Sep 05

Closed for repairs

 

This poor, neglected blog is having its innards looked at. The content is broken, the ideas ragged, and (unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the author is run off her feet doing other work and simply doesn’t have the time to look under the bonnet.

Until it’s up and running again, here is a pretty bundle of mending materials to gaze upon. Thank you for your patience, and could you please pass me that screwdriver… ?

 

Mending bundle

Mending bundle

 

 

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Jun 04

Green your wardrobe

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Tomorrow is World Environment Day. To honour the occasion, I’ve arranged a little ’flash mend’ here in Bath to try to raise a awareness about where our clothes go after we’ve done with them. I’ve called it ‘Green your wardrobe!’

I was pretty shocked to discover that so many unwanted textiles here in Bath get tossed straight into our regular bins (9 out of 10) rather than into the green recycling boxes (just 1 in 10). All the more shocking as we generally have a pretty good record of recycling things around here. I don’t know how much clothing is donated to local charity shops, though I suspect it’s a huge amount; that would be really interesting to know.

I’m hoping that our little mending ménage tomorrow can underscore some of the many alternatives to plain old wasteful binning tomorrow, one being the loving repair of our well-worn textile favourites. If you fancy joining us, that would be wonderful. We’ll be at the top of the escalators in Bath’s Waitrose at 1pm. You won’t be able to miss us: we should be wearing something green and carrying magenta darning mushrooms! Bring along something to mend, if you can. The idea is that we will gently darn and patch around our cappuccinos, space in the cafe allowing. If it’s crammed to the gunwhales, we might adjourn to the library next door – for a spot of silent slip-stitching, obviously. We should be there till a little after 2pm so just pop in for a moment or two, if you can.

And here’s a two-sided poster I drafted for the occasion. Feel free to share, if you like. Click on the top right arrow if you need to print.

 

 

green your wardrobe poster

green your wardrobe

 

 

PS Yes, yes, I know that this isn’t the promised Clothworkers post. The fatal error is that nobody pays me to write this poor, bedraggled and neglected blog. But soon…

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May 25

Independent on Sunday Happy List 2014

 

Sorry to have kept you waiting so long for that promised update on my visit to the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre. There have been major life distractions, and I’ve been having to prioritise other things. So, the blog has had to take a back seat; in fact, not even a back seat – it’s now a tin can tied to the bumper of my life, bobbling around behind me on a piece of string. But that post (and other woesomely belated ones) will come, eventually. I promise. You’ll just have to be patient.

Meanwhile, this weekend has brought some astonishing news: it seems I was included in the Independent on Sunday‘s 2014 Happy List, published today.

This annual list celebrates 100 people in Britain doing things to help their (or other) communities. I was totally gobsmacked to hear that I’d been nominated and even more surprised to hear that I’d been included. It seems that a kind Bathonian thought that I deserved recognition for the Big Mend etc, so nominated me. Frankly, I assumed it must be a joke. But it wasn’t. Here’s the article.

So, here we are. I’m still feeling a little pole-axed and mystified, but am so grateful for the attention that this is focusing on the things we’re trying to do in the local community with the Big Mend:

  • sharing mending and upcycling skills
  • helping local residents to save money
  • reducing social exclusion by supplying a welcoming, inclusive environment in which to do this
  • raising awareness of textile waste issues
  • and of all kinds of other ethical issues inherent in our daily choice of what to put on in the morning 

Over the past year I’ve enjoyed meeting (both in person and online) some wonderful people doing truly great things, and I’d like to take this opportunity reflect some glory back onto them here, as I feel that they deserve the real praise and attention here. In no particular order:

  • Fine Cell Work – for their stunning work taking needlework into prisons
  • Traid – striving to make the entire process of clothing production and use sustainable
  • Entribe – working to help the local community in Snow Hill, Bath
  • Fashion Revolution - the people behind the hugely successful #insideout campaign for the Fashion Revolution Day event on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster
  • Labour Behind the Label - who’ve done so much of the legwork to obtain compensation for the victims of Rana Plaza
  • Bath Craftivism Club – bringing together local crafters with a social conscience
  • Bath Spa Uni – whose textile students are awesomely switched on when it comes to all these issues
  • The Museum of Bath at Work – which kindly lets us to use their amazing space for the Big Mend every month
  • Willis Newson – taking imaginative projects into the healthcare environment to promote wellbeing
  • Vicky Harrison of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster, Bristol – for her community-led Briswool project which has made so many people smile (and they’re still queuing down the street to see it)

Thanks to everyone who has come (and kept coming back) to the Big Mend over the past two years, supporting it and me with your kindness, your skills, your senses of humour etc. And finally, you, the reader of this neglected blog. Thank you. Please accept this posy of mint and purple sprouting broccoli from my allotment (admittedly from a little earlier in the season) as a token of my gratitude.

