Being a collector is a lot of fun! The thrill of the find, the joy of a gift, the pursuit of the unattainable…it has a lot to recommend it. One thing that can be tricky though is storage. Particularly if you have a fondness for a vintage car or two! Luckily, as a brooch obsessive, my storage problems aren’t quite to that scale.
I do have a one or two brooches (just a mild under-estimation) and I like to display them as much as possible. Up until recently I’ve used picture frames with the glass removed and a padded section in its place which works really well. And then I had a super charity shop find!
This cabinet was £4.95 from my local hospice shop. As you can see, lots of perfectly sized compartments for all kinds of brooches and a glass front to keep the dust off. It has brackets on the back for wall hanging too but I didn’t need them as I’ve got a very cute sewing-box table perfectly sized to hold it.
And so began a little make over. A left-over paint sample lifted the mahogany outer from dark to light.
The compartments, while perfectly sized weren’t particularly brooch friendly. So, some fab spare fabric, needle and thread, and a lot of wadding later, and I had 22 bespoke brooch pillows 🙂
It took some time but it was worth it. As you can see, Lea Stein panda in particular looks pretty damn comfy!
I’m really delighted with the end result – there’s lots of room for doubling up too. Although I need a few more of these cabinet finds to be honest. Or to stop my brooch treasure-hunting…I know which is more likely!
I say this so often, but it’s amazing what you find in your local charity shops if you look. From another brooch to add to the collection, to a piece of homeware that is beautiful and practical, they’re always worth a hoke and a poke. I can’t wait until their doors open again.
Next on my lockdown catalogue of costume jewellery is this ring in the deepest of blues. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll know that I lived in Belgium for a formative, life-changing year studying at Leuven University. That year opened my mind, took me out of my NI comfort zone and introduced me to some of the most lovely people I’ve ever met and some of the most incredible chocolate I’ve ever eaten!
A couple of years after graduating, I’d met my now husband, and we had decided to visit Bruges for a long weekend over my birthday. No argument from me. We were just getting into travel together, developing our taste for good food and drink and on that trip we had some interesting experiences! We stayed in a cheap random B&B with mouldy walls and a weird little cat, I had food poisoning from some dodgy mussels, and nearly had a kitten ascending the Belfort Van Brugge (not great with heights or confined spaces). Great craic!
On the plus side, we wandered the picture perfect streets, pondered the Old Masters, and found the legendary beer nirvana that is ‘t Brugs Beertje and I met the Duchesse de Bourgogne for the very first time. If you don’t know about her, seek her out!
As it was birthday time, Mr GLV bought me this ring, in the most perfect shade of blue. My favourite colour. It was from an unassuming little shop on a side street but caught our attention. That was 20 years ago and I don’t wear it often enough.
Lockdown has taught me some good lessons already. One of the more frivolous ones is about the stuff we own. How many of us ‘keep for good’? Hold back on wearing our ‘Sunday best’? Save the best things we own for the occasions that never happen often enough? What a ridiculous concept that now seems!
I’ve had this ring on my finger all day, and I’ve had nothing to do but read and take my state-sanctioned exercise for an hour. But you know what, wearing it makes me feel good. And I should remember that. Feeling good is important, even in these strange times. So let’s wear that jewellery, click those fabulous heels, waft around in those big circle skirts! Feck it, life’s too short not to.
I think it was about 4 weeks ago that I committed to cataloguing my costume jewellery during this crazy lockdown time, in an effort to keep myself sane. I’ve found it hard to write for joy in the last few weeks, mainly I admit through laziness, but also because my writing for work has been constant and hectic and my head just hasn’t had the space for anything else. It has been the strangest of times.
Today we’ve had a very welcome bank holiday and I don’t know if it has been the break in work, the passing of the full moon, or just a general acceptance of the times we are in but it feels like a good time to start talking and writing about the costume pieces I love.
We are starting with panda. A Lea Stein panda in fact. He was a surprise gift from hubby for christmas and encapsulates an obsession that goes back over 40 years (yikes!).
