Friday, 30 October 2009
I once read a book all about job opportunities for women in the 1930's and 40's. At that time of course, millinery was a great profession for a woman to get into, and could lead to secure work both at home and even abroad if the young lady concerned was ambitious enough. In this manual it said that a milliner would never have to worry if she couldn't pay her rent, as she could always make a hat for her landlady instead. I've often wanted to try out the theory, so whilst in Edinburgh I asked if I could pay for my B+B with a hat. The owner of the Claremont Hotel agreed! The hat is for his wife - and apparantly she was delighted!
Monday, 26 October 2009
Saturday, 24 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
I received a surprise call to speak to a newly formed WI in Sheffield about my Make Your Way Around Britain trip last week - and with no chance to prepare, I found myself about to address seventy women in a church hall in the city centre - help! This wasn't your stereotypical jam and jerusalem WI though - oh no...! The average age of the Seven Hills Women’s Institute is late twenties. When I asked what had drawn them to the WI, many said they were missing a sense of community, and wanted a place where women of different walks of life could get together and learn new skills. For new skills read traditional crafts - but definitely with a twist. Lindsay Garfitt, one of the women behind the new group, said that she’d been inspired by the creation of the Shoreditch Sisters in London, one of a growing number of “trendy” WI’s that are attracting a younger generation. Back in Sheffield, Lindsay and a couple of friends set about contacting the local press, and put out a message on the not-so traditional Facebook . The response was immediate and slightly overwhelming. Eighty-six new WI’s have been set up in the last year alone – many in urban areas. This is incredible for an organisation that’s seen its membership more than halve since the 1970’s to just over two hundred thousand. So what’s going on?
Monday, 19 October 2009
Imagine going back in time and waking up in the 1940's - the era when Make Do And Mend really became a reality for the population. Well that's exactly what happened to me this weekend when I spent the day at the North Yorks Moors steam valley railway in Pickering. Re-enactment groups descend each year on this little town and work their magic. I could have sworn I'd time-travelled. Of course, being a fan of forties fashion, this foray into the past suited me down to the ground. The hats and costumes were wonderful. You can't help reflecting though on the slight strangeness of it all - why this fascination with the past? The nostalgia industry is a big one - and it seems its growing. Are we looking at it all through rose coloured spectacles? Are the teenagers buying Make Do And Mend books in Topshop missing the point?
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Amy from Derby contacted BBC Newsnight after seeing my film to ask if I could come and help her make some curtains for her spare room in exchange for a contribution to petrol money. Her Mum had an old pair which we set to work converting. It's a while since I made curtains - I remember helping a former boyfriend make a pair about ten years ago - but we cut them up with cheerful confidence. The only confusing moment came when we realised the original curtains were different lengths - I'm sure it was a test! However, we soon overcame that minor hiccup to produce these. Not bad at all for 2 hours! We didn't even have to sew, as Amy had some very handy iron-on tape for doing hems. You see - there really is NO excuse! Amy has recently joined a sewing group in Nottingham with some of her friends. Incredibly, the number of people signing up has quadrupled in a year to more than 450 people - 150 of them are taking basic sewing. That's quite a statistic. Amy was so welcoming. She even bought a hat - which more than paid for travel onto my next stop - Sheffield - and the stilt walker!
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
A busy day today. It took me forever to get outside as I tried to keep on top of the deluge of e-mail! When I finally managed to slam the front door behind me, I caught the bus down to The Affordable Vintage Fair being held in the student union at Nottingham Trent University. I’d happened upon it the day before after picking up an eye-catching flyer in a boutique.
Judy Berger, a former stylist, started these fairs in 2005. She has a passion for bringing affordable retro fashion to a wider audience – and true to her word – the majority of garments being sold were much cheaper than the usual offering. There were lots of £1 and £5 bargain rails full of decent and wearable clobber designed to appeal to the student market. However, there were a few gems too at decent prices, as well as a good selection of vintage textiles, jewellery and other bits and pieces. It being Freshers' Week , the place was pretty busy with all those new recruits scouring the rails for stuff to give them the style edge.
Of the vendors, one in particular sparked my interest. Rachel and Jenna, both Nottingham Trent graduates themselves, set up their company three years ago. They called it “Kathleen and Lily” after their Grandmas who taught them how to sew. Rachel in particular inherited lots of hand-me-downs from her Granny, but didn’t want to wear them in the same way, and that’s how she dreamed up a business doing customised vintage. As well as running a little shop in the city, the girls go to vintage fairs up and down the country offering to alter purchases on the spot.
Do they think the current craze for Make Do And Mend is just a fashion?
