Category: Vintage fabrics

Oct 11

She stoops to conker

 

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Picking up the gleaming treasure under horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum) is irresistible at this time of year. You’re never too old for your inner child to spring into squirrely action and pocket a few.

 

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Residents of Britain might think of the horse chestnut as a native tree, but it’s really a naturalised immigrant, originating in the Balkans and imported from mainland Europe around 1550-1570. Imagine Shakespeare seeing it as the latest faddy garden ornamental! When we lived in London, my husband and I used to tandem down the Chestnut Avenue in Bushy Park under its broad canopy of horse chestnut trees. In full flower, they are a spectacular sight, and the park has a festival each May to celebrate the showy white candle-like blossoms.

The trees there might not be looking quite so magnificent these days as some have fallen prey to several forms of destructive blight. It’s estimated that 10 per cent of British trees are now affected, those in London suffering more than most. There were no conkers at all at Kew Gardens in 2006. Unthinkable! More about the various pests and pathogens attacking horse chestnuts over here.

 

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If you’re lucky enough to find any conkers, what can you do with them? First, do nothing but admire the shoe-shine perfection of the russety globes, fresh from their acid-green spiked casing. Next, according to Roald Dahl, utter the greeting “Oddly, oddly, my first conker” thereby seeing off any misfortune heading your way in the coming season. It’s worth a try.

 

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Uses

Insect/spider deterrents.  There’s been a lot of talk about this. Giles Deacon, fashion designer and insect enthusiast, reportedly recommends conkers as a natural moth deterrent (Daily Telegraph, 18 April 2012). Their brown skins contain a compound called triterpenoid saponin which wards off these pests. Worth trying.

 

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The idea is to scatter them liberally in corners, and tuck them in with your woollies etc. You could drill holes and hang them on strings or wire if you want a more decorative approach. But I wouldn’t bother. Especially as their plump sheen is so short-lived and the shrivelled version is best kept out of sight. Do they also work as a spider deterrent? I’m not sure, but what’s to be lost by trying?

Horse food?  That old chestnut! No, don’t try this at home. When eaten by horses, horse chestnuts produce tremors and lack of coordination. Though deer, cattle, sheep and squirrels are not affected by the toxins – that saponin again – which would destroy our red blood cells if we consumed them. The nuts are, though, harmless to handle.

Grinding up horse chestnuts and and boiling them in water appears to make them just about edible for horses, but hardly seems worth the effort. The name may originate from the nuts being used to create a medicine for equine respiratory disorders. 

Pile cure. The mind boggles, but apparently horse chestnuts have astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. They contain a glycoside – esculoside – which has been shown to shrink distended veins. It need to be pulverised and processed into some kind of cream first,  and then applied topically. Commercial forms of this cream are available.

Fabric soap/bleach/whitener. The saponin in horse chestnuts also performs as a whitener, traditionally used to bleach flax, hemp, silk and wool in places such as France and Switzerland. Scientifically speaking, it’s the aesculin or esculinic acid – a glucoside – in the inner bark of the horse chestnut which has ultra violet fluorescence, acting as an optical whitener. More about that over here. If you want to try this at home, you need approximately 20 horse chestnuts per 6 litres of soft water. The method sounds a little complicated. And before you rush off to discover it, the brightening qualities of horse chestnut extract may wash out and are sensitive to light, so proceed with caution.

Conkers. If the tree isn’t native to Britain, the game played with the fruiting body certainly appears to be. It was first recorded on the Isle of Wight in 1848, but was described by the poet Robert Southey in the 1820s as played with other types of nut. The World Conker Championships were established near Oundle, Northants in 1965 and take place on the 2nd Sunday of each October. I could add a lot more but the game boils down pretty well to: a) drill hole in conker; b) thread onto string and knot well; c) find opponent with same; and d) get walloping.

Doll furniture. This idea of making little tables and chairs from conkers appeared in the 1965 (obviously a good year for conkers!) Puffin book Something to Do. All you need is a few pins to make legs plus back and arm supports, and some scraps of wool. Think The Borrowers meets Mid-century styling. I’ve had this book since childhood and remember having a go at these, probably over a long, wet weekend. As far as I can recall, the furniture had all shrivelled and the pins rusted by the end of Sunday. A little disappointing, but fun while it lasted.

