Category: Vintage haberdashery

Jan 17

Persuasive labels

 

In my Etsy shop you’ll find Persuasion labels. These sew-in tags feature a searing line from Jane Austen’s book of the same name, plucked from the love-letter of Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot. He’s explaining how he’s on tenterhooks. His old love for her continues, but is it still reciprocated…? As he waits for her reply, he writes:

I am half agony, half hope. 

If you’ve read the book and not bawled your eyes out at this point, your heart must be stonier than mine. Persuasion isn’t an easy read if you’ve been waiting for fortune (in love or anything else) to turn in your favour. Not to be recommended, possibly, if the powers-that-be appear to be conspiring against you. But do read it. It’s about endurance and stoicism and – eventually – joy. The moral of the story is that the good things in life are worth waiting for, with the stress very much on the waiting; Austen’s working title should have been Delayed Gratification.

So, who would use a label like this? And how? Well, late last year I got an order for some of these labels, all the way from Singapore. A while after I despatched them, a lovely message came in from the buyer, Lala, with a link to her blog, Girl with a Sewing Machine. And there was the label. Looking wonderful. Stitched inside the waistband of a skirt she’d made for the Yellow Skirt Project.

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

 

Doesn’t that red-green-yellow-pink combo just kerpow? And here’s a full-length shot of Lala wearing her cute skirt.

 

Lala in her yellow 'Persuasion' skirt. It persuades me!

Lala in her persuasive skirt

 

Lala calls her skirt ‘The Grapefruit Chardon’, based on the Deer and Doe pattern. She goes on to explain on her blog that she’d heard about the Persuasion labels here on Roobeedoo‘s blog. And here. I’d missed Roobeedoo’s mentions completely, so am really grateful that Lala pointed them out. It gives me a real kick to think that these labels are being worn inside real pieces of clothing, flying an invisible flag for persistence, endurance and (not least) sew-in labels.

At school in the 1970s, my drab grey and bottle-green school uniform was marked with Cash’s name tapes: my mother let me choose the lettering, and I went for the biggest, boldest font available: large red capitals on a white ground. I didn’t want my obscure Welsh name to be indecipherable. These labels were tremendously reassuring: they would be legible; they would withstand the laundry, they would stay on through the forlorn rummage of the lost-property bin. For me, they also signified how much I (as well as my uniform) was cared for. I don’t think there was an option to attend that school without sewn-in labels (that was how things worked back then) so presumably some of my peers had the same feeling. For me, those labels were like a talisman, a St Christopher ferrying me (in my uniquely named me-ness) safely through the world.  Once I had kids of my own, it had to be my guilty secret that I actually enjoyed the chore of sewing their labels into their first school uniforms. It felt as if I was nurturing their specialness too, in the way that mine had been. And, though I could not be with them as they took their first solo steps into the significant places beyond home, my stitches could touch their skin. For me, a Sharpie scrawl on a laundry tag is just not the same. I know, I know! My name is Eirlys and I’m a label purist.

Since then I’ve discovered old laundry marking labels, usually with a couple of elaborate embroidered initials only. These are mostly red thread on white cotton. Intricate. Delicate. Beautiful. Most of us don’t send our clothes out to laundries these days, so don’t have to mark our smalls and detachable collars with these dainty anachronisms. But they are still delightful, and add a touch of elegance to a making project. If you’re wanting antique labels with your own initials, they can be found – with a little persistence. Do drop a comment below if you happen to be an antique textiles dealer who sells them. 

 

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Antique laundry labels

 

If you’d like some of these ultra-romantic Persuasion labels, you can buy them over here. I  also have some I love you labels which you might sew into a homemade garment or wearable vintage find for your beloved (or would-be beloved) on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure it’ll do the trick.

 

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Jan 03

Christmas leftovers

 

How to knit your own dishcloths

 

Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?

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Knitting with Christmas leftovers

 

Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.

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Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth

 

Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.

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Knitting with baker’s twine

 

You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.

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Baker’s twine dishcloth

 

I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?

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Putting it through its paces

 

Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.

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Handmade dishcloths drying

 

It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.

 

Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!

 

 

*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.

 

 

 

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Oct 31

Halloween mending

 

Some spooky mending yarn for you…

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Happy Halloween!

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Oct 22

Scrap of the week #33

 

 

This week, the bling’s the thing!