“Three years ago it was really hard to market what we did and to get people to understand it.” says Rachel. “However, since the credit crunch, we’ve been really busy, and more people than ever want their clothes mended. Everyone wants to look unique, so customised clothing is becoming really popular. Our shopping bags, made from recycled fabric are selling well - people are thinking more about the environment.”
Interestingly, many of the students I talked to hadn’t heard of Make Do And Mend per se…but when I asked them whether they’d make, mend or customise their clothing, most of them said that they would. Interestingly, few would consider just chucking something out. A new type of Make Do And Mend is emerging it seems - which embraces customisation. True, it’s not the hard-core stuff of the 1940’s – you get the feeling that the toughest jobs won’t get done. But there is a sense of responsibility, a growing unease about materialism that’s driving these youngsters, as well as a desire to look different. Yes it’s something of a trend, but it also feels like values have shifted. We shall see!
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Nottingham's my home town so it's great to be back here. Born in Peel Street hospital in 1967, I lived in the city until I was 10, and remember being heart-broken at having to leave. My father was a Nottingham man, and some of my family worked in the lace industry. As a child, the dressing-up basket would be full of lace samples. Nottingham was of course the UK's lace-making capital. Now there's little to suggest this filigree past. I was surprised to find that the lace museum has closed down, and even the tourist office makes little reference to Nottingham's textile history. There are a few doilies for sale but no book on the subject. The former lace market has recently been tarted up to provide specialist shops, restaurants and appartments. Back in the 18th century, this area was at the forefront of design and manufacture. You'd have found more than 130 lace-making factories working out of the magnificent buildings. Nottingham is of course also famous for Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood - who the legend goes, robbed the rich to give to the poor. I think he'd have been a fan of Make Do And Mend - and he even wears a hat! My sort of man! It seems he's a recent convert to a certain BBC2 news programme as well......
Monday, 12 October 2009
Can you imagine driving through Sherwood forest and the beautiful Clumber estate to get to work? That's what Louise Presley does every morning, as she wends her way from Retford to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck near Worksop. This is DH Lawrence country, and it looks completely stunning in the early sunshine. Louise runs workshops from her studio, and I was there to hold a hat-making day, arranged some time ago and incorporated into my month's trip. In the spirit of my Newsnight venture Louise kindly offered me a bed for the night - I was originally going to camp but she talked me out of it - and given the weather and the long drive, I was very glad I'd accepted. Louise is a truly inspiring person. Her studio is crammed with vintage fabrics and quirky objects found in car boot sales, skips and the like. A bundle of old bills hanging from a hook bought for a couple of quid, old photographs, tablecloths embroidered with the names of diners. People donate their old scrap too - she was recently given a haul of a hundred or so pieces of church linen. Everything Louise makes has a history. Even her clothes are patched over many times. I could have stayed there forever - making and mending to my heart's content!
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Well it’s nearly the end of week one, and I’m preparing to head off up to the Midlands in my damp-averse Micra. I’ve been at home for the first few days, as I received alot of requests from the London area where I’m based. Firstly I had my market stall in Greenwich, then an invitation to the Knitting and Stitching show in Alexander Palace, a call to see the inspiring Make Do And Mend exhibition at the Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, and a lesson in darning from the fabulous Sybil Goodfellow who grew up during the Second World War.
But now, home comforts will be left behind as I head up to the Midlands via Harpenden, where I’m talking to Year 13 textile students at Sir John Lawes school about my trip. They asked me to come – so I’m heeding the call! They’re paying my petrol costs and a small fee of £20 for the talk. That will help me move on to my Saturday gig – a millinery workshop at The Harley Gallery in Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire, where I’ll receive board and lodging in exchange for my labours.
I’m currently surveying with sinking heart the amount of stuff I need to bring with me. Not only my tent and a sewing machine, but a suitcase full of hats, another of possible materials to make do and mend, a small video camera which I have yet to learn how to use, clothes, a duvet, a blanket, a newly acquired head torch, and the all-important wellies purchased after a downpour the other day. How I’ll fit it all in I just don’t know, but I feel I need to be ready for any eventuality and any request.
Speaking of requests, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous response of Newsnight viewers and web browsers from all over the country. Over two hundred e-mails so far and increasing by the day. The Make Do And Mend idea has clearly struck a chord. I’ve been moved by peoples’ open spirit – offers of accommodation for help with curtains, halloween costumes, and of course hats! I’ve been asked to help make trousers for a stilt-walker in Sheffield, and to repair costumes for a drag queen in Manchester.
Sadly I can’t visit everyone, so please forgive me if I don’t come to you, and as I’m on the road, I’m afraid I can’t reply to all the e-mails either. They will however all be read, if not by me, then by someone in the Newsnight team.
Thankyou too for your tips – don’t worry, I will pack my sewing machine properly! And yes, I agree with Emily in Glasgow, haberdashery IS a wonderful word!