Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Forgotten Bombshells: Sari Maritza

Do names get much more exotic than ‘Sari Maritza’? It’s certainly more evocative than Dora Detring-Nathan, which was our latest forgotten bombshell’s real name. Sari did have a cosmopolitan start in life, being born in China to a British father and Austrian mother, and educated in England, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Sari only worked in films between 1930 and 1934, starting with low-budget efforts in Britain and Germany, then having a brief time at Paramount in Hollywood. Paramount was looking for a continental actress to be the next Garbo or Dietrich; neither Sari’s films or her acting took her to that level and she cheerfully admitted getting out of films when she married because she couldn’t act. But what a photo she took!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Yaaaaaawn!

I've been a bad blogger. Well, not exactly: I've been away in Norfolk seeing my mum, her chap and – most importantly ;) – their kittens, and was too lazy to preprepare posts to go live while I was there. Anyway, Mr R and I also spent a couple of nights in Norwich and had a jolly good time, only the portions of food we ate in restaurants were huge, so we ended up unable to drink any more and had to retire early each night. Ay caramba! We did not do much of vintage interest, unless you count a little bit of shopping, but all I bought was vintage buttons. When you don't know what to buy, buy buttons, they'll come in handy sooner or later.

It was jolly cold, much colder than darkest Wiltshire. If you're venturing up to the flatlands, definitely pack something nice and woolly. I was very glad of my tweed skirt, Madeira jumper and beret!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Vintage Christmas: events in Trowbridge

Now, I know Trowvegas may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's mine. It's not cute, or quaint. In fact, in the early 19th century it was described as 'The Manchester of the West'. However, it does still have some vintage life in it, and usually much more cheaply than in Bath or the cutesier nearby towns.

This December the Arc Theatre has two events that I think are worth noting, 'A Duke Ellington Christmas' on the 17th, with James Lambeth doing many of the great man's best-loved songs, and a showing of It's A Wonderful Life on the 20th. Full-price tickets for the former are £10.50 (£8 for concessions). For the film, you'll pay £2.50. Yes, two and a half of your British pounds. For a bigger screen than most venues in Bath, and in a location which sells beer and cider. As I said, it's a great-value town...

Looking ahead, DS Big Band is back in January. An evening of jazz classics for £8. "There must be some catch!" I hear you cry. Well, yes. Thanks to financial difficulties at the college it's attached to, plans are for the Arc to close to the general public, which is a crying shame. Grab your chance for a cheap night out while it's still there! (There's a petition to keep it open here.)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Nooooooooo!

According to Yahoo (via Art of Darkness), NBC are remaking The Munsters. Did no-one learn from the appalling late 1980s/early 90s television version? Ot the atrocious 1990s television version of The Addams Family?

Stop it. Stop it now.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

This week's telly: Pan Am

I very nearly didn't watch Pan Am, which started on BBC2 this week. I'd read a couple of Tom and Lorenzo's reviews of it and they didn't seem that taken by it. However, Janet Street Porter reviewed it for Front Row on Radio 4 and hated it, which I took as a good sign. On top of all that, it's Saturday and I have a couple of tight knitting deadlines, including a Fair Isle beret that I need finished by next Friday, so I watched it on catch-up as I knitted away.

First observation: programmes where people have very similar hairdos and all wear the same outfit are quite tough to follow when you have prosopagnosia! One gripe a lot of people have with the show is that it's a bit shallow, but I don't look for deep and meaningful in a show to knit to, and characters who are a bit two-dimensional are actually quite handy when you're struggling to identify people. A bit bohemian, possibly girdle free? That's Christina Ricci's character, free-thinker Maggie. There are two sisters, pretty runaway bride Kate and less pretty CIA recruit Laura. Then there is Frenchwoman Colette who, being French, gets to have affairs. It is all utterly frothtastic, but I enjoyed it anyway.

What's more the uniforms are very nice, and the other clothes in the programme... Well, you know I always say I'm never into the 1960s? This is not your crimplene, boil-in-the-bag 1960s. It's not quite Emma Peel either, but there are some lovely frocks to be seen. My favourites have been on Laura and Kate's mother, but as most of the cast spend their time in uniform, she does get the lion's share of the delish dresses in the first two episodes. The cars are pretty neat too.

