Posts Tagged ‘recycling’

Why wouldn’t you…?

August 8, 2016

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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.

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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…

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Rescued from an old, stained linen petticoat…

 

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A very quick update…

April 26, 2016

I’m kind of busy just now… Sadly I’ve decided to close down the stall at Molly’s Den, and re-open one at Toad Hall here in Wimborne instead. I got into this lark as a maker/recycler, rather than a dealer, but seem to be quite good at sourcing resources that other people want to use, too. Gradually I’ve stopped making things and was spending all my time hunting up things to sell, and it wasn’t making me very happy. Not to mention the fact that it was making my home very cluttered, which wasn’t making my family very happy.

Handmade doesn’t really “work” at Molly’s Den, except for upcycled furniture, which I don’t have the space to do. So I’m going back to somewhere where it does, cutting down what I sell to what I sell best, i.e. vintage & reclaimed sewing & crafting supplies, and going back to having some fun playing with all the lovely fabrics and trimmings that I find. I’ll be spending part of the summer haunting the local car boots, offloading any stock I can’t shift in a massive sale before closing the stall at Molly’s at the end of May. So that’s my “news”- there’ll be a return to normal posting very shortly!

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!

The last laugh…

March 1, 2016

My fellow traders were pretty good, all in all, not to laugh out loud at me last Friday. A really superb rose-covered 4-piece suite came into the dump, fabulous quality & beautifully made, but alas, huge! Too big for the ex-owners’ new home, or in fact most of the housing stock around here. I pleaded with the manager to give it a day on sale, because someone would have had an excellent bargain there – they can’t charge more than £10 for anything, and this lot would have cost thousands when it was new. Really, really comfortable, too; the back cushions & scatter cushions are all feather-stuffed and it still had all its fire labels and was in very good condition.

But no-one had claimed it by the time I went back, just before closing, so before it went into the skip I “skinned” it. Cue a number of raised eyebrows & knowing smiles from the other traders hanging around in hope of someone throwing out Rolex watches, Wedgwood china or a Hepplewhite chair – which does sometimes happen, around here – but they were very good and didn’t laugh out loud. It was quite easy to strip the covers off as they were all zipped to be removable for cleaning.

There’s a LOT of beautiful fabric in a good suite… Not yardage, but lots of useful sized pieces that people won’t hesitate to pay a pound or two for each; you’d get a good, big, sturdy, long-lasting scatter-cushion or tote bag out of a couple of pieces. I’ll make a reasonable sum selling the larger pieces when I’ve washed & ironed them, and will have the smaller bits to make small bags, needle books, whacky lace-trimmed cushions & lavender sachets for sale. Two of the big back cushions and the scatter cushions have been “claimed” by a fellow-trader,  and I myself have plans for the other three!

Now I need ten minutes alone with a “dead” leather sofa & some sharp scissors… I’ll need quantities of leather, to make bases for the cushions as they become “floor” cushions. But the thing is, I will have more than tripled my money in the space of a few days, in exchange for a little bit of work with scissors, washing machine & iron. I may not get hundreds from spotting, nabbing & selling on one piece, but it all adds up, and I’ll have the pleasure of seeing my Boscombe Vintage Market customers’ faces light up as they spot the roses, feel the quality and realise the pieces are eminently affordable. And I even have some pieces to play with, myself, so I get the last laugh!

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Fabulous fabric – with a rather sweet little “helping hand!”

A whole New Year!

January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016! Wishing you all a very happy one…

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There’ll be more making, more baking…

My main resolution for this year is – to write more. A lot more; my life seems to have frayed at the edges or possibly unravelled to the point where I hardly ever get the time, or have the space, to make anything worthwhile any more, but I don’t need a lot of space or time to spin some words together. It doesn’t matter if I’m 26 miles away from my sewing machine or spinning wheel, as I was yesterday; as long as I have a pen & some paper, or better still my iPad, I can write something. Even if it’s something that no-one else will ever read; that almost doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just a few words scribbled on the back of a receipt…

I’d like to try to write something here at least once a week. I’d very much like to get paid for writing again, but I had to let those threads drop a few years back, and am not in a position to commit to imminent deadlines at the moment. And I’m not able to do research or develop any new expertise at anything just now, and real life continues to confound my ability to keep up with the plot, so my long-held ambition to write a novel (oh, and get it published) doesn’t stand much of a chance either.