 

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Finally, a couple of noteworthy horse chestnut trees for you. Here is officially Britain’s biggest horse chestnut tree, down in Hampshire; we’re talking girth, not height, with this giant measuring in at a over 7 metres around its bole. And Anne Frank described her inspirational view of a horse chestnut tree in her diary entry for 23rd February 1944 (see below). The beleaguered tree sadly blew down in August 2010, but 11 offspring saplings survived it. They are all destined for meaningful sites of remembrance: one is destined to be planted at the site of 9/11

 

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I will think of Anne Frank the next time I pick up a conker, and feel profoundly fortunate.

 

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PS  The title of this post alludes to She Stoops to Conquer, a play by Oliver Goldsmith. First performed in 1773, it’s a prototypical RomCom. Here’s a little film about Mark Thompson’s 18th century costumes for Jamie Lloyd’s 2012 National Theatre production. If you like corsets, not to mention pleated ribbon embellishments, you’ll be very happy. Enjoy your weekend, and remember that love conkers all… 

 

 

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Oct 09

Liberty bias binding

 

Reporting back on the progress of my various Scraps of the Week (or should that be Scrap of the Weeks?) has been a little erratic. Sorry about that.

Here’s what happened to Scrap #13, a Liberty Tana Lawn skirt in shell-pink Glenjade pattern (one of my favourites) with an intractable black stain.

Some of it became a length of beautiful bias binding which I’ve just sold. I periodically sell this kind of thing in my Etsy store, along with other vintage-y, haberdasher-ish (mostly) loveliness. Liberty Tana Lawn makes gorgeously soft and flexible bias binding; it smooths itself beautifully around curved edges and is a real joy to work. And small amounts of this densely patterned, colour-saturated fabric go a long way, so you don’t need a lot.

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Upcycled Liberty bias binding

 

Making bias-binding isn’t as difficult as you might think and is really satisfying. You must start with a reasonable quantity of fabric; much less than a metre can be counterproductive as you’ll find yourself creating endless joins. And you must cut your strips diagonally to the straight grain of the fabric (‘on the bias’, or ‘on the cross’) in order for it to have the desired elasticity. What would you say to a little tutorial? OK. If I get more than 20 requests in the comments, I’ll post one.

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Liberty bias binding

 

Back to the upcycled skirt, some became buttons (now sold too). And the rest I still have. So many projects, so little time! I might eventually try my hand at a Tumbling Blocks quilt, inspired by Deirdre Amsden‘s Liberty one in this 1970s patchwork book.

 

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Oct 01

Jacqmar calling

 

 

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The distinctive Jacqmar mark

 

When this vibrant blouse was brought to the M Shed’s World War 2 day last Saturday, it created a frisson of excitement. Apparently upcycled from a Jacqmar propaganda scarf by the owner’s mother (a primary school teacher in London during the war), the blouse is an eye-popping reminder for us too young to have experienced the war IRL that it wasn’t lived in black-and-white.

 

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Economic cutting

 

The 1942 line drawing by Jacqmar’s company designer Arnold Lever contains a selection of  topical references. Here’s much more about it and them c/o Meg Andrews, a specialist in antique costume and textiles.

 

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Back view

 

The blouse is threadbare here and there, but still very bright and beautiful. It’s noticeable that the green binding is much finer and more flexible than the run-of-the-mill stiff stuff on offer to us nowadays. And it’s still doing the job, though a little worn here and there. The red buttons are not original to the WW2 item.

 

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Binding finish

 

I’m a little puzzled by this piece. Jacqmar propaganda scarves were expensive items when new, so turning one into a blouse would have been a very bold project, in more ways than one. Admittedly, in this form it would have been wearable for a young teacher during her working day, whereas a head-scarf would not. But have I made a false assumption that this was made from a headscarf? It looked to me as if the pieces could just come (if carefully cut) from the square yard of fabric provided by a scarf. But did Jacqmar produce garments too? Or was the fabric ever sold by the metre? My hunch is that this was a homemade item; look at the stitching visible beyond the binding – not a professional finish. And the fact that contrast binding was used, not self, would indicate a paucity of fabric which as being negotiated with the greatest care, so the upcycled scarf theory still holds water. 

