Monday, October 25, 2010

Paradise Lost

Over the years, on the Scottish Home, I have blogged extensively about The Isle of Gigha which - for me at least - was like a little piece of paradise. Some years ago, I wrote a history of the island and its inhabitants, God's Islanders, which was very nicely published in hardback by Birlinn. We visited the place just about every year, usually staying in the same little cottage, down by the seashore and, when the island was the subject of what was then the biggest community buyout in British history, we were very happy to make our small contribution to the island economy. The book was, of course, a labour of love. It was never ever going to be a project to make me rich, nor did it, but I adored the island, so the time was never wasted.
Over the years, 'our' little cottage, Ferry Croft One, had become a bit shabby, while the price had crept up, but we didn't mind. We didn't mind the slightly faded decor, or the large burn mark on the kitchen floor where some careless visitor had set a pan down, the shabby furniture, the chipped paintwork, or the fact that the bathroom window opened all by itself, the shower was a bit dodgy and the bathroom tended to be icy, even in summer. We loved the little house, loved being on Gigha, and looked forward to our visits.
Last May, we arrived, to find that Ferry Croft One had been very nicely refurbished. It was a bit like finding that the Fairy Godmother had waved a magic wand in our absense, and we had a very happy week on the island. Which was just as well, because, as it turns out, it will probably be our very last visit to Gigha after an association lasting some forty years for my husband, some twenty five years for me .
We paid £385 for the week, which was a rise on previous years, but still seemed reasonable enough especially in view of the refurbishment. Much as we love it, this is by no means luxury accommodation. The cottage is open-plan, with a mezzanine containing two single beds. There is a smallish double sofa bed, downstairs, and the kitchen is part of the living room. There is a tiny hallway and a  bathroom, with a shower over the bath. It will, therefore, sleep four, but only if you know each other very well . We have visited it with close family and on one occasion with a close friend, but there is no possibility of privacy (except in the bathroom!) and it is essentially a two person cottage, with room for young kids or grannies. Still, we were very comfortable there and appreciated the new decor, furniture, bedding, etc so, a few months ago, I went online to book a week for next spring. I thought I might get some intensive writing done. I actually considered booking a couple of weeks. Except that the cost is now £485 for the same week, rising to £610 in summer. A quick search online reveals that this is very much at the high end of the market for such a small cottage in Scotland. We could rent an almost comparable cottage on Arran, sleeping two, for £285 at the same time of year. For £400 we could have a two bedroomed luxury barn conversion on Coll and take some friends with us, without living in each other's pockets for a week.
I wrote to the Trust, expressing my concern and, while I was at it, wondered if it might be possible for the hotel to stock my book, since it isn't for sale anywhere on the island.
 'We appreciate that our prices are not low, but the community is in a difficult position...' the management team replied.
As, of course, are we all, especially those of us who work in the arts. But this does beg a vital question: shouldn't the need to maintain self catering accommodation to a reasonable standard be 'built in' to the business model? Why should the customer have to pay a vastly increased price, not for luxuries but simply for the standard of comfort and cleanliness one would expect as a matter of course?
The management team finished by informing me that they would be more than happy to have 'your published book about Gigha on sale at the hotel as we do encourage sales of merchandise. We would normally look for a percentage of the sale of the item and this is currently 40% of the sale price.'
I've replied, briefly, pointing out that when I say that we can't afford to stay on Gigha, that is exactly what I mean. There is no longer any accommodation on the island that is both affordable and acceptable and I can only assume that they are after a different class of visitor. 
I've also pointed out that whether or not my 'piece of merchandise' is on sale on Gigha makes no difference whatsoever to me at this stage. And any negotiation about percentages must be between them and my publisher. My suggestion - which I doubt if they will be following up on - was entirely for the benefit of the island. Ironically, while all this was going on, I had a very nice email from the Trust's administrator, asking for some help with a piece of historical research which she wishes to undertake for the island. Well, it was kind of her to ask me, the research is very worthwhile, and none of this is her fault. All the same, I don't think I'll be doing it, somehow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Still Laundering

