Saturday, 29 December 2012

Make Do And Mend

 In recent years, the slogan "Make Do And Mend" which epitomised the Second World War has been embraced once again, with it appearing on all sorts of merchandise from mugs to cushions.   Even my sewing needle tin sports a picture of the war time poster campaign.  With the increase in crafting, it seems that many of us have followed that advice too, whether it is due to the current recession or we are all more environmentally aware.

I recently read "Nella Last's War" the war time diary of a housewife who lived in Barrow-in-Furness, in the North of England. When war broke out, she was 49, married with two grown up sons, looked after her husband, home and enjoyed sewing and knitting as hobbies. The war and all of its shortages really brought Nella into her own though.

Throughout her diary, as well as day to day accounts of bombings, food rationing and trying to keep domestic life running, Nella gives a constant dialogue of her craft activities from knitting socks for sailors to making dolls for the children's ward at the local hospital. It would seem that if it could be knitted or sewn, the Nella could make it.

One account tells of unpicking a donated mattress, washing the cover together with a dozen sugar sacks and making four single mattresses from them. Realising that she didn't have enough stuffing for four, she sorted out scraps from her rags bag and cut them into small pieces. She added cut up silk stockings and mixed all the bits together with the stuffing she had until four mattresses were finished and delivered to the Sailors' Home.

Reading Nella's diary highlighted an area of rationing in Britain during the Second World War that I was completely unaware of.  Most people know about the food shortages, with many still remembering them as they continued post war.  However, with metal needed for weapons and textiles needed for uniforms, wool, fabric and evening sewing needles became hard to buy.  As well as ready made clothing being rationed, the clothes themselves became simpler with pockets and pleats limited.  The number of buttons allowed on garments was also restricted.  Nella Last mentions in her diary the difficulties in buying sewing needles as they were no longer being manufactured.

The slogan "Make Do and Mend" was born out of necessity rather than today's austerity.  People had to repair and reuse their existing clothing as new clothes simply weren't available.  Whilst today there is an abundance of ever cheaper clothing available, embracing the past is certainly becoming ever more popular.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

In Favour of Lavender

For the past few months, the majority of my sales seem to have been lavender bags.  I don't just mean one or two at a time, it has been 20, 30, 40 and even 140 at a time!  The lace ones are definitely the in favour at the moment.

I never quite understand what makes an item sell or not as the case may be.  I wish I could predict the market a bit better, I would make a fortune.  Interestingly though, when my lavender bags were listed as a single item, they didn't sell very well.  As soon as I listed two lavender bags at double the price, they started to sell really well.  Same item, same unit price, so what's the difference?

With discounts offered for bulk orders, the demand for my lace lavender bags as wedding favours has grown this year.  My first wedding order years ago was for a bridal shower though.  I recently made a batch as gifts for a tea party and in the last few months, I have had three large orders for lace lavender bags to be used as favours at Christenings.

Lace has certainly been fashionable this year, particularly after the lace covered wedding dress worn by Kate as she became the latest Royal bride.  It will be interesting to see if lace goes out of favour again soon.

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Friday, 24 August 2012

Hannah's Owls

A friend of mine Hannah has started to sew and craft a few items which she is hoping to sell online and at fairs. Like me, she has been crafting her whole life and has an enviable fabric mountain, including lots of vintage prints which she acquired from her mother years ago.

One item I really like, as they are so retro, is her fabric owls, sewn from some of her vintage floral prints. They are slightly weighted in the base to make them stand. What Hannah really needs is some feedback, so leave some comments. What do you think of the fabrics? Design? What price would you pay? You get the idea.

Thanks folks!

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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

News From The Sewing Room

For the last couple of months, I have been really busy in my sewing room, replacing sold items and running up custom orders, as well as finally finding time to stitch some of the ideas in my head. Having got lots of ideas out of my head though, lots more have flooded in to take their place and my "to sew" list is now even longer!

I have been on a couple of fabric buying sprees too. Going to fabric shops is always a risky business with me. I go in with my shopping list of sewing machine needles, different colour threads and interfacing and can't help browsing the rolls of fabric. I end up muttering aloud over the rolls, checking the fabric for weight and feel, assessing the pattern and thinking what I can make from it. I really don't stand a chance, I can't help but buy a new fabric or five.

Six new handbags have been added to my online stores. I like them all (I only make stuff I like!) but a few I really, really like. I am keeping them out of my sight to save the temptation of keeping them.

As well as the new handbags, there are some new home ware items too, including a new peg bag fabric and five new door stop fabrics. Door stops are also now available in the pyramid style or a more upright style with a top handle. Hopefully the new style will prove to be just as popular as the pyramid ones.

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Monday, 7 May 2012

New Lease of Life for Machines

Like a lot of people, I learnt to sew on an old Singer sewing machine.  The first one I used was a treadle machine that my mother was given for her 21st birthday.   It was beautifully decorated with painted flowers across the machine and I used to have a lot of fun seeing how fast I could make the machine go whilst frantically rocking the large foot plate backwards and forwards.

Even at school all of my sewing classes were on old Singer sewing machines.  The majority were electric versions but I think there were still a few that had the handle on the side for manually turning the wheel.  After school I bought a second hand electric Singer which looked almost modern in shape but only sewed in a straight line or zigzag.  It didn't even reverse!  A few years ago I invested in a computerised Brother machine which offers 39 stitches, most of which I never actually use.

The majority of old Singer machines have long since been abandoned and nobody seems to want them or know what to do with them, which is a bit sad really.  I still think they are far more attractive to look at than modern machines but I guess most of us don't even want one for decorative purposes around the house.  You see them for sale quite often for literally only a few pounds.