 

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The odd hole here and there…

 

I bet this made a real impact on pupils when the young teacher wore it. Do you know of someone who made items from bright scarves during the war? Maybe you’ve inherited a Jacqmar propaganda scarf? Or another item of clothing made by Jacqmar? Perhaps you recognise the vintage blouse pattern this was cut from? If you have any insight at all to offer, I’d be delighted if you’d share it with me below. And if you happen to be in Bristol and have a story about World War 2, or an artefact you’d be willing to loan for an exhibition next year, do get in touch with the M Shed. Thanks.

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered that famed scarf producer Jacqmar did indeed turn out fabrics. In fact, they were doing this before they began to make scarves: the scarves being, ironically, a thrifty way to use up precious silk scraps. There’s a nice story about Arnold Lever’s patriotic fabric over here, used to create a VE party dress.

 

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Sep 11

Scrap of the week #32

 

 

I don’t think I’ve covered the subject of leather scraps before, so this is a happy first. I had an inspiring encounter at the Bath Artisan Market on Sunday and wanted to share.

A wonderful lady named Hiromi came to say hello. Hiromi doesn’t speak much English, but thankfully her daughter (who does) was on hand to translate. Hiromi quietly emptied various beautifully made Liberty (yes, I know, I am a woman obsessed!) bags out of her handmade linen shoulder bag, finally producing a large powdery blue square of Liberty lawn from one. If you don’t recognise the fabric, it’s Glenjade, the classic pattern which first appeared on Liberty Tana lawn way back in 1955.

She also extracted a short leather strap with two D-shackles on each end.

I watched, entranced, as she fed two adjacent corners of the fine lawn square through one set of D-rings (securing them with a half-knot, just to stop them slipping back through).

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Two corners in this side…

 

Then she did the same with the remaining two corners and the other set of D-rings.

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Two corners in that side…

 

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A half-knot…

 

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Insta-bag!

 

Hey presto! She’d created an instant bag! So chic!

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A capacious, stylish bag with a comfortable grip

 

By this time, I was almost fainting with excitement at this wonderful idea. To cap it all, Hiromi had made the leather strap herself, and (Oh still my beating heart!) she wanted to give it to me. Did I accept? Do bears sashay in the woods?! Yes, I accepted (probably just a little too eagerly), offering a couple of little Liberty button/patch items in return. Now I’m singling out a Liberty fabric from my stash to create my own impromptu carry-everywhere bag. How much more pleasurable to use than an old plastic shopper! Or a bulkier fabric one (assuming I remember to carry it, which I tend not to). All it needs is a simple turned hem each side. Supposing I remember to tote it with me, it could double as a impromptu scarf. Or table-cloth. Or napkin. The list goes on. Isn’t that just the BEST THING EVER? Thank you, dear Hiromi!

 

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Hiromi’s strap

 

Next, I want to figure out how to construct my own bag strap, so I’m eyeing several discarded scraps of upholstery leather with intent. Hiromi used a strong strip of leather about 2cms wide by 24cms long. This upholstery leather scrap isn’t quite as thick, but seems strong and unstretchy. It handles nicely. 

 

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Leather scrap for bag strap

 

My riveting experience is pretty limited, so I’m going to need some advice. It seems that what’s needed is a double-ended riveting kit. I’d like to make do with what I already have, and I bought an antique packet of rivets on one of my (very dangerous!) boot-sale outings with Ruth Singer this summer. Not double-ended, but they might just do the trick.

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Bifurcated rivets

 

Ideally I’d like them to match the rings, though. And I don’t have any copper rings of any type – D or otherwise. Do you happen to know where some might be found? Actually, I prefer Hiromi’s choice of antiqued brass for this colour leather, so I guess I’ll have to scout around and find some.

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Copper rivets, with tool

 

So, I have my work cut out. I’ll let you know how I get on. My apologies, in advance, if you receive one of these insta-bags as a birthday/Christmas/other special occasion gift in due course. The bug has really bitten!

