Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 awkward to carry

suitcases

 

 

 

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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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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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Furniture Gymnastics

There is a certain type of therapy to be gained from moving the furniture around. Some of us love this relentless shifting and dragging and heaving, others, quite sensibly, are loathe to play the chaos game. It’s an activity that involves the whole family, by which I mean the mum and a couple of reluctant, moaning children. We share many happy memories of laughing hysterically as we manoeuvred galumphing sofas and huge tables through narrow doors, around awkward corners, up the stairs and into another room. The fun is endless. Just think of Ross and the couch in Friends“Pivot!” 

A simpler version, rather like one-day cricket, is a straightforward rearrangement of everything in the same room! This also brings into play some rarely used but thrilling gymnastic skills – table standing, sofa vaulting, back-of-the-TV stretches and hoovering lunges due to unearthed fluff mountains.

In 1985 a dear friend gave me an old sofa – she was upgrading with a smart Edwardian three piece that hadn’t yet been jumped on by toddlers or shredded by feline claws. The old one has since has been professionally reupholstered, moved house once or twice and had a loose cover made for it which must be thirty years old now. This is a bit like having a dress made for you in your twenties with strict instructions to make it last a lifetime. The cover has been washed umpteen times, shrinking more each time I’m sure, and ten years ago the patching started.

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Oh, and by the way, it only has one leg, chocked up at one end with a long block of oak and at the other with Dan Brown. What a great book.

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In an effort to give it a new lease of life I recently bought two enormous feather cushions for the seat. Unfortunately they are flat, unlike the original boxed ones.

After a nudge from my daughter, “Cover those cushions, they’ll get ruined,” I started on a patchwork plan. I did some maths, selected ten half-yard pieces that were hanging around and chopped them with the rotary cutter into one hundred 11 cm squares.

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Arranging the squares randomly is never as easy as one thinks.

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Then I had doubts about my maths and added a narrow strip around the edge. And decided to pipe the edge with some robust stripy stuff.

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Things at Sewing at Damgate have been busy lately – the workroom has expanded to accommodate more sewers and we are now holding regular all day workshops. This has called into play my trusty old Bernina Nova which is forty years old now and still going strong.

I love this machine!

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This is an old piping foot in action.

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And I think this is a quarter inch patchwork foot ploughing through the patches, some wadding and a lining.

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I think the seat cushions look a bit weird actually, like two square mushrooms with tablecloths on them. And as soon as anyone sits on this they will be like pancakes, Dan Brown will probably give up the ghost and it will be time to play the furniture game again – for therapeutic reasons.

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March 26, 2016 · 6:15 pm

Recipe for a Skirt

Ingredients

One piece of fabric, 1.5 to 2 metres should cover it easily, depending on what decade you are living in

Some poppers – root around in the button box to find a few

One button, any colour

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Rip off a narrow strip of fabric long enough to go round your waist, with an extra 10cm to be the overlap for a button and buttonhole. Fold it in half lengthways, press.

Take the rest of the fabric, pleat or gather it along its long edge and join it to the narrow strip.

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Test for length and stitch it all together. I thought I would make a small sample skirt to illustrate this. Note to self – never go into the dolls’ clothes-making business. Now I’m worried that it will look like a weird Borrowers costume, with giant pins and a huge button. For a more normal version of this skirt see 195o’s Dirndl Skirt Remake

I tend not to put zips in things – preferring the placket. This is such a lovely opening, ideal for a full, unstructured skirt.The waistband joins with a button and the placket closes with a few press-studs. I have sewn these in red, to make them show up, using waxed double thread and buttonhole stitch. No strain is put on the poppers so they don’t come undone.

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Alternatively you could use buttons and buttonholes – like a button fly on a pair of Levi’s, the buttons obscured from view under a margin of fabric. At the base of the opening there is a small bar tack, also reinforced with buttonhole stitch, the idea being that this small piece of stitching will prevent any accidental ripping.

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Here is how to do it with an illustration from Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework 1939-ish

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I have made versions of this skirt many times over the last 40 years – even got married in a couple – on separate occasions you understand. The earliest one I clearly remember was in dark green cotton, with a lurex thread running through it – which sounds hideous and tasteless, but it was actually lovely and subtle. It had a slight check to it as well. It was 1979, Polanski’s Tess was on at the cinema and clothes were all about the romantic arts of scrubbing and lighting fires and pulling turnips. In fact, in this still from the film, I think Nastassja Kinski is actually wearing my skirt!

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I remember sporting it with a huge viscose scarf wrapped and folded and tied and twizzled around my hair. And some flat suede boots in grey, which may have been men’s but at least they fitted me. The skirt was long, mid-calf, and the lower foot of the hem area had about ten very small tucks, running parallel. I wore it until it fell apart. We lived in a freezing cold flat in Muswell Hill, and I seem to remember wearing some sort of underskirt with it, to add another layer and be more like Tess. And tights of course. And socks and leg warmers. It really was cold. We all wanted to live in Hardy’s farmyard mud and look beautiful and sleep in the attic over the barn.

I must also confess to making a perfectly monstrous version of it, and wearing it just once, to a posh party. I must have looked like a visiting court jester. I had bought some jumbo corduroy – a yard of blue and a yard of red. For some reason I liked the fabric but had skimped on the purchase, so made the skirt in wide red and blue stripes.

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This is probably the look I was going for, a dress of beautiful  slender stripes and the exquisite bohemian style of Egon Schiele’s wife. Mine was an embarrassing travesty.

 

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