For anyone who doubts…

… that we earn our keep; for all those who think that any fool could buy stuff in & just sell it on at a profit…

There’s knowledge, and judgement, and flair, time and sheer bl**dy elbow grease involved too. In the words of the art critic, I know what I like, and I know the kind of thing my customers are looking for too. I know where best to look for it, and how to spot the things that others have overlooked. I usually have a good idea of when things are worth investing a bit of time & effort in, and also when they really are past reclaiming, although of course, they may now have a use other than what they were originally intended for. I’ll give you an example of something that I picked up this morning in our local market’s car boot section. It had been a small vanity case, originally made in Spain, probably in the 1950s, possibly early 60s, by the styling and by the fact that it had a very brittle & decayed plastic lining. It was utterly filthy, but visibly sturdily made, with a stylish, if dirty, brass handle, hinges & catch, but seemingly forever open now as the catch really didn’t want to engage. What I could see, if I could clean it up a bit, is a jewellery display for my stall, even if the lock never works again. So home it came, as part of a 3-for-£1 job lot, along with a child’s Anna Karenina-style sheepskin hat & some rather decayed War Office flying maps. 33.3p is not a lot to risk, if it all goes wrong.

So, here’s the top after an first experimental swab:

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Evidently this method is going to work – it might have dissolved the covering, or not shifted any of the dirt – but it did. Back & side before:

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And after:

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A bit of WD40, a bit of Brasso, a tweak with some aircraft engineer’s cranked needlenose pliers and hey presto! The outside of my new jewellery display box is clean and the catch is working once more. It’s not pristine, it’s clearly seen a lot of use over the years; I could easily go down to The Range & buy something “vintage-style” that’s never been used, but that’s not authentic, or very interesting, and would probably cost a lot more. The next project is to make a suitable lining, so I need to find a fabric that’s right for the age & style of the box, that will also show off glittery & shiny things to good effect. Not to mention a mirror to fit inside the lid. Give me a few days & see what I come up with!

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Editing to add: on re-reading, I can’t help noticing the tone of sheer indignation in the first paragraph! I should explain; it’s in response to a conversation with a dear friend who I know will never read this. Bless her, it’s apparent that she thinks that it’s a “nice little hobby” she could take up when she retires, and maybe she could, but it’s not quite as simple as trotting round the charity shops, picking up “old things that no-one else would notice” & selling them on Ebay at your leisure, any more!

Might be a bit quiet for a week or two…

… because 1) DS3 is coming home – hip-hip-hooray! – from his 9 months studying in Chile, and 2) I’m going to have some “premises” again, for a while at least. I’ve taken a small stall at Molly’s Den, a nearby vintage/retro warehouse, where I hope to have some of my less-portable wares on offer 7 days a week, without tying myself up in knots trying to run a shop, restock it and run workshops too! So I’ll be tied up with sorting, pricing & preparing the space for a bit. I’ll see how it goes, but it will cost me just £5 a month more than a storage container, with the benefit that my stuff will not just be dry & safe & out from under everybody’s feet here, but it’ll actually be on sale too, and potential customers will be able to try things out.

To celebrate, I think I might organise a bit of a giveaway, inspired by Frugal Queen’s Bank Holiday giveaway; it won’t be as big as hers, but I do have rather a lot of small, interesting bits & bobs in need of a good home that isn’t shared with 4-6 other people & 3 cats! So, watch this space…

 

Ideas, ideas…

I’ve spent several happy hours hacking up 99p charity shop shirts over the last few weeks, with another quilt in mind, and will be posting a tutorial soon on how to cut up & re-use a shirt with least possible waste, along with some ideas for the “what-on-Earth-can-I-do-with-this?” bits. But some of the last batch were made from such pretty fabrics that one or two other ideas started to creep into my mind. However I’ll need all the shirts I’ve currently got, and more, to complete the current quilt top, so I went looking for more, but sadly it seems that the gods of charity shopping are not currently viewing this project with favour – there were no 99p rails out anywhere and precious few shirts under £3.99. So I started looking at other potential sources of inexpensive fabric. Not that there are many left now, sadly…

