Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Manchester schools workshops

Group Rag Rug 

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my efforts to come up with a rag rug making technique that children could do fairly simply. I'd been invited to work with two Manchester schools by Imperial War Museum North using local source material, so we focussed on the memories of an elderly gentleman reminiscing about making a rag rug when he was in the forces. I worked with two schools within very different catchment areas. One was an ESL specialist school in the city working with year 5's and the other was a school in a more leafy suburb working with year 6's. I think the year 6 kids grasped the technique pretty well, whilst the year 5's struggled a bit - and with large class sizes it was the usual thing about trying to give enough attention to everyone. I was the only adult in the room with any real experience of the technique which made it harder. However, I was still very pleased with what the children achieved. It just shows how a number of smaller pieces can be stitched together to form a larger work with real impact. A great way to get kids upcycling too.

Wall hanging

Monday, 13 June 2016

Bambi Goes to the Museum

Imagine taking your campervan right inside the inner sanctum of a very famous museum. Wouldn't it be something of an adventure? A rarity? An outright impossibility? Take a look at the pictures below. I know it might seem hard to believe, but there is Bambi - aka The Mobile Makery - looking very much part of the scene at The Imperial War Museum in Salford! But what were we doing there?

At the moment, IWM North is showing Fashion on the Ration. I saw the exhibition twice down in London and was really impressed. It's all about street style during WWII and how innovative and thrifty women in particular proved to be when it came to devising a wardrobe that was smart, attractive and functional at a time of austerity and rationing. Make-do and mend was the order of the day back then and being something of a modern make-do and mender myself, I was invited to offer a thrifty creative workshop to visitors. Not only that, but Bambi -  my upcycled craft studio on wheels, was to be a star of the show for a special weekend at the start of June.

It was incredible to see peoples' reactions to Bambi. Many of the visitors couldn't quite understand what a campervan was doing at IWM. I had to explain the link between modern upcycling and the wartime ethos of make-do and mend. But once people got it - they were hooked - hopping on board to have a look at Bambi's upcycled interior and decorative touches. Two teenage girls couldn't quite believe that I really DO travel around in Bambi putting on creative pop-up workshops and speaking about how to make beautiful stuff out of throwaway trash! 

My take on this for the museum was to offer workshops turning old T-shirts into turbans - the sort of headwear that was worn by the women working in the munitions factories during the Second World War. I think it's fair to say that some of the ladies who came along are now ADDICTED to turbans!

My weekend at the museum was over all too quickly. Staff had really taken to Bambi - who'd almost become a living character in their eyes! Bambi often has this affect on people.

Special thanks to all the museum staff and to our lovely mechanic who had to drain Bambi of petrol, take out the gas cyclinder and battery and put everything back again perfectly so that we could drive back to Scotland without a hitch!

Do go and see Fashion on the Ration at IWM North. It's on until May 2017. Also accompanying the exhibition is a marvellous book of the same name by author Julie Summers and if you want to make your own thrifty and stylish  turban, you'll find it in my book Chic on a Shoestring.


Changing tack - Montrose Rope & Sail

Textiles. What do you think of when you hear the word? Knitting? Lacemaking? Sewing lessons at school? A pretty patchwork quilt perhaps? Certainly in my lifetime, fabric-related study has always had female connotations. Fabrics are soft. Fabrics are comforting. Fabrics are feminine. We forget that fabrics are also technical, robust, waterproof, fire-retardant, life-saving. They are engineered, developed and researched as well as crafted, stitched and stroked. Your Macintosh coat and Hunter wellies (both Scottish brands) were the result of robust experimentation in the laboratory and on the battle field. 

