Friday, 21 December 2012

Flawns of St.Ives

Starting this project sparked an interest in where my mum worked before she married my dad. 

I knew that she was a seamstress and was very talented as she made a lot of my clothes when I was growing up and even made two ballgowns for one of my sisters (who's 10 years older than me). Sadly, my mum isn't here to ask anymore - so at a recent family gathering I asked one of my uncles (he has a very good memory and has lived in St.Ives all his life). And he told me that my mum worked at Flawns, a famous clothing factory as a seamstress after leaving school at 16 and until she married my dad in 1961. 

I asked my dad what he remembers and he seemed to think that my mum enjoyed working there and that they made clothes for Marks and Spencers - but I wanted more details.

I googled the name - but couldn't find anything, other than the fact it was on Porthmear Road and now, in it's place, there are a lot of smart flats. So my uncle suggested I contact the St.Ives Archives. I sent them an email a few weeks ago and was contacted by one of the volunteers called Maggie, who said they did indeed have a file on Flawns as it was a very important employer! And if I liked she would copy what information they had! 

Yes please I said!

Today a large envelope arrived in the post! So exciting!

I've only skimmed through the information so far but Flawns was actually part of the John Lewis Partnership from 1947 - 1963 and they made clothes for the 'Jonelle' range (the John Lewis own brand). Including 'can-can skirts' and silk dresses which apparently cost as much as 10 guineas. That's about £10.50 in new money - which would have actually been a lot of money in the 1950s.

The envelope of photocopies that arrived today!

There is also this amazing picture taken I think in the 1940s, so before my mum worked there - but it just fascinates me! And isn't that dissimilar to a photo I took of the sewing room at UWE when I was there the other week. 

Flawns in the 1940s (I think - there is no date on the photo)
UWE sewing room
One photo - of a works do - appears to have my mum in it so I'm going to ask for a proper photograph copy of it, I'll ask one of my aunts - as she worked there the same time as my mum and I think she is also in the photo. 

According to some interviews with people who worked there - it was a fun place to work, 'as the radio was usually on so they could listen to music as they worked' and one article in the St.Ives Times & Echo dated December 11, 1959 describes how busy they were making 'can-can' skirts that year:

"The manager of Flawns, Mr. Glyn T Jones says there is so far no sign of the gay and delightfully provocative can-can skirt losing its popularity - next year the factory will make a lot more! Can-can skirts are worn for dances, parties and many other carefree occasions  winter and summer. Some girls wear two and even three of them at a time, according to the girls of Flawn's' who themselves know how to wear pretty clothes - as well as make them."

Love it! (although does it sound a tiny weeny bit patronizing? Or is that just me?)

I'm off to a carefree occasion tonight (the pub), sadly lacking a can-can skirt.  

There is also reference to a John Lewis Partnership 'gazette' which features Flawns in an illustrated account called 'Fish and Fashion' (the factory used to be a fish works before it was converted) printed around April 1955 which I would love to get my hands on! So will contact John Lewis to see if they have a copy in their archives.

And apparently there was also a very famous silk factory in St.Ives in the 1930s called 'Cryside Silks' which warrants some investigating. I had no idea St.Ives had once been a hub of fashion design!

Also, as a result of my query about Flawns to the St.Ives Archives, Maggie told me that...

"We have been inspired by your request to think about doing a display of St Ives textile/clothing firms, and trying to jog the memories of those older people who worked at Flawns. Part of what we do is to record memories like that. I will let you know if it happens."

That is pretty exciting too!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Knitting Machine - It works!

Been a bit of a delay in posting this as I've been 
a) away 
b) busy making Christmas presents and 
c) working on The Christmas bulletin for The Community Farm


The knitting machine! 

I picked it up last Wednesday (Thank you Alison Stephenson!) and also had a bit of a tour around the UWE knitting and the sewing rooms. 

Amazing! Was really inspiring being there and talking to some of the other tutors as well as some of the students to see what they were doing. Also saw some of the 'Toiles' (test garments) the student are taught to make before committing to making a garment in the proper fabric. 

I thought this was a great idea for me especially due to my fear of messing it up! so if I do it this way - at least I'll know it will fit. Even if it does mean it will take longer to make. I'd planned on learning how to be more patient anyway!

