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W.I. Fashion

Bridgnorth’s charity shops always come up with the goods. Today, I bought a compilation of Home and Country for £1.25. Home and Country is the magazine that  the UK’s Women’s Institute (W.I.) started publishing in 1919.

Because you can never have enough pictures of inter-war clothing and hair…

Summer dresses

Summer outfit ideas, 1941

Ostrich skin shoe

Ostrich skin shoe, 1922

Bra and girdle

Brassiere and girdle, date unknown

Women's legs in tights

Anlaby Hosiery, World War II years

Women in overalls and aprons

Women’s overalls, date unknown

Women in felt hats

Francobarbe remodelled hats, date unknown

Women and hair clip

Lady Jayne Wave Clip, 1920s

Women in dress

Dress dyeing, date unknown

Women in swimsuit

Knitted two-piece bathing suit, date unknown

Women in 1940s dresses

Spring afternoon dresses, 1941


The Thrift – a year on

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the cottage where my grandmother grew up. The photos in that post were taken by my dad. After a failed attempt earlier this year when we nearly ended up on Ministry of Defence land, today the elder of my two nieces and I found the right path to the cottage so that we could see it for ourselves.

It wasn’t the best weather for exploring: constant rain and very muddy. Also, I had to backtrack in a big way when, after assuring my niece that no one would be about at this time of year in such bad weather (‘No, I can’t see a man behind the tree…’), we stumbled across a shoot. Fortunately, as intimidating as it is to come across several men with guns in the middle of a wood, everything of interest to them was in the opposite direction to that in which we were heading.

The front door of The Thrift was wide open, so I was able to take photos of its interior rooms. N.B. My niece stayed safely outside the building and had a working phone with her, and her mum (who’s less keen on mud) was parked less than a ten-minute walk away.

The approach to The Thrift20121229-163246.jpg

The brook which provided the cottage with water

The kitchen

The stove20121229-163425.jpg

The sitting room fireplace – I’m very surprised no one has taken it!20121229-163511.jpg


This crack runs right down the side of the building20121229-163549.jpg

The cottage was much smaller than I remembered, but then I’m at least twenty years older than the last time I was there. I was pleased that so much of it was still standing for my niece to see. She was impressed that her great-grandmother got her own water from a stream and hiked across fields to work.

The Thrift

The Thrift

A month since I last posted. Ouch. Today’s post has been brewing for a good portion of that time, so I’m pleased to finally bring it to you.

The Thrift, October 2011 ((c) Don Collie 2011)

My dad recently sent me a photo of the house where my maternal grandmother lived during much of her childhood. As you can see, it’s dilapidated, something which both saddens and reassures me: saddens because a place which was once so central to several people’s lives has been abandoned; reassures me because, having heard my nan’s vivid accounts of life there, it is difficult to imagine it inhabited by anyone else.

My nan, her two sisters (she was the youngest) and parents lived at this house – ‘The Thrift’ – in the 194os and possibly the late 1930s. It’s  a farm worker’s cottage on the Willey Estate in Shropshire. The house has never, to my knowledge, ever had a road or track reaching it, but the apparently very rural location belies the fact that the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – Ironbridge – is just a few miles away. My nan ended up spending most of her life in the also-nearby ex-mining town of Broseley.

Both of my maternal grandparents were great storytellers (from my child’s-eye view), and their stories were about local folklore and history, including their own early lives. My nan moved home several times growing up, her parents being farm workers whose accommodation depended on their employer, but the The Thrift was the home about which she spoke most often and fondly.
I associate The Thrift not so much with lovely countryside as with food. I don’t think I’m doing my nan a disservice when I say that food – meat in particular – was the central pillar around which the rest of her life was built. The Thrift’s larder was remembered as an endless source of dripping and gravy, and the annual killing of the family pig (not the same one!), and all the meat that resulted, was a hearty story. Rabbits were a key source of food for the family; catching them was my nan’s favourite activity, not least because of the one-on-one time it gave her with her father (with whom she had a doting, fiery relationship). Rabbit hunting gave my nan some of the hours of outdoor exercise that built up her immense appetite. She doted on a particular one of the ferrets that were used to drive the rabbits out of their warren and towards a blow to the back of the head from my great-grandad.
Nan, great-aunt, great-granny and unknown man, The Thrift, c. mid-late 1940sHere’s my nan at The Thrift (front right), along with her oldest sister (front left) and mother (standing at the back and prematurely grey from pernicious anaemia), along with an unidentified man who was most probably a boyfriend of one of the daughters – my nan and her sisters had a busy stream of them. It’s lovely to see glass and curtains at the windows, and evidence of the animal life of which my nan often spoke.
I’m not sure quite why The Thrift was allowed to fall into disrepair. Maybe it was too tricky to put an access road and mains services to it, or maybe game bird shooting has meant it’s preferable to keep this part of the Willey Estate uninhabited. I would love to buy it and renovate it (nobody tell my husband), but its placement on a country estate means that this would probably not be permitted. Still, these tough economic times can force lords to do desperate things!
Other cottages that used to stand nearby have long since fallen down altogether and are now only visible as faint rectangular markings in an aerial view. Unless I or someone else gets their act together, I guess it’s only a matter of time before The Thrift follows them.

