Saturday, 14 December 2013

Mojo returning slowly

I've not done much at all for over a month. I lost interest after Poppy's sudden death. I completed a few outstanding orders, and took on no more. 

Poppy now lies in the flower border, near the bush she liked to sit under. Twelve bright red tulips are planted over her, and a sturdy oriental poppy in the middle of them. 

I don't know if I'll stay in this house, though. I had thought to stay here 'for ever' but  now ... I'm not so sure. About anything.

I was asked if I could 'fill in' at short notice at a somewhat-prestigious, hard-to-get-into craft fair the weekend after Poppy's death. My normal reaction would have been to jump at the chance, but instead I emailed the organiser to say 'thank you' but that I'd been recently and suddenly bereaved so wasn't up to it. 

But life goes on regardless.

I don't celebrate Christmas - I haven't done so for years, as I have no religious belief and the commercial frenzy surrounding the non-religious celebrations quite frankly sickens me  - but friends and acquaintances do, so I made some fabric origami stars as small gifts. They are very easy to make.

 A garland of four-pointed fabric origami stars, made with Christmas prints.
Fabric origami stars

Saturday, 9 November 2013


It's Remembrance weekend - more commonly known as Poppy Day.

? Feb 2012 - 8 Nov 2013
My darling little Poppy, a black and white cat, tiny in size but big in personality, was killed at five to ten on Friday morning, yesterday. I found her dead on the road outside my house, still warm and soft, but with a broken neck and half her face missing. 

This is a 20mph zone. A lady driving by - AT 20mph - saw a neighbour and me standing in the road and stopped to see what had happened and if she could help. She could see, and could stop, because she was travelling at 20mph. The majority of people go past at far, far more than 20mph - many at 40 or more. 

Where Poppy had tried to cross the road was precisely where a public footpath emerges onto the road.  No-one stopped, I heard no screech of brakes, there were no tyre marks on the road. It was a dry, clear morning on a narrow country lane on the outskirts of a small village. 

Another neighbour who called round said to me 'Your cat could have been a child!'

Yes, she could. Will that thought stop motorists from speeding? 

No, of course not! 

Rest in peace, little Poppy. I will dig your grave tomorrow, in the sunshine and as the church bells ring. Poppy Day will forever have an extra, other meaning for me. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The real cost of clothing

Overhead view of collapsed Rana Plaza building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, which held several factories and thousands of workers
Rana Plaza collapse, Dhaka,
April 2013 (rijans CC)
(warning - distressing photo further down)

I was reading recently about the meetings held under the aegis of the ILO  in Geneva last month (details here)in an unsuccessful attempt to settle compensation for the Rana Plaza collapse victims (April 2013; over 1,000 dead, about 2,500 injured) and Tazreen Fashions fire victims (November 2012; more than 117 dead, over 200 injured). There's also the more recent - just over ten days ago - fire at the Aswad Mills in Gazipur, where 'only' about ten workers lost their lives.

And I started to wonder.

How expensive is cheap clothing?

On a forum I sometimes frequent, a poster stated a few months ago – apropos a discussion about what to make and sell at craft fairs and hand-made markets -

       I see really simple dresses in stores that are way too overpriced. 
      People are always looking for clothes that are unique and affordable.

I was incandescent with rage at the arrogance of this statement, but calmed down and decided that I should be more benevolent towards my fellow humans, and put the post down to mere (??) ignorance, so I responded in a more temperate manner than I actually felt, as follows:
Mass-produced clothing which is sold in shops is made, in the overwhelming majority of cases, by poor people in third-world countries being paid a few pounds a week, and whose workplaces seem not infrequently to fall down or burn up - or both! - with them trapped, sometimes even locked, inside. 
Why on earth would anyone think that a garment made individually by a skilled person in the first world would, should or could possibly be purchased for less money (which is what is usually meant by 'more affordable') than a garment which could well have been made by one of those poor, dreadfully-injured women still lying in a Bangladeshi hospital, or by a hungry child who should, by all rights, be at school or simply out playing.
Whether we buy a £2 Primark* t-shirt, or a £40 Zara t-shirt, can we say that either one is really overpriced?  