Final thought: do you think these might possibly ever appeal to men? I’m wondering here about heterosexual men? Seems to me that the leather strap could look quite masculine, so maybe teamed with a fine lawn shirting of this, or this, or even a Liberty pattern like this, it just might work. Or plain black? Are premeditated fabric convenience bags a place Average Hetero Male will never go? I suppose you’d have to remember to pop it inside your man-bag… Do give me your honest opinion, and feel free to suggest fine, strong fabrics that you could use for this project, besides (very expensive!) Liberty lawn. The next year of family gifts might well hang on it.

 

 

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Aug 13

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine

 

 

With apologies to Jane Austen, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a girl who grew up in the 1970s must have been in want of a Laura Ashley dress. Last month I went to the opening of a stunning new landmark exhibition marking 60 years of this major fashion label: Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine. And it helpfully confirmed my theory.

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine - image c/o Fashion Museum

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine – image c/o Fashion Museum

 

I never actually owned a genuine Laura Ashley dress* but I’ve rarely felt so personally invested in an exhibition.  Laura Ashley was the designer who dominated my formative years. I blogged about that unbearably brown-Draloned decade and some Laura Ashley fabric scraps last time, in case you missed it. It’s really the early ’70s that I’m talking about, when Laura Ashley was in her creative prime. This was when I was developing my sense of what being a woman was about, and Laura Ashley’s designs grew to dominate my internal landscape, her patterns virtually etched on the inside of my eyelids. 

So my heart was seriously aflutter when I arrived at the Fashion Museum  last month for the exhibition launch. Despite the heat (Britain was still in the grip of an atypical heatwave) there were quite a few others who appeared to share my enthusiasm. The high-ceilinged Assembly Rooms – the Georgian setting of so many dances and assemblies and home to the museum since 1969 – were packed. I gratefully accepted a glass of something cool and sparkling. Looking around, the crowd was largely female and of-a-certain-age. As we awaited the speakers, we fanned ourselves with our invitations, like so many Jane Austen heroines. 

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After an introduction by a council official, legendary Fleet Street fashion journalist Felicity Green rose to recount her Laura Ashley memories. Now in her eighties, Green explained how Laura Ashley dresses gave British women just what they wanted in the early ’70s: a non-threatening response to Quant’s ’60s Youthquake mini. The mini had forced the wearer to be somewhat confrontational and angular, whereas Laura Ashley’s layered, pleated, gathered and ruffled styles wrapped women up in what Green described at the time as ‘soft-core femininity’ (Daily Mirror, 1st January 1970).  What did women want? They wanted an escapist, wholesome Romantic idyll. Most of all, to feel comfortable and unashamedly feminine. Laura Ashley happily supplied all that.

Green explained that one special thing which set Laura apart was her husband, Bernard Ashley. Green was not easily intimidated, but had she been rather frightened of Bernard, she confessed. He did not suffer fools and was very sharp-witted on the business side. Green also knew Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki (the designer behind Biba) and their husbands, who, by contrast, were totally charming but lacked Bernard’s business orientation. Both Quant and Hulanicki subsequently lost their trademarks, and this was the crucial difference between them and Ashley.  Thanks to Bernard’s nous, Laura Ashley became the first truly international label.

Turning to the exhibition itself, Green bestowed the strongest praise: “Unparalleled,” she said. ‘Truly a combination of fashion and style and presentation. Outstrips the V&A.” High praise indeed for curators Rosemary Harden and Ian R .Webb.

As we listened to Felicity’s fascinating memories, I spotted this young woman in a gorgeous floor-sweeping vintage Laura Ashley swan-print strappy summer dress. She told me later that it had been her mother’s.

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Guest wearing her mum’s original ’70s dress

Then we filed into the exhibition itself. The first sight to greet us was that distinctive lower-case logo, plus a row of simple, serene cream and white dresses.

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Entrance to the exhibition

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Serene white

 

We turned the corner to face the breathtaking spectacle of almost 100 dresses.

