Tuesday, 28 June 2011

faking the forties

Following on from my last post, with regards to my absolute hair-setting failure, I decided to attempt the ol' victory rolls. 'This', I thought, 'must be achievable at least. It doesn't look that hard - Fleur of 'Diary of a Vintage Girl' fame looks like she could do it with one hand tied behind her back'. Unfortunately, I am not she, and couldn't manage to cobble it together with two hands and a pile of hairgrips, let alone one. I stumbled across a Youtube channel the other day, (I didn't bookmark or subscribe to it, and am absolutely kicking myself now) which showed that if you twist your hair a certain way, it looks remarkably like a victory roll. I tried it, and voila! A pretty convincing vintage-style hairdo. It's just a shame it's ruined by the mane of rats tails that I call my hair - I honestly don't think I've ever been more excited about a haircut in my life!

Today, rather than wrestling with my unmanageable bonce, I decided to venture into the world of headscarves. The weather here has been positively sticky, which called for my new vintage spotty tapered trousers (yet again, bought for the vintage fair, now kept in my wardrobe...) which are deliciously light and airy, and a loose cheesecloth style vintage blouse. I was comfortable all day long, but still dressed appropriately when the rain appeared and the thunder pealed....

PS - I'm in love with Picnik and its Cross Process feature!


Like the title of this post suggests, it's going to be a bit of a mixed bag - some photos from the Shalford Handmade and Vintage fair we went to last weekend, Guildford Castle, my first failure adventure in hair setting, and my brand new dining-table-turned-desk-type-thing (which may or may not be roomy enough to hide shed-loads of crap underneath it....ahem....)

Last weekend, after searching for something different to do for our Saturday outing, we decided to head off to Shalford, for the Handmade and Vintage fair in the village hall. I'd found out about it the week before on Twitter, chatting to Emily of Handmade by Emily (seriously, check out her blog - she makes the most beautiful things), so we decided to pop along and say hello. Shalford is roughly an hour away from us, so I felt like we should find something else to do around the area that the Boy would enjoy, to make it really worthwhile. Not that a blogging friend and the promise of vintage wasn't enough to persuade me though.... We realised that Guildford was pretty nearby, so decided that the Castle and its surrounding grounds would be a pretty good choice - plenty of space for the Boy to run, and some history for his geeky parents.
After a lengthy drive, some seriously heavy rain, a hunt for a public toilet and the resulting begging in a sandwich bar (we bought a bottle of Coke in exchange for use of their 'facilities'!), it was time to park up and head in. All the stalls were in one room, laid out around the edge and in the middle, forming a 'U' shaped pathway through the treasures. I approached the whole thing with absolute glee, slightly like a child at Christmas who simply isn't sure which package to open first. I opted for a nose at the vintage childrens clothes of Dinky Vintage, a Brighton based company who offer a vintage lifestyle in miniature - there were floral girlish beauties aplenty, but sadly nothing that I could see suiting the Boy very well. Moving on, I rummaged happily through the prints, haberdashery, fabrics and handmade wonders of Handmade and Vintage, and after much umm-ing and ahh-ing, and sighing in wonder at the collage-covered mannequin, I happily plumped for four vintage buttons on a card. I wandered along, and found myself at the simply fabulous Trailer Trash Vintage, where I discovered a pair of teal tapered trousers, and a rather fetching jockey print scarf, all for a bargain-tastic £15 - the shoes and bags were such a temptation, and all really reasonably priced as well. I found Emily round the corner, (looking lovely with her fab new haircut!) and bought one of her gorgeous cards, printed with a picture of one of her handmade creatures, for the Boy's room (because he hasn't already got two walls covered in vintage and handmade prints already..... ahem....), then moved onto Tobyboo, a very talented textile illustration company, where I bought yet another card to frame and put on the wall of..... the Boy's room. Oh dear.
Unfortunately, I was so involved with the pondering and examining, searching and buying, that I completely forgot to take any photos apart from the ones of the camper van outside (I have no idea who this even belonged to, but I was sorely tempted to stow away in the back...), and of my lovely purchases when I arrived home. Check out the blogs I've linked to above, though, as a couple of them have some lovely photos of the day.