Oh, and the soundtrack? I wants it. Definitely the cool sound of the early 1960s.

I'll definitely be watching more of this, I enjoyed it loads. (In non-vintage viewing, American Horror Story is on probation – it's okay but not great, so when I run out of knitting it may get chopped from my personal schedule – and I am VERY much looking forward to The Killing tonight, even if Lund does have her stinky unwashed constantly-worn jumper on again.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Vesuvius Club, Mark Gatiss [books]

This is the first of Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box novels, but the last I have encountered. I'm writing about it first because I didn't actually like the second, but feel in retrospect I am doing it a disservice. Let me explain:

1: I read, and disliked, the second Lucifer Box novel, The Devil in Amber.
2: Radio 4 Extra broadcast Gatiss reading the third book, Black Butterfly, as part of the Crime and Thrillers hour. I really enjoyed it, and Gatiss' reading gave Lucifer a different, more likeable voice to the one I'd had in my head.
3: A workmate lent me The Vesuvius Club, which I very much liked, and which, in my head, was read in the same way as the radio programmes.

So now I have to go back and reread The Devil in Amber and see if I like it better the second time around.

The first novel is set in the first decade of the 20th century, post-Victorian but still quite genteel in many ways. Lucifer Box, resident of 9 Downing Street – someone has to live there – artist, bisexual playboy and bon viveur also happens to work for the secret service. (I say work; he's been blackmailed into it). He's asked to look into the mysterious deaths of some renowned scientists, and turns up some rum goings-on which eventually take him to Italy and a decadent club in Naples...

Gatiss clearly loves adventure stories, and while he has fun with their conventions and cliches in this book, he never looks down on the genre. I didn't quite sink into it in the way I do to some other stories I've mentioned on this blog, such as The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, but it was a good read all the same.

Monday, 14 November 2011

F, You're Fedorable

This is a guest post from Mr Robot. He's not a blogger – if he had one of his own he'd manage three posts in a day and then nothing for ten months – so I've decided to make Mr Robot's Gentlemen's Corner on my blog for him. And he's asked me to tell you to excuse his facial hair, it's for Movember. (I like it.)

’Evening everybody, Robot here. Crinoline has asked me to tap out a few thoughts on my experience as an amateur hat wearer, or Gentleman Hattist.

From whence came impulse for a hat is unclear. Probably it started with the long and flappy raincoat that has a certain noir-ish feel to it, and the healthy collection of Bogart films no doubt played a role (not that I’ll ever be a Bogart you understand and, if she’ll forgive me saying it, Crinoline is rather more Katherine Hepburn than Lauren Bacall). It always felt – especially on dark winter evenings – that there was something more to be had. Something slightly edgy. Glamorous, even. Something Hatty.

They’re not that easy to come by (at least not cheaply), and whenever I found something I fancied, there’d be a voice in the back of my head saying 'Go ahead, but you’ll look a right pillock'.

So I dithered and muttered and prevaricated and ultimately did nothing, which Crinoline took to be a signal that she must buy one for me. Which it wasn’t at all. And when I opened the big box on my birthday to find a genuine fedora inside, well I fear I probably wasn’t as effusive as she might have hoped. [Too bloody right!] Do you really expect me to go out in that?

It took a while. I wore it around the house a bit (especially if uninhibited with ale) for a good month or so but I was still uneasy. People will stare. They will laugh. I will wish to be a tiny dead hedgehog.

It must have been the middle of summer (because it was tipping down) when I finally took the plunge; what I could really do with in this is, ah – a hat!

There were a few double-takes I’ll admit, and friends would adopt a distinct look on first meeting the behatted me. The eyes would drift upwards and pause. The mouth dropped open but clearly words failed. Perhaps a little choke. Being well-disposed, they’d opt for a completely un-headwear-related topic of conversation, solildly lock eye contact and NOT LOOK ANYWHERE ELSE AT ALL - much as a civilised fellow must do when faced with an distressingly appealing expanse of bosom.