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Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine

 

What strikes you immediately is the pastiches of various periods: this Regency style, that Victorian governess outfit. You could see how Laura was influenced by what must then have been on TV at the time, which historical serial was capturing her (and the nation’s) imagination. Laura had such an uncanny ability to capture the zeitgeist. And her interpretation of the styles is so interesting: she wasn’t copying those earlier styles, but borrowing elements to make very wearable dresses.

 

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High necks, pleats and lace frills

Some of the high collars looked a little uncomfortable, at least from the vantage point of a very hot summer’s day.

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Beccy (right) and I, thoroughly engrossed

 

There is no glass between the visitor and the exhibits, and it’s very tempting touch; all that cotton certainly screams “FEEL ME!” It’s quite special to be able to get so close to exhibits like this.

Early on in the exhibition are Laura’s first dresses dating from the ’60s. Recognisably of the period, but distinctive Laura Ashley tones and prints.

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A row of 1960s dresses

 

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Regency-style ruching

 

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The Governess look

 

I persuaded my friend and neighour, Beccy, to join me at the exhibition. She has just established re-be, a business selling upcycled clothes for children, and an early Laura Ashley dress had featured as the makeover target in her range, so I hoped that she’d find the exhibition both useful and interesting.

She brought the little outfit along, and how fabulous to find a sister-dress to the one she’d upcycled! Before you get upset, the purple object of her upcycling had been her business partner’s mother’s dress (following?) and had been ruined before Beccy’s scissors took to it.

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High necks and frills

re-be reinterpretation of vintage Laura Ashley dress

re-be reincarnation next to identical dress in different colourway

I was drawn to this grass-green pinafore, partly because I recognised that pansy fabric, partly because I made something very similar (but with long sleeves) from a commercial Laura Ashley pattern about 10 years later. This one had a great story attached. It was chosen by Alpen to use in their advert when they launched the breakfast cereal in Britain. At the time, all things continental were in favour (I remember the ‘continental quilt’ or duvet arriving in the ’70s, ousting the tradition British two-sheets-and-a-blanket combination). The slogan for the advert reflected how well Laura Ashley’s wholesome image dovetailed with the new breakfast cereal’s image: ‘more natural goodness every morning’.

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The Alpen dress

And then there were some extraordinary offerings, much more on the psychedelic end of the spectrum than I would have thought possible. My photos don’t quite capture their shock value. In real life, those checked fabrics really zing.

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Psychedelic checks

My only disappointment was wandering a little later up to the Bath shop, the first Laura Ashley shop to be opened outside of London. They had a lovely window display; note the same fabric used here as in that Alpen pinny.

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Current display in the Bond Street branch of Laura Ashley in Bath

But there were no nostalgic Laura Ashley goods to be found inside. What a pity.For those itching to get their purses out, there is a really nice little exhibition booklet available which can be purchased at both the Fashion Museum and The Bowes Museum for about £5.

This compelling exhibition set Laura Ashley much more firmly in context for me. She plugged right into the early ’70s hunger for the wholesome. I can see now how much she drew on historical styles, but without slavishly copying them; the dresses are not made in a historical way, but are her interpretations. But I was surprised to see how many of the fabrics were much brighter, the designs more eye-popping than I’d remembered. I can’t wait to visit it again and really hope that you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself. 

 

Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at The Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

In my next post… some personal Laura Ashley stories from women who loaned their dresses to the exhibition.

 

*though I did make myself a couple from a purchased Laura Ashley pattern

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Aug 06

Scrap of the week #31

 

These mid-1970s Laura Ashley scraps were the first materials I handled, shaped and stitched when learning to sew as a girl. I pulled them out of the Scrapiana archive after seeing the wonderful Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath recently. The exhibition made me feel deeply nostalgic for 1970s Laura Ashley fabrics and dress designs, which is ironic because Laura Ashley traded heavily on nostalgia herself, so I effectively entered a state of meta-nostalgia (nostalgia for nostalgia) from which I fear I may never emerge back into the 21st century.

I seem to specialise in unlikely survivals, and these Laura Ashley scraps really shouldn’t be hanging about intact still, 40 years on. There is no decent explanation for it. I may as well tell you that Peter Capaldi swung by in the tardis and dropped them off. But, for whatever unlikely reason, they remain with me still. Mostly unused. And I’m very happy to be able to show them to you.

