Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Jenga Bench and Last of the Raspberries

I have wanted a bench in my garden for a long time and with all this talk of vintage and the three Rs - Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose I got to thinking it would be nice to put that into practice and see if I could get hold of an old bench that would look weathered and had seen a bit of life and more importantly hardly cost anything. We are always reading in the Sunday supplements about people who have transformed their homes from middens to mansions and furnished them entirely with reclaimed pieces of furniture from skips or architectural salvage yards - and aren't those people irritatingly always architects, or designers plugging their own design companies. Now the editors of these magazines would have you believe that finding a desirable piece of furniture in a skip is as easy as going up the road to buy your morning newspaper and bottle of milk. How often do we read of the designer who just by chance comes across an old refectory table and six chairs just lying around in a builder's skip. Then you read a little further to discover of course they live in Chelsea or Primrose Hill, or other desirable parts of London. Not so where I live. I have only ever come across manky mattresses or avocado baths.


What I did come across though were some old blocks of wood in my garage hidden beneath a workbench and looking remarkably like Jenga bricks. So I heaved them all out and built them into my very own Jenga Bench.  Not quite what I had in mind but they cost nothing, met the three Rs criteria and now I have my own little haven in the garden where I can sit, sunbathe and knit to my heart's content.


I have been picking raspberries from my garden for the last few weeks but they are just about coming to an end. This is probably more or less the last of them now.


And a home made tomato, spinach and feta tart looking amazingly like the photo in the recipe book for once.


So a productive day in the garden.



Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Party Seven Bumpers of Beer



OK. Hands up anyone who ever had one of these in the corner of their lounge chez Duckworth stylie. Well it seems in these days of retro and vintage that the kitsch cocktail cabinet of yesteryear is now considered cool again and is back with a vengeance. I began to realise just how popular they have become again when on my recent trip to Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair down at the Custard Factory there were quite a few of them for sale.  On Ebay too there seems to be hundreds of them for sale varying in style from the free-standing drinks cabinet, with a handy pull down door to tamper with a touch of mixology, to those padded at the front numbers big enough to sit at on a bar stool. Does anyone own up to still having an original?  Spot the soda syphon on the top.


I remember we had an original shiny bright green Sodastream syphon, the ones that used sparkletts to turn plain water fizzy. Dad would drag it from the back of the sideboard at Christmas to impress the neighbours and top up their whiskeys but they were a real faff on as the sparkletts never lasted for long.


Now as an aside can anyone remember the bumpers of beer that Watneys and Worthington E used to do called Party Seven which contained seven pints of beer.  Dad would always get a bumper in for Christmas. This was way before the days of six packs but the beer was always flat although you could buy a little gas cylinder and tap for the top but more often than not Dad would pierce the tin twice with a tin opener in much the same way as evaporated milk (oh the joys of tinned fruit and cream!)
 

Remember Snowballs? Did we really drink those back then and love them?  I would be allowed a Snowball at Christmas which was advocaat topped up with lemonade and a maraschino cherry on a cocktail stick.  Pretty ghastly and so was the cherry but I loved them at the time and felt quite grown up drinking them.  "Eveninks and morninks, I drink Warninks — Warninks Advocaat."


Babychams were considered pretty harmless too. Babycham? I’d love a Babycham, The genuine champagne perry. And Cherry Bs.




Our drinks cabinet was a cupboard in the sideboard. Mum would never have entertained having a drinks cabinet anyway, much less a bar but what we did have that she was very proud of was a radiogram - a record player that was cunningly disguised as a sideboard which she took care to polish every day. I came across a similar one to our old radiogram at the vintage fair. I would stack the 45s high on the needle so they would automatically drop down and play the next one but if you loaded too many on the music would start to sound incredibly wobbly. Friends would come round during the school holidays for wild parties of fried egg sandwiches and beans on toast, and dance away to Rod Stewart, Roxy Music and the Jackson 5 when Michael was a cute little 12 year old.

  
And my friend Lesley had one that looked a bit like this..


Lots of bric-a-brac at the vintage fair too and I loved this lamp which I thought would look good on a cocktail bar or a radiogram.  




I used to work for BT so I had to pay homage to the good old Basic 700 Dial telephone. They were fetching about £60.  

