Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bunnies & Beatrix Potter

Flopsy Bunnies

"Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits and their names were, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter". And, so begins the story The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter

Easter time makes me think of cute little bunnies and the charming children's stories of Beatrix Potter.

To many, Beatrix Potter is known and remembered by Peter Rabbit and her children's books. She was so much more than a children's book author. She was truly a Victorian woman ahead of her time. She was also a conservationist, botanical illustrator, respected farmer and sheep breeder.

Beatrix Potter was born in London, England in 1866. As a child she was home schooled and encouraged to paint and draw. As a child she would smuggle mice, rabbits and hedgehogs into the house. She also had a pet rabbit, named Peter. (Now we know the inspiration for all her adorable animal characters in her books!)

Every year her family spent holidays away from London in the countryside. Beatrix drew and painted everything she could. She loved animals and being in the country.

Hilltop Farm, Cumbria, England
17th Century Stonehouse

In 1905, Beatrix left London and moved to Cumbria, and English county in the Lake District. Thanks to royalties from her first few books, she purchased a working farm called Hill Top Farm. This was the start of her deep interest in farming and preserving the land.

In the 1930's and 40's she and her husband were sheep farmers and breeders. Their Herdwick Sheep won many prizes at county shows. Herdwick sheep are a breed native to the Lake District. Beatrix was also the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association. She also helped save the breed from extinction.

Herdwick sheep are a dual breed who produce a thick, coarse grey fleece due to their harsh environment. Sorry knitters since their wool does not dye easily it is mostly used for carpet wool. There is a co-operative of women farmers, dyers, spinners, weavers and knitters though in Cumbria today called The Wool Clip .

Beatrix passed away in 1943 at the age of seventy-seven. To ensure the conservation of her beloved Lake District, she willed to the National Trust, 15 farms, over 4,000 acres of land and her Herdwick sheep flocks. One provision was that her Hill Top Farm had to remain exactly as she left it, complete with her furniture, art and china. It remains open today for the public to enjoy.

My husband and I love travelling to England. We visited the Lake District in 2003. We made the special journey to Cumbria to visit Hill Top Farm.

So in honor of Beatrix Potter, I would like to share a few photos from a knitting book called The Beatrix Potter Knitting book. All the patterns were inspired by the art and life of Beatrix Potter. Since it is Easter, I selected the cute little bunny ones to share today.

Benjamin Bunny
Sweater, Pull-Ups

Benjamin Bunny
Sleeping Bag

Flopsy Bunnies
Baby's Jumper (Sweater)

The Beatix Potter Knitting Book

The Beatrix Potter Knitting Book by Pat Menchini was first published in 1987. It features more than 50 delightful handknits for all ages. Many of the book's photographs were taken on location in Beatrix Potter's own English, Lake District.

If you ever find yourself in the beautiful Lake District, I encourage you visit Hill Top Farm. You might also enjoy the movie Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter, which was filmed in the Lake District.

While visiting the Lake District, I also highly recommend having Sticky Toffee Pudding and afternoon tea at the nearby Sharrow Bay Hotel.


heartgirl said...

Hi Lisette,
I was just checking out your wonderful writing and found this whole part on Beatrix Potter. I am a huge fan. I regularly make Peter Rabbit embroidered blankets for baby gifts. You should see my supply of books and plush to go along with them - fills a whole section in my sewing room closet. Just funny to see this on your blog. You are such a talented writer. I'm off to Disneyland for 3 days on Sunday so that will be my little getaway for now - maybe Hill Top Farm someday!! I'm planning to do Wednesday's again at Knitique in May - hope to see you there. Diane

sheila said...

It was wonderful to learn about Beatrix Potter. I have always loved her books. My question is, when are we going?

Lisette said...

Diane, Thank you for your lovely comments. I am pleased that such a fan as yourself found my post on Beatrix Potter.
I hope you get to Hill Top Farm someday. Let's work on Danielle to do an English knitting tour!
See you on Wednesdays in May!

Lisette said...

Yes, let's do plan a knitting trip to the UK. Lorna has done it before so she can lead the way throughout England and Scotland!