Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Plus sized vintage party dress ideas?


The office party is looming, I have finally conceded that I am NOT going to look good in a satin dress that's a size too small, even with shapewear, and now I am in need of a plus-sized frock of fabulousness, preferably vintage-style.

Any ideas? Plus points if you know of anything to fit 40-33-41 with a prominent tummy... (And don't say, 'diet'! I don't do the d-word.)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Yes, you CAN knit!

I've seen a few bloggers posting recently wishing they could knit. I'll let you into a secret: you probably can knit, even if you think you can't. I only learned at the age of 30 myself; six years on I'm making stuff which well-meaning people tell me, "looks bought, not hand-made at all." (They mean it nicely, so I leave their entrails intact...)

The thing that got me into knitting in the first place was wanting to make my own vintage-style clothing. I'm not going to lie: pre-1960s jumper and cardigan patterns aren't usually ideal for beginners. They use thin yarn (which means lots of stitches), have more complex shaping and frequently only one or two bust sizes are given, which are small by modern standards, so if you're above a 36in bust you're out of luck. This pretty chartreuse top from Stitchcraft April 1954, for example, is sized for 33-34 and 35-36in busts. That's all!

For absolute novices I'd recommend starting with a scarf, to get a feel for the basic stitches, then doing a couple of baby garments. Baby garments are excellent because they need a small amount of yarn, are quick to finish and use all the shaping techniques you get in larger knits, and if you don't have a nipper yourself there are lots of charities who'll happily accept baby clothes.

After that, you'll be ready to knit for yourself. If you want to dive straight in with a jumper, I can't recommend 'Such Flattering Puff Sleeves' from A Stitch in Time highly enough. The ribbing does all the body shaping for you so it's a tremendously simple knit, and because the rib stretches to fit, if you're a tiny bit out on the sizing it won't be a disaster. If you want more practice, try making yourself a hat or scarf from a vintage pattern. I've ordered patterns from The Vintage Knitting Lady myself, and she has a really good selection available as PDFs. The 1950s Alice Band Hats are particularly easy. Bedjackets are another good option. They may use a complex stitch pattern, but they're usually simply in shape, and if it does turn out a bit wonky you can tell yourself that anyone lucky enough to see you in your bedjacket won't be contemplating your knitting skills!

If you have a fulsome figure, resizing may be an issue (it's a problem I encounter myself). Older patterns often have complex fitting around the shoulders, so you can't use larger needles and hope to gain an extra inch or two – you'll end up with shoulders in completely the wrong place. If your bust is up to 40in, the Vogue Knitting Books from the 1950s onwards contain designs sized up to 38 or 40in. If you're larger than that, and a novice, I recommend making yourself lots of pretty accessories and sticking to modern books of resized vintage patterns. The number of these available is increasing all the time.

You can knit. You may not have the time to develop it as a skill, not everyone does. But if you do find yourself with a daily bus journey, or spending lots of time in waiting rooms, pick up some needles. All that time could, eventually, turn into the perfect vintage winter woollie.

One final thing: even if you can knit, it doesn't always mean you should

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

RIP, Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, the star of several Hammer films, and one of the greatest British horror films of all time, The Wicker Man, has died. Most people know that she starred in some of the more saucy Hammer vampire films (often in limited amounts of clothing) and was very beautiful. What people often don't realise is that she was a concentration camp survivor and also a very talented actress, with her own theatrical touring company. She also wrote.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I have been given a Lovely blog Award! Land Girl 198o gave me one a while back, and now I have one each from Lady Cherry Loves and Sailing Over A Cardboard Sea. I'm really pleased people like Crinoline Robot, because it's not pure vintage lifestyle and the odd bit of horror or science fiction will creep in. I just figured if I rambled on into the ether, at least I wouldn't see people's eyes glaze over, unlike when I launch into a lecture on The Goon Show or whatever in person.