All this came to mind on a recent visit to Montrose Rope & Sail, a Scottish manufacturer with a textile heritage going back over 200 years. Founded in 1789 the company first served the fishing industry, making ropes and sails that could withstand the rough conditions out in the middle of the ocean. As the Scottish fishing fleet diminished the company had to change tack and the Paton family, who took over the business in the early 1900's have since made a name for themselves in the North Sea Oil & Gas Industry. Literally thousands of oil workers have been kitted out for the rigours of life on the rigs by Montrose Rope & Sail. Everything from bags to giant tarpaulins designed to protect monster drilling machines -  you name it, MR&S can make it. 

Of course the times they are a-changing and as the offshore oil sector braves challenging commercial conditions, Montrose Rope & Sail is adapting yet again - and this time they're braving the stormy seas of the fashion world. 

Whilst  visiting Montrose Rope and Sail I noticed a metre-high tarpaulin rope storage bag that's used on the rigs. The shape really appealed to me and so I approached the company with a similar design for a smaller multifunctional bag which can be used for shopping, laundry, the beach or picnics. It's really robust and can be chucked in and out of the car or hauled around on public transport without breaking whilst its flat bottom means it doesn't tip over. I didn't want anything with bells and whistles on it, just something simple, practical and robust. My Mother was born in Montrose and so it's an added bonus for me to be able to support a local company which employs local craftspeople to create a local product.

The new bag is available in a range of finishes. Please contact me for further details!
Email: maryjanemillinery@hotmail.co.uk

Friday, 13 May 2016

Finn's Rag Rug

My fabulous nine year old assistant Finn has a real eye for style!

He came up with this brilliant idea for a rag rug hat - which I might just have to steal.
See the video below of Finn making a rug - which proves just how easy it is!

Thankyou Finn.

Rag Rug Tutorial 2

The second part of my rag rug making tutorial.
You can either make one big rug - or sew together lots of smaller ones.
Ideal for kids!

Let me know how you get on!

Rag Rug Tutorial 1

How to get started on your weekend rag rug

Make a weekend rag rug with Mary Jane

Use your rug to add a splash of crafty colour!

When I approached the Imperial War Museum in Salford about working with local schools in connection with their new Fashion on the Ration exhibition which opens shortly, I was sent a series of quotes from local people about their experiences of making-do and mending during WWII. One man remembered weaving a carpet using old clothes and sheets, and it provided the perfect inspiration for this project. Now, there are lots of rag-rug making methods out there already but not many are suitable for young children. So after consulting Finn, my cousin's nine year old son, we devised this method which I'd like to share with you. I've made the rug above which is 70cm in diameter by doing a couple of rows a night over the last week - but you could easily make this in a weekend - especially if you employ child labour! See below for start-up instructions and cost-cutting ideas. Then take a look at the videos by myself and Fin which will follow next on the blog to help you get started. I'd love to see what you make. Please get in touch if you'd like to do a workshop with the Mobile Makery. We'll travel far and wide! maryjanemillinery@hotmail.co.uk

First you need to gather your supplies. To make your upcycled rug, you'll need LOTS of old clothes, pillowcases, sheets etc. To give you an idea of quantities, the blue jeans stripe in my rug is made out of one pair of old jeans. Don't use anything that you think will fray too much, although some fraying is inevitable. You'll need sharp scissors, a curtain ring, and an old dolly clothes peg. Tape up the end of the clothes peg as shown. It will act as a giant needle.

I love a bit of creative serendipity - and when I realised I needed lots of  old curtain rings for this project - they came from totally unexpected sources. A friend gave me a few that she'd had lying around for ages and then I also enquired at a local charity shop. Hey presto - I was given a huge bag full for a small donation. It's always worth asking! However, worried I'd still not have enough curtain rings for some 150 children another friend Philippe suggested cutting a plastic pipe into slim circles. Et voila! Here he is doing just that. What a star! Obviously only attempt this if you know what you're doing. 

Sand the rings down and you've got yourself a bargain. The pipe only cost £5.75....

So now you need to prepare your fabric. Cut it into strips that are around 3cm wide and no more than a metre long (any longer and the children will get tangled up) and make a small hole at each end so you can thread the strips together. This joining technique will be demonstrated in my first video.

