Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Wonders of Mechanical Ingenuity

I had the urge to go to the Oxfam bookshop today. I don't know why, the place was calling me. I headed straight for my usual section, Crime, but there wasn't anything to satisfy my shopping itch there. (Well, I picked up a couple of Ian Flemings, but nothing really exciting – no new Freeman Wills Croft or anything like that.) So I poked around a bit more, looked at the design books, and then in the back of the shop I found this! I had to buy it for the cover alone. There's a bookplate in the front saying it was Third Prize to a schoolboy named Arthur Fudge (splendid!) in 1913, which dates it nicely.

I don't think this is my book, though. I think it is actually my friend Andy's book. (He's one of the organisers of Waltz on the Wye, and full tickets including the ball have nearly sold out, so if you want to go, book now!) As soon as I saw it I thought it would appeal to him. But if you're reading this, Andy, you'll have to wait until May to read it, muahahaha! And it has walking steam engines and talks of steam-powered lifeboats and everything.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ascot style, 1934

Following on from Monday's clothes piccies, here's another 1934 fashion plate. "AN ASCOT FASHION of 1934 goes back to 1913 for its inspiration – puffed sleeves, accentuated waist line, and flared hem line." Rather more to my liking than the abbreviated skirts seen nowadays, although the hat is somewhat lacking. Perhaps if the hat had been large, though, with those sleeves the model would have looked like a very beautiful mushroom, all top and a slender stem.

(Why yes, I am still hideously busy with work, but I promise you something more personal, if not more interesting, later this week as I'm off to Vintage Sunday, part of Bath Fashion Week, this weekend. If I don't catch up with you before then, I promise you lots of vintage goodness after the weekend.)

Monday, 26 March 2012

Jubilee, 1935-style

Apologies for the lack of blogging of late. On top of all the travelling I've done this month for work and pleasure (follow me on Instagram if you want to see photos of my wanderings – I'm crinolinerobot there too), I'm loaded up with a swapbox to make, freelance for SFX and, of course, my own magazine, which is currently on print deadline. I do enjoy what I do, but it's left me with very little time to read, watch or make anything purely for pleasure.

Working on a craft magazine, it's impossible to avoid mention of this year's Diamond Jubilee, and in truth I'm very much enjoying it all, to the point where I want to buy a souvenir for myself, something like a mug or a glass. I thought while I'm busy I'd share with you a couple of pics from The Story of Twenty Five Years, a book published in 1935 to celebrate King George V's Silver Jubilee.

I very much like the comparisons between 1910 and 1935. I can't help feeling that those 25 years were much more momentous than our own past 25, but then we haven't had a hideous war ravaging most of Europe; however in terms of communication things have probably advanced every bit as quickly.
This is a largely frivolous blog, so I shall share largely frivolous pictures: bathing suit styles from 1910 and 1934, and a fashion plate which states, "FRILLS AND FLOUNCES dating back to Victorian days are "modernised" for garden party wear in 1934." I suppose there's a hint of the 1880s in that dress, but just a hint. About as close to Victorian as most modern '1940s-influenced' fashions are to the real styles of the 1940s, I guess!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Are you ready for International Dieselpunk Day?

No? It's a good job you've got months to prepare, then, because the first one takes place on November 12 2012. The date was chosen because while there's some flexibility in what dieselpunk is, the most widely-accepted date for the start of the Diesel Era is the end of the First World War, November 11 1918.

If you're familiar with steampunk, which is essentially Victorian science fiction, dieselpunk is similar but later, and there's a bit more discussion of politics and globalisation among dieselpunks as it (roughly) covers the era between the two world wars, and you can't avoid political discussions when you're looking at that part of history. But what I really like about dieselpunk is that it is essentially a smorgasbord of many of my favourite things: vintage swing and modern swing, noir films and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Rocketeer, art deco and pulps, and the big WHAT IFs of alternate history.

For people who aren't dieselpunks but want to join in the fun, why not watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, pop on a bit of aviator/aviatrix chic or listen to a bit of electro-swing?

