Economy Knitting and Patchwork

I thought some other people might be interested in this book from 1945, which I bought in a second-hand shop in Bournemouth.

Economy Knitting and Patchwork

‘Economy Knitting and Patchwork’. It’s printed on cheap war-time paper, as an aid for knitters, crochet workers and needlewomen in ‘hard times and scarcity of materials’.

Some of it goes to show that everything old is new again – did you think crocheting bags out of ‘plarn’ was a new idea? And it looked just as good then as it does now, ie. not very.

The patterns are very evocative of a war-torn, cold and shabby Britain – bed socks for ‘these days of icy bedrooms and inadequately warmed houses’

Cosy bed socks

All of the patterns are thrifty and frequently use re-purposed wool, like this Lady’s Two-Colour Jumper.

Ladies two colour jumper

Notice the bit about stockpiled wool being much better than any ‘on the market at the moment?’ It reminded me of Nella Last’s books. She always managed to make do and mend, creating things nicer than she could buy in war-time.

‘Jessie was so delighted with a dressing gown we partly dodged up…She had a good but very shabby raglan camel-hair coat…Her sister had a nice wine-coloured one, with an overcheck in fawn, equally good but old-fashioned and worn. Between the two, after we had them cleaned at cut price, we’ve made a dressing gown both smart and better than money could buy nowadays. It’s got a deep border, wide deep cuffs, and roll collars of the check materials, as well as big patch pockets. She didn’t want a belt, so I fitted it slightly with darts’.

(from Nella Last’s Peace)

Nella Last was a participant in the wartime Mass Observation experiment, where ordinary citizens wrote down their experiences and sent them off for posterity. Nella wrote over a million pages, and has had three books published of her work so far. She was also made famous by a TV adaptation of her books, called Housewife, 49 (as in her age, not 1949)

I love reading people’s diaries and autobiographies, and Nella Last’s diaries are some of my favourites. But even if you’re not a non-fiction lover,  if you’re interested in sewing and dressmaking then you should read this book. She was a inspirational and clearly very skilled needlewoman.

Her speciality was making dozens and dozens of ‘dollies’ – toys which she donated to the local hospital and to children who hadn’t seen a shop-bought new toy in years. She often talks about how making things has helped her to keep going through the war years, and taken her mind off a very difficult and demanding husband.

‘I sit and turn things over in my mind as my fingers fly over my sewing…I honestly think my rag dollies helped me to hold on. There’s a great satisfaction in seeing a thing take shape and form under one’s hands, especially if they are made from oddments into something worthwhile.’

(from Nella Last’s Peace)

So anyway, this book really reminded me of her – she definitely never let ‘one shred of material be thrown away’ without seeing what she could make of it first.

Knitting and crochet

Neither did Agnes, the author of ‘Economy Knitting and Patchwork’, from the looks of things. Above is her special ‘warden’s quilt’, which depicts the bursting of a bomb over an old-fashioned hexagon patchwork made from scraps. Each patch has been signed by one of her fellow fire wardens, and she’s embroidered the signatures. I wonder what happened to this. I hope someone still has it wrapped up in an airing cupboard somewhere.

You can buy Nella Last’s War, Nella Last’s Peace, and Nella Last in the 1950s on Amazon (the last two you can even get on a Kindle). Some good reading for the holidays, I think.

Christmas houses

Happy Christmas everyone! I know it’s really tomorrow, but I prefer Christmas Eve to the proper day in some ways. Anticipation is often better than reality, don’t you think?

These are German ceramic houses at my boyfriend’s parents house. Every year they line them up on the mantelpiece with some tiny trees. They have candles inside so all the windows light up. I totally love them.

Here is my favourite on the right, I reckon it’s probably the village hotel. I’d love to go inside and order a Glühwein and indulge in some cheery Yuletide banter with Fritz the landlord (forgive the tweeness, it is Christmas after all).

It’s been a bit quiet around here. I have at least 6 posts half-written, but also I’ve been suffering from a mini attack of ‘whats-the-point’-itis. I do miss updating this blog though so I’m sure 2012 will see a renewed outpouring of my nonsense.

Here are some things from other people I’ve enjoyed reading, in case you need a distraction from the turkey, mince pies, and seasonal TV specials tomorrow:

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you get some mulled wine and a mince pie, or whatever else you fancy.

Three birthday wishes

It was my birthday the weekend before last. Quite a significant one as well. And as everyone knows, there are three things a girl wants for her birthday:

1. New Shoes:

Check out my new Clarks desert boot wedges in dark red! They were a present from my lovely boyfriend. They are too nice to wear out of the house. I’ve constructed a small shoe shrine in my bedroom where I can light candles and admire them.

