Tagged: Museum of Bath at Work

Mar 28

Shaping Victorian Bath

 

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I’m late plugging this, but you may be interested in a story I dug up and wrote that was happily featured on the front cover of March 2017’s The Bath Magazine. It recalls what you might call a Victorian corset entrepreneur, a German emigré named Charles Bayer, and the factory he built in Bath 125 years ago. Originally called the ‘Albion Stay Factory‘*, it was a huge success and helped turn around the city’s then slightly dwindling fortunes.

The monumental Bayer building still stands on South Quay, not too far from the railway station. So, if you’re interested in garment history and happen to be in Bath, do wander down and take a look at it – at least from the outside; it’s still occupied by businesses today – though none of the garment-making variety, as far as I know.

And if you happen to be a Bathonian and worked in (or know/knew someone who worked in) the old corset factory, then the Museum of Bath at Work would be delighted to hear from you. The factory closed 35 years ago  (1982), producing foundation underwear right up until the very end, and the museum is collecting and recording recollections of former Bath garment workers as part of its ongoing oral history project.

My grateful thanks to the wonderfully helpful local historian at Bath Central Library (which is currently at the centre of a campaign to keep it in the purpose-built location that so many Bath residents know and love) for digging out a load of old press clippings for me – plus the 1930s brochure mentioned in the article – and also to the Fashion Museum, Bath for allowing me to study a handful of WW1-era Bayer corsets that they happen to have in their collection – which will have to wait for another post to get their airing.

Anyway, here’s the article. Enjoy!

 

*on the eve of the triggering of Article 50 and Britain’s imminent departure from Europe, that’ll be my wistfully subtle Brexit link for this post

 

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Aug 13

#heartstrings

 

June’s events here in the UK made pretty tough going. In our dejection at the state of the world, the regulars at the Big Mend came up with an idea: #heartstrings. We wanted to do something positive – something to celebrate connection, unity and diversity in our city – rather than sowing more division or wallowing in despair. We needed to find a way to take heart.

 

#heartstrings

The term ‘heartstrings’ originally described the nerves or tendons formerly believed to brace and sustain the heart. But it also refers to our deepest feelings of love or compassion. And ‘to hearten’ is to make more cheerful or confident.

 

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All senses held resonance for us. We wanted to join Ruth Singer in her healing idea of yarn-bombing racially or culturally sensitive parts of her locality with fabricated hearts – to craft for solidarity, as she has coined it, inspired in turn by the hashtag #randomactsofequality on social media.

Then we heard about the safety-pin campaign, a tacit way of displaying in public that one is ‘safe’ (tolerant and supportive) to anyone who might be feeling vulnerable or threatened. So, let’s join them together, we thought: solidarity, unity, community demonstrated in crafted hearts that are linked shoulder to shoulder. It all seemed to tie together.

 

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Embracing the city

So, in July we started making up #heartstrings at Protestival in Green Park Station, then had a session at the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green (see above). As our #heartstrings began to grow, we felt that we were metaphorically hugging our city with hearts – you can see Alison above, literally yarn-embracing ‘the hanging tree’ in Abbey Green – a tree with a troubling history as the location of the city’s public executions. 

 

Join us!

We’ve found that people really like the #heartstrings idea and want to get involved. Can you help?

We’ll really need your heartsindividually made or linked into strings. Hearts can be crafted in any material and method, any colour, embellished however you like. Just aim for them to be about the size of the palm of your hand, if possible. Follow any crochet or knitting pattern you like. You can simply cut hearts out of felt or fabric – a cookie cutter is a useful aid, if you don’t want to draw freehand. And please personalise your hearts with words, slogans, objects – whatever you like. We’d also welcome donated materials or safety pins. 

 

When and where?

We’ll be making #heartstrings at all the Big Mend mending sewcials over the coming year, and will arrange for periodic #heartstrings yarn-bombing of local landmarks, with a big city-crossing link-up on the first anniversary of the referendum in the third week June 2017But we’ll need your help to eventually cross the entire city of Bath with little linked #heartstrings!

 

If you’re in Bath, please come to two August events at which we’ll be creating heartstrings:

One Two Five Gallery‘s first birthday party in Abbey Green, Bath on Sunday 14th August from 3-5pm 

A Yarn Story in Walcot, Bath on Thursday 18th August from 7pm

 

By post 

You can drop off or post your hearts, strings or material donations to the Museum of Bath at Work at Camden Works, Julian Road, Bath, BA1 2RH or the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green, or A Yarn Story on Walcot. Please attach a label to your hearts telling us who you are and preferably with a contact name/number/email. Thank you.

