Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wasted knitting time: the hunt for new dishes

My friend Doris and I have much in common, perhaps because we were born the same day only a few hours and miles apart, and this week we discovered we are both hunting for new every day dishes.  Our current sets have reached the point of 'more broken than whole'.  We also have the same taste when it comes to our homes so we are both quite attracted to 'Cottage' from Villeroy and Boch:

This set is so perfect for our house that it should be a no-brainer.  However, as I'm pretty sure you've noticed, I'm a chronic over-researcher.  Also, it's quite expensive.  So I am still looking.

I've had two sets of every day dishes over the last 23 years, which is probably pretty good, especially since the first set was made of stoneware and we went through a few weeks of its lifetime with no dishwasher.  It seems the trick to handwashing plates is to do them one at a time in the sink or in some other way protect them from smashing into each other, ahem.  The second set was porcelain and held up much better, but it was already discontinued when we bought it, and replacement plates have been harder and harder to come by even on replacements.com.

Before those two sets, and after a series of depressing 4-place sets from the hardware store, I had a 'set' made up of mismatched dishes I found at thrift stores.  I loved those dishes... each one was beautiful and I could always find the perfect complement for my mood and the meal I was putting on them.  Also, it was a super cheap system and when one dish broke there was never an issue finding another to replace it.  The only problem with it was me, and the fact that I get overattached to inanimate objects.  I'm looking at you, blue toast plate.  When the blue toast plate was stuck in the dishwasher or in use by somebody else, I couldn't bring myself to have toast, and after a few episodes of this I knew I wasn't the right person to have a mismatched set.

Pete chose the stoneware set and it was SUCH a relief to have dishes that were all the same.  Best of all, the teacups were beautiful.  Many sets have a flat-bottomed teacup and I find the bend quite hard to clean - I end up with a tea stain that requires baking soda to get out.  Who needs extra work?  Plus they don't rest neatly against the palm of your hand, like a gently curved teacup will.  Or stack, usually.

The stoneware set's downfall, other than its readiness to break when you looked at it, was that it had a colourful Art Deco pattern around the rim.  Mostly it was black, but there was also peach, and a funny green, and a very cold blue, all filling in the centres of stark geometric shapes.  When it came to putting linens on the table I was as often taking them off because the vintage red or floral cloths I am always drawn to just looked so wrong with the dishes and bothered me. 

The porcelain set is white - or rather, just enough off white to feel warm.  It's got a curved teacup that is the perfect size and shape and has a handle that feels like it was made for your fingers, whoever 'you' might be.  The plates are generous but not so big they don't fit in the cupboards and the cereal bowls are just deep enough to be easy to take out of the stack.  You know those really deep bowls that you can only nest if you're willing to take the stack right down from the shelf whenever you need one?  Yeah.  My set doesn't give me those problems.  It goes with everything, and every food item that goes on it looks lovely, and when I open the cupboard and see it all there looking monochomatic I instantly feel completely calm and happy.

But... soooo discontinued.  It's a Johnson set, and if I am willing to accept a very busy pattern in a colour that is nonetheless agreeable to me I could swap it for Johnson's traditional Blue Willow, whose bowl and teacup shapes are similar to what I have now:

This set is made of earthenware and may be less sturdy than porcelain... however, it is so classic it will probably never ever go out of production, so I would never have to worry about finding replacement plates when somebody surprises me as I unload the dishwasher. 

At the cottage, we have a Corelle set - what is that really, tempered glass? - that has held up very well to hand washing.  I mentioned it to Doris and she said she's used that for years too, and her set got dinged up in spite of its longevity, so I guess nothing is perfect.  On the upside, that stuff nests like nobody's business and takes up the least possible storage space.

Another option would be to upgrade to bone china.  This seems counterintuitive to me because I am trained to think of bone china as exclusively the domain of the 'good' dishes you keep in a cupboard and use four times a year plus tea parties.  But when the current set first started to break I met a salesperson with young sons who told me she has always had plain white bone china for her every day set.  She said it comes out of the dishwasher without a scratch and her boys have never broken any of it. 

As it happens, the cup and plate design for our bone china set is also available in a plain white - Leigh, from Wedgwood:

If we replaced the current set with this, I would have all the joy of our current set plus the joy of handling bone china every day.  And if we ever have more than eight people over for a fancy buffet supper, I can combine the formal and everyday sets, which makes it a very cost-effective solution.  But Doris and I agree that it would be weird to be using bone china all the time.  I mean, when you have the worst cold ever and haven't showered in days and you've crawled into the kitchen for chicken soup, do you really want to feel you have to live up to the bowl you ladle it into?

I once met a woman who lived in a beyond-charming worker's cottage in North Yorkshire, right across the moors from where the Bronte sisters lived, and what she ate off of every day was a Bunnykins set.  No need to live up to that - that's comfort food right there, don't you think?

It's a long time ago now but I'm pretty sure I ate off them myself, when I visited her with our mutual friend.  Ever since, owning and regularly using Bunnykins dishes has been one of those things I aspire to do one day.  But I suspect Pete is not up for that, and anyway, it would be quite a challenge to cobble together a 12-place setting of it because it's marketed to children rather than adults who aren't convinced they are adults yet.

I am getting a lot better at choosing things for the house, in that I start from a practical point rather than what I might dream of.  In this case, it's "where am I gonna buy this stuff?" and from there, it's pretty much "what are they selling?"  That leaves me with three realistic choices.  I can go to a restaurant supply store (white dishes), a department store (ditto) and the posh china shop where we got our good dishes and our first everyday set.  So it's not like I can research forever, but I've already lost a lot of valuable knitting time to the hunt.

And why?  It's only dishes... that you handle and eat off of and look at several times a day for years and years.  ugh, okay.  Maybe that's worth giving up a little knitting time. 

Do you have dishes you love?


Sylvia said...

I'm looking for new dishes too and not sure what I want either. Don't have a lot of money to spend and am thinking thrift store. Sometimes you can find a gem. BTW I love your blog.

Mary Keenan said...

Thrift stores are some of my favourite places - you find so many great things! Hope you have great luck Sylvia... it's silly to be fussy about something as basic as dishes I know but still: such a comfort when you have something you really like taking part in every meal :^) And thanks for the compliment!

Laurinda said...

In the mid 90s, a local grocery store was having one of those specials with the Blue Willow ware, & I HAD to have the whole set (somehow I ended up with only one undersized teacup though)
I'd like something different, because while I still love to see it on my walls, I find Blue Willow too busy to eat off of. I'm really fond of the clear, square dishes, but not the cups. I've got funny issues with favorites, too :-D
However, I think you deserve the bone china for every day ware. Because it IS sturdy, & a plain set isn't too fancy for chicken soup when you have the worst cold ever.
Plus it's a great background for food photos, or a pretty tablecloth, or just sitting next to your knitting...

Mary Keenan said...

You know what Laurinda, when I was a little girl I was given a kid-sized teacup and saucer in Blue Willow. I still have it and treasure it and that's probably why I love the idea. However - big segue here - my brother who died was in Hong Kong on vacation at the time and my fifteen year old self was pretty traumatized by all the Asian art that started showing up at our door in the weeks afterward, because he had bought a lot and shipped it home before falling ill. As long as I don't look closely at Blue Willow I love the sentimentality of it, but it occurs to me now that if I'm eating off it, I would just weep through every meal. So... maybe white bone china is indeed the better plan ;^)