“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
― Jane Austen
I’m rather snobbish about books and reading, oh not about what sort of books people read. Ok, I think 50 Shades of Grey was misogynistic crap, but mainly I don’t judge people for what they read. I have even been known to enjoy a bath time devouring an old Sweet Valley High book, just for nostalgia’s sake!
But people who claim they never read books astound me, and I’m afraid I do judge them. Books can teach us so much. Yes, living real life can also teach us, but books can take us outside our own small spheres, opening worlds we might never otherwise know.
Good writing can conjure up a scene even more effectively than a photo or a painting.
I am very fussy about books I read actually. I like escapist books, I like books to lift me, not tug at my heart strings. However I am still drawn to the bittersweet novels of Edith Wharton. Though all that I have read so far seem to end sadly, Wharton’s prose is so descriptive and evocative that the journey really is better than destination.
Anyway, my reason for this post is really to celebrate the fact that Betty seems to have developed my insatiable appetite for reading. Like me she is often to be found with her nose in a book on the stairs or under the bedcovers with a torch.
At a little over five her reading is outpacing her emotional development so I am struggling with what books to get for her. But I couldn’t resist these classics that I found in Emmaus, Gloucester, for 25p each:
Enid Blyton was my favourite author as a child, though sadly they don’t always stand up to the test of rereading as an adult. We have recently read the Faraway Tree trilogy to her and there is rather a lot of slapping and smacking for my liking. And Blyton demonstrates a clear dislike for outsiders of any kind. However the whimsical stories have captivated Betty and she has read each boom herself as soon as we finished reading it to her. Hopefully she will see them as historical pieces, describing a bygone era. Either way, she couldn’t wait to get stuck in:
And talking of historical fiction I have just ordered this for Iris for Christmas:
It’s never too early to get them started on Jane Austen!
Anyone else read books, magazines, blogs, about people finding darling item at thrift stores and flee markets and transforming them into wonderful object d’art and wonder how they manage it, when all you can find in your local charity shop are Primark clothes priced at more than they originally cost, and paintings of West Highland Terriers?
I think there are a few key aspects to successful charity shop shopping.
The first is you have to have a vision for potential. You have to be able to look at something that, when surrounded by willow patterned tea sets, cut glass knick knacks and football memorabilia, looks pretty naffola, and imagine it fitting perfectly in your country farm house kitchen. Try to think about how your find when you’ve given it a clean, lick of paint, or distressed finished.
Location, location, location
Certain items, when placed in the shelved alcoves of a spacious Victorian house, will look vintage/retro/shabby chic/homespun (delete as appropriate). But when placed on an Ikea shelf in a boxy new build will look like you’ve been raiding your parent’s attic; or in a 70’s house, will look like you just haven’t thrown anything away for 30 years. That’s not to say that you can’t do the thrifted look in a modern property but you have to be sympathetic to your surroundings and the rest of your possessions.
Do it with confidence
You may not have a beautifully restored Victorian property, and you may not wear vintage clothing (it’s hard to pull off delicate tea dresses when you’re built like a tea pot), but sometimes you just need to just wear or display your charity shop finds with confidence. Mix it up a little, adding vintage or vintage inspired accessories to simple outfits works well, but don’t go overboard, you don’t want to look like an extra from the House of Elliott. Plus, dedicating your whole life and wardrobe to a different era, is in my opinion, a little bit sad, and sometimes oppressive. Vintage/retro/homespun is very fashionable right now, and no longer unconventional. Retro blogs are ten a penny and technicolor Instagram photos have become clichéd. Always just buy things you really like and they will work for you. Jump on a bandwagon it will look contrived. Be confident in what you like. For example, I’m very jealous of MeMeRose’s tapestry Irises below
Good charity shop finds require dedication to the cause. You have to keep going, and really root around. This is where I fall down a lot, as I rarely have the time to go charity shop shopping, and am rarely without one of the children, both of whom lose patience fairly quickly (although the good thing about charity shops is that children are easily pacified with an on GI Joe or hideous cuddly toy for 20p!).