Allotment bouquet

Thank you!

 

 

 

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Mar 30

Swaddling bands

 

 

For Mother’s Day, and at the end of Museum Week, I bring you a vision of babes past c/o the V&A which I visited Friday.

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Italian swaddling band in the V&A

 

This Italian swaddling band, dated 1600-1625, is made of linen with an embroidered cutwork border. Its display card offered some almost contemporary (1671) advice to mothers and nurses on how best to dress newborn babies c/o midwife Jane Sharp: ‘lay the arms right down by the sides’, and then wrap them in bands of cloth ‘that they might grow straight’.

 

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C17th Italian swaddling band, V&A

 

Leafing through my trusty Shorter Oxford English Dictionary I find that swaddle is first found in Old English as a noun for a length of bandage used to wrap an infant. The verb swaddle followed in Middle English. I’m not sure if it helps them grow straight, but very small babies do seem to enjoy the restriction of being tightly bundled. Perhaps it reminds them of the cramped conditions they left behind in the womb?

If you’re counting back from the Feast of Christmas, Mothering Sunday (the 4th Sunday in Lent) often falls around the the Feast of the Annunciation (25th March). And, still in the V&A, my eye fell on this rather comical painted and gilded oak sculpture representing my favourite archangel, Gabriel.

 

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C15th oak Angel Gabriel in the V&A

 

The display card explained that he’s from Northern France, dated 1415-50, and probably comes from an altarpiece. His orientation is unusual because ‘Gabriel usually approaches from the left’. I’ve never noticed the left-ness of Gabriel’s approach to Mary in fine art but will look out for it from now on. He does look a little hesitant (a bit like the apologetic demeanour of the vicar in BBC’s Rev. series which, I’m pleased to note, is now back on our screens). Gabriel is, incidentally, the patron saint of journalists and communicators, and this Gabriel looks like he understands only too well the concept of shooting the messenger.

 

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French C15th oak Gabriel in the V&A

 

On this trip to London, I also visited the Clothworkers’ Centre, the V&A’s new state-of-the-art facility at Blythe House, Olympia, West London. This is where the museum now stores the majority of its textile collection – some 100,000 objects, everything from buttons to carpets – and where items can be accessed for study by groups and individuals. The public can tour the centre on the last Friday of the month, though pre-booking is absolutely essential. I found my visit quite awe-inspiring, though (very sadly) I’m not allowed to show you any of my pictures. But next week I’ll share some pearls of wisdom gleaned during the informative tour – not least how best to combat those dreaded clothes moths.

 

 

 

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Mar 25

Mend with Mother

 

 

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Mend with Ma this Wednesday

 

The Big Mend this month will have a Mother’s Day theme. So there’ll be FREE CAKE for all mums this Wednesday 26th March at the Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road, Bath7-9pm.

We’d also love it if you’d come along and share your mending memories with us. Memories of watching things repaired at mother’s knee, perhaps; memories of Granny darning, maybe. We will be beginning to record mending memories in our imaginatively titled Mending Memories Notebook and warmly invite you to add yours.

I’m aware that many of us don’t have mothers (myself included) but I hope that won’t deter anyone from coming; there’ll be FREE CAKE for motherless souls too… :*-)

If you are in or near Bath and haven’t attended one of the Big Mend sessions, here’s how it works. We always meet on the last Wednesday of the month to tackle whatever’s in our mending pile – or, at least, a small portion of it. Tools and materials* are laid on, as far as possible, though you might want to bring along matching thread, or the perfect button, if you’re picky about such things. Or your sewing kit, if you’re attached to your particular needles, sewing scissors etc. There’ll be advice and suggestions on how you might go about your textile repair, if you’re stuck. We don’t charge, as such, but ask a minimum £2 donation to help cover the museum’s costs.

