Category: Craft Magazines

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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Nov 11

Selvedge Winter Fair

 

Yesterday I had a really magical day in London at the Selvedge Winter Fair.

It was my first time at a Selvedge event though I’ve been hoping to get to one for years. Selvedge magazine — in case you haven’t encountered its square format, matt paper, and distinctive print scent — has to be the read of choice for the textile cognoscenti. It’s always creatively stimulating and often delightfully obscure. The visuals are exemplary, and the tone of the text is knowledgeable, direct and unpatronising. Published six times a year, Selvedge is available infrequently enough for you to work up an appetite for the next issue, and to make the £9.95 cover price just about affordable (though, of course, you get a better deal if you subscribe).

So eager was I to be at the head of the queue for the Winter Fair’s 10am start that, blearily clutching my Earl Grey, I caught the 7.13 train from Bath Spa. The fair, by reputation, fills up fast, so getting in early to a relatively uncrowded hall is worth making the effort for. It wasn’t just the fair; I was looking forward to meeting up with a handful of friends there too. And, according to plan, there were just a couple of people ahead of me when the doors opened.

The Chelsea Town Hall location was a new one for Selvedge, much bigger than those previously used. It is grand and capacious and did the job, though the lighting in some areas left something to be desired.

As I wandered around I was a little starstruck by some of the craftspeople and their beautiful wares, many  familiar from the pages of the magazine. Ellie Evans pincushions, for instance. They are marvellously weighty in the hand, being full to the brim with emery.

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And I have long been drawn to these felt clogs, spotted on the Selvedge Drygoods stall…

Selvedge Winter Fair 2012

Julie Arkell had a stall. I didn’t speak to her, but one of the joys of an event like this is being able to deal directly with the designer/maker, to hear unmediated how they have created an item you are interested in buying. That is a really charming experience. As was getting to spend so much time with talented and delightful fellow visitors Ruth, Alison, Jo and Jo’s sister-in-law. Thanks to all for hanging out  — I really had the best time.

Having resolved not to buy anything, quite predictably all of my good intentions went out the window in the face of such extreme textile temptation. Most of my purchases were gifts and I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but here are some of the things I enjoyed seeing:

Abigail Brown‘s birds

Dyed blankets from Sasha Gibb

Knitwear by Di Gilpin

Knitwear with scrap textile strips by Mary Davis

Welsh loveliness from Damson & Slate

Upcycled blanket wares from Matilda Rose

Painted textiles from Emma Bradbury

The redwork embroidery of Stitch by Stitch

However, rest assured that I’ll be able to show you some more Selvedge Winter Fair delights in tomorrow’s Scrap of the Week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sep 07

Waxing lyrical

Welcome back to the new autumn term here at Scrapiana Towers! My pencils are freshly sharpened, my needles have become almost dangerously pointy (OK, I won’t mention strawberry needle emeries again for at least 24 hours, promise), and I’m wearing big pockets, eagerly anticipating a crop of shiny new conkers.

Having apparently spent so much time since my last post in the company of bees (I haven’t actually been sitting on that bench quite all this time), it seemed right to return with one of my favourite topics: beeswax.

The application of beeswax is a time-honoured thread-improving technique. I often wax lyrical about it (most recently when asked to list my sewing essentials for Cross Stitcher magazine – out soon, I think) because it’s such a beautifully simple and thrifty idea. Drawing cotton or linen thread along the edge of a block of beeswax before hand-sewing renders it stronger and more resilient, less inclined to twist, knot or fray, and more likely to run smoothly through the fabric. Sewing guru Ruth Singer recommends it in her excellent manual Sew It Up, mentioning its history as a traditional tailor’s aid, and that it’s particularly helpful with long hand-sewn seams; she suggests running over the thread with a warm iron to melt the wax into the fibres slightly before use, though I must admit I haven’t tried that. Dollmaker extraordinaire Mimi Kirchner says that beeswax turns an ordinary thread into super-thread, and is fantastic for the sturdy attachment of coat buttons. And so it is.

