Tagged: It’s Darling!

Aug 03

All vintaged out

Barley, upcycling workshops curator

Mollie Makes... vintage strawberries

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

Vintage strawberry-making

Darling Buds to darling berries

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

2 vintage strawberries!

A pair of vintage strawberries!

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

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

Truly beautiful vintage strawberry

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

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

Welly chair

Welly chair by Furniture Divas

Welly seat

Welly chair by Furniture Divas

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

Vintage strawberries!

Happy strawberry-makers

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




Jul 18

Mama’s got a brand new peg bag

I had a busy time at the It’s Darling! Vintage & Artisan Fair on Saturday in Bath’s Guildhall. It was good to see so many ID! regulars and old friends, both stallholders and visitors alike (including Faith of Something Fabulous, and Shirley who generously donated me various old sewing bits & bobs which she doesn’t need any longer). It was also a pleasure to meet new people (such as Susi, who kindly featured me there on the Brunel Broderers blog, helpfully mentioning my stitcher’s beeswax – it works, by the way!).  I was very happy to see that Abby Harris of Bubs Bears made it (despite feeling very poorly indeed last week) and that she brought this ticking peg bag with her…

Peg bag

…which I made sure she didn’t have to take home with her again. I’d eyed it up at the spring It’s Darling! and admired Abby’s meticulous workmanship, then kicked myself for not buying it. Incidentally, you might be interested to read Abby’s My First Sewing Machine interview over here. Sorry about the quality of that picture; when it hasn’t actually been raining it’s been dull and overcast in Bath today. There were many other lovely things at the fair too, some of which I hope to mention another day.




Jul 14

My first sewing machine #6: Faith Caton-Barber


Faith Caton-Barber of Something Fabulous

I’m truly delighted to introduce bespoke dress designer Faith Caton-Barber to my regular sewing-machine-memoir feature, My First Sewing Machine. Faith and I have had adjoining stalls at each and every It’s Darling! fair in Bath to date (the first one was a year ago), which has been a very great pleasure — for me, at least. I’ve coveted her rich, jewel-coloured silk slips, purses, capelets and corsages. She’s been so tolerant when my clutter has encroached onto her territory, and very generously offered me many a gem of sewing wisdom too (there’s always, but always more to learn) and I’ve been able to watch her painstakingly hand-sewing corsets etc during the occasional afternoon lull between visitors. If you haven’t been to an It’s Darling! yet, you’re in for a treat. The next one’s all set for Saturday 16th July from 9.30am-5pm in Bath’s Guildhall (head for the Brunswick Room off the entrance hall). The room is beautiful, and the event is relaxed, friendly, full of lovely stuff, and (even better) FREE to get into. Without further ado, on with the interview!

Scrapiana: Tell me about your first sewing machine, Faith. What was its make, model and colour? Did it have any distinguishing features?

Faith: My first sewing machine was an old black cast iron Singer, remarkably similar to many on display in the windows of All Saints. It had (and still does have) the lovely gold writing familiar to many.  The main distinguishing feature on that machine is that it had been converted and modernised at some point in the 1960s or ’70s with an electric motor and placed in a mildly unattractive bluey-grey plastic case.  It only does straight stitch, doesn’t reverse, but boy can it go at a rate of knots!  Long seams were a doddle and pretty much every pair of curtains in every home I lived in up to age 19 were made on that machine.

A very similar machine to Faith's old family Singer

Scrapiana: Was it gifted to you or borrowed? If you learned to sew on another machine, but then got your own, feel free to describe both.

Faith: My machine belonged to my mother who very generously shared it with me.  It was a friend to both of us, producing so many things from duvet covers to pretty party dresses.  It was such a familiar part of the furniture that no-one seems to quite remember when it arrived and where it came from.  There were so many women with sewing machines (and some men too) in my mother’s family and we have always been a swapping and sharing kind of clan, with various bits of furniture and sewing machines getting used and passed around, some losing their provenance and some gaining an almost mythical status.  For example, my maternal great-grandmother May had a big old cabinet treadle machine which she had upgraded in the 1930s with an industrial motor so that she could do even more sewing in her spare time to earn extra money.  This meant she was able to supplement her factory earnings enough to buy her own home, something almost unheard of in her class and generation.  It also meant that my grandfather and great-aunts and great-uncle had to lend a hand with hems and alterations too… you could say the sewing is in our blood!  That almost revolutionary sewing machine seems to have disappeared and yet my little anonymous Singer is still around, waiting patiently to be used again.

