Woolly and ragged

… or I could call this a right old Rag Bag. I remember we had a rag bag at home, in the 1960s. I think it was an old pillow case, but gigantic,  filled with bits of material, ripped sleeves and worn out clothes. It was a great big bundling thing that lived at the bottom of the airing cupboard and never really delivered anything useful. My mum dragged it out sometimes, no doubt with a task in mind, and the contents were all pulled out, sorted through, recognised and remembered again, and then stuffed back in. Great game.

So think of this post as a pillow case, a sort of eclectic blogging which is another way of saying – hey, anyone wanna look at my holiday pics?

First up – a quick visit to the Alhambra in Granada. Amidst all the splendours of palace and garden we stumbled upon what was probably the mop and bucket cupboard, a small space leading nowhere. The ordered blues and greens of the wall tiles have that beautiful random quality which gardeners and designers always strive for, but is actually really hard to achieve. The patched area in the middle is intriguing, done by an apprentice or a renegade labourer?

I love the regularity of these geometric patterns. And yet both surfaces, with their subtle blend of colours and soft textures, manage to transcend the colouring book mentality. There is order, but there is also an artisan’s personal selection, a decision maker who has stamped these places with his mark.

And then, as if imbued with Moorish magic, wondering about life in the 15th Century and wandering the cobbled streets of the Albaicin, we have indeed tumbled back in time, to a quasi medieval Europe where the men wear very warm woollen gear and sport large cosy hats – and the market doth sell quantities of vintage fabric and old tin baths. Only joking – it’s a scene from Game of Thrones

Next stop Oxford for a few days, lots of culture and colleges and celebrations – and cycling in the heat to the Tandem Festival

This was such a lovely festival and we were blessed by the wonderful hot weather, pints of local cider, wonderful vegan food, great music and an atmosphere that was utterly relaxing.

I have never experienced such a blissful night under canvas, snoozing in a wild flower meadow while the bands played on, my only challenge during the night being a couple of trips to the long-drop toilets.

There were lots of other people there too. And bikes of course.

Back in Oxford we headed out to Wolvercote Cemetery where our cousin Bridget Crampton is buried. What does one do at a cemetery – say hello, remember happy times, think of family? All of those of course, but it’s also helpful if one can recall where the burial took place. We meandered about for an hour and decided a return trip was in order preferably when the sexton was around, then waved goodbye and set off for the pub.

Enough of this gallivanting and back home the weld crop is taking over the garden. Coincidentally weld is a medieval plant – and has been used for centuries to obtain a yellow dye for fabric and cloth.

It’s all very well growing plants that have been around for hundreds of years but I am clueless here. Reading up about dyeing online has been intriguing but confusing.

What I want to make is this bodice as presented by the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex. The museum has a great film about dyeing with madder. And there is a link here with another excellent film made by the historic clothing project  which is all about researching and making historically accurate working clothes. Loads of sewing in this clip too! It’s so interesting to hear about working clothing of the poor rather than silken finery of the privileged few. The Weald and Downland is such a wonderful museum and is well worth a detour if you’re ever in the Sussex area.

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Really I want to go back in time, to be this woman dressed in yards of linen and live hand to mouth from the garden. So after too much deliberation I decided to chop up some of the multitudinous plants and see what happened. It was a bit like making soup but without the appetising smell. I don’t think it is toxic.

I simmered tons of this stuff for a couple of hours then after it had cooled I dropped in two pieces of cloth, one cotton, one linen, and left it overnight. In the garden. I think the technical term might be ‘steeping’.

The result is definitely yellow.

Here are the pieces after drying and ironing. Indoor and outdoor shots. The outdoor one, on the right, is most accurate; the fabric is the colour of chamois leather.

Finally back to the sewing room with my trusty Friday group. They were very polite about the furniture rearrangement.

Right that’s it. Time to put these scraps back into the sack in the airing cupboard and publish this post. And I am reminded of a strange poem I wrote, when I was struggling with some writing, and felt it would be so much easier to be sewing instead.

 

Writing a Shirt

Shake out instead a length of linen

cut from a cumbersome roll

 

spread it smooth along the table,

the print arrows of tissue pattern

 

lying with the straight grain of fabric

and then stitch together order

 

planned like maths in a gingham apron.