I have to nominate 15 people for the award, but I want to nominate people who haven't already got one (otherwise some poor bloggers are going to find themselves scouring t'internet for obscure, un-nominated blogs soon as they've done this so frequently!) So, the winners are:

The Crafty Geek - knitting! Cross stitch! Science fiction!
The Vintage Kitten - English country vintage
Tea and Crumpets - Westcountry vintage and craft
Laughing Yaffle - Indie yarn dyer and all-round arty soul
Dressing Mrs Exeter - inspiring fashion and sewing

That's only five, I know, but these are high-quality blogs. No filler!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Adventures in the flatlands

I travelled back to Norfolk over the weekend as it was my mum's birthday. Most of the time we were out on the farm, which is an adventure in vintage in itself simply because of the things that have been accumulated over the decades. Mum has milk jugs hanging from her beams, and it's fun trying to guess the dates from the colour schemes and flower patterns. Likewise there are always old books and things about. This time there was a real old treat waiting for me as my godmother has given me her mum's copy of Knit With Norbury, dating from the mid-1950s if the pictures are anything to go by. The interesting thing about the book is that it frequently has one pattern shown using three different stitch patterns, you you can make a lot of knits using one fairly slender volume.

I will have to make more vintage-style Fair Isle berets as mum saw mine and wanted it. Happily there are six patterns in my 1960s leaflet, so I can make her one like mine but not the same.

On her Events page, Retrochick had mentioned a vintage fair at St Andrews Hall in Norwich over the weekend, so we dropped in and it gave Mr Robot a chance to revisit some of his old haunts. I am kicking myself for not buying a dress clip I saw and liked, but did get mum a little dragonfly brooch she wanted. I need to get over not buying things when people are with me. Vintage is my porn; I spend money on it when I'm on my own but not when other people are watching, and there were some handbags I liked too! It was a nice event, and there were some very well-dressed ladies there including one in a pretty Horrockses dress. It's so nice to be in a room full of people not wearing jeans...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Movember: William Powell

Time for a bit of gratuitous man-totty in honour of Movember. I have to admit, I'm not a massive moustache fan, mainly when they're not looked after 'moes' can be rather unpleasant things. However, one man who not only wears his moustache, but does so with panache, was William Powell. I bet he never tried to kiss a girl after marinating his overlong mo in beer and pizza...

Powell's career started in silent films, and right from the start he was on screen alongside some very big names: John Barrymore in Sherlock Holmes, Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was in Flower and Lillian Gish in Romola. He also played the role of George Wilson in the lost silent version of The Great Gatsby (one of the holy grails of silent film fans). His early talkies included The Canary Murder Case with Louise Brooks (one of three films where he played detective Philo Vance) and Pointed Heels with the prototype for Betty Boop, Helen Kane. However, none of those are the roles he's most famous for.

For me, William Powell will forever be the dashing detective Nick Charles, one half of the 1930s most scintillating crime-fighting teams. The other was his wife Nora, played by Myrna Loy. The duo made six 'Thin Man' films. In the shot here, he's testing out his Christmas present from his wife. Nick is a witty, hard-drinking charmer, wisecracking and fun, as at home in a low dive as he is in an upmarket nightclub or fancy restaurant. Of course, he needs wealthy, sparkling Nora to be seen to his best advantage – but who wouldn't imagine being Nora Charles with William Powell as Nick?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bobbysocks robot

The BBC has a wonderful story about a working robot being brought out of his creator's garage for the first time in over 40 years. Tony Sale trained pilots on the use of radar, and in 1950 built 'George' out of pieces of a crashed bomber. This is actually Mr Sale's fifth George and has light-sensitive eyes.

Mr Sale sounds like a jolly interesting chap; he was involved in the rebuild of the Bletchley Park Colossus and was a founder of the National Museum of Computing there. It's heartwarming to know he's kept George all these years.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Carey Mulligan to play Daisy

Vogue is reporting that Carey Mulligan has got the role of Daisy in the forthcoming film version of The Great Gatsby. I don't hold out great hopes for this film as it's got Leonardo di Caprio in – I know he can act, but I still find him dreadfully annoying. That said, I will watch it. Well, you have to really.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

M G Eberhart [books]

You may not have heard of Mignon Eberhart. I hadn't before I took part in a mystery and thriller-themed knitting swap. (I knitted a Maltese Falcon, which came out more like a Maltese Penguin, for my partner, she sent me a stupendous Poirot-themed tea cosy.) My partner also sent me a book by Mignon Eberhart because I enjoy both Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Laura by Vera Caspary.