My godfather and uncle, Gerard gave me a panda for Christmas when I was 2 and I fell in love. Mum has just been going through old photos and sent through one where this very important panda features, siting tall with a bright yellow ribbon! Adorable. Gerard sadly died a few years ago, and although he tried for years to (very unsuccessfully) turn my football allegiance from Liverpool to Spurs, he did leave me with a sweet lifelong panda obsession instead 🙂
I drew endless pictures of pandas (and 1970s WonderWoman!) when I was little, and was absolutely mad about a 1980s cartoon called Padamonium (check out the titles on youtube, it was amazing!). To me pandas epitomise sweetness, innocence, happiness, contentment…all positive things. When I’m in a bad mood, pandas will always cheer me up!
I suppose it’s a very clear and simple connection – they remind me of childhood joy. And that’s what makes this panda so special. Lea Stein brooches are also an obsession. They are expensive by my usual brooch spends, usually retailing from £55 upwards. Panda is not my first (we’ll come to Alice the Fox later) but he was such a thoughtful gift, and such a beautiful version. Carefully chosen by Mr GLV. Like all Lea Stein animal brooches, there are a range of designs. You can read more about her work at the Lea Stein Appreciation Group on Facebook – it’s a wealth of information and pictures.
I love Panda. He’s a got the most perfect, sweet face and expression, and he is in lovely vintage condition. When I wear him he’ll always remind me to be of good cheer, and how lovely it is to be married to my best friend who knows instinctively how to surprise me and make me smile. What’s more important than that?!
2020 – it’s already been quite the year. Storms Ciara and Dennis, coronavirus, brexit…There has been a little bit of good news in the midst of the chaos! Call the Midwife back on our tv screens, Liverpool topping the table in mythical fashion, and let’s not forget the return of the Assembly to Stormont after a 3 year hiatus (that’s the polite word for it).
Stormont came back with a new book under its belt, ‘New Decade, New Approach’. Plenty of commitments within it to enable positive change in Northern Ireland.
It was also my birthday at the start of February. A gift I received from one of my sisters was another influential book with some important messages about Northern Ireland – the missing part of my Sadie and Kevin collection, the elusive ‘Hostages to Fortune’!
Despite months of searching in the wilds of the local charity shops, it didn’t turn up. To be honest, I’m glad it didn’t because it’s more special as a gift from Claire who knows all too well my love of these books.
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you’ll know that Joan Lingard is a hero, and the lives of her characters, Sadie and Kevin are inextricably linked to my childhood. Some books just stay with you. ‘Hostages to Fortune’ is the final novel of the series and continues to explore the relationship between Sadie and Kevin, and their difficult relationship with home at a time when Northern Ireland was a difficult place to love.
It’s interesting how Northern Ireland has changed so much, and yet so little since those books were published. The fact that we were without a government for so long is testament to how infuriating and frustrating this place can be. And yet, there’s so much progress to be proud of.
We’ve seen many agreements, deals and commitments come and go, all tied by one significant thread – hope. The truth is, it’s people who make the difference, who create new ways of working together; develop the bonds that tie us; understand the simple beauty of community and care. That’s the joy of the Sadie and Kevin series – it shines a light on what we can do as individuals, families and societies to shift our perspective and make progress.
Here’s hoping that ‘New Decade, New Approach’ delivers as intended, but let’s not wait for it to happen. We can all learn something from Sadie and Kevin!
Some holiday souvenirs are charming, some are charmless, some are downright hideous. From key-ring to snow-globe, t-shirt to shot-glass, holiday destinations are chock-full of shops selling random trinkets. While I might not appreciate the affront to the eyes that some deliver, I do get the point. Holidays are all about memories, aren’t they? They’re a rare opportunity in the year when we actually make time and take time to wander and ponder. We stare at buildings in a way we don’t dream of at home. We eat with greater thought and attention. We walk for miles, care-free. We experience a different kind of life for a short time. Why wouldn’t we want a tangible reminder of those lazy, hazy days?
