forty things

trunkdetail

Yesterday an ancient wooden trunk turned up at my house. This was what I found inside.

trunk

Now, you may (or may not) remember that I turned forty a wee while ago. At the time I told my family and friends not to get me anything: I am not one for birthdays, plus at that time we were in the middle of renovating and selling our old flat and buying our new house. There was lots to be getting on with. But my mum ignored my request and, over the past few months, prepared me a trunk full of forty things to celebrate my birthday. Inside the trunk, each thing was wrapped and numbered separately.

numbers

How exciting! I cleared my desk and spent an exceptionally jolly afternoon unwrapping all the packages. I found many lovely treasures. . .

print
A beautiful Meryl Watts print.

liberty
libertybook
A blank book, bound in navy embossed leather, from Liberty’s.

. . . and things precious for other reasons

brick
Castleton Library was one of my Grandad’s favourite hangouts, and was also where I first learnt that singular thrill of choosing a book.

Opening the packages reminded me that there are few people who know you better than your mum. Who else is aware that I am equally fond of jelly molds . . .

jelly

. . . chickens

chickens

. . . and Spongebob Squarepants?

spongebob

My mum loves hunting things down on eBay, and I’m sure she really enjoyed herself bagging me some lovely vintage threads. . .

barbours-thread
threads
linenthread

. . . buttons

buttons

. . . and this amazing antique tape measure, which is still in perfect nick.

tapemeasure

All of these beautiful and useful items have already taken up residence in my new work-pod, along with this:

beehive

Now, I have looked at these old Patons & Baldwins bakelite yarn beehives many times myself on Ebay over the past couple of years, but have been unable to justify bidding on one. Now I don’t need to!

gauge
I love the old needle gauge on the bottom.

Finally, whoever invented Mint-Aero fudge is a genius.

mintaerofudge

What a completely amazing gift. Thanks so much, Mum.

my handmade childhood

Various things have been prompting me to think a lot recently about the role that sewing and knitting and other handmade things can play in the shape of ones life. Like many crafty folk in the UK, I enjoyed watching the Great British Sewing Bee. Unlike so many of these competitive TV formats, this programme seemed to me to celebrate genuine amateur skill, and although one might take issue with some of the judging decisions, the nature of some of the tasks, and particularly the time allotted to said tasks, I thought the series was largely really inspiring. I also found it both interesting and moving to see the levels of meaning that were invested in hand-made garments by the competitors themselves, and particularly by their family members, who were so incredibly appreciative of the things that had been created especially for them. It made me think about the fact that there is hardly a single photograph of myself or my sister from our childhoods where we are not wearing something hand-made.

Here we are, enacting a decorative and singularly jolly protest against the privatisation of some green public spaces at Castleton carnival, probably, I think, in 1980. My mum fashioned these gigantic floral costumes from tissue paper that was one of the waste products in the factory where my dad worked. Our headgear was attached around our chins with a pair of tights.

flowerpower

You could easily narrate the story of mine and Helen’s childhoods through the marvelous matching cardigans we wore. My grandma was knitting constantly, and had a particular penchant for the kids’ Aran patterns she found in Woman’s Weekly. These wee hoodies might well be my favourites. . .

merrygoround
(Helen looks very cool on that Lambretta)

. . . though I also love these sleeveless cardis.

arans

Grandma had a ‘Tyrolean’ phase later in the ’80s. . .

tyrolean

. . I recall that she knitted my mum a similar garment, too.

In this photo, I am wearing a sort of snood-y balaclava thing knitted by Grandma, and a quilted coat sewn by my mum.

snowman

My mum is a whizz with the sewing machine. I couldn’t find a picture of the most memorable garment she made for me — a chocolate-brown dress with white polka dots, full skirt, and sweetheart neckline that I wore for my first grown-up party (a sort of prom equivalent, I suppose), but I did locate a photograph of me in my First Communion dress that she made from a Vogue pattern. I remember many details of this dress so clearly: it was lined, with a top layer of light cotton voile with teeny tiny pin-dots. There was a beautiful floral trim around the cuffs and bodice that my mum got from the market, and I remember that the whole thing hung really beautifully, and swished in a very pleasing fashion as I walked. I am the one sitting in the middle, without the red carnation.

firstcommunion

Thanks, Mum.

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