The two you see here were first printed about two decades apart, The Glass Slipper in 1938 and The Promise of Murder (also printed under the title Melora) in 1959, yet they are similar enough to be a good illustration of Eberhart's most famous style of story. Both feature a beautiful young second wife, married to an older, successful man. In each case there's a beautiful, chic woman closer in age to the husband involved in the couple's lives, usually making the new wife feel gauche and unwanted. I have other books by Eberhart, but the out-of-place central female character and luxurious settings are a constant, and there's always a good dollop of romance to counterbalance the thriller element.

I don't enjoy romances as a rule, but do enjoy a good crime novel, and find these interesting for the precise descriptions of women's lives, and what happens when crime enters the precise, elegant world of rich women. You get a sense of clothes, jewels and good manners working as both armour and prison. Eberhart's stories are quite feminine, a little 'soapy', and that's not a bad thing but I do think they'll be enjoyed more by women than men.

Like a lot of older crime novels, you may find these popping up in your local Oxfam or secondhand book shop, although I don't think they've been reprinted in recent decades.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New 1950s-set drama

The BBC has announced that Dominic West has been cast in a new six-art drama set in a newsroom in 1956, the year of the Suez crisis and the start of the Cuban revolution. Looking forward to that.

I very much enjoyed the first episode of Edwardian Farm last night, too. The breed of sheep they had is very cute, and I'm glad they didn't use a chicken to clean the chimney!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A brief guide to vintage perfumes: up to 1940

 This is the first of three posts on scents that were formulated decades ago and that are still available. This is by no means an exhaustive list of vintage scents still in production, however is should give you plenty to explore if you’re looking for a scent to accompany your look.

All fragrances have been tweaked over the years, but I have tried to mention when anything on this list has been completely or controversially reworked. In almost all cases, my advice would be to buy vintage if you find it, after sniffing to check it hasn’t ‘turned’.

Don’t neglect classic flower scents like rose, violet and lavender, especially if your style is early 20th century. A bottle of one of these from Bronnley or Yardley can be really inexpensive and is a classic ‘nice girl’ scent.

Muelhens 4711 (1792)
The original eau de cologne, and great if you’re on a budget. This was popular for decades, so if you’ve got an eclectic wardrobe and only want one scent, this will go with everything and offend no-one.

Guerlain Jicky (1889)

Goldsmith Phul-Nana (1891)
Really gorgeous floral, slightly sherberty on the nose to start with.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee (1906)

Caron Narcisse Noir (1911)
Gorgeous, cold and often said to be disturbing, using orange blossom to convey the scent of narcissus. I own the EdT, and did think the descriptions were a little unfair, but then I realised it’s always the one I reach for when I’m going to a funeral. Gloria Swanson sprayed it all over the set of Sunset Boulevard because she felt it would unsettle people.
EDIT 2/3/16: This fragrance has been discontinued in some strengths, but I've seen the parfum still for sale.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleu (1912)
Wistful melancholy in a bottle, anise and violet at dusk. Worn by Diaghilev’s dancers. Retro-goths and pale, fading artists’ models, give it a go. You will notice from my photos that this and Mitsouko have the same bottle; it is said that one smells of the time before the Great War and the other of the Jazz Age afterwards.
EDIT: This has been heavily reformulated - in Guerlain's Champs-Elysees boutique they have sniffer jars for you to experience the original version, and the difference between the original and current versions of L'Heure Bleu is shocking.

Acqua di Parma Colonia (1916)
The one in the yellow box. Unisex; Audrey Hepburn and David Niven were among its fans.

Caron N’aimez Que Moi (1917)
Created during World War 1, 'Love No-one But Me' – soldiers would give it to their sweethearts.