The wedding guests

As I mentioned in my post on gloves, me and Mr Vintage Doc were due to attend a wedding recently which required our greatest finery. We ended up wearing quite a lot of vintage – by accident rather than design – so I’m inflicting a rare photo of myself upon you. (Apologies for the quality – it’s the only one I got.)

Wedding guest outfits made up of vintage and new bits

I’m wearing my DIY fascinator (not really seen here), 1940s-ish embroidered courts and 1950s gloves, along with a modern dress and jacket and my new favourite tights – vintage-looking Levante Micronet in in ‘Caffe’. (I’ve since taken the pockets out of the dress, as I don’t like the visible seams that you can see here.)

However, I think Mr Vintage Doc actually got the best find. After despairing slightly at the cost of hiring a morning suit for a weekend, I found him the jacket, which dates from 1926, on Ebay. It’s in great condition, and I hope it might be around another eighty-five years. I would, however, like to ensure it’s fresh before storage, and am nervous about dry-cleaning (I usually hand wash anything particularly old, but this isn’t an option for a wool jacket). Tips on the best way to proceed in order to avoid a laundry mishap are very welcome.

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (http://CMP.LY/0/jXFZkQ).

Dear diary…

Dear diary…

For the last few months, I’ve been keeping a diary, something I’ve not done since childhood. It’s been useful in a number of ways, but there is always the thought of what someone else would think were they to read it. I live in hope that someone might enjoy it in the same way that I’ve enjoyed Blitz DiaryTalking with Past Hours and Her Five Year Diary.

Blitz Diary and Her Five Year Diary are very simple: someone has found an old diary and is now publishing its entries, day-by-day, to the internet. It’s rare that anything other than the mundane is reported, and that’s the charm. Blitz Diary is, as you might expect, based on the journal of someone (nineteen-year-old Eileen Kelly) living through the London Blitz in 1941. Her Five Year Diary brings you the 1960s life of an anonymous Seattle women.

The book Talking with Past Hours is an edited version of the diary written by a young man – William Fletcher – in the nineteenth century. It’s of particular interest to me because William lived in my home town (Bridgnorth, Shropshire, UK). Hearing him speak of houses and streets that are still here gives me greater reverence for what I usually take for granted, and William’s pleasant and often entertaining character comes through in the text.

If you fancy a read yourself:

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (http://CMP.LY/0/jXFZkQ).

Where to buy old stuff in Auld Reekie

Where to buy old stuff in Auld Reekie

I’ve deliberated over the idea of writing a post like this on the grounds that it could be argued to be lazy and/or superficial. However, the fact remains that one of my favourite activities is hunting round charity shops and similar in the hope of finding a gem that everyone else has missed. I’ve been doing this with my mum since I was a tiny kid (when it was for necessity rather than sheer pleasure), and even if I won the Euromillions tomorrow, I couldn’t stop myself.

So, here’s my run-down of my favourite places in Edinburgh to buy vintage and the plain old and interesting:

DebRA, 27 Marchmont Crescent

This charity shop, which aims to raise money for people with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), is small but virtually always has something I want. I suspect that its location – in the well-heeled district of Marchmont and near the even better-heeled district of the Grange – could account for its quality stock. I’ve never paid much attention to the clothes here as I’m always distracted by the range of furniture, china and curios (such as 1950s-ish miniature playing cards in their own decorative case) on offer. Having said that, this morning, there was an ex-US army overcoat in there – not something you often see around these parts. Be aware that good stuff here goes very quickly.

Barnardos, 106 Nicolson Street

I have to declare a conflict of interest as one of my friends is the assistant manager of this shop. Nevertheless, I can say in all honesty that this branch of the Barnardos charity shop chain has recently upped its game as far as its vintage stock goes, with clothes being the main thing on offer. They sometimes save up choice items for special events, so keep track of the store on its new Twitter page.

Barnardo’s bookshop, 45 South Clerk Street

Usually a good selection of old books as well as modern titles, and the source of my recently-blogged about copy of Don Quixote.

Oxfam books, 204-6 Morningside Road, Edinburgh

Immediately adjacent to the main Oxfam shop (which sells clothes and household stuff, but which I haven’t much success with as far as old things go), there is a section for aged volumes. I’ve bought a few things here that I hope to blog about at some point.

Bethany Shop, 93 Morningside Road

In my experience, Edinburgh’s Bethany Shops are all good places to get furniture. However, I slightly prefer the Morningside branch over the others I’ve been to because of the usually good range of high quality stuff on offer. If you like early twentieth-century wardrobes, this is the place to keep an eye on. 

