Cozy Up to Vintage Handwoven Textiles

Is there a better way to add bright beautiful color to a corner or a sofa or a bed then with a colorful handwoven textiles? From hand crocheted afghans to hand woven Saltillo blankets – it seems like their color and beautiful details add so much to any environment. Especially since no two pieces are exactly alike.

In the winter or a chilly night in any season, a pile of blankets is comforting. On one of those nights, when hibernating seems like part of the natural rhythm of life . . . grab an afghan or a blanket, pick up that book or maybe even, watch the final season of Downton Abbey.

A stack of vintage textiles - runners, rugs, afghan and Saltillo blankets.
A stack of vintage textiles – runners, rugs, afghan and Saltillo blankets.

Plain Old White Ironstone Bowls – Perfect for Chili

Plain Old White Ironstone Bowls – Perfect for Chili

Plain Old White Chili Bowl, Buffalo China

A good chili bowl should hold chili. A better than good bowl for chili should not be too wide  – leave the wide bowl for cereal. A wide bowl holds the contents certainly but the narrower width means that the chili will cool down quicker. Maybe a small thing. But early pottery manufacturers in Ohio recognized these small yet critical differences for the food service industry – restaurants, hotels,…

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Selling Pieces of the Past: The World is Your Marketplace

Governor  James Rhodes brought the dream of the Appalachian Highway to life with a lot of political capital earned over the span of a long political career. Born and raised in Southern Ohio, his efforts on behalf of the people and the economy of Appalachian Ohio are still remembered. Jimmy, as the old timers call him, is a local hero.

Appalachian Highway, Wikipedia.


Others traveling through the region might read the roadside sign dedicated to his memory. As one newspaper reported:

On its long, empty stretches, the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway gives drivers green vistas of southern Ohio’s rolling hills. This is not the green that planners had in mind.

The need for connecting roads was felt long before Governor Rhodes. H. R. Wylie, the owner of the pottery in Huntington, was very active in politics on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River. Mr. Wylie lobbied for support, invested a great deal of money to effect change and even entertained the idea of running for state office. Roads were essential for commerce – which as every school boy knows is good for the people.

A Railroad Tunnel Built in the Late 19th Century, Moonville, Ohio.

Amesville, Ohio: A Place Called Home


Living in a small town is easy. The drive to the post office, bank or small grocery store/gas station is about seven minutes or 2 1/2 miles. It is a beautiful drive  . . . it looks a lot like the drawing of The Ohio Company.  In Amesville, there are no traffic lights.  There is very little traffic. There are very few residents; around 150-200 lucky people live here.

Ugly Christmas Jacket Give Away

At 6:00 today, we will draw the winner for the Red Plaid Jacket by Pendleton. Rest assured the wool will help keep you warm.  It is shocking to me but plaid jackets are fashionable? One just sold on Etsy; they called it a hipster jacket. I found a red plaid dress; red plaid skirt and Tommy Hilfiger in a Red Plaid Dinner Jacket.

MET_Punk_Tommy-Hilfiger rita-ora-dkny-show__oPt

Maybe the red plaid isn’t so ugly?


Enter for the give away today – a red plaid jacket!

There has not been an overwhelming response.. .

There is still time; give away ends at 5:00 today.  . .

; .

Dickens, Coal Miners and The Spirit of Christmas

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Illus. Arthur Rackman
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Illus. Arthur Rackman

Lately, I have wondered about the life of a miner. This comes as no surprise since Putnam and Speedwell occupies a house that was once a home for a miner and his family at Eclipse Company Town. The houses are cute; but they are small, it seems to me, for a family. I wonder about life without privacy and shared beds, even though I understand that family life was different for most of history. Thinking about the holidays has fueled my curiosity. My first stop on this journey was A Christmas Carol.

