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"Peg Dolls and Heritage", by Mandy Pattullo, Resident Textile Artist

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

The clothes peg is a nineteenth-century invention. Clothes in the past were dried over bushes and around fires rather than pegged out on lines. I particularly love the aesthetic of rough and worn old clothes pegs but the story behind them too. The sort I have used are mostly gypsy pegs but they were also made by “woodlanders” ( I feel the urge to reread Thomas Hardy coming on!) and farmers in the winter months. Gypsies would move around to where the work was – on hop or wheat fields and in orchards, but they nearly always made their camps where there was a plentiful supply of wood. Often they were made by gypsy women from predominantly hazel or willow and with reclaimed metal at the top to hold them . The tin might be from scrap metal collected by the men or as a by product of blacksmithing. This combination of metal and wood gives the pegs a talismanic quality and the use of willow and hazel that grow near water adds other magical qualities to the humble but useful item. Women hawked them around towns along with lucky tin charms and bunches of heather. They became for many gypsies a lucrative source of income.

I just about remember gypsy women coming to my Grandmother’s farm door. She said they camped out on the Acle to Great Yarmouth stretch because of the willow growing in the ditches. She always bought something from them as it was considered unlucky not to do so. She would sometimes wrap dressmaking remnants round them to make us peg dolls. They had faces probably made with a pencil but I have chosen to keep mine anonymous. None of these were kept, they weren’t considered valuable, but I long to see them again.

I am always looking for ways to represent my beautiful collection of antique fabrics, dating back to 200 years ago and often obtained through unpicking nineteenth century quilts. I now make peg dolls for my granddaughters ( though they prefer Barbie to be honest) but really I make them for myself as I think I still haven’t out grown picking an outfit for a doll. I have 50 dolls currently on display at The Tweeddale Gallery in Peebles.The grouping of 50 dolls though also says something about female friendship. Some lean into each other, some form groups, some wear similar outfits, some prefer to be slightly on the edge.

And now for the “green” message – if you have old wooden pags then use them and hang your washing outside. Much better for the environment than using a tumble drier!

Mandy Pattullo trained as a Surface Pattern and Textile Designer, and teacher. She creates work in the Tyne Valley Studio at the Hearth and runs a series of popular workshops in the Hearth Hall, as well as throughout the UK and France. She has written two inspirational books titled, "Textile Collage" (2016) and "Textiles Transformed" ( 2020).

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