Several steps forwards and a few less steps backwards

You’ll be pleased to hear that the planning of the planning of the Silly Girl’s Project to recreate my grandparents’ 1955 road trip to Monte Carlo is coming along nicely.  I’ll just say that the whole thing is still rather fluid and not forming itself in an orderly fashion due to my meandering brain.  No surprises there then.

2015 05 12 after a serious clean

In my last post, I had acquired Heather, a 1958 Singer 201K sewing machine, for the purpose of making my 1950’s-style outfits for our road trip to Monte Carlo.  As usual, it was buy first and do the research later.   During my investigation into how best to clean up and restore Heather to her former glory, I chanced upon LOADS of information about the Singer company and their products.   It turns out that there is a worldwide fan base of Vintage Sewing Machine enthusiasts (obsessives?) and that manuals, information, sources of parts and general encouragement is pouring out of t’interwebs.  There’s a Facebook page with almost 18,000 members, all encouraging each other.  I don’t need any encouragement, I’m dangerous enough on my own.

It seems that these bits of kit are so well-engineered and simple in design that, with regular maintenance, they go on forever and, barring a disaster of momentous proportions, can be looked after by their owner.  I’m all in favour of that – get a book out of the library and DIY, learn new skills along the way and save a packet.  Or nowadays, get onto t’interwebs and FIND OUT HOW.  Once you’ve seived out the garbage…

Singer-201-Service-Adjusters-Manual  SAM

Here’s some interesting stuff that I discovered along the way.  Did I mention my meandering brain?

Singer was such a successful company that in 1862 they decided to open a factory in the Glasgow area.  Demand continued to escalate and another factory was build in 1873 and in 1885 they opened their biggest ever factory on 46 acres of farmland at Kilbowie in Clydebank. This included 2 3/4 miles of railway to connect up various parts of the site and to 3 railway stations in Glasgow, Helensburgh and Dumbarton.  The company employed nearly 7,000 workers and produced an average of 13,000 machines a week.  It was the most modern factory in Europe at the time.  They even made their own cabinets and tables to house their sewing machines and employed 2,000 joiners to do so.

During World War II, in line with most other engineering companies, Singer  turned their engineering facilities at Kilbowie to producing ammunition and hand grenades.  The factory made Mills No 36 hand grenades and even the bombs that they produced were stamped with the Singer logo.  Have a look at this – is it a bullet?  Ignore the yellow stuff.

Is it a bullet?

Is it a bullet?










There’s another story behind the above…  Although Heather sews beautifully, having joined the Vintage Sewing Machine group on Facebook, that bunch of “enablers” kept posting photos of beautiful old Singers.  You know – the kind everyone’s Mum and Granny had,  all shiny black with lots of gold decoration.  I learned to sew (such as my “sewing ability” currently is) on two of those machines (a treadle and an electric) and we also had them at school.  I bet there isn’t a school in the UK who lets excitable 11 year old girls loose on such obviously horrendously dangerous equipment which is designed to murder children.  Tut. That’s why no one can sew. Besides, you only ever sewed through your finger once.  A lesson for life. You can’t beat a good solid education.

Anyway, I hankered after such a pretty little black and gold beast and I discovered that because hardly anyone sews and these machines were pretty much bombproof, there are hundreds of thousands languishing unused and neglected.  That makes them cheap to buy. Add to that the availability of parts, their reliability and virtual idiot-proof-ness, and the idiot had to have a go.

This time I did my research.  No, I really did.  I looked at Ebay for a couple of days, Googled for a bit and then chose my weapon.

28K cropped for blog

It’s no ordinary sewing machine, let me tell you.  You know that normal sewing machines have a round bobbin for the bottom thread?  This one doesn’t because they hadn’t been invented then.  She is a “vibrating shuttle” machine and has the bullet-shaped thing (above) which contains a long bobbin loaded with thread.  The pointy bullet travels forwards and backwards underneath the plate and loops its thread through the thread that the needle has just deposited through your fabric, forming a stitch.  Clever, eh?  She’s a 1901 model 28K.  The K stands for the Kilbowie factory in Clydebank where her relative Heather was also made.  So I now have two generations of Scottish singers.  Not these ones.

