Fabrics Past and Present.

It occurred to me the other day that back in the 1950s we had words for fabrics which are hardly ever heard now. Perhaps because my mum was a keen dressmaker, I remember even as a child being aware of the different fabrics my clothes were made from. Seersucker was very popular for making summer dresses. I remember my mum making clothes for us out of poplin, gingham, moygashel, broderie anglaise. A raincoat was often referred to as a gabardine – the fabric it was made of. Men’s plain grey trousers, standard wear for men at that time, were always known as flannels. My school blazer was made of barathea. Garments were often referred to by their fabrics e.g. a poplin shirt, grey flannels, twill and cavalry twill trousers, worsted suits, gabardine raincoats and barathea blazers. Stockings were called nylons and I remember old ladies referring to lisle stockings which were what preceded nylon stockings.

Some historical notes on the origins of some of the fabrics mentioned –  which some might find interesting.

Lisle (named after Lisle in France where it originated) was a fine cotton knit used for stockings for a few hundred years before the invention of nylon. Referring to garments by specific fabrics is something which doesn’t happen so much now and also many of these fabric names have dropped completely out of common usage.

School uniforms of flannel shorts and blazers. Barathea was also used a lot for blazers and gymslips.

 

Nylons were shaped as there was no stretch in them.

A Welsh origin to the word flannel has been suggested as fabric similar to flannel can be traced back to Wales, where it was well known as early as the 16th century. The French term flanelle was used in the late 17th century, and the German Flanell was used in the early 18th century. Flannel has been made since the 17th century, gradually replacing the older Welsh plains, some of which were finished as “cottons” or friezes which was the local textile product. In the 19th century, flannel was made particularly in towns such as Newtown, Hay on Wye and Llanidloes. Newtown has a lovely textile museum I’ve visited which tells the story of the Welsh flannel industry.

An old flannel mill in South Wales.

Gabardine was invented in 1879 by Thomas Burberry, founder of the Burberry fashion house in Basingstoke and patented in 1888. The word then became a synonym for a mac or raincoat.

A gabardine raincoat as standard school uniform.

During the British Colonial period seersucker was a popular material in Britain’s warm weather colonies like British India.

Broderie anglaise was extremely popular in England between 1840 and 1880 for women’s underclothing and children’s wear. The 1950s saw a resurgence in popularity, when it was frequently used to trim dresses and underwear. In 1959, Brigitte Bardot wore a dress of gingham and broderie anglaise for her wedding to Jacques Charrier.

When I was about ten my mum made me a summer dress in gingham with broderie anglaise trim. I had no idea that Brigitte Bardot had influenced that style!

Worsted is a high-quality type of wool yarn and the fabric made from this yarn. The name derives from Worstead, a village in the county of Norfolk. That village, together with North Walsham and Aylsham, formed a manufacturing centre for yarn and cloth in the 12th century, when pasture enclosure and liming rendered the East Anglian soil too rich for the older sheep breeds.

Back in the 15th Century, poplin was used for winter attire, and was made using silk and wool. The actual word ‘poplin’ derives from ‘papelaine’, and is based on the (now obsolete) French papal town of Avignon.

Even good old corduroy isn’t seen or heard of much today. In continental Europe, corduroy is known as “Cord”, “rib cord” or “rib velvet” – in parts of Europe such as Germany, Czechoslovakia, Holland and Belgium it used to be simply known as “Manchester” – that still remains the current name for corduroy in Swedish. Corduroy is a material traditionally used in making British country clothing, even though its origin lies among items worn by townspeople in industrial areas. Although corduroy has existed for a long time and was used in Europe since the 18th century, only in the 20th century did it become global – notably expanding in popularity during the 1970s.

 

Tweed, linen cotton, poly cotton and denim are familiar words now but so many of the others are hardly heard now apart from amongst people who work with fabrics.

 

 

Advertisements

Planks of Wood and Lumps of Slate.

I was out for lunch with some friends yesterday and out of the five of us only two had meals served on china plates. This prompted a lively discussion and my friend Janet suggested that the topic would be a good one to cover in my blog. So here it is!

I don’t know if this has happened in other parts of the world, and I look forward to hearing from readers on this, but in the last decade or so there has been a bit of a trend in certain eating places to serve food on other things besides plates. This will not normally happen in higher end restaurants but more in the slightly up-market cafes and bistros. The sort of place you would go to do what I did yesterday and meet friends for lunch. At least, that’s my impression – others might think differently.