All too often, the cost is life itself.

Corpses trapped in debris of Rana Plaza building, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Destruction and death (rijans CC)
In order to cover the financial cost of improvements in fire, safety and construction to internationally-accepted standards in the garment factories it uses, Walmart (the world's biggest retailer) would need to add 10 US cents - 6p, yes that's right, SIXPENCE - to the retail price of a garment in a store. Walmart has refused to do this, citing, as I understand, 'Expense' as the reason. 

I find the thought of someone being forced to work in unsafe, unhealthy, even life-threatening conditions just so that we can casually buy cheap clothes to throw away, to be simply appalling. 

I KNOW it happens and yet I have still bought the jeans, the t-shirt. 


Because I could, and because I wanted to. No other reason more compelling than that.

We in the wealthy West benefit hugely from cheap labour in Third World countries, mainly in Asia. This labour is predicated upon cheap fossil fuels, global debt, central banks and a cavalier attitude to environmental damage and occupational safety, if either of the two latter are acknowledged at all. 

Of course, there are businesses, multinationals even, who see that it is in everyone's best interests to attempt to ensure that their workers - whether a department manager in a UK business place  or a lowly-paid seamstress in Dhaka - are treated in a fair manner and work in safe conditions. These companies are frequently members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is also associated with international trade union organisations and NGOs. When I buy new clothing, which is increasingly rare these days, I buy either 'made in UK' (if I can find it and afford it) or else a brand which is a full current member of the ETI.

The ETI is not the entire, final answer, of course. Even the best of purchaser and retailer audits, requirements and spot checks might be thwarted by the greedy determination of corrupt officialdom working hand-in-hand with unethical factory management, especially when unorganised poor and migrant workers are cowed by bullying, but it's a start at least.

I'll finish with a Victorian cartoon which gently mocks two fashionable young women who are clearly at the forefront of fashion, technology and all things modern. 

I wonder if they ever concerned themselves, from the comfort of their clearly middle-class, liberated, 'Rational Dress' lives, with the plight of 'the masses' of the Industrial Revolution ...

19thC cartoon - two smartly-dressed young women talking about clothes

Gertrude:  My dear Jessie, what on earth is that bicycle suit for?

Jessie: Why, to wear, of course!

Gertrude: But you haven't got a bicycle!

Jessie: No, but I have got a sewing-machine!

* NB All credit to Primark; although  often reviled, it has - unlike almost all the other companies involved - stepped up to the mark in this desperately tragic situation, expressing frustration at how long it is taking to agree on victim compensation for the Rana` Plaza disaster, and in the meantime arranging 'emergency' payments to all (not just those working on Primark's production line) Rana Plaza victims or their families, of its own volition.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Surprises in Immanuel Fabrics

Lovely surprises!

Of course, there are always surprises to be found in Immanuels, even if it's only the Elephant fabric back in again, but this time in shades of delightful powder blue. Not just baby elephants with their mamas on the savannah - but boy baby elephants. Awwwwww what a lovely surprise that was!

There's another surprise, though - one that some people just don't ever discover. The stock at Immanuels goes far, far beyond curtains, cottons, upholstery and the pound-a-metre room.

Taking time and trouble to have a good search is always rewarding. It might mean considerable time and a deal of trouble, literally on your knees (but not praying) and peering upwards (not heavenwards), not to mention the physical activity of heaving rolls out from between other rolls - there's a definite knack to this which is not mere physical strength.  I've found the most exquisite of beaded and embroidered fabrics - and learnt an important Immanuel's lesson the hard way - if you want it, buy it when you see it, don't plan to come back 'later' to get it as it very likely won't be there!

