Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tank top colours: assemble!


I've got my colours together for the Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover. I've used the three dark shades of Excelana Susan states in the pattern - the dark blue, red and charcoal colours you see all in one row. (You can see Susan's swatch using purely Excelana over on her blog.) However, I wanted a cooler shade of beige for the main background, so the other yarns are all King Cole Merino Blend 4ply.

The original design uses just two other light colours. I couldn't decide between the grey, cream and green, so ordered a ball of each... and I'm still having trouble deciding! Part of me favours dropping the green, as it will result in a mostly neutral colour scheme that Mr Robot is more likely to wear, but I worry that if I used the cream as part of the large motif design, it will 'pop' too much and ruin the harmony of the pattern.

What do you think? (I know, you think I should stop being a lazy mare and knit a swatch, as I'll need to check my tension anyway!)

In navy cardigan news, the gods of knitting hate my navy cardigan, and I'm inclined to agree with them. I'm still on the second front. I thought I had finished it, then checked one front against the other and realised I'd started the neck shaping one pattern repeat too soon. As i ripped it back, they could hear me swearing in Bristol, I tell you...

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 3, the dropped waist


The silhouette of the 1920s: long in the body, with the waist dropped to around the hips. Skirts rose to the knee by the mid-20s, then started to drop again, with a vogue for mullet hems at one point, but the waist dropped early on and mostly stayed dropped for the decade.

The overall look created by this dress shape is long and lean. When Alexander McQueen designed his infamous ‘bumster’ trousers, he said he was playing with elongating the torso. The dropped waist has a similar body-lengthening effect. It does also give your whole torso the width of the widest part, the hips.

The dropped waist underwent a revival in the 1960s, usually with a shorter skirt – the 60s were the decade of the mini-skirt, after all. Dropped-waist garments that I’ve seen of late have tended to look more 20s for evenings and 60s for daywear. In the 2010s, the skirts are usually much too short for authenticity, and designers/manufacturers can’t resist trying to put in some shaping in the natural waist area or hinting at a bust, playing with the style of the 1920s but not recreating the exact look.

Wearing an authentic 1920s style outfit can feel strange at first because as an era, it’s known for glamour and excess, yet the daywear can feel frumpy, hiding all the bits people like to show off nowadays. It just goes to show how tastes change!

Personally I don’t mind a bit of frumpitude, I prefer people to engage with me as a person, not a body, but YMMV. That said, if you’ve got a plus-sized apple body type like mine, do give 1920s styles a try. The way they ignore the natural waist entirely and draw attention towards the hips (usually comparatively narrow on apples) can be more flattering and comfortable than some other, small-waisted, vintage styles that work against your natural shape.

Click on the '1920s' tag in the cloud on the right-hand column to find more ways to get the Jazz Age look.

Both pictures on this page were taken at the Fashion Museum in Bath. Neither designer is known, but the pearl-adorned one was worn as a wedding dress in 1926.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

50 Fabulous Frocks [exhibition]

Andre Courreges dress, 1960s, worn
then by Ernestine Carter, Fashion Editor
for the Sunday Times

Who doesn't love a nice dress? There might be a few people, but they are WRONG, and this exhibition currently running at the Fashion Museum in Bath could be just the thing to change their minds. Mr Robot's off at Twickenham watching the rugby today, so I took the opportunity to go into Bath on the train and look at beautiful clothes.

The Fashion Museum has an extensive collection, and not all of it's on show at any one time. They have a new exhibition every year, and this year's is '50 Fabulous Frocks'. It's less focussed on the story behind the dresses than some of the ones they've held in the past, and makes the dresses themselves the absolute stars. These dresses all shine in their own right; you don't need to know who wore them, when or why. (Although there is an audioguide available, and boards all round the walls telling you the history and context of each garment.)

Stunning 1950s Victor Stiebel. You can see
the silver Restoration dress behind it.
I'm not sure how the order of the dresses was chosen. The first one, an Edwardian fancy dress costume made to look like a bottle of Veuve Cliquot is obvious, as the exhibition celebrates the museum's 50th anniversary. A striped Vivienne Westwood stands alongside similarly full-skirted designs from the Restoration (a gorgeous silver dress that's the oldest frock in the museum's collection) and 19th century and a Victor Stiebel with similar colours, so there's clearly a bit of thematic matching at that point. The exhibition still didn't quite come together for me as a whole, but the dresses are every bit as fabulous as you could want, and I spent an awfully long time in there.

