Archive for the ‘Repairing’ Category

Why wouldn’t you…?

August 8, 2016

rescuequilt1

It was crumpled up inside a plastic bin-liner at the market on Saturday, but something about it caught my eye… on closer inspection, it was part of a quilt. And looking closer still, probably part of a painstakingly hand-made quilt; the only machine-stitches I’ve been able to find were those joining the backing piece. It cost me part of £3, along with a number of other items.

At some point, someone has hacked a fair bit of it off, hopefully to do something intelligent with; I think it was probably king-size to start with and is now about 4′ x 6′; the pattern has been interrupted both lengthways and widthways. They’d left one edge with the original binding, zig-zagged roughly down another, but left the last two raw. An interrupted project, from an unwanted gift, maybe? At first I thought it was probably one of the lovely Marks & Spencers’ Indian-made quilts, but when I realised that the piecing was all hand-stitched as well as the quilting,  I decided that hand-made was more likely.

rescuequilt2

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knew I’d have some suitable plain fabric to make a quick American-style binding with, in a not-unsympathetic colour. So I bought it, and told the stallholder (whose wife knows her quilts & exactly what they might earn them) what I was planning to do with it. As I walked away I couldn’t help overhearing,  sotto-voce, “But why would you…?”

Why wouldn’t I?! If I were making a quilt (well, I usually am!) it wouldn’t be my first choice of colours or styles. Far too much like hard work! But the colours fit into my draughty little living room like a hand into a glove. Binding’s not hard, and doesn’t take long; it was done by Sunday evening, sitting outside in the sunshine, fitted around other everyday tasks. And I absolutely respect the work and the skill that’s gone into this one, even if it’s just a remnant of what it once was.

I love being surrounded by, and using, lovely things that have been made with skill, care and love, which have often survived the tests of time. And I love “rescuing” things that others consider beyond consideration. Sometimes I use them in “upcycling” projects, sometimes I sell them on, but sometimes they just make themselves at home here…

oldtrim

Rescued from an old, stained linen petticoat…

 

Rainy days…

March 9, 2016

It was quite tempting, this morning, to pull the wool over my my eyes and stay in bed… I have a lovely cosy wool duvet, which has proved to be a sound investment as it’s lasting really well and seems to keep me at the perfect temperature, winter or summer; no mean feat, with a lady of a Certain Age. Anyway, the wind was howling through the holly tree and the rain was hammering against the window panes; not exactly conducive to leaping out of bed with a happy smile and a willing heart.

But rainy days, like the clouds that spawn them, have silver linings. It’s a chance to catch up with some cooking – a batch of hob-nobs, some chicken stock & soup, and an aubergine bake all got done this morning – a little light housework (though it’s far too dark & grim for spring cleaning) and one or two projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a while.

A number of vintage dressmaking patterns have been checked over before being offered for sale, and my neighbour’s handcranked sewing machine has been sorted out – I hope!

And this sturdy but curious little suitcase had been tripping people up in the conservatory for months. I’m not sure what it originally held – a musical instrument, maybe? – but it had a dark red plush lining, part of which had been ripped out. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would benefit from being introduced to some of the leftover sofa fabric… Result!

And here’s my “find” of the week: a set of 5 pristine vintage aluminium pans, most likely from the late 1940s. They came in with a vast collection of old knitting patterns, dating from the 1930s through to the 1970s; it seems from the few letters, etc. amongst them that the lady who collected them got married some time in the 1940s, and these look very much like a wedding present that had been stashed away and never used. They do have all their lids, and were separated by brown paper bags from Bourne & Hollingsworth of Oxford Street, W1.

Off now to sort out the best part of 1,000 vintage knitting patterns!

New projects!

June 20, 2015

Sorry I’ve been somewhat uncommunicative lately; I’ve had a fair bit on my plate & couldn’t find any time or head-space for writing. But in the meantime I’ve been busy on the recycling/reinventing front: I’m going Glamping on a Shoestring!

I’m old enough to remember camping under canvas. Not family holidays; my dear Mama would die rather than go camping! But Girl Guide trips into the deepest darkest Devonian countryside, sleeping under canvas in blue ridge-tents, with a big white marquee to gather in on rainy days; evenings spent around the campfire, under the trees or on the beach and no access to anything electrical at all! And in my late teens, camping, hiking & canoeing in the wilder parts of Wales & Scotland, often (strangely enough) pitching up in pub gardens & other out-of-the-way spots. So when our kids came along, and several of them proved to be as sunburn-prone & heat-resistant as my dear husband, investing in a tent & camping gear rather than heading straight for the Costas seemed to be the best way forward.