The classic work by Charles Dickens still stirs emotion if not a few tears.  The meaning of life is revealed to Scrooge in a series of glimpses into the lives of other people who do not possess his great wealth but enjoy happiness surrounded by family and friends.  The miner’s camp is one of the scenes, they are gathered together enjoying the Christmas festivities. The importance of the gathering is the sense of community shared by these men who “labour in the bowels of the earth.” As Dickens wrote, “So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.” The old man was sustained by the camaraderie in the coal town – as were other miners across the globe.

Garbutt Mine
Miners in Garbutt Mine, Glouster, Ohio

Many early academics and government officials missed the sense of community. Their studies stressed the squalor and poor health among the miners, while recent research and personal accounts emphasize that life in a coal camp “was not always drab” but rather “it could be fun.” (1) Elizabeth Ferguson Brown writes that, “The brightness of these homes comes from within.”(2)

Picnic Time
Picnic Time

I must admit that I had accepted the dismal portraits of coal mine towns and missed the light that comes form within. Along with Scrooge,  I recognized the generosity of spirit in the faces of miners and their families. The miner’s house that we occupy as tenants is not the same place; but, we will do our best to let the light shine – especially for the Holidays. Let the merriment begin!

 `What place is this,’ asked Scrooge. `A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,’ returned the Spirit. `But they know me. See.’ A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a  Christmas song — it had been a very old song when he was a boy — and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits

The Gift: The Story of The Homer Laughlin Plate

Almost, thirty years ago, a package arrived postmarked from the Homer Laughlin Company, Newell, West Virginia quite unexpectedly. A few days before, we were at the International Housewares Exhibition in Chicago. It was a big deal, a really big deal. Now, as then, it was the biggest trade show in the country at one of the biggest exhibition halls in the world under one roof.  McCormick Place, a modernist structure designed by Gene Simmons, a student of Mies van der Rohe, is located on Lake Michigan. Sited as it was, the rebuilt McCormick place celebrated space perched on the coast with an unending vista of water and sky – the building occupies acres of land yet does not obstruct the view like a skyscraper while the interior remains open. Stepping into that place was a tad intimidating for a fledgling very small business owner but, how else to know what is happening?

Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate
Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate

One of the hundreds of exhibitors was The Homer Laughlin Company represented by a Mr. Wells. He was very generous with his time; he welcomed us into the booth heartily. As we spoke, the conversation turned to patterns. The new line of colorful Fiesta Ware was popular, but I gravitated toward a pure white plate with a deep rim, scalloped edge and classic ornamentation. It was very modern looking – but not. The plate was a part of the Best China Line i.e.. Restaurant Ware.

Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware
Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware

He asked, “Why would you want this plate?” Later informing me that he could not sell this plate to a retail outlet unless we could order large quantities. His warmth and kindliness made the bad news sound not so bad. Three days later, the plate arrived.

For many years, this plate was part of the lore of our family. . . the story was,  “a manager from Homer Laughlin sent this plate.” The plate packed a powerful message; generosity and kindness. This story remains one of the most important business lessons that I have learned. Over the years, the pleasant memory inspired a collection of white restaurant ware. It has been a sentimental journey from that memorable beginning.

Years later, I learned that the history of the Homer Laughlin Company was integral to understanding the history of Ohio River Pottery. As it turned out, Mr. Wells was not merely a manager or salesperson. His family owned and operated the Homer Laughlin Company.  The Wells family led an expansion of the pottery. By the end of the nineteenth century, five kilns produced white ware instead of the much maligned yellow ware produced throughout the nineteenth century.

Laced thought out early accounts of the Pottery Industry, there are comments made by workers, observers and reporters. Most commentators noticed the mutual respect that owners shared with workers – mutual respect become one of the core values for the Homer Laughlin Company and the other potteries in East Liverpool. So, it was no accident that Mr. Wells sent the plate that he could sell.

The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)
The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)


Selling Pieces of the Past, II

Hard to believe that it has been one year since Putnam and Speedwell 
planted roots in Athens . . . a few thoughts about growing pains!


Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town
Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town

We rented the space at Eclipse Company Town, an old mining town, last November about ten days before Thanksgiving. I was thinking that we could whip it into shape by Thanksgiving. We missed the mark. No kidding! The stress was too much; it is not unusual to lose business partners. And I did soon after renting the new space. A start-up takes grit, determination and even sleepless nights that winnow out the weak.  I went on alone in the endeavor. I had confidence, energy, experience and a lot of spirit . . . enough to overcome this loss. Certainly, I was stunned but I looked at strengths . . .and perhaps foolishly, overlooked any weaknesses.

1. Finding vintage furnishings was not new to me. It had become a habit, you might say, to look for great old things for our great old homes that needed lots of work. Perhaps more importantly, we understood the value of reducing waste. McDonald’s began promoting Happy Meals to sell burgers to children . . .outraged Daddy would drive out to the landfill with our very young children in tow! I often wonder if the effect was akin to “the starving children in _____”  talk given by my father when liver was served. So vintage and antique bargains were one of my specialties – a natural fit for those of us that gravitated toward great old houses.

2. In a previous life, I owned a retail storefront borne from my love for pure soap that was hard to find in the old days . . . pure cotton accoutrements of all kinds and linens. My sisters and brothers worked hard and built a great enterprise that became too big for us to handle . . . I had an intimate understanding of  the danger of burn out. That storefront was huge 2500 square foot; and the new storefront was small and dry so it seemed just right. . .

3. Another plus, or so I believed was my experience with the Internet in my previous life. I relied on the internet for research, as in historical research. I believed that I lived in a golden age. The Internet was a BIG step for the democratization of knowledge connecting libraries and even archives. But at a desk in a research library or on a computer, the work is quiet and solitary most of the time.


If I understood my strengths, I also misunderstood a few deficits. The learning curve for Social Media and Social Marketing. Hmmmm . . .  this was a new  world with a steep learning curve!

In that other life, we built the business one person at a time and one day at a time – and time was slower. The internet was a boon to every entrepreneur on the block, right? Yes, but the process of learning took months not weeks nor days . . . At the beginning of this first year, I was not on Facebook, I did not Tweet nor did I blog – I am a very private person, I read history, I wrote, gardened and cooked like a madwoman and took long walks. Stepping onto this public platform was a venture like no other . . . but yet, since I overcame my fear of public speaking in large lecture halls with low light and Powerpoint, I believed that I was up to the challenge.

Thank heavens my daughter although incredibly busy with her venture and growing family came to my aid on many occasions. But still, there were many nights that I greeted the morning sun . . . WordPress is easy up to a point. . . Facebook was very difficult. Share? Follow? Friend? I looked at these words with an archaic mentality. . . still I do not know exactly how to tweet or exactly what to tweet. I rely on software that is on the Cloud . . .the big bunny cloud up there next to the giant hippo . . . Shopseen. A big help until I clicked buttons without understanding the danger of over-posting which of course led to unlikes which made me cry.  Alyssa, another daughter, helped ease the pain . .. “this is not the real world, Mom” . . . since she too has built a business online with her husband. Thank heavens too for Novak, who stood by with confort et aide as an expert in logistics.

The energy and determination soon dwindled. Sleepless nights are not good at my age.  Normally, I am quite healthy. Not this year . . . influenza and a fever that spiked at 104 degrees, an infection that ended with cellulitis on my face (very ugly) , DVT (get off your feet, they said) and last but not least, the wet winter and spring rain led to high levels of  mold/mildew at the storefront.  Oh and last but not least – the snow! Driving to town was nearly impossible at times. On one occasion, I had a hard time  finding the car buried under the snow for days! There were times, I could not make it to the store and worse yet, I had not hired anyone to  be there if and when I was not. Big mistakes . . . bought a 4WD truck and de-humidifier! I prioritized –  letting go of furniture restoration, home renovation and big landscaping projects. I sleep more, eat more and laugh more.  I wonder if my home will ever really be clean and tidy again! (Whew – talk about going public!)

