Tagged: vintage

Jan 05

In with the old

 

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Floral scrap from a 1979 Sanderson furnishing cotton called ‘Border Incident’

 

Happy new year! You’ll find this a largely resolution-free, reflection-empty zone, which may come as some relief. It’s going to be a full-on 2016 for me, and I won’t have much time or opportunity for making. But I do need to carve out a little stitching in order to preserve my wellbeing. Rather than rushing headlong into something new, I’ve decided to finish some of the things I’ve already started. And this old hexagon patchwork quilt top is top of my list.

I started it, oh, twenty-something years ago, and can’t quite remember why the project lost steam – something to do with having children, perhaps…? Culled from 228 scraps (so far) of mostly vintage furnishing fabric (Sanderson etc) interspersed with rows of unbleached calico, it’s been packed away in three house-moves and lived deep inside a box for much of that time. I had it draped over one side of our sofa for a while (see below), the backing papers still basted in place around the edges, waiting patiently for the stalled process of precision tessellation to resume. And there it sat for another year or two. Well, enough’s enough; if this baby could talk, it would be crooning this little number at me.

 

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Slung for years over a sofa, unfinished

 

Those who’ve tried the very traditional method of English pieced patchwork (or EPP, also known as mosaic patchwork) can confirm that this kind of stitching is a slow and painstaking business. There’s no rushing it.  You have to take it just one piece at a time, cutting out your backing papers accurately, then covering each one with fabric, folding the edges over smartly to get those sharp, precise sides as you baste/tack them down in order to create the best possible fit between pieces. But joining each hexagon to its neighbour – seam by hand-stitched seam, two together with right sides facing – is simple and pleasantly mindless once you get going.

Or possibly mindful.

As more and more practitioners are pointing out, slow hand-sewing of seams brings its therapeutic rewards. Whipstitching hexagons together is a very absorbing, relaxing thing to do. For me, it works wonderfully to dispel anxiety and level my mood. And for those hung up on ‘wasting time’ (and who therefore might not go for a colouring book, say), EPP is ultimately a productive process too – if you ever get around to finishing whatever you’re making, that is…

It’s worth pointing out here that there is a certain leeway in the creative EPP process – it can be totally ‘hap’ and random: a pure product of the hand-stitched moment, joining piece to piece as you happen to pick them up. Or you can focus on a meticulous and fussy-cut result, carefully selecting fabric colour and design and pattern placement, forming your hexagons into clusters of rosettes etc – as I’ve tried to do here. 

Here’s the backstory. When I started this project, I wanted to create something that looked a couple of hundred years old – at a superficial glance, anyway. I was studying patchwork history at the time, and this kind of patchwork goes back to the earliest documented days of the English craft in the 18th century. This was also during IKEA’s ‘Chuck out your chintz’ period, so – because I’m perennially contrarian – I think I probably made this as a direct, defiant response. I don’t remember being influenced by any particular quilt, but by an amalgam of fabrics and 18th and 19th century styles. I wanted to convey something of that time when the new printed cottons were so treasured that your middle-class leisured lady patchworker would want to make the very most of every scrap and display each motif to optimum dazzling effect. And then I re-found my diary from 2011, with a distinctive V&A quilt on the cover which looks very, very similar to mine. But the diary was obviously produced many years after I’d started this quilt. It’s possible that I could have spotted the same one in a book somewhere and filed it away in my subconscious. Anyway, it was very spooky to note the similarity. There’s more about that particular quilt (which is dated 1797-1852) over on the V&A site.

Back to the business of finishing, as I said, I have 228 pieces joined together, including 19 seven-hexagon rosettes. I estimate that about 500 pieces will be needed in total (and another 20 or so rosettes) to create something close to a full-sized quilt top. I’m setting myself the goal of adding just one hexagon a day, which (at the moment) seems manageable. I’ll try to come back with periodic updates. There are more pictures of my quilt so far over on my Instagram feed.

