Coldstream’s Ruth Hand is coming to the end of an unusual and fascinating career which has seen her meet the likes of Hollywood great Elizabeth Taylor, popular pianist Jules Holland and distinguished actor Dan Aykroyd.
For the last 40 years, Ruth has been at the helm of business Hand to Hand, which specialises in antique costumes and textiles, providing costumes for some of the nation’s best-loved films, including Reds, starring Warren Beatty, period drama The House of Mirth, and Scotland’s own Adventures of Grayfriars bobby.
When she moved to Coldstream in the late 90s, Ruth turned the converted stables at her Hirsel Law home into showrooms, which house an intriguing collection of period and vintage costumes and accessories, linen and lace, quilts, rugs, shawls and much more.
“I first started with a friend in Edinburgh in a shop called Worldly Goods in 1968,” Ruth remembers. “We were open for half days. We made kaftans and sold incense, that kind of thing - a lot of our customers were hippies and students.
“My partner was an artist, and she left the business to follow her art. I found other premises in North West Circus Place, and opened up Hand in Hand.
“I have met some amazing people doing this,” she says. “Customers that have come to me include Elizabeth Taylor, Jules Holland, Dan Acram.
“Elizabeth Taylor came into the shop in Edinburgh quite some time ago and bought lots of linens,” Ruth explains: “She was a friend of a very good friend of mine. Her friends that were with her bought most of the things - she just stood and talked to me. She was delightful, absolutely delightful. Tiny and charming.”
Hand in Hand was based in North West Circus Place until 1998, when Ruth moved the business down to the Borders.
“I’ve converted stables here and my show rooms are set up in them just like the shop in Edinburgh,” she says.
And although the move to Coldstream meant Ruth lost any passing trade, she kept her established custom. “When we came down here I didn’t have passing customers any more, but my customers still came down here, particularly those who were in the film world,” she says. “And I still get requests from serious collectors for things - corsets, button hooks, French ribbons - people collect all sorts!”
Ruth has sourced most of her items privately. “Scottish people are such hoarders - they bring things back from all over and keep them in their attics,” she says.
She particularly likes Georgian garments, and is excited by hand-stitched embellishments and decorations.
“Vintage is becoming very popular these days but the earlier the better for me,” she admits. “Georgian things are becoming increasingly rare and very expensive.
“Hand work has always been my excitement,” she adds. “To see someone’s skill and just what they can achieve with what they had to hand.”
Ruth explains that the rarest historical garments are the clothes worn by the poorest people. “It’s because they were never considered important - the clothes were torn up into rags,” she says. “Fancy Christening gowns and wedding dresses were saved, but if you found a servant girl’s dress every museum would want it.
“It’s a fascinating subject costumes,” she insists. “It sums up what people were like at that time.”
A skilled craftswoman, Ruth is passionate about historical garments, and painstakingly restores costumes herself, using the traditional methods of the day.
“I’ll buy something that looks like a rag and put it back to how it was,” she says. “It’s a huge excitement and a thrill for me to restore clothes, particularly early things. It all had to be done by hand pre 1960, they didn’t have sewing machines then, so I hand stitch them too.”
Ruth has built up quite a collection over the years, and Hand in Hand has supplied costumes for a huge variety of projects, from private collections to the costume departments for box office hits.
“We supplied costumes for a lot of films. I’m good friends with Shirley Russell, Ken Russell’s wife, and we supplied clothes for Reds with Warren Beatty.” Ruth also provided costumes for Edwardian Country House, which was filmed at Manderston, as well as Adventures of Grayfriars bobby - though the garments in that were altered after they left Ruth’s loving establishment. “There was a fire in the film so the clothes have all been blackened and have holes in!” she says.
Now, after 40 years in the job, Ruth fancies trying something new, and wants to explore other arts, particularly sculpture.
“I have been very fortunate doing what I have done, having a career doing what I love and bringing up a family as well - I’ve really, really enjoyed it,” she says.
“I have been thinking about finishing for a while, now I have put the action in motion I’m actually quite relieved and excited about it.
“The show rooms are full of things and I want the space, I think I have done my bit looking after rare and delicate things.”
Following her decision to finish Hand in Hand, Ruth is holding a grand sale of all her fascinating stock next week, from Monday, August 1 until August 8. The showrooms at the Hirsel Law Schoolhouse will be open every day from 10am-5pm.
“I have got one or two things that I’ll always treasure, but I won’t be too sad to sell things - I think it will be quite cathartic,” she says.
“I have had quite a lot of interest already from all over the country, several people have been in touch with me wanting to beat the public, mostly theatre people.
“It’s all in motion now,” she adds. “I live in a lovely spot so hopefully if it gets busy people can sit in the garden and have a cup of tea.”
The Grand Sale of all stock begins on Monday at the Hirsel Law Schoolhouse, Coldstream. There are Northumberland quilts and rugs, Victorian and Edwardian lace, Period and vintage costumes and accessories, Samplers, shawls, cushions and fabrics.