That would surely be easier –

 

yet any garment sewn by these hands

betrays the mark of maker,

 

bespoke dropped shoulder, discrete

lengthening of body and sleeves;

 

even so, I would rather write a shirt

and stitch a hidden label tight into its nape.

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Filed under Alhambra, costume, Dyeing with Weld, Granada, Historic Clothing Project, Poetry, Sewing at Damgate, Tandem Festival, Uncategorized, Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Life as a Jumble Sale

In the olden days, by which I mean the 1960s and 1970s, we had Jumble Sales. This is how it worked.

A small ad might be put in the local paper a few days in advance – this was big marketing for a serious event,  or a banner would be strung up on the fence outside the church hall, or a gang of Scouts and Guides pushing a trolley would knock at a string of doors asking for jumble.

The time was noted. Usually 2.00 pm. I remember a poem beginning

It’s ten to two

And they’ve already formed a queue

It was about a jumble sale – but I can’t track down the poet.

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Events back then were very localised. TV was black and white, in our house anyway.  There was a lot of street activity – gang warfare and bikes and going in for your tea, then coming out again.

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Hempstead Road

Shame about the overlay of text – but this is the house I grew up in – taken before the war – long before my time you understand. So this is the road where we clacked up and down in high-heel shoes (purchased from said jumble) and pushed prams and pretended to be grown up ladies.

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They were something like these – the higher the better, and preferably not too big and sloppy.

Back then I don’t think  the term Charity Shop existed – it was The Oxfam Shop, or The Red Cross Shop. These dimly lit emporiums, squatting in empty shops,  were really static jumble sales, the depository for all the old junk that didn’t get sold at the jumble.

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The first Oxfam shop – in Oxford 1942

Car Boot Sales hadn’t been invented. I think of those years as the Golden Jumble Era – no price tags, just boxes filled with stuff and a wax crayon scrawl saying  All 10p. Shoes were a lucky-dip arrangement, a deep cardboard box filled to the brim – find a shoe, find its pair, does it fit? Probably not. Or if you fancied going up a level, and trying something on behind a sagging curtain strung across a doorway that led to out-the-back, then you negotiated with the woman at the till and she made up a price. Brilliant.

Well, what’s this blog post about? Jumbles have shaped my life really. I love the idea of people just giving away the things they don’t want anymore and handing them over to a bunch of kids on the front path, I love the whole experience of rooting through a heap of clothes, scanning an assortment of cheap romances and old annuals, examining peculiar items on the table of bric a brac and basically digging for treasure. I love the  ethos of the jumble, the eclecticism, the mish-mash of un-design. I think this writing is jumble – I keep using words that I have made up. One of my children decided he didn’t want to go to Nursery School, so he didn’t. Really I think it was because he preferred the delights of the Oxfam Shop, which by that time had been modernised with a uniform banner of sky blue paintwork. It was the end of an era, but it’s still a great shop. Bang on trend now!

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The dictionary says jumble  means an untidy collection or pile of things. This is the nub of it, what I am steering towards. The creative space, the workroom in my case, is a jumble. 

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An evening shot – gloomy but honest

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How much honest revelation can I cope with? When playing that game – If your house was on fire what one thing would you rescue? – mine would be these old sewing books, up on the right. Priceless!

I did a  big reorganisation just before Christmas and was going to put on some pics – the before and after – the amazing transformation. But really it was just pictures of jumble and a bit of tidying up. These are my best shots!

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Probably should have moved the chalk box

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Probably should have shut that drawer

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Nearly tidy – spot the Co-op shopping bag

 

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And is this order or chaos? I don’t know

 

Anyway, here’s a jumble of a poem.

 

Bottom Drawer 

They chose a jumble sale marriage,

standing in the queue

expectant at the door

dropped 10p into the biscuit tin

and entered the church hall

 

a pin-striped jacket from the gents’ table

traces of crimson lake in a flattened handbag.

Tea was served at the hatch with that smell of gas

the women fussing over kettles like buckets.

She found a dinner plate,

crackle glazed from someone else’s oven,

he said he’d take the typewriter

 

dancing the dusty floor,

out to the tables, back to the centre,

departing with suitcases

awkward to carry.

 

 

 

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Poetry!

This post is purely to draw your attention to my blog menu to which I have added a slot called Poems.  Five years ago I was a mature student at the University of East Anglia studying creative writing. I ended up with a Masters in Poetry but I do not consider myself a poet at all.

