Vintage books & bags

Between Twinwood and my holiday to Cornwall I managed to pick up a few lovely vintage items recently.

The first was a wicker frame handbag from one of the stalls at Twinwood. There were several wicker bags on offer across a range of stalls, and they were all advertised as 1950s/1960s. I deliberated over several but settled on this one as being one of the best condition and also a good size & nice colour. The wicker has a good tone and the brown leather looks quite smart even though it’s a casual bag. It’ll go with a lot of different outfits.

1950s wicker bag

The bag stands on four stud feet and is constructed of a wicker box hinged at the base, with a fabric bag lining the interior. The bag closes with a leather flap & twist clasp. The flap needed some minor repair to glue the layers back together but otherwise the bag is in pretty good shape.

made in hong kong label

There is a label stitched inside which is partially cut off reads “Made in Hong Kong”. Now “made in China” doesn’t have a great reputation generally so this made me skeptical, but a similar label appeared in nearly all the bags on sale so I decided not to dwell on it. I’ve tried to do a bit of research since and it seems there was certainly a strong export trade of clothing and accessories including wicker bags from Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, but that most of the cited labels have “British Colony” or similar on them, not just Hong Kong, which makes me thing this bag could actually be later eg. 1970s. Never mind, it’s still a good buy and I’m pleased with it! I finally have a vintage bag for my vintage outfits!

The second purchase and the first of two books was also from Twinwood; “The Big Book of Needlecraft” published in 1935.

big book of needlecraft

It’s a compendium for home sewing, with sections on all types of handcraft (embroidery, appliqué, cross-stitch, crochet, weaving, knitting), making clothes from lingerie to children & adult’s clothing to glove-making, household sewing such as upholstery, curtains and rugs, to toys and decorations. It had some great chapter headings such as “New Collars for Old Dresses”, “Needlework in the Kitchen” and “The Laundering of Artificial Silk”.

It has a section on “How to Use Your Sewing Machine” which might have been just an historical interest but for another recent purchase…more about that in another post (and there’s a clue in the picture above)! It has some great passages in it such as:

It is taken for granted today that every household possesses a Sewing Machine of some sort, and whatever may be urged in criticism of modern woman and her lack of domesticity (which is probably exaggerated), her interest in Needlecraft and love of making and wearing pretty things remains constant.

And when talking of choice of machine, the book devotes a good two pages to hand vs. treadle, electric models and wariness of second-hand or cheap knockoffs, but of brands it mentions only this:

We have said nothing yet as to the make of Sewing Machine to choose, but assuming that our readers have a preference for the “home-grown” article, the choice is so limited that it is difficult to go far wrong.

And of course in defence of the machine:

UNCONSIDERED TRIFLES. The domestic Sewing Machine is a very long-suffering friend and will often continue to give passably good results under most trying circumstances and even abuse at the hands of those who should know better.

This chapter also goes into just as much detail as a modern-day manual over needle weights, machine maintenance, bobbin winding, threading, tension, stitch lengths and problem solving, all accompanied by detailed and annotated diagrams.

Although it’s a reference book I can see myself reading this cover to cover!

The third and final treasure is another book, this time from Bookmark, a long-established second-hand shop in Falmouth. It’s “Modern Homes and Homemaking Illustrated” published in 1958. The illustrations are really what makes this book, it’s a fantastic and in some cases full-colour window of 1950s home decor.

1950s homes and homemaking

Chapters include “Furnishings – Present Day Trends”, “The Family Wash”, “Living Together”, “To be a Hostess” and “Getting to Know your Oven”.

Aside from the illustrations, this also has some fantastic (or horrific, depending on your sense of humour) passages that very much speak to the era. The chapter on washing machines mentions:

It is advisable to see several different models demonstrated. This can be done at large stores, and at times it is possible to arrange for a demonstration of the smaller models at home.

A home washing machine demonstration?? Whatever next. Or there is the question of domestic pets, possibly a little less amusing from a modern viewpoint:

Monkeys are extremely amusing but mischievous, tearing curtains and linen. Marmoset monkeys look like little old men and are very responsive to atmosphere. They are inclined to pine and die unless completely happy.

Or of course, relationship matters and keeping up appearances…

Quite apart from the husband being immersed in business once he is well on his way to the top, or having arrived there, there is the question of whether his wife has “kept up” with his progress. Somehow, especially if a man is wealthy, people accept a “rough diamond”, but they are apt to notice if his wife does not live up to his position in the world.

Or, in the decade when “teenagers” first became a thing, a very philosophical statement:

Teenagers these days sometimes talk of the kind of world their parents have made for them. Actually, all children should be brought up to the realization that they have to take their part in  making the world a better place to live in – it doesn’t just happen. It is a very empty life that has the pursuit – or expectation – of happiness as its only aim, and it is in his childhood that a malleable mind can be turned towards expecting something of himself, rather than of other people.

And on introductions:

Here are a few rules to memorize – Introduce the man to the woman. Introduce a younger person to an older one of the same sex or a woman to a man, if he is someone very distinguished. If you are not sure whether they are important, and both people (of the same sex) are about the same social level, it doesn’t matter who you introduce to whom.

