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 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 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. 


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!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Sewn Words # 4: I am on Intimate terms with my Bathroom

I made this apron from two vintage linen tray-cloths sewn together, embroidering my own images and words over the delicate lace and embroidery of the original. The sewn words and image are a response to how I feel after cleaning my bathroom.  Hate doing it and it involves a lot of hard work and effort but it all comes up a treat and looks immaculate for which I feel great satisfaction but it certainly doesn't stay that way for long and before you know it, it's time to clean it all over again.

The words read: "I am on intimate terms with my bathroom. I know every nook and cranny. Today's clean toilet is tomorrow's dirty toilet."   

My interest in feminist themes while studying for my degree lead me to Ann Oakley, a feminist sociologist who wrote during the 1970s and 1980s of sex and gender, housework, motherhood, and women's health particularly her book Housewife which although written way back in 1974 still seems all too relevant today unfortunately and was the inspiration for my apron.

Housewife: High Value-Low Cost, A Bargain! : A dedication to housewives everywhere and which really just about sums it all up.