ScrapianaWho taught you to sew? Were they a good teacher?

Faith: My mother Helen taught me to sew although I don’t recall her sitting me down to teach me, I just remember us sewing together and her giving me tips as I went along.  Clearly she did a good job as she got me interested and it all felt perfectly normal to stitch.  I particularly remember her reminding me to leave a seam allowance, and to measure twice and cut once when I was trying to make doll dresses. I’d completely failed to do either.  The thought of the wasted fabric still makes me feel uncomfortable now, even though it must only have been small scraps from Mum’s sewing projects.  Mum often sewed my dresses and knitted all sorts of things so there was always a textile stash to rummage through.

When we did a sewing and embroidery project at school, aged 8 (I appliqued and embroidered a sailing boat which my mother still has in a frame), I was pretty confident and didn’t need much ‘teaching’ except when it came to French knots (who doesn’t need reminding about those from time to time?).  When I stayed with my grandparents in the holidays I do also remember sewing with Irene, my grandmother, although that was always by hand as I didn’t learn how to use her beautiful 1920s treadle powered machine (something I mean to change next time I visit).  Grandma used to have a cupboard full of fabric that I’d go through again and again imagining what I would make with each piece.  I still do that with my own fabrics, although I’ve got a lot more than a cupboard’s worth!

Faith's silk purses

Scrapiana: Oh, yes, I think I’d need a quick how-to reminder before embarking on French knots.What’s your earliest memory of using that first machine? What did you make? Do you still have any of your early creations?

Faith: I don’t really remember my first machined creations although I do remember making some summer dresses and a recreation of an 18th century bodice from one of Janet Arnold‘s books, complete with a patchwork diamond stomacher of my own design.  My textiles teacher didn’t think much of it, she seemed to want me to make cushions.  I find it difficult to part with anything that I make so I have all sorts of odd bits and pieces knocking around both in my flat and at my mum’s secreted amongst her sewing things.

Scrapiana: I’m pleased that you persevered, in spite of your teacher. Do you still have your first machine? If you got rid of it, did you give it away to someone you knew? Do you know where it is now?

Faith:  The old Singer is currently somewhere in the depths of Mum’s garage as it hasn’t really been needed since the advent of the Janome XC33 Special Edition with fancy computer beeps and 30 odd stitches and many interchangeable feet.  The Janome was such a good machine that in 2002 when I was in my final year at University, I got another one all to myself.

Faith's workspace: sketches & pictures of gowns, and her Janome machines

My mother and I may have matching machines of a similar vintage, but mine has been much more heavily used, and it shows, with scuffs and dents from being carried about for jobs as well as the many costumes, corsets, wedding dresses and whatnots being sewn together. I hate to think how many miles of sewing it has done in only 9 years!  I am very happy with it and there are only one or two points that mark it down for me.  I am going to reclaim the Singer as soon as it can be excavated from the garage so that I can get those long seams done in half the time.  The Janome is a great machine but the top speed is not great when, for example, making 1950s style ruffled petticoats with around 80 linear metres of seams to stitch and bind with ribbon.  It takes an absolute age.  Still, it’s faster than handsewing…

Scrapiana: What did your first machine do especially well, or especially badly? Did you like it or loathe it then? What do you make of it now, with hindsight?

Faith: The Singer didn’t have an arm which meant I could take fewer short cuts when making things (no machine finished cuffs on sleeves for me) so I learned from an early age about proper hand finishing of garments. I still stuggle to do what I call mass production finishes although I am learning that there is always a time and a place! I liked the Singer but it was pretty limiting only doing straights stitch. When the Janome arrived with the zig zag, blind hem stitch and automatic buttonhole (I could go on), life became a lot easier.

Scrapiana: What machine did you get next? And can you run us through your subsequent machines and their merits?

Faith: I have a Janome 9200D overlocker that I bought in 2009 which turned out to be one of those ‘why didn’t I do this YEARS ago?’ moments.  It’s easy to use and thread, it doesn’t take up much space, and has made working with both lycra and duchess satin, to name but two fabrics, much easier.  When I’m in a hurry or tired, it starts to play up and that’s when the threads continually snap and the tension won’t do what I want, but then all machines are like that aren’t they?

