacket may long outlive me. I do sometimes imagine people decades or centuries from now looking at something I made and wondering about me and my life, as I wonder about those who made  the antique textiles I look at today.

Speaking of which, who wants to see some antique lace?




Posted in fixing things, sewing | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Planning another Summer of Blue

I had planned to focus on indigo last summer, but in the event various other things intervened – although I did accomplish more than I posted. I must show you my shoes!

I’m making tentative plans for more blue this summer.


I had hoped that the tadeai, the Japanese Indigo Polygonum tinctorium, would survive the mild winter in its house but even though I added fleece and bubblewrap when the nights dropped to -4C, there’s no life in the stems. It may be an obligate annual, or it may simply have flowered itself to death late last autumn without setting any seed, alas.

I admired the few remaining dead leaves somewhat wistfully: look, they’re blue!


And then cut most of the stems off. I’ve left a few root masses with stubs of stem for the moment, but there was no green in the pith and the roots I pulled up looked brown and dead, so I doubt anything will shoot. But I sowed seed as well; the seed tray is now sitting indoors in the warmth where I am already watching it hopefully.

I took cuttings  – lengths of stems with leaves – from the plants last October when we returned from our holiday and put them in a jar of water. As might be expected from a Polygonum the cuttings formed masses of roots from the submerged leaf nodes, but the rest of the nodes sent out flower shoots.  I pinched them out and more appeared. The cuttings were extremely well-rooted and looked reasonably healthy in late January when I potted them, but just continued to try to flower until they died, leaves slowly shrivelling. A friend who rooted cuttings in August says two are still alive and seem well, so I wonder whether the trick is to catch them before environmental cues set the growth points to ‘flower’ mode. I will try to test that this summer, as cuttings would be the best way to maintain a line that dyes well.

The woad looked reasonably happy. As a biennial this is its year to flower and seed, with leaves that yield little or no blue. I left the plants last year thinking to gather the seed – these were grown from seed I harvested two years ago – but there isn’t really enough space in our tiny garden to keep plants for seed especially when they attract so many Cabbage White butterflies to lay eggs on my salad rocket! The woad is no longer happy: it is composting and I’ll sow more in the Brassica Bed shortly.


All this plus ‘standard’ indigo vats means there should be more blue this summer. But what shall I do with it? I’m designing stencils to print with fresh indigo leaves, because that was immense fun. But there’s much more fun to be had: a friend sent me two fascinating books.



This is the work of Mrs Akiyama, who made a personal study of the natural dye plants of Awa in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. Awa is famed for its Polygonum tinctorium indigo dyes; there are pages detailing dyeing with fresh and dried indigo (if I’d had more dead leaves I could have dyed with them!) as well as many other plants. And there are notes on working with bast fibres, as well as information on finishing yarns and fabrics after dyeing.


The other book tells me what to do with what I’ve dyed:


No more peering at fuzzy videos on YouTube! With luck this will be a summer to remember.

To finish, a reminder of last summer.


Super-cheap runners, sold as ‘cotton’ (I have my doubts, see below). I washed them thoroughly with dishwashing liquid and rinsed them thoroughly too, then dumped them into a standard thiox indigo vat on the stove.^1 No matter how many times I dipped them, the uppers would not go darker than this; given the depth of blue in the soles. I wonder whether the fabric is in fact polycotton.

The first dyeing attempt was extremely patchy when it dried. Blotches of pale fabric near the heels, more blotches on the toes. I left them outside in the weather for a week or two to think about their sins while I sulked. Then I needed to exhaust the vat, so I reheated it, added reducing agent, and chucked them back (dry, I think), out of curiosity rather than any expectation of success. Imagine my surprise when, after two or three dips, they emerged a relatively solid and respectable pale blue. After washing thoroughly and drying, I considered decoration: stencilling with fresh tadeai was the obvious answer. I cut an assortment of crude paisley stencils and discovered that stencilling on curved surfaces is rather tricky. But the end result is a pleasing variety of blues produced by a variety of indigo techniques, especially when embellished with tablet-woven laces.