There's a dedicated group on Facebook for the day, and if you're interested in finding out about larger events that day, the group will be the best place to look.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Charity shopping only!

I really need to stay away from Etsy. I bought another dress yesterday, despite the fact that I've yet to wear either my raspberry-print Swirl or my turquoise linen dress out in public yet. I've rationalised it by telling myself it was a Horrockses and I got some money for my birthday (conveniently overlooking all the other stuff I've bought because I got some money for my birthday).

So, I'm making myself a mini resolution. A New Season Resolution, if you like. I'm not going to buy any more clothes on Etsy before September. I'm going to try not to buy any more new clothes at all, shoes and underwear aside (I do need new shoes and chuddies, and those aren't things you can do without). It's charity shops only until September for skirts, tops and other upper layers.

And I'll have the turquoise dress in an outfit post for you at the end of the month, as it's what I plan to wear to Vintage Sunday and the Secret Tea Party, part of Bath Fashion Week. I don't think I'll be doing the charleston in it, though. Well, I might...

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures [comic]

Films made from comics are usually inferior to the source material, in my experience. I love the 1991 film The Rocketeer, and have been keen to read the comics for some time. I bought this collected version (hardback) from Amazon recently. The original comics were published in the 1980s and would be pricy to get hold of; a hardback reprint is much more affordable.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s very strongly based on the first Rocketeer story, where Cliff Secord comes into possession of the stolen rocket pack, and his mechanic Peevy puts together a finned helmet for him so he can steer in the air. Both German spies and the FBI are keen to recover it. There’s a second story in this volume, set in New York, where Cliff falls in with a Shadow-like character, and that had no real influence on the film that I could see.

The only really dramatic difference between the film and the comic is the portrayal of Cliff’s girlfriend. Dave Stevens based the Betty of the comic on Bettie Page - in fact, it’s one of the things credited with leading to a revival of interest in Bettie, and the two became friends. Betty is an incredibly sexy starlet who’s involved with a Hollywood photographer as well as Cliff, and Dave Stevens’ depictions of her really pay homage to vintage pin-up art. However, for something set in the late 1930s she really is anachronistic, and I do prefer Jenny Blake, Cliff’s girlfriend in the film, as portrayed by Jennifer Connelly, who looks right for the era.

At the start and end of the stories the book contains reproductions of the issue covers and full-page adverts for The Rocketeer comics, and in most cases they have the feel of art deco posters, just as the film has a beautifully deco feel. While the storyline in the comics is set in the 1930s, the visuals don’t always reflect that. Overall, while I’m glad I own this book, this is one of those rare instances where I prefer the film to the source material.

Image: the hard cover of the book, which I like better than the dustjacket.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Easy hooded scarf

Yes, it's rubbish photo time again! Rubbish photo, but a very nice knit: 'Miss Laverty's Motoring Hood' from Susan Crawford's book Vintage Gifts to Knit. You can buy the pattern over at Knit on the Net, and see some much better photos of Susan's original one being worn.

This was the big item for my Odd Ducks Vintage and Kitsch swap, and there were times when I thought myself an idiot for knitting a scarf in 1x1 rib. (Non-knitters, that's a tedious stitch to work, but knits up thick and flat when used for a scarf like this.) It would make a brilliant pattern for a new knitter, though, as it's mostly straight with no complicated stitches, but you'll get something a lot nicer than a conventional scarf when you're done. The hood is made separately, with a little shaping, and then sewn on afterwards.

I knitted it in the last of my Rowan Cashsoft 4ply, so it's really lovely and soft. The recipient seems very pleased with it - she rarely has time to knit for herself, so I wanted to spoil her.

In other knitting news, I'll be working on the knitting stand at Stitch & Craft at Olympia this weekend. Do drop by and say 'Hello' if you're at the show.