Over the years I have used many different machines both domestic and Industrial whilst studying and working in various theatres.  1970s and 1980s Berninas pop up a lot because they seem to be pretty good work horses but I’ve never had the urge to get one as I’ve heard the quality isn’t as good as it was and they are generally just plain ugly.  One machine I have used that is both pretty AND performs well is my dad Mike’s Brother machine.  He got it from some friends of his that clearly had barely used it since they bought it back in the late ’50s or ’60s.  It is baby blue, with lots of different useful stitches and still has it’s proper carry case and instructions.  It’s a dream machine and raced through the sewing I did on it whilst still maintaining a feeling of control.

One of Faith's bespoke dresses

One of Faith's bespoke evening gowns

Scrapiana: Do you have your dream machine? If not,what would that be, if you could wave a magic wand and money were no object?

Faith: In Warwick there is a fantastic sewing machine shop that has loads of beautiful old cast iron machines that I yearn to own. The man who runs the place said his collection had got so big he couldn’t justify not selling them although I imagine he is like a book seller who does everything he can to avoid making sales of his treasures!  He also had some amazing modern machines, that while not looking as beautiful as the machines that drew me in in the first place, could do some amazing things. I would love to have a machine that can do programmable embroidery although the four figure prices means I can’t justify it just yet. If money were no object I would like to say I’d get a fancy bespoke machine built for me but to be honest, I’m happy with a good old sturdy machine that can be relied upon.  If a fairy godmother gave me a sewing wish, to be honest, I might wish for a magic wand like hers because sometimes I really get tired of the back ache and eye strain that often come with sewing for hours.

Scrapiana: And finally, I have to ask this…have you named any of your sewing machines? Do you talk to them – or even swear at them if they’re behaving badly?

Faith:  I haven’t named my sewing machines and yet the close relationship between woman and machine suggests maybe I should, after all I’ve named my musical instruments whose ‘voices’ I hear less often. I wouldn’t want my trusty machines given names that associate with or suggest unpleasantness, weakness, tragedy or failure, that might be tempting fate when it comes to my sewing. Sewing rooms are often where I’ve heard the worst language and most awful abuse hurled at the poor machines. A poor workman blames his tools but bad days happen to us all sometimes.  Well, my self imposed anti potty-mouth rule really does become more of a flexible guideline. What’s the point of having a rich Anglo-Saxon based language if you can’t fully make use of it from time to time, when under extreme duress?

Scrapiana: Thank you, Faith, for sharing your sewing-machine stories! It’s wonderful that sewing has played such an important role in your family history; I can see it’s definitely in the blood. See you at It’s Darling!

Faith Caton-Barber can be found on Facebook here at her Something Fabulous page and over here on Twitter.


Faith and her glorious capelets at the Christmas It's Darling!





Jul 12

It’s Darling! Summer Spectacular

It's Darling! summer fair 2011



It's Darling! summer fair flyer back

I’ll be at the It’s Darling! vintage & artisan fair again this summer on Saturday 16th July, bringing my specially selected batch of Scrapiana vintage haberdashery, textiles, handmade items etc. Oh, and lots and lots of strawberry emery grit, just in case you’ve got a yearning to make your own vintage strawberry needle-cushions (as featured in Mollie Makes magazine). Last summer’s It’s Darling! event was the very first of its kind, and the fair is really going from strength  to strength. I hope I’ll be sitting next to the lovely Faith Caton-Barber again (and her glorious bespoke wearable Something Fabulous creations). I’ll be featuring Faith in greater depth on the blog very soon.

If you’re planning a day (or even a weekend in Bath), don’t forget that there’s a new exhibition of film costumes (Dressing the Stars) opening at the Fashion Museum, Marilyn’s costumes are still on show at the American Museum, and the Roman Baths are open till late (10pm in July and August – last entry 9pm). Hope to see you on Saturday!


May 14

My first sewing machine #4: Abby Harris

Abby Harris of Bubs Bears

Abby Harris of Bubs Bears

I’m delighted to be able to present the story of Abby Harris‘s first sewing machine, another interview in my continuing series. Do check out my previously posted interviews with Ruth Singer and Julia Laing.