Below are two very different, but equally-luxurious, fabrics. The black viscose will be an evening jacket or a wrap - it has a lovely drape and will look stunning cut in a very simple 'cardigan' style. Over a plain black dress, or top and black skirt - or velvet trousers - it will be classic evening wear for all sorts of occasions. I bought 3m, so plenty for whatever I decide to do. Another, even simpler option, would be to line it with a satin and wear it merely as a rectangular wrap or stole.
Soft black viscose  with tiny silver sequins sewn on forming a design of twining stems and flowers
Warm-feel viscose embroidered with tiny
silver sequins & silver thread. 
Detail of one of the flowers sewn with tiny silver sequins
Detail view of viscose

Photographing embroidered fabrics, especially ones where glitter, shimmer, drape and 'feel' are an important part of the experience, is very difficult. 

The hand and the glimmer of the pure silk below is only caught very slightly in the photos, and the depth of the silvery-grey colour scarcely at all.

had hoped to be able to get enough of this silk to make a Victorian  gown, or at least part of one - I am of an age when, in Victorian times,  I would be almost expected to be in mourning or half-mourning for one or other of my relatives, so the grey colour would be ideal. However, it was not to be and so the single metre I bought is still waiting, lonely, for inspiration. 
Photo attempting to show the effect of the silver-grey pure silk fabric, embroidered in charcoal grey
Silver-grey silk taffeta embroidered in charcoal-grey. 
This was sold out when I went back for more!
A close-up photo of the embroidered silk, showing the design of leaves in more detail
Detail of the embroidered silk.

Perhaps I should accept that I am not fated to be a Victorian lady of means, and just run myself up some voluminous, practical black and grey woollen dresses with plenty of white cotton aprons, petticoats, collars and cuffs. How disappointing to never wear my silver-grey silk, though! 

Rich purple, sparkly, glittery velvet
Sparkly, glittery velvet.

On a visit earlier this week, I found this lovely purple shimmery, sparkly velvet - the picture is blurred because I wanted to get the colour and glitter effect, rather than the fabric itself, which is 'just' velvet. I plan to line it with a dark purple satin for a somewhat more exotic than the norm 'infinity' scarf. 
A black devore fabric over my arm to show off both the dark pile of the hearts and the transparent fragility of the fine net  base
Devore-type fabric over my arm.
On the same visit, I found a black devore type fabric - the hearts are a luxurious velvet pile,  on a base of fine black net. I can picture this as long sleeves on a  plain black velvet dress, or as an unlined jacket to be worn over a plain-coloured cocktail-type dress. 

Of course, fabrics of this type, style and quality are not to be found in the pound-a-metre room. 

Nevertheless, you would probably find it hard to believe the unfeasibly low prices I have paid for what are, when all is said and done, luxury fabrics.

Friday, 11 October 2013

... Immanuel, redeem thy captive ...

Going into Immanuels is not like entering a normal fabric shop. 
Main entrance to Immanuel Fabrics, showing door leading to narrow corridor
The main entrance of Immanuels. 

To gird my loins and give me energy for the decisions I would soon be facing, I stopped in at a local bakery, Oddies, when I got off my bus. Odd name, delicious bakes! 

had one of their delicious pies and a gooseberry tart. While there, I could not resist a ginger-and-lemon cupcake, too. Delicious combination!

Can you see the rolls of plastic just inside the doorway on the photo on the left? 

Narrow corridor just inside the entrance door, packed full of rolls of PVC and similar fabrics
The front corridor, lined 
with roll after roll.

This is an entire corridor, going the width of the building, stocked with roll after roll of plastic, PVC, leatherette and the like, with only a passage sufficient for one person between the rolls.

Bear in mind this is just the entrance. I'm not actually in the place yet.

Then I entered Immanuels. It's like entering a strange combination of a mad church jumble sale, the crypt of Scheherezade's dressmaker's storeroom, and a warehouse. 

A small side room inside Immanuels, filled very untidily with rolls of fabric
Mad church jumble sale?

There is sense and logic behind the visual confusion,  but it's hard to grasp on your initial visit if you are unprepared - and impossible if you're in a rush! 

A wall inside Immanuels, totally lined with horizontal rolls of fabric
Entire walls of fabric

There are entire walls of fabrics separating the main 'church' into different areas - areas where the suitings are stacked, areas where it's all dress fabric, areas full of very heavy upholstery fabrics. 