I’m on a leather roll, and my scrap of the week is another offcut of upholstery leather, this time in bright banana yellow. With it, I’ve made a blingy version of the insta-bag for a very young and stylish friend celebrating her 40th recently. She happens to like very bright yellow.

I revisited the simple curtain ring as a cheap (sorry, affordable) bag fixture. This time, I used the widely available shiny new brass rings which happened to be on hand here at the homestead. These are just a fraction of the cost of antiqued brass D-rings.

 

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To make the most of these budget-friendly fixtures, I ensured that the metal seam (the line around the ring where the wrapped metal joins itself) was on the inside when the two rings were laid together – metal seam against metal seam – which you can just about see in the pictures. Because it’s nicer not to feel this seam or see it, but putting it on the inside adds a little helpful friction and grip to the rings when they are holding the fabric-square corners of your eventual bag.

 

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For tips on cutting the leather, and finishing off the handle, see my previous post. This time, I made a rather fetching cross-stitch in grey vintage linen thread. If you happen to want any of that lustrous grey thread (a very nice stocking filler for the keen sewist!), I’ve just listed some in my Etsy shop, alongside Merry Christmas sew-in labels.

The yellow leather set off both these Liberty fabrics very nicely, but I went for the shoe print in the end.  And here’s the eventual insta-bag, made up. Note that it hangs better when something is actually inside it. The beauty of this design is that you can carry it with you — fabric folded, handle folded — just in case you need it. It’s quickly deployed, and can be carried in your hand or on your shoulder.

 

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I realise that I promised to show you how to hand-hem a square of fabric (as above) to make the bag itself. But, dear friend, life has been so hectic of late that it will just have to wait until another time. However, you will need a square of fabric measuring roughly 75 cms in a fine, lawn-like fabric (preferably Liberty Tana Lawn). If you can get that cut and ready, please sew along with me next time. I’ll be back soon.

 

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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 19

Insta-bag handle

 

This is an update on Scrap of the Week #32. That scrap was a little offcut of brown upholstery leather and I wanted to create an insta-bag (instant-bag) handle, rather like the fabulous Hiromi’s. Here’s how I got on.

 

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Insta-bag handle

 

Cutting out

I first marked up my strip (measuring 24 cms x 2 cms) with ruler and my pen-of-choice, the Pilot Frixion*: a really great tool for crafters which I first heard about via Julie‘s embroidery and knitting blog, Button Button. The pen, which you should be able to find quite easily in your local stationery shop, is marketed as erasable and just happens to work brilliantly for marking up non-washable surfaces such as leather as it will simply rub away afterwards.  Wonderfully, Julie discovered that it also seems to disappear with the slightest application of heat – a light iron removes it just like magic – so it’s extremely useful for embroidery purposes. Do try it, but please test it first on a teeny scrap of your precious antique textiles before scribbling with gusto! [NB Please see addendum below]

Having marked up my strip, I cut it out with a good sharp pair of craft scissors – no need for blade cutters or fancy cutting tools.

 

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Cutting out

 

Constructing the strap

I grabbed 4 old curtain rings (I didn’t have any nice enough D-rings) and some linen twine. The curtain rings worked well as a D-ring substitute, though it makes the handle look slightly like a horses’s bit (which, personally, I don’t mind). Being strong enough to hold up curtains, they’re also guaranteed to be strong enough to hold your groceries without buckling. Which is reassuring.

Now, the metal riveting on Hiromi’s original had foxed me. I didn’t want to invest in more hardware but to use up what I already had. And I couldn’t bring myself to use clashing rings and rivets, so I thought I’d play with some thread instead. When stitching leather, it’s important not to use cotton as the leather will rot it. Linen is perfect, however. I rootled through my vintage threads and found some likely candidates, including a reel of heavy gauge Barbour twine.

Turning over my handle ends about 2.5 cms, and with the two rings tucked in place, it was time to punch a couple of holes in my strap with a small leather punch (a useful piece of kit which I use routinely to construct my hanging tags, by the way).

 

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Making the stitching holes

 

I eyeballed my measurements, but you might like to mark up first to get the positioning just right.

 

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Leather punch

 

To sew it, I folded my ends over my curtain rings.