A lot of my writing, not surprisingly, ended up being about sewing or clothes or costumes and garments.  And about motherhood and laundry and stuff like that. So I have decided to be brave and put some of it on the blog.

I was most privileged to study for a year with the poet Michael Laskey, the founder of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. He was also the creator and editor of the poetry magazine Smiths Knoll.  It used to look like this, every month, with a different number of course.

And once he published my rather odd poem called Knitting – which is what I am starting with. And it was partially based on this dear old jumper which I knitted thirty years ago!

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Sadly the festival and the magazine are no longer running.

And this is proving to be the most difficult blog post I have written thus far. Anyway, if I ever went on a Poetry Desert Island Discs (as if!) Michael Laskey would undoubtedly be in my selection; and if you are not a reader of poetry he is an excellent place to start.

 

 

 

 

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Scattered jewels

“I want it to look as if someone has just scattered the bed with gorgeous jewels!”

This was the design brief for the latest quilt to roll of the production line and it was referring to a colour palette of course, not that a bag of glitzy beads be strewn and then sewn on individually. The customer wanted warm tones, autumnal shades, rich red colours to evoke a sense of luxury I think. Finding and selecting the first batch of fabrics seems to take ages – especially if they are sourced from existing stock and lovely old clothes that either carry memories or somehow resonate with the right shades.

Next step – slice it all up. This always seems a rather privileged and indulgent activity – chopping up fabric just to join it all together again. But I can assure you that much of this pile of rag picker’s delight was unwearable. At this stage calculation is involved – how many square do I actually need? So I make towers of quantities – these are twenties I think. Then rather like a pudding it is stirred in an attempt to mix it up. This quilt is all about the colour and the pieces are going to be randomly placed – a scattering of patches of course – but it’s a difficult look to achieve. My only rule is that two the same must not sit next to each other.

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This is turning into a sort of recipe. the next task was to join pairs. The pairs were nice to do – radio on, select two pieces that work well together for some reason, 0.5 cm seam.

And lo, not a bunting lover, I have yards of the stuff!

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I think they look like Christmas cards or decorations or even a Christmas tree.  It was a bit sad to cut the strings.

Oh well – move on. Now join the pairs to make fours. Then join the fours  …   to make a coat?

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No. You are not playing at dressing up. Get on with it.

So then with the great stole joined up to form a square, it all became a large floor based activity. This part is difficult I think, involving much crawling around on the knees and trying not to pucker and wrinkle – the quilt that is. There are three layers now. The patches, a filling of quilter’s cotton wadding and a cotton backing – which also had to be patched in part, due to there not being enough of anything. And at this point I put a label on the back – with the date and a message.

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Feeling reasonably happy with the fabric sandwich I then trimmed the edges and put on a bias edging. And because I don’t have a gigantic quilting machine I stitched the layers together here and there, by hand with some little embroidery bits. It sounds a bit naff but at least the layers will hold together. I also had a last minute idea – to machine on some silken jewels, from iridescent scraps. I wish I’d thought of this earlier.

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Finished.

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Next request is for a quilt that looks like …   a Scottish rock pool.

Time to start collecting.

 

 

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Filed under Patchwork quilt, Sewing at Damgate, Uncategorized

Mopping up the muddle

Where to start? So many projects half started. I have just mopped the kitchen floor with a fresh mop head – irrelevant I know – but I think it’s given me new energy!

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First of all some proof that I made the McCall’s M6993 skirt for the Vintage Pledge 2016 mentioned in Getting a Badge. Taking the photographs was difficult, but luckily I had my intrepid photographer and stylist from 1950s Dirndl Skirt Remake at home for a fortnight. Alice was here on a vest-making marathon – seen here wondering what on earth has happened to the wildlife pond.img_5858

She took loads of pictures on a blustery  and blue-skyed afternoon – the top pic shows the skirt out of the wind. The one below is an accidental posture, but one that I think I should adopt more often – could even be a caption competition.

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I loved making the skirt. It’s a great pattern and I will definitely use it again.

Moving on – I went with my good friend Caroline to the Knitting and Stitching Show  this month. Here she is … with what looks like a bag of wool.

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Caroline took the reins on arrival and steered us up every avenue and then across every avenue so that we methodically viewed each stall. I was disorientated within minutes. Next year we are definitely going to buy a guide, for making notes.

