More treasure – with an interesting twist.

June 15, 2014
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Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book

The autoharp wasn’t the only treasure to come my way yesterday. This elderly cookery book, from 1895, also found its way into my bag. I rather like old cookery books, as much for the social history aspects as for the actual recipes: “The footman is required to make himself generally useful, though, of course, the number of men kept will diminish or increase his work…” I was surprised to find that it, too, is probably worth much more than I paid for it, but I’m not going to part with it until I’ve “mined” it for useful recipes, if ever! There are sections on preserving, pickling, cheesemaking and winemaking as well as everyday cookery, and although I will happily use modern aids and methods, old-fashioned methods have their place in my armoury too. Especially when the modern ones don’t actually work.

Whilst the pages are mostly in good condition and the cover is pretty clean & bright for its age, apart from a few fingermarks, the spine is very worn and only attached by a sliver at the back. And I was intrigued and entertained to find proof that our ancestors didn’t waste anything much:

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Recycling 1895-style!

The adverts are as much fun as the recipes:

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Fancy cooking on one of those?

But some of them would cause hilarity rather than improving sales, in this day & age…

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I hope Her (previous) Majesty enjoyed…

Off now to find out what some of the more arcane ingredients are in modern parlance, always supposing they are available – or indeed legal – today! Saleratus, anyone? Lambstones? Puff paste…?

Another dilemma…

June 14, 2014

A quick whizz round the car boot sale at our local National Trust property this morning brought me this little treasure at a very reasonable price:

autoharp

 

I know they’re not worth a fortune, as they were made in East Germany under communist rule, mostly in mass-production factories, and any of the traditional craftsman makers who may have been involved were not allowed to sign them. Many of them look very pretty but are too cracked or warped to play, or have loose pegs. But the only fault I can find with this one, now I’ve removed large amounts of dust & replaced a couple of the springs which had wandered off under the strings, is that it’s out of tune. It’s entirely possible that a harp-tuning wrench will do the job, and we just happen to have one of those in the house, as one of the offspring is currently learning to play the harp.

So, the dilemma is, sell it, or learn to play it? It’s a very pretty item & I have a feeling it would sell very fast, quite likely to someone who just wants it for its undeniable good looks. And I know that they are far from the best autoharp for new beginners. But – it’s the one I happen to have! And it’s something I’ve had a hankering to learn since I was in my late teens. I think I’ll have to give it a go…

Booty!

May 17, 2014

Any day that brings me five new-to-me fans, is a good day!

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Fans, gloves, scarves = vintage glamour!

Elder daughter and I went out hunting at a big local car boot sale and the market, and came back laden with little – and not-so-little – treasures. Certain things always seem to spell glamour to me; fans, gloves, bags, hats, scarves & jewellery spring to mind, and there was plenty to go around, which was just as well as we met several of our fellow-traders out a-hunting too, all well-laden.

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Real value for money!

Different types of stall attract different buyers; I glanced over plenty of stalls offering more modern, big-name bags, and none of them looked half as smart as the much-older patent leather one I’d found, once I’d cleaned it up. It even came with a pair of navy-blue lacy gloves inside.

But my best bargain today had to be the little blue Olivetti typewriter for £1. It looked very, very sad; mildew on the keys, and no, you’re not mistaken, it is bent sideways. “I don’t think it actually works,” the vendor said doubtfully.

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All folorn…

But a couple of hours later, with the aid of WD40, the judicious application of a mallet (I kid you not) some Swarfega, tweezers, a good stiff brush and a hoover, it not only looks a whole lot better, it actually works, and works well! Someone’s going to get a real bargain, and I’m chuffed to bits to have returned a decent bit of kit to good working order.

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Restored!

 

Just in case you were wondering…

May 11, 2014

…where I’ve got to, I’m still recycling like mad & will be posting here again shortly. But I’m also trying to blog, mostly in pictures, a year in our little urban garden. Find it at A Year of Old-Style Gardening.

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This spring’s blossom on the big old Blenheim Orange apple tree…

So: define “Vintage”…?

April 5, 2014

Here’s a subject that comes up quite often: what is the actual definition of “vintage” and how do you know if something really should be described as such?

 

Google’s definition, which I rather like, is, “denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.” Really the word belongs to the world of wine, and simply denotes the year a particular wine was produced, but like many another good & useful word before it, it’s leaked out into other areas and the connotations of quality and age have gone along with it.

Not wine, but surely vintage?

Not wine, but surely vintage?

