Tag Archives: Poetry

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.

Image result for weald and downland costume

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.



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.

Image result for queuing for the jumble sale

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.

Image result for 1960s shoesImage result for 1960s high heel shoes

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.

Image result for oxfam shop oxford

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!

Image result for oxfam shop

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. 


An evening shot – gloomy but honest


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!


Probably should have moved the chalk box


Probably should have shut that drawer


Nearly tidy – spot the Co-op shopping bag



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.





Filed under Uncategorized


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!


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.






Filed under Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, knitting, Michael Laskey, Poetry, Smiths Knoll, Uncategorized