The first couple of weeks “out” were a tad uncomfortable – but really that was just self-consciousness: it felt like a costume. But as I became more comfortable wearing the thing, the oddest thing happened. I started to get compliments. Two favourites were “only you and X could get away with that” (X being terrifically and naturally dapper), and “you know, you don’t look completely stupid.” This last, coming from a man who bears a startling resemblance to Uncle Fester, I considered quite a coup.

The ladies seem to like it too, or at least those who work with Crinoline and therefore (see above) probably wouldn’t dare say anything else. Still, a favourable glance from crumpet – no matter how imaginary – is never to be sniffed at.

I’m still learning about this hattery business but we’re making progress. I now beware unseasonal sunshine, for a sweaty head is unpleasant and can lead to unattractive tufting. I can’t tip it yet, but on occasion have found myself touching the brim in greeting (and how did that feel the first time? Suave isn’t the word).

And I have started experimenting with tilts – nothing too rakish, too Sinatra, but I have at last found a use for the word “jaunty”. It still feels a touch affected but I’m sure we’ll find the sweet spot soon.

Pip pip!

In case you're wondering, I bought the hat from Laird London. Highly recommended for fast service, and they replaced the hat when the one I ordered was the wrong size without charging me extra P&P.

Vintage embroidery styles: cutwork

If you’re into early 20th century styles, you can’t beat a bit of cutwork. It certainly featured on cutwork and clothing from the 1910s onwards. At its simplest, it’s outlining a shape in buttonhole stitch and then cutting fabric away to create a lacy look. Like most embroideries, it did evolve in style. The embroideries from the 1910s that I’ve seen have a lot of curlicues and s-shapes, a lot like you’d expect from Edwardian print ornament or silverware decoration.

Most of my magazines are from the 1930s and later, and by the 1930s there are many more natural shapes, with flowers being especially popular. I’m not sure when the designs that look like a flower within a shape (usually a circle, but could be a triangle or other geometric shape) came into vogue, but they’re definitely big by the 1930s. They do have a deco feel, don’t they? On this page you can see a 1930s design from a magazine, along with the free gift of a piece of linen printed with the design to turn into a handkerchief sachet! Still with the magazine 80 years on...

The cutwork I’ve seen from the very start of the 20th century was white-on-white. I’ve seen self-coloured cutwork on 1920s garments (eg green embroidery on a green background), and some subtly contrasting work from the 1930s (eg white embroidery against pale blue linen, such as the sachet scanned in on this page). My 1930s patterns include instructions for doing cutwork on nightdresses and blouses as well as tablecloths, napkins and the like. I haven’t seen much from the 1940s, possibly because things like fabric transfers and, indeed, the fabrics themselves, would have been hard to get hold of, but there is still some, such as the dressing table set on this page.

By the 1950s the designs I’ve seen tended to be confined to homewares, not put on clothes, although whether that was because it was easier to buy lengths of broderie anglais and whitework fabrics I couldn’t say. What is certain is that in the patterns from the 1950s you see lots of colour in cutwork, for example the pansies outlined in dark purple and yellow with their leaves edged in vivid green at the top of this page.

Despite the addition of colour, the floral 1950s designs aren’t as different from the deco-feeling 1930s ones as the 1930s ones are from the rococo Edwardian patterns. Perhaps it's this lack of modernity that led to its decline; the 1950s cutwork patterns feel a little dated for their time, and my guess is that they were aimed more at an older generation, and by the 1960s cutwork is not at all trendy. Where it is used, it's confined to things like tablecloths for afternoon tea – and who thinks of the 1960s as a decade of afternoon teas?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembering

I wasn't planning to do a post about Remembrance Day, but now I feel the need to. I do feel it's a very important day. I know some older people refused to speak about the war - Mr Robot's grandmother wouldn't, and my own former-land-girl grandmother won't. However on my father's side of the family there's a fairly long tradition of service in the armed forces, so I grew up with the stories.