There is no official “age” that an item (or a style) should attain before it can be considered vintage. At the market I regularly trade at, the agreement is that things should be, to the best of our knowledge & belief, 25 years old or more. Which brings the huge shoulders of the 1980s firmly into the “vintage” rearview mirror, but to someone of my age, that’s hardly any age at all; it was only yesterday! And that, I suppose, makes me too somewhat vintage, provided I can dredge up a bit of quality from somewhere. But to the young fashion students who often buy from us, the 1980s are out of the Ark – practically prehistory!

 

All of us will sometimes have items that we don’t know the age of; we can’t (economically!) carbon-date clothing or fabric, for example. But we do know quality, or quirkiness, or classic styling, so we will usually describe things as “retro” rather than vintage if we know or suspect them of being less than 25 years old. However we could, with justification, use the word “vintage” to describe something only 5 years old, if it ticks the “high quality/best of its kind” box. Needless to say, some vendors elsewhere exploit this to the fullest & will happily label any old secondhand stuff as “vintage” which rather muddies the waters & is in danger of bringing the whole game into disrepute. And there are things, and plenty of them, which may well be more than 25 years old but will never be vintage, just old tat. Mind you, I’m assuming that that phrase probably originally comes from the use of “tatting” as an inexpensive substitute for more complex & expensive bobbin lace, so I’d actually be very interested in genuine old “tat” anyway!

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

 

I have some “Golden Homes” magazines from the 1970s somewhere; you could swap many of the room sets into a current IKEA or Habitat catalogue and I genuinely doubt that anyone would even notice, because good design doesn’t have a sell-by date or built-in obsolescence. Not that everything IKEA sell is good, but we have things we bought from them way back when they first opened in the UK, over 25 years ago, and they are still doing the job we chose them for, and still look good. They have now, in my understanding, become vintage; perhaps they always were.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

 

When I’m challenged about the exact dating of something, I have now learnt to say that vintage isn’t about an exact date; it’s about quality, design & style from the past. Quality doesn’t vary, but each stallholder will have different ideas about style, and that’s just how it should be; each of our customers will have equally different and equally valid ideas too, and will combine, wear, use or display the treasures that we’ve found for them in a myriad of different ways. Many of those undreamt-of when the item was new, and often mixing & matching the best of old & new. The best of both worlds, in effect, carrying our past forward into the future…

Lace? Tatting? Actually, crochet - and definitely vintage!

Lace? Tatting? Actually crochet – definitely vintage!

 

Viva vintage!

 

Synchronicity at work…

March 21, 2014

Wikipedia’s definition of synchronicity:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time.”

Well…

I often get asked, “Wherever do you get all these treasures? You must spend all your weekends at car boots & jumble sales!” Which I would love to be able to do, but alas, life doesn’t always work out like that; I have lots of other calls on my time, though I do have two jumbles on my “hit list” this weekend. So in order to maintain some kind of flow, some continuity on the stall, from time to time I resort to buying stuff in from the wholesalers. It doesn’t necessarily work out cheaper, and I’m always aware that they will have cherry-picked the really good stuff for their own “headline” stores, so although they are reliably good value, I’m not getting the very best bargains, and am thus not able to pass them on. However sometimes I strike lucky… this little lot arrived today, from the wholesale arm of a well-known charity:

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50 magnificent vintage hats, which should keep my stall buzzing all summer long! Provided, that is, that not too many of them end up on my daughters or my trainee-daughter-in-law… This elegant confection has already made its debut on Facebook:

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and they are clearly going to provide us with days of entertainment!

I’d already decided to make some major alterations to the layout of the stall at Molly’s Den; books are selling steadily down there, but aren’t very visible from the aisles. And the kitchenalia on the shelves at the back might as well be in Outer Mongolia; despite being clearly visible, things just stay put there, but usually sell within days when I move them forwards towards the aisle. So I thought I’d find some bookshelves, put them along the back with some interesting vintage titles & reasonable prices clearly visible, and possibly some of the more dramatic hats too, and see if that tempts people further in. But no inexpensive bookcases turned up, for weeks on end, on Ebay, Gumtree or Freegle/Freecycle. Reluctantly, I decided to invest a whole £30 in a pair of cheap & cheerful bookcases from that well-known Scandinavian emporium, which I happened to be virtually driving past yesterday. They had 16 in stock when I checked online a couple of days beforehand, but by the time I got there, they were all gone, and they’re not going to have any more in for weeks! So, back to the drawing board… 

Luckily, last night, there was a small pine bookcase, just the right height, for £10 on Gumtree, which I was able to pick up this morning. It was close to Molly’s Den so has gone straight onto the stall, although it’s not yet in its final position and won’t be filled up until after the weekend. And an hour or so later, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found the following Scandinavian item, marginally damaged but perfectly safe & sturdy, in the wood skip at the Recycling Centre – and look what else was there, too!