  • The commonest one is food served on a lump of wood or what I would use as a chopping board or bread board. This doesn’t feel particularly odd for a sandwich/ ploughman’s sort of meal, but some of the others are definitely peculiar!

wooden board  Meal served on a wooden board.

  • Pieces of slate are also spotted in these sort of places.

slate    A piece of slate serves as a plate.

  • Yesterday one of us had food presented in a basket. This reminded us all that the very first cases of this sort of food presentation happened in the late 60s/ early 70s when pubs (it was only pubs doing this) started serving bar snacks in a basket. The three usual choices were steak, chicken or scampi with chips. This was the first time steak and chicken had been served in small bite-sized pieces which you could spear with just a fork. Basket meals were SO new and SO trendy! My first one ever was when I was a student in a pub in the centre of Nottingham called the Blue Bell.

basket 2      basket

Other things which turn up on tables are:

  • Chips or side dishes served in small metal buckets.

buckets    bucket and barrow

Three buckets in a wooden crate.                      Side dishes in a bucket and a wheelbarrow.

 

  • Milk for tea and coffee in a mini milk churn.

churn    A wooden board and a milk churn.

  • Meals served on a flat cap – yes, I have really heard of this one although it hasn’t happened to me yet! I assume there is always a plate or a washable layer inside the cap – and that the cap is unworn.

cap

  • Food presented on a fireman’s shovel – another one I have heard about but not experienced.

shovel

  • I have had a meal served in a frying pan before and it was obvious that it wasn’t even one used for cooking the meal but a decorative one used as a plate.

pan

 

Here are a few others I have yet to experience. Some I’m not in a hurry to try.

fryer   hubcap

trowel

bat   shoe

 

Pictures all sourced from Google Images. If anyone sees one which they object to me using for any reason, please contact me through the blog and I will happily remove it.

 

Good Old-Fashioned Soap and Water.

Soap is an essential item in everyday life but we don’t often look closely at its story. It has been around for thousands of years having first been used by the Babylonians and Sumerians. Soap has been important to us for many hundreds of years but not for cleanliness and hygiene; it was an essential part of the textile making process and was used to remove grease from wool and cloth ready for dyeing. By Victorian times, there was an increased awareness of the role of soap in the prevention of disease. Working class families used bars of carbolic soap for washing floors, clothes and bodies. In the late 1800s, branded soaps were arriving on the scene.

93c73029-4b12-4f70-82ff-313c5117b7f4              Unbranded carbolic soap.

soap_lifebuoy_85g             Lifebuoy soap.

 

Lifebuoy soap was one of the first, invented in 1894. By the 1930s it was sold in two sizes – the larger bar was known as Household Lifebuoy and was for cleaning homes and clothes. The smaller bar was for personal use.

By the 1950s, when I was a child, soap powder was available so clothes were no longer washed with bars of soap. My mum favoured Daz. There were milder, sweeter smelling toilet soaps available which were advertised as being good for the complexion.  Compared to using carbolic soap on the face, Palmolive, Camay or Pears must have felt luxurious. The ads would have had us believe that in order to achieve a perfect complexion all that was needed was the right soap! We always had Lux in our house.

Soap-Ad-1953         I still love the smell  of Pears soap.

Soap-Ad-1950

This is quite a claim!

 

e2d6b7ccb2d10919b426f530afa99361            soap          128a791b4706689570bb1db48ab3fc43

It all seemed to be about looking like a movie star and pleasing your man.

camay            l-nwgpwyqur95b7y        lux

There is now a bewildering amount of skincare products available. There are cleansers, toners, serums, night creams, rejuvenating creams, etc etc. The adverts still lead us to believe in the amazing properties of these products – but advertising laws are stricter now and the cosmetics companies can no longer make the claims that were made in the 50s and 60s.

f7f47eca698ffe5b31366f47db34264b      IMG_6033  silverberg-store-picture

Since this post has turned into a potted history of soap, I’m including a few advertisements from before the 1950s to entertain you.

Soap-Ad-1911           1911 – the earliest days of motoring.

Soap-Ad-1931       1931

Soap-Ad-1933     1933

 

1950s Home Decor.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet about 1950s styles. Some are now being reintroduced as fashionable. I’m no style historian but I have very clear memories of the way things looked in my home and in other homes we visited. The photographs shown here are images which match these memories and I am in no way covering 50s styles completely.