Whilst there, I bought this great pattern from Now and Then Patterns.  Andree (of Now and Then Patterns) was free to chat to us – and  was wearing the Amelie Tuck Blouse in one of their most beautiful fabrics. Coincidentally she was also wearing the McCalls M6993 skirt, which looked fabulous in black.

In other news.

Sewing at Damgate has been continuing to hold its regular monthly all day workshops. These sessions are usually made up of three sewers. They sometimes bring their own machines. They sometimes travel here on the bus (very brave). They sometimes bring simple fare for a shared lunch. The aim, as always, is to have a fun and productive day.

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Spot the third sewer.

This year I have also inherited my mother-in-law’s sewing stash – some of which goes back to the 1930s, corset laces and bones. She is no longer sewing, but living close by.

I have also had a bit of a tidy up and sort out – long overdue.

 

And started a new jumper

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but it’s already been undone – and a different one begun.

So that’s it.

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Filed under Knitting and Stitching Show, Sewing at Damgate, Vintage Pledge, Vintage Sewing Patterns

May Selfies

Selfies and the approach of Sixty do not make good bedfellows. This is not one.

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Throughout the month of May I wore something cobbled, made, made years ago, repaired, knitted, knitted twice, darned and altered … every day. Next year I should probably stick with Mend it May. To begin with I put the ‘outfit’ on the stand to record some form of evidence. But sorting out the iPhone first thing in the morning, running late, indecision about which horrid clothes to wear and the paucity of sartorial options became a reason to stay in bed.

There was some fine weather at the beginning of the month and in a feeble attempt to fool the passing blog reader I pegged the laundry of same clothes on the line. No amount of rearranging, turning upside down or catching a better gust of wind made any difference.

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So although I met the challenge May flagged up for me what a dreary old wardrobe I have. Wardrobe? Let me rephrase that – it’s a heap on a chair, half-empty drawers containing the unwearables and a pile of ironing.

I love sewing. I teach sewing. I love the construction of clothes, especially those that celebrate the simplicity of the craft and require a few good tools – a sewing machine that does zig-zag, sharp scissors, sharp pins, needles and cotton thread. I love the geometry of pattern cutting. But I don’t think I like fashion on me.

Years ago, as an apprentice costume maker at the wonderful Cosprop, that was my sewing – putting fascinating  clothes together to be displayed by a confident actress.

What’s the next challenge on the list? Hah – The Big Vintage Sew Along. I’m halfway through that one, trying to remember to take pics along the way. I love the skirt I’m making

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– but I know I won’t wear it.

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Getting a Badge

Hopefully when you read this there will be two new badges in the right hand margin. I was a Brownie once but only managed to get the Hostess badge.

This involved doing some pretend washing up, in coldish water, in the back room of a church hall that smelt of gas. The secret was to wash glassware first because it’s the cleanest, then one steadily moves through the crumby plates and onto the grease and gravy, slopping the grey water around with a disgusting mop, and it’s all done in a jiffy. As a result of this rigorous training my dinner parties have been memorable – and few and far between.

Me-Made-May

This is an initiative  set up by Zoe who writes the sewing blog ‘So, Zo … What do you know?’  I think the idea is to try to wear more of one’s home sewn clothes, or hand knitted jumpers, throughout the month of May. You can take part – visit Me-Made-May for more details. I have decided to join in because I love making clothes and have heaps of them strewn all around the place, gathering dust and generally getting too small for me as the years pass. But in reality I wear the same old stuff all the time. For me sewing is about the process and making, not the wearing. So this will certainly be a challenge and will involve 31 days of skirts or dresses. I might have to make some trousers, pantaloons or slacks quickly, for emergencies.

The Big Vintage Sew-along

This is a promotion from the McCall’s pattern company aimed at getting us all sewing archive patterns – not the frail originals picked up in a charity shop, only in a size 10 and with one or two pieces missing – these are brand new multi-sized reproductions. There is plenty of information and a downloadable leaflet at Big Vintage Sew-along

I rather fancy this sturdy skirt – McCall’s 6993. But not with those shoes. Muddied gardening brogues might work better – particularly with the May challenge coming up. The fabric is a fine stripe but quite robust.

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I like the complicated waist area and the two inverted pleats.

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I want more badges now!

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