Friday, February 26, 2010

Introducing the Sewing Box Toys

Once upon a time, there was a family of toys. They were very very old and a bit grubby and more than a little the worse for wear, which was strange, because they had been living in a sewing box together, quite happily, for many years. But nobody had thought to stitch them, or help them in any way.
There was a big ted with a flat face, a smiley mouth and only one eye. There was a little ted with googly eyes, and black ears. There was a very very small ted with no eyes. There was a fluffy rabbit, with a green ribbon round his neck. And there was the penguin.
What were their names? I'm not sure yet.
Wait for the next thrilling installment to find out!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Very Strange Printed Linen Textile

I came across this very strange and lovely textile at auction the other day - and, of course, came home with it afterwards. I'm currently listing it in my eBay shop, here. At first glance I thought it was Chinese, then, looking more closely, I saw that the figures and motifs were all Mediaeval European, with a slightly Scandinavian, Arts and Crafts feel. And then - examining it even more closely - I went back to my original opinion that this might well be an old Chinese textile, but made for the European market. It is quite narrow, about 37 inches wide, obviously handwoven, heavy linen. I can think of a dozen or more uses for it - it is so lovely - and there is quite a lot of it, between three and four metres, so it could be used to cover chairs, or as a small curtain or even - my favourite - as a feature wall hanging. The colours look as if they are natural vegetable dyes, so they have a wonderful subtlety. The scenes are charming. The man in the close-up, with his cauldron, looks rather as though he is holding a handbag in his left hand, but I don't suppose that's what was intended! It never fails to surprise and enchant me that - no matter how long I spend looking at various textiles - I so often come across something I have never ever seen before and can't quite identify.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Queen Victoria, In Memoriam

I often buy things at auction, usually lots of linen, from house clearances. These can be quite expensive, especially when the boxes contain lovely old lace and pretty tablecloths. These boxes are brought home, and sorted out. It can be tremendously exciting, searching through these heaps of textiles properly, wondering what might lie buried at the bottom. Usually it's yet another tablecloth or pillowcase or a heap of tiny tablemats.

Just occasionally though, you find something fascinating - and this happened to me last week, when I was sorting through a box of gorgeous old linen. Tucked into the bottom of the box was a circular linen envelope with the word Doyleys embroidered across it. That in itself was interesting, since we now tend to spell the word Doily - not that we use many of them on our dressing tables or cake stands these days!
But folded neatly into the linen envelope was a large cream silk handkerchief, and when I opened it out, I found that it was a memorial handkerchief for Queen Victoria. I had seen jubilee hankies, but not one that commemorated her death! It has a quote from Tennyson, who I believe was a great favourite with her - and a portrait of the Old Queen. She's not very pretty, but it is certainly a face full of character!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Loose Change Project

So here's how it works. Large Viking-like son has finally moved out of his student flat, having hung on for an extra eighteen months in Glasgow, paying extortionate amounts of council tax and working first as a kitchen porter (the Ibrox experience was, so he tells me, indescribable, but character building)and then as a Quality Assurance Technician for the video games industry, for a super company called Absolute Quality. After that, he had a three month contract with Rockstar North, in the same QA role, and is currently working on another short QA contract, somewhere in deepest, darkest Cheshire. All of it on minimum wage or thereabouts. I miss him. I spend quite a bit of time in Glasgow on various writing projects, and I am so used to meeting up with him for the occasional cup of coffee or bite of lunch that the city seems sad without him. I particularly hate passing the Starbucks at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street where we have drunk many a latte together, tried to set the world to rights - and tried to think of of ways of making money. I'm a writer. The Viking wants to work creatively in the video games industry. Between us we have a lot of talent, but almost no cash. The Viking runs his own 'magazine' blog all about the video games industry, at and has thoughts of turning it into a business. I soldier away on Blogger, writing about writing at - and also writing about textiles, interiors, Scottish History, here on the Scottish Home.

Anyway, when the Viking and his girlfriend finally emptied his room, in the latest flat, where he had been living for some two and a half years, and when we had found out just how many plastic boxes can be crammed into the back of a Honda Jazz (nine, plus assorted carriers and a large black adjustable office chair from PC World, if you want to know) we also found a big bag full of loose change. Whenever the Viking had found his pockets too heavy, he had emptied them. The weight of it all suggested that he had been doing this for the two and a half years he had spent in this flat, plus the year he had spent in the previous flat as well. In the event, when counted and recounted, it amounted to £26.00. And when much of it is in pennies, that's a lot of loose change.