Cobblers and sail-makers of old would have routinely coated their thread with beeswax, its waterproof qualities an added advantage. Up the social scale among the leisured classes, Georgian ladies could obtain cakes of wax decorated with gold-paper stars and other motifs. A Georgian lady’s sewing box might also contain a natty little device aptlycalled a thread waxer, designed to hold a small cake of wax on a pin between two protective ends of ivory or mother-of-pearl: think of wafers round an ice-cream sandwich and you get the idea. These were sometimes incorporated into another device, such as a tape-measure. The Victorians favoured a wooden wax box, sometimes carved in the form of fruit. And presumably these were perfectly suited to house the balls of white and yellow beeswax mentioned in an 1869 domestic guide by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe and her less famous sister Catherine. The extra refinement of white (‘bleached’) beeswax was often preferred as it was less likely to stain the palest of fabrics.

But beeswax isn’t the only product that has been used for thread-conditioning. Once upon a time, especially if you didn’t happen to have access to a hive, it was de rigeur to use your own earwax for the job, harvested with the aid of a device called an ear-spoon. I’m guessing I just exceeded your “Eeuww!” threshold, and if you now have beverage-splatter all over your screen, I apologise. Our stitching forebears may have been resourceful, but I confidently predict no comeback any time soon for earwax-based sewing aids. Double-dip or no, the trusty Q-tip is here to stay. Though, on behalf of ENT specialists everywhere, I feel beholden to add that you really shouldn’t put anything in your ear that’s smaller than your elbow.

If you can overcome your squeamishness, the notion of the pre-cotton-bud era is intriguing. Ear-spoons – or ear-scoops as they were also known – were essentially just a tiny bowl on a disproportionately long handle. They were made from a variety of materials: silver or gold, ivory or bone. They cropped up in ancient Roman beauty-sets (presumably just for personal grooming, but who knows?) as well as Georgian sewing etuis. In the seventeenth century, they were often incorporated into the end of a silver bodkin, that indispensable status symbol required to lace a lady into her wardrobe; if there had been such a thing as a Stuart Swiss army knife, I like to think that it would have featured a flip-out ear-spoon among its crop of bespoke blades.

A silver bodkin-cum-ear-spoon makes a surprisingly attractive item, but happily you don’t have to acquaint yourself with one intimately (at least, not for sewing purposes) because beeswax isn’t hard to come by. It’s best to use 100% beeswax as paraffin wax can misbehave. I happen to offer prettily shaped and packaged morceaux of stitcher’s beeswax over here on Etsy. And, for the rest of September, I’m offering them on a BOGOF basis – buy one, get one free! They make great stocking fillers for keen needle-persons, I’m told. Here’s what someone said about them a little while back.

How do you feel about beeswax? I confess to being heavily biased. That honeyed tang just can’t be beaten, and I love it in almost any product, from lip-balm to soap to furniture polish. Do you use beeswax for sewing, or for other purposes? Perhaps you can’t abide the stuff. Whatever the case, do tell!

Scrapiana beeswax

Stitcher's beeswax

 

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Aug 03

All vintaged out

Barley, upcycling workshops curator

Mollie Makes... vintage strawberries

Heavens to Betsy! What a busy time we had at the big Vintage Festival in London! I haven’t been this exhausted in a long while, but it was worth it. Having packed everything up carefully for the courier Thursday, it was a relief on Friday to discover that it had all arrived intact, including the old family Singer featured here.

Vintage strawberry-making

Darling Buds to darling berries

Highlights: meeting the particularly wonderful crafting community on the upcycling workshops floor, especially curator Barley Massey of Fabrications, the Seaside Sisters, and Caroline from the Shoreditch Sisters WI; meeting so many of the Future Publishing craft publications team too, including the lovely Lyndsey (who seemed very familiar, and it took me a little while to figure out why);  seeing Wayne Hemingway in the flesh, from afar; being spoken to – very, very briefly – by TV’s Linda Barker (you know, the salt to Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen’s interior design pepper in the ’90s) from a-near [She is astonishingly tall and Amazonian, btw, and I felt just like a hobbit next her]; soaking up the fabulous swing music on the Saturday, especially the Czech orchestra whose name escapes me; seeing so many gorgeously turned-out vintage guys & dolls. There were more Horrockses frocks than you could shake a stick at.

2 vintage strawberries!

A pair of vintage strawberries!

In terms of strawberry-making, it was absolutely crammed and we ended up having to turn people away from the Mollie Makes table. We were filling large strawberries with lavender, and smaller ones with sharpening grit. For authenticity, I brought along lots of red satin: the preferred fabric for strawberry emeries of old. Some stunning strawberries were made, my favourite being the one below – tiny and delicate. You can see a selection over here on Flickr.