Guerlain Mitsouko (1919)
Elegant, aloof, difficult. Frequently heralded as the greatest perfume of all time, and it is the one perfume I really couldn’t bear to be without, although if you’re buying/trying the current version, the parfum is said to be the closest to the vintage in scent. The Eau de Toilette is not especially good.
Some people find it easier to appreciate than to like. Worn by Diaghilev and Jean Harlow, whose husband famously doused himself in it before committing suicide. Catherine Deneuve drops a large bottle of this in Belle du Jour.

Caron Tabac Blonde (1919)
A tobacco-laden garconne, the girl you don’t take home to mother – unless you want to risk her running away with Mama! One for Blue Angels, ladies’ ladies and other femmes fatales…

Chanel No 5 (1921)

If it’s good enough for Marilyn, the ultimate aldehyde is good enough for anyone. Chic, ladylike and luxurious.
Chanel No 22 (1922)

Caron Nuit de Noel (1922)
Still available, but only in parfum.

Guerlain Shalimar (1925)
The current version always starts off a little nastily on my skin, but later becomes a pleasingly dirty, vanilla-laden scent, balanced with bergamot to prevent it being too sweet.

Molinard Habanita (1921)
Tobacco and flowers combine along with a warm scent somehow redolent of skin without being unpleasant. When I was in Les Senteurs once, the assistant said they sell absolutely loads to men buying for their lady friends. Very sexy, and the Lalique bottle is so pretty.

Isabey Gardenia (1925)

Isabey Fleur Nocturne (1925; originally called Bleu de Chine)

Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924)

Jean Patou Adieu Sagesse (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Amour Amour (1925)
A modern version of this has been released under the name of Deux Amours; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Que-Sais Je? (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I really like the original, which struck me as an unusual chypre with a hazelnut note.

Chanel Bois des Iles (1926)

Caron Fleurs de Rocaille (1933; not to be confused with Fleur de Rocaille, which is from 1993)

Coty L’Aimant (1927)
A 1920s scent that you can find in the cheapies section in Boots!

Lanvin Arpege (1927)
A lovely, ladylike aldehyde, my burlesque teacher fell in love with it because she said it smelled so clean.

Caron Bellodgia (1927)
Spicy carnation fragrance.
EDIT 26/1/13: This fragrance has been discontinued.

Jean Patou Chaldee (1927)
Long discontinued, Patou released a perfume called Chaldee as part of its Heritage collection in 2014, though I've yet to see any review comparing it to the original so can't comment on how authentic it's said to be.

Caron En Avion (1929)
Possibly an acquired taste – you may have worked out from my notes that I like challenging scents. There’s a whiff of metal in here as well as powder, as befits a fragrance inspired by air travel in the age of glamorous aviatrices.

Jean Patou Joy (1930)
Billed at its launch as ‘The most expensive perfume in the world’, a bold and possibly tasteless claim during the Depression, but justified by the amount of high-quality rose and jasmine it contains. Tasteful and rich.

Worth Je Reviens (1932)
Got debased over the decades, but was hauled upmarket again in the 2000s as Je Reviens Couture, which (I believe) you can get in Harrods.

Creed Angelique Encens (1933)
Made for Marlene Dietrich.

Guerlain Sous le Vent (1933)
Invented for Josephine Baker. Reworked a bit, but by all accounts still beautiful.

Guerlain Vol de Nuit (1933)
Like Caron En Avion, a tribute to the daring aviatrix.

Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass (1934)

Caron French Can Can (1936)
Made with the American market in mind, this is a constant flouncing of flowers, like the petticoats of can can dancers. And just a little bit naughty underneath. EDIT 2/3/16 I believe this is now discontinued, as it doesn't appear on Caron's website, but bottles can still be found at retailers.

Jean Patou Vacances (1936)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Schiaparelli Shocking (1937)
I once read perfume guru Roja Dove describe this as smelling like ladies’ underwear. Now, I have no idea how he came by the information to make the comparison, but it is definitely what perfume fans call ‘skanky’. (For what it’s worth, I love dirty perfumes.)
Vivienne Westwood wanted a modern version of Shocking when she released Boudoir, another ladybits-redolent scent.

Jean Patou Colony (1938)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I love the original, it's a deep and oakmossy pineapple chypre.

