My Obsession With Textiles

Detail of an Ayrshire whitework baby gown
Yesterday, I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the company of the ladies of the Ayrshire Embroiderers' Guild. They'd asked me to speak to them about my collection of Ayrshire whitework - and the history of this astonishing needlework - but it was going to be some time in the future. Since I'm not too far away, I offered to fill in if any of their speakers let them down - and the opportunity arose a lot sooner than we expected. One of their speakers had to cancel so I stepped in.

I'm occasionally asked to speak about this work to various local groups. I take along my own collection, set it out on a couple of tables, talk about the history and then let people handle and examine it. There's nothing quite like being able to see and touch the real thing when it comes to textiles, and since whitework like this is quite surprisingly washable (in spite of its obvious delicacy) I'm happy for people to look more closely - especially embroiderers. I should add that I felt a bit of a fraud because I can't embroider at all, even though I so often write about the textiles I love. My late mum was an embroiderer but I have trouble sewing on buttons!

Somebody in the audience asked me where my interest first started. It was a good question. My mum used to go to the saleroom quite often and in the school holidays, I went with her. She was into pottery and porcelain but even back then, it was the textiles that attracted me: vintage and antique clothes, shawls, baby dresses, linen and lace of all kinds. My first purchase, when I was old enough to bid for myself, was a beautiful but very badly damaged antique whitework baby dress. From then on, I was hooked.

Continental needlework - very beautiful!

Now, I collect textiles, and deal in them from an eBay shop called The Scottish Home, dividing my working life between these and my novel writing. If I have a big writing project on, like now, I will do much less selling online. If times are hard, then I will restock my shop and sell whatever I can bear to part with. But the whitework stays here. That's my own little obsession.

I find that these lovely old embroideries and other textiles find their way into my fiction all the time. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting costume right when I'm working on historical fiction. Sometimes, as with The Curiosity Cabinet and The Physic Garden, the embroidery is more central to the story. I don't know quite why I'm so passionate about these things, but there does seem to be some connection between the interweaving of threads and the weaving of words into stories in my mind!

A little while ago - recognising that a lot of of people out there might be looking for ways to make a bit of extra cash I also wrote a fairly basic eBook guide to buying and selling vintage items online and elsewhere. It's called Precious Vintage and it's available as an eBook on all the popular platforms - for example on Amazon and in the iTunes store and on most other platforms too. So if like me you're obsessed with some particular area of collecting, you could do worse than try to turn your hobby into a source of much needed income.

Detail from a Georgian christening cape that features in
my novel, The Physic Garden


gz said…
I should get my pottery and book collection here and get selling!