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Vintage Treasures

A story in two parts…

Part 1: Potts Point Vintage

If you’ve been reading along for the past couple of years, you’ll know that we’ve been trying to reduce our environmental footprint. And since watching The True Cost, we’ve tried to source our clothes secondhand wherever possible. Now that’s easy to do for everyday clothing, but what about the big wedding we have coming up next summer? It’s much harder to buy evening wear and suits secondhand, but we wanted to try nonetheless.

Thankfully my friend Anita, who is a style goddess, put us on to the wonderful Arnold at Potts Point Vintage. If you live in Sydney and love vintage clothing, do yourself a favour and pay him a visit. His shop is a glorious Aladdin’s cave of immaculate pieces from the 1920s onwards.

On our first visit, Pete came home with this bespoke suit, tailored in Italy in the 1970s from exquisite Ermenegildo Zegna wool. It cost us $249 and the jacket fits him like it was made for him. In present day dollars, the fabric alone would have been worth $2,000…

The following week, we dragged Small Man in to try on a black wool suit that had been too small for Pete. Again, a perfect fit and this one didn’t even need hemming! It was handmade by a tailor in Sydney several decades ago. All of Arnold’s suits are thoughtfully selected, carefully cleaned and in great condition, and his prices are extremely fair. Small Man’s suit was just $129…

It was almost too much to hope for a hat trick, but Big Boy was so impressed with the suits that he and Monkey Girl popped in the following Saturday. He found the most gorgeous formal tuxedo – made by Rundle Tailoring in Newcastle between 1992 – 1996 from Australian cool wool in a panama weave (with silk lapels and stripes).

Bronwyn Rundle very kindly provided us with the information (she was able to identify the suit from the label) and mentioned that some of the ladies who might have made the suit still work for their company. Rundle Tailoring continue to make their suits locally – one of the few Australian companies to do so. They’re definitely worth supporting if you’re in the Newcastle area and looking to get something custom made!

Despite being as old as he is, Big Boy’s tux looks brand new and fits him perfectly with absolutely no alterations needed. Arnold had just $145 on it, which is the price to rent a tuxedo for one night.

As you can imagine, we’re pretty excited by all this (as is our new friend Arnold). We honestly didn’t think we’d find secondhand suits that would be good enough to wear to a wedding … and we’ve ended up with three amazing outfits far better than anything we could afford new (a contemporary Zegna suit starts at $5,000). If you’re looking to buy a suit (or a vintage fur coat, or a 50s hat, or a 60s evening gown), pop into Potts Point Vintage first. It’s really luck of the draw as to whether or not you’ll find something in your size, but that’s part of the adventure!

Potts Point Vintage
2/8a Hughes St,
Potts Point, NSW 2011

http://www.pottspointvintage.com.au/
E-mail: info@pottspointvintage.com.au

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Part 2: The Opera Coat

It’s funny how one thing in life can inspire the next.

While searching in my favourite opshop for a “mother of the groom” outfit (I’ve found it, by the way, but you’ll have to wait until next year to see it), I came across a badly torn vintage coat in the throw out pile. It was in appalling condition – the lining was shredded and the wool was badly matted. The shop assistant very kindly told me I could take it home if I thought I could do anything with it, so of course, I did.

When I got home, I instantly regretted that decision.

The lining in the sleeves was badly damaged (I suspect they’d been eaten) and there was some seriously gross crap (sigh…literally) in the cuffs which needed a vacuum before I could even go near it. The shoulder pads had turned into matted cotton wool. I removed the sleeve linings completely, then hand washed, then MACHINE washed, then tumble dried the coat. ALL of which are contraindicated, I know, but you didn’t see the revolting stuff that was inside the cuffs…

The wool in the coat shrank, of course. I didn’t dryclean it because a) it was free and b) I wasn’t sure that I could save it. Thankfully, the shrinkage was a good thing because it now fits me perfectly and the bouclé Astrakhan fabric has regained its sheen. (I’ve since found out more about the fabric from the Vintage Fashion Guild website!) I remade the sleeve linings in cotton ticking and then nearly lost my mind trying to figure out how to reattach them properly (I’ve never done any tailoring before). The lining needed shortening by an inch overall to compensate for the shrinkage.

