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Winter is almost upon the southern hemisphere and it’s time to unearth the blankets from the glorybox again. That’s what I like about winter: donning woolly hats, scarves and coats for outdoor excursions, and curling up with a blanket indoors.

The thing about the blankets I’m about to show you is that they are never shut away. These beauties are on permanent display.

I find a pile of folded vintage fabrics so very pleasing, don’t you?

Onto my number 1 favourite. I found this in a Salvation Army op shop in Hamilton. First sight was one of those heart stopping op shop moments – you instantly realise you are in the presence of beauty, and what’s more, it’s yours.

This is the genuine vintage, home-made article: gorgeous & stylish floral barkcloth on one side and somewhat irregular small rectangles of mainly men’s woollen suit fabric sewn together to form the underside. There’s wadding in between to make it warm.

The flowers are very cottage garden. I think addition of the mango and yellow lozenges and the curved white lines on the pale brown background are what makes this fabric so striking.

I wonder where the maker got the different pieces of suit fabric from? There’s a lot of quite different fabrics. Perhaps she (and I’m happily guessing the maker is a woman) worked in a woollen mill or draper’s shop. This is a great example of thrift and practicality on one side leavened by pure beauty on the other.

Number 2 is definitely nipping at number 1’s heels.

This photo doesn’t do this exuberant little lap-rug justice really. This is a blanket I made myself with op shop scored barkcloth fabric. It came in two parts and at the time I was not a confident enough sewer to try and join the pattern seamlessly together – my slightly clunky solution was to join them to a strip of white cotton. Nowadays I’d happily join the pattern, but this is a reflection of where I was at then and is part of the blanket’s story.

Anyway, onto the fabric. I love the combination of 1950s modernity in the shapes and colours with the more traditional floral elements. Sometimes floral and more abstract combinations really don’t work, but this sure does.

The underside is made of a more coarsely-woven cotton, perhaps of a similar era. I used part of an old, stained woollen blanket for the wadding. To acknowledge this element I removed the label from the blanket and sewed it to the exterior under side.

Number 3 is another blanket I made using vintage materials. It’s more simple than the other two – long rectangles of fabric sewn around the edges of a piece of grey woollen cloth, backed with tan woollen cloth.

I was lucky enough to get a lot of my dear old Nan’s fabric when she moved into a retirement village and this stunning 1950s barkcloth was the best. It came to me in 4 long strips – offcuts – and I couldn’t bear to cut it, so I decided to work with the dimensions I had and make a blanket. This is what determined the size of the blanket and (like number 2) it is more suited for use as a lap-rug than draped across a bed.

Again, this fabric mixes floral and abstract really well. In this case it’s the bold, predominately primary colours that make it a real winner. I love the ball-topped sticks too. They fill in the white spaces without crowding the fabric.

Don’t these babies make winter so much better?

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There’s an embarrassment of riches for lovers of vintage textiles, fabrics and crafts in Wellington in June.

First up is the annual symposium of the Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand, on 12 and 13 June at the NewDowse in Lower Hutt. Delightfully titled ‘Hanging by a Thread’, the symposium will be looking at tales of textile disaster and survival. Sessions include University of Georgia professor Katalin Medvedev on Cambodian women’s weaving, Lindie Ward from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on the Australian Dress Register, and Linda Tyler from the Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery on John Buchanan‘s calico pattern designs. I’m also rather taken by ‘A nice gay jersey: masculinity and the knitting pattern’, by Hawke’s Bay Museum director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins – remember all those male knitwear models with their jutting jaws, clutching fishing rods?

The complete programme can be found here, and the registration form here.

Also at the NewDowse on Sat 12 June from 10am-3pm, the wonderful Craft 2.0 fair will no doubt once again fill the museum with dozens of innovative contemporary crafters and their fans/customers. Time for some early Christmas shopping, perhaps?

Then, the weekend after, the Fabric-a-brac fabric sale is at St Anne’s church hall in Emmett Street, Newtown, from 9am-12pm on Sat 19 June. I haven’t made it to a Fabric-a-brac yet, but love the idea of people selling groovy old fabrics. If I keep buying them at my current rate, I’ll soon need to have a Fabric-a-brac stall to get rid of them again…

It’s also World Wide Knit in Public Day – or days, rather, from 12 to 20 June, when brave souls are encouraged to get together and – what else – knit in public. The Wellington knit-in-public event is on Sat 12 June, at 2pm at the Offbeat Cafe in the Left Bank. It’s great when knitters come out of the closet – I was delighted to see a woman knitting on the bus the other morning.

I’ve also just discovered the inspired nuttiness of Outdoor Knit – check out the ‘It’s a Tree!’ project.

It’s almost enough to make you forget that it’s winter. Well, hmm, maybe.

I’ve been thinking about the talk Lilian Mutsaers gave to the Glorybox group on her MA thesis, where she talked about the potential and promise of uncut cloth, and the cupboards, boxes and suitcases filled with pieces that may never lose their selvedges.  I have a cupboard like this myself.  Interestingly, several of the most extravagant pieces in it have been given to me, having been bought and stored for a number of years by someone else.  No-one has ever told me specifically what they were going to do with these pieces; I am free to invent new possibilities.

My interest in textiles is focused on clothing, especially home-made clothing.  I have also been thinking about how we learn to sew, both at home and in the school curriculum, and to what purpose.  For me, as you will see below, sewing was as much part of family life as cooking or gardening.  We celebrated home sewing as a demonstration of skill, thrift, and creativity, with the bonus being you got clothes that fitted you.

My sister and I grew up with my mother’s family. My maternal grandmother made clothes for her three daughters.  This picture is of my mother in a dress made by her mother for the 1959/60 ‘season’.  It was bronze peau de soie, shot with black, lined in taffeta.

Alison at a dance in 1960

This glamorous look was accessorised with high heeled, pointy toed, sling back shoes in matching satin.  While those were over the counter shoes, accessorising could also be a family game: I have a vivid memory of granddad sitting on the back porch using Harmony shoe dye to match shoes to a dress for one of my aunties.

My paternal grandmother was apprenticed in the Levy factory when she was 14.  Long after she stopped working in clothing factories she had an industrial sewing machine at home for ‘piece work’ as a means of making extra money.  Not much cloth lay un-cut in her house, especially if she could get two colour ways of the same fabric.  Bingo!  My sister and I got matching outfits.  We were walking billboards for her expertise.

These vest and skirt outfits (left) were in denim, with shiny metal buttons, made for Christmas 1968 (I think).  The polo necks were ‘dickies’, and just sat inside the neckline.  I remember being very perplexed by this item of clothing – perhaps because it was not home-made!

The smock dresses (below) were made from thick cotton fabric, almost like cretonne. They were knee-length with Peter Pan collars.  Check out the curtains, the gleaming formica table, and intricately iced cake – another demonstration of skill.

I am keen to hear stories of learning to sew, and the fabric and pattern buying habits of different households.  In future posts I plan to reminisce (and hopefully elicit information) about the glory-days of fabric shops and button counters in Wellington – the favourite haunts of home-sewers.

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