The more is most definitely the merrier, so if you like the idea then please share this post with someone else who you think might appreciate it. Thanks. Oh, did I mention the FREE CAKE?

 

*we’re always happy to accept donations of sewing tools, haberdashery or scrap materials that we can use for textile repairs. If you have anything that you think might be suitable, please get in touch.

 

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Mar 20

Would the real Mrs Beeton please stand up?

 

 

I’ve been reading a biography of Mrs Beeton, arguably the nation’s first domestic goddess. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes was published by Harper Perennial in 2006.

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Hughes’ biography of Mrs Beeton

 

As recent events have served to illustrate, the life lived behind the edifice of a lifestyle brand is rarely as it appears, and this book has been an eye-opener. Some interesting things I’ve discovered about Mrs B:

1. Isabella Beeton’s image was the first ever photographic portrait accepted by the National Portrait Gallery. Maull & Pollyblank’s 1857 plate, which the NPG accepted from her son Mayson in 1932, reveals a slim, striking 19-year-old Bella, not the stout, flour-dusted matriarch with a rolling pin that you might have imagined. Mrs Bridges from Upstairs, Downstairs she definitely was not.

2. Her first baby died a few months after birth, very likely of syphilis: a disease which she appears to have contracted from her husband in the early days of their marriage.

3. Bella’s husband, Sam, originally a printer by trade, made a killing publishing an unauthorised British edition of Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, exploiting a time when there was no copyright agreement between America and Britain. He and Bella together proved cunning publishing entrepreneurs, successfully exploring the new markets, trends and opportunities created by an expanding middle-class in Victorian England.

4. Bella Beeton was far from an experienced cook when she took on writing the Book of Household Management.

5. Which is why she plagiarised widely yet skilfully for the book; all this is documented in fascinating detail by Hughes.

6. Elizabeth David was particularly galled by Bella’s light-fingered borrowings from Eliza Acton.

7. Bella liked her red wine.

8. She had a great eye for fashion and pioneered the popularising of dress patterns  in the ‘Practical Dress Instructor’, a regular feature in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, capitalising on the boost to sewing created by the recent invention of the sewing machine.

9. She died very early, age 28. But that didn’t stop the ‘Mrs Beeton’ brand marching on. And on. And on.

10. Without her able management, and with the encroaching symptoms of tertiary syphilis, Sam went to rack and ruin after Bella’s untimely death.

She certainly packed a lot into her short life. I’d recommend this biography: snappy, witty, sensitively written, and especially riveting if you’re interested in publishing and journalism (particularly the history of lifestyle publishing, cookery writing and fashion journalism), and if you want an insight into the burgeoning Victorian middle classes and what made them tick.

 

 

 

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Mar 08

Briswool

 

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Briswool’s version of Totterdown

 

The City of Briswool Project‘s improbable aim is to produce a giant model of the city of Bristol – in yarn. As a concept, it’s about as mad as a bag of chickens. Which is why I had to get involved.

For me, the lunacy-infused ingenuity of this project typifies Bristol at its very best. I have to declare an interest here as Bristol is my home city: I lived there from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. The place has a distinctive non-conformist confidence which I still find refreshing when I go back home for a visit. Somehow this attitude crystallises around an unconventional approach to materials. Back in the era of wooden sailing ships, Brunel launched the SS Great Britain, his crazy iron steam ship, from Bristol. Aardman founded its animated plastic empire there in the 1970s. And Banksy used the very fabric of the city’s buildings as his canvas in the ’90s and noughties. Given such a heritage, maybe it was inevitable that Bristol would eventually be recreated from leftover balls of yarn.

Over the last few months Bristol’s landmarks, large and small, have been materialising in knitted, crocheted and needle-felted forms, created by an army of volunteers. The vast majority of materials have been donated: all has been done on an absolute shoe-string budget, fuelled largely (as so many of the very best things are) by the unquenchable enthusiasm of its originator.

That originator is Vicky Harrison, of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster on the south side of the city. True to her positioning of Paper Village as a creative community hub, she wanted Briswool to be a genuine grass-roots project, with people offering to recreate landmarks that have held some personal resonance for them. And Bristolians have been coming forward in droves to do just that. Someone’s made a model of the Matthew, the ’90s replica of the craft in which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to ‘discover’ Newfoundland in the fifteenth century. There’s a Concorde, the supersonic plane which was famously developed in Bristol. And, of course, there’s an SS Great Britain. There are harbour boats, and bikes, and zoo animals. Remarkably, there have been little or no duplicates. The scale is a little elastic, but that gives the project even more charm.