After the fair, we drove out towards Guildford and looking out of the window, I was suddenly aware that we were driving alongside a canal - I made the husband pull in to the nearest layby, and leaped out to take some pictures, shushing his protests of, "but it says we can't stop here" and running off after the houseboats that were sailing past.

I've been to Guildford before, but only to the high street - never to the castle, or through the windy passages the hide behind the shopfronts. There were photo-opportunities galore, but sadly there were also absolutely tonnes of people, so stopping to line everything up, change the aperture and set the photograph properly was an impossibility.

The grounds surrounding the castle are absolutely amazing - I saw them from over the wall, before we even made it through the gate, and distinctly remember shouting, "LOOK! It's BEAUTIFUL!" and waving the camera about joyously. I'm also pretty sure I remember the husband muttering something about looking like tourists, and insisting on walking a few paces in front of me, with the Boy (surely it's too early for him to be refusing to walk with his 'embarrassing mother'?). But I'm sure you'll agree when you see the photographs, that it was completely worthwhile - the flowers were at their absolute best, and I love photographing the texture of old brickwork and stone. 

The castle was supposedly built shortly after the Norman conquest in 1066, and since then has had numerous inhabitants and restoration works. In the 14th century, castles were beginning to become surplus to requirements, and by 1379, the only thing standing was the Kings chamber. The Great Tower has since been used as a County Gaol, a cockpit and in 1888, the grounds were opened as pleasure gardens to the public. The Great Tower is the part of the castle that remains open to visitors, at a bargain price of £2.80 (children and concessions £1.40), and is a mound of winding staircases, and crumbling brickwork. For people who have older children, or come alone, it would be a marvelous building to read about, and take in the details, but for anyone who has a toddler - give it a miss. The stairs are narrow and steep, and from the perspective of a two-and-a-half year old, there's not a lot to see. The grounds are huge, and would have been wonderful, but unfortunately once we'd finished clambering up and down the steps, the heavens opened and we were drenched. There's a viewing platform at the very top, which allows you to see right across Guildford and across to the horizon - at the point when we wobbled out onto it, however, the wind picked up and we all stood clinging to the fencing, before deciding that this wasn't the best way to spend an afternoon. The husband picked that moment to tell me that actually, he was terrified of heights!

In other news, we've had a little shuffle around of furniture in the lounge - I decided that enough was enough, that using the dining table for sewing, blogging and illustration was possibly the biggest pain ever, and that the only option was to find myself a proper, large table to work at. After a trawl round the second-hand furniture shops, I finally came across something that was the perfect size (and, it's extendable, for when I finally get my own studio space....), and an utter bargain at just £10. We had to move one set of bookshelves into the hall, and some cupboards into the lounge, but after much huffing and puffing, a bit of persuasion and some clever furniture placement, everything fell into place. Happy days!

The weekend just gone was the Husbands twenty-ninth birthday, which we celebrated by going for lunch with his parents. I wore one of the vintage blouses that's supposed to be coming to the vintage fair with me this Saturday, and decided to attempt my first ever hair-setting experience. I was so dedicated to an authentic look, that I even went to the supermarket that morning in my rollers... 

As it turned out, the whole thing was a complete failure - my hair is really long, and in quite bad condition, and the curls didn't take properly at all. As a result, I've booked myself in for a haircut tomorrow, and am looking forward to some genuine 1940's styles at the flick of a hot-stick! We had a lovely day, and after a message from Naomi of Vintage Secret, discovered that there was a 1940's themed afternoon on at the Dockyard, so wandered over there. We perused the antiques, and had a wander around, but unfortunately left before the best bit - the swing dancing! Naomi messaged later to say that she got snapped by the News, the local Portsmouth newspaper!


