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!


Twinwood 2016

I felt so much more prepared for Twinwood 2016. My vintage existence has developed a lot in the last year and I felt less of an imposter this year. I still have miles to go in the 1940s style stakes, but at least this year I had two outfits I was really happy and comfortable in and passable hairstyling (ok I cheated somewhat on day 2 with a headscarf to hide my lazy bed hair under!)

We’d also learnt from last year and booked Saturday/Sunday rather than Sunday/Monday, with more going on for the first two days and also we had booked 2 nights in a hotel rather than one, meaning I could have a drink both days and we could take it easy checking out on Monday morning. Twinwood is so well established all the local accommodation gets booked out year on year, but we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express in Bedford as we did last year. It’s only a 20 minute taxi ride from the festival and has all we needed.

The weather this year was better than last but we still got two almost identical downpours, one on each day, and as a result a somewhat damp rest of the afternoon and evening. The range of venues at the site and the fact that many are under cover really means the show goes on – only the main arena is really affected, but a lot of people bring fold up chairs, umbrellas and waterproofs and just hunker down!

Highlights include Benoît Viellefon, the Swing Ninjas, the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and the Down for the Count Swing Orchestra. We definitely danced more this year but still not as much as we could have! Here’s a little video I put together:

The market stalls were more numerous this year and I had a detailed browse over all of them. A lot of the clothing was sadly not my size, or I was not prepared to pay the prices asked given the choice in London and now having more confidence in my own sewing skills. I think this was really demonstrated by a repro piece I found at House of Foxy. Browsing the sale rail I was drawn to a familiar fabric….it’s one that’s been in my stash for around a year and a half, and I’ve earmarked it for another 1940s tea dress like the one I made last month and happened to be wearing at the time. The style and cut of the dress was almost identical. I bought that fabric for £3/m and the ticket price of the dress was £50 on sale….’nuff said.

I did however make a few purchases, just not clothes. The first I have to credit Simon with finding – a 1930s needlework bible, containing chapters on all aspects of home sewing including dressmaking and home repairs, plus a section on how to use your sewing machine which may come in more useful than first thought (more on that later). The book was £5.

I also picked up a selection of vintage buttons for £7, after rummaging through an enormous suitcase full of them. I was immediately drawn to the blue gingham ones and the small fabric covered teal ones scream 1940s like the ones on my tea dress. The mustard yellow ones would look great on a coat.

vintage buttons

Finally my “splurge” purchase, after much deliberation and review of the offerings of several stalls, was a 1950s wicker frame bag. The leather clasp flap needs a little repair but at £45 this seemed to be well priced given the average condition of the bags I looked at. It already got plenty of use on holiday in Cornwall the following week! More about that in another post though.

I really enjoyed watching the Mr & Miss Vintage UK finals this year, which take place in the Colonial Club on Sunday. There are only 5 male finalists compared to 10 female, which I guess speaks to the bias towards female vintage fashion but I don’t think it’s very fair any more – Twinwood is certainly equally well attended by both genders. Anyway it is fair to say I paid a little bit more attention to the ladies many of whom were dressed extremely elegantly in 30s or 40s styles. The eventual winner wasn’t my personal favourite but was certainly a deserving winner.

Will we go again next year? Perhaps, although I feel as though this is a festival that could be best attended every other year. It had certainly grown since last year, as had we, so it was a somewhat different experience, but I could certainly see it becoming less of an excitement if we went year on year. I would definitely recommend it to any lovers of an immersive vintage lifestyle & music experience though!

Birmingham Rag Market – Fabric Haul

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I love a fabric bargain! Sure, I’ll invest when it merits it but I also believe there’s a lot of great fabric out there that doesn’t cost the earth.

However, despite the fact my family hails from Birmingham and I find myself there several times a year, I’d never before made it to the Rag Market. Although the site has a history of markets dating back to the 1800s, the rag or retail market itself is of fairly recent pedigree, and the current market site opened in 2000 as part of the redevelopment of the Bullring shopping sites.

The market today has indoor and outdoor stalls, which span the range from fabric and haberdashery, to clothing, beauty products, household as well as fresh veg and flowers. My focus was clearly on the fabrics and notions. There are several stalls with richly decorative fabrics suitable for saris and the like, along with highly detailed border notions. A few stalls focused mostly on heavier household fabrics for curtains and upholstery. I also found one knitting stall, but I passed over this as the autumn Knitting & Stitching Show is coming up soon.

Most of my browsing was over about three or four large stalls with a wide range of cottons, viscose, jersey and lace. I didn’t have a specific shopping list but I was interested in finding some cotton jersey and stretch lace to make some wardrobe basics such as knickers and vest tops.