I joined Vicky in late January at the M-Shed with a group of volunteers intent on knitting a landmark section of the city called Totterdown where rows of brightly painted terraces line a ridge on the city’s skyline. I didn’t have a direct connection to those houses, but everyone from Bristol knows them by sight. Brilliantly, one of the people attending had lived in one. We were given a knitting pattern, some yarn, and quickly set about casting on, fuelled by chocolate fingers. I’m not a natural knitter, but soon got to grips with the simple pattern devised by Paper Village’s knitting tutor, Elise Fraser.

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My purple house takes shape

 

I love creating in a group environment, whether I’m the teacher or a teach-ee. In fact, I think it’s one of life’s profound pleasures. I’m sure we have always gathered to share the process of making (or mending), from our very earliest social days when we huddled around the cave fire joining pelts with gut-threaded thorn needles. The conversations (which are approached obliquely because you’re doing something else, after all) are often surprising frank and illuminating. And, whatever your level of skill, you always learn something new technically, if not from the teacher then from someone else in the group – for me this was was casting on in cable, which the knitter across from me demonstrated (though too late for my first house as I’d already cast on in my old way). I also got to grips with mattress stitch, at long last. I’d like to thank Vicky, Elise and my fellow house-knitters for all their helpfulness, generosity and sociability, and for creating a really enjoyable afternoon.

 

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Ridged roof

 

Alas, the two hours of the workshop weren’t long enough for me to finish my house so I had to complete it at home. Here it is. Now I just have to mail it back to Vicky, along with a pink house I’ve made since, plus a little greenery.

 

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Finished house

 

The pattern ended at the basic house structure, so it was up to us to complete the smaller features of the house as we saw fit. As a nod to my enthusiasm for mending, I worked mine in darning wool in Swiss darning (replica stitch). The thin black yarn didn’t cover the DK stitches fully on the windows, but I think that gives the impression of them glinting in the daylight. Maybe.

 

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Still plenty of yarn left for a newbuild next door

 

If you’d like to contribute your own little woolly piece of Bristol to Briswool, there’s still time  to get involved. But hurry! Everything has to be complete and ready to assemble by the end of month. I gather that 6 cm green squares will come in handy at this point. There are making events through the rest of March. Or you can contact Vicky at Paper Village Arts (the number’s below) who’ll be very happy to hear from you. I wonder if anyone’s made  a little version of Bristol’s Olympic champion Jen Jones yet, complete with snowboard and bronze medal…?

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Briswool’s Totterdown – WIP

 

Briswool will be on display at Paper Village Arts from April, and then at the M-Shed later in the year. 

Paper Village Arts is at 200 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JF, telephone 0117 963 9452. They hold a drop-in knitting session every Wednesday afternoon, 2-5pm. You can keep track of workshops, classes and community activities via Paper Village’s Facebook page

 

 

 

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Mar 06

Freudian coats

 

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Freudian coat by Anna Gahlin

 

I was approached last year by fine artist Anna Gahlin for some technical help with a couple of pieces she was preparing for an exhibition.

Anna had set herself the challenge of embroidering significant words onto the linings of two old fur coats. She wanted to work them in purple embroidery threads, but wasn’t sure how to begin.

We discussed how best to transfer the letters onto the fabric, and how best to handle the slippery and uncooperative lining fabric, how best to work within the confines of an existing coat lining, what thread and stitch to use to achieve the desired effect.

Anna embroidered two coat linings: one with words reflecting the content of dreams, the other with the emotions stimulated by those dreams.

 

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Embroidered coat by Anna Gahlin

 

It was such a pleasure to help Anna, and this is a very good moment to mention that I’m more than happy to be approached for creative collaborations or private sewing lessons. Do get in touch: eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom.

You can see Anna’s coats exhibited as part of artist collective Studio XYZ ’s Freud’s House exhibition at Burgh House, Hampstead until 30th March 2014.

 

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Feb 23

Scrap of the week #36

 

Here are several scraps sneaking in together as #36.

