Go WC!

Go WC!

Question: what does one Washington College alum give to another — who happens to be marrying yet a third WC alum?  Answer: a custom basket in true Sho’men colors: burgundy and black! Loved outfitting this with vintage glassware and, gosh, the cutest duck salt and peppers. Found some great fabrics, too!

Thanksgiving as first picnic?!

Thanksgiving as first picnic?!

What a needed, needed thing: our annual feast with family and friends. Near, far. Old and new.

Hearts and minds release strain and turn grateful, like leaves goldening. We hold hands — not cell phones or newspapers — and pray for peace, good health, good cheer. Then we eat and drink beyond all measure, joying in all that is good.

Must be Thanksgiving.

It’s fun to imagine that first thankful picnic. Out there in the blustery New England cold, they were just strangers, really, sharing food and life, perhaps wary, but grateful to be alive. And surviving together, native and newcomer. Winter was coming, but this fragile friendship and mutual support would see them through.

And still does.

Picnics for Cutie-pies

Picnics for Cutie-pies

Calling all aunties and grandmothers! Here’s a way to your loved one’s heart.

One day last summer, my friend Pia came into the shop with a secret plan: her much adored three-year old nephew would be visiting and she wanted to take him on a picnic.  She asked if she could borrow a basket for the upcoming outing. Of course, I said, and we picked one that she thought he could carry.  She explained that she would return in a few days with him to “buy” it – and swore me to secrecy. I could hardly wait!

A few days later, Pia and her nephew came into the shop.  Adorable little guy with a dollar bill crumpled in his hand. “Ok, now, remember we are going to pick out a basket for our picnic.” Then she pointed to the pre-arranged basket hanging from the store loft. “How about this one?”

The little boy nodded.  “Give Miss Susan the dollar,” Pia whispered.

With eyes large and shining, and sensing the immense gravity of this commercial transaction, the toddler handed me the dollar bill. I got the basket down and gave it to him (and slipped the bill back to Pia).

Bye bye, I called, as the two went off to make sandwiches.  Later they would venture out to a pretty place, just the two of them.  (So many lovely picnic spots to choose from around Rock Hall).  I think it was the highlight of Pia’s summer.

What adored person under three feet tall would love to picnic with you?  Why not make it an annual event?

Give a Unique Gift…that is all You

Give a Unique Gift…that is all You

My last blog…o so long ago…recounted the joy I felt in creating a basket for a young couple last spring.  Months later, the joy is returned to me.

To recap:

About a year ago, Chris came into Vintage Picnic with a need: a wedding gift for her son who was getting married in the spring. She wanted something very special that would appeal to her new daughter-in- law. It had to be classy, incorporating items representing their Washington, D.C. home and the French theme from their upcoming wedding.

Chris and I worked together over several months, choosing items, texting colors and fabrics. I even drove to Warrenton, VA to find a fabric she liked – a special black-on-tan ticking that became the basket lining.

Last March, we met at a coffee shop for the great reveal. I arrived a few minutes early and commandeered a table to display the basket in all its picnic glory. Chris arrived…and loved it.  Satisfied customer, satisfied producer. Just as commerce should be.

In August, Chris appeared again at the shop. “How was the wedding?” I exclaimed. “And, how was the basket?”  She grinned … and told me about the 400 guests, the saturated registry of gifts and how her basket stood out from the crowd. Later she sent along the exact quote from her daughter-in-law’s thank-you note.

“Thank you so much for the most thoughtful gift I/we have ever received.The picnic basket was amazing.  It really shows how well you know my interests and likes.”

Are you looking for a distinctive gift that shows your loving, personal touch? Let’s talk!

 

Basketry as Soulcraft

Basketry as Soulcraft

I just spoke with a wonderful woman – a customer! – and set a time and place to deliver a custom picnic basket for her son’s upcoming wedding.   Chris and I have worked over the course of months to choose a trove of unique items, combined with toile, ticking and other special fabrics, to create a beautifully meaningful gift for two people who have decided to spend their lives together.   Those of us married for a while (ok, decades) know that couples need lots of romantic get-aways to stay couples, so mom is wise to get them started off right!

Between sourcing, designing and sewing, it’s been a crazy lot of work.  I don’t dare calculate my hourly wage because it has been such a satisfying project.   That said, I do want to move Vintage Picnic from a hobby onto a sustainable footing, otherwise… uh…no Vintage Picnic.   So I think about business-y things like scaling up, out-sourcing different basket components, process improvement and wholesale discounts, I really do.   And maybe someday I’ll be able to pay myself more than I could earn at Walmart.

But in becoming commercially viable, there is something I don’t want to lose:  the connections with the integrated whole of my product and the people who buy them.   A friend sent me a link to a 2006 essay entitled, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew Crawford http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft.  In it, the former cubicle-sitter/think-tanker muses on his glad departure from the knowledge field to open a shop to repair motorcycles.

As this is my story-line (substitute baskets for bikes), I instantly “got” why I so enjoy making things for people:  the psychic value of manual work.  As Crawford explains, “hobbyists will tell you that making one’s own furniture is hard to justify economically.  And yet they persist.  Shared memories attach to the material souvenirs of our lives, and producing them is a kind of communion, with others and with the future.”

Communion with the “material souvenirs of our lives.”  Love that!  By finding old things and giving them new life, I get to put a little of my humanity (me!) into the material world, which is the palette for living, is it not?  Quoting Alexandre Kojève (don’t worry, I didn’t know that name either), Crawford comforts the manually laboring (and likely underpaid) soul with this:

“The woman who works recognizes her own product in the World that has actually been transformed by her work: she recognizes herself in it, she sees in it her own human reality, in it she discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of her humanity, of the originally abstract and purely subjective idea she has of herself.”