This mid-20s Callot Soeurs dress was
owned by the Rani of Pudukkotai.

That said... it's not the only themed display at the museum, and I have to confess, I much preferred 'Glamour', which is a wonderful rainbow of party dresses. They're all from the last 100 years, mixed up in time, and arranged in colour order. It doesn't matter which time you love clothes from, they're all mouthwatering, every single one. Satin, lace, brocade, sequins: if it's luxe, it's in there. And there are SHOES too, shoes of unspeakable beauty. Had there been tiaras also, the cleaning staff would be finding me clinging to the cabinets at closing time!

Like a numpty I didn't note the designer of
this fab 1950s dress from the 'Glamour' exhibit...
The layout of the museum has changed since I last went there, and it seemed they were fitting more in. There's a 'behind the scenes display where they take you on a tour of garments from the late 1700s to early 1900s. As well as showing dresses, shoes and bonnets, and quotes on clothes from novels of the age (Mansfield Park, The Portrait of a Lady) the displays show how all these things are stored, and how they're kept in a way that means the fragile materials are disturbed as little as possible – shawls, for example, are laid out and moved on acid-free paper, so only the paper is touched, and hats are stuffed and kept in well-labelled boxes so when the staff need to find a particular hat there's no need to do any damaging rummaging. I tried taking some photos in there for my steampunk chums, but it was too dark for my camera to cope. (Obviously, the museum is a flash-free zone. Light is not kind to dyes and fibres.)

My favourite exhibition I've seen at the Fashion Museum is still the one of the Queen's dresses, which were marvels in both craftsmanship and diplomacy. '50 Fabulous Frocks' is well worth visiting, nonetheless. I might have to go back in July, when they've got a special Laura Ashley exhibition running.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 2, the cloche hat

A cloche in the V&A's collection
The bob resurfaced in the 1960s, but the cloche (named from the French word for ‘bell’) really belongs to the 1920s. It’s resurfaced here and there, and more have been in the shops in recent years, but it’s never become the must-wear hat once again, and so it remains linked in most people’s minds to the 1920s.

A small, neat head was part of the 1920s look, so the cloche needs to be close-fitting over a non-bulky hairdo, and its popularity roughly parallels that of the bob. In the first few years of the 1920s, before short hair became a mainstream trend, hats still had brims and bore a closer resemblance to large, classically Edwardian-looking ones. (While they’re not the iconic 20s titfer, hats with brims weren’t uncommon throughout the decade.) Mid-decade hats were at their roundest and closest to the face, with the merest hint of a brim. Brims started to be folded back in the late 20s, showing the face better and paving the way for the smaller, more hair-reavealing hats of the 1930s.

It is possible to make your own cloche hat. I’ve got quite a small head, so even though cloche hats have been available in High Street shops in recent years, the ones available are too large for me, leaving with me a choice of buying vintage or making my own. I bought a set of PDFs of authentic 1920s hat designs from eVINTAGEpatterns on Etsy, but I’ve yet to sit down and make one. Some are fabric, and I also got a PDF of crocheted ones, with matching knitted scarves. (Isn’t it intriguing that the scarves and hats were designed as sets, but using two different crafts? Why not crochet a scarf? Why not knit a hat? I’d love to know the answer to that one!)

If you’re rich enough to afford a proper hat block, MacCulloch and Wallis make them to order, but for the cost of the block you can buy several vintage hats, which is what I’d probably do. Hat blocks are probably more for the commercial hatmaker!

If you can buy High Street hats, those are a good starting point for something more creative. Modern trimmings tend to be quite dull and uninspired. Take a look at photos and fashion drawings from the 1920s – it should be quick work to make removable trimmings that will enable you to give your hat a different look for several outfits.

 Don't miss 10 ways to 1920's style: part one, the bob

Friday, 15 February 2013

Casablanca on the big screen

Yesterday Mr Robot and I went to see Casablanca at Komedia in Bath. I'm not Komedia's biggest fan, but they do sell beer and awfully good popcorn. It was Valentine's Day, but that's not why we went. It's one of Mr Robot's favourite films, and as there was only one showing, we had to go on Valentine's Day, like it or not.

If you don't know the story, it's a tale of a man (Humphrey Bogart) re-encountering his lost love (Ingrid Bergman) – along with her heroic husband. Even if you've never seen the film, you'll know the lines. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." "We'll always have Paris." You know the song, As Time Goes By. The reason you know these things? Because it's simply a great film.