It’s a great shame that the shoes are so uncomfortable :-/

^1: A caution. If you try this, be prepared to spend ages scouring melted runner-sole off the sides of the pot. A hint: reheating the pot gently softens the stuff a bit, but it still requires a lot of effort.


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Houston and home 

We arrived at IAH at 1030 this morning for A’s flight. Mine doesn’t leave until 2055, so I’ve had ample time to bring this tale up to date, and to think about how it ends.

Houston isn’t far from Sulphur, so A. suggested we drive to Lake Houston Park for a hike before diving into the city to find our last hotel.

I was driving, so there are fewer photos. I can say that as we started west the landscape looked like Louisiana, swamp and cypress beside the road, and it continued to look like Louisiana even after we crossed into Texas, except that there were more Lone Stars and American flags, and fewer mentions of ‘Cajun’ in business names. Although there are still Cajun restaurants in Houston.

Gradually the trees changed. More long needle pines, some cottonwood, no cypress. No Spanish Moss hanging from any of them.

AC in the car makes it hard to know what the outside temperature and humidity is doing, but when we reached the park it was pleasantly warm in the shade and much less humid.  

Our faithful steed for 1500-odd miles.

The park map was a trifle sketchy, but to be fair we think new paths are created and die more quickly than they can be recorded. There was a slow tea-coloured river flowing across sand banks.

It was remarkably quiet under the trees; we walked for over two hours during which time we heard one squirrel and saw another, heard and saw about four birds. Despite carefully and quietly surveying sunlit banks and bridges I saw only two dark lizards that weren’t much more than blurs as they whipped into cover.

We did see a lot of disturbed ground, path margins and patches of undergrowth that looked as though they’d been lightly dug over.

We’ve never seen anything quite like it and were at a loss until A. said ‘pig?’ and as is often the case (alas) he was probably right. There was no one to ask as the nature centre was closed, but the internet told us that feral hogs are a widespread nuisance across most of Texas. On the Atchafalaya Al mentioned the same thing: there is no closed season on hogs because they do so much damage to crops and wildlife habitats.

We did see some interesting plants, including the virulent purple American Beautyberry, which looks to me as though it’s either poisonous or the feedstock for Thrills chewing gum.  

But apparently it’s edible if very astringent. An extraordinarily spiny thing with fuzzy orange fruit proved to be the trifoliate orange, introduced from Asia. It’s the hardiest citrus relative, surviving -10 to -20F, and makes an excellent hedging plant. 

We sat in the rocking chairs on the porch of the nature centre and ate our lunch.

The last of the moon pies we bought in Vidalia (I was curious). We watched a sheriff’s car drive 50yds to the toilet block, then return to a spot in the hot sun and sit with the engine running, presumably for the AC on full. Very strange; we park in the shade, AC or not.

Then we returned to the car and used the phone’s GPS to be sure we found the hotel. And this morning we took the car back, and now I’m in Houston and A. has just messaged me to say he’s landed in Toronto.  

It’s been a good holiday, in fact better than I’d expected. Possibly three days too long – we were ready to go home three days ago – but we can’t think of anything we would have been willing to miss, save perhaps Lake Houston Park. Usually our major holidays centre on ‘wild’ or scenic natural areas; this was the first time we’ve spent time on semi-cultural things such as music and food. And it was both interesting and enjoyable, although when A’s knee heals we’ll be better able to earn the food by walking.

Speaking of food, this is what we’ve eaten where, with totally subjective three-star ratings. I’ll do TripAdvisor when I’m not typing on the phone!
New  Orleans: Eat New Orleans ***

New Orleans: Three Muses, Frenchmen St **

New Orleans: Bamboula, Frenchmen St ** (but the music was ***)

New Orleans: French Market Café **

Natchez: King’s Tavern *** an’ a tiger for house-made bread, superb beer and a kitchen tour to see and talk about the wood-fired oven.

Natchez: Cotton Alley Café ** Trying far too hard; if it doesn’t come naturally, you haven’t got what it takes.