Sometimes it feels a little like living in a laundry here, especially when there has been a sudden influx of textiles. I seem to have been washing things for weeks which is probably because I have. This morning we had the first real sharp frost of the season, here in the West of Scotland, and the grass is still crisp underfoot. The car would have to be scraped if I was going out this morning. (I'm hoping it will have thawed out by this afternoon!) But the sun is shining now, and I've been pegging laundry out already, because - so somebody once told me - a little frost is excellent for whitening old linens. This is definitely the case. And they smell very fresh when they come in as well!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Laundering Old Linens - An Update and a New Product Range from Ariel

I've been trying out Ariel's new stain removing powder over the past week or so. I must confess that in the past I've always used Vanish on my old linens, with a great deal of success, and force of habit generally means that you stick with one product. However, my initial impressions of Ariel's new product are rather good, with one small exception, which I'll detail in due course!
I buy most of my antique and vintage linens at auction, in large mixed lots, generally from house clearances, so preparing them for sale is a long and time-consuming process. First of all the boxes must be sorted (this is the exciting bit!) so that you know exactly what you've got, which items need light laundering, which need more serious attention, which are so delicate that they need special care, and which items can be recycled back to the saleroom, or the local charity shop because they don't quite fit into my online shop.
Once washed, of course, they have to be dried (preferably outside in the fresh Scottish air - but winter makes this a bit difficult!) ironed with our big industrial steam iron (my husband is a dab hand at that, and quite enjoys doing it) checked for faults, and then stored away with lavender to deter the moths.
Many of the linens, especially table linens, have been stored away complete with original tea stains, or have crease lines along hundred year old folds, so some of them demand very careful laundering. At the same time, linen is a very forgiving textile, and you can wash it at quite high temperatures, and can also use whitening products that you would be very reluctant to use on more delicate pieces.
I normally pre-treat the worst marks with a stain removing gel, which I leave on for a little while, and then wash on a long 60 degree wash - the one usually marked cottons. (I  never boil anything - I think a boil wash is too harsh for old textiles of any kind.) For this I will use an in-wash whitener such as Vanish or - more recently - Ariel along with my usual non-bio detergent. For this process, I have found the new Ariel stain removers to be very effective, although I must confess that a sheet with a horrible, old, yellow sellotape mark (it had been in its original packaging, which, over fifty years, had left a deposit on the sheet itself) took a couple of washes and the application of gel to remove, so it wasn't instant, by any means! However, I was impressed enough to go out and buy a bottle of the gel stain remover, and used it to wash three large, old, and rather badly marked damask tablecloths, again on a long 60 degree wash, with detergent, and the gel poured onto the top of the linen in the machine, as directed. It worked very well indeed, and these tablecloths are, so far as I can see (they are hanging out on the line in the sunshine, even as I type this) bright white and very fresh.
The only problem, however, was with the bottle itself. It is a large bottle and the big screw-on clear plastic top is used to measure out the liquid and pour it into the machine. Because it is a screw-on top it has a rather narrow neck, and the bottle itself is in quite a soft plastic. Twice now, I have found myself with the 'gel' (which is actually more of a liquid than a gel, in my book, being quite runny) splashing out over my fingers, the floor and the laundry basket. And the second time, I was aware of the problem and it still happened. So, 9/10 for the product and 3/10 for the packaging of the gel, folks!
Will I use it again? I probably will. And where two products are equally effective, price becomes very important.
What I haven't yet experimented with is soaking. Many of my old textiles are so badly marked and so very delicate, that the only way to deal with them is to soak them in a weak solution of stain remover in lukewarm water, sometimes over a number of days, changing the water, very gently, and handling them as little as possible. I rinse them in the bath with the shower head, rather than pulling at the delicate fibres, and finally, I give them a very gentle wash in soap solution, rinse them well, with fabric conditioner in the last rinse and dry them flat. I haven't yet tried Ariel in this way, but I'll be experimenting over the next couple of weeks, and will let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Old Linens, Vintage Furs and a Wee Grouse