These are the best kind of present – something you really really want but would never buy for yourself (I already have one pair in beige, as you probably know)

New shoes!! OMG

2. A new dress:

It’s the law that you must wear a new dress on your birthday. Two days before mine I remembered this, and had to sew up a Vogue 8728 double quick. It’s made from some John Kaldor viscose/rayon fabric I had lying around.

It’s very fast to sew, but I didn’t exactly finish the insides to a high couture standard. Nobody is going to be exhibiting this dress in a museum in 100 years time, while tourists marvel at the amazing workmanship of ye olde home sewers.

I did manage to make it in a day and a half though (plus one night to cut out the pieces). I spent most of my actual birthday sewing lots of rows of gathers while listening to podcasts, but this is basically my ideal leisure activity so don’t feel too bad for me.

Vogue 8728
Sorry for the terrible photo quality. There's approx 30 mins of daylight at the moment.

This dress comes out long. I chopped off two inches and sewed a 4 inch hem to get this length, and I’m 5 ft 9 (and a half). I used light fusible interfacing on the midriff, an invisible zip, and shop-bought bias binding because I couldn’t face trying to cut strips of this slippery, fray-prone fabric. Bonus – I think I have enough fabric left to make myself another Sorbetto!

3. And the third thing every girl wants for her birthday?

No, it’s not diamonds, bath salts, or the overthrow of the patriarchy (nice as those are), it’s a brand new Brother 1034d overlocker, of course.

Look how well my new Brother is getting along with Bernie, my Activa 220.

Brother + Bernina = BFF

Brother are definitely conducting a viral marketing campaign via sewing blogs – first Peter, then Karen, and now Jane have bought this machine. Peer pressure is a terrible thing.

I was too scared to take it out of the box for a week. I don’t know what I was so worried about – threading it is easy! But only after I watched this video, and god bless the lady who uploaded it to Youtube. Someone should give her a medal. I’m still too intimidated to fiddle with all the strange dials on the side of it though.

The fourth significant thing I got for my birthday was a horrendous hangover, but we’ll gloss over that.

Now Christmas can begin! (You may not be aware, but Christmas doesn’t officially start until after my birthday has happened)

On Craft and being ‘crafty’

What does the word ‘craft’ make you think of?

Some twigs, yesterday

Those pasta necklaces you make for your mum at primary school? Church hall fairs and macrame plant pots?  The smell of PVA glue? Retro ‘Make do and mend’ posters?

Art and Design have it much easier – who wouldn’t want to be described as an ‘artist’ or a ‘designer’? But ‘crafter’ and ‘crafty’ sound so homespun and lumpy. Why does craft have an image problem? Is it something to do with gender?

What got me thinking about this was the Kirstie Allsopp programme, Handmade Britain. Something about the way ‘craft’ is presented makes me uneasy.

There’s only one aesthetic being pushed: the flowery, vintage-y, home-baking, village fair type. Even a book like ‘Queen of Crafts’ by Jazz Domino Holly (which promises to put the ‘rock and roll’ back into craft) is stuffed with the kind of cute, easy things you used to get in 1950s activity books for children: making your own lipbalm, growing plants, doing a bit of knitting. Try a bit of everything, it’s just a laugh.

At the other end of the scale there’s the ‘Craftsman’. Doesn’t that word have a lovely reassuring ring to it? Makes you think of tiny Parisian workshops, decades-old tradition, hand-worked leather luggage, etc etc. The kind of ‘craft’ championed by Wallpaper magazine – limited edition, exquisitely made, and very, very expensive. Oh, and usually heavily branded.

Although the big companies making these ‘craft’ objects might have  the majority of their products made by underpaid workers in China, sending out some press releases on their traditional craftmanship gives their brand a lovely, old-fashioned, top-quality glow.

Handmade perfume flagons in Wallpaper magazine - probably going to cost a bit more than your Superdrug bottle of Charlie Red

There has to be a middle path between the idea of craft as a fun, non-threatening pastime you can pick up and do on the weekends, and the professional, old-school, highly priced craftsman.

I think you can find it on the internet, on blogs and forums and groups. The old-fashioned (and non-derogatory) use of the word ‘amateur’ springs to mind. Amateur comes from the words ‘to love’, did you know that? You probably did if you paid more attention in GCSE French than me. People doing something just for the love of it. Trying their best and learning all the time.

I don’t really think of myself as ‘crafty’, in the sense that I could turn my hand to anything and make a good job of it. There are a few things that I’ve tried that really capture my interest and have kept me hooked, and sewing is one of them.

Interestingly, for the tutorial segments of the Kirstie Allsopp show, the experts she brings in to do demonstrations (90% women – no craftsmen here) all specialise in one particular area, whether it’s floristry, machine embroidery, applique, screen-printing – whatever. It’s a worn-out axiom that practice makes perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Kirstie Allsopp does have many lovely coats.