Kitchens were not fitted, they had freestanding cupboards and cabinets. This is like the one we had. The middle section hinged out to make a working surface and I have very clear memories of being just the right (wrong) height to bang my head on the corner as I ran through the kitchen to go outside to play. In the middle is an image of the blue and white table ware which was very popular then – and is now quite collectible. We didn’t have a full service of it but I remember breakfast bowls and a milk jug. The clock is a popular 1950s style and was often seen on a kitchen wall.

1950skitchencupboardlarder               Cornish-blue-tableware.jpg           clocks 50s.jpg

lemon squeezer.jpg   50s tea set.jpg

Every kitchen had a glass lemon squeezer like this one – I now have (and use!) my mum’s. Tea and coffee sets with different coloured cups and saucers were briefly popular in the fifties and we had a set of six – I still have three or four of those.

The 50s was the era of spindly legged furniture. Those tapering legs looked so modern compared with the heavier 30s and 40s furniture which they replaced.

furniture  sofa

furniture 50s                   philips2 radiogram

The fourth item above is something called a radiogram, now an extinct species. Very cool at the time, they were basically a sideboard (everyone had sideboards then!) with a record player and a radio inside and cupboard space for records.

Making a quick visit to bedroom styles of the time, my main memory is of candlewick bedspreads. The one below is very similar to the ones I and my sister had on our bunks. We also had sheets just like the ones on the right. The close up gives an idea of the texture of candlewick – I can feel it now when I look at that! The stripes on the sheets  were known as candy striped and we had cotton in summer and lovely warm, cosy brushed cotton (flannelette) in winter.

c wick     cwick     sheets

 

Moving on to ornamental things, we really did have three flying ducks on the wall! i have managed to find pictures of some of the other things I remember us having. They now turn up in charity shops as bric a brac.

ducks.jpg   wade.JPG   china ornament

re pouf-600x600  This is a pouffe – very common then, less so now!

 

Finally, here are a few furnishing designs like ones I remember.

wallpaper.jpg     -1950s-wallpaper-custom-fabrics-lights-diamonds-183984      curtains    curtains 50s   lampshade x

1950s-atomic-ranch-house-atomic-retro-lampshade.jpg

There were also plenty of floral and striped designs around but these are the ones which were very much of the 1950s.

I will think about moving on to what I remember of 1960s styles next.

 

 

1950s Mums and their weekly hair dos.

My daughter recently drew my attention to an article on the demise of the shampoo and set and suggested it might be a good subject for a blog post. So I started thinking and I kept remembering more and more things – here is the result.

Back in the 1950s when I was a child nobody had showers in their homes and the norm was for people to bath once a week. Going back even further, houses didn’t even have running water and baths. In towns and cities there were public baths which were places where you could go to pay for a cubicle with a bath in it and running hot water. That’s why many of our older swimming pools here in the UK are known as ‘the baths’ because that’s how they started.

public baths

This bit of background is to help explain why the weekly visit to the hairdresser was so important. Nowadays we go to a salon every so often for a decent hair cut by a proficient stylist. In between cuts we wash and style our hair ourselves, most people daily. In the 1950s the current hair styles for women were all quite bouffant and structured. It was not a look which could easily be achieved at home with the equipment and the bathrooms we had at the time.  Once a week a woman had a ‘shampoo and set’ or a ‘hairdo’ at a salon. The hair was washed, covered in setting lotion, set in rollers and dried (baked!) for ages by a massive metal hood drier under which the client sat. If the hair was straight or very fine a perm was essential in order to achieve the desired look. The trim was incidental and was added to the procedure every few weeks to keep the do in shape. It seems strange to us now but visiting the hairdresser weekly was seen as normal rather than extravagant.

50s hair driers         Women's Hairstyles in the 1950s (6)   Elizabeth-Taylor-1950s-hairstyle-9   1950s

The usual sight at a ladies’ hair salon and some of the current styles.

During the week in between the hair was kept in shape with the help of rollers. These could be put in at night and slept in or put in in the morning and left all day (under a net or a headscarf) until being combed out later in the day before the family came home.

My mum had a shampoo and set every week of her adult life. She also slept in rollers. She never needed a perm as she had naturally thick, wavy hair. I remember that when we went on holiday for a fortnight in the summer holidays my mum would visit a salon in the place we were staying for a shampoo and set in the middle of the two weeks.

This is what was used then . . . . . . . .

rollers            rollers 2   hair-spray-helene-curtis-ads-1950s.jpg    setting lotion   50s hair

 

and what can be used today.

ghd   tongs 1

serum         blow-dry-hair