On a trip to Las Vegas last month, I was quite surprised to find hundreds of old sewing machines being used in the ultra modern Crystals, City Centre.  One of the resident stores is the clothing shop All Saints.  Their plate glass window  was filled with row upon row of old sewing machines.  It was utterly fabulous, very eye-catching.  Lots of people were taking photos, so it obviously struck a chord with them too.  For me, it was a fantastic use of unwanted sewing machines as well as a nod back to the rag trade of the past from a very modern present.

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Saturday, 31 March 2012

News From The Sale Room

Whether its an auction, a charity shop, a car boot or jumble sale, I can't resist a poke about for anything that takes my interest. Needless to say, I am always hopeful I might find some long lost treasure that no one else has noticed but for me treasure comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With a few auction houses locally, most weeks I am either viewing, bidding or collecting something or other.

This week I have had mixed fortunes in the sale rooms. I left a number of bids at one general sale, mainly on textiles and managed to have the highest bid on one box of textiles. I was quite pleased as it included an old patchwork quilt which I thought would be good for cutting up and using for some bags. When I went to collect the lot, the auction house were slightly embarrassed to admit that the lot had gone missing. Someone had obviously taken it with lots they had purchased and who knew who that had been. Very annoying to say the least!

Thankfully at a local fine art and antiques auction, I viewed and left 8 bids and managed to win 3 of them. And what an eclectic mix of items I have ended up with! The first lot was an Art Nouveau beaded handbag with a faux tortoiseshell Bakelite frame. The frame is marked made in France and the bag probably dates from around 1900-1910. It is in remarkable good condition for its age with only a small amount of bead loss for the fringe. The other item with it is also beaded and was described as an offertory pouch, presumably from a church.

The next lot I liked because it also included a vintage petit point handbag as well as a small petit point coin purse with an expanding metal top. The lot also included a petit point card case, petit point powder compact, a powder compact in a leather case and about 10 pairs of vintage gloves, mainly leather. Slightly more oddly, the lot also came with various old envelopes containing foreign stamps. Not quite sure how stamps fit in with handbags, gloves and powder compacts but that's auctions for you.

The third lot I was actually after a large box of vintage buttons. I have an absolute weakness for an old button tin. The sound the buttons make as you run your hands through them reminds me of the sea rushing over pebbles on a beach. Fabulous! I can spend hours sorting through a button tin I have just purchased finding all the ones I like and cleaning them up for use on sewing projects such as my peg bags.

As well as the hundreds of buttons in a box, the lot also came with some old jigsaw puzzles, dominoes, chess pieces, a building block set, some of which was in an old chocolate box and the most random item of all. The final item was described in the catalogue as an old electrical item. A bit of googling revealed that it is a Victorian electric shock treatment machine! Just the sort of thing you would expect to find with lots of old toys really. And that is precisely why I love auctions, until you walk through the door of the sale room, you never know what you are going to find. No two auctions are ever the same, something will always catch your eye and surprise you. Who can resist taking a look?

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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Magazine Bliss

A couple of years ago if you perused the shelves for craft magazines, all you could find were magazines on knitting, crochet, cross stitch, card making or beading. They all seemed to stick rigidly to their particular corner of the craft market and every other area was ignored. It was to be honest quite frustrating.

I was quite surprised recently to find a whole of craft magazines brimming from the shelves in the newsagent. Before you could blink, I have bought three I had never heard of before.

The first, Craftseller was only on issue 7, so is obviously a relative newcomer. The tag line is "Make and sell your handmade crafts". Perfect for the likes of me then. As well as being packet with four pages of readers letters it has sewing, knitting, chocolate making, crochet, cross stitch, beading and much more. There really is just about something for everyone in it for the beginner to the more experienced crafter. It is also a good source of information for suppliers.

Mollie Makes was also only on issue 10, so must be another recent comer to the magazine market. The overall vibe of this one is definitely more vintage, shabby chic. The matt cover rather than glossy and softly coloured photos inside give it a more upmarket feel and vintage feel.

The final choice was Making - beautiful crafts for you home. The cover offered 25 original projects for stylish living and included paper roses, a crochet throw, classic bean bag, pillow mat for sleepovers and doll's house bookcase. What more could you honestly ask for in a magazine? The whole of the content is well laid out and easy to follow with good illustrations.

Needless to say, since buying them all I really haven't had much time to read them but they are magazines you can just dip in and out of. They are all definitely worth keeping for future reference. I will also buy them all again in the future, though probably not at the same time. At about £5 each, to buy all three every month would soon stack up. I guess you have to skim them and make a choice every month. I'm not sure I could choose between them though as they all have so much to offer. Maybe I will have to take out some subscriptions offers instead.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A Gift From A Gift

My 11 year old niece was given a sewing kit for Christmas, consisting of threads, precut fabric squares, buttons, needles and other bits and bobs. Apparently she was absolutely thrilled with it all and quite excited about sewing some bits together.

When I saw her at New Year, she very proudly gave me two squares sewn together with a button in the middle. The items had come from her kit and she told me that it was the first piece of sewing by hand she had ever done. I was quite touched that she wanted to give it to me - well, I hope she meant me to keep it, as I didn't give it back! The sewing now sits in my study on a shelf with photos of her and her siblings.

I was slightly surprised that she had not been taught to sew before. I remember learning decorative stitches at school when I was about six and sewed a cushion, soft toys and a sun dress by hand at school when I was nine and ten. I guess it is a sign of the times, school curriculums have changed and old fashioned home making skills have taken a back seat.

I hope my niece continues to sew, being able to sew to such a useful life skill. I heard at the weekend that she hasn't done any more since but hopefully, with some encouragement she will soon.

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