Saturday, 30 October 2010

As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared

Walking along the street today I saw a woman with a clothes rail. Right there in the middle of the busy pavement with all the people passing by.

There was a psychedelic A-line shift on the rail, the woman told me she was selling the dress on behalf of her friend in Germany and that the friend had made it for herself. I bought the dress and when I came back along the street she was gone. No sign that she had ever been there.

Great dress though, but not home made at all.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's dark, it's cold and it's the penultimate day of October. Thoughts turn to coats, where they have been for some weeks already to be honest.

I had a quick scout around the Dorset town of Wimbourne Minster today. I've had no luck there previously, but today The God of Charity Shopping planted a lovely coat there on the rack in 'Julia's House'. £7.50 for a 1960s coat made of heavy Dongeal tweed in a brown and cream herringbone weave, excellent condition with a lovely wrap collar detail. Thanks very much!

Alongside eveningwear (see previous post), second hand emporia are awash with vintage coats at all times of year. When I pick up a new coat in a shop they feel so lightweight and flimsy to me I cannot imagine them keeping anyone warm. (This may be the time to tell you that I am rather cold blooded. This always prompts the comment, 'But you're from the north - you should be used to the cold!' My answer is, 'That's why I don't live there anymore.' Sorry north, love you and all that but just cannot bear being cold.)

So anyway, charity shop, market, vintage shop, online... you've got your choice of places to find your winter coat, that's no problem. There's a lot of choice so you're going to have to be prepared to try them all on. Here are some tips to help you out:
  • If you're going to be wearing it over big winter woollies or a work suit, make sure the fit allows for them - especially across the shoulders and back.
  • Conversely, just a dress underneath? Make sure the coat isn't too big.
  • It should fit across the shoulders, if you can't move your arms forward together it's too small, same goes if the hem lifts up at the centre back. If the join where the sleeve meets the body of the coat is slithering off down your arm it's too big.
  • Similarly, if the front of the coat is dropping down making the front look as if it's longer than the back, it's too big. The exception is woman wearing a man's coat: army coats, utility, workwear etc - it's meant to be oversized.
  • Missing buttons? Easier to replace the whole lot than to match the missing one.
  • Dropped hem? Easy to fix.
  • Torn lining - not quite so easy to fix. If the lining is torn at the hem it's usually because the previous owner caught the heel of their shoe in it or got it stuck on a chair leg. If the lining is torn at the back of the neck this is where the coat has been repeatedly hung up without a hanger and the weight of the coat has torn the lining; this needs to be repaired carefully and make sure there's a hanging loop, chain or tape attached to the inside of the collar just above the lining at the back of the neck, not attatched to the lining alone. Torn lining under the arms is the most difficult to fix, it's worth putting some strips of iron-on interfacing behind the tears before sewing to reinforce the area.
  • If the lining is shredded (looks like a cat clawed it), it's had it and will need replacing. A coat without a lining does not hang properly so don't think you can just cut the lining out and it will make no difference.
  • If the pockets are torn or there are holes in them, either fix them or sew them up. Nobody will see the inside of your pockets so it doesn't matter if the fabric matches and this will help you reinforce them so they don't tear again. Before sewing the holes up, put your hand through the hole (wearing a washing up glove might be a good idea, just in case!) and search around the hem where the lining is attached to the coat to retrieve any object which may have fallen out of the pocket. If you find weights, leave them alone - this is the sign of a good coat and will help the hem of the coat hang well.
  • Get it dry cleaned ASAP. If it has metal, glass, ornate or fragile buttons, either take them off (leaving the loose threads so that you can see exactly where to put them back afterwards) or cover them in aluminium foil before dry cleaning to protect them.
  • Check for moth damage. Moths love wool and other good-quality cloths.
  • Ahem - does it smell? May smell a bit musty, that might just be the shop or a long time in storage (especially attics and garages) - a clean and an airing outside in the fresh air will sort that out. Look in the pockets for mothballs, they really pong and the smell is a bit trickier to shift.
  • Is it an even colour all over? Take it to the front of the shop and inspect it in the natural daylight. I have often found one shoulder and arm of a coat to be faded where it has hung in a wardrobe for years. There's nothing you can do about this and suede coats are particularly prone to it.
  • Trenchcoats, macs and suede coats are worth waterproofing onced cleaned. Camping and outdoor shops sell shower-repellant spray for fabrics and shoe repairers sell showerproofing sprays for suede.
  • Is the belt missing? If it's meant to have a belt it probably won't hang properly without one, but you can usually get away with a leather belt instead.
I think I'll leave it there for now. I could go on all night... I will post some of my favourite coats tomorrow. They always seem to have a story behind them. I used to wear a coat of my dad's when I was doing my A-levels and on my art foundation course. It was a black wool coat with a single button and an astrakhan shawl collar. He was big burly man so the coat was huge on me. My mother took to hiding it and telling me she'd thrown it out to stop me wearing it (didn't work of course!) The pockets were so big I could get a pint glass in each pocket when I had to leave the pub early and get the bus home when we went out after college.

