Thursday, 30 May 2013

Fascinating Rhythm [CD]

1920s CD Fascinating Rhythm from Past Perfect
This CD is a compilation that I bought in Past Times years ago and is now available as a CD or download from the manufacturer, Past Perfect. It’s great as a taster for 1920s popular music because it’s entirely made up of hits from the decade but is quite varied nonetheless. You’ve got fast, dance-friendly, instrumentals such as ‘Turkish Towel’ by the Savoy Havana Band and ‘The Charleston’ by the Savoy Orpheans, and perky songs such as ‘Button Up Your Overcoat’ by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra and ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue’ by the Savoy Orpheans. Duke Ellington’s ‘Harlem Twist’, with its marvellously dirty trumpet, is one of my favourite tracks.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Secret Rooms, Catherine Bailey [books]

Cathering Bailey the secret rooms
The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey is one of those books that I really didn't want to put down when I started reading it. I bought the book on a whim; I was in Toppings in Bath looking for presents for Mr Robot's birthday, and spotted this lying out on one of the display tables. The subtitle 'A castle filled with intrigue, a plotting duchess and a mysterious death' was too good to resist.

Catherine Bailey is a television producer with an academic background in history. She went to Belvoir Castle (not to non-Brits: it's pronounced Beaver, one of those odd Norman-French things!) to research the history of the men who lived on the Belvoir Estate – the servants from the castle, the farmhands and other ordinary men who'd mostly never even left that part of England before – who went off to fight in the First World War. The eighth Duke was awarded the Order of the Garter for raising recruits, and his son John, later the ninth Duke, was an officer in the North Midlands Regiment.

The Dukes of Rutland have an unparallelled archive of family correspondence at the castle, all carefully organised by John into bound volumes. However, on gaining access to the collection letters, Bailey realised first what a rare thing it was, as many of the staff commented that no-one was even allowed into the rooms where the bound books of letters and estate accounts were kept, and then she discovered, on looking at the letters, that a large chunk of the records had been excised. Everything covering the period from the 5th of July to the 5th of December 1915, the 152 days when the North Midlands regiment had suffered the most appalling casualties, was gone.

Bailey is not a lady to be deterred. She looked through every volume of letters, in case something had gone astray, and in the end found three gaps in the records, all from the lifetime of the ninth Duke. He'd been labouring in the rooms where the records were stored literally up until his death; what was he trying to hide? Whether you will find the book compelling depends on your love of mystery, and you may find tales of rooting through records, visiting other stately homes and archives, dull, but I loved it. Bailey has the knack of compressing months of usually fruitless research into a wonderful narrative of discovery.

I won't spoil things for you by revealing Bailey's discoveries, but I will say what she found was someone my heart really went out to at first. The ninth Duke seems to have had an especially loveless childhood, and there were points when I wished I could reach back down the years and give a lonely little boy a cuddle. His parents, as they are portrayed in the book, seem capable of loving their children only when they are dead or at risk of dying, whereas alive and safe they are neglected, mistreated – in one case, virtually pimped out. And the possible reason behind the missing wartime letters makes me feel more ambivalent, as John's apparent behaviour is something no-one could praise, but I do not know if I could be brave, and so will not condemn another's actions in a situation I cannot imagine. Part of me thinks after such a loveless early life, it's understandable if a person is prepared to sacrifice even his honour for affection.

The book ends with a list of the names of all the men from the estate who died in the war. Their stories may have been erased, but Bailey is keen to ensure their names will not be.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Steamcheese!

Last weekend Mr Robot and I went to Steamcheese, a steampunk event in Frome. I thought it was time I shared a few pictures with you! I'm afraid I'd been working hard on another project for a few weeks and really didn't have the time or energy to work on an outfit, so I went with my old gold dress and a pair of brass goggles that my brother gave me for Christmas. His nibs shaved in his muttonchops and wore tweed.
steampunk dress Victorian
We decided to be sensible, so Mr Robot took my
photo before we went to the pub!

I really loved Waltz on the Wye, another steampunk event, when Andy and Rachel ran it in Chepstow, and so my expectations were high. To be honest, possibly too high; while at the time I was thinking, "This is okay, but it's no Waltz," in retrospect it was a jolly good day in many ways, and it was fantastic that the people of Frome seemed so friendly and welcoming, and keen to see this steampunk lark for themselves rather than prejudge it.

