Thursday, 24 October 2013

Let's give credit where credit is due

This is a post I never thought I would write.

In praise of Primark!

Picture of a Primark shop window and name above the window
A rare thing, sadly - a discounter with a social conscience
Primark clothing is cheap, no doubt about it. Monetarily, for us in the West, that is.

It's not so cheap for those who lost their lives, their limbs or their loved ones in the Rana Plaza disaster back in April this year. See my post here. (warning - scrolling down that post, there is a graphic photo which may be upsetting. Wait - which ought to be upsetting).

However, although often reviled for all sorts of things - sometimes with justification, sometimes without - Primark has, unlike almost all the other companies involved which used the Rana Plaza factory sewing facilities, stepped up to the mark in this desperately sad situation, not only expressing its frustration at how long it is taking to agree on compensation for the Rana Plaza, but in the meantime arranging 'emergency' payments equivalent to normal salary (vanishingly little in the budgets of multinational brands) for the affected workers and their families.

Having paid all those affected - not just those on its own production line - their wage for the first three months following the disaster, when no agreement was forthcoming by other brands, they paid another three months. I suppose they anticipated the September meeting in Geneva, under the aegis of the International Labour Organisation, might lead to some agreement or resolution about compensation from the other brands using the factory.

Sadly this was not to be, and most of the brands did not even bother to attend the meeting. Disgraceful!

Thus the parent company of Primark, Associated British Foods, has quietly and unilaterally,decided to continue with these payments for yet another three months. 

Their corporate governance section, and the head of it, Paul Lister, are to be commended on this action.

Of course it is too little too late, of course a miserable £30 a month isn't going to bring back anyone's loved ones, and of course it's nothing more than closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but heck, the other brands - Walmart/Asda and Benneton among them - don't even know the stable has got a door, still less that it was left open and that the horse bolted after having a good sh!t inside it.  

The stable needs mucking out and they don't want to get their hands dirty doing it! Oh no, that would mean admitting some degree of responsibility towards the people who enable them to make simply HUGE profits.

I never thought I'd say it, but tomorrow I'm going to buy some clothes from Primark. Just socks, so I'm not exactly the last of the big spenders, but I'd rather let a company that admits its responsibility openly, and shows contrition in a useful way, have my money than one which doesn't.

This BBC piece is interesting. 

I don't usually hold much truck with high-up company execs, and too often corporate governance largely consists of producing glossy brochures extolling company actions  and 'achievements' which are no more than minimum legal requirements (ask me how I know - I had a long affair with somebody very high-up in that line of 'work'). 

Paul Lister, though, does appear to have a genuine concern for the victims, together with an understandable - though carefully-expressed - annoyance with other brands which are clearly reneging on their moral, if not legal, responsibility. His and his company's attitude is refreshingly responsible in the mucky morass of buck-passing that marks this disaster.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A bit of advice from an old hand

... on the purchasing of fabric. 

Buying online is not easy when it comes to fabric, but often there seems to be no other option.

Imagine having to buy your vegetables from an on-line retailer who can't tell you - and doesn't care! - if what you are buying is a carrot or a parsnip, or whether the potatoes you've ordered are Maris Pipers or Jersey Royals. 
Abakhan fabric shop in Manchester city centre
This is a rare beast - a city-centre fabric shop!

As for whether the plums have got mouldy spots on them, well, if the seller doesn't know if he's selling big fat Italian plums which never seem to ripen, or squishy English Victorias - just that they're plums, and have stones in the middle - why would you even expect them to care?

That's the equivalent of what many sewers and crafters throughout the country encounter whenever they buy fabric. 

Although I chuckle to myself when browsing fabric websites and see statements such as '100% polyester silk' and 'pure linen cotton' (yes, I have seen both of those within the past few months!), it really isn't funny and could be considered fraudulent at worst, misleading at best. It is certainly 'sharp practice'.

There are all sorts of problems with the online purchase of fabric, even from the very best of shops.

Accurate colour-matching is well-nigh impossible, and until 'telefeel' is developed, no estimate can be made of the hand, weight or drape of fabric. How opaque is this fabric? Will it need lining? What shade lining will enhance the pattern colours? Will that fabric crease too much, or will the other fabric hold a crease at all? 

