Friday 29 March 2019

Sweet Dreams - My Vintage Block Printed Bedspread Dress

When I posted about our trip to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing (HERE) I wrote that Back in the days of the Overland Trail, the hippies were buying block printed bedspreads in Indian bazaars and getting the local tailors to sew them into western-style dresses. Anokhi tapped into this trend and manufactured their own range of hippie clothes. This dress, one of this week's additions to my wardrobe, is probably one of the original bedspread dresses, a forerunner to the likes of Anokhi and Phool.

I know the dress has age as it's significantly faded, a gentle uniform colour fade that comes with time. It's exquisitely made, far too well put together for an enthusiastic amateur, using the borders of the bedspread in the hem and cuffs and a contrasting block printed fabric for the bodice. There's pockets, French seams, an acetate strip sewn around the inside of the hem to prevent your lace-up boots catching on the fabric, rouleaux loops with covered buttons (and even a couple of spares sewn into the inside seam. The quality of the block printed cotton feels like nothing you'd ever find on the UK high street, it's a joy to wear.

You'll be pleased to hear that two items have been removed from my wardrobe to make way for the new addition (can you spot them in the collage below?)

1970s patchwork leather gents blazer; 1980s Indian paisley print rayon shirt with 1950s moleskin waistcoat (don't worry, no real moles were hurt in the making of it);1970s California ranch shirt; 1970s Sportaville, London psych catsuit; 1960s silk balloon sleeved mini dress; 1970s Sandine Originals, New York psych print maxi dress with velvet bodice

 We're trading at Moseley Vintage Fair on Sunday and we've spent today sorting out our stock and photographing a few items to tempt the punters. 

We're packed and ready which means I can spend all day tomorrow playing.

When I'm not hunting for vintage treasure in the chazzas, I'm on the look out for interesting (and cheap) textiles I can chop up. This week's finds include a couple of Indian kurtis, 3 yards of metallic braid and three cotton cushion covers featuring William Morris's Rose print.

This fabulously bright Banjara dupatta arrived in the post from my friend Katy today. I wonder what I'll do with it!

I found this sealed notebook for 99p in a charity shop yesterday. It's made in India and has an organic cotton cover, recycled paper inserts and claims to be 100% ethical. What a strange thing to donate, is all note taking done on phones? I don't have a mobile phone and absolutely love scribbling my ideas down and making rough sketches of stall layouts or ideas for things I'm going to make. This book will be full in no time!

WEARING: Handmade Indian block printed cotton midi dress (Oxfam), vintage 1970s deadstock sunglasses (Moseley Vintage Fair, 2015), Original 1970s suede platforms (Banardos charity shop)

Have a fab weekend. See you soon!

Linking to Patti & the gang for Visible Monday.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Make, Do and Spend

First, the making. I rifled through my ever-increasing stash of vintage Indian silk scarves at the weekend and made myself a fringed kimono top. As it only took four scarves I've barely managed to dent my scarf collection but when the chazzas sell them at 3 for £1 you can't really blame me for hoarding them, can you?

I was inspired by Anna, a member of the Up-cycled Cloth Collective, who creates incredible garments out of vintage scarves. If you like her colourful, hippie chick style you can visit her shop HERE.

And the doing?  I've read:

  • Depths by Henning Mankell
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Coastliners by Joanne Harris
  • Women on the Frontline by Stacey Dooley (kindly loaned to me by my friend, Lynn). 

On Thorne's recommendation I've tracked down this American hippie-inspired dressmaking book which is full of the brilliant ideas for pattern-free dressmaking which I'm hoping to have a play with soon.

I spotted this 1970s Indian gauze dress on eBay last week. She'd been well loved with a 50p sized tear in the skirt and perished elastic in the cuffs. The lady selling it was upfront and honest about the damage in the description which, no doubt, put most buyers off  - but not me. 

Replacing the sleeve elastic is a straightforward task, most vintage dresses suffer with this problem and it's something I do all the time. I snip a couple of stitches on the cuff, pull out the old elastic, attach a safety pin to the end of some new elastic and snake it through the cuff channel, stitching the ends together and resewing the snipped stitches. It's such a simple thing to do and along with replacing missing buttons, hooks and eyes or sewing up fallen-down hems, it's something many vintage traders don't bother with, a poor reflection on both them and their stock if you ask me.