And Paperdoll has given me a blog award, the Liebster blog award. I'm always really pleased when people like my blog, I write it to please myself but it's lovely to know other people like it too.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Anno Frankenstein, Jonathan Green [books]

I admit it, was was predisposed not to like this book for the most shallow of reasons: its title reminded me too much of one of my favourite novels, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. On a superficial level the two do have things in common: a twentieth century wartime setting, a character from gothic fiction having an effect on that setting, a ripping yarn. The two really are very different, though.

WARNING: SERIES SPOILERS AHEAD

Anno Frankenstein is the seventh Ulysses Quicksilver adventure Green has written for Abaddon Books' steampunk Pax Britannia series. (I've also reviewed Blood Royal and Dark Side, the two immediately preceding this one.) Despite my early misgivings, it is my favourite in the series so far.

Dark Side ended with Ulysses following his nemesis, Daniel Dashwood, into the time vortex. In Anno Frankenstein the story picks up back in the 1940s. Steampunk novels vary in their adherence to history and exploration of actual possibilities, and Green's books have always been strongly on the side of fun rather than realism. However, I was impressed with how Green created a Second World War situation that fitted into the world of Magna Britannia without making it simply a redone version of real history with some cogs stuck on. That said, if the Victorian aspect of steampunk was weak in Dark Side, it's virtually non-existent here. There's reference to Babbage engines and airships, and when Magna Britannia enters the war close to the end there are automata and steam-powered war machines, but before that things definitely feel closer to the actual 1940s than to the steampunk late 20th century of the other books. This is a fictional world; perhaps in Green's world Victorian styles only continued in the places where Victoria herself endured as ruler. If you can't go without your cogs and coal that might disappoint you. I thought the story was strong enough that the lack of Victorian ornament didn't bother me.

Despite being a Ulysses Quicksilver book, you'll have read halfway through the novel before he enters the story; a great deal of this one is more about his father, Hercules. While Ulysses is keen to stop Dashwood changing history, Hercules has his own mission, delivering a secret weapon to the castle where the Nazis' Frankenstein Corps monsters are being created.

I don't know if having a new main character and a new setting gave Green more freedom, but there's certainly a lightness of touch and a bounce in this one that the book immediately before it lacked. He certainly has fun dropping in little likenesses and references to other science fiction and fantasy works – without mentioning any of the major ones, I did smile at a 'Commander Riker'. (You do know your Star Trek, right?)

This book is one you could easily read without having read any of the others in the series; while there are references to events in the other stories, it's not critical to the plot that you know any of them. And if you like foolish but fun adventure stories, I recommend it.

Book source: free in a clearout at work.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

What goes with brown?

Blue! In honour of my new old handbag, here is what Good Housekeeping had to say on the matter of choosing clothing colours in the 1940s. It advised starting with the leather accessories and working your outfit back from there, which I must admit is very different from my usual method which begins with a dress or jumper.

Leather accessories Chestnut brown (or London tan) or ice calf
Costume and coat shades Chestnut or camel
Etceteras (also frock and sweater) Any bright or pastel shade except the cyclamen or cerise family or navy
Hat Matching costume and leather accessories, or matching etcetera, plain or trimmed etcetera or costume colour

Leather accessories Chestnut brown
Costume and coat shades Navy or grey
Etceteras (also frock and sweater) Navy or chestnut or grey
Hat Navy or chestnut, plain or trimmed reverse shade

Leather accessories Ice calf
Costume and coat shades Navy
Etceteras (also frock and sweater) Green, mid blues, camel or navy
Hat Navy or etcetera colour, plain or trimmed reverse

Leather accessories Rust and brown
Costume and coat shades Matching browns or rust
Etceteras (also frock and sweater) Green, pastel or mid blues, yellows, coral pink, camel
Hat Brown or rust, plain or trimmed etcetera shades

Leather accessories Rust and brown
Costume and coat shades Green, pastel or mid blues, yellows, coral pink or camel
Etceteras (also frock and sweater) Matching brown or rust
Hat Brown or rust, plain or trimmed etcetera shades

Image: a design from Stitchcraft, February 1948

Friday, 9 March 2012

Vintage baby hat

Here's one I made earlier! Apols for the rubbish photo. I've been quite quiet lately. Often I don't blog about stuff I'm working on because it's for work and therefore commercially sensitive (I've a bundle of stuff on the go for SFX right now that's the sort of thing I'd usually talk about on this blog) or because it's for a swap and I don't want to spoil things for my partner.