And we did invest; we researched thoroughly & bought what seemed to be the best possible tents etc. for our situation, with the newest technology. And they certainly did last for more than one season; the oldest Khyam dome tent has only just bitten the dust, although we outgrew it fairly quickly. But more recent purchases have not proved as long-lasting, possibly because the younger users have got larger & more boisterous & often take them away without the benefit of parental supervision now. Also I’m no longer comfortable sleeping on the ground, after having had an early hip replacement, particularly not after working a 14-hour day. So as we head up towards the festival season again, I needed to replace some of the gear, and come up with new ways of coping – but on a shoestring. And I also wanted to recapture some of the magic of those long-ago days & nights under quiet, sturdy canvas, after too many nights of billowing, crackling rip-stop nylon, gap-toothed plastic zips & snapping, splintering carbon-fibre poles.

But my budget certainly doesn’t run to buying a bell-tent, lovely though they are. Or a camper van, which I must admit I’d love, though most modern ones seem to come with things like TVs, wardrobes and sound systems, which are the very things I want to get away from! And the running costs are (mostly) too high for them to be used as a second vehicle in regular use, and there isn’t room on the drive for a third vehicle. So I got to thinking, what could I find, make or make-do that might do the job and also delight my heart?

So Project Use-the-Car-as-a-Camper was born. There’s just enough room in the back of a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso for one shortish person to sleep in comfort; the rear seats all fold down flat, giving a 6′ length. We recently “did” the Vintage Nostalgia Show in Wiltshire as traders – lovely show, by the way! Highly recommended for vintage-style family fun – and I slept like a log, knowing that the rain wasn’t going to get in or the sides of the car fall in on me if yet another carbon-fibre pole snapped. I had an old self-inflating mattress and a small memory-foam topper, which was reasonably comfortable, plus sleeping bag, blanket & pillow, and was snug & warm as toast. I kept the morning daylight out by suspending an old dark-blue silk sari with safety-pins from elastic looped around the various protrusions round the top of the car; next time I’ll use a second loop around the door handles etc. to keep it tight to the car walls rather than dangling in my bedding. I’d previously invested in some IKEA Solvinden solar lamps, which give plenty of light for finding your way around, cleaning teeth & getting changed & can be recharged on your dashboard during the day so the battery’s not taking a battering whilst the car is stationary.

What didn’t work: getting changed was a bit of a nightmare with no head-room, particularly trying to get wellies on. And cooking on the tailgate was a bit more complicated than usual; I rolled my bed back out of the way but it wasn’t inclined to stay put! So I invested my profits from that show into buying a tailgate awning to run off the back of the car, which will give us cooking space & me a changing room when we do the next show, which is a 6-day run, with 3 of us camping. But that doesn’t even begin to recapture some of the magic of outdoor living that I remember…

So my next project is – Glamping-on-a-Shoestring! I have “borrowed” an idea from one of my fellow-traders, and bought a straightforward 3m canvas square with loops, which will be used (with guys) to make an outdoor living area; we already have some woven polyprop rugs, solar fairy lights, vintage camping chairs & tables to make it feel homely, and I wombled some tall steel poles from an elderly frame-tent to suspend it from. The tailgate awning and the girls’ two small tents will open into this, and I’ll pop a windbreak round the open sides. And thereby hangs another tale…

Our old windbreak is a bit too far gone to do the job. Somehow it’s shed two of its six poles, and developed several fairly-major holes. But luckily a friend had some spare wooden poles, and I’ve won some rather pretty canvas on Ebay. Now all I need to do is excavate my sewing machine from under the piles of random bits of stock awaiting assessment/repair/cleaning up/…

And although the self-inflating mattress/memory foam combo was comfy enough (if a bit slidey) I think I can do better. I’ve laid my hands on a feather sofa cushion, which is blissfully soft & warm whilst also being thick enough to work as a mini-mattress. I’m on the look-out for two or three more, so that I can literally rest in feather-bedded splendour, but have acquired enough smaller feather scatter cushions to make a mattress up if need be – time allowing!

So watch this space; there will be pictures! And don’t ask what I’m planning to do with the largish bits of canvas left over from the big old frame tent…

catsglamping

Tabitha & Tino like the idea of glamping…

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…”

February 1, 2015

I’d planned to write something about – well, something else. But instead, I’m inspired to write again about Why Vintage? Life takes these funny twists & turns sometimes…

JonesSpool2

Lovely old Jones Spool from 1894. Still beautiful, still working…

 

One of my husband’s favourite sayings is, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…” meaning that wistful looking back to an imaginary golden age is just that – more to do with imagination than reality. And I think it’s true that all throughout history, and probably prehistory, people have just muddled along as best they can & simply tried their best to stay afloat one way or another, but that’s not what we see when we look back. Looking back at the Roman invasion of Britain, we see fit, bronzed warriors in metal-studded miniskirts building long, straight roads in the summer sun, not miserable conscripts with dripping noses scrabbling in the winter mud, wishing they could wear woollen breeks like the natives, or tubby merchants gleefully piling up their denarii in their slave-driven centrally-heated homes. When we look back at the Tudors, we see the world-spanning voyages, the introduction of potatoes to Europe, Shakespeare penning his wonderful plays and poetry, and the fine, fantastical & wildly-impractical costumes of the wealthy, not the probably-somewhat-itchy home-dyed, spun & woven everyday wear & pease-pottage cuisine of the peasantry. When we look back at the 1940s, we see the slender waists, Victory Roll hairdos and glamorous lipsticks, not the look of dismay at the idea of Woolton Pie for tea again, and the mind-numbing terror of hearing, or worse still, ceasing to hear the whine of the doodlebugs…