Alexandria: Wildwood Café ***

Morgan City: Suzie’s Seafood *** It is what it is, a bit rough and ready but the fried seafood is delicious. Well worth the indigestion 🙂

Morgan City: Rita Mae’s *** home-cooked Creole, utterly delicious.

Morgan City: Eastgate Barbecue ***

Lake Charles: Rosita’s  *** home-cooked real Mexican. I ate nopal! It was excellent!

Lake Charles: Quaker Steak & Lube *.5 What can I say, it was Sunday, there were only two places open and the other one didn’t serve beer.

Houston: the hotel bar*.5 ordinary but hey, easy walking distance and beer.

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‘Louisiana’s Outback:the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road’

Clearly they’re trying to cover all the bases with that one. 

There’s a website, with a link to an immense app (4.6Gb if you download the content for offline use) that will guide and inform you about points of interest around Lake Calcasieu and the Gulf Coast. In fact it’s a good effort, although the app doesn’t seem to know when it has finished downloading the content. There are some amusing attempts to reconcile two or more conflicting interests; I particularly like the entry on ‘underground pipelines’, which is entirely economic stats about the importance of oil and gas to Louisiana’s economy, but finishes brightly – and totally inaccurately, given the destruction of wetlands by pipelines  – with ‘And that’s just one of the MANY reasons why preserving Louisiana’s wetlands are so critical.’ 

We left Sulphur on a road with views that stressed the importance on industry in this area. Sulphur is named for its sulphur mines; it was here that in 1890 Herman Frasch first pumped superheated water into the deposits buried beneath several hundred feet of mud rich in toxic hydrogen sulphide to extract molten sulphur.

But further on it’s a pleasant drive, especially early on a sunny Sunday morning. Only the fishermen and people crabbing from bridges were out before us. We were undoubtedly the first visitors of the day on the Blue Goose Trail, where we saw Marsh Rabbits (note the short ears), 

and the large claws of crabs or crawfish scattered on the pavement.  

No other remains, just the claws; our guess is that predators remove the claw big enough to hurt them before devouring the rest. 

To our great advantage we were also probably first at the Sabine Wildlife Refuge ‘Wetland Walkway’. We walked very quietly down Alligator Alley, watching sunny areas for anyone basking to bring their body temperature up. We were  rewarded by sight of a young alligator, perhaps only 2-3′ long.

The second, third, fourth were less exciting; we eventually saw five youngsters and heard at least two more dive into the water. Then we saw something larger and therefore more exciting. 

I’m surprised by how easy they are to see once you get your eye in; they’re the wrong  grey here and in the Atchafalaya, a blue-grey that stands out against the warm browns and greens.  This one turned around for a quick getaway into the water when it first saw us, but then waited watchfully as we warily approached more closely, following the path past it.

That picture and the next were taken without any zoom.


We think it was 6-8′ long and very well accustomed to respectful visitors.

There were many ant nests beside the path, looking like loose soil pocked with small holes. I looked at them and wondered about fire ants, but I think they were too small.  There were structures of soil or mud suspended from vegetation in the marsh, but the information boards at the refuge said nothing much about anything and the Internet has not yet told me what they might be.  

There were crawfish carapaces and claws on the path, as well as masses of crushed carapace material that looked as though they’d been regurgitated by a large bird. 

There is an excellent view over the marsh from the observation post, showing not only the marsh but the distant line of a chenier. Originally this word referred to the oak trees themselves, but it has come to mean the sandy ancient beach ridge on which they grow.  

There were American Chameleons (more properly Carolina Anoles) on a sunwarmed bridge. Fabulous! Although I only managed to get pictures of them pretending to be cracks in the bridge, I assure you they were bright green when we first saw them skittering up from the reeds.  

We continued to the coast where we found a small track through the dunes and parked between the fisher people’s trucks to spend another hour wandering around, looking at shells, watching the waves. I kept reminding myself ‘This is the Gulf of Mexico!’


We drove on, through Holly Beach, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and on to Cameron, which was not quite completely destroyed. I’d find this a hard place to settle, but perhaps I think on a different timescale.

