The WAR-TIME trend

January 29, 2010

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T.  Just when we thought the coast was clear, there’s one more, sneaky, cheeky trend to look at. Let’s check out at the current vogue for all things WAR-related.

Now, this trend is HUGE. And it isn’t miserable, despite the harsh realites of war – rather, it’s quite a cheerful look, channelling the (real or imagined) optimistic war-time spirit of 1940s Britain. As we witnessed with the recent rash-like spread of the now-unavoidable-yet-strangely-still-appealing-particularly-if-it’s-not-in-red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster, the time is apparently ripe for battening down the hatches, putting on a brave face, joining together and reviving the traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ in the face of adversity. We’re all trying to save money, waste less and stay cheerful. A bit like we were in the war. And so, a trend is born.

Let’s start with flags. Unless you’ve been living under a stone somewhere, you can’t have failed to notice a lot of Union Jacks all over the place – bunting, posters, cushions, teacups – it’s something we were chatting about last spring. The likes of Becky Oldfield (with her flag quilts and vintage medals) are cashing in, and last year the high street was awash with flag-tastic accessories. There’s no getting away from them – for 2010, designers have swapped the usual red, white and blue for floral flags with a crafty look. Check out the new Tesco tins above, and the Portmeirion place mats.

It’s not just patriotic flags we’re luvvin’. Reassuring wartime poster slogans and plucky Government mottoes have become the norm for prints and have been reproduced in their millions.

There’s KEEP CALM of course, but many more including AN APPLE A DAY, DIG FOR VICTORY and, perhaps the most British of all: TEA REVIVES YOU. If there’s a war on, or a recession for that matter, have a nice cup of tea and everything will seem a lot better, ducky.

Our cooking habits are being influenced by the war years, too. Wartime recipe books are being re-printed and are soaring in popularity as people look to save money by using up leftovers and spending less at the supermarket. I read in The Times recently: “Moves to recover the lessons of the war can be seen on the forums of MoneySavingExpert.com, where various contributors have begun to offer tips salvaged from wartime cookbooks, or on Amazon, where the works of that great wartime cook Marguerite Patten are displayed beside books by Gordon Ramsay.” Even Waitrose now stocks cheaper cuts of meat such as pig trotters and sheep brains.

From top left, working clockwise: A cute purse from Rosie’s Armoire with a weekly family food budget printed on it; a vintage ration book; Cold Meat And How To Disguise Ita fantastic collection of war-time tips, recipes and ephemera; and Economical Cookery, and a war-time recipe book I inherited. Bovril eggs, anyone? Our attitude to shopping has changed, too. Check out the interior of this fabulous new shop our editor Isobel found in Brighton. It’s called Utility, and I’m definitely going to pop in next time I’m down that way:

Utility takes it’s ‘name and inspiration’ from the World War II scheme that produced everyday goods with a minimum of wastage, and the website helpfully explains to us, (the ignorant yoof!) that this is ‘because raw materials were in short supply then’. Utility sells ‘simple, but always functional and hardwearing’ home accessories, which ‘stick to principles’ and the founders claim to be ‘waging a war’ on ‘tut’. Shops such as this are evidence of a huge shift towards a simpler, more meaningful way of life that many of us crave after the plastic fantastic eighties and fat-cat-buy-buy-buy nineties; we’re more aware of the environment and we also want to save money, so when we shop, we want to buy simple, ethical things that will last.

(Of course, buying anyTHING when you don’t absolutely NEED to, whether it’s simple, eco and functional or not, kind of demeans this whole philosophy – Utility is, after all, still a shop, selling lovely accessories that are not exactly essentials – but let’s not nit pick or we’ll be here forever. And this is a shopping blog, so who am I to talk!!)

Even our reading matter is war-related at the moment. I love all the reproduction Government-issued pamphlets from the war years that are being re-released, so I picked these up in the Tate Britain shop, but you can also buy them on Amazon. In the 1940s, handbooks were given to soldiers going abroad advising them on the peculiarities of the ‘foreigners’ they would soon encounter. The guides were intended to lessen the culture shock for those embarking on their first trip and the instructions are a wonderful interpretation of the differences between the allies.

Here’s a priceless extract from the Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain book: “The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap…”

For me, it’s the war-time craft revival that’s my favourite thang…mmmmm, check out my vintage LEARN TO TAT poster! (You’ll find the MAKE DO AND MEND print at the Keep Calm Gallery.) I like nothing better than to sit about wearing bright red lipstick and a 1940s-style tea dress from TopShop, sipping tea from a vintage teacup, knitting socks for the sheer pleasure of it rather than the necessity. How absurd. It’s 2010. I could buy them in Primark for heaven’s sake, five pairs for a pound. But I and many others choose to buy wool instead and hang out at ‘Make Do And Mend’ pop-up crafting nights from the likes of iKnit and Smack My Stitch Up – ‘Customisation for the Nation’, in case you’re wondering. Ten years ago, if somebody had suggested mixing cross-stitch with DJ-ing, they’d have been locked in a secure unit. Now, such combos are the norm and, thanks to the massive revival of all things homemade and handmade, ‘making do’ and ‘mending’ has never been cooler.