Of course, it doesn’t matter….! Clearly social class mattered a great deal.

I could go on and on but I’m sure I will share a few more of these snippets on here and Instagram as I read through the books!

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My Sewing Roots

I like to think I have a scientific mind but I also know I believe there is a little bit of magic in the world. Likewise, I do believe that certain traits, passions or tendencies can run in families even though these have nothing to do with genetics. My nan got me into crafting from an early age; I remember having a piece of french knitting going on forever (although we called it corking), and I quickly got into counted cross stitch patterns and tapestry, not least because nan always had and still has a tapestry project on the go.

But in fact it’s my grandad’s mum; my great grandmother Florence Wilkins (née Norton) who was the great dressmaker of the family. This is her, with my great grandfather William Henry – judging from the clothes they are at a wedding, it may well have been my grandparents’. They married on leap day in February so that would fit with the fur collared coat!

great grandparents

I love this photo, for a few reasons. I like that the couple are not both looking at the camera; Florence’s attention is slightly to the right of the person taking the photo. William’s expression is fascinating, managing to look serious and yet with a quirk of a smile. But mostly I love how smartly dressed Florence is, with the perfectly fitted fur-collar coat, gloves and handbag just-so on her arm.

Sadly I never knew her, but both nan and mum have painted a picture with their anecdotes. She was a prolific seamstress, making every kind of garment for every member of the family, from pyjamas to wedding dresses. If you showed her a picture in a magazine she could make up an almost identical garment in a few days. Often she would just make things for people as well, and had a great eye for their preferred styles and what would suit them. The room she used for sewing was always draped all around the walls with fabric, work-in-progress and finished pieces. And she frequented the rag market and the other fabric institutions of Birmingham. Nan says she never said “fabric” though, she’d always say “I found a lovely bit of stuff for you today at the market” and before you knew it that had become a skirt or a blouse. Mum remembers her making a bright purple velvet party dress when she was a little girl, and knowing that no one else would be wearing a dress quite like hers!

It was also her profession, but I have no idea how she had time for paying customers amongst all the family sewing she seems to have been doing!

I think my grandparents are secretly a bit moved that I have got into dressmaking, pretty much independently of finding out all of the above. I guess a little bit of Florence lives on in me, although I am 100% sure I will never achieve the level of skill that she had. Truth be told, I am a little bit moved by it too, and I regret that I never had chance to know her and learn from her.

#TheWardrobeChallenge – Current wardrobe

So I am feeling pretty shocked right now. I just did a critical analysis on my wardrobe and took out everything that wasn’t handmade, secondhand, vintage or by an independent label. This is what I was left with:

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I honestly thought I had more secondhand than that!  Here’s the lineup from L2R:
2 x GBSB basic tunics – handmade
Pair trousers – handmade
60s inspired dress – handmade
Silver beaded dress – 2nd hand upcycled
Turquoise dress beaded neck – 2nd hand upcycled
Gold beaded bolero – upcycled
Fox print skirt – by GetCutie
40s green dress – Collectif
Rocha green top – 2nd hand
Brown trousers – 2nd hand
Purple dress – 2nd hand
White blouse – vintage, reworked

So needless to say I haven’t culled the rest of my wardrobe quite yet, else I’d look ridiculous. It does show me quite how far I need to go though.

And while I didn’t cull it all, I did ditch quite a bit for the next ebay round!

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#TheWardrobeChallenge – New sewing machine

Ok so in #TheWardrobeChallenge Introduction – Part II, we have my new sewing machine investment.

For the last few years I’ve had a Brother machine which I bought second hand on ebay for about £40. It’s done what I needed it to do, which was to get me introduced to sewing and has been fine for the basic things I’ve made so far.

But, for more technical sewing or for sewing with better fabrics, and especially for making clothes, this really wasn’t going to cut it in the long run.

I’ll admit, until I did the Refining Dressmaking Techniques workshop by Celia Banks at the Knitting and Stitching show earlier in March, I had no notion of needing a new machine. But during the workshop we used the Janome CXL301 and I was blown away. It had adjustable speed, tons of stitches, a needle up/down button, a lock stitch feature…and beyond this is was quieter, smoother….just fantastic. As I explained to mum (who drives both), a bit like driving an Audi as opposed to a Skoda.

So then it was just fate that I got a newsletter offer for a very similar model, Janome 8050XL, delivered with 2 years warranty and accessories, with £100 off the marked price. It took me all of 24 hours to make my mind up! I think the CXL301 must be the model replacing this one, as many of the features are the same, including all those listed above.
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It is just so much better – a proper free arm for sleeves and fiddly sewing, horizontal spool so you don’t get crazy spin going on, a clear bobbin case and much easier bobbin replacement than my old machine, loads of stitch features including decorative patterns, buttonholes, and straight stitches with automatic locking at start and end…the list goes on.
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I am yet to take the plunge with my first big project on it but to try and get used to it and break my old machine habits (such as reaching for a reverse stitch lever that isn’t there instead of pressing the reverse or lock stitch buttons) I sewed up some pattern weights from a copy of Love Sewing magazine.