In some places traffic into the beach has destroyed the vegetation stabilising the low sand dunes that are the only barrier to storm surges. Clearly attempts are being made to restore the dunes; I hope they are successful.

We turned north, crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, which today runs 3000 miles along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from Texas to New Jersey. In southern Louisiana it has cut a wide line across the wetlands, greatly reducing the amount of freshwater that reaches the marsh to the south of the Waterway.


It was too soon to go back to the hotel; we hadn’t spent long enough on the beach (although our sunburn might disagree), so we visited the Perkins Ferry riverside park in Lake Charles where we found yet another astounding thing: the biggest grasshopper we’d ever seen, the Eastern Lubber. 

It’s a serious pest – the females are about 3″ long, so they can do a lot of damage to crops and gardens, and as the warning coloration suggests, it is distasteful verging on toxic – but we were simply amazed by its size. A harbinger of Texas tomorrow, perhaps?

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Morgan City to Sulphur/Lake Charles

First, I forgot to tell you one of the most important reasons for including Morgan City in our travels. The main theme of this trip is the Mississippi River delta, its history, both geological and cultural, and the engineering works that now control its future. We visited Old River Control, built to prevent the Atchafalaya from stealing All The Water to become the next ‘Mississippi River’. We didn’t visit the Morganza Spillway 30 miles downstream, which, if fully opened in an extreme flood, would flood the entire Atchafalaya Basin as a last-ditch defence of New Orleans. Morgan City is an island in the basin, completely surrounded by levees that might not be high enough or strong enough to resist that flood. I talked briefly with some residents about what they remembered of 2011, when the Morganza Spillway was last opened: they remember being scared, but nothing bad happened; the flood was not that extreme. They know their homes and jobs are always under threat, but because nothing bad has happened to them, they assume the chances of it ever happening are negligible. 

We made our way from Morgan City to Lake Charles and Sulphur via Cypremort Point and Avery Island. Cypremort Point is one of the very few places with public road access to the Gulf Coast, and the descriptions I’d read of it vary widely, so I thought we should check it out and give a definitive TripAdvisor review 🙂 

The shelter design puzzled me, as the roof is so high that rain would be blown sideways into the shelter; A. pointed out that they’re probably intended as sun-shelters, not storm-shelters. He’s spent more time in hot climates than I have!

It looks like a decent place from a distance, but the reviewer from Florida was right: it’s awfully muddy. The beach sand is a thin strip that looks as though it was brought in by truck to fulfil modern expectations. Above it is silt and clay full of clam shells, which I think was the floor of the salt marsh or low island in the salt marsh that has been grassed over to create a lawn of sorts. Below it is very murky brown water.


Note that I am not paddling in that

The fishermen in the fishing areas looked very happy, and it’s clear that many people have enjoyed barbecues here, but there was no reason for us to do more than walk to the far end of the beach and back.

Avery Island was also a bit of a disappointment. In this area as in the Fens of England, ‘isle’ or ‘island’ refers to slightly higher ground; here the islands are usually salt domes, and Avery Island is no exception. It’s of interest because the Tabasco Sauce factory is here and salt from the dome is used in the sauce. There is a road tour of the landscaped gardens that surround the McIlhenny home, and a factory tour that consists of a film about the history and manufacture of the sauce followed by a walk past windows looking into the bottling plant. And then you’re directed to the large well-stocked shop and café. Huh.

A. walking across dry swamp, part of the’Marsh Trail’ in the Avery Island gardens. 

And then we continued to Sulphur, just west of Lake Charles.

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Morgan City Day Two.

I’m feeling guilty, as in fact this will be our second night in Sulphur (Lake Charles)… sorry. But I’ll be sitting in Houston Airport for over 6 hours on Tuesday, so I expect I’ll catch up then.

Yesterday evening we looked at the map, counted days, and decided to book another night here, giving us a second full day. But what to do? As Navigator it was my responsibility to devise the itinerary: I opted for a drive up Hwy 182 to St. Martinville. This is one of the first settlements of the Acadians, French-speaking settlers in what is now the Canadian Maritime provinces who were deported by the British for actively aiding the French. Many died, some returned to France. Some took advantage of the Governor’s offer of land here; Louisiana was then a Spanish territory, the Acadians were Roman Catholic, and Spain wanted more RC settlers. St. Martinville has successfully claimed to be the location of the events described in Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, although historians now agree it never happened (much to St. Martinville’s annoyance).

