'Why, hello Amy and Nat! Lovely to meet you, I hope you enjoy my little show of trinkets and objects d'art, but you must excuse me, I have to go and greet the Mayor and VIP party, it looks like they have just arrived. Tell me later what you think about these fascinating things we have here tonight!'
And with a sashay of black spidery chiffon and a wave of scent straight from the orient, she was gone.
'Wow,' I said. 'We could use more of that in this dull old town, what?'
'Oh, I know exactly what you mean,' laughed Sue, 'But hey, let's see what she's on about shall we?'
And so we walked about the show, gazing at female domestic history on display. You know, I hated history at school It was all about explorers, and governors of New South Wales, and convicts, and sheep in vast quantities, and a thing called Federation, but to be honest, I don't remember much of it at all. Of course I knew the obvious. Australia began its life as a penal colony, and conditions on the First Fleet, the small group of sailing ships which came out from England, were indescribably horrendous. I knew that as a nation we were tied to mother England's apron strings until the twentieth century and that many brave sons tragically lost their lives fighting in world wars to help defend her. That was about the extent of my knowledge of history.
But this show was all about the female side of history, it was about real women and the little everyday objects that they used and made to try to make their domestic lives more comfortable, and more beautiful. There were a couple of ornate 'crazy quilts', made with brocade, velvet and satin, with decorative stitching and all sorts of little beads and jewels. The card attached explained that these were made by the wealthy squattters' and important officials' wives, and they were expensive materials, scraps perhaps from ball gowns and sumptuous curtaining. The fancy needlework was to show off their skills. I liked these quilts a lot, but the ones made by the ordinary ladies, the battlers, were more fascinating.
English paper pieced quilts were popular. They were made exactly as they are today, but the fabrics were less 'contrived' in design, as they obviously just had to make do with what they had. There was a mixture of tweed, twill, cotton print, the occasional fancy fabric, but much less adherence to a set 'design' than we would have in today's quilts.
Some small objects caught my eye. There were lovely little thimbles, some beat up and worn, and some exquisitely preserved china ones - from a collection no doubt. There were a few kitchen items, too. How hard they had to work to make just a basic meal for a family! How would they ever had had time to sew anything! I was amazed at how tiny the sewing needles were. No wonder I couldn't get small stitches when I tried to hand-sew.
'Chat-el-aine', Nat was saying out loud. 'Isn't that a lovely word, Mum? Have you got one of those?'
'Hardly likely, if it is as old as they say, darling.'
'An interesting piece, is it not?'
We both jumped a little, as Alisha had soundlessly appeared behind us, smiling mysteriously.
'Chatelaine' I repeated. 'I've heard that word somewhere before, but I can't quite remember where.'
It was indeed a fascinating object. Made entirely of metal, it resembled a little sort of cow bell thing, with chains attached to it. On the end of one chain was an old rusted key, and another one had something that looked like a small letter opener. Two other chains were bare of any objects; long lost, presumably. It looked as if the object itself may have contained something, too, as it had a top section which looked like it might open up, as a lid.
We learned from the printed information accompanying it that the lady of the house would have worn one of these around her waist so that she had the tools of housekeeping on her person to mend, darn, lock or open anything that needed attention. I guessed 'housekeeper' rather than 'house owner', but I wasn't sure. It was a fascinating object though, and I spent some time gazing closely at it.
An then I remembered exactly where I had seen that word before, and I shuddered involuntarily.
'Amy, what's wrong! You look as if you have seen a ghost!'
Why did Amy get such a creepy feeling when she remembered the word "chatelaine"? All suggestions welcome. To be continued.....