Anyway, most shops still seem to let unmatched pillowcases go for 50p, provided they put them out at all – oddments like that don’t fit with the High Street ethos, really – and some of them, usually the older ones, are made from fairly decent & attractive fabric, even if many are terylene/cotton mixes. So I dismembered a couple to see what I’d got. They are usually cut from one wide strip of sheeting fabric, selvedge to selvedge, overlocked along both long sides. If you’ve ever tried to unpick a 4-thread overlock, you’ll know it takes hours and there isn’t much fabric under there anyway, unlike a stitched seam. So I just cut the seams off, very close to the stitching, and ironed them flat. Then I kind of got to wondering whether there might be enough fabric there to make little pinafores… and the answer is, that provided you don’t mind about matching the pattern, or need them to flare out much, then yes, there is. This is my first effort, yet to be tried out on a real child; I suspect I haven’t made the armhole deep enough but that’s easily rectified next time around. In theory it’ll fit a 3-4 year old, but whether one would be seen dead in it remains to be seen! I will report back once I’ve pressganged a passing child, and if it’s a moderate success, I’ll post a tutorial as I make up the next one! And if that’s of much interest to anyone, I might just make up a few in kit form, and see if anyone would actually buy them…

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Catching up…

Sometimes you just need a few quiet days to catch up with stuff… it’s amazing how much chaos can vanish, given a few hours to tackle your UFOs. A UFO, for those of you who are more organised than I can pretend to be, is an UnFinished Object. At any given time I will have several hanging around, waiting for an unbroken run of time & inspiration to get them done & off my back. One of these has now been done and another is well underway, and would have been finished last night if my treadle belt hadn’t broken just as darkness fell.

A minor UFO!

This quilt came to me in two pieces; I found it in a local charity shop (henceforth referred to as CSs) just after I’d promised a young friend a quilt for their birthday. It’s a commercially-made one, although it’s hand-pieced, probably in India, and had been cut in half & hemmed to make two small singles, probably for two small boys. The two halves were being sold for dog blankets at £2.50 each… just so happened that I was cutting up a pile of blue 99p CS shirts to make patchwork pieces, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to “cheat” and try to join it back up again; couldn’t help thinking it would be rather wasted on your average pooch. I doubt I could have done it invisibly and actually I didn’t even want to try; every quilt tells a story, as they say, and being divided & joined back up again is part of this quilt’s tale. It lies flatter than it looks on the washing line!

The other project that’s awaiting some concentration-time is the blind for DS2’s window, which is half-finished, but I hope to have done by the end of today. This time I did buy the main fabric new & complete, to fit in with his colour scheme, but everything else is reclaimed, and much of it from the same old blind that I made DS3’s one from. Leftover fabric will be made into cushions; I found two brand-new cushion pads at the Tip a couple of weeks ago, still with their price tags on.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to try to dispose of more stuff than I bring back; a large load went off with the jumble collectors yesterday, and a boot-load of genuine rubbish went off to the Tip. And I only brought one small item back; a little vintage wind-up travel alarm clock. If it doesn’t work properly, I’ll cannibalise it for steampunk-style jewellery, but so far, it does, and very well too, so I might just have to sell it on as is…

And editing to add: treadle belt changed, blind finished & hung, and one cushion completed. The other may take some time; the front will be the same, but the back will have to be painstakingly pieced out of about 8 tiny leftover scraps…

A major UFO – adding a touch of warmth to a very masculine icebox-bedroom!

Let it rain!

Because my chickens now have a roof over their heads again… I spent yesterday re-roofing their run. They’ve been paddling in the mud for long enough! And what’s more, thanks to Freecycle and a very kind lady down in Poole, I have two more of them, and I’m getting beautiful multi-coloured eggs again.