During the day there was Tea Duelling (to Welsh Imperium Rules) and a market. Ankaret Wells won the Tea Duelling, which didn't surprise me at all as she's an erudite lady with a collection of etiquette books, so if anyone is sure to French Fancy her way to victory (ooh, Matron!) it is she. She also had a secret weapon: moving cat ears, guaranteed to befuddle her opponents. There were some really nice stalls at the market, with jewellery, clothing, crafty bits, homewares... a really nice selection of stuff. The locals seemed to enjoy it as much as the steampunks.
Several drinks down, with two well-dressed ladies: a broken doll, and
one with a fantastic teapot hat. You meet splendid people at these events.

In the evening there was a jolly good lineup of bands: BB Blackdog, Sunday Driver, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and Professor Elemental, plus performance poetry from Muriel Lavender and burlesque from Dulcie Demure. I suppose if I'd had to make one major change to the day, it would have been to have something happening in between the day events and the evening gig; I spent the afternoon in the pub with the husbeast, Rachel and Andy, and was a little squiffy before things really got started, while a lot of people ended up wandering off to the park, which was quite a long way from the main venue.
The men that will not be blamed for nothing steamcheese steampunk Frome
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for nothing: my
favourite act of the evening

The Men... were probably my favourite act, nicely loud and fast. This was the first time I'd seen them, but several other people who had seen them before said the sound at Steamcheese was the best they'd heard for the band. The Prof was also on top form, although his set seemed quite a short one. I was so busy catching up with people, I didn't pay the other acts nearly as much attention as they deserved, although Mr Robot liked Sunday Driver well enough to buy a CD.

Muriel Lavender performance poet
Muriel Lavender
Anyway, I drank wine at the gig – BIG mistake – and ended up tipping a pint of beer down myself and treading on one of the ruffles on my skirt and ripping it. Shabby and covered in booze, a sure sign of a good time!

The organisers are running another Steamcheese next year, this time over May 30th to 1st June. If you're in the area, why not come along?

Professor Elemental steampunk Steamcheese frome
Professor Elemental serenading a member of the audience
All pictures copyright PP Gettins.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

What would Morticia Addams knit?

I have finally finished the Wartime Farm sleeveless pullover. It took a whole lot of knitting, and I don’t think I’ve ever completed a full-sized garment for an adult so quickly. I was knitting for around three hours a day, even on work days, and to be honest was pretty drained by the end of it, but I’d wanted to finish it in time for my next Simply Knitting column. It feels good to have finished it!

Now I’m back to working on my navy late 40s/early 50s cardigan, and the experience of pushing myself to complete the tank top has been valuable. I know I can manage a lot of knitting in a relatively short time if I put some effort in (and force Mr Robot to do the cooking!). All the same, I’ll take things a bit easier for a while and enjoy my crafting. And, indeed, make time to read for pleasure, sew, and do all the crafts I’ve had to shunt to one side for a few weeks.

 One thing that’s going to be fun is my latest knitting swap on Ravelry, an Addams Family-themed swap. I’m having fun trying to think of things the Addamses would make and give. I’ve got some lovely fuzzy alpaca laceweight that would make a perfect pair of Addams-y mitts. When clearing out the spare room so our friends could stay for Steamcheese, I realised I have an embarrassing amount of yarn. I actually feel ashamed when I think of it. I tend to buy it in sales, terrified that OMG THERE WILL BE NO MORE EVER and need to get it through my head that I knit very slowly, and by the time I’ve finished one item, there will still be plenty of cheap wool for sale if my stash ever runs low. (Unlikely.) On the plus side, I’ve got a really wide choice of stuff to turn into knits for my swap partner.

I’ve got some suitable sombre fabrics for crafting with too, as I always fancied making a quilt like Uncle Fester’s in the films and bought fat quarters here and there... even though I don’t have a sewing machine! When I get one, that will be an ideal first project as it’s all squares, so would mean lots of practice at getting the right tension and sewing straight lines.

What do you think Morticia would knit? Not including three-legged babygros, of course; that may be what she did knit in the original drawings and the film, but I can’t imagine my swap partner getting much use out of it. Perhaps she’d make a new cobwebby shawl for Grandma Addams. Hmm. What would Morticia knit?

Monday, 20 May 2013

What I bought at Steamcheese


I've got a proper post with outfits and other lovely stuff from Steamcheese planned (proper photos of that, too), but in the meantime here are some things I bought at the market there. I love shopping at this sort of event as it's a chance to buy things you simply can't get in conventional shops.

First, a vase engraved with nautiluses from Atelier Fabry-Perot. It's hard to get a decent shot of the nautiluses on my cameraphone, but hopefully you can see these. I'd seen photos of the vases online before the event and was determined to get one of them. The nautiluses remind me of fossils, which it why I wanted one. I love fossils and there just aren't enough things with fossils on for me to buy! Hopefully any leftover vases will be appearing on their Etsy shop over the next few days. They also had all sorts of wooden laster-cut items for sale; I think they actually sold out of their rocket ship kits.

