Vintage treasures could tell many a tale

Last updated 09:00 15/03/2014
Glenys Groucott
FLORAL FANTASY: Glenys Groucott with flowery 1950s dress in as-new condition

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Once upon a time, a young girl had a brand-new pink summer dress. But it was stored away, hardly worn - and stayed that way for more than 60 years.

A "best" linen and lace tablecloth once graced a family dinner table. It survives after a long lifetime, though its owners have faded into history.

A 50-year-old set of green linen dinner napkins sits in a never-opened box.

What are the stories of these past possessions?

"We wish we knew more about these kinds of things," say the women who work behind the scenes for Palmerston North's annual Yesterday's Treasures vintage sale.

The sale, run by Methodist Social Services, opens next Saturday, March 22, at the Ferguson St Leisure Centre.

"I've had quite a few people tell me it's the highlight of their year," says Val Dittmer, one of the team who selects and prepares the donated treasures on display.

Yesterday's Treasures is a short sale - just four hours, from 10am to 2pm - but in that time a wealth of donated olden-day goods ranging from accessories and clothes to crystal, silver and china, jewellery, old books and toys and bits and pieces of all descriptions will be up for grabs.

A map of the venue's layout and areas of interest is handed out to each visitor.

That "best" tablecloth will be for sale.

"I can't put a date on it," says Val Dittmer. "It could have been made any time from the 1910s to the 1950s." She spent an hour and a half ironing it after a gentle cleansing process, ready for the lucky new owner.

Glenys Groucott shows a pristine, flower-patterned 1950s dress with full pleated skirt - waiting for just the right wearer.

Another find is a girl's white bolero jacket, as good as new and expertly embroidered with brilliantly coloured cornflowers, ladybirds and butterflies.

Bev Thompson's specialty is bygone crystal and china. This year, she has polished a range of crystal items for sale - a clock set in faceted crystal, crystal dishes, candlesticks and vases.

Lila Matheson has washed, mended and restored donated vintage baby and children's clothing throughout the year - matching pure wool knitted garments to appropriate-period wool thread and antique ribbons and laces.

The centrepiece of her sale area is old-fashioned christening gowns (a newly emerging tradition inspired by baby Prince George's heirloom gown). Her wares include beautifully reinvented gowns remade with antique fabrics. One cream silk gown with unusual yoke and sleeves "originally started life as a silk petticoat", she explains.

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Val Dittmer's passion is vintage clothing and accessories, and her corner of the Leisure Centre will feature a cluster of fashion mannequins illustrating "the Perfect Woman of the 1950s". None of the mannequins' clothing will be for sale - it's from her own collection - but there will be plenty of other vintage dresses, coats, hats and accessories to choose from, including a genuine Louis Vuitton handbag.

A forgotten 1950s wedding custom came to light this year when a donor handed in a brocade wedding dress, along with a small doll dressed in an exact replica of the bride's outfit.

Many years ago, these dolls were attached to the front of the taxi in which the bride was driven to a church for her wedding ceremony.

Donations from the local public, including vintage memorabilia, come in throughout the year at the Methodist church's two stores - Goodwill in Terrace End, and Highbury House in the Highbury shopping centre - are deposited in the charity bins outside St Paul's Church and Wesley Centre on Broadway, or left at the church office.

Val, Glenys, Bev and Lila and other core team members have spent months selecting and preparing saleable items for their new lease of life. With collectible linens, often yellowed with age, it's a big task restoring them to their original snowy whiteness.

Modern chemical cleaners can't be used on old fabrics. Val's alternative method is, she says: "Napisan and sunshine, and sometimes lemon juice."

The team also prices every article for sale, often consulting antique experts for advice. Sale prices are reasonable, but also need to reflect a piece's heritage value. On the day, more than 50 volunteers man displays, handle payments, keep things tidy and clean up afterwards.

Unsold items go to Goodwill or are held until the next year.

Money raised from Yesterday's Treasures helps fund Social Services' food bank, free counselling and education courses for children and parents, low-cost counselling and personal development programmes for adults; and various other services.

The women at the heart of this enterprise have their reasons for working so hard.

For Bev, who has spent many years working for charitable causes, it's because it's for charity; for Lila, widow of the late city archivist Ian Matheson, it's because of a love of history and a skill for special sewing projects; and for Val and Glenys, because of the sheer joy of keeping our local past alive.

Next Saturday's sale is bound to stir nostalgic memories.

Val Dittmer says: "We want people to realise that the things they donate will get the best of attention - we send everything on its way in good condition."

She pauses a moment, and then adds: "In our own tiny little way, I think we're saving New Zealand's heritage."


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- Manawatu Standard


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