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Finding new appreciation

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Working with the Tauranga Heritage Collection over the years, I’ve come to appreciate, if not love, some surprising objects. Top of my list is our Marshall Steam Traction Engine.  I’ll never forget having the opportunity to drive it - to feel the heat from the firebox and the rumble of the ground beneath the solid rubber tyres. It made a traction engine convert out of me.

Recently I’ve been working with the Tauranga Embroiderers’ Guild to delve into our textile collection in preparation for Stitch-a-Plenty, the Association of New Zealand Embroiderers’ Guild’s National Conference to be held in Tauranga July 2022. It has been a wonderful experience seeing the collection though their eyes. And once again, it has given me new appreciation for objects I’ve not considered before. This time it’s tea cosies!

The Tauranga Heritage Collection has a wonderful variety of tea cosies demonstrating nearly every type of embroidery skill from whitework and cutwork to beading and pulled thread  However, my two favourites are a lovely Victorian beaded and Berlin work cosy and a cottage shaped silk thread embroidered cosy, which likely dates from the 1930s. Both were donated by local families.

It came as a surprise to me that the first documented use of a tea cosy in Britain was in 1867.[i] I had imagined it would be much earlier. There is some suggestion that covers to keep tea warm would have been in use when tea was first introduced into England in the late 1600s.[ii] It was during the Victorian era that the tea cosy craze took hold and no respectable home or tea party host was without one. Anna Russel, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with popularising afternoon tea and by association, the cosy. But if you think the cosy has been relegated to the past you might be surprised to know that these days, like many old traditions, it is finding a new audience. Hopefully our small collection can provide tea enthusiasts with some inspiration.

[i] Richard Rutt, A history of hand knitting. (London: Batsford. 1987).