What kind of unfinished craft business do you have lying around? What do you think prevents you from completing it? And what is stopping you from ditching it altogether? If you’d like to join me this year in completing something you started a while back, do leave a comment and, if relevant, a blog/social media link below. I’ll be happy to cheerlead and provide encouragement. 😀

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Floral motif (maker unknown) from my 25-year-old unfinished quilt top

 

 

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Dec 27

Stitcher’s Christmas wreath

 

I hope you’re surviving the festive season intact. Isn’t it a relief when all the busy-ness slows down and you can sense a wonderful stillness?

I can finally show you a vintage haberdashery stitcher’s Christmas wreath which is currently gracing my front door.

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A few years ago I put together a wreath on a chef’s theme, but I thought it was about time I created a stitcher’s version. The basic wicker structure was bought years ago and is one of those things which I pull out every year along with the Christmas tree decorations and wonder when I’m finally going to do something with it.

I’ve tied on some of my old mother-of-pearl buttons with tough linen upholstery thread.

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And added a frayed old Dean fabric tape measure as a bow; it was once housed in a small round plastic case, but that broke irrevocably a long time ago.

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I also wrapped 5 wooden reels with deep red velvet ribbon and tied them on with invisible thread.

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Our door is under a slight porch so the wreath doesn’t take the full brunt of the weather (currently driving rain, mostly); I probably wouldn’t hang it outside otherwise as it isn’t really an all-weather creation. It will hopefully be hanging (as all my decorations do) right up to Twelfth Night. Then I will store it as is and haul it out again next year.

Did you make your own wreath this year? Did you use unusual materials? Or upcycled items? Please take a moment and tell me about it.

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May 25

Jubilee Vintage Fair

I’ll be at Batheaston Primary’s Jubilee Vintage Fair tomorrow, 1-5pm, with my various vintage bits & bobs, buttons and Liberty beads. The organisers have gone to town with the vintage vibe and are promising vintage hairstyling, live music, vintage market & jumble, jubilee crafts, tea & cake, something called “wonderful WI cocktails” (anyone know what they are?), and even classic cars. Not your usual primary school fête at all! Something for everyone, so I hope to see you there.

Jubilee Vintage Fair, Batheaston

 

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Feb 21

Scrap of the week #18

I haven’t been sharing any vintage scraps with you for a while, so here’s a floral curtain (late 1960s or early 1970s, I’m guessing) to kick off my 2012 offerings. This is one of my latest lucky finds at the charity shop.

Orange petals, green stamens

Orange petals, green stamens

Flower Power curtain

Flower Power

Leaf motif

Leaf motif

Orange flowers

Scalloped vertical

All my pictures are crooked (it’s been one of those days), but you can still see the charm of the textile, I hope: the bright orange flowers ( which are about 4.5cms across), the insistent vertical stripes. The fabric is substantial yet quite supple – definitely a furnishing weight – in either cotton or linen or a mixture of the two. There’s no marking at all on the selvedges so that could indicate an artisanal piece. The slightly wonky pattern placement here and there points the same way. If you know what this is, where it’s from, or have anything similar in your stash, I’d love to hear from you.

Now, what would you make with this? It screams “GYPSY CARAVAN CURTAINS!!!” to me (in the very best possible way), maybe with giant apple-green ric-rac or bobble edging and a lovely contrast lining. But then, I’m badly in need of a holiday. This fabric’s a little too much for most uses without a little judicious dilution, I reckon. Paired with the right solid or two (and restrained use of aforementioned jumbo ric-rac) it could make a really vibrant cushion, apron, tea-cosy or hand bag. It’s a little bigger than most of my scraps. In fact, there’s quite a lot of it (two curtains, each 88cms wide from selvedge to selvedge and 2 metres long) so plenty of scope for ingenuity.

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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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Oct 17

Clark’s Scintilla

Scintilla

Superb vintage haberdashery box

Well, lookie here! Isn’t this the most wonderful old box of thread ever?

Scintilla, as all you classical scholars are no doubt aware, is Latin for spark and – by extension – a very small shred or tiny amount, an iota. Think of the scintilla of doubt much beloved by TV defense barristers. Where the heck would courtroom drama be without it?

I have a soft spot for verbose old haberdashery packaging, especially when it uses adjectives such as superb (I think superb should be making a comeback soon – that would be superb). There’s something so charmingly innocent and earnest about the pre-soundbite era, and this box has a differently chunky piece of information on each side – take a look over on Flickr to see the rest. My guess is that this particular package dates back to the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, but if there happens to be a haberdashery-museum curator in the house (especially one who knows a lot about Clark’s), or a typography expert, would you please make yourself known to the management? It would be a joy to hear from you.