 

On social media…

If you’re on social media, feel free to share your own images/selfies with your hearts or #heartstrings, wherever you happen to be in Bath or beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

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May 25

Independent on Sunday Happy List 2014

 

Sorry to have kept you waiting so long for that promised update on my visit to the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre. There have been major life distractions, and I’ve been having to prioritise other things. So, the blog has had to take a back seat; in fact, not even a back seat – it’s now a tin can tied to the bumper of my life, bobbling around behind me on a piece of string. But that post (and other woesomely belated ones) will come, eventually. I promise. You’ll just have to be patient.

Meanwhile, this weekend has brought some astonishing news: it seems I was included in the Independent on Sunday‘s 2014 Happy List, published today.

This annual list celebrates 100 people in Britain doing things to help their (or other) communities. I was totally gobsmacked to hear that I’d been nominated and even more surprised to hear that I’d been included. It seems that a kind Bathonian thought that I deserved recognition for the Big Mend etc, so nominated me. Frankly, I assumed it must be a joke. But it wasn’t. Here’s the article.

So, here we are. I’m still feeling a little pole-axed and mystified, but am so grateful for the attention that this is focusing on the things we’re trying to do in the local community with the Big Mend:

  • sharing mending and upcycling skills
  • helping local residents to save money
  • reducing social exclusion by supplying a welcoming, inclusive environment in which to do this
  • raising awareness of textile waste issues
  • and of all kinds of other ethical issues inherent in our daily choice of what to put on in the morning 

Over the past year I’ve enjoyed meeting (both in person and online) some wonderful people doing truly great things, and I’d like to take this opportunity reflect some glory back onto them here, as I feel that they deserve the real praise and attention here. In no particular order:

  • Fine Cell Work – for their stunning work taking needlework into prisons
  • Traid – striving to make the entire process of clothing production and use sustainable
  • Entribe – working to help the local community in Snow Hill, Bath
  • Fashion Revolution – the people behind the hugely successful #insideout campaign for the Fashion Revolution Day event on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster
  • Labour Behind the Label – who’ve done so much of the legwork to obtain compensation for the victims of Rana Plaza
  • Bath Craftivism Club – bringing together local crafters with a social conscience
  • Bath Spa Uni – whose textile students are awesomely switched on when it comes to all these issues
  • The Museum of Bath at Work – which kindly lets us to use their amazing space for the Big Mend every month
  • Willis Newson – taking imaginative projects into the healthcare environment to promote wellbeing
  • Vicky Harrison of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster, Bristol – for her community-led Briswool project which has made so many people smile (and they’re still queuing down the street to see it)

Thanks to everyone who has come (and kept coming back) to the Big Mend over the past two years, supporting it and me with your kindness, your skills, your senses of humour etc. And finally, you, the reader of this neglected blog. Thank you. Please accept this posy of mint and purple sprouting broccoli from my allotment (admittedly from a little earlier in the season) as a token of my gratitude.

Allotment bouquet

Thank you!

 

 

 

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Jul 29

Scrap of the week #30

 

I’m cheating here as this isn’t a scrap of fabric, as such. But it could be. One day.

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Raw fleece after a couple of washes

 

There’s an #onlyinBath hashtag on Twitter. It usually describes the quaint and curious things which could only occur in this rarified, picturesque location. And the subject of this post qualifies. Because there can be few cities where sheep are still grazed within spitting distance of the most splendid stone crescents (I know at least two such locations within the city). And possibly even fewer where the owners of said sheep can’t find takers for the resulting fleeces, even when giving them away. We live in a crazy mixed-up world, folks!

The prospect of a shedload of free Bath fleeces proved too much of a lure for me this week. My gain is yours, however, because I’m giving most of them away, in turn, to the first people who come forward.

These fleeces were sheared from their sheep at the end of June. Some are black (-ish), some white (-ish). They are raw, so you’ll have to clean them up, which is messy and requires a washing space the size of a bathtub (in fact, a bathtub will do nicely) and an alarming quantity of washing-up liquid. But I think it’ll probably be worth it, especially if you want to try your hand at spinning. I’m aiming to create the most wonderful natural stuffing imaginable. That’s the plan, anyway. So far I’ve washed a small portion (see image above) to get a feel for it. My hands are lovely and soft from the lanolin, but the fleece is still full of foreign bodies – mostly of vegetable origin, but some of sheep origin, if you get my drift. It’s obviously a long game.

Sheep and their wool have a long history in this city, of course. From the 13th century, Bath was renowned for its fine woollen cloth, and wool wealth built the early city. You can find out more about this history at the Museum of Bath at Work. Here is one of their displays.