Throughout the whole process, I kept wondering if I should just toss the whole thing in the bin. It was hideously gross at the outset. But the label “Milium Insulated Fabric” and the single button told me that it was a 1950s opera coat. Milium was an aluminium-backed lining introduced in the 1950s and only around for a decade or so. And I kept thinking about what an interesting life this coat must have had, and how I didn’t want to be the one to throw it away.

After five hours of unpicking, washing, more washing, drying, relining, restitching, hole-mending, and defluffing, I stepped back and took a look … and as if by magic, this incredibly glamorous coat suddenly appeared…

It’s now 100% clean, gorgeously retro and I believe it’s 60-70 years old. I’ve quite literally rescued it from landfill, which makes me incredibly happy!

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Are you a lover of vintage clothing too?
If so, please tell me about your favourite pieces! ♥

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Kiva

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Have I mentioned recently how much I love Kiva?

I’ve been micro lending through this wonderful organisation for over ten years now (here’s the post I wrote in 2009). Kiva provides small loans to people who might otherwise be unable to access funds. We lenders contribute in lots of US$25 – it’s really very small scale.

I say “lend” because even though we don’t earn any interest, the principal is repaid whenever possible. (Kiva doesn’t charge any interest, but its field partners do to cover operating costs. The amount of interest charged is carefully monitored by Kiva).

Over the last decade, I’ve lost a tiny $1.04 in currency exchange and had no loans default. The average lender ends up with a default rate of just 1.70%. To be honest though, I really don’t care if folks can’t pay it back – the goal has always been to help, not invest. According to the Kiva stats page, I’ve lent to individuals and groups in 16 countries, with a focus on women.

The best thing about the system is that I’ve been able to lend far more than I’ve actually put in, because as the loans are repaid, I’m able to re-lend the same funds. My most recent loan has been to a Cambodian group who wanted to buy a filter to access safe drinking water. They needed just US$225 and I was one of their nine lenders.

Microfinance has had some negative press over the years. In its early days, it was touted as a solution to poverty, but it never ended up achieving those lofty goals. What it does do though, is make a significant difference to individuals who need just a little help to make their lives better.

If you’re interested to find out more, please visit Kiva.org. ♥

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“It is not a plastic bag under the black sedan parked outside your house! It’s a pair of discarded denim jeans…”

My old friend Maude, who lives across the road, texted me on her way to pick up The Artist Formerly Known as Pinkabelle from school.

Sure enough, the jeans were still there when Big Boy and I went walking the next morning. They were badly ripped and had possibly been run over.

“What. Are. You. Doing..?” asked my son, as I gingerly picked them up and brought them into the house.

I threw them into a sink with Napisan for several hours, then hot water washed them with laundry detergent in the machine. They came out nice and clean…

Serendipitously, I’d just been watching all the happenings of Fashion Revolution Week and reading some of their excellent publications. If you’re interested, you can read them for free online at Issuu – here’s a link to their second Fanzine titled Loved Clothes Last

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Inspired, I thought it might be interesting to see how many things I could make from our roadkill jeans. It was such a fun challenge! Here’s what I ended up with…

One denim apron with a large double pocket

I unpicked the label and reattached it to cover up an oil stain that didn’t come out in the wash (unsurprising given that the jeans had been under a car on the street for at least two days). Here’s the pattern if you’d like to have a go at making one.

One denim placemat

I was so happy with how this piece turned out – it’s made from the flat-felled seams and waistband, cut to size and zigzagged together with matching thread. We use these all the time – the double layer of denim provides reasonable heat protection…

One useful bread bag

This was assembled from the leftover leg fabric and assorted scraps. If you’d like to try making this, have a look at our tutorial here (they’re very easy)…

Two zippered useful bags

As the scraps got smaller, I started stitching them together crazy quilt fashion. They’re perfectly imperfect! We have a tutorial for making these as well if you’d like to have a go…

One denim coaster and four denim rings

This post is starting to sound like a Christmas carol! The coaster was dead easy – I simply cut around the remaining back pocket and zigzagged around the edge to stop it fraying. A single line of white embroidery was added to make it a bit more interesting. These work really well for hot drinks – they don’t have an edge for mugs to fall off, they’re easy to wash and quite heat resistant.