I was delighted to have a huge bagful of fabric scraps donated recently for use by the Big Mend. Here are just a few, washed and pressed and ready to go. There’s a ’70s duvet cover (purple flowers), ’70s pillow case (yellow flowers) and an old tablecloth (brown flowers). All of these had been carved up for the upcycling exploits of the previous owner. Underneath that is a length of late ’60s/early ’70s furnishing fabric. They will all be available to use for patching at our skills-sharing repair socials (or sewcials, if you like a cutesy handle).

The Big Mend sessions are open to everyone and anyone to come along with their mending pile and get guidance on how to work repairs. I give my time and skills freely (as do all the generous people who help me run the events). We see all sorts of people turning up to do everything from sewing on a button to repairing the seat of their favourite jeans. Tools and materials are mostly laid on gratis, again by yours truly. Which is why it’s particularly lovely to receive supportive gifts such as these. All we ask of attenders is a very small donation.

Did you know that you should always pre-wash fabrics* before using them to patch clothes or linens? At least, for anything that you intend to wash once it’s repaired. If not, the patch will likely shrink and detach from the garment it has been applied to. Such textile-repair wisdom was once commonplace, so much so that Jesus used it as an analogy in a parable to explain how he saw the meeting point of the old and new kingdoms:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

So, pre-wash your patching fabrics. You heard it here last.

 

*at least, when using natural fabrics – polyester, nylon etc won’t be so prone to shrinkage

 

The next Big Mend session at the Museum of Bath at Work takes place on Wednesday 26th February, 7-9pm. Besides these fabrics, there will be various materials to try your hand at working golden mends

We could always do with more sewing materials and tools, so if you happen to have anything you can donate to continue our skill-sharing in the community, please get in touch. Thank you.

 

Scraps for patching repairs

Patch-worthy scraps for the Big Mend

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Feb 22

Sarah Campbell talk

 

 

Earlier this month I attended an illuminating talk by textile designer Sarah Campbell (half of the celebrated Collier Campbell partnership) at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Sarah has a display there showcasing recent solo work (post-2011) created for WestElm, M&S etc: From Start to Finish is located upstairs, next to the Artist Textiles exhibition.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish

 

Sarah spoke to an audience of teachers (mostly) on the subject of being commissioned as a textiles designer with insights distilled from her long and fruitful career. She explained, through numerous examples, how the commissioning process can go smoothly and frequently not-so-smoothly, how briefs can be understood or misunderstood, how relationships with clients can be sweet or turn sour based on a variety of factors, how vigilant one must remain on matters of copyright and licensing.

I was particularly interested to hear about Sarah’s tools of the trade. She favours gouaches (any brand will do) and wallpaper lining paper for rough drawings (she describes it as having a “soft, sweet surface”, and it’s cheap, of course, which removes any anxiety over using up precious materials). Her work station is never without a squeezy bottle of water, and a bowl of discarded paint chips/tabs (used for meticulous colour-matching) which Sarah thriftily re-uses to create greetings cards. She keeps copious notebooks, in a variety of sizes, many of which are mounted in the display here.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish displays

 

And she’s never without an ordinary fountain pen, used both for drawings and notes.

 

Textile design by Sarah Campbell.

‘Mariposa’ bed linen design for M&S, 2013

 

As a stitcher, I enjoyed hearing about Sarah’s happy collaboration with West Elm on a project for “the Holidays” (in the American sense of Christmas etc) where one of her tiny gold and silver designs was interpreted by the company in sequin and thread.

 

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WestElm holiday designs

 

It’s evident that Sarah still relishes the nitty gritty of textile design, such as devising a clever repeat. And she is tremendously hard-working and prolific, as this relatively recent accumulation of work testifies. You can catch a glimpse of her at work, paintbrush in hand, in this short film about The Collier Campbell Archive book, which was published by ILEX press. Sarah also tweets and blogs

 

And this was my blog post about the National Theatre’s 2011 display of gems from the Collier Campbell archive in which I first realised the connection between the names Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell and those iconic Liberty prints.

 

From Start to Finish is on display adjacent to the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014.

To find out more about talks, events and workshops etc run by the Fashion and Textile Museum and short courses run in association with Newham College of Further Education, just click on the links provided.

 

 

 

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