Friday, 28 March 2014

The Afterlife of Things 4

In the 1930s your Radio Times (the magazine that told you what was on the radio) was kept in an ornate leather folder, decorated with embossing and oversewing, or tidied away in a floor-standing magazine rack. There were occasional tables but no coffee tables. And you couldn’t just leave a magazine lying around for a week getting tattier and tattier. Could you? Radio Times folders and magazine racks faded soon after the war.

They somehow went with shoe bags embroidered with your initials, night-dress cases and handkerchief sachets. Where did they go? Tissues happened. Handkerchief sachets were usually handmade out of linen and embroidered. There was no telly and we had to make our own entertainment.

Other linen embroidered objects we simply couldn’t live without: antimacassars and traycloths. Antimacassars went over the backs of armchairs and sofas to stop hairoil marking the furniture. 30s men used an oily “dressing” on their hair to keep it in place. (It faded out in the 70s.) Traycloths were a miniature tablecloth that went on a tray for breakfast in bed, or supper by the fire. They vanished with the servants who cooked and brought you the breakfast or supper. And with no servants keeping you out of your own kitchen you could eat in it.

All these were objects you could make yourself, and perhaps that’s why people were convinced they were necessary. They were the descendants of the purses netted and slippers embroidered by early Victorian girls. (Now we make bunting.) Handwork was taught at school, and girls needed projects. Magazines would give away patterns for traycloth embroidery. (They can always be upcycled into cushion covers.) Handwork was strictly gender-segregated: boys made manly pipe racks in woodwork. When did men stop smoking pipes? They were still puffing in the 70s. I remember ads for a vanilla-scented tobacco – was it St Bruno? And there was one called Condor… The decline of pipe-smoking did for the small tobacconists who used to operate from kiosks. More here, and links to the rest.

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