I’ve managed to keep most of my preserves & ferments going over the last year, mainly by persuading my darling daughters to take up the reins whenever I’ve been snatched away by fate. They are developing their own techniques & preferences now and I’m loving the results; ginger beer, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. But I didn’t get nearly enough foraging in, or a chance to learn more about the unnoticed gifts that we’re surrounded with. I’m still rescuing and refurbishing stuff and making a few bob selling on what we ourselves can’t use, but many more people have leapt onto that bandwagon and it’s getting harder and harder to turn an honest penny. Not to mention that I now have nowhere to store stock, or work on it…

So I’ve given away a lot of excess stock, to something that’s a very good cause; three van-loads so far, and more to follow. I live in hope of finding the conservatory floor again one day, and the shelves in the porch; then I’d be able to store sensible amounts of wood when it’s available for free, as it very often is!

Things need to change! But maybe I can’t impose that change from on top, and it needs to happen from the bottom up, so I will start building the future with words, just a few at a time!

“We thought we’d take the kids camping…”

July 22, 2015
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Our home-made canvas windbreak

Just about 11 years ago, I took it into my head to take 7 young people and their surf- & body-boards for a few days’ surfing & camping in North Devon. We had a big, sturdy tunnel tent & a big, sturdy car, and they were a manageable crew, with 4 of them plenty old, experienced & sensible enough to trot off & ride the waves together by themselves. But… that was the week of the Boscastle flood. There was some very good surf, and some very lively weather. At the campsite we love to go to, North Morte Farm, the wind can whip up the valley from Rockham Bay and blast poorly-pitched tents clear down even when it seems quite calm in Woolacombe; it had happened to us once before, at 5am in a thunderstorm. So we were hunkered down tightly beside the hedge, with storm guys attached from the word go, and the wind that got up late that night blasted straight over the top  of us.

Other people weren’t so lucky. The night resounded to yells of, “How dare you subject our children to this?” and, “That’s the last straw! I’m seeing a lawyer as soon as we get home!” There were entire brand-new tents & sleeping bags in the bin area the next morning, and wreckage littered the camping field, which had virtually emptied out, although it hadn’t actually rained very much and the sun was rising on a new, calm & glorious day.

I was reminded of this when we hauled the big tunnel tent out of the garage. It’s past its best now, and we no longer need a tent that big & could do with the storage space back. But it’s still strong & sturdy enough to last at least another season, so I popped it onto our local Recycling group, hoping that it would so someone else a good turn, but being totally honest about the fact it’s far from new & will probably need a little TLC – re-proofing the seams, at least, and stronger pegs than the original ones I’m letting go with it. Needless to say, as it’s just as the kids break up for the summer holidays, I was inundated with replies. Once I’d discarded the “Yes! Me!” and “I’ll take it off your hands!” ones, I was left with a number of, “I’m going to a festival for the first time & need a tent!” and “Me & the Missus fancy taking the kids up to Scotland on Saturday to try out camping…” replies. And one dear lady who said she would love to give it some TLC & a new lease of life with her family; needless to say, that’s who I’ve offered it to.

Camping’s an art form, not just a cheap holiday…. it’s very easy to get it wrong & end up with everyone cross, tired & miserable, and if you’re really unlucky, ill with sunstroke or exposure. It’s something you need to research & prepare for, if you’re not experienced, just like you’d prepare for a holiday in a different country by finding out at least how to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language, taking some relevant currency, checking whether you need visas and so on. Don’t just assume it’s a cheap holiday & anyone can do it…

I grew up with people pitching & striking marquees & other tents in our big vicarage garden, going off to Guide & Ranger Guide camp at regular intervals, then belonging to the local District Service Unit supervising & maintaining Scout & Guide camps, as well as spending a fair amount of time camping & hiking in the wilds of Wales & Scotland. I’m no expert & I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do know that there’s a wonderful balance between having everything you actually need to be safe & comfortable, and the freedom of having very little stuff to look after. How to achieve that requires some thought; what you need as an unattached teenager walking the Pennine Way or a young couple going to their first music festival is completely different to what you need as a family of 7 looking for an inexpensive seaside holiday. A huge, heavy tent that fills a small car boot, that’s too big for most campsite pitches & really needs two or more adults to put up isn’t ideal for a festival; what you need for that are small, lightweight tents that perhaps open into a gazebo if you’re going with friends. That way you have some privacy when you really need to crash, but a covered communal area for socialising and a little light catering. (This also works for a family with older children who need some space of their own.)