(I couldn’t resist this VICTORY “Wonder-Sock” pattern when I spotted it in a car boot sale – it’s ‘the perfect gift’, and the pink reproduction Ministry of Information Make do and Mend book is available from Amazon.) Take the Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute group for example – ten years ago, it was not cool to be in the W.I, but now, knitting is not just for grannies. The members are sassy, sexy young women, all crafting, jam-making, and hanging out being cool in a very Shoreditch way. Check out their president and founder, ‘Jazz Domino Holly‘ (yes, this is her real name. Daughter of The Clash lead singer…always the way with rock stars), seen here in her presidential photo, standing in front of a massive KEEP CALM poster. As if I PLANNED it. And her fellow Shoreditch ‘Sister’ is shown here running a ‘Clothing Customisation Station’ at a recent Bust Craftacular event, proudly holding up the wartime slogan: MAKE DO AND MEND.

These trendy young crafters are living proof that wartime attitudes have been embraced by the hipsters (HIPSTERS?! Groan, I must be getting old) of 2010. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of V-DAY-style buntin’, a good vintage propoganda poster or a retro OXO tin as much as the next design-addict, but I do wonder what my dear grandmother would say about all this if she were alive today.  She belonged to a generation who HAD to darn socks, fly flags, use up leftovers, scrimp, save, keep calm and, erm, carry on, out of necessity. I suspect she’d think it was strange that we seem to think that a dip in the economy is in some way comparable to the desperately hard times endured by so many in the 1940s. But I’m sure she’d find it funny that I’m wearing floral tea dresses just like she used to! – Ellie

‘Posh’ paint

January 27, 2010

Check out this new range of fabulous paint colours from Laurence Llewelyn Bowen at Graham and Brown, soon to be stocked by B&Q. We’ve talked on here before about how much fun it must be to name paint colours…and it looks as though Laurence has had a ball! Touchy Tealey anybody? Exceedingly Kipling Pink? Plummy Accent? These made me chuckle…

Old School Crockery is a great name for a paint – my grandparents used to have 1950s utilitarian tableware in EXACTLY that shade of pistachio green. And Clooney is perfect for a sexy shade of grey. SIGH! – Ellie

I’m looking forward to the V&A’s Quilts 1700-2010 exhibition (20 March – 4 July 2010) which is being hailed as a “visual encyclopaedia of design”, with thousands of pieces of fabric reflecting three centuries of pattern and print. Crafters, take note: to celebrate the exhibition, the V&A Shop and Liberty Art Fabrics have teamed up to release a limited edition collection of 18 printed cottons, inspired by designs from the quilts on display – perfect for sewing a patchwork quilt of your own.

The fabrics will cost £3.50 for a fat quarter (50cm x 75cm). Keep your eyes peeled for the new quilting book which will be released to accompany the exhibition too – Sue Prichard’s Patchwork for Beginners (I’ll be reviewing this next week). Since I’ve got a box under my bed full to the brim with fabric scraps which are ‘going to be turned into a lovely quilt one day’, this book might be just what I need to get going!

London-based interiors fans might also like to pay a visit to the Fashion and Textiles Museum this year to see the exhibition Very Sanderson: 150 Years of English Decoration (19 March – 13 June 2010). You’ll be able to ogle the Sanderson archive and admire wallpapers, fabrics and paint shades from 1860 to the present day. To celebrate Sanderson‘s birthday, artist Nina Saunders has teamed up with footwear designer Tracey Neuls to create an installation made entirely of Sanderson fabrics. We’ll be checking it out at the launch in February’s London Fashion Week and sharing the pics and news here, but until then, here are some examples of Nina and Tracey’s previous Sanderson creations:


Looks as though we’re in for lots of fabric fun this spring! – Ellie

Make room for a ‘shroom

January 22, 2010

As a Brownie, (in the late 1980s, before Political Correctness reached Worcestershire), I was forced to skip around a large wooden toadstool in the village Scout Hut, singing: “I am a helpful gnome, helping mother in the home.” I think this traumatic episode, combined with weird Enid Blyton books (which I always hated), cemented within me a great dislike of toadstools, mushrooms and funghi in general from a very young age.

It is therefore with great surprise, dear reader, that in 2010 I find myself drawn inexplicably to ‘shrooms – like a moth to a flame. The woodland trend (of which we have previously spoken at great length of course, being fully tapped into the Zeitgeist and all that) is in full swing and, some might say, has actually got a bit out of hand. Walk down any high street and you’re practically bombarded with owls, squirrels, bowls made of bark and funky folk-y designs…and, of course, retro 1970s-style ‘SHROOMS. The little toadstools above are kitsch salt and pepper shakers, recently featured in Living Etc, in case you crave them.

