Happy Beltane!

Fairy Maypole

I have had a bit of fun realising I could put some of my recently edged grass (see Edges, April) in a pot and make a ‘fairy garden’ for May Day. This was the widest, shallow pot I could find and is a lovely old terracotta one, but I may look out for something larger if I do this again. It is a little dwarfed by the maypole and the ribbons – I am trusting fairies can fly to weave them in and out, they don’t need a huge garden!

I had the idea about a week after finishing the edging, so there wasn’t that much grass left from my weeding and tidying efforts, and the violets have now finished flowering, but the forgetmenots are doing brilliantly and it has been a very cheerful indoor arrangement for about three weeks. I notice some aquilegia seedlings have appeared as well. The grass has had to be cut every few days…

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Beltane Quilt

Beltane Quilt

Here is the last of my Sabbat quilts, made during the last Spring Snowstorm in early April.

It has the largest number of fabrics of all the quilts, 24 I think, helped by some of the leftovers from recent dressmaking and bunting projects, as well as the donation of some scraps left over from a quilt my grandmother made me when I was little. So this quilt has real family history in it! The design is inspired by the flowers and colours of May, and by the whirling patterns of Maypole dancing. It started off very regular and formal in its arrangement but I was a row short; it ended up much more freeform in its twirling, swirling around, but I’m quite pleased with the way it has come out. The only thing I might have changed is that on three of the corners a diagonal seam runs into the corner, which was hard to trim or turn properly. This would not have been a problem on a normal quilt with a wadding layer and bound edges, but these are unfilled, just turned like a bag with one colour being chosen in each quilt for outlining to join the two layers. Unlike the other quilts I had no choice of which colour to outline on this one, green being the only plain colour used across the quilt!

It has been an interesting project to make all eight – and challenging at times when I was struggling to sew! I deliberately made each one unique, not comparing them as I went, so here is the first time I have put them all together. To me they make an interesting impression of how colours change over the year. I might have exaggerated this more if I had made them all at the same time, and had the fabrics I now have, but that is the beauty of making one at a time. The design changes had a logic, which isn’t so apparent here, but this may be the only time they are all seen together.

Eight Sabbat Display Quilts, arranged from top left:
Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox.


Over the next year I hope to make items to go in the displays, since some sabbats definitely do better than others at the moment! Each sabbat has seen something being made and something stored from previous years, but like our special tree decorations that come out December after December and are passed on through the family, and inspired by the nature displays in the Steiner School we used to visit, I would like to create more ‘special’ things for the rest of the year as well.

Maypole Dancing

This week I have been maypole dancing – for the first time in 30 years! Mayday, or Beltane as some prefer, was always my favourite festival of the year ever since I was a small child. It celebrates what is good right now, as opposed to the promise of things to come, or things past.

I was lucky enough to be brought up in a village that still had regular community events throughout the year, Mayday being the first followed by Whitsun and Harvest, a summer fete, and some years a play or a pantomime, written and performed by people who lived in the village. Even before Mayday the ritual started with us each being given a poster to colour in at school, always the same picture of a garland of flowers but sufficiently interesting that it didn’t seem to matter, and then we would each find somewhere to display our poster to advertise the event. There would also be several practises for the dancing in school lunchbreaks, with a small pole which we tried not to pull over or tangle up, and tape recorded music.

Mayday Garlands, 1984

Mayday Garlands, 1984

Finally the day dawned. It started with making a flower garland – which in my case was usually made of freshly cut forsythia branches with a garden cane across the middle, since we never possessed any plastic hoops. We then added to the acid yellow flowers with whatever else we could find in the garden: daffodils, forget me nots, ivy and aubretia. Judging by old photos, Spring must have come later then! Dressed up in our finery (and usually raincoats!) we carried the garland to the far end of the village for the start of the procession. Around a hundred children plus parents would walk through the village to the recreation ground, before abandoning the garlands for the maypole dancing.

Gypsy's Tent Dance

Gypsy’s Tent Dance

On the day there was always a huge white painted pole erected in the rec, which always took me by surprise just how big it was. Somehow with the live music playing (thanks to the Morris dancers who followed us) and the extra space, we always managed to get it right when it mattered.

Coaching Horses Dance

Coaching Horses Dance

While I have made flower garlands of varying sizes over the years, and danced to many Morris or ceilidh bands, I had never had a chance to dance around that wonderful phallic symbol that is the maypole, until this year. We were dancing with a five foot pole specially made for us by one of the mothers at the Steiner Waldorf toddler group M and I go to. She did a beautiful job, carving flower patterns into the bark and attaching long, brightly-coloured satin ribbons to the top of the pole. There were exactly the right number of ribbons for the dancers present, never a very predictable number, so that felt good too. The lovely woman who runs the group held the pole upright with one hand as we danced, and we sang to provide our own music, going first one direction around and then the other just as we always had.

So different, and yet exactly the same; spiralling patterns encouraging and celebrating Spring in its full glory.