Enjoy the basket, young lovers!  In some mysterious way, I go with thee.

Zen of Ironing, Part II

Zen of Ironing, Part II

I know it’s been a while since I have blogged.  You can’t imagine the procrastination that set in when I said I would write more about…ironing.

Last time I wrote about the bliss of ironing.  Well, I stand by every word.  Today I am writing about hand-to-hand combat with the ironing basket.  Ironing must be tightly managed for bliss to happen.  Less is more in my book.   Here are five tips from my decades of experience in such matters:

Tip one.  Managing your ironing begins with managing the drying process.  Don’t just dump every wet item into the dryer.   Be choosy.  Hang some items right out of the washer.  Spread a damp sweater on a towel and block it back into shape.  In warm weather, hang a clothes line and you’ll love enjoy crisp cottons and fewer wrinkles.

Tip two.  Dry likes with likes and use shorter drying times.  Don’t dry sheets with towels or smaller items; they’ll just get wound up together like sausages.  And, don’t just put the stuff in the dryer and fuggetaboutit.  Best to start pulling items out before the dryer stops and everything collapses into a wrinkle disaster.

Tip three.  When you get behind and the ironing basket resembles a snow drift, bribe thyself.  Set a timer for five minutes and iron the five easiest things in the pile.  Then have a sip of wine.  Repeat.  Once this process gets going, you’ll find you’ve ironed way more than five items.  But take care not to spill!

Tip four.  Cotton sheets are the granddaddy of all ironing (unless you use banquet-sized tablecloths, in which case, I say send them out)!  Start by taking the sheets out of the dryer when still faintly damp.  Fold the flat (top) sheet in half and iron across the top casing (the most important part of the sheet) and then down the free edges.  Keep folding and lightly ironing until you have a nice square packet — for half the work.  For sanity’s sake, never iron fitted sheets – rather, smooth and fold them, tucking the elasticized corners under to form another square packet.

Tip five.  Teach your children to iron and pay them 25 cents a hankie, and $1.00 for a pillow case with escalation clauses, annual bonuses, etc.  And have another glass of wine.

Zen of Ironing, Part I

Zen of Ironing, Part I

I have been thinking about ironing a lot lately.  Not actually doing a lot of ironing…but thinking about it!

It’s a topic that has come up several times with customers as they rummage through our drawers of vintage napkins and tablecloths.  “I have so many beautiful cloths I’d like to pass down,” sighed one woman as she shut the drawer.  “But my children don’t want them.”

Perish the thought!  I’ll take all the linen, damask and homespun anyone wants to dish up.

Another woman ordered a custom picnic basket for her daughter.  When she specifically requested polyester napkins, I blinked.  “Excuse me, did you say polyester?”  This was a product I had never thought to stock.

“My children don’t iron,” she replied.  Simple as that.  And so, I found some wonderful polyester.

Ok, dear children,  I know ironing can be a pain, non-amusing, time-consuming chore, but here are five reasons why you need to make friends with your iron.

  1. Ironing makes fabric look amazing. (Just choose the right temperature setting.)
  2. Ironed pillowcases give a satisfying crisp “ah” when you first lay your head on them.
  3. Ironing an article of clothing for yourself is an instant pick-me-up.  A quick press and you look immediately more put together (even if you are not feeling very put together).
  4. Ironing an article of clothing for a loved one is, well, love itself!  As I spread my hands over my daughter’s pants or husband’s shirt, I pray a blessing.
  5. Ironing is zen.  When else do you get to transform chaos into calm?

Now, I don’t recommend ironing EVERYTHING.  There are tricks to this trade – the subject of my next blog.

Sweet Linens

Sweet Linens

Doesn’t this embroidered tea towel make you smile?  We’ve got four of these little gals.  Perfect for the “powder” or a very sweet basket.  Four for $48.




 



Where to Find Good Old Stuff

Where to Find Good Old Stuff

Dixon’s weekly furniture auction is the mainstay of Crumpton, MD.  Sitting at the headwaters of the Chester river on Maryland’s eastern shore, this tiny town is in no hurry.  Main Street is lined with Andy of Mayberry Victorian homes that were probably last painted in, gosh, Victorian times.  By Andy himself!

The auction is another matter.  Dixon’s jumps to attention every Wednesday to move hundreds of thousands of items.  Dealers cross state lines to attend, local men haul for cash, and Amish families sell scrumptious “pigs in blankets” and other delicious fare.  http://www.crumptonauctions.com/

The cultural experience – to say nothing of the great finds – is worth the price of admission (free).

With its acres of fields and ice-rink sized (and just as drafty) indoor emporium, where everything from lawnmowers to lawn chairs, and kayaks to Chippendale comes under the gavel, Crumpton is testament to the power and fun of a hearty capitalism:  there is a market clearing price for every possible item in the world.   (Actually, I take that back.  Once a man was asleep on a ratty couch as bidding commenced.  He did not get sold, thankfully.)

Our favorite finds are good woods.  Peter has a weakness for walnut tables, splay leg tables, drop leaf tables.  Ok, all tables!  Chairs are my thing.  It’s a great day when I walk off with a ratty upholstered chair with good bones that just needs a little freshening up.   I take it to Donna, my talented friend, and she turns trash into treasure.

It’s a great system:  Crumpton makes a market in the banal and beloved, a local upholsterer gets some work, the landfill is spared one more discarded home furnishing…and Vintage Picnic gets another beautiful chair to sell.  Best kind of “green” I know of!

See you next Wednesday?