Trawling for toadstools…from top left, working clockwise: Toadstools in a basket, Hunter Gatherer; Mushroom Magick book, Anthropologie UK; Wooden ‘shroom, Dotcomgiftshop; Mushroom pouffe, Anthropologie USA; Toadstool hottie, Dotcomgiftshop; Woodland mushroom doilies, Dotcomgiftshop. Have a lovely weekend. – Ellie

I’m a Sacks Addict

January 20, 2010

No, I said SACKS. Indian rice sacks. French linen flour sacks. Old English wheat sacks. Colourful American ‘grain’ sacks. What-evaaa. I want sacks in the morning, sacks all day long, and sacks every night.

They make such fabulous cushions! Retro, cheery, quirky, recycled, cheap, easy to sew – what’s not to love?! I think my addiction kicked in properly a few weeks ago, when I spotted some VERY cool patterned sacks of Basmati rice for sale in a Halal butcher’s shop in south London. Of course, I like rice, but it was the sack I really wanted!! I bought one (just £8), slung it over my shoulders and trudged home with a tonne of rice on my back. Decanting the rice (into, like, a million Kilner jars) took a while BUT it was worth it – the empty sack is covered in Indian writing and bright colours, and it’s going to make a fantastic cushion!! I think this was all a step too far for the boyfriend. He thinks I am completely mental. And he’s a bit bored of eating rice, too.

Of course, new sacks are all very well. But it’s the vintage ones I really love – particularly the colourful American ones, which often pop up in vintage shops or on ebay. I’ve been hunting for two really gorgeous sacks for ages, and just bought a fabulous pair from Coast and Country Home:

The first one has a pretty orange and brown retro carnation design on it, and comes from Oregon, USA originally. It used to contain bleached pastry flour.

The second one has a lovely ‘Colonial Rose’ design and was used for ‘phosphated’ flour, which doesn’t sound very appetising! I really love this sack, because at some point somebody has traced the sewing pattern for a little girl’s apron onto the back of it, but for some reason (and luckily for me!)  they never got round to cutting it out.

Could this embody the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy any better?! It’s funny that I’m re-using this piece of sacking to make a cushion cover all these years later!

And if you prefer the simple, rustic French linen sack accessories, head to Notonthehighstreet and check out Parna‘s range. Right, it must be time for lunch, now. Basmati rice salad, anyone? – Ellie

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Pimp my crib

January 18, 2010

Nursery walls needn’t be covered with tacky teddies – a baby’s bedroom can be just as stylish as the rest of your home. Check out these gorgeous schemes for cool kiddies…

We love this funky Penguin Classics themed nursery, belonging to Ideal Home‘s Interior’s Editor, Heather Young. Grey walls, white painted floorboards and vintage accessories combine to create a stunning scheme that’s child-friendly but visually fabulous. The wall art looks designer, but Heather made it all herself by stretching Penguin tea towels (available from John Lewis) onto inexpensive artist canvases. She cut tea towels into three to sew co-ordinating cushions, and framed vintage Penguin books for the finishing touch. Cheap and chic!

I also like this House to Home all-white bedroom, where the colourful toys, books and clutter are turned into a fantastic feature wall display. Check out the cool cots, too:

The Laura Ashley sea-gull wallpaper in this blue boy’s nursery gives the room a soft, dreamy, nautical feel:

A restful white scheme can be brightened up with cute wall stickers and an eye-catching Union Jack flag rug. Style statement!

I love the pretty fabric-lined glass-fronted drawers, the stylish letters, and the amazing Eames-style rocker chair in this lovely room:

It just goes to show that nurseries can be nice. And you could easily adapt all the schemes shown here as your child grows older, so there’ll be less decorating to do in the future than if you plaster the walls with fairies, teddies etc now, which will (one day!) be considered ‘babyish’ by your little ones! – Ellie

Feeling all-white

January 16, 2010

New White Company collection ahoy! Mmmm, feast your eyes on these luxurious, lovely, light rooms. These are so beautiful, I’m breaking the habit of a lifetime and posting on a Saturday!!

I love the ceiling/roof in this bedroom – and there’s something so decadent about just having your mattress on the floor like this. I could happily while away a few hours reading the weekend newspapers in this gorgeous house!

Lovely neutral bed linen here – and note the little ceramic sparrow on the bedside table – TREND alert! Perching sparrow birds are EVERYWHERE this season. This one looks like he’s from Comfort Station or Caravan to me.

This location house (owned by photographer Paul Massey) seems to be in every magazine or catalogue I open at the moment, and has been on lots of blogs recently, too. It’s very lovely.

Cow hide rugs… yay or nay? They’re very popular at the moment, but I’m just not sure about them myself. What do you think? I love this kitchen shot – you can’t go wrong with white brick-style tiles:

I really like these rustic wooden bowls – sometimes the simplest things are the nicest. – Ellie