Some vintage buttons and a buckle from Mr and Mrs Magpie's Inexplicable Emporium. I have no idea what I'm going to put them on, let alone when I'll have time to knit it, but I had to have them! I've actually got 12 of the blue ones, so can use them on a 30s pattern as those often use a lot of buttons. And yes, it's sitting on top of the Wartime Farm tank top. It's finished! It's finally finished! *Cries with relief*

Mr Robot bought a bakewell tart-scented candle from the Magpies too, as his mum really likes scented candles and this was something a bit different.

Those two companies are both run by friends of mine, but I paid full price for my items. Steampunk's a small community, so getting to know people who sell things is inevitable.

We also bought a couple of things from the band stalls in the evening - I had to have the latest Professor Elemental comic, and Mr Robot enjoyed Sunday Driver's set and so bought a CD. I'll do you a proper review of the CD, and a comics roundup, at some point soon.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Bumper charity shop haul

Work clothes! I love the way the skirt
looks with the black velvet jacket.
I had a day of charity shop WIN at the weekend. You know how some days you get up and you think, “Today, there is something out there for me”? Well, on Saturday I did think that, and there were several somethings out there for me.

Age UK is probably my favourite of my local charity shops as it tends to have more granny clothing than other chazzas. I adore my nantastic wool skirts, and that’s what my local branch delivers. They had a £1.49 sale this weekend, so I was able to get a tweedy skirt in one of those timeless shapes, just below the knee, that can be worked into a wealth of looks and this pure wool tartan skirt. I don’t really have the figure for pencil skirts, being round of belly, narrow of hip and flat of butt, but this is somewhere tighter than most of my skirts without being a full-on pencil. The pure wool cloth is very soft, and it's a mixture of black, grey and pale blue with a very faint orange stripe.

I also got two pairs of pinstriped trousers. I’d managed to wear though the fabric or kill the zip on all my existing trousers, and while my motto has usually been, “Don’t buy anything with a gusset secondhand”, I decided to try buying trousers anyway - after all, I could wash them, and you’d hope people wore knickers with them. Now I have two very nice pairs for work, one lightweight enough for summer. I’d already realised I’ll probably never need to buy a new winter work skirt ever again, and I suspect I’ll never need to buy brand new trousers now either. (More money to spend on SHOES.)

My final win was in British Heart Foundation, a chiffon, peasanty dress. As soon as I saw the fabric I loved it. It’s only New Look, and the style is pretty modern, but the print reminds me of the 1930s dresses I’ve seen and loved but can neither fit into nor afford. Mr Robot wasn’t very impressed with it, but then he’s not the one who’ll be wearing it to work.

Aaaah, secondhand success feels good.

On the shopping front, there'll be the first Trowbridge vintage market on the 29th June, as part of the annual (and impressive) Armed Forces Weekend. If you're in the area, why not come along?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Murder on the Homefront / Foyle’s War knitwear

ITV seems to be doing quite a lot of programmes with a wartime setting now; a new drama, Murder on the Homefront, is set to be broadcast tomorrow night (8 May). Unlike Foyle’s War and The Bletchley Circle, this one’s based on real life, in particular the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, who was secretary to the Home Office pathologist Keith Simpson, so I've been looking forward to the programme since I first heard about it.

My enthusiasm has been dampened since ITV put out a press release on the programme, and the case mentioned in the release bears no resemblance to any of the better-known cases Simpson worked on. It looks very much as though the central case is completely made up, with the overblown elements and rapidly-rising bodycount modern crime dramas seem unable to be made without. Still, we shall see how it all turns out tomorrow night! Perhaps it will be better than I’m expecting. I'm going to watch it anyway.

Foyle's woollies
There’s been some interest on Ravelry in the knitwear worn in The Bletchley Circle, which has just been shown in the US. I don’t have any shots of that, but I did take a couple from the recent three-episode series of Foyle’s War, which I thought you would enjoy. If you’re on Ravelry, there’s a group for Foyle’s War, and one member’s recently completed knitting a cardigan based on Sam’s green one from the episode ‘All Clear’ (series six). Nisse at What’s In A Treehouse has done a blog post showing a lot of the knits from earlier series of Foyle’s War, including the green cardigan.

Anyway, here's a couple of nice knits from series seven.
From episode 3, 'Sunflowers', this lady wore a red jumper with openwork V's
and little embroidered flowers

Sam also had some nice woollies. This looks like a bed jacket to
me - the little tie at the throat gives it away. Note the khaki
shade: leftover wartime yarn?