I met Abby when we were both running stalls at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair here in Bath. She was selling her lovingly hand-crafted Bubs Bears, which are often upcycled or contain vintage elements (such as some lovely buttons which she bought from yours truly). Leaving a small ecological footprint is clearly important to her. Abby also makes bespoke keepsake teddies, crafted from a customer’s personally significant textiles, such as baby clothes, wedding dress, or the garments of a lost loved-one. Some are patchworked from several special garments. She creates lots of other charming items including peg bags, lavender hearts, bags, cushions, button pins, magnets, hair clips and cards. Abby blogs, can be found on Facebook here and sells on Folksy.

More of Abby's makingsSome of Abby’s charming makings
Recycled sweater bear

Upcycled sweater bear

ScrapianaTell me about your first sewing machine, Abby. Can you remember its make, model and colour?

Abby: My first sewing machine was a Toyota, I don’t remember the model but it was a fairly basic one.

Abby's first sewing machine

Abby's first sewing machine: a Toyota

Scrapiana: Was it gifted or borrowed?

Abby: It was a joint birthday present for my 21st (I think) birthday from my then boyfriend and my parents.

Scrapiana: Nice gift! Do you still have it? If you got rid of it, where did it go?

Abby: I do still have my first machine as I only stopped using it last year after 15 years. At the moment it is on loan to my mother-in-law as hers is broken, but soon I hope to get it back so my eldest daughter can use it as she is showing a keen interest in sewing.

Scrapiana: How lovely that your daughter will be able to use it too! So, what’s your earliest memory of sewing? What did you make, and who taught you?

Abby: I remember doing a bit of sewing at school. I think we made and printed our own t-shirts; mine had yellow footprints on it. Other than that I learned mostly from watching my mum. She studied fashion at college and used to make all our clothes, as well as doing dressmaking and alterations for other people.

Scrapiana: At that time it was quite unusual to have your mother making all your clothes. I imagine she made a great sewing teacher, then. What was your first big sewing project?

Funky floral bear

Abby: My first big project was a dress for my daughter to wear to a wedding. It was a real challenge as it was a silky fabric and had two layers. But it fit her, and she got lots of compliments. I’ve never tried making another though!

Scrapiana: What did your first machine do especially well, or particularly badly?

Abby: It was terrible at keeping the correct tension, and kept jamming the fabric up under the foot. In hindsight I should have had it serviced regularly – when it finally got so bad last year that I had to take it in to be looked at, they gave me a good telling off when I admitted it hadn’t even been oiled in 15 years! While it was being serviced they loaned me an old Bernina. When I saw it my first thoughts were “oh my God, I am not going to be able to do my work on that!” It was ancient and I thought it would be awful. But I soon learned that it was the quietest smoothest machine I had ever used. I didn’t want to take it back!

Abby's borrowed Bernina

Abby's borrowed Bernina

Scrapiana: What machine do you have now? Is it your dream machine? If not, what would that be, if  money were no object?

Abby: I bought my new machine last year. My local shop gave me a great discount due to it being the old colour; the new machine with the new colour was about £200 more! It’s a Husqvarna Sapphire 850 and I love it! It has many functions which I’m still yet to learn how to use, but the fact that all I have to do is move my foot up and down and it almost does the rest for me is wonderful.It’s not a beautiful machine to look at, so if I could morph it with a pretty old black antique machine then I’d never want anything different!

Abby's new Husqvarna

Abby's beloved Husqvarna

Scrapiana: I have a strange confession, Abby, which is that I give each of my sewing machines a name (Josephine, Winifred etc), making them almost animate to me. Have you given any of your machines a name? And would you ever speak to your machine? – to encourage or to upbraid it, for example?

Abby: I haven’t named my machine. No, I don’t really speak to my machine. I might declare my love for it… though only when no-one else could hear me!

Scrapiana: Ah, just as I feared… it’s only me, then. Abby, thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my questions! It’s been lovely to hear the sewing-machine journey behind Bub’s Bears. Your business certainly has its heart (lavender-stuffed, of course) in the right place.

Stack of hearts, mid-construction

Stack of hearts await lavender stuffing


Mar 23

Mum’s the word

If you still haven’t found any goodies for Mother’s Day on 3rd April, I can help.

