Monday, November 17, 2008

The tray cloth

On Saturday it was my turn to host the book group. (Patrick Gale’s “Notes for an Exhibition” – I really liked it, though not everyone did.) The catlets helped set the table; this is expressly forbidden.

Making slightly more effort than usual, I put a tray cloth on the tray on which I set out the coffee cups, and was slightly taken aback when Daughter 2 pointed out that it was some time since I’d used such an item. “In fact,” she mused, “I don’t even think that I was aware of the term ‘tray cloth’.” She’s 27. I hung my head in shame.

How my standards have slipped. I suppose I usually use this patterned tray and just put the cups on it.
But back in the old days, when I used to have friends round for afternoon tea, we always used a nice embroidered tray cloth.
I don’t quilt (yet) or do anything much in the way of crafty stuff these days – apart from occasional curtain or cushion-making. I never seem to have any time apart from in the summer, when I garden. I always feel like an imposter when I read wonderful quilty/arty blogs with their impressive show-and-tells. So I thought I’d show you one of my two tray cloths. A poor thing, as my Grandpa used to say, but mine own.

Back in my leisured youth – I think it was when I was engaged and at teacher training college, before the worlds of work and children overwhelmed me with their demands – I embroidered a cloth to match my wedding china (another quaintly outdated concept) - not to a printed pattern; I just copied the china. I would have to say that no one ever noticed that the cloth matched the china, so it was a total waste of time. Until now.

When I present it to you. Ta-da!

Tennyson didn’t get many comments, but come on: let’s hear it for

- the tray cloth.


  1. Dear Isabelle,
    Your Tennyson post may not have gotten a lot of comments, but i have actually been thionking on it since I read it.
    I was actually trying to think of an approriate response, because the paper I am working on has much to do with inexpressibility and absence.

    So you gave me much to think about, and it was a lovely post.

    As for this adorable item, what can I say?
    It's so pretty and beautiful and makes me think about what a sweet girl you must have been, stitching away all those lovely flowers to match your china, (and how sweet you still are!)

    I am ashamed to say I do not even have a TRAY let alone a cloth for it.

  2. *thinking*!


  3. I am again humbled by your domestic awesomeness. And by the way, I am 41 and hadn't come across a tray cloth before. Does that make you feel better?

  4. Love your "tray cloth" it's beautifully done:-) I admit to owinging a tray - but not a cloth!

  5. The tray cloth is a SPLENDID thing! I have tray cloths and I cannot remember when last I used them, and my mother is mourning my lack of tea party skills. I think she gave up when I offered her friends tea in MUGS. She has never quite recovered from the shock.

    Seriously, though, the tray cloth is beautiful!

  6. I think Daughter 2 has not been paying attention, since Daughter 1 (me) is fully aware of the existence of tray cloths. Not that I own any.

    I am sorry to say, though, that I have indeed never noticed that that one matches your good china. Sorry.

  7. You've been "hiding your light under a bushel", as the saying goes. All this time you've been leading us to believe you have no artistic talent whatsoever, yet you created this exquisite tray cloth!

    I find it all the more impressive because I loathe embroidering things. Think of Sisyphus rolling his boulder along and substitute a needle, and that's pretty much how I feel about it. Love the finished product, though!

  8. Wow. It really does match the tea set. I am very impressed indeed. Touching wood for you that your tea-set survives intact for many a year, otherwise you might have to bring out the needles again....

  9. Aaaaargh...I saved your blog in my Favourites back in May but must have done it wrong so have been assuming that you just stopped blogging back in the marking days! Now I discover that you've been here all along and I have months to catch up on!

    So, can't stop to admire the tray cloth for long as I have holidays in Wales and crashed cars to check out....

    It looks lovely though and far far more artistic and skilful than I could EVER manage. Kudos.

    Lesley x

  10. Anonymous1:13 pm

    Good post. It's interesting that you mention feeling like an impostor. I just wrote a book on the subject.

    The Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you are not as smart, talented, or skilled as people think you are. It's the feeling that you are a fake and have been getting away with something and are about to be found out. It affects 70% of adults and is especially prevalent in high achieving women.

    You can take a 20 question test to see how much the impostor syndrome affects you at:

    John Graden

  11. I love this cloth! What a fabulous thing to do :) CP x

  12. The last comment before mine was from "Catspuke," [Now why did I not think to name my blog THAT? I wonder....] who praised your lovely work and thought it was a fabulous thing to do-----and, silly me, the penny dropping so slowly here and all, I thought she meant it was a fabulous thing for cats to puke on tray cloths.... Are you following me? I think maybe I need more sleep....
    I remember my mother having such cloths, and a few trays too. I do love your cloth and agree with Tanya [hiding your light under a bushel!]and will be expecting more arty crafty posts henceforth. So there.

  13. Wow. That is some seriously lovely work, I've done some embroidery, I couldn't imagine following a pattern on china freehand like that!

    We didn't get wedding china, being in our mid 20's with our own flat, and already having an almost full kitchen we opted for a wedding le creuset (sp?) soup pot.

  14. OhMyGosh -- It's BEAUTIFUL Isabelle! You HAVE been hiding your skills (well, needlework that is, you clearly have blown us away with your writing skills!) You made me laugh with your Ta Da and the catlets helping you (bad kitties). But right behind the thrill of that beautiful tray cloth is the thrill that you put "yet" behind "I am not a quilter". My diabolical scheme is working and you're heading down the path....

  15. It is lovely, but I hadn't ever heard of one either. Growing up we had dresser scarves, which have also gone by the wayside, along with linen napkins and sheets that need ironing (thank heavens!).

    You're a better hostess than I if you even use a tray -- I just put everything on the counter and make people help themselves!

  16. Well, you would be aware that I am no stranger to tray cloths and all things embroidered, so trust me when I tell you that your stitching is exquisite. I hope your daughters will keep this cloth in trust for their daughters/in-law or whoever. Handmade 'stuff' needs to be looked after and handed down through generations, no matter how simple you think it is. Do YOU have something that is handstitched by your grandma?

  17. I liked Notes from an Exhibition too, but my bookclub had mixed opinions.

    I knew about tray cloths, buts have never seen one which matches the china before! Fancy-schmancy.

  18. I love the embroidery. It reminded me that when I was at school I used to embroider doilys when the school put on retreats. I gave them to my mother, of course, but have no idea what happened to them after the deaths of my parents. It was soothing and restful work which let the mind float free.

  19. Dear Isabelle,
    You are incredibly clever to stitch that beautiful tray cloth...freehand, no match your wedding china! What a lovely idea!
    We got china for our wedding too...picked it ourselves with some of the money given to us. What fun! The memory of picking it out, that is :)
    I enjoy doing embroidery (and cross stitch) but haven't done any for several years.
    I meant to mention how much I like that lovely photo of your daughter with the catlet in the previous post :)