Thursday, 16 May 2013

All Tied Up!

For the past year (or possibly longer) I have been collecting ties. I saw some lovely patchwork quilts in a magazine several years ago, with blocks made from old ties and I thought I might start one myself.  As I started to pick up a few ties from various charity shops, I started to foresee problems, such as just how many a double bed quilt might need, how much that would cost, and that my cats like to snuggle and it would get dirty and perhaps be difficult to clean.

At first, most of the ties I could find seemed to be rather drab polyester club, company or regimental ties. (These could be collectors items in themselves.)  Things seem to have picked up recently, and I have been finding polyester ties which look and feel like silk, wonderful textures and patterns which beg to be used in individual pieces. There are some lovely fabrics which must surely have been produced specifically for ties, as I have never seen anything similar available by the metre.  I got all of my ties out to take stock.  I now have lots of them - about 80 at a guess, all different fabric weaves, prints, patterns, except for two which are the same pattern and make, but in different colours.

All this diversity started me wondering about ties. According to Wikipedia, (neck)ties originated in Croatia (Hrvatska), the source of the word cravat, which is the proper name for the item of clothing. During the 30 Years War (1618-48) Croatian troops fighting in France wore narrow red silk scarves tied at the neck,with the ends slipped into their shirts. The Parisians thought them so stylish that they called them cravates after their originators and the look became fashionable.  They became known as ties because you tie a cravat. What I think of as a cravat is more properly a day cravat or Ascot tie, itself a precursor to the typical long tie worn every day as smart working or formal attire for men.

The typical tie was apparently designed by New York tie maker Jesse Langsdorf in 1926. The 'Langsdorf' tie is made up of three pieces cut on the bias.  This was further improved by a slip stitch method used to secure the interlining, which Richard Atkinson and Company of Belfast claim to have introduced in the late 1920s.

Apart from the diversity of patterns, I have been intrigued by the different weights of interfacings, the choice of colour and fabric for the end-linings ('tippings'), the widths, which range from 6.5 cm/2.5" to 10 cm/4" and the brand labels (or complete lack of them, in some cases). The labels are like little windows into history. There are ties which follow the rebranding of Marks & Spencer, from St Michael (and made in England or Great Britain, or U.K.), becoming 'St Michael for Marks & Spencer' (still made in U.K.), and since 2000, just Marks & Spencer (and made in China). One tie is from Horne Brothers, which went into administration in 1993.  Another is from C&A, whose last UK store closed in 2001. There is an ornate brocade kipper tie by Welch Margetson, who were taken over by CoatsPatons in 1963. There is a Liberty silk geometrical floral print, though not one of their current offering. At the other end of the scale, a tie made for Arcadia Group Limited can't be older than 2002, when that company was formed.

One tie has custom tippings woven with the brand name Chicks and an embroidered C on the front of the tie. The fabric is polyester with a bright geometrical print. There is a large, long label with 'Ties of Distinction' woven in gold lurex thread on part of the slim end which would go under the collar, but sewn through all the layers, and not sewn in straight, which made me laugh. Methinks the maker doth protest too much!

All of these ties have been sourced from charity shops, so a little at a time, they have been doing very well out of me! Most of them charge £1 or so per tie, which I think is okay providing they aren't shrunk, twisted, scorched, a mess of stains and/or pulled threads.

I took the opportunity the other day to check in a few charity shops for ties.  In one, there was one lone tie left.  It turned out that they had recently been cleaned out of ties by a lady who makes them into quilts! I went to another shop and saw they had no ties.  I wondered if the quilt lady had been in and cleaned them out too, but no! There was a box of ties still in the back room, for which they were charging £2.50 each. Too much for me, and when I said so, I had a rather sniffy reply that they were a charity, didn't I know, and some of the ties were silk and hadn't she had this conversation with me before?  Well, no, she hadn't. (I wonder if perhaps it was with the quilt lady?). Of course, £2.50 might be okay if you're a chap wanting a cheap tie, so I checked with a couple of chaps and they said no, if they were going to get a charity shop tie, £2.50 was possibly a bit much, unless it was a very classy silk. And they wouldn't think to ask if there were any in the back room. It might still work out cheaper than getting a tie through eBay, but only because postage prices have recently gone up again. (I'm sure I've had a rant elsewhere about charity shops who upgrade themselves into pre-loved clothes boutiques, dispensing with the bric a brac so beloved of crafters everywhere.  I've recently seen a few items which have been priced higher than they would have been originally. In these times, when you can buy cheaper elsewhere, where is the compelling reason to recycle and support charities? Oh, enough!)

I dropped into one of my favourite local charity shops yesterday to look for plant pot holders and came out with a few holders and, yes, a few more ties. Okay, I am now officially somewhat obsessed, a compulsive tie-buyer.  It's time I started making things from them so that they can earn their keep. Watch this space (but don't hold your breath!)

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