Although the range on offer was great, several of the stalls had the same or similar fabrics. The most notable difference between the stalls was in the stall holders. On a number of them I spent more than a few minutes browsing and handling fabric with no interest from the stall holder, if indeed I could even tell if they were around. For this reason, the stall I ended up buying from was definitely a stand out. The two men running it were engaging and busily serving customers, at the same time chatting with those waiting and keeping track of who wanted what.

This was my haul:

Large blue rose printed cotton – £2/m – 3 metres

As soon as I saw this print it reminded me of the sort of print Collectif or Dolly & Dotty use. I have in mind a 50s style fit-and-flare dress for this.

Blue rose print cotton

Grey/Pink busy rose printed cotton – £2/m – 2 metres

Another vintage repro style print, this one says skirt to me more than dress, because the print is quite busy. Or maybe a structured bodice top…not sure yet!

grey rose print cotton

Black & White musical note printed cotton – £2/m – 2 metres

This one is destined to become a tote bag for my flute/music stand/music pack when I go back to orchestra in September.

musical note cottonBlack cotton jersey 60″ wide – £2.50/m – 2 metres

At 60″ wide I’ve got loads of this fabric, I’ll be using it to make a load of French knickers and maybe one or two vest tops.

black cotton jersey

Black stretch lace 60″ wide – £2.50/m – 1 metre

Just 1 metre of this 60″ wide stretch lace as I’ll be using it as decorative trim or panels with the above.

black stretch lace

All in all I’d thoroughly recommend the Rag Market, I’ll certainly make it a regular pilgrimage. Now that I have an idea what there is I might go with more of a shopping list next time – for example I didn’t get any trims or notions, although I did see big reels of cotton for only a few pounds. And if you’re after very decorative trims or fabrics for Asian-style clothing, there’s definitely some bargains there.

The easiest way to get to the market is from the main Bullring plaza, follow the street behind the bull statue (which divides the two halves of the shopping centre, lots of restaurants on it) towards St Martin’s church spire which you’ll see sticking up. Then head down the steps to the right hand side and you’ll see the market straight ahead.

Markets and Treasure

I’ve been lacking in posts again, sorry – I’ve been a busy bee what with the graduation trip to Bristol, work and a visit into London with a friend from Cornwall!

Here’s some treasure to make up for it – while I was in London last weekend we visited two markets. Borough market is a regular stopoff for lovely lovely foods. If I lived nearby I would love to think that I’d shop there regularly for fresh foods including veg, fish and meat, but as it stands my purchases tend to be limited to eat-it-standing yummies or longer-life things such as tapas, preserved meat or bottles & jars. This time round I bought Balsamic glaze, Garlic roasted tomatoes, turkish delight, salted caramels, and chestnut paste.

Borough marketI love the bustle and noise of Borough and of course the produce displays and delicious smells, and the sheer variety of things you can find. They’ve been renovating parts of the market over the last few years and it’s well worth tearing your gaze away from the stalls and looking up at the vaulted ironwork. Every few seconds you can’t fail to notice the trains rumbling overhead either, and now you turn a corner and get a view of the Shard – a stark contrast of modern London against a heritage market.

Next up was Greenwich, somewhere I have been meaning to explore for ages. The rain held off and the sun came out again so it was very pleasant on the waterfront, but we were headed in to the market, which was smaller than I thought. That said, there was a nice variety of craftworks for sale as well as some interesting takeaway food stalls. Round the outside, there are various small boutiques and pop up shops – one of which was 360 degrees Vintage. This is my favourite type of vintage shop, packed full of treasures but also with great styling and inspirations setups. Best of all – a scarf box! I couldn’t resist a rummage but was quite restrained only coming away with one £5 green silk number.

Greenwich Scarf










I also had a bit of a nosy in Lush Designs. I’ve seen their brilliantly printed homewares stocked in other shops, and definitely wanted to look up their own shop in Greenwich. If I didn’t already have more cushions than places to put them, I’d stock up on theirs, but I also love their lampshades. I was really chuffed to find they had a samples/seconds table with some pieces significantly reduced with only minor issues. I picked up a pale mint green, brown and white medium-sized one for my bedroom. I covet the London design for the living room, but at £45 retail price I’ll have to wait for a sale or another chance to peruse the seconds table…

Stars and flowers lampshade

Vintage and upcycling

Oh dear, I have been lacking again. Life is just too busy to blog at the moment! The telling factor is that in the last post I wrote about the monthly Village Market at Beaconsfield, and today I went again. This time though, I came away with a cute liberty button brooch, and a gorgeous Art Nouveau style vintage face powder tin. The lid’s not too stiff and it even still smells of cosmetics inside! I haven’t decided what to keep in it yet. art nouveau tinThis bank holiday weekend I have decided to make no plans other than to finish all my half-done and intended projects! I went to a big car boot at West Wycombe last bank holiday, and picked up some patterned Ikea bedding, which I have started to make a skirt out of using a SisterMag pattern. It’s been in pieces for a fortnight but I’m determined it will become fully formed by Monday evening!