There are shelves with nothing on them but roll after roll of lace, and other shelves carrying organza in all the colours of the rainbow ...

A happy proprietor with a welcoming smile holding attractive well priced fabric.
A cheery face is always an encouragement to buy.

The friendly owners and staff always have a word of greeting for you however busy they are. There are usually only two, sometimes three, people working at one time, with three, sometimes four, on the busiest days. There is no 'customer service' in the sense of the sort of customer service you would get in a 'top people's' shop - you need to look for what you want and find it largely by yourself - but they are always more than willing to get fabric down off the racks for you, and to fetch and carry rolls and bolts. They have a very good idea of what they have in stock if you know what you want, and can usually give you a general idea of its location within the building - as long as it's not been moved by a customer of course!

This photo shows the staggering amount of fabric in just a small part of the room in which everything costs £1 per metre.
Just one small section of the pound-a-metre room
Venturing deeper into the building, there is a wonderful room where even more amazing things can be found. 

This room is known as the pound-a-metre room, and  everything  in it is, obviously. £1 per metre. 

It's not a small room, and it's not sparsely stocked, either. It's a big parish-hall type of room, with a high ceiling for the racking, and all sorts of well-concealed treasures up there among the spiders! First-timers find their way to this room, and stand, blocking the doorway, gazing into its distant recesses and asking 'which is the pound-a-metre section?' as they simply cannot believe the sign in front of them which reads 'ALL FABRICS IN HERE £1/m' in fluorescent orange. 

Whether it's cafe nets or canvas strong enough to mend your roof, it's all £1/m. I bought my curtain fabric in that room. I've bought many, many fabrics from that room, and made all sorts of lovely things to sell at craft markets and bazaars. I made almost £100 for the World's Biggest Coffee morning MacMillan fundraiser having spent less than a tenner in that a couple of reels of thread. 

I've found exquisite plain cotton there, of a quality that just must be Egyptian. It was from a clearance at an old mill; goodness knows how long the stack of fabric had waited for the light of day. Another time, I bought what I thought was a 45" wide cotton to use for lining aprons - on getting it home it proved to be a 90" wide pure cotton voile. Exquisite! 

I've also bought some odd stuff there, for curiosity value really. Well, why wouldn't I, at a pound a metre? Weird spongy stuff (it might come in useful for fancy dress construction one day). Amazingly heavy roof-mending (or perhaps boat-building, or road-making) canvas. Rude ironing-board-cover fabric (believe me, it's very rude. Indeed.). 

The thing is, though, the stock at Immanuels goes beyond curtains, cottons and the pound-a-metre room.

Far beyond.

More tomorrow. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel ...

The tenth of October already - nearly Hallowe'en and I live in Pendle Witch country, as you can see from the bus!

A double-decker bus of the 'Witch Way' route, with a flying witch painted in the side, and the name 'Elizabeth Device'.
The Flying Witch bus - and very
comfortable, too, with leather seats!

Yesterday I braved the wind and the rain in the morning to go to my favourite fabric shop - Immanuel Fabrics in Burnley. By the time I'd got to Burnley Bus Station the rain had stopped  and there was a big patch of blue in the sky. 

Immanuel Fabrics, front entrance in the sunshine. No shop window, just a narrow doorway.
Immanuel Fabrics front entrance.

A few minutes later as I arrived at Immanuels, the sun had come out and the sky was very blue - it wasn't only my mood which lifted as I approached Immanuels, even the weather's mood improved!

I've been a regular customer there for almost two years now, and as a result have a stash so big I could probably open a shop of my own - the less said about it, the better, probably..

However, as usual I found lovely things to buy. And a couple of things I actually needed, too.  

There were lots of new full and part rolls from Prestigious Textiles, and other similar quality fabrics. One of the reasons I like the PT stuff so much is that it is all dyed and printed here in the UK, which not only keeps jobs here but also ensures that the environmental pollution from the dyeing process isn't just 'shipped off' out of sight, out of mind to somewhere with far less stringent controls, regulation and environmental policing than we have here.