 




At work we nicknamed this phone 'The Cowpat' although its real name was The Dawn.


and the good old Viscount with those awful tiny rubber buttons


And as if by magic in a box of vintage ties I came across this little gem....


...an original British Telecom Birmingham tie from back in the days where in offices: 

Men wore suits and ties
People drank real tea and coffee (not from a vending machine)
People were allowed to smoke at their desk
Not a PC in sight
Email had not been invented - people faxed, sent letters and memorandums written with pens, sent telexes or got up from their desk and actualy spoke to people
There was no such thing as dress down fridays
Everyone went to the pub on Friday lunchtime 
Everyone went straight back to the pub on Friday afer work


We never had it so good! 

Monday, 16 June 2014

How to Knit an Aeroplane

It was with great delight on Saturday while working at the Library of Birmingham that I came across  Birmingham's Knit and Natter Group taking part in World Wide Knit in Public Day with events taking place up and down the country and across the world during the week 14th - 22nd June.   WWKiPD was started in 2005 and is a way of showing the general public that knitting can be a community activity. And it's an activity shared not just by women but men too. More than once I have seen men knitting on the train home - better than sitting there texting or tweeting on their mobiles. I love these kind of events that bring people together to promote arts and crafts as it not only helps to keep creative skills alive but also encourages people to interact with like minded people, gets them out of their homes and can often help to combat loneliness or isolation.  


The Knit and Natter group took its inspiration from the Britain from Above exhibition outside in Centenary Square, by knitting aeroplanes. 


Britain from Above is a unique collection of stunning aerial photographs of Britain taken between 1919 - 1953.  A four year project aimed at conserving 95,000 of the oldest and most vauluable photographs in the Aerofilms collection presenting an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the 20th century.  Once conserved they are scanned into digital format and made available on the website for all to see. 


Yarnstormers can enlist their very own knitted aeroplane in the woolly squadron taking over Britain's urban and rural spaces by: 

Step 1 -  Knit an aeroplane.  Use the pattern below or make up your own.


Step 2 - Find out more about the history of the place you live in by going to www.britainfrom above.org.uk to find images near you and pick a favourite spot. Head out with your plane to take a picture. If you can bear to part with it, leave your knitted masterpiece behind for others to enjoy. 

Step 3 - Upload your picture to www.britainfromabove.org.uk/groups/knit-britain-above to join the ranks of your fellow yarnstormers.








It's not all about knitting though. Britain from Above is all about sharing your personal memories and invaluable local knowledge today to tell Britain's story and get a bird's eye view of Britain's past. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Vintage or Second Hand: The Rise & Rise of the Mom Jean


Whatever happened to Jumble sales? Why they have turned into trendy vintage fairs of course. A couple or so weeks back I visited Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair, a great place to buy vintage clothing, furniture, homeware and accessories. I felt really cool and hip because not only was I doing something that is so on trend but it was in the Custard Factory, a mecca for vintage fans and creative hub of Birmingham.  A double whammy then! How could I possibly fail to come away with a great little vintage designer number ensuring I have a super uber trendy look for the summer and securing a position at the sharp selvedge of fashion.  


I found though that shopping vintage is not quite that simple. You need a lot of patience and tenacity to rummage through the rails to unearth those hidden gems. There was a bit of a bargain hunt vibe to the place and twice I was pipped to the post to firstly an original Dickins & Jones of Regent Street little navy blue boxy jacket (I am a jacket fanatic so wasn't best pleased!) and secondly a Laura Ashley  floral print maxi dress, although quite where and when I would have worn that I don't know so maybe not such a good idea after all.  I was a great fan of Laura Ashley and remember early 80s having to travel to Cheltenham to buy her clothes as that was where the nearest branch was to Birmingham. Should have held on to them and that was one thing that started to become apparent to me as I was walking round; the regret that I had turfed out so many great items of clothing over the years. 


The prices did seem to vary too from very reasonably priced to what I call 'a bit dear.' Quality also  differed, from what my mum would have called 'tat', to some really lovely original pieces.


My mum would have referred to these clothes not as vintage but as 'Second Hand'.  So when did second hand become vintage? I remember back in the day being hauled off to jumble sales at the local church hall and watching Mum rummage through all the 'tat'. Table after table of piled up old clothes in no particular order. She would drag something out from near the bottom of the offending pile, grab hold of me, and hold it up against me to see if it fitted. Much humming and haaing would ensue with close examination of hems and seams to see if said item could be let in, let out, taken up or taken down. 