Anyway, this little hat is one of the things in the latest parcel I've sent, for the Vintage & Kitsch swap in Odd Ducks on Ravelry. The parcel's been in the post for well over a week, so I reckon given its destination it'll be another week or so before it reaches my swappee, and I haven't noticed any traffic from Ravelry to the blog, so it should be safe to post a pic (and I'm not posting pics of the big things in the box). My swappee is having a baby, and after tracking her very carefully to ensure she wasn't superstitious about getting baby knits in advance – some people believe it's unlucky – I knitted this lovely little hat in pure Merino wool. It's seamed, and while I wanted to keep things authentic, I'm not sure a hat like this needs a seam, so if I did another one in future I'd do it in the round and take out the seam stitch. Some people hate all seams, but I think they're very useful for giving structure and stability to some garments, you just don't need them in a baby hat. (And seams have NO PLACE in socks, but that's another topic!)

Because of the address in the book and the company names, it's got to be post 1920, when Patons and Baldwins merged, but pre-1951 when the headquarters was moved from Halifax. A quick look around the internet suggests to me that it's 1930s as the version of Woolcraft from the 1940s, which was adapted to take account of wartime Authorised Economy Standards, had a blue skein of yarn on the front and cost ninepence.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

DS big Band rehearsal

Back in January I went to see DS Big Band do the final show before the local theatre closed. (Outfit post here.) They practice regularly at the Farmhouse Inn in a village near where I live – it's about a mile and a third – so last night Mr Robot and I walked up there to listen to the practice. The band's style is more of a 50s big band style than a 30s-40s style, a bit more Sinatra-at-Vegas than Benny Goodman, but that's Mr Robot's preference anyway, and as he pointed out to me, you take your live jazz where you can find it! We had a very good home-made pie and a pint in the pub itself, then took more beer through to the function room out the back to listen to the band.

I have mixed feelings about being the youngest person in the room, aside from one of the musicians. I think it's fantastic that there are so many older people in rural Wiltshire getting to enjoy such fantastic music, and I in no way wish they hadn't been there. I do, however, wish there had been more younger people there. Are there no cool youthful cats in Wiltshire? The band are playing a concert at the same venue on the 8th of April, and I really do hope there's a broader audience. This music is so good it needs to be shared with all ages!

Also, on a happy theatre-related note, plans are afoot to turn Trowbridge's beautiful Victorian town hall into an arts venue, including a theatre space, which we need now the Arc is no longer a public venue. This makes me so pleased, because the building has been allowed to decay for some time and it's a stunning piece of architecture. Trow has a bit of a rough reputation, but I love living there, and I think having the town hall restored to provide a space for music, theatre, youth arts projects and so on in the town centre will be a massive boon to the town. I had feared the town hall would end up being converted into flats, so really want it to continue to be a place that benefits the people of the town.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

£4 handbag


Behold, the perfect handbag to go with my Miss L Fire Clara shoes! And it cost just £4 in British Heart Foundation. It's made of leather, and the brand is Norvic. All I've been able to find out about them is they started in 1908 and are still going, but nowadays only make children's shoes. It's a little later in style than I'd usually go for – I think it looks 1960s, do you? – but for that price, for a leather bag, I'm not going to grumble.

I've only been a serious charity shopper for a few years, but I have been looking out for a bag all that time. I was starting to think I'd never find one. My local shops have lots of bags, but they're all modern slouchy things and not really me. When I saw this I pounced on it. The lining has come away from the clasp at one side, but that's nothing a bit of Gutermann fabric glue can't put right. It did occur to me that with this and the lovely art deco evening bag I bought from Penny Dreadful Vintage, I am definitely carrying out my aims as set out in January's 'Building a Vintage Wardrobe' post. It's nice to feel as though things are going in the right direction.

