Saturday, October 31, 2009

Half Term...

Its been a busy week here at The Stone House, but not the 'exciting-busy' when it comes to writing a blog post...but here's a taster anyway ;-)) ,as I don't like to stay away too long...
I'd been buying the ingredients for our Christmas cake over the last few weeks and storing them in my large 'baking basket' in the pantry until I had all that was needed...

Youngest daughter was on hand to give me some help with the mixing...

And three hours later the cake was cooked. A weekly spoonful of brandy drizzled over the top will help it mature and darken before the festive hols. (My family recipe can be found here)
The half term break has also involved some rainbow watching...
Masses of laundry...
But some of the nicer, vintagey kind too. I love pressing old linen and lace.
And then there was all the pricing up to do.
I've also laundered several eiderdowns...

which are now airing around the house in the autumn sunshine, along with a few quilts and blankets.

Some vintage clothes were given a freshen-up too.

I've been doing some more painting...more about that another time...
Along with some high-street shopping with my daughter (yes, I do some of that occasionally!) - with the best buy found on the way back to the car. I called into the charity shop and found these fabulously kitsch potted silk roses...kitsch enough to be cool, I hope?! ;-))
And talking of roses, I thought I'd just mention the mirror that I made a few weeks ago. The putty method seems to have held the china flowers in place. If they start dropping off over time however, I shall let you know!
There's also been a bit of this going on around here...
My daughter's scary clown pumpkin!

If you like to celebrate All Hallow's Eve, then I hope you have lots of fun!

Enjoy your weekend,
Niki x

Monday, October 26, 2009


At the beginning of this month we thought we'd check to make sure that our central heating was in full working order before the colder weather arrived...sadly the radiators refused to heat up, so an engineer was called...he came, but couldn't fix it. We were told that the system needed flushing-out and we'd need to book an all day appointment, but that a plumber couldn't come out for at least a fortnight.

That appointment finally came round and our central heating system was flushed through...but even after that, we were still without heat when it didn't solve the problem, so another engineer was booked to call on the Friday just gone...
The man that came on that occasion actually made things worse; not only did he not fix our central heating, but her broke the hot water system too! He said we'd have to be without both all weekend, as someone else with the spare parts wouldn't be able to attend until Monday.

That was the last straw! We'd got used to wearing an extra layer and lighting the fire in the living room every evening, but to not be able to have a hot bath all weekend...
So on the spur-of-the-moment hubby and I decided to book a B&B and go off for the weekend. Luckily our youngest had already arranged to stay with her friend over the weekend, so we were free to choose where we'd like to go...not a difficult had to be Devon, didn't it? A few quick clicks on the www and we were booked in for the Saturday night at Ashburton.

Bright and early on Saturday morning we headed off on our not-so-long-anticipated holiday!
We arrived in the town mid-morning and after a quick cuppa in our favourite cafe it was time to visit the lovely Ros at 'The Snug' - My absolutely favourite shop, run by this gem of a lady.

Sat in the window at the back of The Snug is this gorgeous and glamorous gal (not for sale, or I would have been first in line...;-))

A beautifully put together red and cream corner...
and a lovely assortment of vintage treasures next to it...some of which came home with me!

After saying our farewells to Ros, we took a leisurely wander along the rest of the high street.

Ashburton really is a relaxing little town, where all the shop keepers are very friendly...we even managed to get some insider information about the local car boot sales that would be running on the Sunday from the lady in 'The Shambles' - a fab antiques shop near to Sara's Lavender Box.
The weather made us feel very welcome too...hours of warm sunshine and blue skies.

Later in the afternoon we checked-in to the B&B, then went for a short walk along one of the public footpaths before our evening meal.
(That night, having a centrally heated bedroom took a bit of getting used to, but the hot bath was most welcome!)
Sunday dawned and we checked out of the B&B and headed to the car boot sale at Newton Abbot racecourse. There was a mixture of stalls, some very expensive, but I did come away with a few treasures.
After that we then went to Totnes and a walk along the ramparts to The Guildhall.


Then back to the high street for a light lunch.

It was then off to another car boot sale, near Paignton, which opened at 1pm (very civilised!) I bought a very pretty pair of Victorian hand painted pictures on glass, which I shall show towards the end of this post. It never ceases to amaze me what turns up at car booties!
And was that the end of our little foray? No, we packed in more!! (Sue is always saying how one night away equates to one week in her book, as she has so little time-off from work, and I can see what she means...its surprising what can be done with a few hours away from it all.)
Our next stop was Stoke Gabriel, a pretty village where we have holidayed before, and a hot cup of tea sat looking out over the estuary...

Whilst we were there, a RNLI lifeboat was called to rescue the ferry boat, thankfully not the ferryman, which they towed out to safety.

And then all was quiet once more...

Finally, our journey home had to begin, but we did so by calling in at Budleigh Salterton for a quick walk along its pebbly beach before the sun went down...