From scintilla comes scintillate, v.i. to sparkle, scintillescenta. twinkling, scintillationn. twinkling and the wonderful scintillometern. an instrument which measures the twinkling of stars.

If I had a scintillometer it wouldn’t be registering much activity, the reason being that the determined powers of darkness have conspired to extinguish most of the twinkles in the Scrapiana firmament. I’ve sent out for fresh supplies though. Watch this space.

Large range of colors

Scintllating thread

Meanwhile, forgive my wallowing in some anthemic David Gray, won’t you? And may you shine in all you do this week.

 

 

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Sep 27

Knitting needle bracelets

Vintage Knitting Needle Bracelet

Vintage knitting needle bracelet

I’ve just popped this onto one of the eye-level shelves in my Etsy store.

My sons call these upcycled bracelets “knit-knacks” which I think is a fantastic name for them. I’ve sold quite a few at fairs and am gearing up to making a new batch for Christmas.

Though the knitting needles need to go through a certain level of abuse to reach their final elegantly curved state, I don’t feel too bad about it because most of them are slightly wonky before I set to work on them. If I find perfect vintage needles, I do tend to sell them on intact. Well, I hope that sets things straight (as it were) with the upcycling authorities.

These ones are made from a particularly nice quality of plastic in shiny cherry-red. There are lots of other colours and thicknesses available so if you’re looking for a particular style, shade or even brand of knitting needle, do enquire and I’ll have a rootle around for you. I’m happy to combine different needles if you’d like to mix and match for a desired effect. You’ll find details of the dimensions of this particular one on the Etsy listing.

 

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Jun 03

Laundry & roses

It’s been a frustrating week of half-term and half-completed to-do lists. But in between the chores and the childcare I’ve had glimpses like this.

Roses & laundry

Roses & laundry

Rather appropriate in the week that DH & I celebrated twenty years of marriage.  Passing that particular milestone makes our relationship vintage — at least by Etsy‘s criteria — roses, thorns, laundry and all. What a thought! Have a good weekend. I do hope the sun shines on you.

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May 26

Good golly, miss mollie!

After the longest quest to find a copy of my holy grail – aka Mollie Makes I finally tracked her down. Good to discover that the magazine is produced to a convenient bag-friendly size (like) with stroke-hungry matt paper (like) and with a really wonderful informing eye (like, like). But my eyes popped out on stalks when I spotted this near the back of the mag.

Mollie Makes, Issue 2

Mollie Makes... vintage strawberries

Good golly! Those are my vintage strawberries! OK, this wasn’t altogether a surprise as I had been commissioned in the conventional way. But seeing the final product – well, almost the final product – is a new and intoxicating experience for me.  I’m awash with conflicting emotions; like a parent watching their child hash dialogue in their first school production, I simultaneously glow with pride and squirm at the less-than-perfect qualities of the execution. That embroidery…! I know, I know. I only threw it in as an afterthought. Still, they are my babies alright, and I’m happy to see them out in the big wide world.

So, Mollie Makes issue 2 carries a how-to (also by yours truly) on making your own vintage strawberry emeries. Historically, when needles were expensive, emeries were necessary to condition, sharpen and de-rust them. Now emeries are mainly for fun, though you can use them for their originally intended purpose if you like. They are quite straightforward to make, once you know how. Create them fatter, thinner, bigger, smaller, quirkily topped or not. I guarantee that they are addictive, though: make one and you’ll soon be tinkering with another.

True to my philosophy, most of those fabrics are genuinely vintage and/or scrap. For example, the red one with ditsy white flowers over there on the right was a leftover from a dress I made when I was 16 (that’s almost 30 years ago, folks – and  no, I don’t ever throw anything away, obviously).

To celebrate this happy event, I’m arranging a series of Vintage Strawberry Workshops to coincide with the publication of issue 2 (from 9th June onwards).  If you happen to run a craft boutique or making establishment, do get in touch for booking details. Have Stitchmobile, will travel!

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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


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