Remembering My Mum - Vintage Dresses, Embroidery and Other Nice Things.

Detail from embroidered dress.
Like most  people, I miss my late mum and dad at Christmas almost more than any other time of year. And I've been thinking about my mum a lot recently because I've just dedicated my new novel to her. The Posy Ring is due to be published in April, by Saraband.

It is the first in a series of novels about an old house called Auchenblae on a fictional Scottish island called Garve and it is, among many other things, about the joys and tribulations of dealing in antiques and collectables. My mother was the person who introduced me to jumble sales and salerooms and I still find myself missing our trips to antique markets, salerooms and charity shops.

Mum loved jumble sales and salerooms.
My first clear memory of this is when we spent a year in London, when I was just coming up to ten years old. Mum was a 'Leeds Irish' lass, and Leeds was also where I spent the first years of my life, but Dad was working at a research institute in Mill Hill, and we moved there, temporarily. Posh Mill Hill was awash with church jumble sales. It was like something from a Barbara Pym novel. Mum loved them and I went along too. I still have one or two of the things she acquired there, none of them very valuable, but interesting all the same. (She never, however, acquired the cloche hat that our London landlady insisted she should wear!)

Midi Dress, Vogue Paris Original,1970

When I was twelve we moved from Leeds to Scotland, and mum discovered salerooms. There were two of them in our town at that time, and mum and her new friend, Ellie Hamilton, went into one or other of them just about every week. Lots of the furniture that we still possess came from those salerooms, as did lots of china. Mum was a sucker for a fine piece of porcelain and there are still three or four pretty Victorian tea services lurking in my cupboards.

My lifelong obsession with antique textiles.
When I grew older, I would occasionally bid for mum, if there was something she particularly wanted and couldn't be there. I also started bidding on my own behalf from time to time. I loved - and have never stopped loving - antique and vintage textiles of all kinds. It was the start of a lifelong obsession, and when online selling became possible, I began to deal in them as well. I never stopped writing. That will always be my main occupation. But as most writers know, it never quite makes enough to keep the wolf from the door, so has to be supplemented in some way.

Jean Muir, Vogue Couturier Dress
Gorgeous Vogue Patterns 
Mum didn't collect textiles, but she made them. Her sisters had worked in tailoring factories and although mum didn't, she learned a lot from her siblings. She was a fine seamstress, a fine embroiderer, good at knitting and crochet. If it could be made, she could do it. In primary school, I remember a felt skirt she made for me with an appliqued toy train around the bottom and a gingham print dress with a cloth doll, with yellow plaits, that sat in the pocket. I loved fashion and later my mum made Vogue Paris Original and Couturier patterns: the exquisite Jean Muir dress, the embroidered Mexican smock, the crocheted smock, the amazing midi dress with the weighted hem, when, as a student, I couldn't possibly have afforded such a thing. I have many of them still, although I can't get into most of the dresses these days. But I can't bear to let them go either. They remind me too much of my mum. She stitched her love into them, as women so often do. I wish I still had the Doctor Zhivago maxi coat with fur around neck and hem that she made for me when everyone wanted to look like Lara.

I also wish I still had the heavily embroidered linen smock with a design that ran over the yoke and right down the sleeves. It was even more beautiful and intricate than the dress below, also made by my mum. I still regret giving that one away, many years ago, even though it went to a friend, and I still wonder if it is floating around somewhere online. If you see or posses such a thing - do let me know! I would dearly love to have it back again.

Me and my mum

Precious Vintage
By the way - if you too think you might like to make a bit - or a lot - of extra income from dealing in antiques and collectables, I wrote a small eBook about it some time ago: Precious Vintage. It's very personal, and it doesn't pretend to be a definitive guide. But it does contain a number of useful hints and tips for anyone wanting to dip a toe in these fascinating waters!