Thursday, 30 September 2010

Betty, the retired racing greyhound

I adopted Betty via the Retired Greyhound Trust when she was three years old and the racing kennels at Billingshurst, where she had previously lived, was sold. Not having the temperament for racing, she had stayed there as one of a couple of extra dogs along with the racers.

Although already house trained and great on the lead, she had to be taught to use the stairs and could only be let off the lead in an enclosed place - she could still run pretty bloody fast even into her old age. Only once did she respond to another breed of dog: we met a German Shepherd which had been a guard dog at the Hove greyhound track; the owner said his dog would remember every dog it had ever met, having been stationed next to the traps to stop new dogs being substituted for the ones checked out by the vet before the races.

Betty retained her athletic musculature throughout her life, along with a distinctly regal bearing, despite being extremely lazy - only venturing from one of her several beds around the house when she smelled cheese or some other delicacy. I used to take her to the design studio every day, where she had a bed under her own desk and performed a very valuable meet-and-greet service, popular with (almost) all of out clients. Many friends - and my partner - who claimed not to like dogs, loved her because she was so un-doglike: she didn't drool or jump up, never barked or howled and she had the most gentle nature imaginable. She was more like a large cat crossed with a small horse than a dog! This meant it was really easy to find people eager to look after her when we went on holiday.

She loved being made a fuss of and being told she was beautiful, trips out in any form of transport (cars, trains, buses), walks on the South Downs, eating leftovers and sleeping. She most definitely did not like us making her wear paper Christmas crowns or any form of headgear, something that made the rest of us roll around with laughter - she was a very serious and dignified dog (which, of course, made it even funnier).

Betty lived a long and happy life and died in her sleep in March this year at the grand old age of 14. I shall never forget her but I am planning to get another greyhound: I regularly check the Retired Greyhound Trust's website, where they list the dogs ready for re-homing, at

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The cocktail hour

Eveningwear is a great way into buying vintage as it is surprisingly easy to find great items, dresses especially, in excellent condition. They may have been worn only once and will usually have been kept in a dry-cleaning or garment bag in a wardrobe away from the two biggest enemies of old clothes: UV light and moths, as well as the wear and tear of everyday life and laundering.

The New Look silhouette of the fifties with its fitted bodice and full skirt (first picture) is great if you want to show off your waist; "wiggle dresses" of the fifties and early sixties (see the green one with diamante dress clips at the waist, second picture) suit those with bigger busts and/or hips; straight-up-and-down Mod shifts of the sixties with block colours and bright prints are great if you have a boyish figure (not shown here as a boyish figure is something I do not have!) Another common shape from the sixties is a very flattering A-line shape, usually sleeveless with intricate beading or embroidery like the pale blue one shown here.

All styles look great with either modern shoes and minimal accessories or the full vintage look with shoes and jewellery from the same era.

There are two very important things to look out for. Firstly, the original owner may have had only one night out in the lovely dress you've just spied on the rail, but it may well have been one hell of a night - look out for stains, more often than not a post-dinner coffee. These fabrics aren't usually washable, so check the garment thoroughly before buying. Secondly, make sure it fits - and if it doesn't, have it altered. Gaping armholes, straining seams and fallen hems will be much more noticeable on ornate, shiny or sparkly fabrics.

Where to buy? This is the good news. Those charity shops full of dull and dowdy stuff have yielded so many of my evening dresses - the dresses of the fifties, sixties and seventies shine out from the rails like beautiful sweet wrappers. Specialist vintage shops always have eveningwear in stock but they will put more out on the shop floor closer to Christmas and New Year's Eve (and may put their prices up at the same time).

To sum up:
• Visit all the charity shops in your area often
• Examine garments closely for stains (drinks, food, sweat, rust, even blood), missing buttons or broken zips, damage and evidence of moths
• Try on to check for a good fit. Don't try it on over your jeans or a bulky belt!
• If it needs repairs or alterations, factor that in to the total price you are willing to pay
• If you're in a market and there's no mirror, get someone to take a photo of you using a digital camera or phone. Some stallholders will let you go off to look for a mirror if you leave a bag or something behind
• Don't forget the rear view
• Think creatively: maxis can be shortened easily, buttons changed, decorative trimmings can be removed (but check how firmly they are sewn on and if it will leave a mark)
• If you aren't sure, ask them to hold it for you while you go away and think, or put down a deposit
• If it's cheap, don't put it back and come back later - she who hesitates is lost!

Oh - and take off jewellery and your watch when trying on vintage eveningwear, it's easy to cause damage if you catch the fabric.

Done all that? Found your frock? Now get out on the town and show her a great time!

Photographs by CJ Taylor.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Treacle & Co

My new favourite cafe (and they do seem to be springing up thick and fast despite the recession...) is Treacle & Co on Church Road, Hove, East Sussex.

Its blue and white tiled interior indicates that it was either a fishmonger or a fish and chip shop in the past. It has been wittily furnished with salvaged furniture and all sorts of curios. The highlight for me is the women's toilet: wallpapered with black and white cuttings of animals and one single colour picture of a goldfish (apparently the men's toilet features maps of the world).

Oh yes, and there are big fat cakes if you like that sort of thing, and nice coffee.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Breathing new life into old stuff

Hello there. My name is Carol and, having kept up a general blog for some time now, I have decided to start this new one with a more specific, but certainly not narrow, theme.

Like many others out there in the blogosphere, I am a passionate collector of vintage clothes, but I also re-appropriate vintage and recycled fabrics, furniture and other finds. The theme of this blog will be hunting for vintage and second-hand treasures and giving discarded items a second chance.

You can have a look at my more general blog here: and you can see my children's clothes at

So, to start with, here's a dress made from an old curtain using a vintage 1960s pattern. I liked the inappropriate combination of winter trees on a sleeveless summer dress. Old curtains are great for recycling as you often get a lot of fabric even if there's only one of the pair. There are pitfalls though: the fabric will be weakened - and probably faded - especially down the sides, by the sun's rays; also, I often find that curtains have been used as dust sheets for decorating and so they may have paint on them. Even after damaged fabric has been cut away, you can usually squeeze quite a lot out of the remaining fabric, although you probably won't be able to lay out the pattern pieces as per the instructions as you would with a new piece of fabric.

The first time I wore this dress I happened to visit the market where I had bought the original curtain. I met the stallholder again; he squinted at me and said "I recognise that from somewhere..." When I told him how his old curtain had been reincarnated he insisted on taking my photograph to show his wife what had become of a piece of their old junk.