So it was on our recent trip to the Basque Country, to Donostia-San Sebastián and Bilbao. The sun shone, the water glistened, the P20 was lathered liberally onto this exceedingly pale ginger. And of course I wanted to bring home a souvenir. I always do. Last year Cartmel gifted me a vintage shop. The year before, Ullapool did the same. I had carried out a little vintage research into our two destinations in advance, but nothing prepared me for the joy that awaited!
We were walking through the Old Town of Donostia-San Sebastián, high on believing after pintxos success. Pintxos procurement can be stressful! It left us confused and confounded on our first trip 15 or 16 years ago when we were absolutely clueless. But the combined benefits of a seriously informative local food tour and an Irish smile can’t be overestimated! As we walked, a window caught my eye. And more specifically, the most spectacular vintage jewellery stopped me in my tracks. Who’d have guessed…
The shop was PYC and I make no exaggeration when I say it was vintage jewellery heaven. The piece in the window that caught my eye was a bracelet of marbles. It drew me through the doors in 2019 and transported me inside to the early 1900s.
Mr GLV and I were welcomed by Ana, the store owner. I think she may have sensed a kindred spirit. And so began the most incredible conversation about the shop and its place in local history. We were shown pictures of its first location, heard about the grandparents who opened it in 1908 and could clearly feel how important it was for the family to continue the legacy today. Boxes and boxes and more boxes of original stock from 1910 onwards were put on the display desks. Earrings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces…20s, 30s, 40s, 50s…The stuff of dreams. I could move in and never leave!
So when my bracelet came in from the window, there was another surprise. Every item in the shop has an original record, dated with notes and drawings.
My bracelet was in the files, number 596, made by Ana’s grandparents in 1947. For a vintage obsessive, it doesn’t get better than this.
The final treat of the day, after the bracelet had a few links added to suit my non-1940s wrist, was the packaging. An original box from the shop. Perfection.
When we finally left the warm embrace of PYC, hubby said to me that I’d had a special moment. That’s exactly what it was. It was a fascinating room, full of history, full of memories, full of joy. I say this all of the time – vintage brings me so much happiness. This 72 year old bracelet now connects Belfast and the Basque Country. It will hopefully decorate my wrist for a few years to come and now this blog is another part of its wonderful record, though not as pretty as the handwritten version. It is a humble holiday souvenir which will forever trigger special memories of a special place and special people.
20 years ago I lived in Leuven as a final year English degree student. I may have spent the year in a chocolate-fuelled stupor, powered solely by Manon Café chocolates from Leonidas, but it was a time of friendship and fun that has left me with an unconditional love for Belgium.
10 years ago Mr GLV had his stag do in Brussels. He was fuelled by a different Belgian product. Less praline, more Trappiste in nature. His love of Belgium is just as strong though – there’s just something very special about the place and the people.
And so, although more subconscious than deliberate, we marked those special anniversaries with a trip to Brussels.
It was another special trip. 4 great days of wistful wandering and people-watching, pâté and praliné, grazing and geuze.
België is known for its beer. Mr GLV and I have a penchant for drinking it. Newly opened Gist was fab, but the beer highlight was a trip to Lot, just 12mins by train to Drie Fonteinen, where the ‘lambic dream’ is more than just a vision. It’s a passion, evoked beautifully on a fascinating, thought-provoking tour by retired owner, Armand.
The chocolate highlights involved a return trip to Leonidas (nostalgic purposes only, of course) and a visit to the praline shrine of Mary where it would have been a shame not to pick up a truly pretty box aptly named Rosine.
And so to vintage. It was Mr GLV who found out about the Brussels Vintage Market at Les Halles Saint-Géry. First Sunday of the month (and the last day of our break). What a treat! A beautiful red brick building with 3 floors of vintage loveliness, and even more on rails around the outside.
Bags, shoes, more bags, more shoes! A DJ playing top tunes and table service outside. The sun splitting the rocks and visitors rifling through boxes of bijoux and heaving hangers. It was fantastic. Just one downside – hand luggage only. But vintage brooches are small and relatively weightless aren’t they?