Ribbon reels

Little ribbon reels in china cup on vintage scarf

Besides these little reels of ribbon oddments, I have others with vintage ric-rac and baker’s twine (that lovely and oh-so-useful striped string from the US). There are vintage brooches, hankies, buttons,  sewing books, Sylko (and other) cotton reels, handmade stitcher’s beeswax, gorgeous textiles and scarves – just to name a few – and pretty Mother’s Day labels to sew into anything you buy. Or not. You could just leave one in the bag with her pretty gift(s) and she’ll get the message. All will be available from my vintage haberdashery stall this Saturday 26th March at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair, Friends’ Meeting House, Bath, 9.30am-5.30pm. Hope to see you there!

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Mar 22

Early birds

Just to remind you to get the It’s Darling! Spring Fair early this Saturday if you want to get the best things. Doors open at the Friends’ Meeting House, York Street, Bath at 9.30am. Hope to see you there!

Two Little Birds

Picture Poems for Little Ones

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Mar 21

Scrap of the week #13

This week’s scrap started out as a skirt. I found it in a local charity shop where the gorgeous Liberty Tana Lawn Glenjade fabric jumped out at me from twenty paces.

What made it unpromising to wear (dowdy A-line cut) makes it a great candidate for upcycling (that flare means lots of fabric). Most importantly, the fabric still had a huge amount of life in it, with colour that was still very fresh and strong. The chief flaw was a prominent black ink stain,  presumably the reason for it winding up in the charity shop in the first place. This fabric costs upwards of £12 a metre new, by the way (£19.95 if you buy from Liberty) so I snapped this baby up. It’s also an unusual colourway: a slightly salmony pink (brighter than the photo) which I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Indelible stain

Innocent skirt, minding its own business

In case you think it a little unseemly to take apart perfectly good clothing willy-nilly, I feel I should add that I did try to get the stain out first. Dismantling with my trusty seam-ripper only began when the mark wouldn’t budge. Actually, I probably would have taken it apart anyway as I do love Liberty lawn; it’s a silky-soft finely woven cotton printed in tender little patterns (mostly) which is probably my favourite fabric of all time. I have stockpiled several second-hand shirts made from it (like this and this) by Comfy-Cotswold-style clothing retailers. I plan to dissect them without any qualms at all. Just so you know.

As with so many of the Liberty lawn designs, this leaf pattern works really well in small quantities – a little goes a long way – so I’m making various small-scale items with it. To date I’ve made fabric-covered buttons and bias binding (I’ll have some of these for sale at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair on Saturday) and I’ve also made a mystery item. I’m bursting to tell you more about it, but am not allowed. Yet. Do watch this space!


Mar 14

Green shoots

According to those in the know, we’re hurtling at full tilt towards Bath’s big spring event: the It’s Darling! Spring Fair on Saturday 26th March.

Excitingly, this will be It’s Darling!‘s first spring fair, and it takes place in the midst of the Bath in Fashion festival, though happily no ticket is required to get into ID! If you’ve been to the other It’s Darling! Vintage & Handmade Artisan Fairs (note the re-brand), the venue will be roomier this time: the Friends’ Meeting House, just across from the Abbey, past the benches and buskers –  if you can make it past the SF Fudge Factory.

Yes, I’ll be there all day, toting vintage fabrics, old cotton reels, ric-rac, and Mother’s Day treats galore!

Vintage Fabric

Get your spring greens

I’ll have some particular gems for fashionistas too: vintage silk scarves, brooches, buckles, buttons, as well as the odd eiderdown and… well, you’ll have to come along and see for yourself. If you’re planning a full girl’s day out, don’t forget the Marilyn: Hollywood Icon exhibition, just opened at the American Museum. And you could take a peek at the Behind the Scenes expo at the Fashion Museum. Hope to see you then!


Dec 16

Cape crusader

I sat next to the lovely dressmaker Faith Barber‘s beautiful capelets all last weekend, and so felt I should really give them the plug they deserve.


Faith Barber at the It's Darling! Fair

What could be nicer to set off that special dress, indeed that special décolletage? I think they’re stunning. And really remarkably well priced, considering their handmade, individually crafted qualities. They are sized to a degree (small, medium and large, if memory serves) but otherwise fairly accommodating. I think they’d make the most inspired gift, particularly if teamed with long satin gloves.

Something Fabulous Capelets

Capelet: (n) a small cape, early twentieth century - SOED

That kingfisher blue silky thing in the background is a handmade slip, by the way – another gorgeous gift idea. See more of Faith’s handiwork at her website here. I’ve a couple more shots on my Flickr photostream too.

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