Today though I made a necklace from a watch face I got from the carboot, inspired by Sarah Drew‘s work and one of her pieces I have which has featured on this blog. I also made use of some of her tips from her book ‘Junk Box Jewellery’. All the watch’s side fastenings were still present so it was easy to wrap some wire and connect the chain.

watch necklaceFinally, I was inspired to take the plunge and do something with a pair of tiny amber dice that I have been carrying from house to house with me since 2007. I bought them in the amber markets in the main square in Krakow, Poland, and loved them, even though I had no idea what to do with them. In truth I still had no idea until about 6 months ago when I got my books on upcycling vintage treasures. These were a bit trickier as I had to bend a fiddly wire cage around the dice, but then threading and twisting the hooks on was straightforward.

earringsSo there we are, that’s my start to the bank holiday weekend! What will you do?


Spring Colours

The weather has been so lovely and sunny the last week, life is feeling quite colourful. My wardrobe has broken out in bright colours and pastels – in the photo I’m sporting a peach cardi (New Look, £7.99) and statement pink triangle ring (also New Look), and Kiko Mint Milk nail polish.

spring colours 1

My new flat has a large open plan kitchen/living area with a south-facing picture window, so it’s really bright. It’s decorated neutrally with a cream-and-brown kitchen and wood laminate floor, so I went with neutral pieces of furniture and bright pops of colour. The colour highlight in the kitchen is the bright apple/lime green that’s popular at the moment, which goes really well with the brown and cream.

kitchen green

In the living room, I’ve got a big rug with a multicolour paisley graphic (Skarum, Ikea), a neutral grey fabric sofa (Karlstad, Ikea with Isunda grey cover) and bright cushions – Skarum (Ikea again!), Ballerina Wave and a Cupcakes pattern, both Dunelm.

multicolour living

It might seem like I’ve pretty much got a finished space, but there’s lots of homely touches still to add, and for that I’m determined to stay away from Ikea, Dunelm who have already contributed sufficiently (sometimes you just can’t get away from the convenience+style+price aspect) – and instead trawl vintage markets and car boots for those must-have finds.

There are several big weekly car boots in the area so I’ll have plenty of hunting grounds, but today I made a start at The Village Market, Beaconsfield – a vintage and craft market that runs at the end of every month alongside the established Farmer’s Market (which sadly I did not see today due to a sudden thunderstorm). The Village Market, however, was a lovely experience, full of proper vintage stalls – not the “created vintage” that you get so often instead. I was tempted by a few battered tins, an art deco compact and a Homemaker plate, but decided to stay my hand as none of them really screamed out must-have. After all, there’s plenty of time to hunt down those treasures!

Scarves galore!

Ok, so I might have developed a bit of a scarf habit…

If you skip back through some of my outfit photos, you may notice that I often wear scarves – not the big woolly cable knit sort but the silks and cottons that come in brilliant patterns and prints. Sometimes I wear them for warmth, sometimes to complement an outfit and sometimes as an integral part of the outfit itself – knotted or held with a scarf ring as a statement piece.

I’ve just been away to visit friends and family in Warwickshire and Chester and picked up a few scarves along the way. The first, a small pink & white polka dot number, was £5 from a pop up vintage fair by Blighty Boutique. So far so good – £5 is a fair price I happily pay for a scarf like this. However, the second batch were proper bargains, from Lily Vintage in Chester – another popup in an old butchers shop. Straightaway I was drawn to the suitcase full of scarves labelled ‘£3 each or 2 for £5’ and which was bursting with colour and pattern. I came away with four – a large turquoise gondola-print, a small yellow-and-gray spotted square, a soft purple roses-and-hearts scruncher and a large pastel coloured Japanese-style floral print – for a tenner!! Unbelievable.

I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more scarf rings, or just big chunky rings that I can use for scarves – it’s something I’ve not long picked up on but they’re genius.

Clockwise from top left: Venetian gondola print; Japanese-style floral print; yellow & grey spots; purple hearts & roses; pink & white polka dots.
Clockwise from top left: Venetian gondola print; Japanese-style floral print; yellow & grey spots; purple hearts & roses; pink & white polka dots.