Nina Murden - The Lewes Seamstress

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The Swiss Job…

The Swiss Job has started…. an ongoing large project , making all the curtains, blinds and other window treatments for a client living in a house in Küsnacht. Beautiful materials chosen for the first of three part project, and I have taken delivery of a Villa Nova fabric, @ £1042. It’s of a Chalky colour – always a dangerous thing to work with, so NO cups of tea in the workshop, NO chocolate until tea time, and god forbid that I should prick my finger. Tense times. There are not many curtains and so curtain makers in Switzerland apparently, and so she has come to me.

 Küsnacht_-_Zürichsee_2010-08-08_18-51-34Swiss-flag

SECOND HAND CLOTHES IMPORT BAN IN EAST AFRICA

People believe that the clothes donated to charity will be given to those in need or sold in those charity shops to raise funds and don’t realise that their donations will be traded abroad for profit.

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21695877-government-takes-aim-well-meaning-foreigners-let-them-weave-their-ownMitumba

Here’s a an interesting article from the economist about the complications inherent in the journey that our second hand clothes take, where they end up, and what that means for their local textile and fashion economy, but also who else gains in profit and employment. It’s complicated!  Kenya used to have a textile industry in the 60’s/ 70’s but that’s now gone because the second hand clothes from the developed world mean it’s not economically viable.  Cotton and wool mills have shut down.  South Africa actually have a ban already and they have a flourishing textile industry. 70% of our charity shop donations do end up being exported. We are the second biggest exporter of used clothes, and export $602m worth of the stuff , mostly to Africa.  Actually  demand for the clothes sold in charity shops here  is low compared to supply.  I still think we’d all be better off buying less, buying better and mending stuff a few times before the end of it’s life.

CURTAIN QUALITY = CURTAIN LONGEVITY, WWII CURTAINS STILL IN USE

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I can and do make curtains of quality that will last. The relationship between buying quality and the likelihood that such curtains will last is still attainable.    With other items such as white goods, the ability of actually finding something that is designed to last is actually really difficult if not impossible. Such is the nature of capitalism which is at odds with such a principle.  Fast turnover of goods is supposed to be good for the economy and for ‘growth’… an interesting term that has co-opted nature into an abstract concept that drives the world at present and that actually causes untold harm to the natural environment.  This is the dichotomy we face if we want to live sustainably on this one earth.  But it is possible to invest in quality curtains that will last a long time – if you want them too?  My grandmother  did just that in the 1940’s and invested in three sets of beautiful velvet curtains, that my family not only still have but still use, to the present day.  They are made from thick cotton velvet, and are lined – this being a must for preventing or allaying UV light damage, and dust and dirt damage.   They have had to be re-lined, twice in the last 70 or so years. Have been washed – yes washed, carefully with soap in the bath.  We pass them around our family according to our respective needs at the time, and personally I love and cherish the connection that they embody with our ancestors.   Of course what is it that comes with this choice – to go with something already made?  This will unnerve many, and there would be a degree of resistance to the very idea.  Why? – Because we are so wrapped up that our sense of identity being expressed mostly through the STUFF that we surround ourselves with.  There is disquiet because we haven’t exercised our choice in the matter; that these particular items were not expressive of us and our aesthetics, ( and I have known people who were literally disgusted to have something in their home that had belonged and been touched by someone else).  The décor might have to be built around the curtains, or heaven forbid they might not ‘go’ at all!  Perhaps last but not least by just going with what is means that a valuable shopping opportunity – the No. 1, leisure activity of us 21st people – would be lost.

 

Unalterable trousers: Glued hems

glued trousers

A customer brought me a pair of trousers to do a perfectly normal and many times done, hem shortening.  This entails,of course undoing the invisible machine stitching, however, this pair of trousers from Marks and Spencer were virtually undo-able. Why? Because their supplier (in Vietnam)  had put a line of very strong glue around the very edge of the fabric.  It took me three times as long to carefully pull apart – and even with due care and attention this did cause visible damage to the outer side of the fabric – fortunately this is hidden in the new hem line, it being shorter.

I contacted Marks and they said:

 

 

“we test all our products to ensure they’re tough and durable. We don’t suggest that you alter our products as we therefore can’t guarantee them in the future”

I said:

“Well that is ridiculous – if I can be blunt – many people either do not conform to the standard inside leg measurements or as they get older, shrink in height, and need existing trousers altered, also this gentleman was forced to buy the incorrect length as there was no other stock in your store of the correct length…. Anyway it is not about guaranteeing the product, it’s about selling something that can be used in the longer term. It’s not a sustainable policy to have clothes that are not altered. There is no fault with the product , the fault is in the decision to use unnecessary glue.”

I have encountered glue before –  on the seams, a quick cheap fix to make them lie flat, but not all the way around the hem. This is another example of clothes that are not made to be adapted – so another example of throw away culture.

 ‘tough and durable’.

Do we need things to be so tough and durable that they firstly cannot be unpicked and adapted, and secondly with reference to the polyester/plastic post, that they won’t decay once they are thrown away? I did manage to alter these but won’t be able to do so in the future as the possibility of damaging the fabric and the extra time it takes to undo the glue means it’s not worth it!

