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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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!

For the love of Preloved

Ok so two more months have whizzed past since my “excuse” month of not making a #Wardrobe Challenge garment by going to a pattern fitting workshop…

Well July was a write off from the start, since I was away or busy every weekend and as yet I haven’t got good enough to be able to achieve much in the evenings. However, my weekends did include some vintage shopping. I must have spent an  hour in Beyond Retro in Brighton and came away with a playsuit, a navy and white sailor style dress which I think has to be one of my favourite buys to date, and a couple of scarves.
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I also reworked a charity shop buy (Star by Julien McDonald for Debenhams) which I wore on my trip to Rome – and felt very glamorous too! The rework involved raising the bustline and re-sewing the elastication, and I gathered the sleeves to create a nicer neckline.
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So that was July, I didn’t feel bad for not making anything. August has been a different story. I really haven’t had any excuse for not making something, other than it’s been easy not to. I did put together an outfit for Twinwood festival (next weekend woohoo!), but that was courtesy of the Collectif sale, so doesn’t really count…

Twinwood Look 1
So finally we come to the end of August (nearly) and I had a bit of a Preloved triumph. After the fitting workshop on the advice of some of the others I put up a Preloved wanted ad for a tailor’s dummy – the kind you can alter the measurements of. And just as I was forgetting I’d posted it, I got a reply last week! I went to pick it up this weekend and I’m chuffed – it’s really almost immaculate, as were some of the other items I got at the same time (house clearance) – a pressing ham and roll, pattern drafting/cutting board and fabric! You can see it modelling the sailor dress up above.

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So – next weekend is Twinwood but September will be the month I catch up on sewing – now that I have all the tools I could possibly need to fit and finish properly, there is really no excuse left…

#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

Ok, so over the last few weeks I’ve been mulling over some ideas, and I’ve now decided to set myself a challenge.

1) To make a garment a month from now on, until I run out of ideas/budget/wardrobe space

2) To not buy any new high street clothes unless it’s unavoidable (eg. bridesmaid dress which I don’t have the skills to make)

3) To gradually sell off pieces from my existing wardrobe that I replace or no longer wear

For quite some time now I have struggled to buy high street. Either I don’t like the fit, the style, the quality or the material, or all of the above, and that stays my hand at the till. The only new clothes in my wardrobe have been bought for me (Christmas, birthday) and although I do love and wear them, that doesn’t change my outlook.

Aside from the serious manufacturing practice ethics in play, I am also a great advocate of reuse and recycle. I genuinely love vintage fashion but even if I didn’t, I think I would be an advocate of vintage and second-hand shopping (whether that’s Brick Lane or eBay). We waste far too much as consumers and I very much disagree with “fast fashion”.

So it’s either make or buy second-hand from now on!

All of these ideals and ideas have culminated in my challenge above. I know it’s possible, but it will take determination.

I’m going to be blogging my challenge and posting youtube videos of my makes, but I’ll start out with a couple of intro posts. The next one will be on my new sewing machine, an investment that should enable me to make clothes with more finesse than my clunky Brother machine would have, and the follow-up will be a capsule summary of my current vintage / handmade wardrobe.

Wish me luck!

80s blouse reworked

On a recent trip to Leamington and Blighty Bazaar I bought two vintage tops from the sale rail for just £4 each. I’m still working on one of them, it’s a bit smaller than I thought and I’m still experimenting with ways to adapt it. The other was easier though, a white 80s blouse with pleat neck detail and double-button front.

This was oversized, so the first thing I did was put in double-point waist darts to draw in the shape.

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The second thing was that the neckline was VERY open and not really decent with work…so I’ve stitched that together, in the process giving the pleats a bit more stability.

Finally, I folded the edge of the neckline over and put in a few catch stitches. Originally I think it was meant to be worn with the collar upright and loose at the front, but I wanted more structure than that.

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Styled up for work with my favourite houndstooth skirt and a pair of pointy mint court shoes! 80s updated.

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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!