None of these questions can be answered with any real degree of accuracy by even the best web-site.

Some of the better suppliers make valiant attempts to address these problems, with mixed degrees of success. I especially enjoy the sometimes tongue-in-cheek descriptions on Croft Mill's website, which is written by enthusiastic experts. Their website has a useful glossary, too. 

Samples help, of course, but are often too small to give a real indication of drape and hand, and if the pattern of the fabric is large, may not even give a good rendering of the colour. Sending for samples merely adds to the delay, uncertainty and expense inherent in any sort of remote purchasing.

This is a fabric shop - unless you already knew 
it was there, would you know what it was?
A large number of old-established, reliable fabric retailers shut up shop in the past 20 - 30 years, only to be replaced a few years ago by an influx of new sellers, many of whom have just jumped on the bandwagon of the needlecrafts boom, and have no knowledge of what they are selling at all.  

Of course there are many reliable, knowledgeable retailers of all types - I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise - but it can be hard to find those which don't have an internet presence.

Especially if you're a new sewer, it's easy to think you have no option but the internet. For some of you, that will be true. Long before the days of the internet, mail-order fabric supply was flourishing to areas remote from fabric retailers.

There might be fabric retailers closer to you than you think, though! 

Although it's rare to see fabric shops while driving to the supermarket, wandering along the local High Street, or having a day out shopping at a mega-mall, they are still around.

They will most probably be in the 'poor but respectable' part of town, in the part where recent immigrants live, on the old open market, on a slightly down-at-heel trading estate, on the edge of a regeneration project that never quite got regenerated, in an old mill, a deconsecrated church, under the railway arches or round the back of the bus station.You get the picture. 
Liberty silk-and-wool on a market stall
Quality fabrics at bargain prices

These shops may not be in the first rank of fashionable retail destinations, but by 'eck you can often find some bargains!

Even the more up-market fabric retailers are usually to be found in a lower-rent area - the space required for fabric storage, the relatively low profit margins and lowish turnover dictates this.

Dismissing market stall fabrics - as some do - as being limited to 'cheap and nasty' garish polyester prints is simply foolish (and often a form of personal insecurity or lack of confidence) when there might be fabrics like these on the left available!
Inside a big fabric warehouse
Fabric, fabric everywhere! Someone reviewed 
this shop as 'not having much in'.

Claiming that there is 'nothing much' in a fabric shop because the stock isn't 'displayed' but is merely stacked in rolls as a space-saving measure, is both lazy and untrue.

Shopping at a well-stocked fabric retailer is a delight for the senses. Unlikely colour combinations jump out at you as you caress thick velvet pile; a tumbling river of chiffon catches in the draught from the door and ripples sinuously as if alive. 

Go on,  if you normally make your fabric purchases on-line, hunt around on yellow pages,  get on a bus which goes through the low-cost areas and peer out of the windows, or visit the local open market - and find a bricks-and-mortar fabric retailer to visit, and wallow in the sheer sensuality of it!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

It's happened again

Unethical buying - or just economical?

Someone who doubtless wants to get the best price they can for the items they make and sell either in person or on-line, thinks that others don't deserve to earn decent money for the work they do.

Last time (as mentioned in this post, it was someone stating that they would like to see, in craft fairs and the like, 'more affordable' - ie cheaper – and more original clothing than that available in High Street shops. 

I asked why on earth anyone would think that unique garments made here in the first world would or could be made and sold - for a profit, of course - at a lower price than those made by poor folk paid pennies to work in appalling conditions in China and Bangladesh.

There was never any response. Well, there couldn't be, could there?

Now, in the same forum, we have someone remarking – in a discussion about faulty imported-from-the-third-world beads and charms and what to do with them – that

        It's a shame there aren't many charms of good quality but for 
        similarly low prices around.


I asked if it was not perfectly reasonable to expect to pay a higher price for items of better quality, and reminded the poster that we as skilled craftspeople rightly get annoyed if people want to pay 'imported tat' prices for our high-quality work, and that others deserve no less,, no matter where they are in the world or what they may be making.

I don't expect any sort of sensible response to this,either.