I know I always say it, but there really is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. We'd seen Casablanca dozens of times at home, but we still enjoyed it even more at the cinema. It gives you a chance to appreciate the beauty of the sets, and you hear the songs so much more clearly – seeing a film in this way really does give you more of a chance to appreciate all the details. I haven't been able to find a schedule of showings for the UK, but it does seem to be touring at the moment, so keep an eye on your local indie cinema's listings for it.

Edit: I forgot to add, there was a trailer for the Baz Luhrmann film of The Great Gatsby. Mr Robot was especially unimpressed with the speeding cars and flashy shooting; he said all it was missing was a big explosion. I still don’t like the use of modern music. However, the one thing that’s undeniable is that from the trailer it looks like being very much a Baz Luhrmann film, not some bland, dull thing, and there’s a lot to be said for that. If any decade’s made for fantasy, it’s the Roaring 20s, so this could be Luhrman’s dream of the jazz age.

Monday, 11 February 2013

An everyday outfit

Do you ever wonder what people wear every day?  I find with some bloggers I can make a guess at their 'normal' clothes, but with others it's much harder. The one thing that is certain is that absolutely no-one looks all-fabulous, all the time. Except for Dita von Teese, but there's a reason why her name has become synonymous with glamour.

Anyway, here's one of my everyday outfits, a jumper knitted to a vintage pattern and simple black dress (it's folded on my legs, but it is a dress, not trousers). Since I finished knitting the jumper it's become one of my favourites. If I don't pin the neckline it looks more like a regular V-neck, but I like to pin it occasionally, and this time it's with a little Aynsley china floral brooch. With this, thick black tights – I was at university in the 1990s, some habits die hard! – and a pair of black shoes with a Louis heel. If it's a work day, I always wear perfume and jewellery of some sort, I don't feel finished without them.

It's typical of the stuff I wear for work, comfy and possibly a tad frumpy, but fairly fuss-free. I can't bear a mass of frou-frou, and even now often struggle to appreciate prints. (Let's not talk about the hair, mmkay?)

So, what's your everyday look? Streamlined? Full-on vintage glam? Typical 2010s office wear, with the good stuff saved for weekends?

(Thanks to Chloe and everyone at the Rose & Crown, Trowbridge, for letting me have a photo shoot in the pub, and thanks to Mr Robot for taking the picture. It's for a project which I'll tell you more about when the time is right!)

Friday, 8 February 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part one, the bob

Colleen Moore
Although the bob haircut started to be seen before the 1920s – dancer Irene Castle got her hair bobbed after an illness – it didn’t go mainstream until the second third of the 1920s. One of the biggest influences was Colleen Moore in the film Flaming Youth, based on the novel about a flapper. (And please, it's flapper', not 'flapper girl'.) Colleen’s career had been solid but not stellar; she cut her hair for the role, became a star and inspired a swathe of copycat ‘dos across the USA.

The bob wasn’t the only hairdo popular in the 1920s, and fashionable hair got shorter and shorter. Later in the decade the shingle and Eton crop were other fashionable cuts. Also many ‘nice’ girls still kept theirs long and wore it in styles imitating a bob. However, it is the iconic hairdo of the decade. The nice thing about the bob is that you can centre-part it like Louise Brooks, side part it like Colleen Moore, have it curly like Clara Bow, have a fringe, don't have a fringe…

Hints on getting your hair bobbed 
Take a photo of the sort of thing you want to your hairdresser. In my experience they have trouble understanding that you really do want it THAT short and THAT blunt. If they don’t get it and you’re lucky, they’ll give you a 60s-style bob instead. If you’re unlucky, you’ll come out with a very dull, mumsy-looking bob. Remember that photo!

The only real hassle with a bob is getting it cut regularly to keep it smart. Otherwise, as long as you pick a bob that works with your hair (don't try to look like Louise Brooks if you've got curls, don't go for a Clara Bow if your hair is poker-straight) I reckon it's the lowest-maintenance vintage 'do there is.

In need of inspiration?
Head over to the website Silent Ladies and Gents, where the gallery devoted to The Silent Flappers is packed with shots of the leading flapper stars of the 1920s from Josephine Baker to Alice White. Your bob is in there!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Ossie Clark has risen from the grave!

Well, no, the actual man hasn't, just the clothing brand. But in the same way that Hammer's Dracula films got slightly worse with every sequel, being resurrected doesn't seem to have done anything for the Ossie Clark label.