It has been an amazing year of growth. The storefront at Eclipse is finally coming together . . . and selling online is coming along nicely  . . . but still need to find a few good people to help grow the business. There are many ways we can grow – and serve the community better.

I have met some really terrific people online and at the storefront at Eclipse. I am thrilled that I am once again doing history – now with two books outlined, research progressing and ready to start writing . . . God Willing and the Creek don’t Rise!  I am learning to take the time to do the little things that bring joy, health and happiness – and let go of the bumps along the way. You might say that this has been the worst of times and the best of times.

And last but not least,  thank you to every one who has helped along the way with patience, kindness and the incredible gift of friendship. It is hard to stumble  in the public arena; but, it would be impossible to recover without the kindness of others. 

Now, it might just be a good time to celebrate times past and the good times to come!




The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that…

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The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine
Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that feature a mouse?
They are the perfect colors and will complete our vintage holiday decorating guide.
Your shop will be credited and I will return them to you promptly.
Please let me know today as I am on deadline.
Thank you!
Sarah Jane O’Keefe

Well, I said, maybe this is legitimate. I texted my closest advisors for advise (my internet savvy children).

I paraphrase, The editor had asked that I send a set of china for a photo shoot for the Christmas issue.

Here is where it gets really funny – all of the opinions were all different of course but,

I was very surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the little project, the presence of Putnam and Speedwell

in a successful national magazine and the suggestion that a legal contract was needed, otherwise,

it simply would not happen.

Well, maybe I should just forget about it and text her that are not interested.

But, I thought, what if . . . ? So, I decided to take the chance, the leap of of faith, if you will, that we can trust –

even if we have not met face to face. So, immediately, I began researching the magazine (legitimate),

the story editor (found her byline in previous issues) and the address that she had sent. It all checked out.

No, I did not draw up a contract nor did I ask her to pay for the china . .  .but I did write on the packing list

the expected date of return. I figured, what the heck anyway – they are concerned about losing a few dishes?!?

Really! Then they really do not understand how many dishes there are in the barn!

The package arrived in a timely manner with the pink pastel mouse on a green Christmas wreath. . .Sarah Jane also included a note thanking me and remarked that the mouse was “just the right touch” . . .

The whole episode was quickly forgotten . . . at first, I refused to tell anyone – JINX. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I had any news and then suggested that I contact the editor. But, I did not follow her advise (a big mistake) . . . and I realized that I had really pushed it way back in my mind – as in nearly forgotten! I then re-listed the dishes on Etsy!


Late last Thursday, I noticed that there were lots and lots of people visiting And we had a lot of new orders – it was the weekend of the Halloween Block Party and a birthday party for my beautiful little nieces!  In the middle of the night, the cell phone  continued to vibrate and then, the familiar sound of a vintage cash register, CHA-CHING.

I was still clueless. I did not know how to account for the dramatic increase of visitors to the blog –

Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse
Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse

or on Etsy. One of the hot items was dinnerware decorated with a Christmas Mouse.

Here is the description on Etsy,

The design – a certain favorite for children of all ages –
incorporates a retro color palette that includes pink, peach
and green on a white background.


In a note to one buyer, Carol, I mentioned that the Christmas Mouse had quite an adventure – he travelled all the way to California for a photo shoot. So maybe, “your plates will appear in the magazine.” Carol replied, “I saw the set in Romantic Homes that’s why I looked at your Etsy site to see if you had any left. I was lucky!”  Mystery Solved!


And then a big whoop . . . . YAAAA HOOOO!   Cowabunga . . . YES!

Next stop . . . Little Professor. Of course, they had the issue in stock, found The Special Christmas Issue by Romantic Homes but then read the little blurb aloud:

Sweet Details . . . .This sweet set, featuring mice busily preparing for

Christmas, is from the Putnam & Speedwell Etsy Shop.