My grandfather, who was career army, transferred from the Indian Army to the British in the 1930s. He was serving at Alexandria when World War 2 broke out. As part of the Science Corps (pathologist/bacteriologist), he was attached to the 8th Army, and among other things was present at Monte Cassino and helped in the clear-up at Belsen. Belsen was one of the things he spoke about to the end of his life, not the sights, but the smell. He was present for the post-mortem on Himmler.

His brother Bunny died at the Battle of Sittang in Burma. The account of his death – he's referred to as WA Macdonald – can be found here.

My grandfather's family was mixed race. They were not unusual. Only two out of every ten soldiers who fought in Burma were white. 90,000 West African soldiers fought in East Asia. Soldiers from the Caribbean fought in Europe.

What I'm trying to say is, tomorrow if you're at a wreath laying or see footage of the ceremony at the Cenotaph on telly, don't forget all the other soldiers, the ones who weren't white and may well not have spoken English. This wasn't a war about Britishness or, as some posts on Facebook seem to have reduced it to, Englishness. Remember all the soldiers who fought and died for freedom, all the countries who lost sons and daughters.

And then remember the Axis troops who died, and the civilians. Because war is a horrible thing, and human lives are precious.

Photo: Top is my grandfather McDonald. The photo was allegedly taken on the day that war was declared. I've watermarked it because it it precious to me, and if you misuse it I will hunt you down and eat your liver. The second is one from his photo album; I know nothing about them, sadly.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Scar-Crow Men, Mark Chadbourn [books]

Rhian of The Crafty Geek gave me the follow-up to The Sword of Albion. Interestingly, she didn't like this one as much as the first novel, but I preferred it. This may be because it's more of a murder mystery, starting with the death of playwright Christopher Marlowe (a real-life event which is still debated to this day). Also, Grace is far less annoying. In the first book she was determined to find out whatever Will Swyfte was up to, which led to her wandering into one of London's criminal 'rookeries', getting abducted by Spaniards, and generally being the most annoying creature on the face of the planet. I've nothing against stong female characters, but Grace was an idiot; steaming thoughtlessly into every dangerous situation is not strength. The Irish assassin, Red Meg O'Shee, is a fairly stereotypical female adventurer, but I don't read swashbucklers for deep character development and intricate portrayals of the human condition, I read them for excitement and fun.

Anyway, in many ways it's similar to the first: the fairies are once again up to no good and Will and the other agents of Walsingham - now deceased - are forced to stop them, complicated by the fact that after Walsingham's demise power struggles at court have weakened the position of the new head of their faction. Eventually, they are as at much risk from their fellow humand as they are from the fairies. I still love Chadbourn's careful blending of fact and fiction, and very much enjoyed this book. I wasn't quite so keen on the ending, but it was tremendous fun getting there.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Pastiche? Unhealthy fantasy? Why I love vintage

This post is prompted by a couple of excellent posts I've read this week, one by Bruce at Eclectic Ephemera and one by Penny Dreadful. Both have encountered, directly or through friends, fairly hostile attitudes towards vintage. I've encountered nasty attitudes towards people doing their own thing before - back when I had blue hair, I actually had people shout across the street to tell me how awful I looked! - and I really don't understand them. Possibly it's a result of me having mild prosopagnosia, but I like people who have their own recognisable style. It could be something as simple as a love of particular colours, or as dramatic as eighteen piercings and a mohawk, I don't care. I love it when people are themselves.

So, why do I love vintage? Well, I do still veer off on non-vintage tangents. After spraining my ankle earlier this year, you can bet your socks that I'll be wearing hiking boots on every icy day this winter, even if they're with a tweed skirt and 1940s jumper. My personal tastes are best described as 'Modern Puritan versus the Inner Hippie'. The modern puritan likes nothing more than a simple black dress; inner hippie occasionally has urges to go all Stevie Nicks or Lord of the Rings. A vintage-style black dress keeps the puritan side happy while being romantic enough to shut the hippie up. Neither is particularly keen on the modern, short, tight, "LOOK, CROTCH! LOOK, TITS!" fashions. And if the upshot of all this is that people think I look like a museum piece sometimes… their problem. I just put the things I like in my wardrobe.