Why don't people just exercise their brains a little, and think?

The only shame in the matter is surely that those who buy such items so very cheaply would so openly care less than nothing for the people who make them.

Out of sight, out of mind  is a very old maxim with a very current validity, it seems.

In days gone by, when news came slowly if at all, and in limited quantities - ie, as much as a newspaper could print - there was good reason that many people didn't care about what was going on in the world - they didn't know what was going on in the world. Not so nowadays!

I am an atheist but sometimes I think it would be convenient to be religious, so that when people say to me 'Why do you care?' in a dismissive sort of way, I can at least embarrass and annoy them by saying 'Because I'm a Christian, like I thought you were, too' instead of having them toss their head and walk off, leaving me feeling embarrassed and angry when I answer 'Because it's the right thing to do'.

Here endeth today's lesson!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fabric purchases

Buying fabric

Buying fabric has to be one of my favourite pastimes! It has so many possibilities, and I'm incredibly fortunate, here in the north-west of England, to have a range of fabric retailers within easy reach. 

I love cottons, for practical purposes, and I adore brocades, silks, embroidered taffetas and other super-luxury fabrics, too.

Here are a couple of recent purchases on the line after washing, and all wrinkly!
Fabric with a design of silver birch tree trunks
Maybe a skirt?

This one on the left is called 'Silver Birch'. I bought it because I liked it, without any purpose in mind, but now I'm thinking it could make a very interesting, versatile and flattering straight skirt, with its combination of neutral colours and what are effectively vertical stripes.

The fabric below was bought for apron-making. It's 100% cotton in a light upholstery/curtain weight - considerably heavier than a dress-weight - with a lovely smooth finish. Although very creased on the line, it took only a brief pass with a hot iron to get it looking pristine. All these qualities make it ideal for aprons. In addition, it's printed in the UK by a highly-regarded British company, normally sells for between about £12 and £15/m, very occasionally as low as £8/m - and I paid £1/m. Yes, you read that right - £1/m. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

bright abstract printed cotton for aprons
To become cheerful pinnies.
I've also got a couple of very floral-y florals in the washing machine as I type. Cath Kidston, eat your heart out!

I'll start cutting out some more aprons tomorrow. I've got two lovely - and very different - patterns drafted, both of which I'm familiar with so can complete quickly, but want to work on a third design to the stage when I have a pattern drawn up, marked and cut out on the brown wrapping paper I like to use for patterns I intend to keep. 

As they used to say on Blue Peter and on cookery programmes: 'Here's some I made earlier'. These are almost-dry, ready to bring indoors, iron and fold. The spotty fabric has been very, very popular this year - but I think I'm using the last of it. I'm unsure if I'll be able to get any more.
Colourful aprons hanging on the washing line
Freshly-washed aprons on the washing-line

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Yet another new sewing machine

Well, it's new to me!

I've acquired another  Singer 28K handcrank; her serial number dates her to the first half of 1908. She came from a rural car-boot sale via a friend, for the grand sum of £8.
Singer 28K handcrank sewing machine made in 1908
Singer 28K, made in Kilbowie, Clydebank
Scotland, in the first half of 1908.
We put her on my dining room table, changed her needle, wound her bobbin on my ~1914 Jones Family CS (as the Singer's bobbin tyre is missing), threaded her up - and she sewed. Not quite perfectly yet; the tension mechanism needs a thorough cleaning, and the stitch length adjuster is jammed, but the application of plenty of WD 40, followed by a good dose of sewing machine oil in all orifices and wherever metal meets metal, will soon solve that problem, I have no doubt. 

Jones Family CS sewing machine, described as 'As supplied to HM Queen Alexandra'. This machine dates from about 1914 or 1915.
Jones Family CS 'as supplied to HM Queen
Alexandra', with 'coffin top' case seen behind.
The lid to her accessories compartment is missing - I think it was a sliding lid, so it must have slid right off - and she has neither accessories nor cover - which I think would have been a 'coffin top' similar to that of my Jones Family CS, seen on the right here. The desirable bentwood cases came a bit later, I'm sure.

