Bloomsbury inspired sewing box

Bloomsbury inspired painted sewing box

Here, sort of finished, is daughter no. 1’s Christmas present (for 2012).  Tinkering can always be done but sometimes you have to take a firm hand with yourself, especially when making a present for someone else whose taste is just that bit different from your own. So, I am calling it a day, unless overwhelmingly inspired to do something else with it or unless the recipient herself has ideas.


Bloomsbury inspired sewing box


For some years now I’ve been surveying the sewing baskets on offer commercially and in general find them expensive and rather unsatisfactory. Cath Kidston and Liberty have both gone down the path of 50s style wicker and fabric panniers and though these look pretty, I always find there’s not very much room for any other than a minimal sewing kit. I have, however, succumbed to buying one myself. The college I work in is just opposite Oxford’s branch of Cath Kidston and I couldn’t help popping in on a regular (ok, daily) basis during the summer sale. As the sale price for a sewing basket (bight red wicker with embroidered red and pink roses) went down, so I became interested in it in inverse proportion until equilibrium was reached and I bought it.


Cath Kidston sewing basket


Since then, however, it has languished unused and unseen in a cupboard, because 1. it really is too small,2. it’s not really me and 3. I think it’ll get dirty far too easily. On my own ‘Cost per Wear’ analysis (see post for 14 August 2012), it was a bad buy.

Daughters 2 & 3 have long felt that daughter no 1 is very poorly provided for in the sewing department and whenever we visit her are hard pressed to find even so much as a needle and thread to sew a button on with. Mentioning this domestic inadequacy to the daughter in question, she  – quick as a flash  – caught my gist and I received a polite but firm warning that she didn’t want one of those wicker things that you see everywhere now. Blow, no chance of offloading  guilty purchase then. Massive rethink needed. Fortunately, I had bought several sturdy wooden boxes from Focus just before they disappeared for ever from the retail scene. Some are just open crates which are very useful for carting unfinished sewing from room to room but I did also buy 4 which have hinged lids. Soundly made in smooth, solid wood, with rounded corners and neat little brass hinges, they needed little preparation for some decorative painting. 


Bloomsbury inspired sewing box: patchwork interior


As I wanted a Bloomsbury look (i.e. a bit slapdash and worn, though not quite as bad as much of the Omega stuff) I didn’t bother with primer or undercoat. I just gave it 2 or 3 coats of my pot of eggshell (once of Farrow and Ball origin, but now a gloop including Dulux brilliant white satin wood/blackboard paint, etc.) and then played around with various emulsions which have stayed put with the addition of several sprayings of pastel fixative. If it all goes horribly wrong and drops off in sheets, I’ll rethink and re-do but for the moment it all seems to be ok.


Painted wooden sewing box with patchwork interior


The usual suspects of left over cotton fabrics were rounded up for the interior and should daughter no 1 chose to meditate on her past life, she could do worse than to open up the lid of her sewing box and focus on the little pieces making up the patchwork: early Laura Ashley in profusion – paisley print dresses (hers magenta, her sister’s indigo), nightdresses, bedroom curtains, bedlinen, tablecloths,  Kaffe Fassett, bits of the bag Toast bedlinen came in and fragments of Cath Kidston napkins. If she is more discerning she might notice the very few pieces of Colefax and Fowler from goodness knows where and some very ancient and very pretty Sanderson rescued from curtains worn to a frazzle by the sun and salt which formerly hung in a friend’s seaside bungalow. The black edging, my favourite fabric of the moment is Indian fabric from the Cloth House. Sandwiched with cotton batting and backed with calico, the whole was then hand quilted and sewn up to fit the inside. I applied self sticking velcro (hook side) to the top inside top edge of the box and sewn velcro (loop side) to the inside of the quilting, so the whole thing can be removed and washed when she spills a cup of coffee all over it. The internal space measures about: 15 inches (38 cm) x 11 inches (28 cm) x 7 inches (18 cm) which is ample to store boxes of cottons, tins of needles and pins, good sized scissors and quite a bit more that you might want to throw in out of the way when somebody comes.


Picture taken from Bloomsbury, ed Gillian Naylor (Pyramid Books, 1990)


The Bloomsbury painters ( see post of 30 August 2012) continue  to delight us today with their use of colour (both pure and muddied) and their inability to leave a piece of wood or a bit of wall unpainted. The lime green splashed on the wall surrounding the fireplace is still vibrant and exciting while the circles of painted fire surround sooth and satisfy.  The following quotes give a flavour of the coming into life of the house:

“One after the other the rooms were decorated and altered almost out of recognition as the bodies of the saved are said to be glorified after the resurrection. Duncan painted many of the doors with pictures on the panels and with decorative borders round the frames….

Then Clive took possession of one room with his shelves of books, boxes of cheroots, Rose Geranium bath salts and a guncase….”  (David Garnett: The Flowers of the Forest, 1955.)


Vanessa Bell: Painting of Adam and Eve


I thought my deep pinky red, buttercup yellow and grey  were very un-Bloomsbury, so I fell upon the above picture with delight. A 1913 design (gouache, oil and pencil) for a bedhead, it was never realised although a table with a similar design (but different colours) was. 

I can’t resist finishing with this wonderful quote from a letter Vanessa Bell wrote to Roger Fry:

“Maynard [Keynes] came back suddenly and unexpectedly late at night having been dropped at the botom of the lane by Austen Chamberlain in a Government motor and said he had left a Cézanne by the roadside! Duncan rushed off to get it and you can imagine how exciting it all was…” 

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  1. Alison
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Lovely box and lucky daughter! Strange to think she used to babysit for us when Ol and Clemmie were much younger. Hope they weren’t too mean to her. They admitted many years later that they used to “gang up” on babysitters.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted March 2, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your comment Alison. How lovely to hear from you. Thinking along the lines of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, your little ones were probably very helpful to babysitting teenagers…

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