Inspired by a series about the downstairs and upstairs of an early 20th century estate I have dived into the world of milk jug covers. I choose beaded bobbin lace before cling film any day.
Inspiration jumps at you from everywhere, you never know what will hit you next. This time it came from Yorkshire.
Bingeing Downton Abbey
A couple of years ago I was binge watching Downton Abbey, a British series about the upstairs and downstairs of a Yorkshire estate at the turn of the last century. I have always loved the sense of detail in the series – the textiles (of course), the interiors and the kitchen utensils. All in natural materials and exquisitely executed.
I remember the very first episode, that starts on a train when Bates, the new butler, is on his way to the estate. The first scene shows the interior of the postal car where postal workers are sorting the mail in separate compartments of wooden shelves covering the walls of the whole car. Just for a few seconds, but the whole setup is there. Attention to detail like that gives me goosebumps.
One doily, one second
In one episode, it must have been in the last season, Daisy the kitchen maid tidies the last things in the kitchen late at night. She picks up what looks like a beaded doily, gently covers a jug with it and puts the jug in the pantry, the richly but sophisticatedly beaded edge weighing the doily down to keep it in place atop the jug opening.
The scene lasts for less than a second. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that beaded doily. Where did it come from? Just as the postal car on the train this must have meant something at the time.
I needed to know more about these beaded covers. I turned to two trusted friends, both craft counselors with deep knowledge of crafting and old utility items. None of them had seen anything like it before. So I googled. It took me a while, but I did find what I was looking for – a milk jug cover. Quite common at the time to keep flies off milk and lemonade in the U.K. but also in Australia. When the car came and there was no need for horses for kitchen deliveries, the flies became less of an issue.
I haven’t seen a Swedish equivalent to the milk jug cover, so I don’t have a Swedish word for it.
20th century tinder treasure
I knew I needed to make me a milk jug cover or two or eight. Seriously, who wouldn’t want dangling beads instead of clingfilm to protect their food? I also knew there must be thousands of doilies out there that once were the pride of one generation and a now, a couple of generations later, a nuisance.
1920 Tinder profiles would be strewn with superlatives of ladies’ skills in doily making. But now? I haven’t really seen the point of them, even though I know they are results of many hours of women’s skills and investments on the marriage market.
I assume the milk jug covers were made as just that, and that the maker could plan and design for the beading as they made the doilies. My lace crocheting skills aren’t up to date, much less my bobbin lace skills, so making it from scratch was never an option.
In my quest for milk jug cover material I decided to rescue some of those doilies from disastrous fates. I bought nine from a seller on Swedish eBay – round and square, bobbin laced and crocheted, linen and cotton. Beautifully crafted in yarn finer than sewing thread. I also bought three vintage necklaces with glass beads for the beaded fringe.
21st century jug covers
A few weeks ago I started adding the necklace beads to the doilies. I had quite fun, actually, planning the colours and the design of the beading. While stitching I thought of all those women who had dedicated their time and skills to the doilies, perhaps hoping for a better life. Their thoughts laced into the doilies, mine beaded onto the edge, united in a milk jug cover.
I gifted the first two to my parents. They admired them but weren’t sure they’d really use them. Just wait until August with wasps flying around the elderflower lemonade on the garden table under the birch, then they will fetch the jug covers in a second!
Clingfilm or bobbin lace?
I have just finished the third jug cover. This was the largest doily and my favourite – a square bobbin laced doily in linen yarn. The pattern features a meandering band around the edge of a linen square. I chose the heaviest glass beads and used a combination of five beads for each point of the lace pattern. My heart tingles along with the beads against the jug as I touch them.
I still have six doilies and hundreds of beads to play with. I don’t know if the milk jug covers I make will be used, they are a pain to iron and I have no idea how to wash them. But still. I have milk jug covers in my life now. What would you choose for an afternoon in the garden with a glass of lemonade – bobbin lace or cling film?
I’m definitely not in the market for a tinder profile, but wouldn’t it be interesting to highlight milk jug cover making skills in a profile? Just to shift the discourse, see what happens?
Oh, and I finished another one during a zoom meeting at the home office today. I used long rows of seed beads only, creating sweet curves around the edging. The vacuum cleaner will rattle from dropped seed beads the next time we clean the house.
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