Possibly my most gratifying moment was when two guys (accompanying their strawberry-making girlfriends) embarked on extravagant red satin numbers themselves, and (even more gorgeously) one tutored the other because I was fully engrossed with workshoppers on the other side of the table. How brilliant! They both made very creditable strawberries, and both claimed to have enjoyed the experience, though I can’t see either of them volunteering to make a second one any time soon. But maybe it goes to prove that strawberry emeries reach the parts other craft projects cannot reach.

Truly beautiful vintage strawberry

Delicious tiny satin strawberry created by a former doll-maker.

I had a brief opportunity to explore the market outside, which was free entry to all. It was great to clap eyes on my It’s Darling! friend, Catherine Stokes, selling her china tea sets. And I got very excited by the Furniture Divasreupholstered chairs, especially the ones using melted-down kiddy-wellies to line the seats. They looked just like abstract oil paintings! So very cool.

Welly chair

Welly chair by Furniture Divas

Welly seat

Welly chair by Furniture Divas

Now I’m catching up on all the jobs I’ve been ignoring lately while riding the strawberry wave with Mollie Makes. If you’re waiting for something from me (an invoice/an article/payment/a submission/a response to a request to run a teaching workshop etc) now might be a good time to shoot me a quick email as I’m relatively footloose and fancy-free! Catch me while you can.

Vintage strawberries!

Happy strawberry-makers

Oh, and something exciting happened just before I headed home Saturday. But that will have to wait until tomorrow…

 

 

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Jul 26

Vintage Strawberries to Vintage Southbank

I’m super-excited (and not a little awed) to be taking vintage-strawberry-making to Vintage Festival 2011 on the Southbank this weekend, helping to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. I cordially invite you to join me and the Mollie Makes team for a FREE crafternoon in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall! You’ll need to pay to get into the main festival, but there’s no extra charge for the workshop (Yay!). Choose to make strawberries with me on Friday 29th or Saturday 30th July, or join Sara Sinaguglia, apple-cosy crocheter extraordinaire, on Sunday 31st. Just sign up for a workshop when you arrive. Spaces are limited, so don’t delay!

More details are here on the Mollie Makes blog. In the spirit of post-war Make Do & Mend, I’ll be taking along lots of vintage fabric scraps and upcycled elements (vintage beads, buttons, bows and threads) as well as some new. I’m currently packing frantically, including bubble-wrapping my prop sewing machine Winifred, a 1933 hand-cranking Singer (which we sadly won’t be using as she has a tendency to misbehave when it comes to stitch tension, but she looks fabulous). Yes, the workshop will be hand-sew only, but I’ll part-prep the strawberries for you so that you can spend a lot of time embellishing them and making them your own (the fun part).

Winifred, a 1933 hand-crank Singer

Coming to the Southbank this weekend...

I’ve been recalling the last time I had a work engagement on the Southbank. It was more than 20 years ago (an era which would now be considered vintage, at least on Etsy). In those days I was a publisher’s publicist, opening the Twiglets and pouring the cheapest possible plonk (in the great publishing tradition) for a Terry Pratchett book launch at the BFI. We used to have the invitations produced (glorified photocopies, really) at a printer’s around the corner from work, and not many more than a hundred would have been ordered. To my eternal shame, I subsequently used some of the priceless leftovers as patchwork backing papers. Aherm. Will posterity judge me harshly for such upcycling of irreplaceable vintage Pratchett ephemera? Perhaps you’d better not answer that. Are you carrying any ‘really-shouldn’t-have-destroyed-that’ upcycling regrets? Please share them cathartically in the comments below and make me feel better about my act of literary memorabilicide.

Upcycled Pratchett invitations

A memento of my last SE1 work engagement

And I didn’t even finish the patchwork! the layers of guilt are piling up…

Anyway, check out the film above and let the festival’s originator, Wayne Hemingway, walk you through the various attractions. Things crafty and upcycled are mentioned 4 minutes 10 seconds in. Hope to see you there, if you can sandwich me in some time between Tracey Emin and the Avenger-thon! Now, where did I put those cat’s-eye spectacles…?

 

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Jul 19

Vintage strawberry needle-cushion grit

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but that’s what it’s called. If you want to make the Scrapiana strawberries (as featured in Mollie Makes magazine), then this is what you’ll need. It should be enough for several, if used judiciously. And you can buy it right now over at my Etsy store!

