Category: vintage buttons

Dec 04

Gifts for stitchers

 

Spanish lace pins from Merchant & Mills

 

I’ve been collecting stocking-filler ideas to delight the enthusiastic stitcher in your life. What you choose will depend on the nature of the recipient’s stitching and crafting interests, the size of their stocking, plus the depth of your pocket. But I hope there’s something in here for everyone.

I won’t apologise for piling in with suggestions for buying new things (though not everything on this list is) because a) I always find these lists interesting when other people put them together, and b) I would argue that good sewing tools are a worthwhile investment and will make any creative efforts more effective – which can’t be a bad thing.

 

 

Under £5

 

  • Superior needles, such as these presented in a John James needle pebblehandy little ergonomic cases with needles geared for particular craft purposes and made by one of the best needle manufacturers in the world, established way back in 1840. They sell at a very reasonable £1.39 a pop too. Or you could break the bank, relatively, with these Merchant & Mills betweens that are packaged quaintly in a little stoppered bottle at £4 and are ideal for quilters.

 

 

Merchant & Mills betweens

 

Upcycled crockery buttons by SisterZart on Etsy

 

  • I reckon that a vintage darning mushroom, preferably showing the needle-scratched patina of years of previous repairs, will slip happily into the toe (or heel) of any stitcher’s Christmas stocking – though I may be biased. I have several to choose from for an unbeatably modest £5 each, so please get in touch with me if you’re interested and I’ll send you details of what’s available. I also have some choice, collectable specimen for a little more.

 

Darning mushrooms

 

  • Or how about these pretty Laine St. Pierre darning yarns by Sajou? Just £2.75 per card here from Loop, and such a wide and sumptuous colour choice makes moth-holes almost a pleasure to repair. Or they can simply be used for embroidery projects. 

Laine St Pierre from Loop

 

  • Beeswax is an effective traditional thread conditioner meriting a place in any sewing box, and it’s especially good to have some in a pretty shape like this, though you should be able to find a no-frills, inexpensive bar of the stuff in your local hardware shop which will do the job just as well. For more details on how it’s used, read my old blog post (‘Waxing Lyrical’) over here.
  • Special pins. High quality pins, such as these extra-long glass-headed ones, should do down a treat (glass-headed ones are so much nicer to use and don’t melt when the iron accidentally touches them), or go for just about anything from the Merchant & Mills selection, though be warned that all but the black safety pins come in above the £5 mark. If your stitcher works with light, fine fabrics, some fine brass pins (which won’t mark the fabric) would be an excellent choice too.
  • Unusual stuffing materials, such as natural wool noil (there’s a UK supplier here) or ground walnut shells – with which to stuff pincushions etc – would make a thoughtful gift for someone who likes making those small items, or might want to make a pincushion for their own use. OK, so they are sotto voce gifts which might not elicit actual squeals of delight, but they’ll definitely be appreciated further down the road. Both of these fillings make excellent conditioners for needles and pins, gently cleaning, sharpening, and oiling them to keep them functioning optimally. If you want ground walnut shells, I can provide you with a packet for just £2.50 – please get in touch.
  • And finally, pretty Liberty lawn bias binding always comes in very handy for dressmakers etc. The one below is currently selling at £2.60 per metre.

Liberty bias binding from sewingbox.co.uk

 

Under £10

 

English Stamp Company

 

  • Medical forceps. Yes, this might seem like quite an odd one, but these medical/laboratory implements can be really handy for makers. This little pair of moschito forceps will hold something tight – rather like an extra hand – while you use your original two to sew.
  • Merchant & Mills‘ long and slender black entomology pins (£6) make a real statement (and work well for those fine fabrics too), as do their short, fiery, red-headed Spanish lace  pins (£8) shown at the top of this article, all the way from the oldest pin factory in Spain.
  • if you’re buying for someone who works on fiendishly small stuff, or whose eyes are going (like mine), these rather sinister steampunk magnifiers would make an unusual gift, and they’re currently selling at less than half price.