And whilst a serious tent of that sort is well-able to stand up to the vagaries of the Scottish weather, it isn’t ideal to take your kids so very far from home to camp for the first time. What if someone’s ill, or suddenly discovers they can’t stand sleeping outside, or using communal loos & showers? What if the weather hasn’t read the forecast & isn’t playing ball? What if you discover that your “3-season” sleeping bags aren’t actually very warm & you don’t have enough extra blankets or clothing? What if your excited kids don’t listen to you telling them not to play out in the rain & get wet, because there’s no tumble dryer in a field? Best for your first few forays to be close to home, so that you can dart home & fetch bits if necessary, or even give up & retreat in disarray in the middle of the night. Better still, try it out in your own garden for a few nights before setting off – that way, it doesn’t feel so strange & unsettling to small children, and it gives you a chance to work out what you really need to take.

I’m not saying don’t go to Scotland – it’s a fabulous, beautiful country with lovely people – just don’t make it your first-ever family camping trip if you live on the South Coast! And I’m not saying, don’t go camping, either; I love camping & think it’s almost a necessary thing to do in summer. The idea of summer gatherings, festivals & camps is as old as history itself & fulfils some kind of nomadic instinct in me, even though I now have to sleep in the car or on a camp bed. I’m just saying, be prepared! Do a bit of homework, thinking & practice, and it will go much more smoothly & be a much nicer experience for all concerned. It shouldn’t be a hair-shirt experience; always take extra blankets, and if you love your morning coffee, do take a cafetiere, but an all-singing, all-dancing espresso machine is probably a bit OTT…

Have to say, in my not-so humble opinion, people who take everything including the kitchen sink are also getting it wrong. They’ll spend all day looking for the things they really need under everything else, or having to clean things they’re not likely to need that have somehow got muddy. (Everything will get muddy, even if it isn’t raining.) Not to mention worrying about the weight on your axles on pot-holed country roads or the amount of fuel you’re getting through. If your tent’s bigger than you need, you risk having to pay extra for a bigger pitch. And if you even take the TV with you – well, what’s the point of going camping? Tablets & mobile phones are a mixed blessing; there’s often little or no mobile signal at the nicest campsites.

A single-parent friend of mine has taken her family camping every summer by bicycle; they load their wombled tents, sleeping bags, kettle & a small suitcase-style gas cooker into a tag-along trailer, take their clothes in backpacks and set off along the country roads; it’s about 10 miles down to the Purbecks, which feel quite different to this part of Dorset, and there’s a cycle-way for most of it. They always have a whale of a time and can’t wait for next year’s expedition when they get back, and the kids are late teens now & still keen not to miss out. So it can be done for very little expenditure, and it can be great fun, with a little thought and initiative applied beforehand. Just don’t rush into it, buy (or otherwise acquire) loads of expensive (and probably unnecessary) gear or go too far from base for your first few expeditions. Learn how to put your tent up properly and where to pitch it. Find out what you do and what you don’t really need to take. Then – have a great holiday!

Things to make sure you take:

  • Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats (airbeds have a habit of going down halfway through the night) or camp beds, and extra blankets – wool ones are best. You’ll need insulation underneath you, as well as on top.
  • Clothing – layers work best! – and footwear – decent flip-flops/sandals & something sturdier for serious walking/colder days. Only take space-hogging wellies if the forecast is truly awful, and make sure people take them off regularly or you’ll all get athlete’s foot. Make sure everyone has at least one really warm jumper, and leggings to wear under pyjamas if it’s cold at night. Warm socks are a blessing on cold nights.
  • Cooking gear – e.g. a suitcase burner & spare cartridges, kettle, mugs (enamel or china – plastic mugs are Not Nice with hot drinks) cutlery, pans (a frying pan plus a small saucepan or wok work for us) plates, bowl, brush & detergent for washing up. A tin-opener & bottle-opener (for the beer, cider & wine) are essential, and a gas fridge (remember the regulator!) or a good coolbox on a shorter trip, will make life a lot more civilised. You can eat out or a take-away every lunchtime and/or evening meal if that makes it more like a “proper” holiday, but it’ll dent your budget mightily. And a few tins & packets, plus oatcakes/biscuits, eggs, fresh fruit & tea-bags to fill gaps, at the very least, even if the campsite has a cafe and a shop. They’re not likely to be as cheap as a supermarket.
  • Torches, lanterns & spare batteries; torches for those midnight trips to the loo and lanterns to light your way around the tent & especially the guy ropes. IKEA’s little solar lanterns or fairy lights work very well, or a tea-light lantern if your kids are old enough to be trusted around a naked flame.
  • First aid kit, sun-cream, paracetamol, sting-ointment, allergy relief & enough of any regular medication needed. Also specs, if needed. Soap/gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste… and towels, plenty of towels…
  • Rain jackets/ponchos. Especially if they’ve just declared a drought….
  • Something to do in quieter moments or on the beach – your knitting, a good book, a small selection of games (a pack of cards is pretty versatile!) for rainy moments, a frisbee etc.
  • A windbreak – useful to mark your space out, give a bit of privacy and to cook behind, and also on the beach… I’ve just made one from old poles & some cheap Ebay’d canvas, and it took about an hour. There was even enough fabric left over for matching bunting!
  • a couple of good insulated flasks, preferably unbreakable; one to keep your hot water in when you’ve boiled the kettle (for more tea, washing, washing-up water) and one for cold water, to keep it cool. Mine were purchased for pennies at that indefatigable local emporium, the Tip.
  • a bucket, with a lid. Works well as a bin, but has another use too in the middle of the night when it’s raining…

