dear annie

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I REMEMBER my grandmother talking about using ash to clean clothes many years ago. I never thought to ask her how it worked, do you know?

Hannah Canvers, London

Well, I hope you all enjoyed Mr Annie last week, ladies and gentlemen. He seemed very smug with himself indeed on my return. I rather fear he may not want to relinquish his new-found crown quite so easily. Oh dear. And I never knew he drank Double Diamond, ha! He can make his own bloody pumpkin ravioli. Anyway, onto important business. I, too, have heard of this, my mother sometimes talks about this way of doing the laundry. It does sound odd, doesn't it. But, basically, the way it worked was that ashes were collected (white ashes, not the dirty, sooty ones), mixed with water and poured over clothes that were piled up in big sinks. This was repeated as many times as was necessary. This ashy water mixture is known as lye and the reason it worked was because lye is alkaline, which is meant to remove grease. So, as the lye soaked through, the clothes would get clean. Thank goodness AEG came along, eh? (Incidentally, I got this info from a fantastic little book called Care Of Clothes, published by the National Trust, pounds 4.99. You can buy it at any NT shoppie and it is fascinatingly full of olde worlde stuff like this, and fair does me out of a job.)

Do you know of anyone who makes cream-coloured ovens, apart from Stoves. We have ordered all other electrical items for the kitchen from Hotpoint in linen/calico, but cannot find oven to match. Please help.

P O'Donnelly, Essex

I had to print this because I have been getting more and more queries of a non-fashion nature. One gentleman even asked what golf clubs I recommended. I don't really mind, although very often I haven't a clue. Like in this case. I mean, I could do loads of research into it, but I fear this may be opening the floodgates. If anyone has an idea, write in to me. One question though, P O'Donnelly, if you've ordered all your electrical bits and bobs in linen/calico, how will they stand up on their own? Ha ha ha ha.

Please help! My Prada tote bag is beginning to look old and battered. I can't afford a new one (my boyfriend won't give me his credit card), so is there a service where I can get it cleaned and shaped to its original beautiful form?

Anna, Stoke-on-Trent

Anna, Anna, Anna. All sorts of comments come to mind here: starving children; cures for cancer; hospital waiting lists; old people and broken hips; not enough books in schools; not enough meadows in the countryside; over-population; shrinking ice caps; Prada bags, bit passe; et cetera. Not to mention expecting your boyfriend to cough up. But where would the world be without nylon frippery? Anyhoo, I stuck an aubergine in my mouth and rang the Prada shop. I was rather flabbergasted to hear that they DO NOT provide a cleaning or a re-shaping service, "Nothing lasts forever," they said. Miuccia, Miuccia: che vergonia! They do, however, recommend Scovies (35 Dulwich Village, London SE21, 0181 693 2755), where they send all Prada clothes and accessories for cleaning. (I'm not sure what they mean by this as they don't provide a cleaning service ...) Scovies clean each bag individually - which costs between pounds 15 and pounds 50 depending on bag, trimmings, etc. No chance of re-shaping (apparently bags should be kept like shoes and boys - stuffed when not in use). I also rang the TSA (Textile Services Association, 0181 863 7755) to find cleaners registered in Stoke, and they had four. If your bag is nylon try the Sketchley Dry Cleaners, 38 Gaolgate Street, Stafford, (01785 258908). They will do it if there's a care label which says dry cleaning is poss. It will cost around pounds 5. If there's any plastic on it they won't, because it will be ruined - they recommended bringing it in for them to have a look at. For cleaning purposes, you could also try saddle soap. But otherwise, looks like you'll have to flash your boyfie and steal his wallet while he's still in shock.

After Sue Davies' request (20 April) for the name of a good, old-fashioned corset maker for her husband (who has a bad back), my West Coast USA reader, the mysteriously initialled JL, contacted me with a list of places. His vote for the best made-to-measure maker at the moment is MP Garrod, 43 Emmbrook Road, Wokingham, Berks RG41 1HG, fax: 01734 785577. JL says they won't "accept personal measurements of men", although fittings can be arranged by an agent in London for pounds 10. "Expensive but superb workmanship". IP Norris, 114 Church Green Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, MK3 6DD, is described as "very good work, reasonably priced"; Jenyns Orthopaedics in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, (well ... you never know) is "well made, expensive"; and, finally, he recommends Lovesick Corrective Apparel, 329-309 West Cordova Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (001 604 608 0301), "very careful workmanship, made to measure, priced reasonably". Thank you, JL, you are fab.

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