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Cat not included!

More hats! And all for less than I’d have paid for one new bookcase. If that’s not synchronicity at work, I don’t know what is.

Ooops, I may have committed sacrilege…

March 10, 2014

orientalfan

I was hurtling round our local market yesterday hunting for something to supplement a handmade birthday present, when I happened to pass a house-clearance stall we’ve bought from many times. I asked after the stallholder’s wife, who I know is unwell, and we were chatting away when I spotted something in one of his boxes; an old and very tatty paper fan. Being a  bit of a magpie, I couldn’t resist the bright colours, and couldn’t help asking how much. “Just take it!” came the reply; one end was literally hanging off. Delighted, I thanked him & scurried off clutching my “treasure”, completed my errand and went off to the party.

It was dark by the time we got home, and I knew I’d need to wait until daylight until I could see whether I stood any chance of repairing it. Then a family health-related issue gobbled up most of my day, so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to sit down & look at my fan, though I should have been elsewhere by then, but had had to cancel. Anyway, it seemed as if it would be repairable; it’s a pretty thing and I could see that it wasn’t a mass-produced item. There was a huge rip, crossing several staves, at one end and a smaller rip at the other, but just about all of the paper was still present & the staves unbroken.

I’ve hunted before now for information on repairing fans online, as I have a bit of a fascination for them (not to mention a small collection) but without much success, so I just set to and did my best. I used cigarette paper as I know it’s good strong stuff but almost invisible, with Gum Arabic glue edges, which is pretty natural stuff and probably not far removed from the glues originally used in the fan’s construction. It looks to me as if someone had attempted a previous repair to the big rip, using a glue which had discoloured & left a brownish stain, and clearly hadn’t worked for very long as there’s a lot more rip there now, and I soon found that Gum Arabic didn’t seem to stick very well; there’s some kind of finish on the paper. So I used careful smears of Mod Podge to stick the cigarette paper down. I’m quite pleased with the result; I now have a fan which looks reasonably complete, still folds easily and works, and would otherwise have ended up in a bin.

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BUT soon afterwards, having got the bit between my teeth & looking for some information to help me repair another fan, I finally managed to stumble across the International Fan Circle’s website… which advises using a starch-based glue with no additives. Mod Podge, I’m pretty sure, is posh but very effective PVA. Oh dear! And reading their history pages, the fan might well be rather older than I’d originally thought; it’s clearly not a mass-produced item from the time of the People’s Republic or the days of heavy industrialisation since, but hand-painted, with delightful little birds & rounded mountains painted on the 30-odd staves and drawn in ink up the guards. (And oddly, “6¾” written in pencil on the top of one guard.) It seems to me Chinese rather than Japanese, though I don’t know why; the mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji is the best reason I can think of! So I hope I haven’t ruined something of real interest & value, but in my defence, I did rescue it from an almost certain doom. And I will know better next time, and hopefully do a proper job…

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Please, do actually look…

February 27, 2014

Several times lately, I’ve been restocking my stall at Molly’s Den when ladies of roughly my own age have drifted in & rummaged through the clothing, looking wistfully at the floaty 70s maxi-dresses, comfortable kaftans and cheesecloth tops. Then they usually sigh deeply and say to me,

“Oh, I’d so love to be able to wear things like these again! It’s such a shame I’ve put on so much weight; we were so much smaller in those days, and vintage clothes are all so tiny!”

Erm, no, actually. NOT all vintage clothes are tiny. Quite a lot of mine aren’t; they have come from America & Germany, two countries where people have traditionally not been built like pixies. And I’m in great danger of clearing my rails of all the larger sizes and chopping them up to make bags with the fabrics; I thought people would be delighted to find vintage clothes in normal sizes, but actually, they’re not even looking! Now it may be that people are just being nice, and they don’t really want to revisit their youth and float out of the door in psychedelic glory or swathed in cheesecloth, but there are plenty of ordinary-sized vintage clothes out there; maybe not with the nipped-in waists and tulip skirts that we did wear back then, but you’d find plenty to fit & suit you on the rails if you actually looked.

