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Chooing Over The Year

So 2011 was Pennychoo’s first full year of trading (we’ll be 2 in May!) so I thought I’d do a quick visual summary of the year – just some random images showing where we went, what we saw, what we liked, who inspired us etc.  Where possible, I’ve put images alongside the designs they helped inspire. No doubt I’ll have missed some credit where it’s due so apologies now if that’s the case – feel free to fill in any gaps. Click on a picture to enlarge, and here’s to a creative 2012!
(La Terre by Double Merrick) 


The Ties That Blind

A visual one this time. My other half/chap/fellah/him indoors/he who must be ignored (what do you call your partner in crime when you’re my age? He’s 48, for crying out loud – ‘boyfriend’ just makes my teeth melt…) is a mildly obsessional collector of vintage ties. His are mostly from the 1950s, and with getting on for 100 of these mini works of art sitting in the dark in the wardrobe, I decided to pull out a few at random and bring them into the light.

I tried to do some research but failed to find much, so in the highly unlikely event of this blog sparking in you a sudden and massive interest in vintage ties, then this is probably the book you need, and the one from which I stole the genius blog title. Thankyou, Michael J. Goldberg. The book’s available from Amazon US.

So without any further ado, I give you: the ties! (Well, a very small selection of them anyway…)

Hmm, possibly my favourite..

First vintage tie he ever bought

Detail of reverse: 'Pipe Dreams by Wendy'

Another big favourite of mine

Like a lot of 1950s band names, birds seem to feature heavily in ties too.

One of his favourites, not one of mine. Not keen on the 3D effect from the drop shadow.

Love this one too - the illustration design is a bit Angie Lewin..

The colours in these are hand painted over a printed keyline

                                                                                                                                                               And here he is, modelling one of them. As you’ll see from the greasy breakfast and the notoriously-hard-to-clean tie, he likes to live dangerously. (In the background you can just see a member of the Inspiral Carpets, ordering an egg bap.)

Keep Calm, but Carry On…?

Two things got me thinking about copyright issues recently. One was that a friend of mine, Sian, from The Strawberry Card Company, had one of her designs lifted wholesale by someone in San Diego. (Either that, or the culprit is actually called ‘Dan Diego’, and that isn’t actually a typo…) Anyway, read about it here!

Please note that the following pieces of work have never been seen in the same room together:

Would the real Strawberry Design print please step forward? (The original is on the right, by the way...)

Then on the very self same day, I read on the BBC about Mark Coop who has, in an apparent effort to make himself less popular than a breakdancing porcupine at a naturist balloon modelling convention, registered a trademark against the Keep Calm And Carry On name on a certain range of products thereby restricting its commercial use by anyone he believes to be copying his company’s products.

Needless to say, this has put the litiginous cat amongst the furious pigeons, many of whom have been using the 1930s Ministry of Information propaganda slogan on everything from mugs to bags  to place mats and everything inbetween since its rediscovery in 2000. Examples can be seen here, as if you needed reminding:

Keep Calm and, um, Wipe Your Feet...?

No, I don't know why, either.

Not altogether surprisingly, an enthusiastically angry campaign has been mounted in opposition to Coop’s actions, led in part by Stuart Manley, owner of Barter Books, who found an original copy of the poster in his shop (most were destroyed at the end of the war). In the interest of fairness, you can read Mark’s defence of his actions here.

Stuart Manley with his framed copy of the original poster

It’ll be interesting to see which way this goes, especially for me as I’m
a) a designer, generally;
b) a designer who more specifically spent four years working part time for  the Civil Service; will any of my work be found in the bowels of a Government memory stick  70 years from now and plastered across merchandise the world over? I think ‘Leadership and Strategy for Efficient and Flexible Public Services in The Twenty First Century’ has a catchy ring, even if the mugs and tee shirts will have to be a bit, um, wider; and
c) a card designer, as nowhere has the phrase ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ (and a seemingly endless selection of clumsy variants) been more omnipresent than on the front of greetings cards.

