Family heirlooms

I’m currently reading a book called ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson. It’s (another) dystopian novel set sometime in the near future. There are echoes of ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’ and (I think) ‘Never Let Me Go’ in it. I mention the novel because in its society people are dissuaded from keeping family heirlooms. It’s an unwritten rule that you are only allowed to keep one item that is over a hundred years old. I haven’t finished the book but I get the impression that old things remind people of something catastrophic that happened (or as it’s referred to: What Happened, if it Happened). In ‘J’ it’s not good to remember the past.

This got me thinking about the heirlooms that we have in our house. As I slowly walk the minimalist path I have been questioning everything we own and working out what we really need. This means that some things we have inherited have now gone. For example this week we said goodbye to our old piano because it takes up too much space and we are going to replace it with a smaller, portable electric keyboard.

However there are other objects that we have inherited and will keep because they a) serve a practical purpose and/or b) remind us of our past.

Take our kitchen table, for example:

Kitchen table: family heirloom

It was my grandparents’ table, then briefly used by my parents. It then went to my aunt’s (I have childhood memories of all the family gathered around the table), then it came to us about ten years ago. It’s not fancy and, as it belonged to my Nan and Grandad, wouldn’t have been expensive. It has a date stamp underneath the table of 5 Jan 1950. For this reason I do wonder if it is a piece of Utility Furniture: inexpensive furniture made in Britain between 1942 and 1952 to meet the increasing demand for furniture (especially by people whose houses were bombed) while suffering from a lack of available resources to produce them.

I am fascinated by both the social and personal, family history that surrounds this table. It is also really practical and can seat eight people around it.

As neither my husband and I have formally inherited items from our grandparents (only one pair of our four grandparents ever owned their own home), there are other items that have casually come to us and we use on a day to day basis, without even thinking about them.

For example, I regularly use this single serving ceramic pan that my Dad had when he lived on his own. I’m not sure what its original purpose is as it can’t be used on a hob. However I find it ideal for soaking grains, such as couscous, in, or storing leftovers in.

Practical family heirlooms

I also have this pyrex lemon squeezer which I think looks quite beautiful:

pyrex lemon squeezer

I do confess to possessing some items that I have kept because they look beautiful. From time to time I use this small china tea set that once belonged to my great gran:

tea set as family heirloom

I also have an ironing board which I rarely use, but can’t quite get rid of because it belonged to my Nan. There is a whole load of emotional attachment to this item which I need to work through. If I get rid of it it doesn’t mean I loved my Nan any less. It barely serves a practical purpose as I don’t iron. And yet….

What family heirlooms do you keep? Do you keep them for emotional, or practical, reasons – or both?


Second-hand fashion at festivals

My festival look - lots of waterproofs!

My festival look – lots of waterproofs!


So Mr Second-Hand has gone off to Glastonbury. He will be enjoying the festival with friends but will also be a ‘performer’ in his own right, giving a talk on his “Blacklisted” book. There seems to be a lot of planning that goes into this festival trip. There have been a few ‘meetings’ down the pub while the six of them discuss an oufit theme for each night. This has then led to Mr Second-Hand borrowing a tux from a friend, delving into our 80s party dressing up bag and securing a great fake fur coat for £25.

The latter came from the excellent Jack and Danny’s emporium on Walcot Street in Bath. They will be running a stall at Glastonbury if anyone is in the vicinity. In the past I have picked up a great 1970s summer dress (in a Margot Leadbetter style) from there, plus a lovely leather-style tan waistcoat for the Mr. I am only sorry I don’t have a pic of his fur coat but this went on ahead of him at the weekend to stay in the caravan on site.

Jack and Dannys shop in Bath

As a family we have been to enough festivals by now (Green Man, Tolpuddle, Camp Bestival) to know that there are good sources for buying second-hand clothing on site. If you ignore the ubiquitous Boden and Joules stalls you will find Oxfam Fashion running their great stalls (see a post here on festival fashion Oxfam style). The girls have also spent ages dressing up at the  vintage clothing store on site at Camp Bestival (my middle daughter even spent her holiday money on a chicken suit there and wore it on the hottest day!).

second hand clothing stalls at festivals: kids costumes


However as much as I love second-hand clothing when it comes to festival going (and camping in general) I require three things of my clothing:

– to be warm

– to be layered (so if the sun comes out I can strip down to a vest top)

– to be dry

Having spent one year at a very wet Green Man Festival in Wales I have long since realised that being dry (with wellies, waterproof trousers and anorak) is far more important than looking like Kate Moss! So no fur coat for me I’m afraid….


weird seventies fabric and childhood memories

A few years ago I acquired this rather odd-looking fabric, straight from the 1970s:



Despite its strangeness it does have a sentimental attachment as it once belonged to a travel cot my brother slept in as a baby in the mid 70s. When my parents got rid of the cot I kept onto the fabric and, for the past few years, have been racking my brains as to how I can use it. I really wanted to create something to pass onto his children as a – sort of – family heirloom. This Christmas I finally came up with a solution as my little niece has recently acquired a Build-a-Bear. After some pinterest research and a fair bit of making it up myself I produced a sleeping bag and matching pillow for her bear (unfortunately I forgot to take a pic before wrapping it up). I quite like the fact that the material that was once used when her daddy went camping can now help her toys have a ‘camp out’ too.

