Artists Cameron Short & Janet Tristram of Bonfield Block Printers’ have made The Merchant’s Table an exclusive range of ‘Somerset Song’ hand block-printed cushions, in three exceptional fabrics. Japanese Rose Pink Blushed Linen; Irish Ecru Linen; Irish Straw Linen.
The cushions are block-printed by the artists, in the Bonfield workshop. Central to the whole operation is their trusty 1904 proofing press. The process is intensive but they (and us!) feel the results are worth it.
Each block-printed cushion is unique, and they say this with conviction! Although cushions may be of the same dimensions, shape and feature the same design, the nature of block-printing means no two will be identical. On the reverse is a block-printed, patched and stitched maker’s label.
The illustrations are spirited from the folk songs famously collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, England in 1903.
The two cushions shown here are an exceptionally fine Japanese Rose Pink brushed linen with prints in Dark Grey.
The block-printed images patched onto these two designs are a mix of:
‘Young Johnny a-selling’
This image emerged from the well-loved Somerset folk song, ‘Green Broom’. It tells of a poor boy called Johnny - son of a needle furze-cutter - who is ordered to arise, ‘unbutton his eyes’ and ‘away to the woods for green broom’. Having cut enough broom to sell, young Johnny goes to market where he’s watched by a ‘fair lady’ in ‘her window so high’. She is love-struck by the lad, and sends her maid to fetch him in. As Johnny enters the lady’s room, she implores : ‘Will you marry a lady in bloom, in bloom?’ to which he consents.
‘Down by some crystal spring, where the nightingales sing...’
This image emanates from the Somerset folk ballad, ‘The Crystal Spring’. The lyrics of the first verse are particularly evocative, transporting the listener to a cool, verdant Arcadia: ‘Down by some crystal spring, where the nightingales sing, Most pleasant it is, in season, to hear the groves ring...’ The print’s symmetry is inspired by a C17th carved Bible box.
‘Then she became a hare, And he became a greyhound dog...’
This image is conjured from ‘The Two Magicians’, a folk song believed to be unique to Somerset. Song-Hunter Cecil Sharp heard it from just one source - a blacksmith by the rather apt name of William Sparks. A beguiling song, it tells the tale of a girl who refuses to marry a ‘husky, dusky, must-y, fusk-y, coal blacksmith...’ The song takes a surreal turn as the girl resorts to shape-shifting to escape his advances. Little does she know that he, too, has the power to transform himself.
‘What care I for my money, O?’
The image is derived from a lyric in the Somerset folk song, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, O!’.
SONGS OF SOMERSET
The story behind the ‘Songs of Somerset’ prints celebrates the exploits of song-hunter Cecil J Sharp in 1903. Over the course of a few years, Sharp roamed Somerset on his humble bicycle, amassing more than 1,600 songs from 350 singers. His quest took the form of exploration. A diary entry reads:
‘Folk-song takes refuge in the poor cottages and outlying hamlets. It harbours in the heathen kingdoms and the wilder parts. It is a treasure to be sought and found in nooks and corners...’
Sharp understood that these songs wove generations together, and bestowed on folk a sense of identity and belonging. They were among the most intimate possessions of the poor. He wrote:
‘They come out very shyly, late at night, and are heard when the gentry have gone to bed, when the barrack-room has exhausted its Music-Hall menu.’
Sharp’s objective was preservation, and he recorded both lyrics and melodies expertly - his only tools a well-trained ear and a pencil. Many of the songs tell fanciful and peculiar stories - some dark, some light - providing Cameron Short & Janet Tristram, the artists, with an abundance of rich imagery to interpret.
How they 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 our sewing room to be cut to size and transformed into a charming cushion cover. Most of the cushions are backed in natural jute hemp with a raw edge, before a block-printed maker's label is finally sewn on. Depending on the design, sometimes an embroidered maker's label is used.
Being block-printed, the cushions should be used with relative care (cushion fights a no-no!). The pad (100%cotton and filled with duck feathers) is easily removed so the cover can be washed. We recommend gentle hand-washing in lukewarm water using a small amount of silk/wool laundry liquid. The block-printed cover can be ironed on a warm setting, with muslin between the iron and cover.
A fine, Irish linen cushion. The cushion pad is 100% cotton and feather-filled.
Range: The Rose Pink Bonfield Block-Printers cushions, from a range of six designs, in three colourways, made exclusively for The Merchant’s Table.
Find out more about Bonfield Block-Printers here.