Not much fun for me but as a treat Mum might unearth a toy of some kind, an old annual, or an Enid Blyton book, or an old jigsaw puzzle which inevitably had pieces missing. In years to come the humble jumble sale would stray into vintage territory and of course on Sundays with their lattes and cappuccinos to go, people love nothing better than to worship at the high altars of the great British car boot sale.  



In the suburb of Birmingham where I grew up there were a couple of second hand shops but I remember them as dull, dingy and dusty shops with dirty windows, a few old battered sofas and chairs outside with perhaps a rail of uninspiring looking clothes and maybe a few more besides lurking inside.  Always a moth eaten old fur coat lying around that had seen better days or that could have been the moth eaten old cat that had seen better days.  If it moved you definitely didn't buy it. Vintage in those days was a word only used to describe wine or cars. 


I guess today those second hand shops have been replaced by charity shops. This begs another question then: When did second hand shops turn into charity shops? Where I live now there are umpteen charity shops, a bit like every other high street up and down the country and they have never been so popular. I love a charity shop day often venturing further afield to more affluent parts of the borough where I might be lucky enough to bag myself a designer label. My best buy so far though has been a Nicole Farhi suit in my local Oxfam for £5.  Unfortunately it  has huge Dynasty/Dallasesque shoulder pads so it patiently hangs in my wardrobe waiting for the time when Alexis Carrington power dressing is back in fashion. I notice these days the charity shops have gotten wise to labels and this is reflected now in their prices. 






Shopping at a vintage fair though is definitely a lot more fun than running the gamut of the charity shops in my local high street. Great cakes for one thing: 


All served up on vintage china of course: 


 And you see the most cool and stylish people: 


A truly dedicated follower of fashion. Loved the side burns and he even posed for me while I took his photo. 


 Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party. 


Interesting!  


Loved this stall called The Siren Vintage and couldn't help but notice the cool jeans the owner was wearing and how they looked exactly like a pair of Pepe jeans I had back in the 80s. Came across lots more jeans like this while I was perusing.


Have since discovered that this style of jean is now called the 'Mom Jean' and is the current trend in jeans.  I remember having several pairs including a classic pair of Levis and they looked great at the time. You could tuck in to your heart's content without the constant worry of your t-shirt or blouse becoming unhooked from your waistband to expose any unsightly overhang or cellulite.  Princess Diana of course was the style ambassador for this type of jean.




When the low-rise jean started to appear on the scene it spelt the death knell for the comfort and security of the high waisted jean and they soon ended up becoming horrendous crimes of fashion. How on earth had we walked around for such a long time with such unflattering elongated bottoms and those endless zips between the crotch and the waist and God forbid, the dreaded camel toe.  

 
Our old jeans were destined for the charity shop as we all tried to come to terms with such itsy bitsy teeny weeny 2 or 3 inch zips. Thus the muffin top and the builder's bottom were born. You certainly couldn't tuck in with such a short zip.

 

So this is the new Mom Jean. Should have kept those Pepe jeans.
 

I refuse to iron a crease in jeans.


So will I foresake my beloved skinnies to make way for the Mom Jean?  Jeans do always seem to be very much a style barometer.  I remember all too well the bell-bottoms and flares of the 70s which were swept aside to make way for straights (which in my book was one step towards becoming a punk) and of course then came back as the boot cut. 

 

Vintage has become a fashion all of its own with its blend of mis-matched eclectic pieces. The popularity of music festivals I think has brought about a shift in how young people in particular want to dress.  They want individuality and to create their own sense of style. Unlike the 1980s, when most of these clothes were made, we do not live in a throwaway culture anymore. We live in the three Rs culture of reducing, reusing and recycling. Everyone is upcycling whether it's transforming a man's old shirt into a halter neck dress ( remember the fun of the Alteration Challenge in The Great British Sewing Bee) or making a table and chairs out of old pallets.


Everyone too loves a bargain and there is a certain amount of one upmanship when you casually drop it into the conversation that the jacket you are wearing is vintage circa 1980s picked up for a modest fiver at the local vintage shop. Its suddenly cool to raid your mum's wardrobe even if it is only to wear her old jeans. Beware of that camel toe though mind!