Using this fabric also got me thinking about other odd 1970s pieces that I have used, taken from a decade where unsettling and oddly coloured patterns seem to have been de rigour. In fact the orange shades of the above fabric remind me of the slightly trippy hues and effects from the Willy Wonka film (which both delighted and scared me as a small child).

A few years ago I acquired some second-hand fabric featuring animals in the 1970s shade of brown. I turned them into this cushion cover and this peg bag:



Afterwards a friend noticed the cushion and remarked that she had once had a pair of curtains in the very fabric!

I am sure that somewhere in a charity shop is the Magic Roundabout fabric that my aunty made curtains and a gym bag from. Alas all I have now is this Magic Roundabout mug, picked up from a jumble sale about twenty years ago:

Childhood memories: Magic Roundabout mug bought at a jumble sale


Are there any fabric patterns from your childhood that both delighted and unsettled you? How would you feel if you were reunited with it once more?

Charity shops are good for dressing up too…


This Saturday we are hosting an Eighties & Nineties party. It’s an annual thing that my husband and I have done for the past few years. It’s as cheap as chips as we book the function room at the local pub and compile a simple 80s/90s playlist. Because January is such a dull month with not much going on we find that lots of people come and have a good dance (we try to hold it on what is statistically the worst Saturday of the year).

Nearly everyone who attends makes a real effort to dress up and, as a result, I know the local charity shops are busy servicing our guests’ costume demands! Even if you never normally step foot inside your local Oxfam fancy dress parties are a great opportunity to rifle through their racks of clothing.

This week I took a trip to one of our nearby towns and in just two charity shops I found half a dozen ideas for outfits for re-creating an 80s/90s look:

– denim dungarees. I have been looking for a pair of these for years and even borrowed a friend’s to wear to the party last year. Saying that they were priced at a hefty £12.50 at the Dorothy House shop

– at the same shop I spotted a great gold/beige women’s trouser suit that would have made a brilliant mid-80s look (David Bowie/Miami Vice)

– in another charity shop I found three different blouses that could have been used for a New Romantic outfit (ruffled shirt, tartan top, white flouncy top)

– I also saw some baggy denim jeans that would have made a good early 90s look, especially if teamed with a hooded top

It is defintely harder, though, to find genuine 1980s – and 1990s – clothing. Many of the items I spotted were more recent adaptations of these past styles. For example I tried on a pair of tweed patterned straight leg trousers with zips and buckles that came from H&M but were loosely based on a tame Punk look.

When there is also a lot of dayglow and neon clothing on sale in shops like Primark it can be cheaper to buy these clothes first-hand rather than trawling through the charity shops.

However when you do find the right clothing combinations you can feel a real buzz. I have decided to create a New Romantic look for Saturday night (specifically in the style of  very early Duran Duran whom I’m currently having a middle-aged obsession with). I found these high waisted trousers for £4.99:


(the trousers are by Zara and I’m very tempted to wear them every day as well)

This shirt and some lace that will make a great scarf:


(I’ve attempted to sew some ruffles to the sleeves)

And these AMAZING Pixie boots that no self-respecting Duranie should be without. I picked these up on Monday from the Dorothy House shop for £4.50 and am mightily pleased with them:


While it’s not always possible to pick an outfit up straight off the peg a few second-hand things can also be adapted. I used an old dress to cut up and add ruffles to one of my husband’s shirt for his New Romantic look:

IMG_9543The ruffles were really easy to do: cut a strip of material about 10 inches wide. Using the longest stitch and lowest tension on the sewing machine (or by hand) create a running stitch along the length. Use the thread from this to gather the material and then loosely hand-sew onto the shirt.

Now all we need to do is perfect our blusher and eyeliner…..

Return to some Royal shopping…

Last Christmas we caught up with family in the fittingly Royal town of Windsor. While there we came across a fantastic vintage charity shop, run by Thames Hospice. Its Retro and Vintage Shop in the city centre is one of those cleverly presented spaces that feels part boutique and part time travelling machine.

This Christmas we returned for a brief stop (well okay I spent an hour in the shop) to reacquaint ourselves with its sixties/seventies vibe.

There were some great Margot Leadbetter style evening dresses from the early seventies.


I also tried on a pair of punk-inspired tartan trousers (which were way too small!). There were china tea sets from the 1950s, household appliances from the sixties and a few pieces of vinyl from the 1980s. Alas, having tried on at least five outfits, I came away with just a yellow necklace and red and blue scarf. The latter makes me think of a 1970s British Airways air hostess and I’m hoping to use it as I change some of the clothing for my latest installment of Project 333.


