Mary Jane's Blog
Nottingham's my home town so it's great to be back here. Born in Peel Street hospital in 1967, I lived in the city until I was 10, and remember being heart-broken at having to leave. My father was a Nottingham man, and some of my family worked in the lace industry. As a child, the dressing-up basket would be full of lace samples. Nottingham was of course the UK's lace-making capital. Now there's little to suggest this filigree past. I was surprised to find that the lace museum has closed down, and even the tourist office makes little reference to Nottingham's textile history. There are a few doilies for sale but no book on the subject. The former lace market has recently been tarted up to provide specialist shops, restaurants and appartments. Back in the 18th century, this area was at the forefront of design and manufacture. You'd have found more than 130 lace-making factories working out of the magnificent buildings. Nottingham is of course also famous for Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood - who the legend goes, robbed the rich to give to the poor. I think he'd have been a fan of Make Do And Mend - and he even wears a hat! My sort of man! It seems he's a recent convert to a certain BBC2 news programme as well......
Can you imagine driving through Sherwood forest and the beautiful Clumber estate to get to work? That's what Louise Presley does every morning, as she wends her way from Retford to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck near Worksop. This is DH Lawrence country, and it looks completely stunning in the early sunshine. Louise runs workshops from her studio, and I was there to hold a hat-making day, arranged some time ago and incorporated into my month's trip. In the spirit of my Newsnight venture Louise kindly offered me a bed for the night - I was originally going to camp but she talked me out of it - and given the weather and the long drive, I was very glad I'd accepted. Louise is a truly inspiring person. Her studio is crammed with vintage fabrics and quirky objects found in car boot sales, skips and the like. A bundle of old bills hanging from a hook bought for a couple of quid, old photographs, tablecloths embroidered with the names of diners. People donate their old scrap too - she was recently given a haul of a hundred or so pieces of church linen. Everything Louise makes has a history. Even her clothes are patched over many times. I could have stayed there forever - making and mending to my heart's content!
I am staying with my wonderful Aunt Kate in Nottingham. She's in her early eighties, but you'd never believe it. I arrived last night, imagining a cosy chat and a glass of wine after a very busy day. But far from the peace and quiet I'd imagined, I was completely taken aback to find her kitchen packed with people! There were ten women sat around the table nursing various bevarages about to tuck into homemade lasagne! My Aunt started a charity called Muzika Romania many years ago working in the orphanages there, and the ladies(of all ages) were in Nottingham for a meeting to plan the charity's next project. I tried to persuade them to go on camera, but frankly, we were all too tired. Many of them professed to an interest in sewing, knitting, crochet and the like. One in particular said that as a younger woman, she'd made all her own clothes, as well as her childrens' - but that it was simply cheaper nowadays to buy everything. Another thought the new Make Do And Mend was indeed just a fashion, and that it probably wouldn't last. Lots of them bought clothes in charity shops, and hated big high-street chains largely because everyone ends up looking the same. There were also concerns about ethical issues and the manufacture of cheap clothing. My Aunt Kate's father used to work in the lace industry in Nottingham and she has a fabulous photograph of herself dressed in a pale blue lace dress - modelling for the company in the 1950's! I'll see if I can persuade her to let me put the photo on my blog...she looks beautiful!
Well itâs nearly the end of week one, and Iâm preparing to head off up to the Midlands in my damp-averse Micra. Iâve been at home for the first few days, as I received alot of requests from the London area where Iâm based. Firstly I had my market stall in Greenwich, then an invitation to the Knitting and Stitching show in Alexander Palace, a call to see the inspiring Make Do And Mend exhibition at the Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, and a lesson in darning from the fabulous Sybil Goodfellow who grew up during the Second World War.
But now, home comforts will be left behind as I head up to the Midlands via Harpenden, where Iâm talking to Year 13 textile students at Sir John Lawes school about my trip. They asked me to come â so Iâm heeding the call! Theyâre paying my petrol costs and a small fee of Â£20 for the talk. That will help me move on to my Saturday gig â a millinery workshop at The Harley Gallery in Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire, where Iâll receive board and lodging in exchange for my labours.
Iâm currently surveying with sinking heart the amount of stuff I need to bring with me. Not only my tent and a sewing machine, but a suitcase full of hats, another of possible materials to make do and mend, a small video camera which I have yet to learn how to use, clothes, a duvet, a blanket, a newly acquired head torch, and the all-important wellies purchased after a downpour the other day. How Iâll fit it all in I just donât know, but I feel I need to be ready for any eventuality and any request.
Speaking of requests, Iâve been overwhelmed by the generous response of Newsnight viewers and web browsers from all over the country. Over two hundred e-mails so far and increasing by the day. The Make Do And Mend idea has clearly struck a chord. Iâve been moved by peoplesâ open spirit â offers of accommodation for help with curtains, halloween costumes, and of course hats! Iâve been asked to help make trousers for a stilt-walker in Sheffield, and to repair costumes for a drag queen in Manchester.
Sadly I canât visit everyone, so please forgive me if I donât come to you, and as Iâm on the road, Iâm afraid I canât reply to all the e-mails either. They will however all be read, if not by me, then by someone in the Newsnight team.
Thankyou too for your tips â donât worry, I will pack my sewing machine properly! And yes, I agree with Emily in Glasgow, haberdashery IS a wonderful word!
Whilst at Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, I had the great fortune to meet 83 year old Sybil Goodfellow who grew up during the Second World War, and is therefore one of the original Make Do And Menders. Being something of a darning novice, she took me in hand, and gave me an on-the-spot lesson! As a girl she would make blouses out of parachute silk as well as her brother-in-law's RAF shirts. The RAF's undies(yes we're talking pants) also came in useful as aprons! She assured me that the pants were only used as backing fabric - the front of the apron would be patch-worked cottons. Sybil even knitted entire jumpers out of the small lengths of yarn you'd buy to mend woollens with, by knotting them all together. I cannot imagine the patience needed for that. This was an era when Make Do And Mend was not only a necessity, it was seen as a duty. Her message to the youngsters of 2009? Slow down. Appreciate quality. Do what your parents tell you.