We pootled slowly on back roads to Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, which is in fact a museum providing information about the Acadian – now Cajun – settlement. It is centred on the Maison Olivier, built c. 1815 by a wealthy Creole landowner. 

Our interpreter gave a fascinating explanation of ‘creole’, which now means many different things to different people, but in this particular context means a man of French origin born in Louisiana.

The cottage is open to the public, and allowed us to see – and feel – how this classic cottage functioned. Not only is it raised off the ground to preserve its timbers and allow air to cool the floor, it has no enclosed internal spaces other than cupboards. No hall, no staircase. All the rooms open into each other and onto the balcony or porch: to reach the upper floor you climb the external porch stairs. Every opening – door or window – is in line with others so that air moves freely through the house.   

The rooms are furnished with period furniture, including a ‘rolling pin’ bed which incorporated a large rolling pin used to flatten uncomfortable lumps in the feather mattress into the headboard. 

The man’s shirt on the chest at the foot of the bed demanded  close examination, although I didn’t touch it. An intriguing fabric!  

The diamond-patterned fabric is used for collar and cuffs; the dark-striped side is the front and the patterned stripe the reverse.

The museum displayed items from various aspects of life at the time. At first the settlers raised cattle, but cotton and sugar soon followed. The cotton press (to flatten the bales) was particularly impressive, 

Two looms, one modern and one older, were clearly used to demonstrate weaving a fabric from loosely spun cotton singles (spun on an Ashford Traditional) that resembled one labelled as a blanket in the display. I don’t think it will wear well, though, but then they might not often need blankets here.


We noticed that few, if any of the houses we drove past have flower beds visible from the road. Every one is surrounded by a vast expanse of close-mown lawn, and we’ve only seen one garden centre selling herbaceous plants. I asked the person tending flowers outside the museum whether people grew flowers that we missed; she shook her head sadly, saying ‘no’. She didn’t know why, as many flowers grow well here. Perhaps it’s the heat; people prefer to stay indoors in the ‘air’, as I heard several call the AC.

We meandered on little roads to another tourist destination, the Rip van Winkle gardens in Lake Peigneur. I promise this is much more interesting than it sounds! First, the gardens are not as twee as the name suggests; they’ve been created in the grounds of the house built by in 1870 actor Joseph Jefferson, and named for the play with which he made the money to build it.

The gardens are very pleasant and, better than that, there are many plants I’ve never seen growing outside before. Including this, which I initially thought was banana, but is probably plantain. Counts as banana as far as I’m concerned.

The house tour was informative. Fire regulations mean it no longer includes the upper floor because the access up a single cramped staircase; there is no dramatic stairway, perhaps because Jefferson did not feel the need for such things after spending much of his life in poverty.

But we came to see Lake Peigneur, site of an amazing disaster. Jefferson chose this site for his house because a low hill caught the breeze and offered good views of a small natural freshwater lake. The hill is a salt dome, created when the weight of 40,000′ of Mississippi River sediment forced some of the deeply buried Jurassic Louann Salt to the surface. There are several salt some hills in southern Louisiana and Some of the cleanest, clearest rock salt in the U.S. came from the Diamond Crystal salt mine near Lake Peigneur. In 1980 a Texaco oil rig accidentally drilled into the mine; why and what happened next will never be known in detail, but the small Lake Peigneur flooded the mine, which collapsed dramatically. Some of the collapse was caught on film, including the reversed flow of the Delcambre Canal, which filled the hole with seawater from Vermilion Bay via what was briefly the tallest waterfall in Louisiana. Needless to say, there were lawsuits. Peigneur now looks so ordinary that I forgot to take any pictures, too busy thinking ‘it doesn’t LOOK as though it’s 1000′ deep…’

And then we went back to Morgan City.

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