I've been wondering why I've been so against it: people who have a genuine love and knowledge of 1960s and 1970s fashion have been very vocal about the relaunch of both the Ossie Clark and Biba labels, but I freely admit the 1970s is probably my least favourite decade, and I've been more than happy with some other phoenix-brands, such as Grossmith, who are remaking perfumes again. Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel... all passed away, their fashion houses headed by other designers, and I don't have a problem with that. So what can it be that's got me so set against it?

It's a matter of care, and attention to detail. Grossmith are, as far as possible given current regulations, making scents that are close to the originals. They even got Roja Dove, the Nose de tutti Noses, to work with them on the formulations. The designers at those major fashion houses work within the spirit of the original house. Saint Laurent is still known for its tailoring, Dior for its romance. In all those cases there is talent at the top. Who's currently designing for Biba? Who's doing the designing for Ossie Clark? Who's supposed to be embracing and renewing the spirit of the house?

Then there's materials. I know we can't all afford designer label clothes made from silk and cashmere – if I didn't buy so much in charity shops, I'd be stuck with the cheaper end of the High Street myself, as it is I mix secondhand with repro labels and mid-range High Street clothes. Even so, there's been a real drop-off in the quality of High Street clothing just in the twenty years or so that I've been buying my own clothes. I swear cotton jersey was more substantial in the 1990s, and it was actually possible to buy real wool knitwear at the cheaper end of the High Street. Not tooth-squeaking, less warm, synthetics.

I find High Street fashion pretty depressing. There is some really nice stuff in there, but it's mostly overwhelmed by a fast turnover of shoddy, badly-cut garments in hideous prints. I feel like retailers have hit the point where their shops don't express a style, more a desperation to put as much as possible out there because some of it has to sell. And yes, I know we live in quite an eclectic age, with much more fashion freedom than in the past, and yes, I'd hate it if style DOs and DO NOTs were handed down from a great height so one year we all felt we had to wear mini skirts and another year maxis, not because we wanted to but because we were told to. However, I would like it if shops had their own distinct styles. I would like it if their garments didn't give the impression of being cut and sewn as quickly as possible, with as little attention to fit and shape as they can get away with. The big designer brands still retain their character. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Biba and Ossie Clark did have their own styles. And now the latter two names are used to put a veneer of style over the bog-standard High Street characterless clobber. The glamour of the names, the illusory magic, is being cast over garments that simply can't match up to the legends.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Picking colours for the Wartime Farm sleeveless pullover


Colour. Some people have an amazing gift for it (my friend Judy, who blogs at SkyLightRain, wears amazing mixtures of fuchsia and teal, to the point where I now think of those shades as 'Judy colours.) I'm rubbish with colours. That could be the result of a gothspent youth; while I may not be very good at combining colours, I rock at textures. Give me a pile of black coats, and I'll find mine immediately!

Knitting has been a massive help to me as far as colour goes. To start with, it helped me work out which ones I really like, because when you're as slow a knitter as I am, you won't be prepared to spend weeks or months looking at something you're not keen on. My tendency is, though, towards subtlety. I like black because no-one notices it. I also tend to pick shades that fade into and out of each other, if not the background. Unfortunately this is going to be very little use on one of my future projects, as I'm making plans to knit the Wartime Farm Fair Isle tank top.

I had a rummage through my yarn boxes today. I did feel the usual sense of guilt that I had so much yarn just hanging around (I need to have a serious charity knitting session later this year), but it was nice to see so much potential in there. I just need to get my head around the colour combinations needed for Fair Isle. It looks simple, but the more colours there are in a piece, the more complicated it gets. Work with two colours and it's easy: a light one and a dark one, job done. Add more colours, though, and simply contrasting light and dark isn't enough. The dark colours need to be distinct from other dark colours, the light ones from other light colours, but they all still need to work together. There are six colours used in the Wartime Farm pattern, and as much as I love the colours in my stack of muted blues, teals and lilac at the top of this piece, I'd be wasting my time if I used them alone for Fair Isle, as they're too alike and the pattern would get lost.


Susan's own yarn, Excelana, is a good starting point for me. I've got a number of balls of it, and I'll definitely use some of them, probably the charcoal, dark blue and deep burgundy. I'm thinking of replacing the biscuity shade with ivory, the lemon with beige and the mint green with a pale sage green. I'll only really know if my choices have worked once I've done a swatch, though – so I'd better get on and finish Mr Robot's socks and my navy cardigan!