I really do love the Retro & Vintage Shop. It’s one of those clever boutique shops that more charities seem to be cultivating (in Bath I can think of the Dorothy House shop on Broad Street and the vintage section at the back of the Julian House shop on Walcot Street). If you’re ever in the Windsor area I really recommend paying it a visit on Peascod Street. You never know, there may even have a been a few Royal donations….


(Some) second-hand holiday shopping, plastic-free goodies and compost toilets!

Our holidays in a snapshot! While I don’t want to turn this into a ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ post I thought I’d just write about some of the highlights. Our wet and windy camping trip to Scotland yielded a few second-hand goodies, a leaky tent and some ‘interesting’ compost toilets!

Our first stop in Edinburgh included a rummage around a great store.Armstrongs Vintage  in the centrally located Grassmarket is an aladdin’s cave of second-hand clothing. Separated into decades, with some truly beautiful fifities dresses, this is what I call proper vintage. There was even a small rack of children’s clothing which my eight year old daughter was keen to try on. While I failed to find anything my husband picked up this beautiful blue wool blazer for £20.

Not quite as blue as this picture shows!

Not quite as blue as this picture shows!

As we travelled further north into the Highlands and Islands charity shopping became less of an imperative. Locating a petrol station or grocery shop became more of a priority. However we did come across a very small charity shop in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull where my girls bought a rather sad looking baby doll. While on Mull I discovered the gorgeous Isle of Mull Soap Co and stocked up on a few plastic-free bars. Since taking part in Plastic Free July I’ve been converted to using bars of soap for handwash, bodywash and even shampoo and conditioner (so much easier to pack for our holidays than large plastic bottles). I was very excited to be able to pick up some more bars of soap, packaged only in cardboard. Later, on the Isle of Skye I bought another bar from the Highland Soap Co (I think this is becoming an addiction!).


One of the best plastic-free finds of the holiday, however, was a community allotment scheme which we discovered on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I believe the West Ardnamurchan Community Garden at Kilchoan is the most westerly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model in the mainland UK. From what I can gather the local residents work together on the allotment growing produce for themselves, and to sell. We stopped by the shed attached to the allotments where you can help yourself to veg, gorgeous homemade jams, flowers and put your money in an honesty box:

Our final stop was an eco campsite on the Isle of Skye.  Rubha Phoil Skye Forest Garden’s campsite is an organic veg growing, composting, rubbish free, eco living dream. It is set amid 16 acres of woodland with homemade eco dwellings dotted around for those who live and work on the site. They grow organic produce for local shops and offer textile workshops and internships for those wanting to learn more about permaculture and running an eco campsite.We were lucky enough to be able to stay in their static caravan as our tent had sprung a leak. The children had great fun playing in the natural playground and spotting seals out to sea, while they (reluctantly) had a go at using the compost toilets. (Our caravan had a different type of compost toilet which, I’m afraid to say, did smell – unlike the traditional sawdust ones). I have to say I was glad to return to a water-guzzling toilet and clean smelling bathroom after our trip but it was certainly a place to remember.

Upon returning from our epic roadtrip to Scotland we had a final camping night with our beloved tent before saying goodbye to twelve years of ownership. In true second-hand style we will try to reuse some of its poles, pegs and groundsheets.

What did you get up to over the holidays?



Second-hand bloggers to follow

As we all seem to inspire/persuade/encourage each other in the blogging community I thought I would talk about those second-hand bloggers whose style, advice and attitude I really admire. Next to them I feel very much the amateur but love reading their posts and, even more, admiring their beautiful clothes.

Citizen Rosebud

The US based Rosebud sells vintage clothes and accessories online. She also champions the second-hand cause with her ‘Secondhand First’ pledge, encouraging people to consider buying pre-loved before anything else. She also promotes bloggers over the age of forty in her 40 plus blog roll so she’s my kind of girl….

Freelancers Fashion Blog

Ulrika is Norwegian, beautiful and incredibly stylish in a fifties way. She used to be a dock worker and now earns her living from performing (and teaching) burlesque! Not all her outfits are second-hand but she has some great dresses and is very clever with the sewing machine. Her blog is so stylish, with interludes about her everyday life with her small son, but there are an increasing number of adverts on the site which may put some readers off.

A Bag and A Beret

Melanie lives in Vancouver, is a fifty plus artist and has incredible “I don’t give a damn” style. It’s worth subscribing to her blog just to see the amazing outfits she wear which are mostly thrifted.

The Lazy Seamstress

I discovered this blog when following Me Made May, a great idea  from Zoe at SoZo to get sewers to show off their homemade outfits. The Lazy Seamstress somehow manages to create some great outfits (especially dresses) in between looking after six children, child minding and running upcycling workshops in Manchester.

Charity Shop Chic

I love reading her posts and seeing how her charity shop purchases are turned into something truly beautiful and unique. The step by step photographs area really interesting and I’m in awe of her sewing skills. She’s also started to c-host a fab series on clothing in films and I particularly liked the first entry on the all-time charity shop classic: ‘Pretty in Pink.’

Are there any second-hand bloggers you would recommend?