When we first started keeping backyard birds, one of my great joys was collecting the deep brown, pink, blue & white eggs from our much-loved Marans, Faverolles, Araucana & Hamburgh chickens. But over the years the laying flock had dwindled down to 3, two Warren-type hybrids laying perfectly pleasant but very ordinary light-brown eggs, and one gigantic Buff Orpington laying “tinted” (pinkish) eggs when she isn’t broody. There are just two Pekins left, also laying little pinkish eggs, but one of them is raising chicks just now. 2-3 (and possibly a half) eggs a day doesn’t go far between 7 of us! I’d meant to do something about it early this summer, but missed the boat; I wanted a couple of “Chalkhill Blue” day-olds, but didn’t have a broody when they were hatching, and when I did, they’d finished hatching for the year, so she had to make do with some Freecycled eggs and now has two Polish X Frizzle chicks, one of which may not be male.

Anyway, a dear friend had to move earlier this summer & gave me her solitary surviving Marans, Mollie, who lays splendid deep-brown eggs; she was the only survivor of a dog attack. Then a couple of days ago there was an advert on Freecycle from someone desperate to rehome her flock as she’s about to have a serious operation & won’t be able to care for them. I didn’t see the advert until 6 hours after it was posted, so didn’t hold out much hope, but to my delight she contacted me the next morning & said I’d be welcome to take on a couple of them, including – a Chalkhill Blue! So that evening I hurtled down to town & collected two baffled chooks – the other one is a White Star – who now rejoice in the names Faye & Bianca. As my separate accomodation is already occupied by the broody, I had to pop them onto the roost with the others; I was expecting trouble next morning, but I didn’t get it. The new girls were a bit shy to start with, and there was a little bit of posturing, but within an hour they were all dustbathing together and by the end of the day I had two light-brown, one pinkish, one blue and one pearly white egg! And they now have a run that should keep the worst of the weather off their feathers, and a shed that’s stopped letting in water now I’ve revamped the roof. Amusingly, the inside is lined with a red vinyl poster announcing “VIP Marquee” courtesy of the Dorset Scrapstore…

Glorious technicolour eggs!

But it can rain with impunity now for other reasons too. I’ve had a couple of influxes of goodies; one from the local charity shop that sells me the craft-related things they have’t been able to move on themselves, and some interesting items from the tip, as well as some lovely 1950s curtains from the 50p house-clearance stall on the market. I’m going to be busy for days next week, sorting things into saleable & usable, washing things & Freecycling the bits I can’t use. And then there was the very successful raid on the charity shops down in the conurbation, where they evidently do still believe in 99p or £1 rails for the stuff that hasn’t sold; I picked up 9 100% cotton striped gents shirts to slice up for quilting & other fabric projects. So I’d be glad to have an excuse to spend some time indoors; I could even possibly use some of the beautiful threads that were muddled up in the “unsaleable” batch from the local charity shop (pictured below) and the wonderful vintage needles (with decent sized eyes!) that came in a box from the Tip… I may be gone for some time!

Even more technicolour threads!

A little lament for The Ottoman Of Doom…

Last week younger daughter suddenly took it into her head to “tidy” her room. At 17, she still had virtually everything she’s ever owned stuffed into corners, under the bed, and heaped over her exercise bicycle, but something suddenly clicked inside her head & she, like me, realised that you can indeed have too much of good things, and that actually it’s rather nice not to have to scramble precariously around umpteen piles of junk in your own bedroom.

Which explains what I was doing down at the Tip on Tuesday; I took down a car full to the brim of childhood & teenage detritus, most of it completely un-re-usable in any way shape or form. Needless to say, the car didn’t come back empty… sitting in the re-use area was the most relentlessly cheery & twee piece of furniture I have ever seen;  a large ottoman covered in a white plastic quilted-effect fabric dotted with little red & yellow rosebuds, complete with shadow-rosebuds in some kind of silvery-shiny substance. The whole artfully trimmed with gold braid, with brass-effect handles & hinges to finish it off. I took one look at it & knew that this piece of heroic kitsch really, really needed a trip to Boscombe on Saturday… My middle son took one look at it in the boot of the car and panicked mightily, basically saying that if it, or indeed anything remotely resembling it, ever entered our household, he was leaving via the nearest exit! So it acquired the nickname The Ottoman Of Doom, and stayed safely in the boot of the car for the rest of the week.

