Bonfield Block Printers have created us an exclusive range of the most romantic, intriguing, beguiling 'Lost' bolster cushions.
Imagery and text, block-printed in black on each, tell the story of a long lost - and lamented - object, be it a thimble, a comb, talisman or pipe. All the bolsters come with a simple, hand-stitched two-button opening.
The cushions are made of antique C19th hemp.
DIGORY’S LOST TALISMAN
Digory’s rebus-inspired talisman - rebuses are devices that combine the use of illustrated pictures with individual letters to depict words or phrases - is the work of an illiterate or semi-illiterate parent. It reads: ‘FEAR NOT MY SON’ using just two letters, an ‘F’ and an ‘M’, alongside images of an ear, a knot, an eye and a sun. It’s a creative gesture overflowing with not only love, but ingenuity.
Talismans or tokens such as this were often pennies which had been defaced and re-inscribed with personal messages. This particular talisman was created to embolden the young man. But why? Was he to be one of the Cornish diaspora, compelled to seek work far from home? Was he in a hazardous occupation - a tin miner or, perhaps, a fisherman - and needed protection? Was he a victim of impressment (the taking of men and boys into naval service by force)? Given the nature of the imagery, perhaps his fate was altogether a darker one; was he going to the gallows?
Whatever perils awaited young Digory, the beauty and power of this talisman would have given him strength. It is no surprise that he wept at its loss.
BEULAH’S LOST THIMBLE
We all know thimbles are worn on the fingertip to protect the flesh from a needle wound. However, in and around the 19th Century, they were occasionally worn on the finger for a different purpose.
An ornamental thimble such as Beulah’s - one decorated with flowers, foliage or scrolls, and made in silver or, from time to time, gold - was often presented by a young man to his sweetheart as a love token. Occasionally, it was given prior to a marriage proposal. In poorer families, when a couple wed, the rim of the thimble was cut off and used as the most sacred of things, the wedding ring itself.
So, given her feelings of sorrow and regret, it is possible that Beulah may not have lost just a thimble. It could well have been a romantic token or, even more poignant, her intended wedding band.
If this was the case, to lose the thing that was to tie her in holy matrimony would have been inauspicious. For a girl whose name means ‘bride’ or ‘married’, losing a humble thimble could indeed make the heart bleed.
SILAS’ LOST PIPE
The drover’s life was a hard one, with few if any comforts. Employed by farmers to take livestock to market, this hardy breed of men endured journeys lasting a few days to several months. Toleration of bad weather and treacherous terrain was par for the course, as was sleeping rough and living with the anxiety caused by the threat of robbery.
With aching limbs and sore feet, being sleep-deprived, hungry and suffering the stress caused by hypervigilance, a simple pipe would have been a daily comfort to a man such as Silas Bone.
Considered by the rich to be objects of single-use, the working man would smoke his pipe until it fell apart or became blocked. In Silas’ time, short-stemmed pipes - sometimes called ‘nose warmers’ - would have been widespread. Their bowls were often shaped to mimic human or animal heads, and flora such as acorns.
Losing something as companionable as a pipe, especially one carved with one’s own initials, would have been heartbreaking. It’s no wonder that for the remainder of the drove, Silas’ lightness deserted him.
MARY’S LOST COMB
By the time Mary Venn lost her comb in 1771, whaling in Britain was a thriving business. Whales, hunted mainly for the oil derived from their blubber, also provided baleen - known as whalebone - for the creation of all manner of domestic items; the hair comb being one such example.
After each catch, crew members were allotted a share of whalebone out of which some carved gifts for their families. The things they made were often engraved with maritime scenes - an art form called ‘scrimshaw’. The design on Mary’s comb is typical, and it was almost certainly created aboard a whaler, possibly by a father, brother or cousin, with her in mind.
Given the comb’s unique beauty and personal nature, it’s no wonder Mary was deeply saddened by its loss. Who knows, she may have had even greater reason to grieve; perhaps the maker of the comb had since been lost at sea?
Notwithstanding her anguish, there is a certain poetry in the comb’s demise. Indeed, it is fitting that the resting place of an object made from whalebone should be a watery wasteland, with Ely Cathedral - known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’ - anchored close by.
How the cushions are made:
The chosen fabric is washed before printing (to allow for shrinkage and to remove any sizing) and then ironed. Once this is done, it is laid on the bed of the press to await the inked block. Linseed-based relief ink is mixed by hand to the desired colour before being applied to the block (using an artist's hand roller). The inked block is then carefully placed face-down onto the fabric, before the press's heavy cylinder roller is passed over it. The block is gently removed to reveal the design on the fabric.
The printed textile is taken away to cure (dry); it's then whisked up to their sewing room to be cut to size and transformed into the cushions you see here.
The cushion pad (inside) is 100% cotton and filled with duck feathers.