Nowadays my criteria for a good coat is not how much beer it can help me smuggle onto public transport - you can work that one out for yourselves!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Plants and flowers

For some time now I have been making collages using leftover scraps of vintage fabric. The Autumn Leaves picture (left) I made this afternoon and is part of the plants and flowers series.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

New jewellery

New pieces of jewellery made from vintage buttons and buckles. I will be selling these on my stall at Frock Me! on Sunday (24th October).

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Visit me at Frock Me! this Sunday

I will have a stall at Frock Me! this Sunday (24th October) at the Corn Exchange in Brighton. Opening hours 11am-5pm.

I'll be selling vintage clothing, bags, jewellery and a new range of hand-made brooches.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Printmaking with old junk

Found objects: kitchenalia, old coffee tin, clockface. Two colour screenprints on brown parcel paper.

Good-quality, posh white paper holds absolutely no charms for me. I love printing on parcel paper, aluminium foil, wallpaper...

See more of my prints at:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Collecting vintage shoes

It took me longer to get into buying - and wearing - vintage shoes than any other type of item I collect. I have often read that you should never buy second-hand shoes, that they will be moulded to another person's feet and will harbour diseases. There are plenty of collectors who buy shoes never wear them, but and display them around their homes instead.

The 1930s snakeskin shoes shown in the first photograph are one of my two oldest pairs. It really is asking a lot to expect something to last that long and they are quite hard to find. These shoes came from an antiques fair, the others from a specialist vintage fair.

I look for shoes with the minimum of wear: having survived this long they can just crack and fall apart as soon as you wear them, and if they are moulded to the shape of another foot they won't be comfortable.

It's crucial to try them on: sizes have changed a lot over the years and people used to have smaller, narrower feet generally. If they don't feel comfortable in the shop/market then DON'T buy them - they are very unlikely to stretch or "give" and you will be in agony when you try to wear them!

Firstly, when I get my new (old!) shoes home, I clean them inside and out. Baby wipes work well on leather and skin shoes, a brush for suede to get the dust out and suede cleaner or dry shampoo for any small marks. Leather often hardens and dries out with age so then I have to treat them with saddle soap or "leather food". I clean the insides too and spray them with antibacterial spray.

If they need new soles or heels it's worth taking the shoes to a reputable cobbler rather than to a chain. The cobblers I use find it interesting to work on something different for a change and really take pride in what they do. I also know that I will be able to ask them to replace buckles and repair stitching.

These formal green court shoes are also from the 1970s but you can find a very similar style, with a slightly lower and more tapered heel, from the 1950s.

The red shoes (above) are late 1960s leather and snake Mod t-bar Mary Janes by Russell and Bromley. The three pairs of platform sandals shown here are typical 1970s styles, but you do sometimes see original 1930s' platforms made popular by Hollywood actresses of the time. The 70s' versions can be really heavy to wear, making them difficult to walk in and painful when (not if!) you kick yourself in the ankle - so try them on to check for this.