I have to admit that for all my good advice, I’m not that great at charity shop shopping myself. Firstly, I live in a boxy new build, where my previously shabby chic furniture (i.e. begged, borrowed and stolen) now just looks a bit, erm, shabby shit! Also, I just don’t always have the Vision that is needed. I just don’t have great taste! However I do often have the confidence to just try things. My husband states his most vivid memory of me before we went out was me in my fake fur coat which I wore at university! I am much more conventional now, especially since I turned 30 *sigh*. I’ve given away my zebra print knee-high boots, the fake fur coat was left in a nightclub (accidentally – but I never got it back). The Laura Ashley velvet trousers which I recently found in a charity shop are much more sensible. But I have recently found a few good finds which I will share (but hopefully in a non-smuggy “oh look, I happened to find vintage Chanel sofa which I quickly reupholstered” kinda way!).
The heart plate at the bottom actually has Flora printed on it underneath (as in the margarine) so it was obviously some give away. Not exactly vintage chic then, but I really liked it, which was the important thing. Inspired by the heart plate, I thought I should also keep it company with the heart-shaped dish. I just really like the way it has been shaped. We’ll probably keep Betty’s hair clips in it.
These vintage kilner jars weren’t actually from a charity shop, but from a woman at my knitting group who’s mother has recently had to go into a care home. She bought a big box of them and said to help ourselves. A lot of the women in the group are vintage fans (and pull it off so much better than I do!). I thought I would take a couple though, and maybe fill one up with origami hearts or something (no, I’m not heart obsessed really! They just look nice).
These vintage circular needles were also free from someone at my knitting group. I can’t knit very well, and that puts me off trying again, but these fab needles may just inspire me.
Oh, I just LOVE second hand book shopping! These books were all from a charity book shop. For the measly sum of £5.20 I got Cath Kidston’s ‘Make’; The New Hite Report, a report on femal sexuality by Shere Hite; a random Womanguides Reading Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary Radford Ruether; Drina Dances in Exile by Jean Estoril (I was so pleased to find a Drina book in a charity shop, and one I don’t have – they were childhood favourites), and Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I can’t wait to share with my girls. Oh and last week’s copy of the Economist (20p!)!
This teeny tiny picture frame is going to look so cute when I stick a little cross stitch or something in it.
Finally, the piece de resistance, my new coat. My last coat also came from a charity shop, a 100% wool black tailored coat, but since having Iris it’s a little snug…so I was excited when I spotted this electric blue number. Drawn to it like a magpie, I was overjoyed to find it fit perfectly. This is one of those things that can look pretty old-lady-ish if you wear it timidly (you can wear it like me exclaiming to all who will listen “Look, I got it in a charity shop! Isn’t it fab?!”). I thought the label said Jacque Vert, proper old lady shop, but I didn’t care, I’d just wear it it with confidence as I loved it. But that was actually the label for the the shirt underneath. The coat was made by Dereta, which a bit of googling suggests is a department store from the 50s-60s, so it turns out it is real life proper vintage! Funny, since I couldn’t purposely spot a vintage item if it came up and smacked me in the face with a pair of Jackie O sunglasses! Another reason that I should limit my attraction to ‘vintage’ is that I bought this beautiful Merino coat which has been immaculately kept for possibly 50 years, and within two days the baby had smeared food on the collar which I desperately tried to scrub off with a baby wipe…
This afternoon I have had the pleasure of a couple of hours to myself and a new craft book to read. I’ve been longing for the Yarn Bombing book for a while now, but haven’t been able to justify buying it. My local library didn’t have it anywhere in the county, but I know that you can request that they buy certain book. With all the budget cuts in the public sector I thought it might be a bit of a pipe dream, but I duly filled in the online request form, and when they asked why I wanted this book I said ‘So I can crochet pieces of street art to cheer up the town’, or words to that effect. Someone must have appreciated it as 3 weeks later I double check the library catalogue and it is now in stock!
I absolutely love libraries. I love reading, though I don’t get time to do it much (you can’t craft and read at the same time unfortunately). But more than reading, I just love books. I feel that books are the answer to all life’s woes. And libraries feed into to my inherently miserly nature. (As an example I have spent the whole morning, with the baby, volunteering at the local NCT sale. It’s great fun, with nice people, you get to do a bit for charity, but the best thing is you get to shop before the masses and get bargain clothes and toys!). To be able to go and get up to twenty books for free, then leave them for someone else to read, it just the most amazing thing.