Above £10 (and all the way up to ouch…)

 

  • Ernest Wright scissorsthese stork embroidery ones are like stitcher’s catnip and will probably win you undying gratitude, if there is sufficient delivery time before Christmas (and be warned that leads on these can be long). But such is Ernest Wright’s exalted reputation that a promissory note might just do the trick (but make it decent pen and ink, for goodness’ sake!).  At £27.50, the price is admittedly ouchy, but these are fantastic implements by the last traditional scissor cutlers in Britain (based in Sheffield, of course) and should genuinely last a lifetime – they can be repaired and sharpened later down the road. I’d be absolutely thrilled with any of the Ernest Wright range, and am confident that any other stitcher would too. Ernest Wright will also give you old pair of scissors a complete overhaul for just £10. The scissors obviously have to be of a sufficient quality to begin with to make the expense and effort of a revamp worthwhile. I have been collecting together my shabby antique and vintage pairs for future renovation. Note that pinking shears are beyond their scope.

Ernest Wright stork embroidery scissors

 

  • A bespoke rubber maker’s stamp at £24 from the English Stamp Company in Dorset (along with a stamp pad plus some really nice labels) would make a very welcome gift indeed. The English Stamp Co is a family business which has been making high-quality bespoke rubber stamps from its Dorset base since 1992.

English Stamp Company’s bespoke stamps

 

 

Silk threads from the Silk Mill

 

 

Silver pig pincushion from the Silk Mill

 

  • Or this Wallace Sewell mending kit from Ray Stitch.
  • Softtouch spring-loaded pinking shears. If your giftee likes making things that require an awful lot of cutting out (bunting, for example) then they should really appreciate these by Fiskars at about £22 – they’re extremely helpful for avoiding painful blisters and RSI, and they work equally well if you’re left-handed.
  • For something really unusual and purely decorative, Becca of Alterknitive makes gorgeous little maker’s sterling silver charm bracelets to order – just look at the crochet-hook closure, and the wee darning mushroom! If you want to spoil someone rotten, email Becca (beccaATalterknitiveDOTcoDOTuk) for further details.

 

Charms sold separately and include tiny darning mushroom

Individually crafted sterling silver maker’s charm bracelet from Alterknitive

 

So, that’s the end of my sewing eye-candy. I have not received any payment at all (in money or in kind) to mention any of these products – I place them in front of you out of honest admiration. In the end, you can’t beat the straightforward pleasure of using really good sewing tools, and listed above are some of the very best. If you have further suggestions to add to this list, I’d be delighted if you’d leave a comment. And may you, and the stitcher that you love, have a very merry and joyful Christmas and a highly creative 2016!

 

 

 

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Nov 16

Support SecondhandFirst Week

 

 

SecondhandFirst Week

SecondhandFirst Week

 

Tomorrow (today if you’re reading this on the email feed) marks the first day of #SECONDHANDFIRST Week, 17-23 November 2014.

The week aims to encourage people to commit to sourcing more clothing and other resources second hand. It’s organised by TRAID, the charity doing tireless work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the clothing chain. It’s hoped that this will become an annual event.

Here in Bath, the Big Mend is delighted to be acting as a partner organisation, and we’ve arranged one of our Flash Mend events* in Bath Central Library on Monday 17th November. We’d love it if you’d join us any time from 1-4pm with some hand-held mending: darning would be ideal as we’ll be hoping to quietly impart mending skills to passing library users. If you’re in Bath and would like a quick darning lesson, come down and say hello, pick up a darning mushroom and try out some stitches with us.

Here are ways you can support the week:

 

Flash mend event

A Big Mend Flash Mend event

 

*Mass mending events in public places

 

 

 

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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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Apr 10

Bath Artisan Market

 

This month’s Bath Artisan Market at Green Park Station on Sunday 14th April has a Make Do & Mend theme, and the Big Mend will be there all day with a pop-up mending workshop.

If you’re in Bath and happen to have something needing a new button attached, a seam fixed, or maybe a hole darned, come on down! We’ll show you how. And it’s FREE! More about the Big Mend mending socials over here.

This Sunday’s market also brings you the Big Bath Clothes Swap, screenprinting for the kids (c/o Happy Inkers), and plenty of local gourmet food. Now we just need the Great British spring weather to co-operate! If you aren’t coming by public transport, by bike or on foot, there’s free parking for an hour and a half in the Sainsbury’s and Homebase car parks.

Bath Artisan Market Make Do and Mend Day

 

If you’re on Twitter, follow Bath Artisan Market for latest news and updates. This market happens every second Sunday of the month. Hope to see you this Sunday!

PS I’d welcome some willing volunteers to help with the stall. If you can spare half an hour on Sunday, do get in touch. No previous darning experience necessary!

 

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Mar 19

Bath in Fashion

 

I’ve just finished playing with props again, this time for Topping Books, a very special independent bookshop here in Bath. The lovely people at Topping’s ask me to decorate their windows periodically. Last time was in January for the launch of food and travel quarterly, Cereal magazine.