 

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Attaching the rings

 

Then I threaded my rather bulky linen thread through a tapestry needle and passed it out through one of the holes from inside the folded end. I left a few inches of unknotted thread  behind, enough to tie a good strong knot later. I worked the thread through the holes several times before bringing the thread out where I’d begun, tying a knot (reef, not granny) to secure it and snipping the ends so that nothing showed on the outside of the strap. Incidentally, you can buy little cards of bookbinder’s linen thread for about £1.50, or reels of fine linen thread from about £1.60.

 

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Done!

 

And that was it.

I’ve modelled it (badly, and in artificial light too) with a classic old hanky/neckerchief, just to show you how well it will hold a piece of relatively light cotton fabric. I intend to make a Liberty square for this one from the fabric shown, but I rather like the rustic Little-Red-Riding-Hood look, perfect for toting cookies to Grandma’s. I’ll show you my preferred methods for hemming a Liberty lawn square (for use as a hanky, scarf or insta-bag) another time soon. 

 

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Finished insta-bag strap in use

 

*A note on the Pilot Frixion. Thanks so much to Mimi Kirchner for sending me this review of the pen’s performance at low temperatures subsequent to ironing. In summary, be careful if you’re thinking of using this pen for art purposes and don’t intend to wash your finished creation: the markings may reappear!  21/9/13

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Sep 02

The Napkin Project

 

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Textile notebook by The Napkin Project

 

If you had dementia, what would the textiles in your environment mean to you? Could they have a therapeutic value?

 

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A flower from my embroidered napkin

 

Such issues are addressed by The Napkin Projecta joint venture by artist Deirdre Nelson, care-home provider Brunelcare, and arts consultancy Willis Newsonsupported by Arts Council England and Bristol City Council. 

In planning Brunelcare’s newest dementia care home, Saffron Gardens, Deirdre was tasked with contributing to the well-being of residents through art installations. She set out to communicate how important creativity can be to those living with dementia. Here’s more from The Napkin Project’s website:

When is a napkin not a napkin? When it’s something to keep your hands busy.  Or a bag.  Or a hat.  Or an aide-memoire. When she was involved with a project to create artwork for a new dementia care home, artist Deirdre Nelson noticed that residents in Brunelcare’s existing Saffron care home were often fascinated by the textured edges of items, playing with, handling and exploring objects such as the napkins they used at mealtimes.  A member of staff told her that one resident would join napkins together to carry  her possessions around with her or that another used hers as a vase to hold flowers; a napkin became more than just a napkin.

To that end, she recruited volunteers to embroider napkins with resonant images, and I put my hand up. 

 

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Flowers in progress

 

My father’s last years were spent in a succession of Bristol hospital wards and care homes, none as forward-thinking as this one sounds, sadly. He had many health problems, including dementia, so this concept really struck a chord with me. I wanted to contribute.

Part of the task was to write what “home” means to us on a parcel label. After much mulling, I settled on: “Watching the flowers grow in the garden” – partly to reflect a year in which I’ve taken on an allotment and realise that I’d probably feel at home anywhere with a small patch, plot or even pot of earth with something (almost anything) green, alive and growing. 

My needlework contribution is very traditional, very cutesy, and not particularly imaginative. But I found it so relaxing to do. I hoped that the flowers, in crochet-like cast-on stitch, would be nice to handle.

I began by marking out by eye a flowing line of flower heads with a row of pins. I picked the thread colours as I went along. Making the flowers in this curious stitch which is midway between knitting and embroidery, I felt like a Borrower – casting on tiny stitches to my embroidery needle, slipping the needle through them and pulling them gently into their little petal loops. Finally, I added the stems and leaves.

 

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Finishing the final stem

 

True to form, I used up little scraps of embroidery thread, much of it vintage; an arm’s length was enough to complete each flower head, even less to create a split-stiched stem.

 

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A growing row

 

Although the official deadline to contribute is past (it’s actually today), it isn’t too late to contribute to this project; if you come along to the exhibition on 12th September, you can embroider a napkin there and then. Do go to the project’s Facebook page to view some of the contributions. And you can find the project on Twitter. And on Flickr. And Instagram.

 

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My completed napkin

 

If you fancy trying your hand at another joint embroidery project, you could take part in UK charity Plantlife ‘s Patchwork Meadow, a Bayeux tapestry of Britain’s plants. And I’m sure there must be many other joint embroidery projects out there. If you happen to know about one and would like to share details in the comments, that would be really welcome. Thanks.