Two very pretty pieces came back to Belfast (€20 in total), along with a new panda badge I felt needed a Northern Irish home. Some things you just can’t leave behind.
And on that note, I really can’t leave Belgium behind. It shaped me. Out of chocolate, or at least that’s how it felt after a year 🙂
It’s January, that lovely month when all of December’s excesses come back to haunt us! It’s for that reason that so many of us go into detox mode. For some, that means a diet overhaul or a new found zeal for exercise, and for others it’s the decluttering and reorganising of our lives. Right now I’m engaged in a mixture of all of the above but it’s the decluttering that has captured my attention once again. I’ll admit to liking ‘stuff’ – that’s not really much of a confession if you’ve read my blog before. But the stuff I like and acquire tends to be the stuff others want to throwaway. Ultimately, I’ve come to realise that I’m a modern day Womble, patrolling the streets of Belfast rather than Wimbledon Common!
The Wombles’ ethos of ‘making good use of the things that we find’ is a value system close to my heart. It’s why I love charity shopping and all things vintage, and why, when I find like-minded people, it makes me happy. Which brings me to Bertie. You haven’t met him yet. Say hello 🙂
He’s the latest addition to my menagerie, albeit of the jewellery variety. At the end of last year, a good Twitter pal Pretty Fragmented had posted a link to incredible work by an English sculptor. Using a range of materials, Made by a Prince creates the most stunning pieces of recycled oddities, as he calls them. At the end of last year, I retweeted some of his work and unbeknownst to me, Mr GLV was on full Christmas present alert.
Just a few weeks later, I was unwrapping Bertie the owl and what a surprise he was. Such a beautiful brooch, so considerately and finely made. Alan, the sculptor was kind enough to send me some pictures of Bertie in process – made from recycled cutlery, he’s a character and one of my all-time favourite pieces of jewellery. Credit to Mr GLV for such a thoughtful present!
How amazing to see redundant bits and bobs turned into something so unique. To quote The Wombles one last time, to ‘pick up the pieces and make them into something new’ in such a way is quite a skill.
Peacock marcasite brooch, £6 from Oxfam, Ormeau Road, Belfast
Mr GLV and I are just back from holidays, a glorious week in the Scottish Highlands where the mountains wrapped around us like a big tight hug. It was a perfect break. People were scarce, the landscape was wild and 4G coverage was a distant memory. It had been an incredibly busy few months with work and a big project before we drove off the ferry and made our way along the high roads and low roads in our own version of carpool karaoke!
It’s an interesting choice, to take yourself off to a quiet space with little to do but enjoy the silence. Our holidays are usually frenetic, in a good way – interesting cities with museums and restaurants and shows and tours and trips and days filled with activity. This trip was different.
Ardvreck Castle along the North Coast 500
It’s not until you find yourself in the quiet that you realise how much noise has gone before, and just how much you missed being still. My Dad used to tell us when we were young and being hyper to ‘sit a’ peace’. Drove me mad back then! I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the real meaning of his words until recently. There is something to be said for sitting at peace, whatever that means to you. There was a lot of it on our holiday – sometimes in the car mesmerised by the view; sometimes on the beach, watching the water; sometimes in the grip of the mountains, in awe of their scale. ‘Peace comes dropping slow’, in the words another equally wise Irish man.
And oddly, that brings me to my latest charity shop find. I hadn’t been out and about in the charity shops much recently. I was beginning to feel that I’d lost my love of the treasure hunt. I always know there’s something wrong when I can count my last vintage brooch purchase in months, not days 🙂 But I think I’ve realised the root cause of my malady. Through the summer, I’d been so busy, so focussed on details and deadlines that I just didn’t have any room left – no room at all for the warm fuzzy stuff that gives me joy. I’d forgotten that it’s the simple pleasures in life that keep us sane.
So, thank you Scottish Highlands for giving me back that fuzzy feeling.