 Here's how I sorted out the tear, boro style:

1. Measure the damaged area.
2. Using tailor's chalk, mark the measurements on to a damaged silk scarf and cut it to size.
3. Pin the patch of fabric to the wrong side of the dress.
4. Select a couple of spools of cotton in complimentary colours.
5. Using a simple running stitch, sew vertically along the patch in one colour and horizontally in the other.
6. Trim any loose ends and iron.

Less than a couple of hours later and the dress was - if not as good as new, wearable, damage free and saleable (that's if I can bear to part with it now I've tried it on).  

WEARING: 1970s Indian gauze midi dress & raspberry opaque tights (eBay); vintage leather belt, tooled shoulder bag and wool felt hat (all charity shopped); Clarks shoes (new!)

I look scarily like my Mum did in 1977, even down to the Clarks shoes!

On to the spending. I try to make a concerted effort only to buy items secondhand, ethically produced or from a company with a bang-on reputation for quality which is easy when it comes to clothes & accessories but with footwear I'll hold my hands up and admit to being swayed in the past by sale boots from TopShop (and company boss, Sir Phillip Green certainly doesn't have the greatest of reputations) so I'm happy to report that my new shoes answer the criteria. Clarks has been owned by the same Quaker family since 1825 and were the first company in the world to produce a foot-shaped shoe. Even today, every pair of shoes that Clarks produce begin on a last carved by hand from a single block of horn beam.

In a collaboration between Clarks and the V&A Museum to mark the company's 190th anniversary, these shoes were based on the iconic Wallabee shoe which was launched in 1970. They were reduced to £10 in Clarks' sale...bargain!

Waistcoat (eBay), White maxi dress (Viv's Vintage, Worcester), Block print midi (Oxfam)

As I said, there's no problem finding beautiful vintage clothes, my only problem is that just lately, I keep finding them. My latest additions are a Kashmiri crewel work waistcoat, an embroidered Pakistani-made cotton maxi and an Indian midi which has been completely hand sewn using block printed cotton bed covers, more than likely something a girl on the hippie trail had tailor-made in India back in the early 1970s, the type of dress that inspired Anokhi.

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that the white dress is the twin sister of my beloved blue dress which I travelled around India in a couple of months ago. I definitely won't wear a white dress in India so I'll have to book a trip to Greece instead (that's if they'll let us in after all this Br*xit boll*cks).

 For the last three weeks Jon's been working on Gilbert. He's sanded him down, filled in all the holes and now he's applying the first coat of paint. It's a long and dirty job but doing it by hand saves ££££s and he should hopefully be back to his former glory in time for the Classic Car Boot Sale at the end of April.

See you soon!

Monday 25 March 2019

The Art of Precious Scars - Japanese Mending


Mending is a tedious, but inevitable, part of life when you own clothes almost as old as you are but to the Japanese mending isn't mundane. It's an art form.


If, like me, you're an avid viewer of antique shows you'll no doubt be familiar with the method of Kintsugi where precious metals - liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold - are used to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item whilst, at the same time, enhancing the breaks. By repairing these shattered ceramics the Japanese believe that it is possible to give a new lease of life to pottery so that it can become even more refined thanks to its scars. Just because an item is broken doesn't necessarily mean it is no longer useful and that repairs can often make something more valuable. 

 Japanese Boro mending is the textile equivalent of Kintsugi. Here, as opposed to invisible mending,  garment repairs are made a feature of. By taking the time to create something unique, one is connecting with a garment and any mistakes or wonky stitching add even more charm to the finished piece.

The Japanese believe that both Boro and Kintsugi are the essence of resilience, that all of us should look for a way to cope with traumatic events in a positive way, learn from negative experiences, take the best from them and convince ourselves that exactly these experiences make each person, garment or object unique & precious.

With that philosophy in mind and inspired by the ethos of the Up-cycled Cloth Collective to use visible mending as a way to green one's wardrobe, I set about repairing an incredibly beautiful, but damaged, authentic vintage Afghan nomad dress I'd found last week.

Where the hemline trim had parted company with the skirt I used a similar shade of yellow thread to the one the original owner had used. There was something intrinsically thrilling about sewing over the very stitching an Afghan woman had toiled over thousands of miles away, several decades ago.