 

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Napkin folded

 

PS Here’s a useful little film showing you how to do cast-on stitch. I didn’t use a milliner’s (or strawmaker’s or beading) needle with a narrow eye, but wish I had because it was tricky getting the needle through all the cast-on stitches.

PPS Delighted to see the napkin featured in situ at Saffron Gardens in The Guardian’s coverage (29th November 2013). Look out for image 11. Thanks so much to embroiderer Susi Bancroft for spotting it and giving me a nudge!

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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.

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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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Mar 01

Sylvia’s marvelous darner

Sylvia Darning by Harold Gilman [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sylvia Darning by Harold Gilman, 1917

I keep my eyes peeled for interesting images of darning. This painting by British impressionist Harold Gilman (1876-1919)  is currently my favourite. ‘Sylvia Darning’ is dated 1917. I love it’s palpable coolth (is that a word? It should be). I don’t know much at all about Gilman, other than what Wikipedia tells me, but would love to find out more. Doesn’t that vase really sing out from the middle of the table? If you’d like to see the original canvas and soak up the colours, I’m afraid you’ll have to schlep to the Yale Center for British Art. It’s a bit more of an effort for me than Rode in Somerset where Gilman was born; that’s just 21 miles away.

I’m also a partial to old darning implements (you would never have guessed!). Here is one I acquired recently: the “Marvel Darner”. Excuse the violent orange background but I got a little carried away.

Marvel Darner

Marvel Darner

 

The Marvel darner measures just a couple of inches across and is effectively a miniature velvet board with densely packed metal wires set into a small wooden frame. The idea is that it grips the holey sock, giving the mender a stable base on which to work. No stretching, gaping sock hole. How marvelous! At least, that’s the idea. I don’t know how well it works yet as I haven’t tested it. The instructions, on a small paper label glued to the top, read:

The “MARVEL DARNER” CORNELL’S PATENT

DIRECTIONS.

Push left hand into garment.

Place gripping surface direct on worn part.

Keeping exact size & shape, turn inside out and darn in usual way.

Never push darner into stocking or sleeve.

Pat. No. 159770.

PRICE 1/6

 

Marvel Darner label

Marvel Darner label

 

I so wanted to imagine that Sylvia was using one of these when she sat for that painting, but the painting precedes the darner by three years, so it can’t be; Edwin List Cornell filed his patent entitled Improvements in and relating to darners on 29th March 1920. Here’s how he summed up his darning innovation:

‘A darning-block is provided with a surface made up of the ends 4′ of wires or the like. The wires may be mounted upon a backing and secured in a recess cut in the head of the block. In place of recessing the block, the wires may be surrounded with a ring secured to the block.’

The patent was finally published a year later on 10th March 1921. I’ve also seen aluminium versions of the Marvel, which I assume are later than the wooden one, but that’s my conjecture, judging by the typography. One of the boxes for the aluminium version quotes the manufacturer as:

 E Cornell & Sons, 54 Lower Thames Street, London, EC5.

So what is this ominous notice from the The London Gazette of 19th May 1925?

MARVEL DARNER COMPANY Limited.

NOTICE is hereby given, pursuant to section
188 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act,
1908, that a Meeting of the creditors of the above
named Company will be held at Chancery-lane
Station Chambers, High Holborn. London, W.C. 1,
on Thursday, the 21st day of May, 1925, at
2 o’clock.
(094) J. L. GOODWIN, Liquidator.

Presumably this isn’t Cornell‘s company? Surely he was trading as ‘E Cornell & Sons’? His product explicitly includes ‘Cornell’ in the name. Could the Marvel Darner Company Ltd have been making this  ‘Marvel’ darning product, a sewing machine attachment which crops up in an Australian newspaper advertisement in October of the same year? Or did Edwin have a darning company which ran into insolvency and then resumed production under another company later? Mysterious. What do you think?

I haven’t been able to discover much more about inventor Cornell, beyond the clue in that company name that he had a family. He continued to tinker with domestic equipment after he developed his darner, filing the patent Improved device for separating cream from milk (January 1932), and Improvements appertaining to domestic pans and the like (April 1935). Other than those patents, I can find no further information about him. Harold Gilman had died of Spanish flu way back in 1919, and heaven knows who Sylvia was or what ever became of her. Some days you really wish you had a time machine. Improved, of course.

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