While I work …..

Following on from my Meditative sewing post, whilst I work on curtains and when calculations and thinking about various stages abate, I can relax and listen to various things… Radio 4 is a staple, (excepting some programmes). Then there is the music, quite often I prefer  instrumentals, but this week I’ve been listening once and again to The Unthanks sisters.  New album out ‘Mount the Air’ .. title track:

http://www.the-unthanks.com/products/Mount-The-Air-(Album)/p429676105/Mount-The-Air-Albums429676105

and then love the dreamy ‘Flutter’ here on soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/search?q=unthanks

Maybe though the favourite for me is a song using the lyrics of a Charles Causley poem, called ‘Hawthorn White Hawthorn Red’.  You’ll have to buy the album to hear that one! Charles Causley has sort of fallen out of fashion, maybe never been accepted in ‘academia’ anyway,  but I love his stuff, full of deep references too and reverence for the countryside, folk and Christian/pagan symbolism, ordinary people; and predominantly themes of belonging and estrangement.

Hawthorn White, Hawthorn red,
hanging in the Garden, at My head,
tell Me simple, tell Me true,
when comes the Winter, what must I do?
I have a House, with Chimneys Four,
I have a Silver Bell on the Door,
a Single Hearth, and a single Bed,
Not enough, the Hawthorn said.
I have a Lute, I have a Lyre,
I have a Yellow Cat by My Fire,
A Nighttingale , to my Tree, is tied,
that Bird looks sick, The Hawthorn sighed.
I write on Paper, pure as Milk,
I lie on Sheets, of Shantung Silk,
on My Green Breast, no Sin has Snowed,
You’ll catch your Death, the Hawthorn crowed.
My Purse is packed with a five Pound Note,
The Watch Dogs in My Garden gloat.
I blow The Bagpipe down My Side,
Better blow your safe, The Hawthorn cried,
My Purse is steady, as My Clock,
My Wits are wise, as the Weather Cock,
Twice a Year, We are overhauled,
It’s double Summertime, The Hawthorn called.
I have A Horse with Wings for Feet,
I have Chicken each Day to eat,
When I was born, The Church Bells rang,
Only one at a time, The Hawthorn sang.

 

Hand Sewing Curtains – Meditative work

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I  have been very fortunate in having a fair few curtain and blinds orders and have been working on some of these this week.   I work in a very calm space – here in my wooden workshop backed up onto the downs.  I can at times look out on the hill, watch the sheep coming and going across the field behind my garden, sometimes with starlings, or magpies on their backs, (these birds peck off ticks and so forth).  I see starlings swoop and wheel across the hills, and there have been goldfinches in the sycamore tree too, and always the wonderful rooks, my favourite bird.  The spring is warming up the earth, the birds are starting to sing now; I see two little wrens  flit about my garden and then sing  in the plum tree .There is a new visitor this year- a mistle thrush I think, again a ground feeder.  I get a little worried for it, as there are quite a few cats, and yes,  hands up, I have one too.  Meanwhile I work away making the curtains …after some initial machine sewing, they are laid out on  on my large cutting table, one at a time, and I move over and across, sewing together or interlocking  the upper layer, the interlining, and the linings. This is all done by hand – and as I get in my stride I love the meditative quality of working rhythmically that can come given a stretch of uninterrupted time doing so. Here is an  extract of something that came to mind this week – a similar feeling expressed in Anna Karenin – by Levin as he scythes:

“The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.”

 

Magic Roundabout Vintage material

I am currently working with some vintage cloth – Magic Roundabout fabric for a client in Kingston. There was not enough length for the curtains required so some fabric was bought from the ‘Lilly Loray’ range to coordinate and to match some fuller length curtains for a patio door area.

http://www.lillyloray.com/pages/about-us

Working with vintage materials requires time, thought and care.  The fabric will most likely have been washed or cleaned many times , the weave can be irregular and difficult to cut square, there will be stitching and preparation of the cloth, including pressing and squaring up before I can start cutting. there might be weaknesses in the weave, sometimes holes and tears to avoid or mend and I always recommend lining such fabrics to further prolong their life. Here is a glimpse of the fabrics together

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Working with Vintage Linens

Working with vintage fabrics

I have a lovely job to start this New Year working week  – a Roman blind being made with gorgeous vintage French linen – original a bed sheet, and bought on ebay, by a discerning and resourceful client.  This sort of material requires careful handling , has to be pressed before cutting, and needs very careful measuring and cutting as unlike new material off a roll, straight from a factory, this sheet has obviously been laundered a good deal over the years and the weave is now not as uniform as it was when new.  Basically it has no stiffening left in it apart from the inherent properties of the fabric – in this case linen which is pretty robust, or that imparted by normal washing powders and starches. It’s ‘wobbly’ and stretchy in parts and has to be laid out gently and particular attention has to be given to the grain and how it’s lays on the table.

My marvellous metal set square bought from Fifty Sheep , is invaluable.

This fabric has some lovely embroidery on it which we’re incorporating into the design of the blind.

side view of bottom of blind

side view of bottom of blind