Now it's time to get started - so have a look at the videos which follow next on my blog. Rag Rug School Help 1 & 2. There's also a video of Finn using the technique. I now employ him on a regular basis and pay him in jelly beans!

In a weekend - you'll have made yourself a rug! Good luck! 
We'll see how the schoolchildren do when I work with them next week in Manchester.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Street art or vandalism?

I recentIy had an animated discussion with a friend about Banksy. It was the thorny old question about whether he's a talented artist or simply a vastly overpaid vandal. We talked about art in public spaces and the issues of permission, protest and skill. It was a timely exchange as it seems that graffiti is the 'look du jour'. Everyone's doing it. Liberty of London has erected a graffiti wall in its cosmetics department encouraging shoppers to scrawl their thoughts down for public perusal.

And Somerset House has just finished an exhibition entitled 'Graffiti and the Everyday Utopias of the Street' featuring the genre's emerging names.

I couldn't help but wonder how the curators at Somerset House would have felt if the artists concerned had decided to scrawl on the building's walls rather than in the permissible spaces they were given for the show.

I rather liked the post-it-note 'graffiti wall' which featured in the concurrent exhibition about graphic art....a playful take on what some regard as the threatening cityscapes that graffiti can create.

The thing was, that after all this exposure to graffiti, I kept seeing it everywhere! A stroll along Brick Lane was like a trip to an unofficial gallery....

I rather liked this quiet piece of removable art.....

Not sure what my conclusion is...but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Vintage millinery workshop in Montrose

I was thrilled to finally offer a hat-making workshop in my Mum's hometown Montrose on the North East coast of Scotland where regular readers may know I've been living for the last few months. Bambi (aka The Mobile Makery) is almost ready for summer - but not quite - so I was teaching with all mod cons available in an actual house! A group of six novice milliners set out to make one of the projects from my book The Modern Girl's Guide to Hatmaking - and they did fantastically well.

I was demonstrating three main skills on this workshop - two vintage techniques (one pleating ribbon and the other making flowers) plus a simple way of making a birdcage veil. Oh yes - this is where you come to learn the tricks of the trade!

First to be tackled - the pleating technique - which I teach using Petersham ribbon - or grosgrain. It's a great material to use as it takes the pleat well and can be dyed. On this workshop many people elected to use the tea dyed grosgrain which I'd prepared earlier.

Next - we made flowers using cotton organdie (you can see a tutorial for how to make these flowers in an earlier blog entry) which I show people how to colour using pound shop felt tip pens and a wash of water (yes, there's always a chic on a shoestring angle to my work!) Here's a really lovely example of some flowers made by Charlotte - my fabulous chocolate-making friend who also turns out to be a pretty nifty milliner-in-the-making!

Everyone worked really hard - fuelled by homemade soup and a continuous supply of tea and coffee - naturally! 

If you're interested in arranging your own vintage millinery workshop then please get in touch. You too could make something like these ladies. Perfect for those summer weddings and parties! 

Drop me a line: maryjanemillinery@hotmail.co.uk

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A special millinery make for Easter & a workshop!

It's time I gave you something pretty to make - just in time for Easter. And no, I'm not talking about an Easter bonnet....they're sooooo two centuries ago! Instead I give you the Spring flower hairpin which you can create in abundance and scatter through your hair however you choose. These flowers are crafted using a vintage technique that I discovered when I purchased a 1930's satin nightdress-case a few years back. The flowers had been worked in pale pink ribbon, but I prefer something more vivid and real looking, so this is my modern take on the technique. I hope you like it. Please share your pics on my Chic on a Shoestring Book Facebook page. I'd love to see the flowers you come up with.

You'll need. Cotton organdie fabric (I get mine from The Cloth House on Berwick Street in London) - 25cm will make lots of flowers. Scissors, needle and thread, felt-tip pins, hairpins, a scrap of felt, and a gluegun. A small paintbrush and some water.