When I was a young teenager my haunt on a Friday afternoon was the mobile library, a large articulated lorry which would park in the parade of shops nestled between the three council estates which made up the local community. There I would pick up piles of books, Drina Ballerina, Little House books, and later Point Horror and Sweet Valley (yes, I had amazing taste even then!). Now I spend an awful lot of time in the library with the children (partly because DH works there!), and I see these young children, especially at the beginning of summer, taking piles of books up to the counter. They’ve nothing else to worry about or do for 6 weeks but read for sheer pleasure. It just makes my heart swell with pleasure just remembering those times.
We were at real risk at losing our local library earlier in the year. Our area is a large suburban village, so large it is a good half an hour’s walk from one end to the other (well, it is with kids anyway!). There is not a lot else to walk to in the area, and the library is a regular haunt for many of the local community. When our local authority announced the cuts of several libraries, including mobile libraries accessing rural locations there was uproar. The local community protested vociferously and fortunately the power of the people won and the local parish council stumped up the money to keep the library going, on reduced hours, for the foreseeable future. Due to the reorganisation as a result of the rest of the cuts DH will no longer work at the local library soon, but will work at the main town library. This is sad for several reasons, mainly of convenience to my family; also because, as one of the local mothers said to me, it is a shame the the two male workers are leaving the library. They are really role models to her two boys, showing them that it is cool for boys to be interested in books too. It is her eldest son that I regularly see taking piles of books out that he whizzes through, it’s just so heart warming to see.
Even when DH moves on, we will still be regulars of the local library. DH’s other colleagues have taken my daughters under their wings. The girls potter around, the eldest picking out piles of books to take home, and the youngest destroying the DVD and book displays, which no-one bats an eyelid at, despite my blushes. Sometimes Betty even gets to check out her own books, which she loves.
Whenever I tell people DH works in the library everyone says “Oh, I’d love to work in a library”. But clearly not every really does as the libraries aren’t overflowing with former hedge fund managers or GPs. The reality is, working in a library doesn’t mean you get to sit around reading books all day. In the same way that I think I would like to own a tea shop. I don’t really want to work in a tea shop. I just want to be able to sit in one and eat cake and drink tea for free all day! No, working in the library is less about working with books and more about working with people. Old and young, rich and poor. Jobseekers trying fullfil the terms of their dole allowance, creepy looking men accessing dating websites, the lady who is deaf as bat, with a thick country accent who slipped a fiver into my hands for the baby (I told you I spend a lot of time in the library!). You get all sorts. And for some it is their only human contact. The thought that it may be taken away chills me to the bone. I can’t remember who it was but there was a famous person in the media who’s CV apparently read ‘Education: Streatham Library’. Not everyone can afford to buy books, that is not to say that I think books are too expensive or have no value. They absolutely do, which is why it is right that the government subsidises libraries so that books and education, and god forbid, even just reading trashy novels for pleasure, becomes affordable for everyone. You can’t put a price on the value libraries bring. It’s intangible. But go into any library and see a young boy or girl heaving a stack of books up to the counter and you will see the profit being made etched on their face.
To tie this topic back in with crafting; I am hoping to run some introductory crafting workshops in my local library. I have never done anything like this before and have no idea how it will work but watch this space!
I have a new little (very little!) thing I made to show you but I am waiting for DH to take photos for me. He is a photographer, as well as a library assistant and a stay at home dad (he announced he doesn’t like that term though, says it sounds like someone who sits around on their backside all day – any suggestions for a suitable descriptor are welcome!). He is setting up a business as a photographer, and trying to get his self-designed and self-built website up in between having a job, looking after the kids etc. It’s a slow process, but it’s going to be great when it’s up. I’m telling you this because I want to make sure he gets credit for all the good pictures. The crap ones were taken by me, generally on my iPhone. You’ll see the difference when I post some of his.
So, in the absence of anything to show you I’m going to show you the books I am currently lusting after.
Yarn Bombing by Mandy Moore is a book celebrating ‘Yarn Graffiti’, adding knit or crochet improvements to everyday outdoors objects. I really want to start doing this sort of thing, but not sure how to go about it. I’m hoping that when I can justify getting the book it will give tips on how to get started, as well as offering patterns. In the meantime Streetcolour’s Blog has some great examples.
The next book on my wish list is Scandinavian Needlecraft by Clare Youngs. I know nothing about embroidery or any sort of decorative needlecraft. I dabbled in a bit of tapestry and cross stitch as young teenager, but I thought I’d give it a go recently and I really quite liked it. I love the Scandinavian style in this book and am desperate to get my hand on it, mainly just to stroke it and wish the things in it were in my house.