Archives for category: Vintage fabric

In February 2017 I went on a workshop with Jan Dowson to make a memory cloth in slow stitch. We were to take a selection of fabrics that meant something to us personally. As usual I took far too much, and it was suggested that I narrowed it down, maybe by colour.

This helped considerably, as the finished piece was meant to be about 30 cm square and I had enough fabric to make a king size quilt! Predictably there were lots of greens, all of which told their own story. Most of the fabrics I’d found in a suitcase I blogged about in Vintage Fabric on 27 October 2014.

The flowery one was a long-sleeved dress that I had for my uncle’s wedding in 1970 / 71. It had leg of mutton sleeves, with a deep buttoned cuff, and a long pointed collar, very fashionable at the time. My sister’s was the same in apricot, mum’s mauve and in the same style; her dress was just below the knee – the new midi length.

Dress fabric, mine green, my sister’s apricot

The ridged green crimplene was trousers and a waistcoat to wear with the dress. We all thought we were the bee’s knees. I think my nanna made them all, although mum may have made hers herself at the sewing class they went to at the time. It must have been a long engagement as mum was notoriously slow at dress-making, nor did she enjoy it, but it was a huge financial saving and money was very tight at the time.

Trouser and waistcoat fabric

My nanna on the other hand loved it, and had an early all-singing, all-dancing domestic Singer sewing machine that did fancy patterns. I vividly remember the first time I was allowed to have a go.

The beige piece with green stitching was a test swatch of tension and stitches, and an uncut buttonhole, again from the vintage suitcase. Just perfect for this piece.

The green, white and pinky-mauve tiny squared fine cotton was a summer dress for my aunty. She was only 8 years older than me, but suddenly around this time decided that we should no longer call her just by her name, but start calling her aunty …, we thought this was silly, but she was adamant that we should. We soon cured her of the idea by calling her great-aunty ….!

Aunty’s summer dress fabric

The two patterned crimpolenes I remember nanna wearing as pinafore dresses, but I have a vague recollection of my great-grandma wearing as dresses. Maybe there had been enough fabric for both, or the pinafore dress was a later alteration, but I seem to remember sleeve/s of the fabric in the suitcase.

Manna’s pinafore dress fabrics

I can’t remember if I printed the little hedge sparrow or whether it was in a pile that Jan had done in preparation for us; but perfect, because when I was little, the sparrows used to come down to the ground near where I was playing ‘7’s’ with a ball against the side of the house. I used to try and catch them, and was told that if I ‘sprinkled salt on the tail’ I’d be able to catch them. I never managed either! Hence the little printed quote.

Only the green muslin, the bird and the quote are not original 70’s fabric.

The fabrics were all laid down on a piece of calico and arranged in a pleasing composition, pinned, tacked and then the slow stitching started. Just simple running stitches in parallel lines, some horizontal, some vertical.

Fabrics laid out and pinned
Printed and stitched hedge sparrow

The letters were cut free-hand from felt, NANNA in capitals and ‘me’ in lower case, and stab-stitched down, giving a slightly raised effect.

Capitals felt ‘NANNA’

The threads are mainly vintage Sylkos on wooden reels, with names like Sable Squirrel, Dark Lovebird and Grass Green, and a variegated green and purple Oliver Twist thread.

It really is slow stitching, quite meditative, bringing back lovely memories of times spent with my nanna, who died when I was 16, but had instilled in me a love of practical stitching. My other nanna gave me a love of decorative stitching, but that’s another story.

I pick this up when I’m stuck with other pieces, wanting a change or, in the last weeks, as a start to stitching again. Literally one length of thread was all I could manage to begin with, but as these are not intended to be all perfectly even stitches, the perfect thing to stitch. It’s almost finished, just a few more lengths of thread, then a decision of what to do round the edge. Blanket stitch or bind it, or…..?

Nearly finished

This is one of the suitcases retrieved from my Dad’s loft a few weeks ago. It was originally his youngest sister’s who died of breast cancer more than 30 years ago. She also had Multiple Sclerosis for many years, but was a great advocate of positive thinking and looking on the bright side. She was very dependant on her siblings and friends for her basic needs towards the end, which must have been very frustrating for her, but remained cheerful and appreciative  of the support they willingly gave her. I often felt very humble in her company, and ashamed of moaning about the little things that ailed or irritated me. She was always more interested in what others were doing, rather than talking about herself.

So I will treasure this, along with the tiny passport photo of her and a gift card written by her in a very shaky hand a few weeks before she died. It would have taken her a huge amount of time and effort to write those few words.


cleaned up

The case was full of paper and plastic bags filled with fabric, a few dresses and many memories. The things on the top are not familiar to me, and I’m not sure where some of the things came from, but it does reinforce my “learnt” hoarding tendencies! Some of the things I have no idea why my mum kept them when they down-sized from a largish mainly Georgian house (one end was 400 hundred years old) to a small lodge.

top of case

top of case

heaps of things out of case

heaps of things out of case

final emptied and cleaned out

final emptied and cleaned out

Some of the fabric is like looking at old photographs, they evoke as many memories. The two pieces below were used to make my sister and I ponchos in the early to mid seventies. They had a high rolled collar fastened with two hooks and eyes, mine the pink fabric had a black fringe and the other a brown fringe. I can recall the impatience for it to be finished so I could wear it.


This red was made into capes, both the same this time, with a red, silky lining. There’s an old photo somewhere of us both sitting on the stone lions at the front of Blenheim place wearing them.


It seems that there was a theme with these four blue, flowery prints. The “Wee Willie Winkie” was a nightie-case I made for my little cousin, there was also a “Wee Wendy Winkie” I made in pink, but no sign of the scraps from that.

When I peeked in the case last week I spotted what I thought were the scraps from this “nightie” I made in  needlework at school in 1972. The teacher was “scary” and very strict. Only 4 out of 200 girls were brave or stupid enough  to take needlework “O” level, me being one of them. I was the worst in the class (somebody had to be), and often told that I would fail, in the end it was the best grade I got (B). She certainly knew her stuff  and taught us well, I still occasionally refer back to my books to find how to do a particular stitch or method of doing something, and feel her breathing down my neck when I take a short cut!

We were supposed to make nightwear and use french seams, having looked inside at them this afternoon, I would be happy to make such good seams now. I thought it was much too good to wear to sleep in and used to wear it with my jeans.

vintage 1970's top

vintage 1970s top

But the cherry on the top of the cake must be this beautiful tablecloth which is just the right green to go in our dining room. I don’t recall seeing it before and don’t think it was one my nanna made (the back is not as good as the front). It has a couple of signs of wear and tear, but nothing a strategically placed plate won’t hide.


I don’t know what I shall do with most of things but, for the moment I have put them all back in the case once I had cleaned out the bottom.