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.

 

 

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Buzz Words, Lingo and Slang.

Apologies for the long silence! I have had a houseful of family staying for several weeks and everything else was shelved.

This is an idea I’ve been mulling over for a while. Several times a day I hear someone use a word or phrase and I think ‘That’s one to save. It didn’t exist in the 1950s/ 60s.’

I’m going to start with some words which were very new and trendy (I think trendy is one of the new ones?) in the 1950s. I was only a kid but I heard these word – mainly in song lyrics.

 

THE 1950s

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I have added ‘translations’ for those who weren’t alive at the time and might be puzzled!

Gas – when something was really good or great fun it was described as being ‘a gas’ . It was still around in the 1960s – check out the lyrics of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones.

Daddy-O – a term of address from one person to another. Credited to beatnik slang.

Beatnik – definition courtesy of Wiktionary

  1. A person who dresses in a manner that is not socially acceptable and therewith is supposed to reject conventional norms of thought and behavior; nonconformist in dress and behavior
  2. A person associated with the Beat Generation of the 1950s and 1960s or its style.

Cat – a cool/ groovy person

Cool – this is still around and now usually means good (more or less) but then it was only used for anything very special.

Greaser – a word used to describe youths with loads of Brylcreem on their hair.

No sweat – nowadays I more often hear ‘no problem’ or ‘no worries’ but this was the expression at the time.

Groovy – cool, trendy, etc

THE 1960s

1960s-Hippies-Fashion

Dig it  – I dig it meant you really liked it.

Far out – superb

Outta sight – amazing, even better than far out.

Zonked – done in, tired

Sock it to me – as in ‘Yes! I love it! Give me some more.’

NOW

I have deliberately kept away from technology so words like web, internet, digital, cyber etc etc don’t show here. That is a post by itself!

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Selfie

24/ 7

Brill – when I was young, the word brilliant described

a. something shining very brightly

or

b. somebody who was extremely intelligent.

Now it is just used in place of good, lovely, fine etc and brill is as commonly used as brilliant.

Gross – when I was in school a gross was a mathematical term. It stood for 144! We now commonly describe something disgusting as gross.

Cool – arrived in the 50s and then meant something which was absolutely on trend and totally sought after. This word has hung around and now gets used as freely as OK.

Mega

Downsize

Leggings –  The word existed when I was a child and usually referred to baby garments, mostly knitted, which covered the legs but not the feet. Now they’re one of the most widespread items of female clothing.

Vintage-1950s-childrens-clothes-pram-set-Kamella-Riteward

Sleepover

Playdate

Grass roots

Hijack

Backpack

Gap year

Butch

Gay – the word gay was always around but it used to mean happy, jolly.

Sexism/ ageism/ racism

Recycling              recycling

Environmental   Environment

 

 

 

School Uniform in the 1960s.

There have always been school uniforms and certain features never change – dark colours, ties, blazers, badges etc. One of the main things I remember about wearing a school uniform is that it was a rite of passage. Back in those times, in Britain, state primary schools didn’t normally have uniforms. My first school uniform was my high school one. How exciting it was, during that summer, to buy all the items on the list in readiness for moving into my new school in September! Learning to tie a tie was one of my tasks over the summer holiday before moving up to ‘big school’.

At that time, in my school and probably most others, the first and second year pupils wore gymslips (girls) and short trousers (boys). A gymslip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is not an item of gym wear but a pinafore dress, much like a skirt with a bib top.  In your third year, as you were coming up to 13 years old, girls moved on to skirts and boys to long trousers. With the skirts, gymslips and short trousers we wore long socks. Girls wore short white ankle socks in summer. Under the skirt or gymslip we wore big, thick navy knickers. They were worn over normal white cotton pants so I can only think they were for warmth and maybe decency – in case your skirt blew up? They were perhaps the least favoured item of uniform.

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The hat was an intrinsic part of the uniform. In our school the girls wore berets, the boys caps. Our berets were called tams. The hat had to be worn whenever you were outside the school premises in your uniform, even if it was well outside school hours. If a member of staff or a prefect spotted you in the town without your hat on you were punished. Most girls pushed the limit by clipping the hat so far on to the back of the head that they looked as though they had no hat on – which was also punishable! We had uniform scarves too, and navy belted gaberdine macs.

There was no choice of school bag style – it was a leather satchel. I had the same one all the way through high school – seven years! On PE day the regulation sports bag was a navy duffel bag.

 

satchel        cce09794c501ace451f962a2eaae95b8--duffel-my-childhood

This is a photograph of a group of girls from my school with two teachers showing the shirts, ties, skirts (regulation length – although we used to roll the waistband over when there were no teachers looking to make them more like mini-skirts) and the white ankle socks.

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As an afterthought, here is a photograph of all the staff at my high school in the mid 60s – no uniform except for the fact that those who had degrees taught in black gowns. . . .

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. . .  and one of a class (we called them forms) with their form teacher for that year, who was our Geography master.

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In the Kitchen.

 

One of the things which has changed a lot since I was a child is the equipment used in the kitchen. Here are some things you might remember seeing used in the 50s and 60s.

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Every home had a mincer. This was clamped to the work surface or table top and food (mostly meat) was fed in through the top. As the handle was turned minced food came out of the front. My mum normally used it for mincing cold leftover roast meat on a Monday and using the minced meat, in pies, rissoles (who ever uses that word now?) etc.

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The picture above shows a mill which also ground food up using a slightly different mechanism.  This lighter weight gadget was for herbs such as parsley and mint.

img_0319         img_0318

This is a pressure cooker. My mum cooked all her vegetables and all her soups and stews in hers. They were considered to be very high tech and they cut the cooking time to a third. The vegetables sat above the water and were steamed losing less goodness – although I don’t think anyone thought about that then.

bowl We all have mixing bowls but back then many of them were this colour and design.

whisk

This is how eggs and cream were whisked before electric mixers and food processors.

 

plate Every household had enamel ware in different shapes and sizes. All tarts and pies in our house were baked in these.

img_0263   The ubiquitous lemon squeezer! The design has not changed but then they were all glass.  I still have (and use) my mum’s.

tea-strainer Less common now since tea bags arrived on the scene, but back in the ‘old days’ you couldn’t make tea without using a tea strainer.

Chrome-Plated-Metal-Cobalt-Blue.jpg This blue glass and chrome ware was extremely popular. My mum just had a sugar bowl (for best!) and I thought it was beautiful.

egg-slicer When I was a child every salad had sliced boiled egg on the top. I used to sneak into the pantry and puck the wires to play a tune and if my mum heard she would tell me off thinking I would snap the wires. I now play guitar – perhaps that’s where it all started?

pastry-tool             img_0266              funnel

The first picture above shows a tool for rubbing fat into flour for pastry and dough mixtures. You can now buy them again and I wouldn’t be without mine! The middle one I remember seeing but have no clear memory of what it was used for. Cutting potatoes for wiggly chips perhaps? The third one is a pie funnel. You can now by some great ones if different shapes and designs but they used to be just plain white china. My mum didn’t have one but always used a china egg-cup placed upside down in the pie.

tala             tala-1

This is one of my favourites. I hadn’t seen one for years until recently when they reappeared in the shops. My mum used one for all weighing and measuring. They are brilliant. I now have one and no longer use a kitchen scale. The design hasn’t changed in decades. The only difference is the use of metric instead of imperial measures.

 

 

 

 

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

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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.