We drove home from Great Western Auctions, in Glasgow, at the weekend, with three boxes of old linens and - incidentally, because I was really after the tablecloths - a few truly vintage furs. Now I'd be the first to admit that I'm not keen on real fur. Or at least, I always prefer to see it being worn by its original owner. Mind you, many years ago, when I lived in Finland, I could understand the value of a fur coat and - most certainly - of a fur hat. 45 degrees below is pretty cold. You stick to metal at that temperature. And the huge fur hats that almost everyone wore in winter suddenly seemed completely practical. Since then, though, any fur I've worn has definitely been of the fake variety. However, my box of very old furs turned out to be so beautiful that I'm going to have to sell them on. Because fur is very much 'on trend' this season, and if people do want to wear it, I think it's better that they wear something very old, very beautifully made, recycled - and from a non-threatened species. The box contained a gorgeous mink jacket, an equally gorgeous mink coat - both of them beautifully lined, and stitched with an elegant monogram - a slightly less gorgeous calfskin jacket and an evening stole in what I think is musquash. Furs do tend to arouse irrational feelings, and I often wonder if those who post so vociferously online about them are vegans who never wear leather of any sort. I suspect most of them aren't. But as I say - I don't wear fur either.  So perhaps I'm a hypocrite!
But that isn't my 'wee grouse'.
Here at the Scottish Home, we buy most of our old linens at auction - boxes of old tablecloths and many other items, all crammed together, most of them very grubby with age, with the teastains and fold marks still on them. Then, we sort them, treat them, launder them (sometimes twice!) and iron them. We photograph them and list them online. And when they have been bought, we package them in acid free tissue, sometimes with a little lavender bag, for good measure, and post them in nice white padded envelopes. Most of them can be used straight from the package. Only occasionally, when something is very special, perhaps in its original box, do we sell it as it is.  In short, we aren't just recycling - we are treating these things with the respect they deserve, and rehoming them! 
So what is my wee grouse?
Well, I'm afraid it's with other dealers! I often find myself browsing around antique markets, looking for stock. Sometimes, I'll find stalls with lovely well-cared-for linens and lace. But much more often, there will be boxes and bags of vintage tablecloths, doilies, napkins, bedlinen, etc, all heaped together, often under a table, or spilling out of drawers, and occasionally being trampled on the floor. Somebody has bought them at auction, and now is re-selling. Which is what dealers do. It's what we do! But these people don't really care for the items in question. Well, they care just enough to price them up. So if you check for a price tag, you'll find that it's rather high!  Which may well be the worth of the item. But only, I think, if you have taken the trouble to add a little value, in the shape of some TLC yourself. Maybe it shouldn't irritate me - but it does. I think most of all, it pains me to see these lovely items still being treated as a vague mass of clutter. They deserve better than that. I know, because I handle such things - and appreciate them - every day!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Caledon Villa - A Very Beautiful Home!

I met Ode Krige online, as a customer of my Scottish Home store - we clearly share a passion for all things antique and vintage! She was kind enough to send me some photographs of her collection, in situ, in her lovely old guest house: Caledon Villa. I thought I'd like to share some of these images with my readers - they are so beautiful - and it's lovely to see how old and treasured European items can be mixed and matched with, for example, the vivid Ardmore pottery, made in South Africa. I wasn't familiar with these ceramics - but aren't they wonderful?

And here's what Ode has to say about the guest house:

 'Caledon Villa Guest House, built in 1910, is situated in the historic heart of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, South Africa.
We pride ourselves in the personal care of our guests and invite them to share in the cultural heritage of an old Afrikaans family. Existing exhibitions include family heirlooms, an anthropological section with African beadwork and a porcelain and doll collection from Eastern Germany. Apart from being a university town near Cape Town. Stellenbosch is known for its special ambience and scenic Cape Dutch houses in the winelands. Worth a special visit!'