On my first charity shop jaunt after the holidays, the stunning peacock brooch pictured above was waiting for me in the Oxfam store on the Ormeau Road. Just luck some might say. I have another theory – when your mind is open to good things, then good things will happen, be that as simple as finding a beautiful brooch or as important as spotting the job of your dreams.
It’s Autumn, my favourite time of year. Crunchy leaves, beautiful light and an excuse to wrap up in warm clothes and boots. It’s also great to pop into my local charity shops and see rails of cosy knits instead of spaghetti-strapped vests and dresses. Summer clothing isn’t fun for pale, burnt-in-minutes redheads!
Green however is fun, especially when it’s as bright as the colour of this gorgeous coat. It jumped off the rail of the recently refurbished Save the Children shop on Botanic Avenue, Belfast. It was £10 which is more than my usual charity shop budget and worth every penny. Unworn, it’s a flattering fit with big pockets and cute buttons. Perfect for skinny jeans or a work day dress.
I’ve noticed lots of gorgeous coats on my charity shop travels lately. The good news is that coat fashions rarely change much so if you have your eye on an expensive version on the high street, think about checking your local charity shop first for a more affordable option.
Whether your style is military, loosely tailored or cape, you might just the find the perfect coat for a fraction of the cost if you go charity shopping first. And don’t forget to add a vintage brooch!
I’d love to hear if you find something special so get in touch on Twitter at girlovesvintage.
Sometimes you get your vintage fix in the most unlikely sources. This time it was in Bordeaux, a city more renowned for its vintage wine than vintage finds. We had booked into a new B&B, Casa Blanca, a chance find on booking.com which was only open a few weeks and at that stage completely unreviewed. We got a feeling that it was our kind of place from the few pics we saw of the renovation work that had been taking place in the preceding months.
Our kind of place it was. From the stunning tiled hallway to the scandi-influenced rooms, this beautiful 200 year old building had been thoughtfully rejuvenated and given some serious care and attention by Hannah and Gildas, its guardians. A seriously cool haven from the 36 degree heat on our first day, we spent a week here and loved every second.
Perfect vintage treats were everywhere, from the Singer sewing machine stand wash-basin, to the use of beautifully stripped back pine doors as headboards and gorgeous old rugs. Obviously Hannah knew nothing of my vintage fashion obsession so to find a fine selection of fashion photography books, memoirs and magazines on the coffee table was serendipitous. They were frequently thumbed through over a glass of wine during our stay.
Hannah’s background in haute couture was quietly obvious everywhere – little hints to her love of design and style.
In my opinion, a love of vintage, a love of that which has come before and deserves protection, always hints towards a certain kind of person. A person who cares; who believes in legacy and heritage; who’s concerned about detail and quality. That just about sums Gildas and Hannah up. As hosts they couldn’t have done more – our holiday started with something of a mild stutter and without their kind help could have ended earlier than planned. Mr GLV was already planning flights home. I witnessed fork lightning for the first time during a mental thunderstorm and again Gildas came to our rescue when cote de boeuf dinner plans were scuppered! One of our highlights during our week was dinner at Chez Boulan in Les Chartrons district – recommended by Gildas strangely enough. Turbot to die for, amazing oysters and service that supported rather than patronised our stuttering French.
It’s really, really refreshing, in a world where the corporate one-size-fits-all mentality is so prevalent to see a young business like this doing the opposite – going out of the way to help, to make your stay easy and simultaneously homely and interesting. The care that Hannah and Gildas have shown to restoring Casa Blanca was shown again and again to all of their guests. People who have a love of vintage are usually pretty lovely people – I know that all too well from the people I’ve met through the vintage community.
It’s not often I wax lyrical about anything other than vintage bags and brooches here, but I genuinely believe that exceptional moments deserve a mention. Just so happens that our exceptional moment was a week long in a very special place! Look forward to making a return visit some day soon.
PS If you’re planning a visit to beautiful Bordeaux some day, just search Casa Blanca Bordeaux on booking.com