15/2/22 A visit to Ruth Lewer’s snowdrop collection at her garden at Lugwardine

My favourite is Blewbury Tart, it’s slightly creamy in colour. Which is yours? Many thanks to Ruth and Don for their generosity in sharing their garden and giving an excellent talk to the stitchers on 24th February, with a bit of Wordsworth on snowdrops and other readings from their friend Jackie. Lots of inspiration here for the embroiderers’ designs.

Galanthus Desdemona
Galanthus Augustus
Galanthus Elfin
Galanthus Trymlet
Galanthus Wendy’s Gold
Galanthus Wasp
Galanthus Bill Clark
Galanthus S. Arnott
Galanthus Jonathan
Galanthus Heffalump
Galanthus Porlock
Galanthus Bertram Anderson
Galanthus Daphne’s Scissors
Galanthus Walrus
Galanthus Walrus
Galanthus Merlin
Galanthus Blewbury Tart
Galanthus Blewbury Tart
Galanthus Shaggy
Galanthus Warrei
Galanthus James Backhouse

14/2/22 Snowdrops and their folklore, paintings, and Lugg Valley gravel

A gift from a stitcher

I was delighted that a stitcher brought along this wonderful combination of large snowdrops and gravel from her garden in the Lugg Valley. I had not appreciated the number of gravel pits, many still actively worked, in the valley.

Jane Tudge described the encaustic painting practice she used in her ‘snowdrop series’.

Jane Tudge with one of the snowdrop artworks she brought along

Whilst the stitchers stitched I read out snippets of snowdrop lore I had found.

Thomasina Beck writes how William Morris, the great socialist craftsman associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement said of stitching snowdrops:

‘Be very shy of double flowers… don’t be swindled out of that wonder of beauty, a single snowdrop; there is no gain and plenty of loss in a double one’.

William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art, 1882

This we shall experience at first hand I guess!

Detail of ‘Parrot tulip’ screen panel showing background embroidered snowdops, which was one of Morris and Co’s most popular screen panel in the 1880’s (Ref: Thomasina Beck (1992) The Embroiderer’s Flowers)

The snowdrop is native to Europe and the Middle East, brought by the Romans to Britain, and become naturalized. In early history they were known by other names, but in 1753 Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in named the snowdrop Galanthus nivalis ‘milk flower of the snow’.

A Moldovan legend says the pure white flower was a sign of victory of Lady Spring’s victory over the Winter Witch. During their fight Lady Spring cut her finger, the drop of blood melting the snow and a snowdrop grew. A German folktale tells of snow searching for a colour to borrow because the elements admired flowers and their colours. Snow was denied one of the colours by the flowers as they felt snow was too cold and unpleasant. However the snowdrop felt sorry for snow and offered its colour. Snow became white from that point on and showed its thanks by allowing snowdrops to bloom at the end of winter with Snow’s protection against the cold.

The snowdrop has many meanings and symbols associated with it: they can mean purity, innocence, and sympathy. In Victorian England if you sighted a snowdrop it was a sign of death and bad luck and it was also considered bad luck to pick the flowers and bring them inside the home, especially a single snowdrop. It was believed that by picking a snowdrop the quality of cow’s milk was affected in a bad way, and butter discoloured.

Devotees or collectors of different snowdrop varieties are known as Galanthophiles (for their history see Jane Kilpatrick & Jennifer Harmer’s book (2016).

Eco Enchantments has researched and written a fabulous article about The Magic of Snowdrops with references to Hans Christian Anderson, German Illustrator M.Goetz in 1928, Gerarde’s ‘Great Herbal’ published in 1597, John Parkinson’s book ‘Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris (A Choice garden of all sorts of rarest flowers) of 1656, a 19th century eccentric catholic essayist Dr Thomas Forster, and many other explorations of snowdrops in art, as myth, legend and folklore, superstition, to festival days such as ‘Brigid’s Day or the Celtic festival of ‘Imbolc’ celebrating the beginning of Spring, to Candlemass also known as ‘The feast of White Purification’ and a Pagan Roman Festival ‘Lupercalia’ and Snowdrop Day in Russia.

Snowdrop in Ruth Lewer’s garden

The snowdrop in purest white arraie

First rears her hedde on candlemas daie;

While the Crocus hastens to the shrine

of Primrose lone on St Valentine.

Thomas Forster, 1824, ‘Perennial calendar and companion to the Almanac’.

To conclude snowdrops are seen as as a symbol of hope and of sadness or mourning, which I feel make them an approrpiate symbol for our exploration of the heritage of the River Lugg, given its and other rivers and waterways precarious environmental situation. We can hope to change this whilst we simultaneously mourn the ecological losses.

Snowdrops growing next to The Lugg at the bridge in Kingsland, a year after the environmental damage to the river and its banks in December 2020.

Stitch and repair

Darning on the original millsacks

Gradually through the almost two year development of this project, halted by successive lockdowns, the idea of stitch as repair has grown.

In December last year, the actions of a landowner on the banks of the Lugg at Kingsland reached national news. He described taking preventive action to alleviate flooding problems for locals at this registered Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). What is clear in the muddy waters is that the river has many different and perhaps conflicting roles and purposes to different people, life forms and the land.