Topping Books window display

The things hanging down from the ceiling were little strands of paper notebooks, joined together on my sewing machine. It’s hard to see, but there is also an old stepladder: a family heirloom which my husband’s grandmother climbed to access those hard-to-reach shelves in her Dorset off-licence, circa 1930. And I added a lovely old robin’s-egg blue typewriter (this particular model is a pioneering 1949 slimline design, still favoured by the likes of Will Self and Leonard Cohen) and several pine cones. Very orderly and restrained, isn’t it? I didn’t want to overwhelm the pared-down Scandi styling of the magazine. Volume 2 of Cereal is just out, by the way.

This time, the bookshop needed something punchier for Bath in Fashion week, an annual event which is fast gaining a reputation amongst people who know about such things. This year it runs from 13th-21st April. Topping’s will be hosting two events to coincide: one with Sir Roy Strong on Tuesday 16th April, another with Kaffe Fassett on Thursday 18th April. My brief was to create an eye-catching display to flag up these events; the bookshop is on the A4 route through Bath and probably gets more attention from people in their cars than on foot. So, you have to work hard to grab attention.

First, I set to with my paintbrush and some old sewing boxes like this rather sad one; it’s a fabulous mid-twentieth century shape, but the varnish had been wrecked by water damage before I got it, so it was ripe for a makeover.

Mid-century sewing box

Here it is with a lick of paint.

Painted props

I also painted a tiny chest of drawers bought new about ten years ago, the perfect thing for buttons, bits and bobs. And I played with some buckram (the white stiff stuff you make tie-backs with, or don’t make tie-backs with, in my case).  I have a little thing about Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and thought that a giant classic Dean tape-measure would be A Good Idea. Never mind that I only painted up to the 12″ mark; most of the measure is coiled, so nobody will ever know. Instead of ‘Dean’ I painted ‘Bath’, and where ‘Made in England’ would have been, I put ‘Bath in Fashion’. Pretty subtle. Yeah, I guess nobody will clock that from their cars.

I borrowed an old French mannequin, which I felt compelled to Christen ‘Claudette’, and draped the giant tape-measure around her shoulders.

Several hours, some giant prop buttons, and many metres of orange fabric later, here’s the window.

Props in situ in Topping Books

Judging by my display, the event might well be called ‘Bath in Haberdashery’, but not to worry. Close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. Does it say ‘fashion’, however tangentially, to you? You can be scrupulously honest. My job is to catch the eye, and I hope that the bright colours and sewing props do that. Anyway, if you’re passing the Paragon at the end of George Street in Bath, or sitting in traffic at the lights, look out for it and let me know what you think. Better still, come to one of the bookshop events! Events are invariably delightful, warm and welcoming occasions at Topping’s, particularly with such colourful guests.

Here’s the entire shop front.

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PS This was actually attempt #2. I had a go at the windows on Sunday and made an incredible vintage-fabric mish-mash of them both. If you walked past late Sunday or early Monday and wondered what on earth was going on in the mind of the window-dresser, I was just having an off day. And trying to be über-thrifty by using only what I had. Big mistake. But this is how we learn.

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Dec 27

Stitcher’s Christmas wreath

 

I hope you’re surviving the festive season intact. Isn’t it a relief when all the busy-ness slows down and you can sense a wonderful stillness?

I can finally show you a vintage haberdashery stitcher’s Christmas wreath which is currently gracing my front door.

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A few years ago I put together a wreath on a chef’s theme, but I thought it was about time I created a stitcher’s version. The basic wicker structure was bought years ago and is one of those things which I pull out every year along with the Christmas tree decorations and wonder when I’m finally going to do something with it.

I’ve tied on some of my old mother-of-pearl buttons with tough linen upholstery thread.

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And added a frayed old Dean fabric tape measure as a bow; it was once housed in a small round plastic case, but that broke irrevocably a long time ago.

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I also wrapped 5 wooden reels with deep red velvet ribbon and tied them on with invisible thread.

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Our door is under a slight porch so the wreath doesn’t take the full brunt of the weather (currently driving rain, mostly); I probably wouldn’t hang it outside otherwise as it isn’t really an all-weather creation. It will hopefully be hanging (as all my decorations do) right up to Twelfth Night. Then I will store it as is and haul it out again next year.

Did you make your own wreath this year? Did you use unusual materials? Or upcycled items? Please take a moment and tell me about it.