Was away that evening so couldn't actually get a proper look at it until Thursday - and here it is!

Amazing - on the box it says 'Made in Britain' and 'Simple to Use'. Excellent.

I found a great video on YouTube (love the intro with the family running across the beach!!) am guessing it's from the 80s but ignoring that - it was super helpful in showing me how to set up the machine. Thank goodness for YouTube - and well the internet!

Also discovered what things were missing - so the clamps to keep it in place - haven't been able to track any of them down yet, so will be 'making' something to do that job...(hopefully!) as well as some of the other key cards. 

But was so keen to have a go!

It was pretty easy to set up - I chose the orange wool as a test - but as I'd been advised, it was really too fine for the machine and I ended up with a 'string vest effect'!! 

Then I went a bit fast and some of the wool came off the needles. 

So next steps are to make something to secure it to the table and then I can have another go with some thicker wool.

Will have another play with this during the Christmas break. Once I have a bit more time.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What have I spent so far verses what I have made..

Well it's nearly Christmas (slight panic as not ready yet - even though - yes, it is the same time every year!) and that means I'm (well we, as there is a lovely group of us doing this!) are almost two months into the challenge of not buying any new clothes!

As I was writing yesterday's post, I became very aware that I've been collecting more things and spending money and haven't actually made anything yet (other than the dress a girl pillowcase dress - which I don't think really counts as It's not for me - I really enjoyed doing that!). 

So I wanted to add up what exactly I have spent so far and what I've done with those things. 

Here's a quick recap. These are all charity shop buys:

Checked fabric -  £2.95 - still in its bag
Jigsaw cardi at the Eco Fashion show - £20 - have worn at least four times
Monsoon pink dress - £12 - still in its bag as it needs altering
The charity shop haul of wool spools, patterns and books - £17 - wool is in a crate and books etc on my table..

Total spend so far: £51.95

Which is what? One pair of nice trousers from Monsoon perhaps? 

But - It's more than just the money spent - its been the experience so far -  I've had so much fun already just getting these things and have already met some great people.

And tomorrow I pick up the knitting machine! *excited*

Monday, 10 December 2012


I'm quickly learning just what a kind and generous world dressmaking, knitting and well, craft is!

Just two recent examples.

Last week I was at the post office and I got chatting to the lady behind the counter called Moira  I was posting some patterns I'd found for Jen of My Make Do and Mend Year, and so the conversation turned to knitting, crochet and this project.

Without hesitation Moira said "oh I've got some things you can have! In particular a really old knitting and crochet book that used to belong to my aunt, and which I've used to help me to learn to knit and crochet. And I'll have a look for some needles and crochet hooks for you!"

Wow - I thought! How kind!

So I got a text on Friday to say that she's put some things together and next time I was in the area - to pop in. So I went this morning!

And this is what Moira gave me: A very very useful book (the Woolcraft one), a couple of magazines and some different sized needles. Brilliant!

NOTE: I am aware, however, that I've been busy *collecting* things again (is my name actually Magpie?) and have yet to actually make anything!! 

AND another amazing thing has happened - as you may remember (it's OK - this isn't a test) I managed to get a load of wool and thread from a charity shop and discovered it was for using with a knitting machine - so I asked if anyone had access to a knitting machine that I might be able to borrow. 

And the super lovely Alison (who I met via my 'Do What You Love' bags. Alison took one with her when she cycled from The Dead Sea to The Red Sea for Water Aid earlier this year!!) 

Alison is an extremely talented lady who also happens to be a tutor at Bristol's UWE. So on seeing my call-out - Alison very kindly said she would ask the technicians in the 'knitting room' (how cool to have a knitting room!!) if there was a way I'd be able to use any of their machines...And YES! turns out they have an old, simple machine that was donated to them that I can borrow. Yippee!

Think the machine is something like this
- minus the instructions. (pic from internet)
Apparently it's a Bond 'Classic' and says 'The new way to knit' on the box, but there are no instructions with it - and it has been sitting in the corner for sometime, unused, and just waiting for someone to come along to use it! So they were more than happy to let me borrow it (very kind).