Lulu for blog

Sharleen for blog






Isabella (I can explain her name, if you really want to know, but it’s another convoluted story) had been living in Wales.  In a barn with chickens, judging by the look and smell of her when she arrived last Thursday. I had no idea what she was like beyond what I could see in the photos and although she was well-packaged when she arrived, the rattle from the box didn’t bode well.  I realised that if she had parts missing, I wouldn’t even know.

Oh well, too late – I had blown the enormous sum of £17 plus £15 delivery so I got my sleeves rolled up, rubber gloves on and got on t’interwebs again.  There followed a most interesting journey of discovery (story of my life) and within 4 days I had her cleaned up inside and out, oiled, threaded and last night I managed to produce this masterpiece on her first test drive.  Using the needle that she came with, some ancient thread (both no-no’s) and some old lining material.


One of us can sew.  Now I just need to produce some variations of this:

Scary sewing pattern

Sewing patterns are the next mystery to unravel.  I have the pattern, the fabric, the lining fabric, the zip, the matching thread and I’m terrified to start cutting.  I’m  liking the middle one and I’m liking the fabric that I bought enough not to ruin it with scissors yet.

Meantime, maybe I’ll just document the story of Isabella’s transformation from sad little machine so that maybe someone else who is daft enough to buy a vintage Singer sewing machine on a whim will find out how easy it is to beautify, restore and operate.  I’ve found some You Tube videos and perhaps there’s a Facebook page for Reluctant Seamstresses.

Wish me luck.

On another (connected) note, this is the car that my grandparents did their 1955 trip to Monte Carlo in –

Car to id cropped

It’s a 1954 Rover P4.  Yes, there’s a Facebook group.  Yes, I’ve joined.  Yes, I’ve got some new friends. Yes, it’s just as easy to get hold of one of them but a wee bit dearer.  That’s a whole ‘nother thread, as it were.  Let’s stick with Heather and Isabella for the next few posts.

You can find other posts about the Silly Girl’s Project by clicking on the Tag :-D

Posted in Douglas & Elsie's 1955 Road Trip, Silly Girl's Project, Singer mania | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

100th Anniversary of the Sinking of The Lusitania

A less than jolly post today.  As some of you will know, The Lusitania, a Cunard ship first launched on 7 June 1906, was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland and sunk a hundred years ago today.

Lusitania courtesy of the Lusitania Resource

One of my relations was on board with her infant son and neither body was ever recovered.  It’s a very sad family story.

Hugh Gilmour, a farmer, and Marion Mitchell Stewart married on 7 November 1883 at her family home, Carrot Farm, Eaglesham in Renfrewshire.  Hugh was a good bit older than Marion when they married – he was 39 and she was 23.   Marion moved to Hugh’s farm at Ballimore, Kilfinnan, Argyll and they went on to have two children.

Agnes Watt Gilmour was born on 24 January 1886 and she had a big brother, Hugh, who was a couple of years older than her but their father died in 1886 at the relatively young age of 42 at Ballimore.  Marion was left a widow at the age of 28, and with a 6 month old baby and small child to look after, she moved in with her unmarried brother, James Stewart, at Blairtummock Farm, Campsie in Stirlingshire.  James was my great great grandfather’s brother.

As time went on, Agnes met a young local joiner by the name of Andrew Semple.  His parents farmed nearby at Enoch Farm, but Andrew went off to Canada in 1905.  The Stewart family moved back to Carrot Farm, Eaglesham after the death of Marion and James’s brother, John, in January 1909.  Andrew returned from Canada to marry Agnes where she was living at her brother Hugh’s farm, Ardoch, on 8 March 1911 and together they left for Canada. By the time of the 1911 Canadian Census at the beginning of June, they were living in Calgary and Andrew was working as a carpenter.  Agnes returned home in 1914, perhaps so that she could be close to her mother, Marion, for the birth of her first child, which was the norm but it seems a long way to travel.

Unfortunately, Agnes and her baby, John, were travelling back to Andrew and their new home in Canada from Scotland on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed on 7 May 1915.

To make things even worse for this family, Agnes’s brother, Hugh, died on 26 February 1919 aged 34 in the vicious third wave of the huge influenza epidemic of 1918-1919  and their mother, Marion, followed suit two days later at the age of 58.