How many domestic machines of any type are still perfectly functional at 105 years old? There are literally thousands, probably millions, of century-old hand-crank and treadle sewing machines still doing useful, often vital, jobs all over the world. 

I wonder if the men and women who made these machines a century and more ago had any idea at all of the heritage they left us? I wish my old machines could talk! I'd love to know about some of the garments they made, the women who used them and the conditions in which they were used. Gas-light? Oil-lamps? Or did they push a table to the window and place the machine there when they needed to sew? 

I love my slick computerised machines and overlockers, make no mistake about that. They sew slick, quick and beautiful. They need judicious coaxing, caution in the fabric put through them, specialist servicing and a kind, considerate user. They also need a reliable electricity supply. 

My old machines produce a perfect straight stitch on any fabric that can fit under the presser foot, and are so relaxing to use - on short seams at least. They offer the ultimate in control, stitch by single stitch, which can be invaluable for some projects, and the torque on them is amazing. With a good quality new needle they will go through the thickest, toughest layers of fabric like a hot knife sliding through butter. They do all this on only a generous supply of sewing-machine oil and the muscles of a human's right arm. They do have a great thirst for oil! 

Most sewers, if they buy sewing machine oil at all (it must not be used on computerised machines), buy it in a wee little bottle which costs a couple of pounds for about 100 ml and lasts for years and years. I buy ten times as much - a litre - for less than a fiver and it lasts me about a year. They drink the stuff, I think! 

As long as I could get hold of lubricant, I could sew through the Zombie Apocalypse and the collapse of civilisation as we know it, with my old handcranks. Let's hope it never comes to that, though!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


For McMillan Cancer Support.

Last Friday, 27th September, as most people will be aware, was the day chosen for 'the world's biggest coffee morning', raising funds for this very worthwhile charity. 

All over the UK, in towns, cities and villages, coffee (and tea!) was being brewed, cakes (and bacon butties!) were being served, and goodies and treats of all sorts were being sold, in homes, parish halls, schools and venues of all sorts in towns, cities and villages all over the country.

As a therapy radiographer who, back in the dawn of time, trained and qualified at one of the largest specialist cancer hospitals in Europe before taking further qualifications and then travelling all over the world,  I am all too well aware of the many and varied forms of help needed during a cancer patient's journey. 

So when I heard that the manageress of our village's social club was organising a coffee morning and planning to have stalls, I volunteered myself to have one.

I have a reasonably-large stock of bits and bobs which - for whatever reason - have not sold as well as I thought they would. I have to confess this is usually because I've been taking them to entirely the wrong venues, as when I took a stall at the Village Market in May, I sold lots and lots! 

The problem is that sometimes I can't resist making things that I want to make, without giving much thought as to what my target market at my usual venues want to buy, so it's hardly surprising that they don't sell,

Anyway, I packed up - and dragged a few hundred metres down the lane into the village - ten full aprons, ten half-aprons, half a dozen of those tube-like containers for storing your supermarket plastic bags, ten coathanger safes, ten strings of floral bunting and about four dozen lavender bags. I'd spent most of Thursday making, then filling, these lavender bags; the house smelled gorgeous and I was high and dozy on the fumes.

Craft table and items for sale at the coffee morning
Half of the table after
customer attacks!
The photo on the right shows my table after it had been well and truly ravaged by hordes of old ladies, the vicar, the mayor of the Rural Borough, his daughter and an eccentric woman said to have pots of money. 

By 1.30pm all I had left was three full aprons, one 
lonely lavender bag and four strings of bunting. 

The organiser kissed me when I gave her all my takings, just keeping a fiver back as I'd had to buy the lavender. 

To tell you the truth, I was glad to 'get rid' of these items, especially to such a good cause. It has freed up space in my home, and in my imagination and creative flow.

Then at about 5pm, there was a knock at my front door. A woman could not get to the fund-raiser, but a friend had told her I had bunting for sale. She bought what was left, so that was another £20 to add to the total raised!

The bunting was cheap, being made by a quick-and-dirty method, as were the lavender bags. 

I'll do tutorials on them soon. 

Sometimes quick-and-dirty is best for both the seller and the buyer ... as long as it's a nicely and skilfully-done quick-and-dirty.