I'm now on the hunt for some instructions. I have joined a forum called downsizer as they had some conversation threads about these machines - and have just come across Maggi who has set up the online Knitting Machine Museum! So I'm also going to contact her for some advice. 

I'll be picking up the knitting machine on Wednesday. Just in time for the Christmas holidays. So you can guess what I'm going to be doing!!

Have you used one of these? or know someone who has? I'd love some advice - and also to see what can actually be achieved with a Bond Classic! - so please get in touch if you do. ;-)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The great charity shop haul - part 2

Yep. I went back this morning to get the rest of the spools. So now I have 24!!! I paid £10 for the rest of the wool. They seem to be a mixture of different fibers - so some acrylic, some cotton, some called 'crepe'. They are all very fine yarn though. Love the colours!! Excited about using them!

Plus a few extra patterns and a rather groovy 1970s advanced dress making book. It has some really lovely things to make and really clear and easy to follow instructions (essential for me). These extra bits were £2. So total spend £12 today. Bargain!

The 1970s book and additional knitting patterns I bought

I really like this pattern for an 'overdress' so am adding this to the list of things I want to make.
Plus I though I might make this very stylish shirt for Mr.LWYW...Am sure he'd be impressed. Esp. if it's made with some lovely polyester...and check out those white slacks. Smart.

Also found these really cute patterns for knitted toys! Hard to tell how old these patterns are but at a guess would say 1940s? Would love to know!

Will *try* and stay away from charity shops for a while (until next week at least - I've been given some insider information as to which charity shops have lots of sewing/knitting etc books, patterns and fabric). I'm going to start keep a running total of what I'm spending too, as I have a feeling I might actually be spending more than I think! 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Possibly the best charity shop haul ever!

I've not been very good at keeping to my goals and progress has been slow with both the A-line skirt (so plan of getting that finished by this weekend isn't going to happen!) and same goes for the Jumper 2 Cardi! 

So I am yet to complete a garment and to be honest had been feeling a bit rubbish about it.

Then I remembered *why* I hadn't been focusing on those things and put things in perspective a bit! 

I have been busy making, making, making for pop-up shops and Christmas markets and have also just joined The Community Farm as their Social Media and Marketing Volunteer for 6 months (one day a week) which I am very excited about! So have also spent some time on the farm which has been really interesting so far. 

Being on the farm did make me panic slightly and think 'heck I'll need lots of new warmer clothes!' (heated gloves are top of the list), but soon realised this wasn't actually the case. Think I learnt then that I've tended to 'panic buy' clothes and never really plan out what I actually need. Don't expect I'm alone on that!

Also realised I can't help myself when I find amazing things in charity shops!

And, today I might just possibly have had the best charity shop haul ever!

Here's what I bought............all for £5

  • 4 massive spools of wool - one of which is quite 'sparkly' and says 'burnleys' inside. I think these are actually to be used on a knitting machine - but you can hand knit or crochet with it apparently. It's 2 ply so might be better to crochet with? I'll need to do some research here as I don't really know. This should push me to learn to crochet now!

NOTE: *I have just called the charity shop and asked them to put aside the rest of the wool they had - think there were about 8 other spools - I'll go and get that tomorrow!*

  • Two lots of lining fabric - one black - one gold

  • The art of crochet leaflet

  • 10 knitting patterns (one purely because the picture made me laugh)

  • 10 sewing patterns - x2 skirt,  x1 shorts, x1 top  x6 dress  

some of the sewing patterns have never been used and some have been cut. They are also varying sizes - but I couldn't resit snapping them up with the hope that I can alter the patterns to fit me. 

Here's the photos of the sewing patterns! Am really loving the 1970s dresses! 

And the knitting patterns! Can you guess which one I bought just because it made me laugh??

The 'New Style Elegance' pattern book is dated 26 March 1966 and looks like it came free with Woman's Own Magazine. I picked this up as I liked the 'be dainty in a see through top' pattern (not quite sure how you would achieve this - but willing to give it a try) with the long sleeves - shown below.

I just love old patterns! Pre 1980s though (all went a bit awry in the 80s I think in the world of knitting - and well fashion in general). Looking at the designs, I guess from the 60s and 70s here - I think there are some really smart designs and styles. 

Question is now - what do I make first???

(after the A-line skirt and jumper2cardi that is...)