Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to build a business around vintage and handmade?
The start of my vintage business was due to an impromptu addition to the suppliers page in the back of my vintage book. I have a background in cooking, running a commercial kitchen for London events company Lettice for ten years and then designing menus and service equipment for them. It was really hard work but great fun.
These guys then went on to launch a sister company called Biscuiteers. A great brand that makes amazing hand iced biscuits. I did the development for all of the recipes and designed their collections of biscuits and was asked to write a book for them. This was quite hard work, but even more fun. I talked to the team at Kyle books as we were putting the Iced Biscuits book together and pitched them ideas for a book about my other passion, Vintage.
Homemade Gifts Vintage Style was commissioned and written, about to go to print when they asked for a suppliers page at the back. I popped my name first on the list of other established suppliers and sent it off for print. I then had four months to start the business before the book hit the shelves. Since then the boundary between work and fun has been blurred. I love old stuff. Wallpapers and fabrics are my favourites and once a little pile of these had built up I wanted to use them to make lovely things to show off their beautiful designs.
What do you think it is about vintage and reclaimed items that people are drawn to?
Old fabrics and vintage pieces have that old fashioned feel of quality, care and regard that many of our newer slightly disposable homewares lack. I think that nostalgic feeling, the good ethos of making do and mending and a legacy of fantastic design makes reclaimed stuff more appealing. The magpie in people is awakened by vintage pieces too. The search is as much fun as the product. Many a trip out buying has seen the latest haul polished or washed or folded or rolled neatly on the top of the piles of yesterday’s find in our house. Only to roll down the pile and be replaced tomorrow.
I first learnt about your work through your book ‘Homemade Gifts Vintage Style’ and have since discovered your online shop, blog and studio. How do you manage to maintain a balance between the different areas of your business and what do you enjoy the most?
I am not great at balance. Blog has been neglected as I have been writing a new book and for Country Living magazine, studio screams priorities if a bespoke order is placed and shop ticks along with seasons or find dictating what is included. I love it all. apart from blog guilt!
I’m completely smitten with your stationery range! How do you source stock and find inspiration for new product lines?
I find materials I buy very inspiring. The fabrics and wallpapers are just so colourful that you want to use them in as many ways as possible. I find my stuff by getting up early and going to markets, by popping into charity shops regularly and looking online. The stationery was produced by Kyle books as part of a collection. The mini notebooks are my favourites as they are perfect size for writing out my vintage wish lists.
You say that during busy periods you get help from locals in the surrounding villages. To what extent would you say that community is important to your work?
I love the fact that local people are involved. It has made a real connection with people from our area who I would probably not come across in day to day life. It is more like therapy than work as we gather in our village hall sewing and making.
If you had one piece of advice for fellow handmade artisans, what would it be?
Don’t undersell your pieces. It takes hours to make some things, hours to source the materials, and if you present things over the web, ages to update and pack and send your pieces. Make great things with a good design and charge what it is worth. The hourly rate will still probably be less than minimum wage!
And finally, a fantasy question. If you could have a snoop and rummage around anyone’s home, who would that be?!
The queen. I wouldn’t want to see around her smart houses, except to check out the wallpapers and fabrics. Her lofts, out building, stores and barns would be enough from all those estates. There must be some amazing wallpapers and curtains leftover from previous decorating schemes. I have some fragments of gilded plaster from frames and finials and mouldings and think there must be scope to increase these.
Thank you so much for joining us Sarah, it’s been wonderful to learn about your journey! I especially envy your charity shop visits and community sewing. What a lovely way to work. I’ll definitely be revisiting your book for some Christmas present inspiration this year.
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You can never be bored at the weekend in Cambridge. There is always something happening and despite the tourist season being in full swing (I swear it gets earlier every year!) I decided to wander into town to check out Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair at the Guildhall.
The Affordable Vintage Fair started in 2005 in Leeds and now tours to more than 30 cities and 6 festivals around the UK. Cambridge’s fair this weekend displayed a vast array of dresses, jewellery, bags, crockery and cake. It’s not a proper vintage fair without tea and cake, right?
The atmosphere was relaxed with many sellers willing to share tales. One stall holder was still jet lagged from a recent trip to the US to source 50s swing dresses. Needless to stay I stopped at this stall to admire the polka dots and lace adorned frocks for a while. Although vintage clothes were not on my shopping list for the day, I took time to lust after all the 40s shirt dresses and hand sewn lace tea dresses.
Local vintage boutique Jemporium Vintage were in attendance with a great selection of demin cut offs and sunglasses.
I had to stop myself from buying vintage clutch bags as there really isn’t space in my wardrobe for any more!
How fabulous is this stall of vintage Vogues?!
I had already contacted my favourite vintage market stall Retrovert to reserve some items, so I headed there in excitement to collect my goods from Sophie and Jane.
As well as beautiful crockery, the stall had numerous baskets of vintage lace, doilies and retro nick nacks. I couldn’t resist taking a snap of this vintage icing set!
These retro tumblers were £12 for the set and Sophie had kindly reserved them for me. I am so impatient and realised I should have also reserved the tea cup I had my eye on too. Luckily it was still available and I parted with £5 for this china Mayfair beauty.
After leaving the fair I spotted many people around the city in vintage get up and some fab victory rolls too! Only made me wish I had worn my vintage frock which I adjusted last week.
A year or two ago, I went to a great swishing event and came home with two vintage dresses. One in brown silk with white polka dots and another bright orange polyester shirt dress. It might sound like a horrid dress, but I felt it had potential and that every vintage dress has a journey to follow.
The orange dress stayed in my ‘needs mending’ bag at the bottom of the wardrobe for quite some time. The length just wasn’t right. Finally I got around to adjusting it.
I started by measuring the hem to see how much I wanted to take the dress up. Then I realised I would need to prepare myself for cutting vintage fabric. *Dread*.
Whilst on, I loosely pinned the hem of the dress and with a friend’s help, decided that just above the knee would be a much more flattering length.
Pinning the hem was actually the most tricky part of this little project as the dress didn’t behave and lay flat. Plus the iron hates this fabric!
I folded a double hem and pinned along the length.
Then I plucked up the courage and cut the excess! I don’t know if anyone else has the vintage cutting fabric fear, but I find it really scary!
I used my sewing machine along the hem being careful to hold the slippy fabric in place as I removed the pins.
The dress has a new shape now it is shorter and I know I will actually wear it now. I will accessorise with a skinny waist belt and gladiator flats if the Spring weather ever brightens up!
Have you ever adjusted vintage pieces? Please share your posts or stories.