Then there are the practical factors: quality of fabric and cut. Have you seen how little knitwear nowadays contains animal fibres? That's great if you have allergies, but synthetics simply aren't as warm (and some set my teeth on edge). Modern cotton clothes fabrics are often paper-thin compared even to garments from 20 years ago. The styles frequently rely on stretch and gathering for shape, rather than being composed of as many parts as they were in the past. That's fine if you have the perfect figure, but I'm neither young nor slim and need my garments to help me out!

As for the films, the music, the books... I just like them. To date, they haven't prevented me from holding down a job, getting a mortgage or doing any of the things that would suggest some sort of unhealthy fantasy life.

If you've done a post on why you wear vintage, listen to the music or watch the films of another era, please do link in the comments. I find it interesting to see why people do it. And I bet there's not an unhealthy fantasist in the bunch!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Stitch in Time Volume 2: the trunk show

Last night I was lucky enough to go to Susan Crawford’s trunk show at Marmalade Yarns in Frome. It’s the second trunk show I’ve been to there (the other was non-vintege, so I didn’t blog about it), and I have to say they’re really good fun. Marmalade Yarns is a tiny shop, but packed with the sort of yarns I really love, and it’s on Catherine Hill, alongside all sorts of interesting independent shops, some specialising in vintage.

The trunk show was to give people the chance to see the garments from A Stitch in Time Volume 2 by Jane Waller and Susan Crawford. I’ve been waiting for this book for months, and last night I finally got my copy. It contains 80 vintage patterns, all reworked using modern yarns and in many more sizes than the originals. If you’ve ever looked at a vintage pattern and bemoaned the fact that it came in a single size, or tried resizing one for yourself, you’ll know how useful it is to have a book that’s done all the hard resizing work for you, no matter how many vintage patterns you already own!


The book covers the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and includes some lovely hats, gloves and scarves as well as many cardigans and jumpers and even a pinafore dress. I bought a couple of packs of Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool 4ply half price from Black Sheep in preparation, and now I just need to decide which garments to knit. While I’m usually early 20th century in my tastes, there’s a darling twin set from the 1950s in the book, and the bolero for that would be perfect in navy to go with some of my work clothes.

I’m probably guilty of gushing a lot over Susan, but it was at the launch of one of her other books (Vintage Gifts to Knit) that I got talking to a young lady wearing something she’d knitted from A Stitch in Time Volume 1 and it hit me like a thunderbolt that these things look good on real people, and I too can have the pretty every day. This blog probably wouldn’t be here without that party, and my wardrobe would certainly be emptier. Find out all about Susan's books at her website.

Anyway, SHUT UP MIM AND TALK ABOUT THE PICTURES!

Garments shown are:
Me with Susan - she's wearing 'Ribbon Threaded Jumper' from the book, I'm wearing my Madeira jumper from Knit With Norbury. Please excuse my face of pure goofiness; I have my book! Want to know something sad? I took it to work today. I couldn't bear to leave it at home.

Jen Storey of The Knitter and freelance tech ed Jen Arnall-Culliford looking at 'Lady's Evening Jumper'; Jen S is wearing a non-vintage hat, 'Peerie Flooers' by Kate Davies, (massively popular with knitters right now; I know at least three people who've made it) and Jen A-C is in 'A Warm Jacket'. That's mostly in 1x1 rib, so a git to knit (well, I hate 1x1 rib and so does Jen A-C, so I'm sure we can't be the only two!) but fits like a glove.

Me in the cardigan part of the 'Trimmed With Roses' twinset. The jumper part has short sleeves and, below the same rosy band at the top, stripes all the way down to the ribbed welt.

A rack of pure deliciousness.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I say, old chap, it's Movember

"Is that why the ladies keep taking their clothes off at me?"

"Yes, they really can't get enough of a good lip-weasel. On top of all the dashing manliness a 'mo imparts, they know you're a caring and sensitive type who supports men's cancer charities."

"Men's what?"

"Oh dear. Take a peep at the official Movember website, old man. Everything you need to know about the campaign is there."

"And the ladies love it?"

"Oh yes, sends 'em absolutely potty."

"Fantastic!"