Early 1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

They were probably bought in the Bath shop which opened its doors in 1971. This was the first Laura Ashley shop outside of London, and it soon acquired a legendary status.

Bath was a fairly frequent destination for family outings when I was a girl; sometimes we’d go to the American Museum or the Museum of Costume, the previous incarnation of the Fashion Museum, then just a few years old. Bath was not quite the tourist hub it is today, and it actually looked pretty shabby back then, though one couldn’t help but be struck by its elegant (if very blackened) stone architecture.

Looking at these scraps still fills me with a kind of feverish excitement, depositing me right back circa 1973. Laura Ashley had such an exhilarating aura of  elegance, sophistication and wholesome escapism, so unlike anything else I can remember from the period, though I didn’t get out much in middle childhood. Anyone under thirty might find it hard to imagine, looking at these little brown fragments, how they excited such admiration and longing. Maybe you just had to be there, with rocketing inflation, the 3-day week, the sexual revolution, the perennial fear of Soviet invasion (not to mention nuclear annihilation), doing your best to block it all out with your tranny tuned to Radio Luxembourg under your brushed polyester bedclothes. No wonder we were so ready to lap up The Forsyte SagaWar & Peace, The Onedin Line, and Upstairs Downstairs on the TV.

Laura Ashley fabric, early 1970s

Laura Ashley print of mythical beasts

 

I still love almost everything about these Laura Ashley pieces. The sturdy texture of the 100% cotton, a world away from my purple manmade sheets of the time (which crackled with static and snagged against my toenails when I rolled over). I love the earthy, hippy hues, giving the impression that they’ve been dyed with the products of a hedgerow, though I’m very sure they weren’t. I love the small-repeat designs in just two restrained tones, the pseudo-medieval, mock-oriental and Victorian-style motifs. These fabrics seemed so sophisticated, so opulent, yet incredibly safe and modest too. It was a compelling mix for a young girl.

But possibly most of all, I love the fact that Laura Ashley was selling these as genuine manufacturing offcuts: pieces culled from dresses made in the Welsh factory. No pre-cut patchwork squares from virgin metres of cloth in those days. I wish there could be more conspicuous selling of designer wastage today. Shall we start a campaign?

The dresses themselves would have been beyond the budget at the time, so scraps were all I could reasonably aspire to. These scraps date from when the company was still very much Laura’s baby, and I can easily imagine (though it’s purely my fantasy) that every piece of cloth still passed under Laura’s gaze for a final quality check. I’m sure it didn’t really, but her spirit is very much here. 

1970s Laura Ashley pansy design close-up

Print S105 featuring a triangular pansy motif

 

Laura had a keen sense of thrift and strove to avoid waste when pattern-cutting. One of her early designs was an oven glove, made from the wastage created by the scooped neck of a gardening smock. And it’s easy to imagine how her unwillingness to see such offcuts go to waste, plus her love of patchwork (notably sparked by a WI exhibition in the early ’50s) informed the decision to package them up and sell them.

Any pattern-cutters out there care to tell me which garment pieces you think these were cut from? Is that plum ‘C’-shape from a neckline, the comma-shaped piece from an armscye?

1970s Laura Ashley fabrics

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

There’s a great story related by Meirion, one of the Welsh factory stalwarts, in Anne Sebba’s biography Laura Ashley: A Life By Design published in 1990 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson:

Once I cut the neckline wrong on three hundred dresses and I thought at first I’d just keep quiet and fill the gap with lace. But, of course, she would have noticed so I told her and we turned the scoop to our advantage. In future that style always carried the “wrong” neckline. All she said to me, very calmly, was, “Remember, you can always learn from your mistakes”.

And speaking of mistakes, here’s some of the patchwork I made from these offcuts, way back in my very earliest needle-plying days. Don’t look too closely at the stitching.  And how many shades of brown can you include in one piece, anyway? The cushion was well loved, but this wasn’t my finest hour. The item with the smaller piecing is a bag, with every hexagon stuffed. Not sure why I thought that was a good idea.

