Tagged: upcycle

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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May 17

Sock it to me

The humble sock is a wonderful thing. I’ve appreciated wearing socks for about as long as I’ve stood on my own two feet, but I’ve only just fallen in love with them as a creative medium. This is all thanks to Imogen Harvey-Lewis who was leading a sock creature workshop last weekend at the Stroud International Textiles festival. I still have trouble keeping a straight face when mentioning SIT, because ‘Stroud’ and ‘International’ are strange words to put together, at least for the average English ear. However, Stroud has every reason to be proud of its awesome textile heritage (Cotswold wool), and the festival, now in its 6th year, is garnering a formidable reputation amongst those who know about cloth, fabric and thread-based things.

Sock owls

Imogen Harvey-Lewis's Soon owls

Imogen is an illustrator and one-time stained glass restorer (she worked on some of the windows in Gloucester Cathedral) and her strong sense of line informs the way she approaches sewing. She started making sock creatures a couple of years ago inspired by this enchanting book. Daunted by the ‘correct’ sewist approach to creating 3-D forms, Imogen simply began to draw her creatures, first with a soft pencil, then with a needle (either by hand or using an old treadle  Singer sewing machine) straight onto the sock. She has figured out her own technique by trial and error and the resulting method is inventive, quirky and really refreshing.

Sock cat

Soon sock cat by Imogen Harvey-Lewis

Sewing just as she draws, Imogen’s dogs, elephants and cats, for example, have four legs all in a line rather than two one side, two the other in a more anatomically correct style. What is helpful about working with a knitted sock in this way is that, once stuffed, it yields and stretches – sometimes a little unpredictably but always adding  curves and interest to the simply drawn flat figure.

Soon-making workshop

Soons in progress

Imogen has given her quirky sock creatures the generic name ‘Soon’.  She can’t really explain why: it was just a name that appealed. I suggested to her that they were fairly quick to make, so ‘soon’ was fitting for that reason. It also has a slightly wistful quality which suits (I almost wrote ‘soots’) these characterful creations so well. Many of them do look as if they need to be loved. And soon.

Our workshop group began by making a simple owl from part of a toddler-sized sock. With this we mastered the basics of managing the sewing tension on a stretchy sock, remembering to leave a little hole to turn and stuff our owls (guess which one of the class forgot this [blushes]), filling our creature with beaded pellets (making sure not to over-fill our endlessly stretching socks), selecting and sewing on eyes (4-holed buttons give a wide-awake look, 2-holed ones a sleepy one), and embroidering a beak. This last element was possibly the hardest of all as not pulling the beak too tight was unexpectedly tricky.

A handful of sock owls

Imogen's owls (grey), workshoppers' owls (blue)

Then we moved on to more complex creatures, such as rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants.

Sock dogs

Imogen's mongrel Soon Woofs

We’d been advised to bring along old socks, which I had plenty of. However, once at the workshop I soon (Soon!) realised that it would be a waste of effort to upcycle a really tatty old sock into one of these delightful creatures. Also, the designs often make full feature use of the heel and toe gusseting, so an old sock thinning in the usual areas wouldn’t work well at all. Imogen looks out for interesting new socks everywhere (supermarkets etc), and only uses new for the Soons she sells to the public as she thinks (rightly, I’d guess) that people will not want to buy used ones. Soons made for family members are another thing.

Never one to pass up an upcycling opportunity, I managed to make a Soon dog from one of  my old socks, though frankly I feel he’s a bit of a rough mutt next to Imogen’s fresh-from-the-packet versions (he’s proving camera-shy, by the way – I haven’t managed to take a decent picture of him yet). This leaves me with a bit of an upcycler’s dilemma as I’d really rather not go buying new socks to turn into Soons. Principles can be so inconvenient. Still, it’s nice to add another method to the growing battery of Scrapiana upcycling skills: I could upcycle an old sock into a sock creature even if I choose not to.

Imogen sells her enchanting Soons at Stroud Farmers’ Market plus via a few select outlets in Bristol etc and is currently exploring options to sell online. You can contact Imogen here for further information. Meanwhile, the Stroud International Textiles festival continues until Sunday 22nd May.

Sock elephant

Elephant Soon

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