The rings are an old favourite of mine – I made one from a belt loop and three from the stitching around the zipper. Sadly, I couldn’t find a clever way to reuse the zipper itself…

Two wraparound bracelets

I’m completely in love with these! They’re certainly not most people’s style, but I find them incredibly comfortable to wear and they keep my wrists warm. Pete likes them too – he says they’re “a bit biker chick without being hardcore”. Ahh men…

At the end of the challenge, only a small amount of scrap was leftover…and it went into the rubbish bin. Yes, I could have saved it for pillow stuffing, but once I start thinking like that, my house is going to overflow…

I’ve learnt so much from this exercise!

As always, I’m blown away by the resilience of denim – despite being heavily worn, left outside under a car for several days and possibly run over, most of the fabric was still in excellent condition. And it feels wonderful to give materials that would have ended up in landfill (or worse, the waterways) a second lease of life!

Have you been upcycling?

I’d love to know about any projects you’re working on! ♥

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Exciting News

Hello folks, how are you all? It’s been a long time between drinks, as we Aussies might say!

My apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years, and there’s so much content here now that I really only have the urge to put virtual pen to paper when I have something new to share.

Life though, has been grand.

Very hectic, to the point of frantic, but happy. And we do have exciting news…Big Boy and Monkey Girl are engaged!

They’ve been together now for nearly eight years – since the start of university – and we’re all incredibly excited for them! Here’s my very favourite photo of the young couple, taken three years ago…

Ok, so when I say “we’re all incredibly excited for them”, I really do mean the women in my family. Men, we’ve decided, are boring. They’re all very happy for Big Boy and Monkey Girl, of course, but they haven’t really lost their minds like we have.

I got so excited that I pulled out my wedding dress from 30 years ago to reminisce. It..um..doesn’t fit anymore. That didn’t stop me trying it on and taking a photo and sending it to the kids…

When I opened the box, after 30 years of careful storage in archive safe blue paper, expecting the silk to have faded to a gentle sepia, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t silk at all. I’d picked it up off a bargain rack in 1988 and it was 100% polyester. It shone with the brilliance of John Travolta’s white suit in Saturday Night Fever. I laughed and laughed until I had to sit down on the floor.

Pete, bless his heart, was impressed that I could get the dress on at all, but couldn’t resist teasing…

Pete: “Babe, I don’t think it’s Monkey Girl’s style…”

Me: “No, I think it’s more Muriel’s style. Ha! Maybe it’s a reflection of our marriage – I’ve thought all these years that I was married in silk, but it was actually polyester..”

Pete: “I think what you mean … is that it’s eternal and will never lose its shine and that our relationship will always be as fresh as the day we were married…”

Gotta love the man. He may not be as excited as I am, but he’s still as charming as ever!

The veil was very simple as well. I’m threatening to cut it up for vegetable bags. Waste not, want not, right? (Don’t worry, I’m only half serious)

It’s promising to be an interesting year! ♥

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A few bits and pieces from the last month…

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We’ve recently discovered Faheem Fast Food on Enmore Road. It’s surprisingly good and very well priced, although the service can be a bit aloof at times.