The fabric is sold as 'possible seconds' and that is what nearly all of it is - no more than 'possible'. Normally it is indistinguishable from 'perfect' on short-to-medium length runs. On longer lengths - say 15m and above - slight offsetting of the print register by 1 or 2mm is often detectable between the two ends. That's what makes it a 'second'. I fully understand why this can't be supplied to contract upholsterers, commercial curtain makers, large retailers and the like, and very much appreciate being able to buy it for my purposes at bargain prices!

More on my favourite shop tomorrow.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Aprons - and other things - at the market

Our village has an annual market in late spring. It's a big event for our village, which is off the beaten track and has nothing much to commend it to tourists, compared to some of the nearby villages which have stunning views, stately homes, picturesque gardens, 'listed' buildings, medieval churches and even castles. One or two of our neighbouring villages are very strictly 'preserved' in a sort of time-warp, and hence popular for filming period dramas and the like. 

We have none of that, Instead, we have a busy village committee who organise things like the market and the field day, and re-enactments on the playing fields. 

This year, instead of the market being held in the village 'square' (actually, it's a triangle) it was held in the grounds of the 'trading estate' -  an old converted mill complex - which was a much better idea. 

I had tentatively said I would attend; I had aprons made, lots of bunting, rod pockets for the fishermen ...  
Three colourful aprons drying in the sunshine on a washing line
Full aprons drying on the washing line

At 8am on the morning of the market, I was still in bed when there was a knocking at the door - it was the market organiser making sure I was ready to attend - yawn! 

I staggered up,  and down the lane I went with my boxes and bags. Fortunately it was less than 100m away, and my friend brought me a nice hot mug of coffee from her house as I set up my 'stall'.

Phot of my stall, with bunting blowing in the wind and aprons and  other items on the table.
My stall at the Village Market - nearly sold out and
only been open for an hour and a half!
It was cold and it was windy - I had to take the aprons off the rack and hold them down with the rod pockets (which BTW were filled with garden canes cut to length, just in case someone thought they might liberate themselves a nice new rod) -.but the rain held off and the crowds poured in, eager to buy. The Allotment Society sold out within minutes, it seemed - British Asian women on a day out from the East Lancashire industrial towns south of us almost stormed the Society's  stall, determined to fill their gardens with lovely, healthy home-grown plants at bargain prices.

A variety of colourful, patterned bias binding.
I sold bias binding, too - you can't get binding
like this in the shops! 
I didn't do too badly, either. I sold everything and took orders! At one point, just as the photo above of my stall was taken, it was looking very bare so my friend took over the stall for a few minutes while I dashed home for some more stock! I had a couple of half-aprons I'd made, some more bunting (I had to sit at my stall and trim the threads off it - it was finished but not 'finished off') and - bizarre genius - bias binding. I'd got a bias binding machine for Christmas and had been making miles of the stuff; I thought that sewers or crafters would not want to buy a finished item, but they might well be interested in buying bias binding - and they were! 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A new sewing machine

 Well, it's new to me.

I've acquired a Singer 28K handcrank; her serial number dates her to the first half of 1908. She came from a rural car-boot sale via a friend, for the grand sum of £8.
Singer 28K handcrank sewing machine made in 1908
Singer 28K, made in Kilbowie, Clydebank
Scotland, in the first half of 1908.
We put her on my dining room table, changed her needle, wound her bobbin on my 1914 Jones Family CS (as the Singer's bobbin tyre is missing), threaded her up - and she sewed. Not quite perfectly yet; the tension mechanism needs a thorough cleaning, and the stitch length adjuster is jammed, but the application of plenty of WD 40 followed by a good dose of sewing machine oil in all orifices and wherever metal meets metal will soon solve that problem, I have no doubt. 

Jones Family CS 'as supplied to HM Queen Alexandra'
with 'coffin top' case seen behind.
The lid to her accessories compartment is missing - I think it was a sliding lid, so it must have slid right off - and she has neither accessories nor cover - which I think would have been a 'coffin top' similar to that of my Jones Family CS, seen on the right here. The desirable bentwood cases came a bit later, I'm sure.