Back home and the gas engineer came back again today (this time bringing the boss as well!) and we now have heating AND hot water!! Joy! We have to invest in some new radiators, which will be fitted next month, but at least for now we are warm.
Whilst they were in my workroom working on the boiler, I sorted through my purchases from the weekend. This is the pair of Victorian paintings on glass that I mentioned. I'm very pleased with those...
A pretty pair of paisley eiderdowns came from Ros.
As did this beautifully hand embroidered linen tablecloth.
This adorable plaster figure was from The Shambles.
And some of my other treasures included some striped cotton sheets and pillowcases...

A framed wedding photograph from a century ago (wouldn't you just love to be able to see what colours these ladies were wearing? - I'm sure they would have all been so pretty in their lace embellished outfits and millinery creations)

And an old book from a similar time to the wedding photograph was another of my favourite finds and the perfect souvenir of a special weekend away with my lovely hubby.

Hope you had a fab weekend too!
Now I need to catch-up on some work after having so many days with central heating engineers working in my space this month...I have two more rag dolls I really need to finish off before the V&H fair on the 14th. Working on them without me having chilly fingers will be most welcome!
Niki x

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reminiscing...Please Indulge Me!

I was reading one of Lucy's posts yesterday about window dressing and how she felt it was an art form, and one that could document well, the changes in fashions over the years. She has some fabulous photos of 1950's mannequins and 30's millinery heads that are each so evocative of their era.
As I read her post, I was transported back to my college days and have had fun reminiscing and remembering that happy time in my life.
I left school at 16 (for various reasons) and applied for a two year course in 'Display & Design' at Cassio College in Watford. Thankfully I was accepted and it was the best decision I could have made - I loved every minute of every lesson...
I have been delving into our attic today to fish-out my old photos from that time, and have taken photos of them with my digi-camera, so I'm afraid the quality isn't great! This was back in the very early 1980's, so please excuse the following set of photographs, as digital cameras weren't invented then! - We were expected to take photographs of the displays that we created as part of our on-going assessment.
The year began with 'static' goods and we learnt how to put a good display together using bases to give height to the merchandise and props to add interest or to set a theme.
I'm still confused today as to where a display of 'Tetley' tea bags would have been welcome, but I guess it was to just get us practicing to start with.

Most of the 'windows' were actually cubicles in a studio, where the sides could be moved in and out to make larger or smaller spaces. The studio also had 4 'real' windows too, which I loved using whenever I had the opportunity to do so. They weren't very popular to use, for some reason, perhaps because your work was on full view for the rest of the college students to see, but I didn't mind that...I saw it as good experience for the real world.
I even chose to do my first big assignment in one of them. This was my 'Xanadu' perfumery window for Christmas. I made an expanded polystyrene king bearing a perfumery gift as my prop and painted several apple crates in white emulsion paint.

We later moved on to working with other merchandise of varying shapes and sizes.
Love that retro kitchenware!

Towards the end of the first year, we began to learn techniques for working with manipulative merchandise, such as this nice set of brown bathroom towels!

Fashion accessories were a lot more exciting than some of the other goods that we were given to display...even if some of the items had been in the studio storeroom for at least 20 years...we weren't talking high-fashion here!! ;-))

One of the assignments that we were given had the brief 'Spring in the City'. I chose to do Dublin and made the sheet music prop at the back - 'In Dublin's Fair City...' We also had to learn lettering and would paint all our own show cards and location cards, as if we were working for a large department store.

At the end of the first year our final major project was 'Buy British - Buy the Best'. I decided to use my favourite window again and went for a footwear display. I remember having to drag the wooden bench from outside in the college gardens and hauling it up into the window space, rather than using the felt covered bases that were so often used. It was worth the risk though and I passed my first year.