Yesterday I had a conversation with my nearly-89-year-old mother. She cannot for the life of her understand why people would want to live in the past, in any way, shape or form, and how I can possibly make any money out of it. She remembers all too well the hard work, the misery of being so very cold but unable to afford to heat the house, or even the room she was sitting shivering in with her newborn baby; the sheer unrelenting effort of making sure that the wood was chopped, the garden crops were picked & processed before they spoilt (no matter what else had to be done) everything dusted, & polished & swept daily and all our clothes clean, starched & pressed. Yet I know of, and have sold things to, individuals, couples and even families whose homes & indeed lives are a shrine to a bygone era, who are looking for wooden dollies or tongs for their washing tubs, slate or marble slabs for their larders, carpet beaters for their pure-wool rugs. And I have a lot of sympathy with them. My mother has lived all her long life in the sparse bosom of the Church of England, and has no real sense of the tremendous disconnectedness of the world that we’re living in now. I think many of my customers are hoping to return to a time when it felt like life had some meaning, apart from just working to get as much money as possible in order to spend it as quickly as possible.

Some of the people I talk to are 20th-century re-enactors, rather than actually trying to live the life of our forebears all the time. But if I ask any of them why they do it, they all say that it’s the Blitz Spirit, the sense of everyone pulling together, & the fairness of rationing. They’ll mention that everyone was healthier, that things were built to last & be mendable, and the sheer exhilaration of mastering the dances. The fun of tinkering, of making things for yourself, and of rescuing good things that can still be useful, usually comes into it too. Possibly even the feeling of living on the edge, that every mission might be the one you didn’t come back from, that any infection might be fatal, that every dance might be your last, so that it all really meant something. And in some indefinable way, that life really was a lot simpler for having far fewer choices. Which is all so very far from how things are in our society now…

Affordability comes into it, too. None of them have been forced to live in the past by being broke & unable to afford modern conveniences; it’s a conscious choice they have all made, and sourcing authentic clothing, fabric & household items is rarely cheap, unless you’re very lucky. Most of our customers do have decent jobs or trades. But if you spend £50 on an old hand-cranked sewing machine, and keep it somewhere dry, brush it out & oil it regularly, it will keep going & doing the job it was designed to do for another hundred years. Your £25 mangle will still work long after your £250 tumble dryer has given up the ghost. Your preserving jars still work in a power cut. So it makes sense to invest a bit in good kit, to save money in the long term. You will need more time, to do things in the old-fashioned way, but it’s quite easy to find if you can give up some TV-watching, FaceBooking or gaming.

And I don’t see that it’s so very different to removing yourself to another country, which often seems to exist more in the mind of the ex-pats than in reality. The Spain with a great past and a wonderful future, where the sun shines all the time that the fireworks aren’t crackling, is not the same Spain where most young people have no chance of ever getting a decent job, or where you can suddenly find that you don’t in any sense own the property you handed over your life savings for. As L.P. Hartley put it in The Go-Between, “”The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Maybe in some ways, they did things better, although not perhaps in the context of the book. Or the War, or the discrimination, or the lack of universal health provision…

Or maybe, we should be doing things better, so that people don’t feel the need to escape into the past. A lot of people don’t want to live in a constant electronic smog, or on mass-produced food with dubious ingredients, or wear ill-fitting semi-disposable garments, just because everybody else does and it’s all that’s available now. Some people even, to estate agents & local authorities’ horror, actually want a reasonable-sized garden, to grow & raise edible things in, not just a tiny outdoor entertainment space.

Is it nostalgia? Is it daydreaming? Or is it imagining a better, calmer, more creative & productive world? A world where things were built to last, out of the best available materials, with real craftsmanship, even if they cost more to start with? A world where fashion flattered the female form, rather than tried to erase it? Where bedlinen lasted for lifetimes, rather than months? Where fun didn’t consist of blowing up or running over imaginary opponents in a virtual maze? Where outdoors was not a scary place best paved over?

A world that could exist, bits of which have existed; a world that could made to exist if enough of us have the will to bring about the change?

vtgpursefabric

Vintage curtain fabrics & evening purse – lucky survivors, or made to last?

 

More treasure – with an interesting twist.

June 15, 2014
Warnes1

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!

fans

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.

scarves

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.

typewriterb4

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.

typewriterafter

Restored!

 

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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