There were other good things down there too; a nice little 50s-style vanity case, a grubby but promising quilt and an interesting modern original acrylic-on-board painting, which gently suggests sailboats in what looks very much like a bluey-purple Aegean sunset. The vanity case also went down to Boscombe with us and sold within minutes of the market opening, for the same price that I’d paid for all four items. The painting is now adorning younger daughter’s suddenly sophisticated & miraculously-coordinated  bedroom, and the quilt washed up a treat and has been “spoken for” by elder daughter. And the Ottoman Of Doom? It sold towards the end of the market; I didn’t price it very high, for the same reason that although a treadle sewing machine is the best of both worlds and the ultimate stitching experience, I can’t expect to get very much money for them; most people just don’t have the room for such large items, no matter how useful. A lot of people stopped  to coo with delight over the ottoman, but then worked out that they didn’t have any way of transporting it, never mind anywhere to put it; luckily it found its new owner at last.

Although ottomans are very useful on the stall, and indeed I have one in the shed that I’ve had for months, full of vintage curtains, that just needs to be unloaded from the car, wheeled down to our pitch & opened to display our wares perfectly effectively, I was glad I didn’t have to bring the big one home again as I haven’t a clue where I would have stashed it! But I do kind of regret not having taken a photo of it; I wonder if such a determinedly-cheerful & outrageously OTT piece of furniture will ever come my way again?

So you’ll have to make do with a pic of one of my latest efforts instead; last autumn a collection of random handmade needle-rolls (complete with vintage cottons) sold well on my stall, mostly snapped up for thoughtful Christmas presents for fellow-stitchers, so this year I’m making some myself from some iconic 1970s curtain fabric. I’m also planning to do some crochet-hook & knitting needle rolls from the same fabric (previously 5 pelmets) and other vintage leftovers. And there’ll be some new ear-rings from elder daughter, now trading herself under the name “Pippin Run Wild” and all the usual indispensable Vintage Craft Stuff – I’m looking forward to November’s Boscombe Vintage Market already! I wonder what other whacky & wonderful treasures will come my way before then?

Needle rolls from 70s pelmets

At last…

I’ve finally thought of a way of using cuffs! On my rare days off, I haunt the charity shops of Dorset, raiding the “Reduced” rails for cotton shirts & pyjamas to turn into patchwork fabric. You can get some very decent fabric, in reasonable quantities, for £1 that way. I’ve worked out a way of slicing them up so that you get the maximum quantity of usable fabric, plus a quantity of “seam yarn” for rag rugs etc., from each garment, depending on how it’s constructed. But I’ve always struggled with how to use the collar & cuffs & generally ended up popping them into my scraps-I-really-can’t-do-anything-with bag. This goes off to a charity shop, where they get paid for rags by weight; every little counts!

But today I cracked it; I found a nice “Next” pink striped needlecord shirt for £1 on Monday, that you’d have to have an incredibly slender & well-sculpted figure to wear. I could see straight away that it’d make several stunning fabric hearts, or possibly needlecases; maybe some of each. As I was cutting it up today, the cuffs fell together onto the tabletop in such a way as to remind me I’d lost my glasses case recently, and suddenly I could see how I could make them into one, very quickly & easily. And 20 minutes later, my glasses had a new home! It even has a useful little pocket on the back, too, that I’m going to make a tiny matching mending kit for. Will post a “how-to” sometime after weekend!

