Monday, December 6, 2010

Meet the stallholders...tea and cake with Eirlys Penn from Scrapiana

Back in July we held our very first "It's darling!" and Eirlys was one of the traders who put her faith in us and took a stall. We were immensely grateful to her, as we were to all the original stallholders and are very pleased that many of them have booked again.  Here's what she has to say.

Tomato pincushions

Hello, for those of us who don't know you already, please introduce yourself.

I’m Eirlys Penn, and I live in Larkhall on the East side of the city of Bath. My stall, and my blog are called Scrapiana.  I sell a cornucopia of vintage haberdashery and related items: buttons, wooden cotton reels, embroidery thread, red-and-white baker’s twine, packets
of bias binding, old belt buckles, ric-rac, etc. But I’m also an enthusiastic upcycler, making new things from discarded scraps etc. This Christmas, for example, I’ve been making lavender heart ornaments from worn-out woollen blankets, and lucky tomato pincushions from other textile scraps (above). Haberdashery fridge magnets are my latest thing – I’ve been having lots of fun making those out of buttons and giant snap fasteners!

Sounds amazing! Now who is in this picture?

It's a picture of me (left) with an old college friend, Kate, in New York a couple of years ago. I managed to do a trawl of the historic textile and millinery districts of the city during that visit (Wow!). Kate is an antiquarian bookseller and years ago she gave me one of my treasured old sewing textbooks; eerily, it had been inscribed by someone bearing exactly the same name as me, back in the 1930s. I have an obscure Welsh name, and have never actually met another Eirlys, let alone one with the same surname too. So how spooky is that? I also sell old sewing books, sewing and knitting patterns, so do look out for those on my stall.

Why did you start Scrapiana?

I’ve never had any trouble attracting bric-a-brac,  especially sewing-related, and I did the first "It’s Darling!" in July, partly to clear the decks slightly, partly to gauge the response and see what people liked. I really enjoyed it, and the response was lovely, though my decks remain remarkably cluttered, but that’s another story.

My day job is quite solitary (I’m locked away writing most of the time) but I love meeting people and nattering; my first jobs were ALL interfacing with the public and press (I was a salesperson, receptionist, then press officer for a couple of publishers) and that was perhaps too far the other way for me. Writing, making things, then frantically interfacing with the public on high days and holidays is about the right mix for me.

What inspires you?

In terms of making things, there are some favourite blogs I follow; people like English sewing author Ruth Singer, and Americans Mimi Kirchner and Lisa Brainerd (two hugely creative American crafters). If you pinned me down on an era, I might have to say early-mid-20th century. I find any vintage of cotton reel and button interesting, though darning ephemera
(cards of darning yarn), especially from the 1930s, is currently catching my eye. I also love the Singer sewing machines of the mid-20th century, especially the celery-white 221Ks made in Scotland in the 1960s (below). 

Why did you want to be part of “It’s darling!”? 

July was great! There was a nice mix of other stalls, and the stall-holders were lovely. I originally heard about it via Twitter (I think I was somehow following @mrsstokeschina and caught her tweet).

Are you doing anything special with your stall? 

YES! Lavender scrap wool hearts.  If you catch me at a quiet moment I’ll show you how to make your own. I’ve blogged about them here.

Describe your ideal Christmas day 

If I had my way, I wouldn’t get out of my pjs! I love just watching the boys open their gifts, while admiring the tree - hopefully bedecked with a few shiny buttons, cotton reels, lavender hearts and gingerbread cookies! A glass of something bubbly wouldn’t go amiss.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without….

Singing! There has to be a lot of music in my Christmas: give me a burst of Handel’s Messiah and my cup runneth over. I sing in a church choir, and I really value its quiet companionship throughout the year. Christmas kind of falls into place for me around that activity. Oh, and gingerbread cookies. I make vast amounts every year.

Then there’s the excitement of late Christmas Eve trying to get everything done and wrapped and swig the sherry and munch Santa’s mince pie so that the kids are fooled, and listen to Carols from Kings, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and read The Night Before Christmas and The Velveteen Rabbit (‘There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid…he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were pink sateen.’) and stay up WAY too late trying to make everything magical.

What’s your favourite cake? And kind of tea? 

New York cheesecake (is that cheating?) or lemon drizzle cake (I have a very good recipe c/o Sophie Grigson). Lapsang Souchong is probably my favourite tea: the smokiness is almost as good as a log fire in the depths of winter, and it makes me feel like I’m drinking something slightly illicit when I’m really being very good and abstemious. Earl Grey comes a close second. Favourite cafĂ©? I like Bloomsbury, Shoon and can’t wait to try the
new Patisserie Valerie, conveniently opposite the Guildhall, all in Bath. It takes me
back to when I worked near Soho; I don’t think I ever went in (publishers don’t pay well), but used to press my nose up to the window. I love the exquisite arrangements of gateaux, and the soft lighting.

What would you say “It’s darling!” about in your life? 

I have a bit of a thing for old scissors: buttonhole scissors and pinking shears especially, and you’ll find some on my stall. A while back, I managed to get hold of an old-fashioned pinking machine, the sort pre-scissor which you mount onto a table edge and work with a crank-handle. Singer used to make one as a sewing-machine attachment, but that’s another story. I love this one because it’s quite small and dainty, and it takes an ordinary piece
of card and turns it into a beautifully flute-edged thing. Now, THAT’S what I call ‘It’s Darling!’…

To find  out more about Eirlys go to or email


  1. Thanks, Mrs Stokes! Looking forward to the weekend, especially now I've found the Christmas tree to deck my table. Hope you'll have plenty of Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin crooning 'Let It Snow' in the background, or I may be forced to. ;)

  2. Actually we're planning to bring some but if you have a CD or two then do bring them in case we run short. Which we probably will, it's a long old weekend!

  3. Now there's a challenge! I'll have a rootle around.

  4. I love this interview :-)
    I have today purchased 'Now That's What I Call Christmas' - I do have more hidden away somewhere, I'll see if I can find them!


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