Stewart Gilmour Semple headstone Lusitania

You can find out more about the Lusitania, including details of crew and passengers, the story of what happened in the run up to the sinking and the associated controversies at the Lusitania Resource.

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One step forwards and more than one step backwards

I thought I’d give you (both) an update on the progress of the Silly Girl’s Project (also known as the Big Road Trip from Dunfermline to Monte Carlo).  Look – my grandparents did it in 1955 and it’s not very far at all when you’re leaving 3 children at home and taking off with your wife, brother and sister in law for a jolly.

Map Dunfermline to Monte Carlo

A few weeks ago, while thumbing through the photo album of Douglas and Elsie’s trip, I was gripped by a moment of sheer genius.  After due consideration of all the pros (lots) and cons (one, but it’s only money), I announced to the world that Mr IP and I were going to do the road trip to Monte Carlo just like my grandparents did in 1955.

We had a somewhat animated discussion after he read the blog, but he thought it was a splendid idea.  This is quite fortunate as his car is a vital component in my plan.

Mr IP Rides Again

I’m very keen on this idea and the flashes of brilliance are popping up with amazing regularity.  From a road trip, it morphed into a road trip in costume – 1950’s costume.  We rushed off to Armstrong’s Vintage the following Saturday and had a good rummage and left with one fedora (his).  Naturally, I only saw one item that I deemed eminently suitable and it was a red flowery dress in the window.  Apparently someone else had their name on it already.

I’m not easily deterred.  I developed Pinterestmania and soon had a massive board full of fabulous ideas at equally fabulous prices.  As you know, I’m a “can do” sort of person so the next stage of the plan became “make outfits for trip”.  There.  Wardrobe sorted.  There were a few minor details to tidy up before I could put the wardrobe part into action:

1)   Acquire a sewing machine

2)  Try to remember how to use it, if I ever knew how to use one PROPERLY

By chance I mentioned to someone that I was looking for a second hand Singer and she told me that there were several at a charity shop in Bonnyrigg.  I whizzed along there a couple of days later and found this little cracker – a Singer 201K (1958, made in Scotland) and nabbed it for £35.

My Singer 201K

I lugged it to the pavement where the lady from the shop (Janet, my new BFF) had arranged for A Man to lift it into the back of my car.  This turned out to be Colin, whose fish van occupies the space outside the shop every Saturday morning.   So I scored myself two pieces of smoked haddock for dinner at the same time.  I’m unstoppable.  Janet also told me about that rare breed of shops – the local hardware store – where I could buy sewing machine oil.  You know the sort of place – mouse traps, paraffin, teapots and garden rakes.  Fork handles – humour peculiar to the Brits.

Sadly, Colin had declined to come to my house for his tea so I was on my own at the home end but I managed to grapple the Singer out of the car and very nearly to the front door. Dragging it across the grass was one thing but lugging it up two steps was quite another.   An emergency phone call to my brother fixed that problem as he and his mate nipped straight round and put in the hallway, and all for a couple of home made muffins each.

The sewing machine was pretty dirty and dusty and the elderly electrics concerned me a bit, but Mrs ICanDoIt got it cleaned up enough to be allowed to stay in the house.  Then I got on T’interwebs to find out a bit about it – well, go me!  If I hadn’t chanced upon THE very model of vintage Singer to have.  Not only is it the proper sewing person’s machine of choice and made in Scotland, but it’s apparently bombproof and all Singer’s attachments fit all Singer machines.  You can call me Lucky White Heather.

I’ve got the original instruction book so I knew where to oil it and which bits are supposed to do what but it wasn’t happy.  After many phone calls and some increasingly desperate Googling, I managed to download a PDF of “The Singer-201-Service-Adjusters-Manual“.  Yes, yes, I know, straying into dangerous territory, but by now there was no going back.  After much tinkering and a lot of WD40, a magnifying glass, a torch, an old toothbrush and a shed load of cotton buds, SHE LIVES!  I fitted a new needle, threaded her up and managed to sew a stack of kitchen paper together before she fainted.  I suppose it’s all been too much for her for one day.  I’ll try again tomorrow.