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What a difference…

…a day makes! Well, yesterday, anyway; it quite restored my faith in what I’m doing. I took my VintageCraftStuff stall to Boscombe Vintage Market yesterday. And despite the fact that it was the first time I’d done a stall there, and really didn’t know how to “pitch” it, I did very well. I’d been worried that on a cold & blowy early February day, in a tent in an inner-city area, it’d be touch & go whether I’d clear the pitch fee plus my fuel costs getting there. I needn’t have worried; I got a lot of positive feedback! So I was quite happy to hand over the pitch fee for next month & will be putting that up on the VCS Events page ASAP. But I can’t help contrasting it with the big, centuries-old market in my little home town. I can understand the logisitics of mixing us crafters in with other stall holders in the “dead” period between Christmas & Easter and closing down the end hall that we were in. But if I’m placed in between say, a cosmetics stall with everything in shiny packages and a stall full of cheap plastic “bankrupt stock” kitchenware, my lovely old sewing machines and intriguing vintage knitting patterns are in danger of looking like a heap of old junk, no matter how pretty the stall looks, dressed in red velvet, wicker & lace. Not to mention the probability of having to lug heavy kit through crowded halls some distance from where you’re parked; in the end hall the logisitics were easy and the company good.

But the main difference was in the customers. There are some lovely appreciative people here, and some loyal supporters, but there are also a significant number of people who aren’t afraid to make comments like, “Been going through the bins, then?” or “Thank heavens we don’t have to do that sort of thing any longer!” I know from public Morsbagging sessions that many of them will have had unfortunate experiences long ago, of having been humiliated & told they were “useless” in front of their friends in Domestic Science or DT classes, but being rude about someone else’s hard work really doesn’t make life better for anyone. The fact that a proportion of my stock does actually come from the Recycling Centre doesn’t mean that it’s worthless (or that I didn’t pay anything for it, either) but that as a society, we’ve lost the plot and are quite prepared to junk items of real value & lasting beauty in favour of new plastic stuff with an expected lifespan of 5 years, if you’re lucky! Not all new stuff is “”bad” and not all old stuff is “good” but the reverse isn’t automatically true either. I think that says what I wanted to…

And the attitude seems to be reflected in our town’s general way of going about things. It’s becoming a hard slog to continue to try to keep the Transition spark alive in a town that seems to think it really doesn’t have to worry about things like that. Retail rents & rates are such that it’s virtually impossible to start up a genuine local initiative; I know there has been & probably still is a drive to attract upmarket chain stores to the town by the well-meaning, vocal, middle class, upper-income bracket people who think that easy access to a branch of Marks & Spencers will solve any problems that Peak Oil & Climate Change might bring. So rents are kept high in order to attract “the right sort of business” and fledgling local businesses have to go elsewhere or seek huge bank loans. And surprise, surprise, attracting a well-known posh supermarket to our town has NOT increased takings for our genuine local shops, who were amongst the prime movers in the campaign to bring them here, but depressed them. Our youngsters think there isn’t any point even trying; they know they’ll never be able to afford to buy homes or run businesses here and that’s the saddest thing of all. Our future’s going elsewhere…

I had a lot of young, enthusiastic customers yesterday, many of them students at the Arts Institute, and lots of thoughtful, creative, appreciative older ones too, in an area that most people here think of as a bit run-down and grim. All I can say is that Wimborne really, really needs to wake up…

Recycled resources?

Strippy quilt front

Here’s a conundrum – is this cheating, or not?