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Jun 13

Curiously Enough

 

Textile artists’ group Brunel Broderers has an exhibition entitled Curiously Enough running at Ruskin Mill, 1 Mill Bottom, Old Bristol Road, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, GL6 0LA. It finishes tomorrow, Thursday 14th (note: closes 1pm on final day, otherwise 5pm). If there’s any way you can nip along to it, I’d recommend it. Here’s a glimpse from my visit yesterday.

Susi Bancroft patchwork artSusi Bancroft piece from Curiously EnoughFrom Curiously Enough exhibition, Ruskin Mill

 

 

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May 25

Jubilee Vintage Fair

I’ll be at Batheaston Primary’s Jubilee Vintage Fair tomorrow, 1-5pm, with my various vintage bits & bobs, buttons and Liberty beads. The organisers have gone to town with the vintage vibe and are promising vintage hairstyling, live music, vintage market & jumble, jubilee crafts, tea & cake, something called “wonderful WI cocktails” (anyone know what they are?), and even classic cars. Not your usual primary school fête at all! Something for everyone, so I hope to see you there.

Jubilee Vintage Fair, Batheaston

 

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Mar 22

Mend It Better review and giveaway!

My! We are Giveaway Central at the moment! And this isn’t even the last one, so do stay tuned.

It’s an exciting day when the book you’ve contributed to arrives. You open it at your page to feel a surge of recognition followed by mingled joy and disbelief. Small wonder that authors often refer to books as their children; the parallels with gazing at your own baby for the first time are obvious. Though I’m not really the parent here. More of a distant cousin. Anyway, that happy day came a few weeks ago when my contributor’s copy of Mend it Better (subtitled Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching) by Kristin M. Roach plopped onto the doormat.

I was delighted to be picked for inclusion in Mend it Better back in the spring of 2011 because mending is a subject very close to my heart. There are issues on which the world divides cleanly into two mutually exclusive halves. We have the lovers and the haters of marmite, the watchers and the non-watchers of The Apprentice, and then we have the menders and the non-menders. It seems that you either get the concept of mending, thrift, recycling, conservation etc or you don’t.  Long ago I had a very interesting discussion with a friend who didn’t get it at all; in fact, she found people who upturn their washing-detergent bottles (in order to extract that last little drop) positively repugnant: “cheese-paringly mean” was, I think, the term she used.  As a fairly compulsive bottle-drainer myself, I felt a little jarred by the strength of her feelings on this point. I can’t quite remember how the conversation progressed from there, but there was probably a tumble-weed moment.

The rift between the two camps can be explained (at least partially) by the moral high-ground implicitly adopted by the thrifty, possibly imagined by the non-thrifty and felt by them as an unspoken rebuke. Most of us really don’t like shoulds and musts and uncomfortable being-told- what- to- dos, even if they are not actually uttered. Sometimes the mere presence of people doing-the-right-thing is enough to set off the won’t-do-it-and-you-cant-make-mes. Back in the old days, we used to call this ‘conscience’. Me, I quite like conscience. I think it can be telling us something useful. But I digress.

Into the gaping chasm between the thrifty and resolutely non-thrifty ( I see it rather like the Grand Canyon!) Kristin M. Roach rides, cheerfully a-whistlin’ a tune. Her panniers are full of  jaunty calico iron-on patches, prettily painted darning eggs, shiny skeins of embroidery silk and boundless enthusiasm. With these she can charm the birds from the trees (or do I mean cacti?) and persuade even the most militant non-mender that mending might be OK. Fun even.

The first thing that strikes you about Kristin’s book is how neat and tidy it is. The small scale — just 18.5cms x 21cms — is genuinely handy, perfect to slip into the mending bag. It’s purse-friendly too at just $18.95/£12.99. The book is laid out very appealingly; check out the perky appliqué fabric-letter graphics and the vintage sewing effects peppered throughout. This pretty book functions beautifully as a call-to-mend, with joy and creativity the main flavour and just the subtlest hint of virtue as an after-taste. As Kristin’s site says, ‘With Mend It Better, every garment and fabric repair is a chance for self-expression and fabulous creations.’  Yeah, the creativity card might just win it!

Title page

And now for the nitty gritty:

Who is the author? Kristin M. Roach lives in Ames Iowa, is a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Northern Illinois University) and she started writing her blog Craft Leftovers in 2006 as a way of keeping on top of her craft supplies — using up what she had rather than buying new. It’s a great source of inspiration for making the best of what’s already to hand.

