Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stand up Tammy Bunting! by Cindy Jefferies

Little did the developers of estamet, a sort of light, worsted cloth made in England from as early as 1594 know what they were doing. This fabric was made in Norfolk, and one day someone had the idea of pressing it with a hot iron. The result was to put a shine on the fabric. I wonder if it was done by mistake or on purpose? I certainly remembering using too hot an iron on my young son's school trousers some years ago. The result then was a very unwelcome shine but the cloth manufacturers in Norfolk took a mistake, if mistake it was, and turned it into a great success.

The cloth was bought by ribbon makers. This shiny, home produced cloth was probably cheaper than imported silk, and maybe more available too. It wasn't long before the navy saw the possibilities of the fabric. This estamet, tammet, tammy (the name evolved over the years) began to be used to make flags, particularly signalling flags. No one seems to know when or why the name for this fabric became bunt, but for a long time signalling officers in the navy have been known as bunts.

Did that first person who shone the cloth and began the process of creating bunting lose his job or get a rise? Mistake or happy experiment? Probably we will never know, but this summer that unknown person's handiwork is in evidence all over the place, as Britain celebrates the Jubilee, the Olympics and numerous fetes, festivals and parties.

Today, if you go into a shop and ask for bunting you're likely to be offered a string of gaily coloured plastic or paper triangles. For more durable decorations there is also cotton bunting, which, found in various craft shops has become popular as an interior decoration for children's rooms or second, seaside homes. For those who are getting tired of seeing it everywhere at the moment I'm not including any photographs. You all know what it's like!

We don't know who first coined the word bunting, or who made the first shiny cloth, or who decided to take the navy's signalling flags and use a version of them as decoration. As a gift to the world perhaps bunting is hardly significant and yet, how dark and sober our lives would be if we never thought to put out the flags. Royalist or republican, sports fanatic or not, at its simple, non partisan best bunting celebrates what it is to be human and optimistic in spite of everything that life throws at us. That gets my vote.


Penny Dolan said...

Nothing like a bit of flag-waving ( Especially for writers??)

Am sure we can all add our own images of local bunting. It's still hanging around here and there where I live in wildest Harrogate. Thanks, Cindy.

adele said...

Totally fascinating, Cindy! I hadn't ever thought about where the word came from before. Thanks!

Linda said...

It's so comforting to think some of our mistakes could well end up as someone else's celebration!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

And what about Baby Baby Bunting?

Cindy Jefferies said...

Well, Bunting is a surname and a bird as well as those little flags. Possibly at some point a person gave their name to them...I suspect we'll never know!