If you want to be head-to-foot vintage for an event or, like many collectors, you live and breathe it, you will certainly be looking at vintage shoes. If you don't like your vintage to actually LOOK too vintage, then modern shoes can still be in keeping with your outfit or a good contrast to it. If you like the look but don't like the idea of old shoes, UK chains such as Office and LK Bennett do great retro styles every year.

There are some real finds to be had if you do take the vintage route though. Amongst others:
• Fake fur or wool-lined boots with moulded weatherproof soles making the winter much warmer, cosier and drier;
• Original army surplus plimsoles and heavy leather boots;
• Proper cowboy boots;
• Glamorous 1950s and 1960s stilettoes;
• 1950s mules with lucite heels;
• 1960s brightly-coloured mod shoes and boots.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Upholstery for beginners

These are pictures of my first upholstery project - and yet another good use for old curtain fabric. (Maybe I ought to be working for some kind of curtain marketing board, if such a thing exists...?)

This 1960s dressing table stool had been covered in off-white vinyl when we found it in a market. It cost the princely sum of £5.

Firstly, I prised off the dome-headed tacks holding the vinyl in place on the underside of the stool using the claw (forked) end of a hammer, with an few extra tugs with the pliers for some rusted ones. The foam padding covering the wooden seat was in very good condition, so I didn't need to replace it.

The fabric I wanted to use was the offcut from the bottom of a pair of 1970s curtains my friend Ali had me shorten for her. Because it was a lighter weight than upholstery fabric, I covered the stool with a layer of canvas first, to strengthen it. The vinyl I had taken off served as a pattern to cut out the canvas and the outer fabric. I used a staple gun to attach both layers of fabric to the underside of the stool - because it is a bowed shape (I never choose anything too easy for a first go at anything!) I started from the middle of each side, pulling the fabric taught, rather than at the corners.

Having secured the sides, the corners of the canvas were folded over squarely and tucked in, like "hospital corners" on a bed sheet. To avoid extra bulk, the corners of the outer fabric were turned in the opposite direction to the ones on the canvas layer.

The stool turned out really well, which is always very encouraging for a first attempt. And it cost the equivalent of two lattes at my cafe of choice, plus an hour of my time. I'll probably do an entire couch next, knowing me.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Take a letter

Although I'm a trained graphic designer, I wouldn't need to be to notice the prevalence of old shopfront display letters in interior design these days.

Quite a nice selection is shown here (left) at the lovely TicToc Cafe, Meeting House Lane, Brighton.

I have even seen them on sale in TKMaxx, but these are reproductions in fiberglass or tin, with a distressed finish to fake age and wear. Individual salvaged letters are going for quite a lot of money in the antique shops I visit, as are pieces of printers' woodblock type and even tiny pieces of hot metal type.

I used to have a studio over a printing works and when they sold up they couldn't get a buyer for all their trays of metal type (sadly, they all went for scrap), but then I suppose they weren't trying chi-chi dealers in architectural and industrial salvage...

If you would rather see these items being put to use in print than interior decoration, you will be glad to know that there are folks out there buying up trayfuls of salvaged type and printing letterpress in their own homes and studios. Flowers & Fleurons, to name but one - I will post more on them in the near future.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Beautiful bugs

Wow! I spotted (it wasn't difficult!) these beautiful insects made from upholstery fabrics in the windows of interior designer Nina Campbell's shop on the King's Road, London. They are huge - each one is about a metre long.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Collage is alive and well

One of mine (left), Julia Trigg's work currently on show at Castor + Pollux and some great stuff by Jacob Whibley.


Julia Trigg also exhibited in my Open House, Nine by Nine (see above) in May this year. At the bottom of the page you can also see one of my children's dresses and one of my screenprints on wallpaper - more about that in a future post. (Page from Absolute Brighton magazine, May 2010.)