I took it to the bank in a heap of little plastic coin bags and got it changed into notes. And I had a moment of inspiration.

As a full time writer, frankly, times are hard. It is increasingly difficult to earn anything like a living from the creative written word. So over the past few years, I have built a small online business, buying and selling antiques, mostly textiles: the Scottish and Irish textiles of all kinds that are my passion. It makes no fortunes either, but at least I have a certain amount of control over it. If I list items on eBay, they usually sell. And I know what I'm looking for, and what people love to collect.

And so, with the Viking's loose change in my pocket, I set out to find something which I could buy for £26.00 - but which I thought might make a decent profit. It's a bit like our own personal Bargain Hunt (a popular UK television programme!) The aim is going to be to buy and sell for a whole year - and to see exactly what sum of money we can turn our 'loose change' into. Meanwhile, I plan to write about it here, on the Scottish Home. I'll write about the hunt for bargains, the research, the objects we find along the way, their history and provenance - and the profits or losses we might make. It promises to be a bumpy ride. But I suspect it might also be absolutely fascinating! Stick with us, and see!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Gorgeous Old French Toile de Jouy

A couple of years ago, holidaying with inlaws in their apartment in the South of France, we were browsing around the French equivalent of a Car Boot Sale - a Vide Grenier, or 'Empty Attic' sale. It was here that I found some pieces of old fabric stuffed into a big wooden chest (or 'kist' as they are called in Scotland!) The stallholder had obviously cleared a large old house, if the contents of his stall were anything to go by. I'll post pictures of the other textile later. I rather think it's older than this one, very beautiful, a fascinating pattern. But this one is an old and rather beautiful Toile de Jouy with incredibly detailed rural scenes. There isn't a massive amount of it - although there is certainly enough to make some lovely cushion covers or perhaps a small throw. At the moment, I'm so curious about it, its age and where it came from, that I'm a bit loathe to sell it, so I keep it carefully wrapped in tissue paper, and sweetened with lavender, while I try to find out a bit more about it. If you recognise it, do let me know.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Old Scottish Blankets from Skeldon Mills, Ayrshire

I can't remember when I came across my first Skeldon blanket, here in Ayrshire, but I have been collecting them, dealing in them, and sometimes just using them myself, ever since. Frankly, throughout this cold winter, they have been and continue to be an absolute godsend! I source them in a variety of places, including charity shops, antique markets, boot sales and - recently - at auction, where I found myself paying rather too much for a pair of gorgeous unused blankets, still in their original packaging. There was only one drawback which was that they had been stored among smokers, and consequently smelled strongly of kippers! I will be washing them - but that is one of the benefits of these wonderful textiles. They can be washed and they come up quite beautifully - soft, fluffy and fresh.

The old Skeldon Mills were situated down on the bonnie banks of the River Doon, close to Hollybush. We have friends who live nearby, and a pretty little cairn marks the spot where the old Skeldon Village once stood. Sadly - and although the mills and village had stood on this beautiful spot for more than 100 years, first as an oatmeal mill, and then as a woollen mill, the village was demolished by the landowner some time in the nineteen sixties. Some of the mill buildings survive, as storage space for a business, but the village itself was razed to the ground. I'm told that the doorkeys of the lost cottages are buried beneath the cairn, in a memorial garden on the site. I would like to think that something similar could not happen nowadays - but, frankly, I'm all too sure it could!

You'll find more about the history of the site here. I've been hunting for a photograph or picture of the old village - but can't find one, which is both amazing and sad! The blankets remain - although as usual with textiles, they tend to be undervalued in the place where they were once made, and I have found far too many people cutting them up for dog blankets. Much as I like dogs, Skeldon blankets are much too precious for Fido or Rover to sleep on. Even when they are a little worn, or marked, they are wonderfully warm and soft. I've given slightly damaged blankets to friends to use on boats or in caravans, since they wash so well. But the good quality survivors - and there are quite a lot of them - make fabulous throws on chairs, couches or beds. The creaminess of the wool has to be seen to be believed, and they come with a variety of lovely stripes: pink, blue, yellow or green, as well as occasional specimens that have pink and blue checks. People used to acquire them as wedding presents - but all too often seemed to store them away and never use them! Their loss is our gain.