Wednesday, 22 June 2011


"This was a time of substitute materials, of shoes with hinged wooden soles or cork wedges, but also of hats whipped up from nothing, from a crumpled newspaper, a ribbon, or a whisp of tulle."

Fashion during the forties, right in the the midst of the second world war, is one of the most frequently copied and sought after eras for vintage lovers everywhere. Funny really, when you consider that at the time there were so few materials, and women were so restricted with their clothing choices. I've been a lover-of-history and a wearer-of-vintage for a few years now, and have finally come to realise that my favourite era is in fact the inter-war period, with the forties arriving at a close second.

I think the whole attitude of people during the late thirties and early forties really draws me in - the 'gung ho-ness', community spirit, and the seemingly endless morale of the British people. In this day and age, of video games and two-car families, Jeremy Kyle and fast living, we seem to have lost the ability to talk to each other - my Mum often tells me stories of how neighbours actually became a sort of 'extended family', people who would rely on each other and think nothing of helping someone out of a sticky spot. These days, if you smile at someone in the street you are 'weird', or worse. Open the newspaper, and rather than uplifting tales of human kindness, and common interest pieces, headlines such as 'Teen Stabs Girlfriend to Death' jump out you, and battle for space with endless articles that tell of murders, genocide, environmental destruction and Government failure. I have long periods where I don't even read newspapers, and more lately have found myself reading more history books on my beloved inter-war era, and immersing myself in my (pretty lengthy) blog list - I simply think that I was born in the wrong era. I long to chat over the garden fence (OK, we live in a flat, but you get the idea...!), wear beautiful dresses and set my hair, have a house full of rosy-cheeked children and home-baked goodness, spend my evenings sewing and crafting, and live in a world which is a pleasant place to be, rather than a modern sort of hell. But, alas, I'm destined to spend my days playing make-believe, and finding solace in the many friends I've met over blogland and Twitter - my friends humour me, so it's nice to find people (finally!) with common interests and thought processes. (You know who you are, lovely people!)

Anyway, I digress. I'm slowly digesting literature and films both from, and set in, the thirties and forties. I'm gathering the courage to dress a little more 'vintage' and a little less 'vintage-meets-high-street', wear a little red lipstick, and curl my hair. My first port of call was, naturally, The Edge of Love - a blockbuster with not the best acting, but my word, the most delicious of clothes. The sartorial choices in this film are nothing short of a triumph - how I'd love to get my hands on that knitwear, those dresses....

This post has taken a bit of an odd turn - I was intending to write a bit of a fact-laden ramble about the inter-war years, but somehow, it's just turned into a long rant about the state of the world today, and the fact that I wish I lived seventy years or so ago. Sorry about that, friends!


Friday, 17 June 2011

penny dreadful vintage

Whether you wear vintage clothes daily, and attend lifestyle events, or whether you just like to snag a great vintage charity shop find, Penny Dreadful Vintage is a blog that, if you already haven't, you should firmly bookmark and file under 'favourite-ever-blogs-of-all-time'.

Run by the wonderful Margaret, Penny Dreadful Vintage is firstly an online journal of her life and clothes, and is packed full of vintage fashion, photographs from reenactment events she has attended, and inspiration posts with subjects that fall anywhere between homewares and lifestyle, to hair and old-time photography.

The second reason behind the existence of the blog is to document Margaret's wonderful finds for her online Etsy shop, Penny Dreadful Vintage. The shop stocks the most amazing vintage finds, from 1980's YSL dresses and unworn shoes, to Versace skirt suits - if you're serious about your vintage finds, and their provenance, Margaret's shop is one place you cannot afford to miss out on.

After talking on Twitter for a while, I decided to pluck up the courage to ask whether Margaret would mind being interviewed for my blog - luckily, she was quite happy to answer my nosy-parker questions; so for a little insight into the world of one of my favourite vintage bloggers, read on....