Like most people, I loved it the first time I saw it. Five years down the line, it’s started to, shall we say, wear a bit thin… I may be longing in vain for its demise, however: as one trader told me at a huge trade show last month, “It still sells.” Clearly that unknown civil service designer didn’t get paid nearly enough…

So if we can’t get rid of the pesky thing, let’s at least end with some imaginative interpretations. It’s particularly interesting to see a message originally intended as being ‘from the King to his people’ now being used in some interesting ways to criticise the establishment…

As seen at last week's Block The Bill demo against NHS privatisation

Available from

and my personal favourite:

Carry on.

Crossing the Great Divide…

Cliqueyness, fierce brand loyalty, snobbery… all things to which I like to hope I don’t subscribe. It would seem, though, that thanks to one man, I’ve been doing all three for the past 20 years.

I’m a Mac Gal. I bought my first (second hand) Mac at the tender age of 20, and as such, am one of those rare 40 year olds who has never actually owned or even used a PC. I had one on my desk at a place I worked, but it was next to my Apple Mac G5 and just sat there looking ugly and beige and unfathomable. Just getting my email off it could get me into all kinds of trouble and invariably resulted in a call to the IT department… “Hello Sue – what’s that? You’ve touched your PC again?? *Sigh* Okay – we’re on our way up… “

My first Mac was an SE/30 (above), which looks now like a very early prototype for the iMac – tiny,  light and compact, the whole thing could be scooped up and moved around with one hand. Happily, I still have it. Its teeny-tiny screen was black and white, and it had less memory than a goldfish with early onset Alzheimers. If you planned to scroll from one side of a double page spread to another, it was advisable to pencil it into your diary. In spite of it’s shortcomings, though, I loved it: I loved the fact that the Apple face beamed reassuringly at me when I started up; I loved the cheery chime; I loved that there was one drive, right there, clearly visible on the pale grey desktop, and not 43 drives, dotted and hidden all over the place in a weird, ugly hierarchy. I loved it because everyone else had a PC, and I had a Mac.

With the advent of iPods and iPhones, it’s easy to forget that for years, Mac users were viewed with suspicion by the majority of people, hardly surprising given that they were the preserve of creative types in attention-seeking eyewear and casual footwear. And for our part, we viewed PC users with laughable contempt; these were people who had not yet Found The Way, and probably never would. I enjoyed being part of this exclusive club; I suppose I sold my soul to Apple pretty early on, possibly because it seemed like a brand that was still shooting from the hip. Gates was a geek; Jobs was a dude.

In his tribute to Jobs on the Creative Review blog Patrick Burgoyne says “We had Macs, the suits had PCs: they symbolised the great divide. They were ‘ours’ and, despite their faults, we loved them. Before iTunes and iPods, before the phones and the pads, we embraced Apple and we never let it go.”

This divide made itself rather apparent at university when I refused to do an exam on a PC and asked to be allowed to bring my Mac in. I was denied this as other students complained that this  ‘gave me an unfair advantage’ (ignoring the fact that working on an alien PC put me at a massive disadvantage).  Being a Mac person set me apart from my classmates who thought I had ideas above my station, and I can’t deny that this made me quite happy…

So I suppose I have mixed emotions today, the day that Apple founder Steve Jobs has died. Part of me is glad that he finally got the world to see what they were missing out on by not using a Mac; the other part of me feels childish and petulant and cross. I want to tell all those ninnies waving their iPhones above their heads like cigarette lighters that jumping on the bandwagon in the past 5 years doesn’t make you Mac. Some of us were there 20 years ago, scrolling painfully across a grey, 6 inch screen, and doing it gladly, because the little pixelly face smiled at us and reassured us that we were in on the secret…

Cheers, Steve; s’long.

Table doting…

I’m hoping that by starting off with an appalling pun, you might actually be reasonably relieved that I haven’t posted here for so long. I had thought that my new-found status as a full-time cardie would afford me lots more time for this kind of thing but not a bit of it. Tsk.

Anyway, a shortish one today:  I’ve been meaning to do it for a while and a visit to Habitat today reminded me, hence the sudden engagement of boot with bum.