Meantime, I’m still working on how to turn myself into Audrey Hepburn.  The news about progress on that might be a long time coming.  I started by buying liquid eyeliner which everyone says is very easy to apply once you get the hang of it. Ha.  Heard that one before. Thankfully, I had the good sense to notice that the packaging says “waterproof, 24 hour wear” on it before I did some face painting then had to go to Boots the Chemist for special makeup remover with a bag over my head.

I can tell that this Silly Girl’s Project is going to be a lot of fun.  I suspect that there could be several wrong turnings and possibly a breakdown, before we hit the road :-)



Posted in Douglas & Elsie's 1955 Road Trip, Silly Girl's Project, Singer mania | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Up a tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

I have resurrected my poor abandoned Images Past blog after a couple of years of neglect. At the moment, it features old family photos – many from the 1920’s albums that landed in my possession.  I usually post a photo and say who’s in it, what they’re doing (or what I suspect that they’re doing) and chat about who they were and what they were like.  If I don’t know, I cast aspersions.  Sometimes it’s even amusing.  Many of my family were (I said WERE) a bit crackers and make good subjects.  Like Granny (1909-1967) up a tree.(The boys were her cousins and they were close all their lives. Check out the “Great Granny’s album” tag for more pics of this Granny being irreverent ;-) my other Granny was less dignified)


I’m testing out the links between the blog and Facebook but please have a look if you are intrigued, follow if you fancy keeping up with it and leave comments if you are entertained/appalled/ambivalent.  Actually, if you were ambivalent…

I’ve resumed my Sepia Saturday weekly posts and others will follow in between, as and when I find a pic that I find interesting.  There’s no money-back guarantee that anyone else will share my sense of humour, nor will I be held responsible for any cleanup operations resulting from “coffee down the nose” moments, should they occur.

Re-establishing the link with Twitter is proving rather more challenging…

Jo :-)

Posted in Great Granny's album, Photos, Sepia Saturday | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Hard hats must be worn

This week’s Sepia Saturday inspirational photo shows linesmen maintaining electrical cables in Tasmania around 1969.


As soon as I saw the prompt I knew that, by some bizarre coincidence, I had the perfect photo in Douglas and Elsie’s album from their road trip to Monte Carlo in 1955.

I know I’m still in the very early stages of planning our re-enactment of their trip but I had to zoom ahead 1026 miles from home to Grindelwald – a village in Switzerland.



I wondered if this man with a good bunnet for heights was working on the cable car system.

After a considerable amount of time spent Googling, I think it is the precursor to the Grindelwald–Männlichen gondola cableway which links the two villages.

The Wengen–Männlichen Aerial Cableway officially opened in July 1954 so presumably this guy was just greasing a few cables?

Whilst Douglas and Elsie may not have been ski enthusiasts in their younger days, they were both very active after retirement.  Elsie, in particular, was always game to try anything at least once.  Douglas was rather more reserved but any form of transport fascinated him, and he tried out a couple of options on snow.

Douglas skis

Douglas had a motorbike from a very early age and spent his working life in the motor trade – cars and bikes were his thing.  He was equally at home whizzing about on some new-fangled contraption.

Douglas Skidoo

It’s just a glorified motorbike!

I’m sure that they had a wonderful trip to Monaco and back and we’re looking forward to doing (almost) exactly the same!

See what the other Sepians made of this week’s old photo prompt.


Posted in Douglas & Elsie's 1955 Road Trip, Photos, Sepia Saturday, Silly Girl's Project | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dog cart. What on earth does this have to do with Grace Kelly?


Sepia Saturday – where we are inspired to use old photographs for new reflections.

I found this photo while hatching a cunning (up till now secret) plan for an adventure for Mr ImagesPast and me. It’s wheeled transport of a sort, only dog-propelled.

Dog cartI don’t know exactly where this was taken, but here’s where it was taken from:

Album Cover Douglas & Elsie

Douglas and Elsie were my Mum’s parents and Gordon was Douglas’s brother. Along with Douglas’s sister-in-law Betty, they went on an epic road trip from Scotland around parts of Europe in May/June 1955, which is almost 60 years ago.  Time to celebrate their Diamond Anniversary of their holiday.