What’s in the book? After a sweet introduction (in which Kristin pays homage to the significant sewing females in her family) there’s a brief foray through the evolution of sewing (which is possibly extra to requirements but enjoyable all the same) before Kristin tackles the basics. How do you assess if a piece is worth saving? What do you need in your essential mending tool kit? This includes instructions for a mending bag and upcycled tool clutch (see below). What basic stitches will you need? – both hand and machine. These can then be practised to make a cute needle book.

Mend it Better contents page

Next come all sorts of inspirational projects, each setting out a particular method or type of repair. As well as showing her own makeovers, Kristin has curated often bold and inspirational mends from other crafters, including Susan Beal, Rachel Beyer, Deb Cory, Carina Envoldsen-Harris, Crispina ffrench, Jennifer Forest, Diane Gilleland, Pam Harris, Marisa Lynch, Francesca Mueller, Cal Patch, Stacie Wick and Sherri Lynn Wood. Additional contributors are Caitlin Stevens Andrews, Maja Blomqvist, Cathie Jo, Ágnes Palkó, Megan PedersonLeah Peterson, Jamie Smith, and Yours Truly. Areas covered include: patchwork (including Leah Peterson’s  gorgeous reverse applique shown below),  seam fixes,  secret pockets, clever ways to adjust hems, waistband repairs, darning (by hand and machine, and an ingenious way to make your own darning egg using a wooden egg and a Shaker-style peg), fasteners, zip replacements, handling fancy fabrics, and decorative embellishments (including applying beads round a moth hole to create a flower motif).

Who will the book work best for? Kristin has clearly worked hard to make this an inclusive book, and I think it will work both for the absolute sewing newbie (who needs guidance through even basic stitches) and the more seasoned sewist (who can flip past that). Because it’s aiming to appeal to a wide audience, it crosses into the territory of some broader sewing manuals (such as this excellent one from Ruth Singer), but mostly includes what is relevant. I fear that it would frustrate someone expecting to find a lot of fancy hand-stitches as the ones included are fairly basic. I love the first few sewing projects which include a bag to hold your mending (upcycled from a damaged tablecloth) and a mending kit to hold your scissors, needles, marking gauges etc (upcycled from a felted sweater). Kristin conceived it as a book you can dip in and out of as necessary, whether you want to sew on a button or fit a hidden pocket.

Most inspiring mends? For me, it’s the reverse appliqué patching. I also liked the machine-darned jeans on the opposite page. Both are beautiful. There are a few other mends featured which go well beyond the purely practical and are aptly described as devotional. I also loved the crocheted sock darning done with oddments of yarn. It looks stunning, appears to be very robust, and I can’t wait to give it a try.

Mends by Leah Peterson and Jamie Smith

I must mention in passing that though I really loved Kristin’s make-your-own darning egg project (using a wooden egg and that Shaker peg) which she includes because she says they’re hard to find in the US, darning mushrooms etc are fairly commonplace  over here in the UK. You can also buy vintage ones at a certain Etsy store.

My contribution to the book was a mended apron (which you can see over on my In Print page). It wasn’t done for the book  – can’t you tell? – but was a favourite of mine I’d fixed. It’s not what I’d call exciting but its mother loves it.  And that’s one of the points Kristin makes; unless very ragged, something is worthy of fixing if you happen to cherish it, for whatever reason.

We may be stuck with a pretty dodgy economy for some time, and I doubt that spending our way out of it will be the answer — wasn’t that what got us all into this mess in the first place? Most of us will have to tighten our belts and take our dose of thrift as palatably as possible. Happily,  Mend it Better helps the medicine slide down.

OK, I’m convinced. Where can I buy it? Look for it at your local bookshop, and please ask, if you can’t find it. If you’re within spitting distance of me, I have a few copies available so email me. If you’re a bookstore or making establishment in the UK and would like to stock copies, get in touch with Melia Publishing Servcies. You can also get a signed copy direct from Kristin.

And finally to the giveaway! I’m really thrilled that the nice people at Storey Publishing (here’s their Facebook page, by the way) have offered to send a FREE copy of Mend it Better to one of my fortunate readers. The offer applies to readers in the US and UK only so if you’re hoping to learn to mend elsewhere, I’m sorry to disappoint. To enter, please leave a comment below. You can tell me what you have that needs mending, if you wish. A detached button? A tear to a precious dress? The knees of your favourite jeans? I’d also love to hear about any encounters you’ve had with the non-mending, thrift-intolerant portion of the population. But there’s no right answer, and a winner will be picked entirely at random. Entries close at midnight on Sunday 1st April, and the winner announced here on the blog on Monday 2nd April. Good luck!