December 2020 The Lugg at Kingsland

More recently I have been helping out with testing river samples from the Humber, a tributary feeding into the Lugg. Tests include phosphate and nitrate measuement. Concern has been mounting about pollution levels in the Wye, which the Lugg itself leads into.

My CPRE testing buddy

Coincidentally, the two testing pots colour matched my riverbend embroidery on the two sides of the nine mill sacks.

Phosphate and nitrate test strips

Just before the project launch, I went to Rose Tinted Rags to buy embroidery threads. It was the same day I had to pick up a prescription and the bags were mixed up. I like the idea of a prescription of threads.

What’s in the bag?
Threads for snowdrop stitching

More recently, I was in London looking at archives, and I passed this amazing shop front advertising itself as an ‘invisible mending service’. I wondered if that’s what this project might be doing, mending the river or at least our value of it through celebrating it through stitch.

Later that night I found a sewing kit in my hotel room; the traditions of stitching and repairing are still present in reminders all around us!

Hotel sewing kit

I placed an advert in a local listings magazine and emailed many organisations with interests in all things to do with the River, partly to recruit participants and partly to find potential speakers to help us explore aspects of the River Lugg whilst we stitch and repair.

Advertising the project in Broad Sheep

Wayside snowdrops

I realised driving to Hereford for the introductory and participant recruitment session to the long established stitching group at Rose Tinted Rags (RTR) , that I had forgotten to find a few snowdops from the garden. Luckily two different varieites were growing along the wayside.

Six more stitchers joined the project at RTR, adding to the four new people from the Monday and Thursday stitching sessions at Leominster Community Centre. The project is slowly trickling together and gaining momentum.

This week in all the stitching meet ups we looked at maps showing the whole river route and photographs taken from its end and working upstream. We made it as far as Bodenham at the Old Railway Inn, just to the east of Dinmore Hill.

Launch night 2/2/22

Seven volunteers came forward from the local community on launch night to take part in this project to explore and understand the our heritage of the river.

A sculptural artwork is being made. So far nine sacks, have been embroidered with a river bend from the site of the historic Battle of Mortimer’s Cross where some 4000 soldiers died and the river ‘ran red’.

The mill owner there inspired the project by giving the researcher 9 mill sacks from the mill and telling the story of how he throws a few snowdrops into the River Lugg each year on the battle anniversary to commemorate the fallen soldiers.

Mortimer’s Cross Mill wheel
Mill sacks

The project is to embroider snowdrops to be strewn from baskets fashioned from riverside materials. No stitching knowledge is required and there is a developing programme of speakers/participant contributors on all things river whilst the participants stitch.

Darning on an original mill sack (I think they look like dances), with a snowdrop on launch night
Project bag

Launch night coincided with the 561st anniversary of the Battle in 1461, so I threw a few snowdrops into the nearby Lugg afterwards.

The snowdrop template

First design

I screenprinted two different designs of snowdrops onto Valencia linen, in case participants wanted a starting point. Two weeks in, and I’m having to zig zag some more edges of the pieces. The drooping snowdrop has been popular. Some are stitching the other more complex design, others are designing their own. The only brief is that it needs to be a snowdrop and of the size of the piece of linen. Artistic license is over to the stitchers who are thinking and hearing about aspects of The River Lugg as they stitch.

Second design

The snowdrops will be made into small pillows, each one an edition with its number stitched on the back. They will be documented in a handmade book to accompany the exhibition along with aspects of heritage of the river experienced along the way.

My practice example, mainly stitching as drawing or mark making


The Royal School of Needlework’s Stitch Bank is fantastic for learning stitches . It can be found at https://rsnstitchbank.org

A participant told me about two other useful sites:

https://pintangle.com and https://needlenthread.com

I was inspired to stitch as drawing when I read this article about the embroidery of artist Pascal Monteil in ‘The Eye of the Needle‘ (Selvedge, April 2021: Issue 99)

Original inspiration for the screenprinted designs

‘At th’wedding of the Lug and Wy’

The Lugg flowing into the Wye, just below Mordiford.

With lockes uncomb’d, for haste the lovelie Wye to see

(The floud that grac’t her most) this daie should married be

To that more lovelie Lug; a River of much fame,

That in her wandering bankes should lose his glorious name.

For Hereford, although her Wye she hold so deere,

Yet Lug (whose longer course doth grace the goodlie Sheere,

And with his plentious Streame so manie Brookes doth bring)

Of all hers that be North is absolutelie King.

From ‘The Seaventh Song’, Poly-Olbion Poem by Michael Drayton PArt 1, 1612.
see https://poly-olbion.exeter.ac.uk/

Pete Blench, Leominster’s local historian, told me about this 15,000 line poem produced in the 1600’s as a collaboration between poet Michael Drayton illustrated with thirty engraved county maps by William Hole, with the first eighteen songs accompanied by John Selden’s prose ‘illustrations’.

I walked the short distance along the Lugg from Mordiford to find this romantic meeting point, a quiet spot witnessed by sheep and ducks. Sure enough, mistletoe was growing thickly on the trees leaning into the Lugg.

Ducks on the watery bordercrossing
Mistletoe abounds
Freshwater mussel shells, lots of these on the bank
Walking to the meeting point
Sheep (pure wool not nylon) and pylons
Realise I don’t know anything about water management ?
Walking back, wool caught on the tree
Lichen, a sign of fresh air