Wardrobe Story: Anne Wilson

This London Fashion Week we thought we would interview people close to us about what their clothes mean to them. We all have such a different, but often meaningful relationships to the clothes we wear, yet often the narratives surrounding fashion concern what more there is to buy, rather than focusing on what we already have. Chloe, one of Re_considered's bloggers, interviewed her grandma Anne about her favourite items and the stories behind them. There is so much to learn from Anne about truly valuing the items we have and thinking creatively about how to make, reuse, and rewear. 

"My current favourite item has to be a "scrumble" jacket; scrumble crochet is a form of free form crochet, much loved by the Russians as Pinterest reveals. I made it 4 years ago to use up dozens of scraps of wool - mostly ripped down socks, gloves, jumpers - even the good bits the moths left behind from a waistcoat that both they and I loved. To provide a single colour for joining the scrumbles I ripped down an unloved orange woollen jumper. Because the crochet might stretch every piece is sewn onto a lining; the lining material started life as a cotton skirt and is now on its third incarnation as it was the draw string bag in which I kept wools. As I crocheted away I noticed that the colour and pattern were just right for the jacket, so another skirt had to be sacrificed to become the wool storage bag. Obviously the buttons are recycled, too.

It is good to wear as it is warm, comfortable and cheerful. But I cannot explain its extraordinary magic, for practically every time I wear it outside, I am stopped by complete strangers who comment on it and all I can think of to say is "I made it to clear up the attic!"; this has never, ever happened with any other clothes of mine.

 

There are a lot of items in my wardrobe which are seldom worn, but they wait for fashions to come round again and suddenly, after a few years, become favourites again. When I was young there was clothes (included material) rationing, so it was a time of make do and mend, and recycle; the idea that clothes could be discarded while they still fitted and were still mendable was just not plausible.

Having made many of my clothes I have obviously chosen fabrics and patterns I like so why would I want to get rid of them? Often a slight alteration can introduce the latest fashion feature. And then there is the cost of replacing items.

The oldest garment that I still wear is a Chanel type suit in the most amazing Damascus shot silk with a paisley pattern, a present brought from Damascus. I drooled over the material for years until my eldest daughter was married in 1981, and I then made it up using a Vogue Couturier pattern: very expensive but worth every penny.  Every single piece was sewn onto (seconds of) Liberty lawn because I knew the material would fall apart if it were under any kind of strain. I wore it for another 3 weddings, and then our ten grandchildren started to get married. Should I get a new outfit for every wedding possibly wearing it only once? No, I decided to make a new blouse for each wedding to wear with my vintage Damascus silk. The timelessness of a simple Chanel type suit never wanes, although the hem has gone up and down and the waistband has gone out and in. Frequently other guests comment on the outfit, but it is always to say how beautiful the material is and never to say how beautiful I am!

 

Where do I take inspiration from? It is often the material; I hate cheap fabric and love good quality materials and designs. I allow modern fashions to be an influence but not a master; the computer is great for getting a feel for current fashion details. I suppose there is an element of my creativity. Adapting from my stash of old patterns used over decades requires an application of geometry to ensure that seams work and shapes fit – this is the reason why girls should study geometry. Sometimes I see something and just want to copy it. It is important to me that colours go together both in depth and in their position on a colour wheel - or rather, that they do not clash.

Clothes do get old, and I will look at them and think of ways to use them – a bag, a duster, a handkerchief (save on the paper ones), a kitchen jelly bag, a nightdress – or patchwork. For example, some old denims when undone have wonderful un-faded patterns under seams, pockets and waistbands. Old umbrellas make useful shopping bags.

Inherited from both sides of my family is a strong tradition of making things, and I have always made most of mine and my children's clothes. Having spent decades occasionally buying material not for immediate use, I have come to the realisation that now is the time I must try and use it up. Visits to the Isle of Harris have resulted in several lengths of Harris tweed and I have recently (that is, in the last two years) made a skirt and a loose jacket. The jacket is lined with some silky type patterned polyester which came from the wonderful Bombay Stores in Bradford, at which point I thought "blouse" and promptly made one of the same material; confusing for anyone sitting behind to see where jacket ends and blouse begins. Before that I decided to have a new winter blouse and used a large remnant of brown patterned woollen material which is winter warm, but I have no idea where it came from. Actually, nowadays buying clothes is reduced to underwear and shoes and new clothes are made from my existing stash of new material or recycled old clothes."