My Little Box – Review

I’ve previously posted about Glossybox, a monthly beauty sample box, which I have generally found to be good value and has introduced me to some new products. But, at the end of the day I’m not that much of a beauty product fanatic and I just don’t get through (or use) everything I was being sent via Glossybox.

So, I was pretty excited to hear about a new monthly box concept, My Little Box. Like many cool et chic things, it’s a French import – and in fact when I got my first box I was chuffed to see it was dispatched from the town where I did my year abroad !

Each box has a theme or is guest edited, and contains more of a variety of goodies than the purely beauty based Glossybox.

Box 1 – Diane von Furstenburg

Well, what a first box! Guest edited by designer heavyweight Diane von Furstenburg, the mini-zine was full of features surrounding the brand and the woman, and I was actually quite impressed with the amount of content in such a tiny zine.

The contents of the box didn’t disappoint either – the star of the show for me was a full sized DvF print scarf, but also included were a DvF lips logo brooch, Kerastase Laque Noire hairspray (well used with my new style, more on that soon…), My Little Beauty Eau Micellaire, Occitane hand cream miniature, inspirational postcard – all contained in a useful cloth bag.

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Box 2 – My Little COSY Box

I guess this second box is the usual type – rather than guest edited it’s based on a theme. Lots of cute things here – a ceramic espresso mug, cloth heat pouch, and once again a few beauty essentials – My Little Beauty Mascara ‘Soin et Volume’, Arcancil waterproof eyeliner, Yves Rocher eyeshadow, and another postcard in another little cloth bag.

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At £13.95 per month delivered, these boxes are equivalent cost to Glossybox but I much prefer the concept and feel like the contents are much more interesting and value for money!

Brighton Lovelies

My friend Sophie (of discoveryfoyer) and I had a lovely long weekend in Brighton for the bank holiday. She’d been before so got to show me the sights, and we seemed to spend the weekend mooching from lanes to cafe to lanes to cafe… Not half bad!

On the Friday night we went to a ‘retro jazz electroswing speakeasy’ club night hosted by White Mink at The Old Market (TOM for short). Basically, think 1920s dress code, a mix of live performance and DJ, jazz/swing with a twist. A thoroughly enjoyable night I would highly recommend – they currently have no future dates posted but I suggest joining the mailing list and keeping an eye out.

Apart from that, we took it easy for the rest of the weekend and enjoyed some lovely food from classic cuisine at Hotel du Vin (although I did not get what I was expecting, it was very nice), vintage brunch at Blackbird tearooms, proper British fish n chips from The Daily Catch on St James’ Street, and impressive tapas at Bellota.

As for shopping, we dropped in at Collectif‘s opening bash of their new store on Bond street after I picked up a mailing list invite. Sadly I didn’t find any gems in my size but Sophie nabbed some shirts and a dress for her summer workwear.

However, I absolutely fell in love with the fabrics at Get Cutie and came out with the Bow skirt in Fantastic Mr Fox. I love their online shop – you pick the pattern, the fabric and the size and they make it! I also picked up a cute and versatile clutch purse from Ollie & Nic:

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A World Map glasses case for my new glasses (more on that later) – I think it was from Berts Homestore:

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A get-lost-in-it canvas block triptych from Zoing Image:

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And a Fragonard ‘Pois de Senteur’ perfume from Cologne & Cotton:

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Everything except the print was on sale as well!

 

Home Barn – A Vintage Wonderland

So, today I decided to have a bit of a vintage indulgence, and I found out about a place less than 15 mins away in Little Marlow called Home Barn. The website bills the place as having “an inspiring collection of unique vintage furniture and accessories with an eclectic mix of industrial, reclaimed, antique and modern treasures for your home and garden.”

Home Barn

Well, that’s certainly true! From the vintage tin Coca-Cola cafe table outside, to the collection of jars and bottles, long-lived wooden furniture including old school desks and chunky kitchen benches, a full printing press, artwork, metal letters, a few pieces of taxidermy, industrial cabinets….even a full chandelier hanging from the barn rafters. I’ll let the photos do the talking…

I was quite tempted with some chairs, as one of the things my flat is still lacking are a dining table and chairs. I don’t want to spend a fortune as most of the time it wouldn’t be used, and I also want something as neat as possible with chairs that can be stacked when I don’t need them. There were a couple of options at Home Barn today but in the end I decided it needn’t be rushed and it’s the kind of thing I’m likely to find on Freecycle or similar.

However, I couldn’t leave without satisfying my penchant for bottles and jars, and came away with 6 test tubes (£1.50 each) and a ground-glass stoppered bottle – photographed here with the colourful background of my rug, they form the basis of a modern upcycled spice rack idea I have. They also threw in the two small keys from a giant bowl for free (destined for jewellery!), and to top it off customers can pick up a free MollieMakes issue on the way out – I got Issue 13 from back in April which came with free rose buttons.

I highly recommend a visit to Home Barn if you’re in the area – if you’re even vaguely interested in vintage, upcycled or recycled home style, you can’t fail to be inspired with a visit there.