You really  don’t need a lot else, whatever the camping shop’s trying to sell you… have a good trip!

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Our current set-up, camping for 6 days, working at a festival

Please – add your tips as comments below! Every little helps someone who hasn’t done this before…

Edited to add an update: in the end, the nice lady had a sudden bereavement & couldn’t follow through to collect the tunnel tent. And no. 2 son suddenly spotted it in the hallway, where it had been waiting for her, and pronounced it perfect for his Tough Mudder team. Luckily one of the other team members had space in his garage for it, and it’s stood up to another British summer of torrential rain, gales & loads of lovely mud!

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…

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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…

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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?

 

Blow me down with a feather…

December 12, 2014

… as they used to say! It’s a looooong story, but for a long time I’ve been saving up for, and agitating for, a stove for the fireplace in the living room. We have lived for long enough with a small 1980s brick-arch fireplace, which wasn’t a terrible eyesore, but really didn’t quite gel with the room. It was a very small opening into quite a large chimney, so created a horrendously cold through-draft, and made a scary loud booming noise whenever the wind outside got up a bit. The energetic draft meant that fires “took” very easily & the flames shot off up the chimney, warming the atmosphere nicely & setting fire to the chimney pot more than once, but doing almost nothing for those of us shivering in the room below. It usually burnt out very quickly, thus necessitating frequent trips to buy wood in winter, even though our garden produces quite a lot.

So a stove seemed like a sensible investment. However it was not a straightforward installation, as the flue bends around a small, now bricked-in, fireplace in the room above, so the liner couldn’t be dropped straight down. And the opening had to be enlarged to something like its original dimensions, or maybe just a bit bigger, as I wanted to be able to pop a kettle and/or casserole dish on the top in case of power cuts, or even just to utilise “free” heat.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, it’s installed now. Mysteriously the room looks a whole lot bigger, and is quite a bit warmer even when it’s not lit, as the vicious draft has just died away now the chimney isn’t “open” all the time. But the first thing that happened was that our ex-feral feline friend took such a shine to the stove that she actually singed her tail, wanting to sit so close to it. A fire-guard or screen was called for…

hotcat

There seems to be some impediment…

 

We had a little folding-screen fireguard for the brick-arch open fire. It wasn’t big enough or stable enough to discourage a heat-seeking feline missile from getting into the new enlarged opening. So I started to research fireguards & fire screens… oh dear! However have I lived this long without a bejewelled fireguard?! You could spend an absolute fortune and some of them are utterly gorgeous. I really, really fell for a candle-holding gothic triptych, which would have done the winter job perfectly well & looked stunning with the candles lit in summer too…sadly, it just wasn’t quite wide enough. And nothing was quite the right height, or the right shape, or the right colour.

So I did what I always do in these tricky situations; I went down to the Tip and peered into the Metal skip. And there, bang on cue, were not one, but two candle screens… A bit of fishing with a long, strong hook and they were straight into my car ready for further duties. One, a brass one, is lovely but far too narrow, but the other, in black curly wire, was just about exactly the right height & width, and still had all its little glass candle holders intact, even after being thrown into the skip! They are both wall-hung panels, rather than fire screens, but it hasn’t been too hard to wire two of the folding panels from the old fireguard onto the sides so that it stand unsupported, fills the opening & is quite stable & pretty sturdy too. The brass one has gone for sale on my stall at Molly’s Den and should more than cover the price I paid for both of them.

Talk about serendipity; there’s something almost cosmic about the timing. I decide I really, really want a candle-screen, and lo & behold! A candle-screen that’s almost perfect for the job turns up, that very day. It’d be rude not to use it, wouldn’t it?

firescreen

Safety in spiral form…

 

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:

Warnes2

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…?