Remember the bracelet set I got earlier this week? The same place had another set that had belonged to the same lady, a pretty plastic (possibly thermoset) necklace and earrings. My friend Sarah has bought it. It's great that it's gone to someone who will love it – I do live in fear of dealers finding my favourite shopping places, buying all the stuff up and reselling it at silly prices. Anyway, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if my own set might be by Exquisite. They didn't always sign their pieces, even the bigger, more elaborate ones, and often combined cold enamel with crystals. I will keep digging...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Victoria Vanishes: the pub crawl

Not so much a crawl, more a bijou crawlette.

I got a copy of Christopher Fowler's novel The Victoria Vanishes for Christmas. (Review here.) I loved the pubs in the novel, which are both settings for the murders and clues to the identity of the killer. When Mr Robot and I decided to spend a long weekend in London, visiting some of the pubs featured in the book seemed a good plan. Now, I'm not normally this cheeky, but as Mr Fowler commented on my review, I tweeted him to see if he had any in particular to recommend, and he was kind enough to reply. He recommended four within easy walking distance of each other.

Pub 1: The Black Friar, 174 Queen Victoria Street
Turn right out of Blackfriars tube station and this is what you see. Pretty, isn't it, narrow and wedge-shaped with turn-of-the-century mosaics on the outside? Nothing will prepare you for the interior. I took my photos on my iPhone – the big camera doesn't come boozing – and they really don't do it justice. The pub is grade II listed, thanks to the astonishing Arts & Crafts marble interior. The jolly monks shown on the walls, and all the marble, give it a slightly churchy feel, but the beer is excellent and after a pint you will feel at home with the brothers.


Pub 2: The Old Bell, Fleet Street
The same company that owns the Black Friar also owns The Old Bell, yet this one has none of the atmosphere of the other. It was built by Sir Christopher Wren to house his masons rebuilding St Bride's Church behind it. (I made sure I took a look at St Brides as John Milton, THE POET, used to worship there.)

As far as I can tell, The Old Bell did not get gutted during the Blitz, although St Bride's did, but it still feels as though the interior has been redone too many times over the decades. Perhaps in the days when it was the haunt of journos and printers they brought plenty of colour to the place, but it is somewhat lacking in personality now.

Diversion: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
Not in the book, and so I will not review it here! But good fun, with its little nooks and cubbyholes.

Pub 3: The Seven Stars, 53 Carey Street
This is one we'd never have found without being told it was there. It's behind the Royal Courts of Justice, on a street you'd be unlikely to wander along by chance. possibly the oldest pub in London, The Seven Stars is one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire, and it lasted through the Blitz too. It has a standard-sized front, but is only one room deep, and is covered with posters promoting legal-themed films and photographs.

The Seven Stars somehow felt quite continental to me. Perhaps that was because of the posters and photos, or the shiny oilcloth on the tables. We thought the menus looked pretty good here, although we had already eaten so didn't stop for food (I've since learned that the owner has written a cookbook, so the place probably does do top nosh).

Pub 4: Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place
Even if you know where this one is supposed to be, it might take you a while to find it as it's hidden away down an alley. The site was originally on land belonging to the Bishop of Ely, and so was legally Cambridgeshire. If you're a bit naughty nowadays, though, the London bobbies can come and take you away from here... Ye Olde Mitre doesn't open at weekends, and we delayed our pub crawl until the Monday to fit it in. It was very busy when we got there; my overwhelming impression of the inside is of dark wood and a good atmosphere, but we drank outside so I can't say for certain!

If you get the chance to drink in a historic pub, wherever you are, do take it. So many are being converted nowadays, and these are our history, as much a part of the lives of ordinary people as palaces are of the lives of kings. Don't let your history be turned into flats!