 

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Wool display at the Museum of Bath at Work

 

The Museum of Bath at Work also kindly hosts the Big Mend, a free monthly mending social which you’ve probably heard me mention before. If you live in/near Bath and ever find yourself with more holes in your favourite garments than you know how to handle, bring them along on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm, and we can help you sort them out. The next meet-up is this Wednesday 31st July. This is the room we work in. It’s light and spacious. Do join us!

 

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The mezzanine level at the Museum of Bath at Work

And if you’re interested in a FREE raw fleece, do leave a comment below or email me. I can’t mail it, so am requesting only local takers, please. First come, first served.

 

 

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Jan 07

The Big Mend in Bradford-on-Avon

 

Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

I’m delighted to announce that 2013 brings with it a new monthly incarnation of the Big Mend, now in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

The Bradford-on-Avon mending social meets the first Tuesday of the month at Jumble Jelly in Silver Street. First meeting: Tuesday 8th January. Drop in any time from 10am till noon. As is usual for the Big Mend sessions, there’s no charge to attend – just grab your mending and turn up. The Big Mend is really about sharing skills, finding new ways to repair clothing, and having a good old natter. Mending materials will be available to purchase, if needed, but there’s no obligation to buy anything at all.

If you’re closer to Bath, our original mending social still meets at the Museum of Bath at Work in Camden Works, Julian Road, on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm. Next meet-up: 30th January.

Would you be interested in setting up a mending social in your area? If so, please contact eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom for further details.

 

 

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Jun 22

June mending

 

It was delightful that so many people turned up to May’s meeting of the Big Mend, especially considering that the weather was so sultry. This month’s session is Wednesday June 27th at the Museum of Bath at Work and (rain or shine) we’ll be making the most of the long midsummer evening light, kicking off at the slightly later time of 7.30 and wrapping up at 9.30pm. All welcome! Just drop in any time with your mending bag.

There will definitely be jeans patching this time (there’s a wonderful example of this over on Tom of Holland’s blog which I’d highly recommend perusing), and I’ve been experimenting with woven yarn patches (see below) as an applied alternative to darning knitted garments. I’ll bring those along for a bit of show-and-tell. But feel free to bring anything at all textile-related that you want to repair (popped seams, burst buttons, droopy hems) and we’ll help you to fix it. Some basic tools and materials are on hand but try to bring what you know you’ll need  (patch fabric or toning thread, for example).

Woven patch test

woven patch looking for an elbow

 

More details about the Big Mend over here. There’s now a Flickr group you can join and post images of your mending triumphs or disasters and find images to inspire. Do take a look.

Serious menders will probably already be aware that the UK’s first mending research symposium convenes towards the end of the month in the Lake District; Mend*rs kicks off with a call to arms, a first National Mending Day on Friday 29th June. Count me in! Alas, it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the physical conference but will certainly be mending with the assembled gathering in spirit next Friday. A big thank you to Tom for telling me about the event.

 

 

 

 

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May 27

Mending night at the museum

Darning tools

Well, in all the bustle I forgot to post about our first meeting of the Big Mend back in April. It was busy! So busy that I forgot to take pictures, but the lovely Nina behind So House Proud helped me out by taking snaps and blogging about it. Thank goodness. There was much patching of jeans and attaching of buttons. A weaver, a milliner and a textiles designer were amongst the assembled menders, and it was exciting to have their varied perspectives. Of course, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and the mending group really comes into its own when many minds offer alternative, equally viable approaches to a mend.

It became clear pretty quickly that we were going to outgrow the lovely confines of Crockadoodledo and so I’ve been casting around for a more capacious venue for our next mending get-together on 30th May. I’m delighted to announce that the Museum of Bath at Work has kindly offered to host us upstairs, where light floods in through the lovely long windows, so do drop by with your mending between 7 and 9pm. If you haven’t visited the museum, here’s a golden opportunity, though you’ll only see a small portion of it. The building’s first incarnation was as a Real Tennis court in 1777. For more details, see the Big Mend page.

Back to the mending, Nina also brought a bit of challenge to our first meeting, and I’d love to hear your take on how you’d go about fixing it. This is the back of her favourite jacket. It is a little small and hence ripped right between the shoulder blades.

To mend or not to mend?

An awkward spot to repair. And likely to rip again. So I was wondering about inserting an inverted pleat of new material. What would you do? If you need to see more images, hop over to Flickr. Would love to hear what you think.

The Big Mend at the Museum of Bath at Work, Wednesday 30th May, 7-9pm. No entrance fee, so just come along with your mending! Sewing tools will be on hand to use and refreshments will be available.

 

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Dec 15

Christmas at War

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

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

Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

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

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

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

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

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

Mending threads

Vintage mending threads

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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