Tales Told In November

What a great and terrible month November is. The darkness is already rushing upon us and then the clocks go back so that all of a sudden it’s dark by teatime. The colour scheme outdoors changes from softly mellow and autumnal to high drama: sodden yellow leaves against black branches. The wild weather arrives. Life generally begins to feel precarious and doom-laden, yet also a little bit thrilling. November exists on the threshold of the year, and on the threshold of the world of the real and the world of enchantment, the world of the past and the land of the dead. I love the dark, rich, un-nameable colours and the slanting light, the drawing-in of the evenings. This is the time when tales should be told. Ghost stories, preferably.

We enjoyed Hallowe’en, but feel it has been neutered rather. The spirit droops as a result of all the plastic tat. The preponderance of orange isn’t good, stylistically. If you also feel this you could consider eschewing pumpkins. You get much more frightening results if you hollow out and carve turnips — absolutely terrifying little ghostly white heads — but they’re far tougher than the pumpkins you can now buy for next to nothing in the supermarket, which arrive practically pre-hollowed, requiring the extraction of only a couple of handfuls of seeds. Extraordinarily convenient and easy. In a truly Novemberish spirit of awkward curmudgeonliness, I’m beginning to revolt somewhat against ease and convenience.

I enjoy the gangs of adorable small costumed children touring the neighbourhood, accompanied by parents lurking at a discreet distance and reminding them to say thank you. At the age of about ten I was an early adopter of trick-or-treating in the UK. My friend Jassy and I had heard rumours of this American custom and the prospect of free sweets was extremely alluring. We spent hours on our homemade costumes and set off alone into the unwelcoming dark. Literally no grown-up whose door we knocked on had heard of the concept. They listened patiently while we explained the idea — it sounded less convincing with each repetition — and on the whole did their best, although they were unprepared with the toffee apples, homemade fudge and cookies we had been led to expect. This was Cambridge in 1980. There was some earnest academic engagement with the concept we were trying to explain. “I see. We give you something delicious or you will do something horrible to us. So, extortion with menaces?” Some unearthed an ancient travel sweet or elderly After Eight. I remember being given a Weetabix as a particularly low point. Jassy is quite sure that we were asked into one house and offered a glass of sherry.

In revolt from the commercial side of holidays, we prefer not to look ahead to Christmas quite yet. (Perhaps this state of denial contributes to the ominous aura of November, now I come to think of it: the knowledge that one is insufficiently prepared and will almost certainly be feverishly wrapping at midnight on Christmas Eve.) Nevertheless in an ideal world there would be a secret stash of cards and presents somewhere in the house by now, a feeling of well-laid plans in motion. To that end we’ll be in Ely Cathedral at the Christmas Market from this Wednesday, doing our Christmas shopping as well as manning our own stall, listening to the choir and occasionally slipping out for buttered toast with Gentleman’s Relish at the best teashop south of Harrogate.


Preview Evening: Wednesday 16th November 6.30-9pm

Thursday 17th November 9.30 am – 4.30 pm

Friday 18th November 9 am – 9 pm

Saturday 19th November 9.30 am – 4.30 pm

Click here to book tickets.

Happily we have a back-up shopping opportunity now added to the schedule. Selvedge Magazine used to run a wonderful one-day Christmas Fair in London which we very much enjoyed and to our joy they’ve just resurrected it. We’ll be manning our stall there between trips to other people’s, which in our experience sell an absolutely irresistible mixture of vintage textiles, embroidery from distant lands, haberdashery supplies, unusual and delightful clothing, sumptuous hats and handmade treasures. This is such a happy addition to the winter calendar. It will take place on Saturday 10th December in Bloomsbury . If you live in London, please come!


Mary Ward House

5-7 Tavistock Square

Kings Cross

London WC1N 9SN

Saturday 10th December, 11am—4 pm

Tickets are £10 on the door but you can buy two for the price of one on the Selvedge website here using the code CHRISTMASFAIR2022.

If you can’t make it, or would like to get started now on your Christmas shopping, do visit our shop. We’re in good heart,  well-stocked and with supply chains working fairly smoothly and well after the chaos of the past two winters. (There is the occasional thing that’s difficult to get hold of and this year that includes our favourite bright red paper ribbon. We’re having a good time considering alternative colour schemes as you can see here.) Unfortunately the industrial action that is everywhere in the air is, indirectly, likely to affect us. Royal Mail postal workers will be striking on the 24 and 25 November, and our experience has been that the consequences rumble on for a couple of weeks after the strike itself, slowing down deliveries across the board as everyone struggles to catch up. The consequences of this strike will likely be magnified because it spans Black Friday. (Has a day ever been more appropriately named? Verily, it is the work of the devil.) We’ll be sending out every order that qualifies for free shipping by courier on those days, to try to minimise the effect. However, you might want to seize this mid-November moment of comparative calm to place an unhurried order.

The rest of the pictures in this letter, by the way, are of the steeply raking November light in the studio, slanting across swatches of what will be next year’s new Dancing Hare paper. We’re in the middle of thinking through colour ways for this theoretically springlike pattern. The November drama has inexorably crept in however, and it’s impossible not to embrace the dark and complicated hues of blackberry, ivy, silver and black, just as, right now, it is impossible to believe that spring will ever return.