I’ve always felt that quilts should be made from scraps, offcuts or fabric that’s otherwise unwanted; going out & buying fabric to make a quilt seems to make a mockery of the spirit of the artform. My head knows that quilts made from fresh fabric will last longer, that there’s no shortage of it, and that by buying in your fabrics, you’ll get exactly what you want, or near enough. But still… as practical recycling goes, a patchwork quilt made from recycled & reclaimed fabrics is one of the ultimate achievements, as well as being a lovely warm thing to enhance your home or wrap around yourself on a cold winter’s day. So my heart thinks all patchwork quilts should be masterpieces of the recycler’s art. This conviction of mine is probably why I have several bags full of partially-made quilt tops that have somehow ground to a halt or hit a metaphorical buffer one way or another, whilst I wait for the right fabric to turn up. Sadly, at least one intended recipient has actually passed away whilst their quilt has remained unfinished… it’s a good job she never knew I meant to  make her one.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, just before Christmas I was lucky enough to sell some items I had only just realised were surplus to requirements. I’d also spotted what looked like a very quick & easily-achieveable method of piecing a quilt top whilst idly following links from one crafting blog to another. Having some spare funds kicking around in my PayPal account, I took the plunge on New Year’s Eve & bought myself a “stripper” or “jelly roll” which arrived very quickly. I sat down with it at 9 pm on Tuesday evening; by the same time on Wednesday I had a completed “strippy” quilt top as well as having done all the normal household tasks for the day. And by Friday evening it was machine-quilted, bound & finished! It’s not a grand job but it’s functional & quite pretty & I’m pleased with it. I’m also ready to get out my cutter & start cutting strips from  my mountain of reclaimed fabric; this method is fast & very, very do-able. I love looking at art quilts & fantastically complex pieces of patchwork, but I know I haven’t really got the patience – or, in fact, the spare time – to tackle a project that’s going to take hours of calculations, months of work, & completely accurate piecing and stitching. But fast & furious is immensely managable…

So – my justification is that by buying this fabric, I’ve broken through a barrier & realised that making useful quilts doesn’t have to take months., if not years. And I do feel that in a sense, it was at least done with recycled cash, since the funds came from the sale of other craft items. If I can ever find the blog again, I’ll post a link to how it’s done so that anyone else who’s always meant to “have a go” can do so; if I can’t (and I’ve been looking for it all week) I’ll post a “how-to” as another page.  And the next quilt will be made with recycled fabric…

Strippy quilt - back view

Has there ever been such a year…

Hedgerow Jelly in the making...

… in the hedgerows? I am foraging, gathering, drying, preserving as fast as I can, and most of it is still going to waste – I only have one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day – not fair!

Blenheim Oranges ripening on our old tree...

Our Blenheim Orange is groaning with fruit – again – and we’ve been picking anything up to 9 figs a day from our Brown Turkey. I responded to a Freecycle offer of crab apples and now have 40+ jars of Crab Apple Jelly and Hedgerow Jelly in my storecupboard; there are 4 demijohns of apple wine burping happily in the downstairs bathroom, 15 large jars of chutney cooling in the garage and there’ll soon be cider, too. On a walk down by the river with my elder daughter this evening I grabbed an armful of hop vine from a tree beside the path, and in conjunction with those easily reached on the side & roof of our garage, there are now 4 trays of ripe hop pannicles drying in my dehydrator.  The hedegerows down by the riverbank are literally blue with sloes where they aren’t black with blackberries & elder, and there’s a bowl of hazelnuts on the kitchen table that I just picked up from the pavement at the top of our road, never mind the ones we grow in the front garden; saves paying £2.79 for 454g in the supermarket!

The hardware to do all this – jamjars, Kilners, demijohns, etc. – came partly from our local Freegle & Freecycle groups, partly from Transition Town Wimborne’s appeal for unused brewing & preserving equipment, which I’m storing, and partly from my sister-in-law’s capacious store room, where she’d been hoarding jamjars in the hope that one day she’d have a spare half hour free to actually make some jam! There’s plenty of equipment left to give away, too; the point of the TTW appeal was to enable other people to start up, and several have already benefitted, but there’s more where that came from, as well as the bits I’m using too!

I have never seen so much fruit out there for the taking; I know it’s probably just a result of several damp, cool years followed by a cold, pest-killing winter & a reasonably dry warm summer, but part of me really feels we shouldn’t be wasting any of this. Yes, we should always leave plenty for others (and there are others out there this year, at long last) and plenty for the birds and other wildlife, but who knows when we’ll see such bounty again?

Jars of scrumptious goodness jammed in everywhere!