Cut your organdie into strips around 40cm long and 5cm wide. Then fold in half along the length. Use the felt-tip pens to add colour along once side and blend using some water and the paintbrush. Allow to dry.

Use a double thread with a knot on the end and stitch as shown along the raw edge for about 6/7cm then gather up the thread to make a petal. Repeat the process to make a second petal.

Continue all the way along the strip until you have made several petals just like the strip below. Don't worry about it curling up. It will naturally do that.

Arrange the petals in a circle as shown stitching through the centre to hold in place.

Make a little loop of thread and form into a figure of eight as shown.

Stitch into the centre of your flower and chop through the ends of the two loops. This creates stamens. You can scrunch the flower in your hand to give it more of a textured finish. The organdie will hold the shape well.

Use the glue gun to stick each flower to a hairpin and cover with a tiny circle of felt on the back.

Pop in your hair and celebrate the Spring! 

If you'd like to learn lots more about this method and create a unique floral millinery headpiece using other vintage techniques, then sign up for my workshop taking place on Saturday 2nd April at my friends' beautiful Scottish wildflower farm - Scotia Seeds in Farnell (near Montrose in Angus). It costs £55 for the day all in, and there will be homemade soup for lunch and endless tea and coffee! 

For further details please email me: maryjanemillinery@hotmail.co.uk - it would be lovely to see you there. 


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Upsize a leather skirt the MJ way!

Whilst visiting Edinburgh this weekend I picked up a great bargain from one of my favourite vintage shops -  Armstrongs in the Grassmarket. I purchased a red leather thrifted skirt. It cost me just £10.

There was just one problem.
It didn't fit!
Two choices: alter it or diet.
I say NO to diets!

Well, the skirt fitted well on the hips, but the waist was tiny. I just couldn't do it up. It had also obviously been worn by someone a little bigger beforehand, as the waistband was warped. However, it was such a good bargain, I felt I just had to buy it and give it a go. I considered taking it to be altered as it was leather and I wasn't sure I could manage the job myself, and then I thought: 'come on MJ - call yourself a make-do-and-mender? What are you doing? You should absolutely do this job yourself. It's not as if you're run off your feet at the moment - and besides, an alteration will cost twice as much as the skirt itself!'

It didn't look an easy job. As well as having a fair few seams, the skirt was lined and had a fitted waistband with a button. I measured my waist and the skirt waistband. Ahem. There was a good 3.5 inches difference. There was no way I would find enough leather at the bottom of the skirt to add to the waistband, and besides, with the number of seams, and the zip, it would be far too complicated.

And so...I decided to remove the waistband altogether, and see if there was some way of expanding the waist without it. I used a stitch unpicker, and in fact, it came away really easily.

I realised that without the waistband, the leather was actually quite stretchy, held firmly by the lining. I decided to undo the lining from the top of the skirt, trim it down slightly, fold over the top edge and tack it down. Then I would be able to slip the tacked lining back underneath the leather edge of the skirt, turn the leather back on itself by half an inch and hopefully stitch it all down again whilst skimming the top of the zip. That would certainly make the waistband bigger, but would it be enough? It's not easy to pin leather but I had a go, and by doing so was able to try the skirt on. And it seemed to fit pretty well.

Using a leather needle on the sewing machine and by taking it very slowly, I managed to stitch around the top edge fairly neatly. The leather stuck a bit to the plate beneath the machine needle so I had to guide it through carefully, especially over the bulky seams.

I then added a hook and eye at the top of the zip to stop it from coming undone.

Here you can see the inside. It's not perhaps a couture finish, but dear reader, it works!

Here you can see just how much bigger the skirt is now.

And by George - it fits pretty well!

Tah dah! Fitted leather skirt £10. Leather needles £1.20. Hook and eye around 10p. Total cost £11.30. Plus I feel really pleased that I managed to do it myself. Satisfaction guaranteed.