On a recent trip to the Royal Festival Hall, I stopped by the Terrace shop to, um, have a look at the new items and not to straighten my cards up (ah-hem), and while I was there I had a good old nose around the newly-expanded shop. It’s full of lots of truly lovely things but my eye was nearly yanked out of its socket by this nest of  Ercol tables:

Arrrgh! Have you never heard of coasters??

Probably most famous for perfecting the steam bending of wood, Ercol exhibited at the Britain Can Make It exhibition of 1946 at the V&A Museum, and then again at the Festival of Britain at the Royal Festival Hall in 1951. According to Wikipedia, ‘Ercol’s mass-produced furniture found a ready market in post-war Britain, which demanded smaller pieces with simpler lines than their chunky pre-war counterparts.’

So were these cheeky walnut beauties original 1950s Ercol pieces I wondered, as I caressed their organic curves and wondered if I could reasonably fit the small one under a cardi in a Bag For Life? Well I can tell you, dear readers, that they are not! By happy coincidence, the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain coincides with the 90th anniversary of Ercol who are (happily for us) reissueing a range of their most iconic designs, a lot of which are available from the new retro renaissance shop of choice, John Lewis. Here are just a few pieces – click for a better look:

Ercol for John Lewis – Butterfly Chair

Ercol for John Lewis - Studio Couch

Ercol for John Lewis - Chiltern Coffee Table

Ercol have also reissued the iconic nest of tables in ‘a contemporary mix of rainbow hues’ but I’d quite like to have words with whoever picked them … from the top, the peach one must look like some kind of gland (*shudder*)

Ercol nest of tables, painted

And as if all this retro furniture loveliness wasn’t enough, Habitat have only gone and jumped on the 1950s  nest-of-tables bandwagon with their ‘Wilf’ range. They’ve chosen their colours a little more carefully than Ercol, and I like the fact that they’ve varied the shapes. The tapered legs and black edging really makes for a nice retro feel.

Habitat 'Wilf' table, large

Habitat 'Wilf' table, medium

Habitat 'Wilf' table, small

So there you go – I’ll gladly accept any of them as gifts, but remember, if it’s the Ercol you go for next Christmas, I prefer the plan walnut ones. You’ve been told. It’s Progressive Greetings Live next week so hopefully I’ll be back with tales of trade show shenanigans sometime after that. Adios!

PS. I completely forgot to post this lovely picture of another Ercol piece in the Royal Festival Hall shop, adorned with lovely cushions in limited edition Festival of Britain fabric designed for the anniversary. There’s anniversay wallpaper behind it too.

A busy week in the land of Choo…

This gallery contains 22 photos.

Greetings dear reader! It’s been a busy week or two… where to begin…? Well, last weekend I took part in my second Vintage and Handmade Fair in deepest South Gloucestershire. Organised and promoted for several years now by the tireless … Continue reading

Carry On Regardless…

So – undeterred by the (sniff) absence of any (sniffle) comments on my last blog entry (HONNNNNK! wipe, wipe..), I shall plough on regardless with yet another small and loosely connected collection of notes, thoughts and photos about odds and sods that have caught my eye in recent days.

First off is this lovely and decidedly Art Deco-ey floral bedding (below) from Collier Campbell who are English sisters Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell. They’ve been ‘producing iconic hand-painted textiles since the 1960s’ it says here, but this is the first I’d seen of them. They’re available to buy at House of Fraser.

It brought to mind a few things, most obviously the ‘Bloomsbury Group’ style made famous by, amongst others, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell who lived and worked at Charleston House in the 1930s. The yellow fabric (below) was designed by Grant; the other images are from the Charleston website:

The second thing it reminded me of (she said, modestly) was my own design for the Floradeco range of cards:

I wrestled with this design for weeks before realising that by adding a folksy, Romany feel to it, I could get away from what had been until then a very clunky Art Deco pastiche. Maybe I had the Bloomsbury thing in the back of my mind somewhere?

I think that’s all for now: I think my new style is going to have to be Less Is More or Little and Often if I’m going to post more than once a month….

Thought I’d end with this nice abstract pattern that, in shape and colour, certainly tips its hat to the 1930s:

Who says the Waterloo and City line can’t be inspirational? Blurred, yes, but inspirational nonetheless.

Carry on.