How many domestic machines of any type are still perfectly functional at 105 years old? There are literally thousands, probably millions, of century-old hand-crank and treadle sewing machines still doing useful, often vital, jobs all over the world. I wonder if the men and women who made these machines a century and more ago had any idea at all of the heritage they left us? I wish my old machines could talk! I'd love to know about some of the garments they made, the women who used them and the conditions in which they were used. Gas-light? Oil-lamps? Or did they push a table to the window and place the machine there when they needed to sew? 

I hope to get into some of the 'better' vintage-style fairs by doing 'craft demos' with one or other of my vintage machines. Some of them will offer a free stall if you will do a demo or teach a class. 

So I must get on to doing tutorials on here - quick and easy lavender bags will be the first one, I think. I make a start on it tomorrow, as it's forecast to pour with rain so there'll be no gardening for me.

Monday, 30 September 2013

World's biggest coffee morning

For McMillan Cancer Support

Last Friday 27th September, as most people will be aware, was the date selected for 'the World's Biggest Coffe Morning' this year.

All over the UK in towns, cities and villages, coffee (or tea!) and cakes and other goodies were being served in homes, parish halls, schools, community centres, pubs, shops and - in our village's case - the village Social Club, in order to raise funds for Macmillan.

As a therapy radiographer who trained and qualified at The Christie in Manchester (before taking further qualifications and then travelling all over the world!) back in the dawn of time, I am all too well aware of the many and varied forms of help needed during a cancer patient's journey. 

One of the girls - Pauline - I trained with in the late 60s/early 70s at The Christie was, until she retired recently, employed by Macmillan as 'the Macmillan radiographer'. in a major teaching hospital's radiation therapy department.

When I heard that Annie, the organiser of the coffee morning at the club, was planning 'stalls', I volunteered to have one. Well, I like to sew, I have the ultimate source of cheap fabric - if it were any cheaper it would be free! - I have years of experience and hours of free time.

So I set to work. Four full aprons, four half-aprons, five plastic-bag-holding 'tubes', ten strings of floral bunting, forty lavender bags and twenty rose-and-lavender bags later, I was ready. 

On Friday morning I was up at 6.30 am pouring the lavender into the bags and sewing those final seams ...

By 2.30 pm I was home again, with two aprons, four strings of bunting, one lavender bag and three rose-and-lavender bags. Oh, and a big bag of home-made parkin! 

Annie kissed me when I gave her all my takings, just keeping a fiver back because I'd had to buy the lavender!

Then at about 5pm there was a knock on my door and a lady who'd missed the fund-raiser was there - she'd heard I had bunting for sale and was desperate for some. She bought the lot, so that was yet another £20 ... it's fast and dirty bunting, which is why it was so cheap.

Most of the lavender bags sold within the first hour. I should've made more plain lavender bags. Next time. They were much admired, and again a very fast and dirty make. 

I'll do tutorials on both the lavender bags and the bunting soon.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Settled and sewing

After years spent in and near cities, due to my work, I knew I wanted to return to my rural roots.

So here I am, in the beautiful Ribble Valley of rural Lancashire, living in a red-brick cottage situated in a very, very ancient village, and enjoying the company of a talkative rescued cat and my family of sewing machines.

I've sewn for as long as I can remember, learning on my mum's old treadle Singer as soon as my legs were long enough to  reach the treadle.

Having lived and worked all over the world, and always had a wanderlust and itchy feet, I'm more surprised than anyone else to feel so settled and contented in a little Lancashire village which runs to one shop-cum-PO-cum-off-licence, and five buses a day, none on Sundays. I've lived here just over a year now, and I simply love it. It's difficult for me to imagine living anywhere else, and for - I think - the first time in my life, I'm seriously thinking about being here 'next year' and 'the year after next', instead of thinking 'where shall I go to next?' and getting that frisson of excitement at the prospect of a new job, new people and a new home in a new country.

So I thought I'd chronicle some of my sewing adventures here, as well as some of my thoughts, memories and plans.

My cat on what is supposed to be my sunlounger!
For whom was the sunlounger provided, eh?