Q: How did Penny Dreadful Vintage come about? What's the business actually about? 
A: It started very gradually, with selling pieces now and again on eBay. I always hoped I could make something more of it, so I started to learn more about 20th century fashion history, got involved with the vintage community, and then tried out doing vintage fairs until I began the online store on Etsy. I started the blog around the same time as the store, and it has been great to have the opportunity to talk about vintage with people who love it as much as I do.

Q: How did the private boutique service come to be born? That's a pretty impressive amount of vintage to have in your house - it must be terribly hard not to just think, 'sod it, I'll keep the lot'!
A: After I had been selling online for a while, I realised that I always had loads of vintage that was in the 'waiting queue' for listing. Now and again I would hold tea parties where my friends could come and try things on and everyone always had a really good time. So it made sense to convert the spare room to a mini boutique, where anyone can make an appointment for a private shopping session. The other advantage of this is that I am able to give personal advice on fit and style, which is really useful for people who aren't used to dressing in vintage. What is in the online store is only about 10% or less of what I have in stock, so you do get to see a lot more with a personal session.

Q: How long have you been collecting vintage items for? 
A: On and off ever since I was a teenager and raiding my mum's old things. I've been through periods where I am in conservative jobs (or with conservative boyfriends) where I haven't worn as much vintage as I'd like, but now I am old enough to not care so much about what other people think and I just buy what I love.

Q: Where do you find all your wonderful things? 
A: I really just look in the same places everyone else does, but I spend a lot more time doing it and I also dedicate loads of time to boring jobs like cleaning and repairs. I used to be really pathetic at sewing but I am starting to get much quicker with a needle, and I am a stain-removal supremo!

Q: What did you do for a job before you went full time with PDV?
A: I was working as a researcher for a large professional services firm. I have always liked solving puzzles and finding out about things, so in a way my skills have been transferred from researching businesses to researching fashion (much more fun).

Q: Which is your favourite era when it comes to vintage clothes?

A: I honestly can't decide, every time I think I like one era the most, something else pops up from another and I realise I just love them all. I adore fashion in general, so I even like to find out about styles from the Victorian, Regency, or Medieval periods. It is just another art form really, and like art there is something to appreciate from all ages.

Q: What are your main dreams for the business? 
A: I'd love to eventually expand into menswear and home. My ultimate dream is to have Mr Dreadful working for me on menswear, ha!

Q: What is your favourite part of being a vintage dealer? And the least favourite?
A: My favourite parts are finding wonderful vintage things, bringing them back to life and then finding someone who will love and enjoy them. My least favourite thing is measuring and listing, it is so boring.

Q: Which part of the UK is best for finding vintage gems in? 
A: Little country towns are usually the best for boot sales or charity shopping - or at least that is where prices are cheapest! But then in London you can find the most amazing unique vintage pieces in specialist stores, the trade off is that you have to pay more for not spending all that time searching yourself.

Q: If you weren't working with vintage clothes, what else would you like to do for a job? 
A: Right now I can't think of anything else I'd want to do, but it would be fun to be a children's book author.

Q: What happens during a typical working day? 
A: I don't really have a typical working day. For example, today I packaged and posted a dress, checked some charity stores, wrote a blog post, watched an old film while I was having lunch, soaked and washed some clothes, took up a dropped hem on a dress, edited some photographs for the blog tomorrow, listed a few items in the store and replied to some emails. But tomorrow I could spend all day just photographing bags or steaming clothes or working on the website. It is impossible to really have a routine, which is fun in a way but does mean things can get a bit stressful sometimes.

Huge thanks to Margaret for taking the time to answer my (seemingly endless) questions, and for providing me with the permission to lift images from her blog and shop. All images are the property of Margaret, and the Penny Dreadful Vintage Blog.
To visit the Penny Dreadful Shop, click here, and to read more about Margaret and her vintage life visit the Penny Dreadful Vintage blog. You can also follow her day-to-day vintage antics on Twitter.
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