Making is one of the most satisfying things you can do on this earth. Can you remember the first time you knitted a tiny garter stitch square, or sewed a wonky pair of pyjama bottoms, or drew a just-about-recognisable vase of flowers? It’s an insane rush! But if you leave it there you’re missing the best bit, which is learning. Dipping your toe in the water isn’t as good.

That’s what sometimes makes me leery of the idea of ‘Craftivism‘. I don’t like the idea of ‘craft’ as a magical sprinkle dust which you can use to add trendiness, or authenticity, or old-fashioned values to your particular project. Nobody’s set up ‘Designism’ because design is just too broad a concept that encompasses so many things. To my mind craft  – making things, to put it simply – is also too broad to be narrowed down like that.

What do you think?

Denim shirt dress – Simplicity 2246

This is the Lisette Traveler dress, Simplicity 2246.

Simplicity 2246

Sorry for my stern expression. I’ve just bought a magnetic Gorilla Pod tripod, which I wrapped around the light switch to take this photo. I was wondering if it was going to fall off and smash my camera mid-shot.

This dress does have a slight lady-prison-warden vibe to it though, maybe I was channeling that.

This is a lovely pattern, with lots of helpful touches like huge hem allowances on the sleeves, so that you can roll them up without any side-seam stitching showing. Two things I’d advise you to think about if you want to sew this:

  1. Pin the pockets to the dress to check positioning, BEFORE you sew and top-stitch them. I lengthened the body and then sewed on the top pockets without checking, and they were ridiculously high.
  2. You hem the dress very early on in the sewing process, so think about where you want it to end before you cut the pattern out – you’ll need to alter it then.

I’m not 100% happy with this version. My boyfriend compared it to a denim lab-coat, and the swayback adjustment I did has given the skirt a definite A-line shape, which I don’t like (but am too lazy to change).

The fabric is beautiful thick denim from Fabricland*. As well as running a truly unique website, Fabricland have a chain of shops in the south of England which reward some digging. When you walk in they appear to sell 100 different colours of glittery dancewear fabric and nothing else, but if you spend time rummaging there’s some really good quality fabrics, well-priced too. As well as this denim I got 2 metres of beautiful bright blue Italian wool, destined to be a pencil skirt one day.

*Don’t click on that link if you’re feeling at all nauseous today. 

I added belt-loops and used metal snaps instead of buttons. I’d just made the Beignet when I sewed this dress, and I couldn’t face making another ten buttonholes.

However it turns out that spending two hours hammering these little metal things into place is just as stressful as sewing buttonholes.

Firstly, sewing buttonholes doesn’t involve repeatedly hitting your thumb with a large hammer (unless you’re doing something very wrong). Secondly, if you live in a block of flats, sewing buttonholes won’t lead to your neighbours leaving a note on your door in the morning, asking ‘the DIY enthusiast’ to keep the noise down after 6pm at night. Just a little tip.

Bust Craftacular

Last weekend I went to the Bust Craftacular in Bethnal Green. This is the 3rd or 4th year in a row I’ve been, and this time I got a little bit of crafty deja-vu.


Maybe you know what I mean. There are so many talented illustrators, designers and makers at the event, but the pool of inspiration they’re drawing from seems to be getting quite shallow.

Here are some things that are increasingly familiar:

  • Moustaches. The absolute worst offenders. Moustaches have GONE TOO FAR.
  • Tea cups
  • Foxes
  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Antlers/deer
  • Trees
  • Drawings of girls with big eyes
  • Bunting all over everything

I’m not saying this to discourage anyone who’s about to put the finishing touches to their drawing of an antler-wearing, mustachioed fox, drinking from a tea-cup, holding a string of bunting in its paw, and standing on an owl’s wing (which actually sounds v impressive).

All I’m saying is, it’s refreshing to see something different. Check out these amazing illustrators I discovered at the Craftacular for starters:

Sarah Lippett drew this brilliant comic which is all about Yuri Gagarin and has proper Russian words in:

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's shop, where you can buy this comic, and you totally should

Also, how good is this vase – it’s a representation of the Mercury 7 space capsule.

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's blog

Just to make me look totally stupid, she has some awesome bird drawings on her blog, and I also bought a v funny zine from her which is all about….er…. facial hair.

The other illustrator whose stuff I really liked was Nanae Kawahara (she has a website here)

She draws some frankly bonkers illustrations, mostly involving poodles. I bought these sweet cards, one of which appears to feature an array of Christmassy chairs. Her Etsy shop also has the best wedding card I’ve ever seen.

(I was also going to mention Cleo Ferin Mercury, who draws colourful 1960s screen icons all over lovely silk scarves – but Chuck did a much better round-up of her stuff, which you should go and read instead)