Strawberry emery

Now available on Etsy!

Grit

True grit

 

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Jul 10

Yet more strawberries

The Mollie Makes strawberry-makers are still doing their stuff, I’m delighted to say. Here are a few recent additions to the Flickr group:

Tweed strawberries

Tweed strawberries by Fabric Mountain

 

Lavender strawberries

Lavender strawberries by Fabric Mountain

lavender strawberry

Lavender strawberry by Evajeanie

Tower of Strawberries by Judemate

Tower of Strawberries by Judemate

 

Strawberry pincushions. Home-made, felt & all by my fair hands!

Home-felted strawberries by Pensham

If you get your hands on a copy of issue 2 of the magazine (it’s just now becoming available in the US and in Australia – I think) and are inspired to have a go at the strawberries, do share images of your creations. I’m getting such a buzz out of seeing what everyone’s made. Those tweed ones at the top in particular made my heart skip a beat. Keep ’em coming!

And if you happen to be in Bath and are at a loose end this Wednesday 13th July, I still have a few spaces on my Vintage Strawberry Workshop in Larkhall (discounted for my Facebook page likers).

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Jun 23

Thanks for the emeries

‘The Strawberry Emery is nothing new, but it is so very useful and easy of construction, there is no reason why every needleworker should not possess one. Woolen goods represent the fuzzy nature of the strawberry better than silk or …’

Home Needlework Magazine, Volume 4, 1902.

Tantalizingly, that’s all I can make out of it on Google books, though I’m grateful for that glimpse (who knew that ‘fuzzy’ was such an old word?). As proof of the relatively long history of strawberry emeries, even from the Edwardian vantage point, here’s an earlier reference from 1852 when they were already well established (pick it up from near the bottom of the first column, at ‘Knitted Berries and Fruit’):

From Godey’s Magazine & Lady’s Book, Volume 45, 1852.

And in the same volume was this which I felt compelled to share.

Still my beating heart! How lingerie has changed, even if the content of crafting magazines doesn’t appear to have altered as much as one might have thought! I don’t expect to be seeing sheet music (a staple in Victorian women’s magazines) in Mollie Makes any time soon though. I love that the strawberry emery has such a long history and is now (I hope) enjoying a well-deserved resurgence in popularity. Do you think we can do the same for the saucy little sick-room cap?

 

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Jun 21

More strawberries

More strawberries are appearing on the Mollie Makes Strawberries Flickr group pool.

scrumptious little strawberry

Homespun charm from Simply by Emma

Strawberry pincushion

Becky Button's symphony in red and green satin

Strawberry pincushion

Becky Button's super little satin offering

They are really wonderful in their endless variety and I take my hat off to you all.

Don’t forget, you can come along and make your own strawberries with me at one of my Vintage Strawberry Workshops next month. Just click the ‘Classes’ tab or Ooh.com button over on the right there.

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Jun 15

First of the strawberry crop

And so it begins. People are already getting their teeth into strawberry-making, following my how-to in Mollie Makes.

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Claire Leggett's strawberries

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Claire lays out her materials

Molliemakes strawberries

Tiffanywinnie's strawberrries

steampunk strawberry

Apryl Lowe's steampunk interpretation, with watch parts and key

Aren’t they delightful? Everyone is making the project their own, which is a really lovely feeling. Feedback is that the instructions are clear and easy to follow, and that the strawberries are fast to make. The only problem is that once you’ve finished one, you want to make another. And another. Do hop over and see what Claire and Apryl have to say about making theirs.

Hardcore strawberry-o-philes can keep track of new berries as they appear over at the strawberry patch, aka the Mollie Makes Strawberries Flickr group pool. If you get round to making one, do upload an image over there. It’ll make my day.

And if you’d like the chance to create some of these in a workshop environment, Scrapiana Vintage Strawberry Classes are coming soon, at least, to a small part of the West Country near me (just Bath and Frome so far, though if you have a craft boutique elsewhere and fancy booking me, do get in touch!). It’s a real bonus to make these in a group, seeing how other people’s berries take shape and nattering while you sew. Workshop numbers are kept small so that you can be properly guided to make a variety of styles, sizes and scales. Look out for a full workshop update here on the blog tomorrow.

 

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