Undoubtedly the sizings have changed several times over the span of years that my clothing covers, and from country to country too. I have clothes & dressmaking patterns ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s. (In case you’re surprised at that, to an 18 year-old fashion undergraduate, which a number of my customers are, the 80s are pretty much pre-historic & certainly count as vintage. They do love a batwing sleeve…) In the 40s a 36″ bust meant you were a size 18, now you’d be a 10. Or so it is in the UK, but not in the US; you’d be a size 6 there, and something else altogether in Europe, where inches are not overly popular anyway.  So I don’t bother with size tags, especially not as a fair number of the garments are handmade; I provide a tape measure & a mirror and there’s a changing room elsewhere.

Quite a few of the top-quality, pristine-looking vintage clothes are in fact tiny. This is because they were bought back then, quite probably in the sales, by people thinking, if I lose half a stone, I’ll be able to get into it. But they never did, so the item has languished unworn at the back of the wardrobe for 50-odd years. However, if you don’t mind that something isn’t completely unworn – and if you did, you probably wouldn’t be looking in a vintage shop anyway – most evening/Sunday best/party clothes will only have been worn a few times, and hence they have survived, when the everyday items were worn & mended until they disintegrated, and may well have been cut up & used for rags or patchwork after that. So yes, the things you see in the windows of the coolest “Retro” shops in the high-rent locations may well be tiny, as well as horrendously expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find anything to both fit & suit you.

So, get yourself down to a vintage shop like Molly’s Den or market near you – there’s one in Boscombe this Saturday, as it happens – and have a good hunt around; you will almost certainly find something to fit you, provided the stallholder hasn’t given up stocking them! And you may well save a vintage treasure from being chopped up & turned into a bag, if it’s been on the rails for 6 months because the customers the right size to wear it have assumed there won’t be anything there for them, and haven’t even looked…

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Catching the moment…

February 9, 2014

It’s halfway through Sunday afternoon & I’m about to drift off upstairs to my new “sewing station” & try my hand at free-motion quilting. On one of my trusty old Berninas, rather than on the beautiful new-to-me Pfaff computer-that-sews, because I don’t have a darning/free motion foot for that yet! So far today, my feet haven’t touched the ground, so I’m due some down-time, although Sunday is a day most people associate with rest. But sometimes you have to make the best of what comes your way, and catch the moment… make hay while the sun shines, sort of!

We’re just back from an invigorating walk in the sunshine down at the riverbank. As we turned for home, we could see the storm clouds piling up once again on the western horizon, but we were ready for anything it could throw at us, wearing wellies & waterproofs. First thing I did this morning on seeing the sun was to whack the washing into the machine & set it off; the clean stuff went out on the line before 10am and came back in at 2pm, dry as a bone in the stiff breeze and early Spring sunshine. Not that it’s at all warm down here! But the bulbs are up & the flower buds are forming, my chickens are laying fit to bust, the garden birds are pairing up and pottering off with twigs and straw, and although there’ll undoubtedly be some icy bits to get through yet, as well as yet more rain, it’s increasingly obvious that the year has turned once again. I’ve cooked a big roast dinner, which will reappear under various easy-cook leftover-dish guises throughout the week, and trotted round to the local market to hoover up £4.50-worth of last-minute-bargain fruit & vegetables to make soups & puddings with, or to dehydrate & use at another time if I don’t have an immediate use for them. There was even a bag of 18 limes for £1; I can feel some Lime Curd coming on, which will use up some of the egg glut, and maybe I’ll also chuck a few limes into the marmalade I’ll be making in the next couple of days with my pristine little vintage Spong marmalade cutter (£5 at the car boot yesterday, works beautifully) and the two boxes of on-their-sell-by organic Seville oranges I found at the supermarket for £1 the other day.

There is a point to all this rambling on, and it’s this: I could easily have justified having a bit of a lie-in this morning, and thought, well, I’ll do the washing tomorrow. I could equally well not have bothered with the market; we have enough F&V in to see us through the next few days. We could have stayed indoors in the warm, rather than hare off down a sodden pathway in the stiff cold breeze. BUT then I’d most likely have ended up drying the washing indoors, possibly even with electrical help, so it didn’t end up going smelly. I’d have had to pay full price for top-ups of fruit & veg later in the week, and I’d have felt very guilty on the exercise front, as well as stir-crazy. And I’d have missed a bargain sewing box full of intriguing vintage sewing, knitting & crochet patterns, not to mention the sparkle of the sunshine on the racing water and glimmering through the golden skeleton reeds. And that’s exactly what I would have done, without even thinking about it, just a few years ago; just stayed indoors, in the warm. My family will tell you I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator & day-dreamer. But somehow I seem to be learning, at this late juncture, to get up & get going

I know I’m very lucky to be able to seize the ideal moment to do some things now – like I’m carving out 5 minutes to write this – and believe me, it doesn’t always work out this way. But it certainly does feel good to think you’re on top of at least some of the tasks in your life, possibly even a little ahead of the game! And it frees me up, in my head, to go & do something now that I actually want to do…

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A new paradigm…

January 12, 2014

I have  a big task before me. I have to learn a whole new way of living. From now on, I do not need to buy enough food to provision a small army on a weekly basis. I won’t need to chase around the house trying to locate enough plates to feed said army at every mealtime. We won’t be tripping over piles of muddy boots in every doorway, or surveying the massive washing mountain with dismay. Yes, DS2 and his long-term girlfriend have moved out. It’s just us and the two girls under this roof full-time now, and DS3 back for the holidays. It’s going to seem very quiet…

They’ve moved into a bright, warm house shared with another young couple, for whom he was Best Man back last summer. They all seem to rub along very well together and three out of the four are offspring of big families, which means they know the ropes when it comes to the inevitable times when tempers flash, and how to let things simmer down again. And whilst he may have pushed the boundaries & got away with blue murder on the tidiness front here at home, I don’t doubt that he, like his two brothers before him, will somehow manage to be reasonably civilised when the chips are down. He may not always have obeyed them, but he knows perfectly well what the rules of civilised living are. And I expect Madam will keep him in order anyway; I have every respect for her managerial capabilities! It’s a shame they can’t yet afford a decent roof over each couple’s heads, but they are getting far more for their money by sharing; instead of a cramped little studio flat over a shop with no garden, no parking and a kitchen that would be better described as a cupboard (which they would be stretching themselves to the very limit to afford, round here)  they are in a very pleasant 4-bedroom house with a lovely, big, well-designed kitchen, a pretty & practical garden, parking and a garage. So they can have friends over to stay, space for their musical instruments, and room for money-saving devices like a chest freezer. It’s an ideal compromise, if such a thing exists. It may not last very long, as the house is on the market to be sold, but fingers crossed they will have long enough to find somewhere similar, if the arrangement suits all concerned.

I suspect that energy, resource and financial constraints may mean that the days of the nuclear family in their little suburban home are limited, anyway, and we need to look for and accept a range of different solutions if we’re not to develop tent cities or shanty towns; people need homes but simply can’t afford them on average wages round here, where the jet set meet in summer to play polo on the beach. Multi-generation living is one of those solutions, as is house-sharing, taking in (or being) lodgers, or even communal living. All of these, to some extent, have always gone on quietly in the background; several members of my family back in the 1800s were named after a lodger, who one daughter/sister had married, and one of my own brothers still carries that name. When we moved here, there were two dear old ladies, ex-missionaries, house-sharing around the corner, which was quite a common set-up for those who had never married, and often worked very well, with none of the smutty innuendo that people attach to such an idea now. And I can see that the idea of a “companion” was a very good solution for older people who didn’t want to leave their homes & gardens to go into residential care or tiny “sheltered” flatlets, and a younger person who didn’t earn enough to afford a roof over their own head, or might not have wanted to live alone. In medieval times, very few people lived in nuclear families; you were part of your master’s household, if an apprentice or a servant, or a monastery/convent (not all inhabitants were religious; less than half might have taken vows, in most cases) once past childhood. And in your turn, you would shelter an assortment of other people’s teens or other waifs & strays, as you achieved masterly status yourself. And harems are an example of communal living, though not one that most of us would find acceptable, but life in one might have been better than for a young Victorian servant girl the master took a fancy to.

What seems normal to us would seem extraordinary to people elsewhere in the world or living at another time; and one day our current living arrangements might well cause incredulity & laughter to our descendants. And different solutions will suit different people. But it’s not just people; as DS2 leaves us, we have gained a new four-legged family member. The feral cat we’ve been feeding for the last year has finally decided to come indoors. And very polite & unassuming he/she is being about it, too; the resident moggies haven’t objected at all so far, not even when it turned up for breakfast with them this morning. It’s played a very long game, and clearly isn’t taking anything for granted; we still don’t even know whether it’s a him or a her! But it has evidently decided that this is home, and we are its people, and it will tolerate our eccentricities like wishing to brush it, as long as there’s food in the bowl & a blanket in a box to sleep on. It remains to be seen whether it’ll be any cheaper to run than an energetic & lively 24 year-old and his young lady!

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