We’re late to the party – apparently everyone we know eats there regularly – but we avoided Indian and Pakistani food for years because of Small Man’s nut allergies (which he still has, but he’s much more savvy about what to look out for these days). The tandoori chicken was deliciously spicy and the mixed lentils were to die for. I went back a week later and ordered the “rice with three veg curries for $11” option and refused to share…

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This is the fossil that started the collection…a two kilogram mammoth molar tooth, given to me by my sister Cynthia 15 years ago. To be fair, she actually gave it to the boys, but they weren’t nearly as interested in it as I was…

The tooth still has its root (photo above) and grinding surface (photo below) intact. I’m not sure of its age, but a quick google search suggests that it’s probably  around 12,000 years old. It’s a joy to own partly because it’s not fragile, so I get to play with it a lot…

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I fell out of the meditation habit in the second half of last year, to my personal detriment, so I’m trying to get back into regular practice again this year. So far, so good…

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I returned from our visit to Singapore with this stunning vintage bowl – another gift from Cynthia. It’s a hand painted Baker & Co Ltd piece from England, commissioned for the household (or possibly school) of Haji R. E. Mohamed Kassim – a wealthy Indian businessman and philanthropist who lived in Malaya (as it was then known) in the early 1900s.

The bowl probably dates from the 1920s, making it nearly a century old. Perhaps the “1695” inscription is a catalogue number. I loved knowing the story behind it…

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Pete’s hands have been too sore for him to make jam in the past few years, but this time Small Man hulled all the strawberries for him – all fifteen punnets’ worth. We didn’t have a lot of pectin made, so this batch is very soft set. And not overly sweet, which is Pete’s trademark style…

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My friend Sue gave me this beautiful calendar for Christmas – she and her husband Craig create and publish the Wine Dog book series. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll adore them…

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Me (whinging): “why can’t we go out for dinner?”

Pete: “because we have a bed full of rapini and backyard eggs and just picked cucumbers and freshly baked focaccia and homemade sambal.”

Oh. Fair enough. It was excellent too.

Sometimes I forget how much great food we have at our fingertips. The whole dinner cost us less than $5, and there was enough leftover to feed the neighbours as well…

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We’ve been meeting up with friends at The Carpenter Cafe – a new establishment hidden away in the back of an old factory in Leichhardt.

They do fabulous ice lattes and great simple meals, but I really wanted to show you the gorgeous stoneware they serve their hot drinks in. The cups are made in Sydney’s inner west by Zuko. Sadly, I can’t buy any, because I really don’t need any more cups in the house, plus I’d already asked my friend Steve Sheridan to make me a couple at the end of last year. So I’ll just keep going to The Carpenter for decaf lattes instead…

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I gave two of my upcycled useful bags to Tom and Grace (formerly Baby Grace), and they found a new use for them..

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My latest project-on-the-go was this apron, which I made from an offcut of toile fabric. It has a pocket deep enough to keep an iPhone safe in case of a minor spill…

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I’ve been tempering chocolate again now that the weather is a bit cooler – these Sao Thome 70% dark origin chocolate frogs were set in my contraband Freddo moulds…

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As I’m trying not to buy any clothes (new OR secondhand) for a little while, I thought I should put some effort into upcycling some bits and pieces for winter. I dug out this scrap of badly stained vintage kimono silk, which had previously served as the lining for a child’s coat. I picked it up a few years ago from Cash Palace Emporium. It’s printed with gosho dolls, and I reckon this one looks just like me…

I washed it carefully (sadly the stains didn’t budge), then seamed the front opening closed and turned it into a reversible scarf. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out…

And continuing with the Japanese theme, my tidying up uncovered this old noren (door hanging) that our friends Yuji and Maude bought us over two decades ago. It hung outside Pete’s office for years, slowly fading in the sun and occasionally being set upon by mynah birds. When our friends bought us a replacement, this one was washed and put away…

I tried turning it into a scarf but it was too worn, so I cut patches out of it instead. These were appliqued onto my homemade flares, assembled by merging together two pairs of girl-sized Gap jeans. I loved the super thick denim and they were only $2 each from our local Salvos. The flares were a bit boring though, so I was happy to find a way to jazz them up a bit…

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Lastly, a plug for my friends at Reverse Garbage. They’re having a vintage sale (fabric, haberdashery and collectibles) on Saturday 9th March. I am not going not going not going. If I chant it enough over the new couple of weeks, it might stick.

Reverse Garbage is based in the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. And if you pick up a metre of purple wool cashmere at the sale, rest assured that it’s been carefully stored in my camphor chest for over 20 years…

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Life is good! Hope all is well in your universe! ♥

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