 

 

 

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Dec 15

Christmas at War

I’m going to be making-do-and-mending with the Museum of Bath at Work this Saturday, helping them to celebrate a World War II-style Christmas. Pop by between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 17th and you’ll likely find me wreathed in brown-paper chains with a ton of darning mushrooms and other selected vintage notions, including some gorgeous Fair-Isle knitting patterns. The museum’s usual entrance fee applies, but you’re guaranteed to really get in the mood; re-enactment group the Blitz Buddies will be there, and I hear there will be music and dancing to make the experience come alive. Incidentally, this event kicks off the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Bath Blitz next year. Bath was bombed as part of the retaliatory Baedeker raids on 25th and 26th April 1942. You can find out more at the Bath Blitz Memorial Project. If you have memories of Bath during the war, the museum would be delighted if you’d come along on Saturday and share them.

The Christmas at War organisers have broken it to me gently that I’m expected to dress the part. I’ve decided to go land-girl style, sporting a Fair-Isle tank top. Fair-Isle knitting was a great way to use up stray odds and ends of yarn (one had to unpick worn-out knitted garments and re-knit) but its popularity during World War II possibly owes as much to an interesting rationing loophole: whereas knitting wool was rationed (two ounces of knitting yarn took one precious clothing coupon), mending cards not exceeding one ounce were exempt. Yarn producers cottoned on to this and duly produced mending cards in an array of colours to meet the demand. Cunning, eh?

Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

There were, of course, five Christmases celebrated while the nation was at war. The festivities of 1939 weren’t so different from those pre-war, though new blackout restrictions ended the sight of lit Christmas trees in front windows. Rationing hadn’t kicked in yet, and people spent quite freely on gifts, in spite of the Chancellor’s injunction not to be wasteful.

1940 was the first real wartime Christmas. Britain was under siege. The Blitz had kicked off in London in September, and November had seen the devastating bombing of Coventry. Food rationing had begun in January. Practical Christmas gifts were in: gardening tools, books, bottling jars and seeds, with the most popular gift that year being soap.

Clothing and textiles were rationed from June 1941, and food rationing increased to its peak by Christmas. Petrol and manpower shortages prevented home-delivery of shop goods, so people now had to carry their purchases. Wrapping paper was very scarce, and toys were in short supply and (when they could be found) shoddily made and expensive. Home-made or renovated gifts were the thing. Yet this was an optimistic time because, with the Allies now in the war, Brits felt they would definitely beat Hitler.

By Christmas 1942, two popular gifts had succumbed to the ration: soap and sweets. In order to prepare for the festive season, food coupons had to be saved for months ahead. Homemade decorations were the order of the day; the Ministry of Food made the helpful suggestion that, though there were ‘no gay bowls of fruit’, vegetables could be used instead for their jolly colours: ‘The cheerful glow of carrots, the rich crimson of beetroot, the emerald of parsley – it looks as delightful as it tastes.’

Christmas 1943 saw shortages at their height. There was little chance of turkey, chicken or goose, or even rabbit. Much Christmas food was ‘mock’ (i.e. false): mock ‘turkey’ (made from lamb) and mock ‘cream’ and ‘marzipan’.  Make-do-and-mend presents were the order of the day; magazines printed instructions for knitted slippers and gloves, brooches made from scraps of wool, felt or plastic, and embroidered bookmarks and calendars.

Mending threads

Vintage mending threads

Christmas 1944 was probably the least joyful of the entire war. People had hoped it might be all over by Christmas, after the Allied Normandy invasion of June,  but mid-December saw the Ardennes Offensive with thousands killed on both sides. German air attacks (now V1 and V2 rockets) began in June, with 30 hitting England on Christmas Eve. One surprise benefit of the pilot-less doodlebugs was that blackout restrictions could be lifted, so churches lit their their stained glass windows for the first time in 4 years. DIY gifts were once again a necessity; the book Rag-Bag Toys gave instructions for making a cuddly pig from an old vest, and a doll from old stockings.

The unconfined joy of VE Day 1945 suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. I think I will be relishing my Christmas turkey and tree lights as never before this year!

The Museum of Bath at Work can be found on Julian Road (the Lansdown Hill end), tucked behind Christ Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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