Here’s a photo that I haven’t identified yet, so there’s a bit of research to be done while I have the map out trying to follow their route.

who knows
My brilliant idea is to recreate said road trip (and photos) as a surprise and I’m looking forward to Mr ImagesPast’s reaction which, I am sure, will be huge excitement followed by a packing spree.  It will also be a way of him justifying the bespoke luggage he recently ordered to fit in the boot of his car.  We will, of course, need to take his car to fit in with the idea of me as Grace Kelly.   Oh, now, there’s another thought, what a lovely souvenir a diamond or two would make.


(Photo courtesy of

Please send petrol money and we’ll send you a postcard.  I know how Alan likes a postcard :-)

Zoom off to Sepia Saturday to see where everyone else is going.

Posted in Douglas & Elsie's 1955 Road Trip, Photos, Sepia Saturday, Silly Girl's Project | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

My Life with Machinery

I’m bouncing back at Sepia Saturday’s inspirational photo, if I can remember how to put a blog post together – the transport theme continues but this photo reminded me of my very VERY first blog from 18 August 2010…

2015.03W.09 Sepia Saturday 28 March 2015

My Dad was a farmer and he had an interest in vintage tractors and farm equipment. Over the years this became increasingly important to him and his enthusiasm seemed to be without limits. The rest of the family did not necessarily go along with this. In particular, one tractor was almost grounds for divorce… For my maiden blog, I scanned a variety of postcards which had been pinned to the wall in Dad’s office for years. I’m not sure how I ended up with them, or why I kept them, but finally they had a use – a rather dull post with only a minor breakthrough of humour at the very end. No one read it and no one commented on it, but don’t feel sorry for me – was I discouraged? Noooooo! For insomniacs, you will join the other 411 people who are still sleeping it off after reading it sometime in the four years since.

I have a newspaper cutting showing Dad with the actual “grounds for divorce” piece of mechanical financial drain at the Royal Highland Show but I couldn’t put my hands on it so I googled and found a splendid and relatively glamorous version of the tatty implement Dad bought in the US and had shipped all the way back to the UK. You can imagine my Mum’s total jubilation.

“Advance Rumely Oil Pull” by Doug Coldwell – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Such was Dad’s love of this soot-spewer that we kids had our annual “family photo” taken with it. Again, deep joy and happiness, rust streaks on the good dress and tears before bedtime. And that was just my mother. You can just imagine 4 well-dressed and scrubbed children pretending to look overjoyed at their annual photography punishment.

However, all this exposure to mucky, noisy farm equipment must have had an effect on me because I seem to have been surrounded by things on wheels ever since. My racing pram obviously came first (and well before the days of the Rumely) but I was starting off on the right track, as it were.  Fellow Sepians will have read about my pram in Sepia Saturday 134 but here it is to remind you.

me & mum March 1965

The years rolled by, I leapt on and off motorbikes at every opportunity, travelled in and drove some terrible death traps.  The cars rolled by and finally I was 21. I didn’t want the big party and the fuss so the Mechanical Genius came up with his best idea yet. This..

21st birthday Mini and balloon bashing

I couldn’t have wished for a better 21st birthday present. It had superwide wheels, a white leather steering wheel and rather attractive brown nylon upholstery. Yay, me!

Thousands of happy miles and numerous cars later, I chanced upon this outside a bar in Tenerife and it made my holiday, as you can see…

Tenerife poser

Mainly because it was a break from the kind of industrial equipment I was working with at the time.

Rab and Johnny B messing about

Another few years down the line and it was time to pretend to be sensible but I had a special guest on my wedding day, and even Mum thought it was funny. My favourite of Dad’s collection – his 3 wheeled John Deere.

John Deere wedding

I’ve written numerous other posts which include vehicles of one kind or another, but my favourite is probably the post for Sepia Saturday 101  which shows some photos from Great Granny’s album.  It’s mildly amusing and a couple of those photos led me to do a little research on cars made in Scotland by ladies for ladies – now there’s something I heartily approve of!

Get your skates on and whizz over to see what the other Sepia Saturday contributors made of this week’s prompt.


Posted in Great Granny's album, Photos, Sepia Saturday | 9 Comments