But still there is a mystery.

Notice that Sarah Jane nor I mention the name of this pattern!

Looking at the bottom of the plate, my hunch is that it was manufactured by Royal China.

The colors lead me to think that it was produced mid-century.

But still, I do not know the pattern name. So, we will offer a 25.00 gift certificate at Putnam and Speedwell.

That’s right.  If you know the name of this pattern, you can let me know with a comment.


Thank you Sarah Jane!  Carol, thanks for solving the mystery! Thank you Etsy. for making it easy to access a large, very large, audience.

Thanks also to my family . . .

(Mom, you need to sell on Etsy! Etsy?)


Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes
Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes

Vintage Fashion

IMG_6683I have been watching The Paradise on PBS; I admit that I began watching it as a fix. I missed that other series about Mr. Selfridge. Imagine, all the way from Marshall Field to London. The spirit of the age (the Zeitgeist) is palpable in both series – the optimism in modern science, technology, and industrialization influenced style, fashion and taste. The world, they believed, was a better place for all of humanity. And in many ways, their world view was well-founded on the evidence around them – electricity, communication, transportation and medicine. Their style was a visual display of modern luxury  – new luxuries like turning on a light past dark and reading!  It was a revolution.


Today, the marketplace is brimming with readily available and fashionable clothing; yet all too often, fine craftsmanship has disappeared – at an affordable price. Part of the appeal of vintage fashion is that we can enjoy beautiful materials and workmanship without breaking our budget. And, there is also social responsibility – vintage goods of all kinds are integral to a sustainable economic system. Whew! Having said all of that, vintage clothing is a part of history.

I enjoy the theater of dress – and the theater created by Mr. Selfridge and the ficitonal, Mr. Moray. I marvel at the clothing Ginger Rodgers wore as she danced away the night, Katherine Hepburn in pants that flowed like a skirt and followed every curve. And so on . . . like Ingrid Bergman, who looked beautiful no matter what she wore – and still looks beautiful behind a mink stole on a mannequin in a small, very small vintage store. Hmmm, that brings up fur and the bad wrap it has in today’s world (no pun intended)  . . . The allure of the forties was elegance. Growing up, there were women who attended church with a fur coat – my great aunt was one of them. It was Chicago. In Chicago, winter is cold – no matter what the temperature, the wind off the lake is cold. . . the antidote before the new man made ultra loft fillings was fur. Fur is warm . . . Last winter, I wore a vintage fur jacket and now, I do not think that I could give it up. I hate being cold when I am outside – and I like being out of doors.

When I run across beautiful things that are appealing and bring to mind an era of fashion then I can imagine that they would add personality, color and even usefulness in the present to a wardrobe. So it is with the sequined dress made in Italy with fine wool and hand sewn sequins that are 1/2 in diameter. I am not so good with a camera – capturing the play of light is difficult and so too, it is impossible to portray the fit. This dress is short enough and tight enough but not form fitting.  . . . actually it is perfect!


I am also quite taken with the pure all out eighties look of the long dress that takes off from the psychedelia of the seventiesIMG_5819. . . .look at the gold coins! Not the kind of dress to wear if you do not want to be noticed. . . . The colors are disco happy. Hard to imagine having a bad time wearing this dress. The detail in this dress is absolutely excellent – lined, the coins are hand applied as is the gold trim. I imagine that shimmery sandals would work well and still allow perfect comfort . . . my daughter, who knows so much more about fashion than I, suggested the fur stole. And of course, she is right – partly because, this dress seems to require an extraordinary occasion and a puffy coat, well, it would be out of sync . . . but a stole, like a mink stole would make it theater . . .

Lots and lots of new things in store that I hope to get online – lots of slip dresses, and new vintage imported from Austin,  reminiscent of my hippie past.