Having seen a few 1940s-set dramas of late, and enjoyed seeing other people’s reactions to shows I love, and been working hard on the Wartime Farm tank top, I’m craving a Fair Isle cardigan of my own. But it must wait! First I have to finish the tank top (and it’s taking a LOT of work; I’m started to get scared I won’t finish it on time despite working on it every day) and then my navy cardigan.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Today special effects genius Ray Harryhausen passed away. Influenced by stop-motion animations that he'd seen as a boy, especially in King Kong and The Lost World, he was one of the foremost special effects creators ever to work in film. What films he made! Jason and the Argonauts, Earth Vs the Flying Saucers, One Million Years BC...

I watched one of Harryhausen's films only last week. It was 20 Million Miles to Earth. (The title is misleading; it's set in Italy.) While the irritatingly macho hero was very much of the era, and you could tell the scientists were going to make a terrible mistake, the monster, which was Harryhausen's work, was brilliant, and the scenes where the US military battle it round central Rome are an incredibly skillful blend of stop-motion miniature with real filmed footage. I doubt many of today's special effects will look as good in fifty years' time. As I say, he was a genius.

Monday, 6 May 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 10, the boxy coat

Woohoo, our journey through ways to get the 1920s look is coming to an end, and we're topping the whole lot off with a boxy coat.

So much of the 1920s look is about things tidy and unfussy in silhouette, from the close-fitting cloche hat to the streamlined dresses. Day coats are similarly simple. The classic shape for day would be knee-length, with the fronts crossing over and the coat fastening near one side of the body – a wrap coat, of you like. Despite the crossover front, the coat still shouldn't look tailored; there's no waist in this style. The folded-down collar could be topped off with a thick wodge of fur, emphasising the small, neat head with its bobbed hair and close-fitting cloche hat. Some of Sonia Delaunay's wool coats for day wear were extremely vivid, with blocks and triangles of colour, but they still had the simple wrap shape.

If you prefer a sportier look, a blazer-like coat will work. Just keep it hip-length, and make sure it doesn't fit too closely. Worth made some wonderful outfits with trousers (daring!) blouse and jacket, with the jacket's cuffs and collars in the same pattern as the blouse.

For evening, coats became every bit as lavish and exuberant as the evening dresses, made from silk, velvet, lamé, and other luxurious fabrics. Fur swaddled the collar and wide cuffs, and even the hems of these extravagant garments. Their shapeless structure meant they were a great surface for all sorts of appliqué and embroidery, and some couture examples are a riot of colour.

As long as you've got a great pair of pins from the knees down, the 1920s evening coat will look great on you. All eyes will be on the rich, beautiful coat, with nice legs poking out the bottom. Why opt for dreadful old sportswear on a day when you're feeling less confident, when you can cover everything up with luxury instead?

So, let's count down the 10 ways to 1920s style:

The bob
The cloche hat
The dropped waist
The knitwear
The bee-stung lip
The Louis heel shoe
The long necklace
The bandeau
The flesh-coloured stockings
And now, with your boxy coat, you're good to go!

(Don't forget a squirt of a fabulous flapper perfume on your way out...)

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Shoes and trews

Where I was working on Thursday. Some days I love my job! 
It's been a quiet week, and I'm hoping for a quiet long weekend too. I did think I'd found the perfect repro shoes, and bought them by mail order – sadly they're quite narrow, and don't suit my feet at all. I actually like my feet, they're short and chubby, not all horrid and bony, but it makes choosing summer shoes tricky as they're usually cut just below the widest part of my foot, and it looks as though I'm bursting out of them. So bah, the beautiful shoes are going back to their maker, and I'll probably be getting a pair of Hotter Rumba for summer. (I like Hotter, but I wish they'd make some retro shoes that weren't quite so bland.)

On Thursday I got to go to the Valley of the Rocks near Lynmouth to do some photography for work. It's a gorgeous part of the world and the day was lovely and sunny. The sea was the most amazing shade of aquamarine, and we could see Wales across the water. It did make me realise I need some new trousers, though: having worn through my beige tweed and bust the zip on the pinstripes (which were just ancient BHS polyester anyhow), I ended up wearing my shabby gardening trews.

I hate buying trousers. What I really fancy are some lightweight wide-legged ones, in a sort of 1930s beach pyjama style, but even if I could find them they'd be utterly wrong for scrambling up brambly banks and lying on bracken to get close-up photos. I might end up having to buy my first pair of jeans in two decades... but there are so many sorts (and they're all bloody ugly, I feel miserable just at the thought of owning a pair, let alone being seen in public in them). How on earth do people know what sort of jeans to buy? Seriously! Maybe I should buy myself some huntin'-shootin'-fishin' tweed ones from Bob Parratt.

But hey, First World Problems!