I also remember the laughs us girls used to have, and we'd often pose with the mannequins in the studio. That's me on the right with one of the 1960's mannequins...I think the college used to get shop's cast-offs...this girl obviously wasn't popular with her weird pose - I can just imagine her at a 60's party dressed in psychedelic fashions and being away-with-the-fairies, shall we say?! ;-))
And if the teachers weren't looking, we'd also try on some of the stiff mannequin wigs! -Something that was absolutely forbidden....but we did so at every opportunity, of course, and would always find it hysterical!
During our second year we were each given two weeks in-store work experience. Three of us were selected for a placement at 'Liberty of London' and I was one of those lucky ones. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I still treasure the memories of working, albeit briefly, in such a magnificent store...the fact that it was during the run up to Christmas made it even more of a thrill...even if getting a tube train home in the evening from Oxford Circus was a complete nightmare. We often had to queue up at street level, all the way down the stairs/escalators, and then onto the platform, being jostled in all directions, due to the shear volume of Christmas shoppers all heading home at the end of the day- quite scary at just 17 years would be several trains in and out of the station before we finally all made it onto a train heading for Euston.
(I loved the Christmas window displays all round the outside of the store - look at this lovely lady with her Grace Jones 80's look - fabulous! Sorry, this pic was taken in the dark one evening when we were heading home.)
The Christmas colour scheme chosen for that year was a dramatic scarlet and purple. We were given quite a few hands-on prop making tasks, such as painting pedestals and urns in rich gloss paint...
(Me wielding a paintbrush, wearing a dustbin-liner apron and sporting my short 80's hair-do!!)
And making various pot arrangements using shiny red cardboard boxes and purple ribbons that were placed in various positions throughout the shop.
Occasionally were were allowed out of the basement studio and onto the sales floors.
For this display below we were asked to suspended red boxes, to continue the theme, using silk ribbons amongst mannequins dressed in cosy winter woollens in one of the fashion departments.
Whilst in London we visited Selfridges and took a trip to Santa's grotto...purely for research, you understand! ;-)) That year it was a wonderfully nostalgic 'Rupert the Bear' themed grotto that was so dreamy and pretty. The year previous to that was a stunning Muppet Christmas one, complete with the real Muppets, all animated and providing Christmas cheer to all who visited. (I did take lots of photographs at the time, but for now they seem to have been misplaced.)
After the two weeks work experience was over, we returned to college to work on our own Christmas grotto. We all chose to go for a Cinderella Pantomime theme, which was later open to the local nursery and primary school children to walk round.
This was the entrance, welcoming visitors to 'Hardup Hall'.
We all worked in small groups to create displays that told the story of Cinderella. My two friends and I worked on the scene where Cinderella tries on the glass slipper...

We dressed a seated mannequin in rags and surrounded her with country style kitchen pieces, making the dresser ourselves from wood and expanded polystyrene...Ahhh, I remember going home from college many times with a headache bought on by the fumes from the hot wire polystyrene cutter!!
And here is her Prince...we didn't have many male mannequins in the studio, so we adapted a kneeling female one, giving her a moustache and wadding wig! Well, it was pantomime style, I suppose!
And these two 'lovely' ladies were the ugly sisters that we dressed in ballroom finery, 80's style!
After the Christmas hols were over, it was back to work, with the pressure of final exams looming. We began working more with manipulative merchandise and also fashion.
Crisp cottons were best displayed in pleats, either on a basic mannequin above, for an in-store style display, or on a fashion mannequin for a window display. Here 3 meter lengths of cotton fabrics were pinned and manipulated into shape - we weren't allowed to cut the fabric in any way, as would be the case in a proper shop, so that the fabric could then be sold after it was removed from the promotion.
Working with fabric was my favourite merchandise (some things never change! ;-))
This is a French national costume design that I created, again from usable lengths of dressmaking fabrics.
The more fluid satin fabrics could be draped and bolder displays could be created. My first attempt was this one...
After that, I would always use the lovely drapey fabrics for my displays when given a choice.
This elegant lady was dressed in the softest evening satins...certainly a move on from Tetley tea bags!
We also needed to know the correct ways for displaying fashions...which I use in the loosest term...we had to bring in clothes from home to supplement what was on offer at the college!
These mannequins have both been wired to the floor, (rather than standing on their integrated bases) which was always scary to do, as they could so easily have fallen until they were secured...and how many times were we reminded how expensive they were?! This meant that they could wear 'proper' shoes, rather than the ones that came with the mannequin and were completely unflattering!
The seated mannequin was always a popular girl, as she could wear any shoes without needing to be wired. She was also perfect for use in the high-rise windows, where a standing model would have been above eye level and so would loose you valuable marks...we always had to bear in mind eye-levels and what customers would initially be drawn to when viewing a promotional display - an eye catching focal point was vital to draw the attention around the display.
And when working with more than one mannequin, they needed to look as if they had just had an argument, rather than a cosy chat...I don't know why this always looked better, but it definitely was the case, where they seemed to be ignoring each other, rather than there being some mothers-meeting going on behind glass...
And if a shop couldn't afford to buy mannequins? - Then a broom handle suspended by fishing line was a perfectly good alternative! Scarecrow style!
The brief that we were given for our final major project was 'The California Connection'. I realised fairly quickly that California was known for growning cotton and that I would be able to base my project on fabrics again...
I decided to work on creating a night scene and made wooden signs to resemble neon lights. Two plain white mannequins were used to display the printed cotton fabrics, which I fashioned into their outfits. The tight group allows the eye to wander, but not too far and so the customer is drawn into seeing what you want her to.
At the end of the two year course I was very sad to leave. There's something about working alongside like-minded people and it was something I knew I would miss.
Sadly the retail wages and the cost of trains into London were poles apart and so to work at my dream job was out of my reach. I did however get a job with the John Lewis Partnership in Watford, later transfering to the Bristol branch when hubby and I moved to the west country some 23+ years ago.
If you are still here, thank you for reading my long post and for indulging me whilst I shared a few of my nostalgic memories.
Have a lovely day!
Niki x