As these dresses are coloured with natural vegetable dyes there was no way I was going to risk soaking the marks out in Poundland stain remover. Most sponged off with lukewarm water but one wouldn't budge so I decided to patch it using a piece of similar homespun vegetable-dyed cotton cut from a threadbare Banjara blouse and some vintage cobalt thread in the exact shade of the blue embroidery as the hemline trim.

My wonky hand-stitching adds some of my personality to a dress that already has a history. Sitting in the sunshine, happily boro stitching with a pair of basking cats at my feet is a memory that I'll recall every time I wear my dress and catch sight of my boro patch. 

If you fancy giving Boro stitching a bash then there's loads of helpful tutorials out there but I'm hopeless at following instructions, so I just made it up as I went along.

See you soon.

Friday 22 March 2019

The Up-Cycled Cloth Collective - Some Weekend Inspiration


My talented friend Sarah introduced me to a fantastic group on Facebook yesterday, The Up-Cycled Cloth Collective. Author, Melanie Brummer, who set up the group, says that 10% of the world's waste originates with the textile industries. I have created this page to create awareness so that people stop and think "How can I re-purpose this cloth before I throw it into the landfill?"


I know a lot of us secondhand aficionados feel we're fighting a losing battle trying to spread the word that cheap throwaway fashion is destroying our planet, I'm increasingly exasperated by otherwise intelligent women showing off their dubiously made fast fashion hauls on social media and sick to death of sorting through charity shop rails loaded with poorly made clothing that was the in-thing only weeks ago and, even worse, when I'm out and about I often see clothes fly-tipped on street corners or hanging out of wheely bins. Charity shops are swamped with so much fast fashion that they haven't room for it and so it gets shipped off to Africa which has caused many of the traditional textile industries to collapse as our secondhand cast-offs are a far cheaper alternative.

 But there is a chink of light. The Up-Cycled Cloth Collective boasts over 52,000 members worldwide sharing ideas for re-purposing fabrics otherwise destined for landfill. The group pages are packed full of brilliant makes from professional makers and artists to enthusiastic amateurs and absolute beginners - even if you can't thread a needle I guarantee there's inspiration for everyone.

If you're not a Facebook user I'll try and share any good ideas I come across (with the author's permission). 


Here's a few of my makes over the years.

 My patchwork curtains were my first ever major project, they helped distract me from my grief in those dark days after my Mum died and before her funeral. I used old tea towels, frayed vintage clothes, doileys, tablecloths and tatty curtains from jumble sales. Tutorial HERE.

The cats had ragged this jumble sale 1930s bentwood chair to buggery, it was too tatty to donate to the the charity shop and it would have been a crime to take it to the tip so we recovered it with some vintage curtains we'd bought from a charity shop years ago.

What do you do with three vintage St Michael single bed covers that have seen better days? Cut them into strips, sew them together and make a massive one (perfect for the cats to camp underneath.)

Hideous old granny lampshade you inherited from a relative? Cut up some vintage fabrics and stick onto the lampshade with plenty of PVA glue. (Tutorial HERE.)

A giant pair of shoelaces, scraps of vintage fabric, a bag of pompoms from the charity shop and some felt becomes bunting for our festival stall.

A collection of knackered 1960s hand towels and some fringed trim from your bed cover project? A patchwork bath mat.

A charity shopped  Lloyd Loom ottoman that had seen better days? An hour with a staple gun and an old velvet curtain a friend no longer wanted.


My inherited Edwardian chaise longue was a disgrace, having had a brown Dralon makeover back in the 1970s. On a wet Bank Holiday Monday out came my stash of vintage curtains and the rest was history. My skirt was originally a 1960s curtain and my cardi a repurposed granny square blanket bought from a charity shop.

A friend kindly passed on a trunk of vintage table linen she'd discovered when clearing out her late Grandmother's home. I made them into these crop tops which I sold at festivals.

 My waistcoat started life as a pair of curtains that hung up in my little brother's bedroom back in the 1960s.

 I shared my Afghan dresses with the members of the group and was overwhelmed by the reaction.

Here's me in the throes of a skirtain* making frenzy a few years ago.

Skirt + curtain = curtain


Get creating, you'll never know you can do it until you try.

Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday.