Archive for June, 2013

For anyone who doubts…

June 15, 2013

… that we earn our keep; for all those who think that any fool could buy stuff in & just sell it on at a profit…

There’s knowledge, and judgement, and flair, time and sheer bl**dy elbow grease involved too. In the words of the art critic, I know what I like, and I know the kind of thing my customers are looking for too. I know where best to look for it, and how to spot the things that others have overlooked. I usually have a good idea of when things are worth investing a bit of time & effort in, and also when they really are past reclaiming, although of course, they may now have a use other than what they were originally intended for. I’ll give you an example of something that I picked up this morning in our local market’s car boot section. It had been a small vanity case, originally made in Spain, probably in the 1950s, possibly early 60s, by the styling and by the fact that it had a very brittle & decayed plastic lining. It was utterly filthy, but visibly sturdily made, with a stylish, if dirty, brass handle, hinges & catch, but seemingly forever open now as the catch really didn’t want to engage. What I could see, if I could clean it up a bit, is a jewellery display for my stall, even if the lock never works again. So home it came, as part of a 3-for-£1 job lot, along with a child’s Anna Karenina-style sheepskin hat & some rather decayed War Office flying maps. 33.3p is not a lot to risk, if it all goes wrong.

So, here’s the top after an first experimental swab:


Evidently this method is going to work – it might have dissolved the covering, or not shifted any of the dirt – but it did. Back & side before:


And after:


A bit of WD40, a bit of Brasso, a tweak with some aircraft engineer’s cranked needlenose pliers and hey presto! The outside of my new jewellery display box is clean and the catch is working once more. It’s not pristine, it’s clearly seen a lot of use over the years; I could easily go down to The Range & buy something “vintage-style” that’s never been used, but that’s not authentic, or very interesting, and would probably cost a lot more. The next project is to make a suitable lining, so I need to find a fabric that’s right for the age & style of the box, that will also show off glittery & shiny things to good effect. Not to mention a mirror to fit inside the lid. Give me a few days & see what I come up with!



Editing to add: on re-reading, I can’t help noticing the tone of sheer indignation in the first paragraph! I should explain; it’s in response to a conversation with a dear friend who I know will never read this. Bless her, it’s apparent that she thinks that it’s a “nice little hobby” she could take up when she retires, and maybe she could, but it’s not quite as simple as trotting round the charity shops, picking up “old things that no-one else would notice” & selling them on Ebay at your leisure, any more!



June 10, 2013



A few years back, there was a little shop in our town, in the same row that I tried running a shop in more recently. It was an absolute treasure trove of gorgeous vintage & antique household textiles & haberdashery, and the elderly lady who ran it was friendly, helpful, kindhearted (she often let me have part-skeins of embroidery thread from workboxes for, say, 10 or 20p) and inspirational. It featured in several national magazines as one of those quirky & glorious one-off emporiums that we British can excel at, given half a chance & reasonable business rents & rates. But sadly the rent & rates edged upwards as the proprietor’s health edged downwards, and eventually she had to give up. I always wondered what had happened to her stock… Quoting from elsewhere online:

“I’ve had an unexpected & astonishing weekend. It was our annual Folk Festival, when the population of our little town goes from 5,000 to about 20,000 for two days of colourful, musical mayhem. But I hardly got to see any of the processions, workshops, dances etc. because early on, I stumbled across an absolute treasure trove. There was a small market down one of the back streets, and someone  was selling off some old textiles etc. at very sensible prices. I’m “doing” a major festival as a trader later this summer & have been terrified I don’t have nearly enough good stock; things I’m proud to be rehoming at a profit, if you know what I mean. But I was able to pick up some very nice things at a very decent price, even if we’ll be eating beans for the rest of the month!

I got chatting to the guy selling them & eventually, after a bit of digging, it emerged that it was leftover stock from one of the little shops in town, one of my favourite-shops-of-all-time in fact, that stopped trading a few years ago when the proprietor became too elderly & ill to carry on. The end result is that I shall be talking to him later in the week about the rest of her leftover stock, which sadly has not been well-stored in the interim, but still has value of a kind, even if a fair bit of it isn’t saleable any longer. I actually think I’m very privileged to be handling some of these items; think lace baby bonnets going back to the early 1800s, hand-embroidered Victorian bloomers, 30s crepe-de-chine hankies edged with handmade lace – that sort of thing.”

Some of it is literally shredding in our hands; for example the silk/glazed cotton/lace cushion cover above, which is most likely French (there’s another one, in even worse condition, with Souvenir de France embroidered on it. A good clue as to its origins, I feel!) where the cotton backing & lace are intact but the weft threads of the cover have just gone to dust; the warp threads are all that’s holding that embroidery together. The baby bonnet, which is the piece I recognised from the old shop, is also shredding to dust as it’s handled; several years crumpled into sealed black plastic binliners in a hot loft have not done much for the development of age-stains & mould spots, either. It’s a shame to touch it & hasten its decline and I feel quite inadequate to the task of trying to preserve what’s left in decent condition. But I suspect it would just end up at the Tip otherwise, if unsold. And I know that the old lady, and the untold hundreds of stitchers behind her, stretching back at least as far as 1800, would be far happier to see what remains of their exquisite work being used & admired, even if that means cutting it up to remake into something new, than made into J-cloths & used for wiping sinks.

So now I have a huge task before me; I need to learn as much as possible, in as short a time as possible, about lace, so that I don’t accidentally destroy or flog off for pennies, something wonderful that should remain intact & be properly preserved for posterity… It’s a great opportunity, but also a huge responsibility.