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I’m Kerryn and I’m a vintage fabric-aholic. I visit op shops frequently. I get to jumble sales before the doors open. My heart leaps when I catch a glimpse of something promising amongst the dross. I’ve got a set of drawers and a filing cabinet crammed with the fruits of my addiction. Sound familiar?
While most of my stuff hibernates behind closed drawers most of the time, occasionally I’ll get a length out and consider what I can make with it. My collection is not quite an archive – while I’m unlikely to alter made-up pieces and definitely shy away from using my pristine vintage oven cloths for their intended purpose, I don’t consider pieces of fabric untouchable. Still, it’s hard to get the scissors out because there’s no going back once that first cut is made!
Cushions are a good way of using and displaying vintage fabric. They are easy to make and don’t require too many cuts, which is important if you’re loath to disturb the pattern of the fabric by cutting through it.
Some of these I’ve covered myself, others I’ve bought made-up. The colourful one in the middle was embroidered in wool by my very talented aunt Sheryl Faul. These are the ones I’ve made:
These are all barkcloth fabric. Another way of displaying vintage fabric without getting scissor-happy is to make a wall-hanging or to treat it as a canvas. I bought a large piece of very boyish ’70s barkcloth years ago and I’m really glad I held onto it because it makes an awesome addition to my young son’s bedroom wall.
This was one piece I couldn’t bear to cut. I commissioned my woodworker partner to make the recycled timber frame and he did an excellent job. The fabric is held fast onto the inside of the frame by thin lengths of timber so no stapling or gluing was required.
I just hope this imagery doesn’t seep into Amos’ unconsciousness and cause him to become a boy racer in later life! I’m not remotely interested in motorbikes but the gorgeous colours, well-realised pattern and great sense of movement won me over.
Amos can sit in style in this little metal-frame chair I made a new seat for. Cowboys and Indians are not in particularly good odour these days but let’s not impose our contemporary views on vintage!
Lightshades require more cutting and sewing, depending on the frame used. You’ve also got to be careful that your precious fabric doesn’t get too warm and go up in smoke! I imagine that ready-made lightshades are probably treated to make them heat resistant but (touch wood) I’ve not had any trouble in this department.
This is another barkcloth number. The pattern makes me think of kiwi feathers with a hint of peacock thrown in. Not sure of the date – my guess is 1950s. It’s made out of the same piece as one of the cushions above. I love this pattern and I stored the fabric for many years before I used it.
I made these lightshades for my open plan kitchen and lounge with uncovered frames I found at the tip shop in Wellington. I laid the frames onto some newspaper and made a pattern by drawing around one panel. I then cut out a series and sewed them together. I didn’t have enough fabric (or patience) to match the pattern up, and in any case the shape of the panels would have made this difficult. The pattern is an abstract one so I think I got away with joining unrelated pieces together. You could say I’m reinterpreting the pattern.
They are actually upside-down lamp shades which works really well – they hover beautifully and cast interesting light shapes on the ceiling. On the odd occasion I’m driving up our street at night I can see them through the windows floating like little spaceships.
I visit the Salvation Army op-shop in Newtown, Wellington, often because it’s on the way to my son’s day care. My visits usually go unrewarded but occasionally I get lucky.
On the day in question I felt like I shouldn’t go into the op shop – perhaps I was running late or maybe felt I’d shown my face in there too many times recently – but I felt strangely drawn to it, compelled to enter its doors. When this feeling struck I knew I had to obey. My obedience would be rewarded.
And so it was. I headed up to the stairs to the racks and shelves which ordinarily house a depressing collection of motley towels, pilled bedding, synthetic baby blankets and the wrong type of floral curtains. I almost missed the jewel wedged between the baby blankets. It was like it was hiding and would only reveal itself to the keenest of eyes. I realised I was looking at a series of hexagonal shapes made of various types and patterns of vintage fabric. There was no time to waste (I had a son to collect and a bus to catch) so I seized it, handed over $10 at the counter (someone made a real balls-up there – thanks Sallies) and carted my prize off.
Here it is – a mid-20th century quilt comprised of 462 hexagons hand-sewn together. It’s lined with calico and hemmed with plain black polished cotton. At about 148cms x 212cms it covers a single bed well and sits nicely a-top a double bed too. Machine-sewn zig-zags create triangles, diamonds and hexagons across the quilt.
The maker used a diverse range of fabric scraps dating from around the 1940s to the 1960s. Floral, abstract, gingham, polka dots, stripes, paisley, chinoiserie, illustrated scenes and monochrome fabrics are jammed together in a manner only quilts (and maybe Versace scarves) can get away with. There are different weights of cotton, including bark cloth, corduroy, demin and seersucker, silk, velvet and damask; day-dress and evening wear fabrics and some furnishing fabrics.
I estimate that it was made in the 1960s or ’70s. It’s often difficult to date pieces like this which use fabric scraps – they may have been constructed years or decades after the fabrics were produced. However, some of the silk pieces on this quilt have perished which makes me think it’s a few decades old. Otherwise it’s in very good order and the colours haven’t faded. It has been well-cared for.
I’m not sure what I am going to do with the quilt. At the moment it lives on my sewing table away from the sunlight. Once my son is older and more respectful I may dare to use the quilt as it was intended and throw it over a bed.
I went to a gorgeous exhibition of historic and contemporary quilts at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London recently (http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/exhibition/index.html) and I think my lucky find would have right at home with these!
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?