Barnardo’s, 29-31 Deanhaugh Street

Edinburgh’s Stockbridge district has no shortage of charity shops and, being the salubrious area it is, there are often some higher-end high street labels on offer. When it comes to vintage fashion, my favourite place is this Barnardo’s store. Some of the stuff I’ve seen here definitely (in my humble opinion) outclasses what’s sold by Edinburgh’s dedicated (non-charitable) vintage fashion stores.

Courtyard Antiques, 108A Causewayside

Bypass the refurbished furniture on display in the shop overlooking Causewayside and head down the side-street into the barn-like building which holds much, much more. This definitely isn’t the place for a bargain, but there is truly beautiful furniture on offer, and a lot of the items in the barn, by virtue of not having been reconditioned, are cheaper than what’s on show in the in shop. There are also all sorts of weird and wonderful things scattered among the wardrobes and tables: I’ve previously spotted a suit of armour, a completed scrapbook which had to be several decades old, World War II-era candles, and original fifties dresses.

Dedicated vintage clothing shops are notable by their absence from the above list. I enjoy browsing these but find that, given someone’s already done all the hunting for you, it’s just not quite as much fun, plus the prices are usually higher. However, I would recommend centrally-located Herman Brown for its relatively discerning stock selection and uncluttered layout. A fuller list of Edinburgh’s dedicated vintage clothing and accessories shops is given on this blog’s right-hand menu bar (under ‘Website’).

Happy shopping!

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (http://CMP.LY/0/jXFZkQ).

Two past-focussed Edinburgh blogs

Two past-focussed Edinburgh blogs

I really should be heading off for bed but, before I do, I thought I’d let you know about a couple of blogs on the subjects of Edinburgh vintage and old Edinburgh itself:

Fashions from the Past

Edinburgh’s answer to Casey’s Elegant Musings, American-in-Scotland Debi sews at what appears to be a breathtaking rate to produce gorgeous clothes from original vintage patterns. If you love the forties, then you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the screen. There’s also some interesting stuff on here about the international vintage sewing blog community!

The Scottish Aeneas 

Colin Macaulay’s blog (which I discovered only today after Colin commented on an earlier post of mine) is all about Edinburgh in the Georgian period. I’ve yet to read through all that’s on offer, but I have already spotted the profiles of key Edinburgh-dwellers of the time that I’m keen to read. Some good links to online resources (including older texts in the National Library of Scotland – one of my favourite places in my early twenties) on here, too.

That’s all for now folks. I let you know about any other goodies I find. Meanwhile, sweet dreams…

Shoe library | brown embroidered court

 Practical they are not but, in my humble opinion, beautiful they are.

Brown embroidered court shoes

 These are my mystery shoes. I bought them around the same time as the other court shoes I’ve featured so far on this blog but, unlike those shoes, there is no readable brand name on the insole. I’m also a bit stuck on an approximate era for when they were made. My gut says forties or fifties; however, my gut has previously been wrong.

As I said, these shoes are not practical. They have a brown fabric upper, most of which is covered with fairly intricate embroidery. I’ve worn these out a couple of times – once they’ve been liberally covered with shoe protector – and they are more comfortable than the majority of my modern courts. However, with all that embroidery, I am quite happy to keep them as shoes I take out and admire from time-to-time. (After all, how often do you look down at your feet when you’re walking?)

As for the other members of my shoe library, I’d be keen to have a bit more light shed on who made these shoes and when. Comment away!

Previous shoe library posts:

DIY fascinators

I have a wedding to go to in October. It’s a posh one, meaning that my staple wedding ‘do’ of hair wet-set on rollers and pinned back behind my ears won’t be enough; a hat is called for.

I love hats – on other people. Personally, I tend to feel self-conscious even with just a large hair-clip. However, I have had a thing about navy blue birdcage veils for a while so, when arranging a fascinator workshop for a friend’s hen-do in June, I decided to take the plunge.

The workshop was run by Maggie Mowbray, founder of Tramp Millinery. For two hours, we had the free reign of Maggie’s materials and advice. We were also able to make special requests (such as my navy blue veiling) in advance.

We discovered three great things about fascinator making:

  1. It doesn’t necessarily take that long.
  2. You only need the most basic of sewing skills.
  3. Even if you really aren’t artistic (like me), you can produce something that you might actually wear.

Being nervous of hats, I also found it great to be able to make something I liked and which I felt suited me. I find so many of the fascinators in shops are all about feathers and pastels, and that just isn’t my style.

Anyway, here are some of our finished results:

For the wedding, I’m teaming what I made (bottom right) with a navy pencil dress, red lipstick and (given we will be in a probably-unheated village church in October in the UK) some wrist-length dress gloves.

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (http://CMP.LY/0/jXFZkQ).

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