Laura Ashley patchwork items

My early Laura Ashley patchwork

Laura Ashley and me

Don’t look too closely at the stitching

 

Hexagon patchwork also features in the current exhibition. There’s a cover pieced by Rosemary Harden, the director of the Fashion Museum, and a vibrant patchwork skirt made by Beverly Peach. Now, I don’t remember Laura Ashley producing particularly bright fabrics, but I realised how wrong I was when I visited the exhibition. More about that (and some surprisingly psychedelic offerings from Mrs Ashley) very soon. 

1970s Laura Ashley patchwork

Spare hexagons

 

In my next post: a report on Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine which celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is currently on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at the Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

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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 11

Scrap of the week #29

 

After a relative dearth of scraps, here’s a whole slew to make up for it. I hope you can handle  all the excitement!

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Rail fence quilt top

This exuberant patchwork quilt-top was made by my Pennsylvanian grandmother. It’s a simple machine-pieced single quilt top which was not completed.

It isn’t fancy: a thrown-together-fast strip pattern called ‘rail fence’. Each little strip measures about three inches by one.

To make rail fence, three strips are joined to make one square block. The blocks are then arranged (one vertical, one horizontal, etc) and joined into strips, the strips then joined to build up the entire quilt top. Simple, but lively. It seems to me that the  placing and piecing haven’t been sweated over too much: this is a hap quilt, the pieces falling pretty much where they will. The lines of stitching are a little rough-and-ready too. But Nana had plenty of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and didn’t have time to spare on perfectionism.

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Rail fence patchwork

The workmanship and provenance may not be grand, but these scraps are like little jewels to me. I know that some of them came from humble feedsacks. Others were cut from plain fabrics bought by the yard. I’m sure Nana would have kept precious scraps a long while. She grew up on a farm, one of fourteen children, and resources were scarce. I think she’d have been conservative, therefore, so maybe some of these fabrics date to way back whenever. She worked in a shirt factory for a while (in the 1910s, I think) so I wonder if any of these could be shirt offcuts.

My mother used to tell me that some of these prints featured in her childhood clothes from the late 1920s and 1930s. Other scraps are a little later. I don’t know exactly when Nana made it; it could possibly date any time up to the late ’70s. I’m not sure precisely when she stopped sewing; she had bad arthritis in her hands and I think she’d stopped for a while before she died in the 1980s.

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Rail fence close-up

A few people have suggested I complete this quilt. But I’m reluctant to. I feel that the WIP tells its own special story and has its own value; I’m reluctant to meddle with this time-capsule. But I’d love to ask you: if it were your grandmother’s handiwork, what would you do? Finish? Or leave it as is? And why? Have you finished off your own grandmother’s (or your mother’s) quilt? Did you feel you owed that to her? All valid points! Please do take just a moment to share your thoughts. I love to hear them. Thank you!

 

 

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Mar 04

Come to a Craft-Tea Party!

 

 

If you’re pushed for a Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday* gift and live in Bath, I can help.

The Craft-Tea Party happens in Green Park Station this Saturday 9th March, 2-5pm. It’s organised by Oxfam Bath and timed to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March).

Craft-Tea Party poster

 

I’m running a series of mini-workshops at 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm (half an hour each) to make a gorgeous flower brooch from upcycled felt. The £5 fee will go entirely to Oxfam as I’m donating my time and materials.

Here’s the felt we’ll be using. It’s lovely thick stuff, culled from endless sweaters, cardigans and scarves gleaned in numberless charity shops then boiled in my washing machine and steam pressed. Yes, a complete labour of love!

Felted garments

Part of the Scrapiana upcycled felt library

 

And here are samples of some of the loopy brooches we’ll be making. They can be loosely sprawling, dense and tight, single colour, variegated, buttoned or not buttoned, but each holds a charm.

Loopy corsages

Loopy flower brooches

 

Best of all, these loopy flowers are surprisingly simple and fast to make. They just need a little careful cutting (I have various sizes of scissors for big and little hands) and require a little hand-sewing, though I minimise this for those who find needle-and-thread stressful. I made these (and some other felt flowers) with the Bath WI last week and we had a really fun, highly productive evening. Here’s a write-up from fellow craft blogger and WI member Sue. I’m so glad to have pepped up her week and brought a smile to her face – that means such a lot.

Anyway, £5 isn’t much of an outlay to hit two birds with one stone, donating to the brilliant Oxfam cause and making something for your lovely ma. Better still, bring your mum along and keep her busy close by with some tea and cake (served on vintage crockery, of course) while you make her a surprise. You’ll have to tell her not to peek, but the sumptuous cakes on offer should provide sufficient distraction.  So, here’s how you book a space, to avoid disappointment. Hope to see you there!

 

PS If you don’t have a mum (and so many of us don’t), do please come make a flower for yourself, or for a lovely female relative or friend whose nurturing spirit you appreciate.

 

*which, in the UK, falls on 10th March 2013 this year

 

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Feb 14

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

 

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone but this Valentine’s Day sees the publication of a book I’ve had a small hand in. Way back last summer I was asked to supply some props (table coverings, plates, cake platters, etc) and assist (including various episodes of cake/mug-holding to camera) on a couple of photo shoots for The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill, out today from Quercus Books. It was a brilliant, fascinating experience.

The team of independent creatives and editors working on the book was wonderful: funny, fabulously talented, really welcoming, but also incredibly hard-working. I can offer you an illicit glimpse behind the scenes: some clandestine shots of a clandestine cookbook. How meta-secret is that?

Here’s Jane styling one of the more surreal images featuring a giant lemon fondant fancy. It’s sitting in a mini table-top set backed by the front of a doll’s house (supplied by moi) and accompanied by tiny chair place-markers (also supplied by you-know-who). The tablecloth was mine too.

 

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prepping Giant Lemon Fondant Fancy shot

 

Here’s Emily, checking her shots. The little cloth with the lace mouse pattern hanging over the box is one of mine.

 

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Checking if we nailed it

 

And here’s Anita, peering through one of my dodgier props (crocheted lace minus the linen tablecloth insert – aherm).

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Prop linens

 

This may sound incredible, but arranging and shooting so much cake caused the whole team to suffer from a serious case of cake fatigue; by the end of each day, we  couldn’t bring ourselves to consume any more of the spongey stuff. Can you believe it? I know! Tragic.

Here’s some of the massed ranks of prop crockery, waiting to be pressed into service.

 

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Prop crockery

 

And here’s a prop I was asked to rig on the spot: a vintage linen tablecloth* with transfer embroidery marks which I whisked up into an impromptu notice board. It may look finished but was actually entirely held together at the back with straight pins. It was destined to hold pictures from local Clandestine Cake Club groups, but didn’t make it into the final book. I thought I’d show it to you anyway.

 

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Prop notice board

 

The base was two thicknesses of card cut from a chunky cardboard box. I padded it out with wadding cut from an old sleeping bag, then stretched the old linen over that. The ribbon (scraps, of course) is pinned to the cardboard with some drawing pins onto which I’d hot-glued plain plastic shirt buttons. I was rather pleased with the finished item’s Scandi styling. And, yes, that tiny wooden coffee pot hanging from a string is one of mine too.

 

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Scandi notice board, created on set

 

I had the good fortune to meet Lynn Hill, the book’s indefatigable** author, who came down from Yorkshire to Bath for one of the shoots. She established the Clandestine Cake Club a couple of years ago, and its amazing success story is told over here. You can check out the CCC site to find a local club; if there isn’t one, you’re welcome to set up your own. Consult the website for details.

I’ve had a chance to look over the finished volume, playing ‘Spot My Prop’ with childish glee. But what really struck me is how dense this book is, packed to the endpapers with intriguing recipes, filled with the combined cakey know-how of the nation’s enthusiastic amateur bakers. You can view an extract from the book over here: that’s me holding the Strawberry Butterfly Bundt on page 223. A couple of my personal favourites (as tasted on shoot) were Lime & Coconut (wonderfully zingy) and Green Tea with Orange Icing (subtle and delicate); here’s a slice I took home and just managed to find room for.

 

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Green Tea & Orange

 

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook launch events are happening across the nation. Take a peek over here for details of one in your neck of the woods.

 

 

*actually, I think it was a sofa antimacassar, but we wanted it to look like an old tablecloth

**I have to use this adjective periodically, just to remind myself how to spell it

 

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