All photos were taken by my husband, and are images of part of my personal collection.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Secret Tea Party

Yesterday I went to the first 'Secret Tea Party' hosted by Mrs Stokes in Bath. I signed up mainly because I'd wanted some help with my hair, which is a definite hairdon't right now, and there were going to be stylists there, but the opportunity to have tea and cake too was not to be passed up. I mentioned it at work and on Facebook, and a few friends liked the sound of it, so while I had planned to go alone, we ended up making a nice little group of four.

The event was held upstairs at The Nineteenth House in Bath. It's a sort-of-new pub; it used to be a specifically gay bar, and now it's not, so while it's been there for years I'd never been inside (because I believe in allowing people to have 'safe' spaces and didn't want to intrude, not because of prejudice). With silver trays on the walls and bold wallpaper it felt both modern and old fashioned - very suitable for an event like this. Catherine of Mrs Stokes had further decorated with vintage tablecloths and napkins and beautiful mismatched china on every table.

Jess, Lu, Andrea and I had a table to ourselves which was ace as it meant there was none of that awkward 'Will they all think I'm a terrible guts if I eat another sandwich' anxiety. If my friends had thought I was scoffing all the goodies, they'd have said something. We started with a glass of champagne each, but after that there was tea.

As we had tea, Gem Lye, burlesque dancer and founder of The House of Go Disco agency, demonstrated one way in which she does her hair. After that there were vintage makeovers. One of the stylists was Inma Azorin, who does the styling for some of our photoshoots at work, but I've forgotten the name of the other lady so if anyone remembers, please tell me in the comments! [EDIT: Her name was Lou (thanks Catherine!), and you can see the sterling job she did on my barnet at the bottom of the page.] There was also the opportunity to purchase china – if you're looking for a pretty gift Mrs Stokes' boxed giftsets are adorable. Only a surfeit of china at home kept me away from the 'Tulip' teaset!

The whole event was really lovely. The atmosphere was great, and there was a nice spread of ages too. I had feared being in a room full of gorgeous 20-somethings, but instead I was in a room full of gorgeous many-aged-somethings. Everyone had put in effort with their clothes, and after walking through Denim Hell (aka the new shopping centre) earlier in the day it was nice to see so much prettiness.

On my table Lu wore a black dress with white polka dots and a patent belt, Jess had a cute grey dress with a black velvet bow at the front over a long-sleeved black top, Andrea had a sarong dress from Vivien of Holloway (Inma found a flower to go in Andrea's hair that matched her dress perfectly) and I went 30s-style in a calf-length black and white herringbone skirt and my recently completed 1938 jumper, with a pearl and green enamel four-leafed clover brooch and pearl earrings to match.

I really think the tea party showed that this area has a hunger for pretty, vintage-feeling events. Catherine plans to host more tea parties, and there's a regular burlesque night which I believe Gem organises. World, the ladies are coming!

Photos are: Our table

Jess (left) and Lu (right), pre-makeover
Jess during her makeover with Inma (I really wish I'd got one of her afterwards as she looked stunning.
Andrea, post-makeover
Me, looking smug because I've got curly hair that doesn't look 1970s for once!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Cat's Meow [DVD]

The Cat's Meow got a fairly poor reception on its release, but it's one of my favourite modern films. It's based on Hollywood fact and Hollywood legend. The fact is that newpaper magnate William Randolph Hearst took his mistress, the beautiful actress Marion Davies, plus a number of other Hollywood types including Charlie Chaplin and Louella Parsons, on a yacht trip. Guest of honour was Thomas Ince, a film producer, whose birthday it was. Ince was taken ill aboard, and died ashore the following day. The official story is that Ince died of a heart problem; Hollywood legend has several tales, one of which is that Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin were having an affair and Hearst, in a fit of rage, shot Ince thinking he was Chaplin. There's a write-up as part of Ince's wikipedia entry. That's the story portrayed in The Cat's Meow.

The casting is fantastic. Kirsten Dunst's Marion is simultaneously flirtatious yet loving, a woman on the verge of having an affair while still feeling great affection for Hearst. Eddie Izzard's Chaplin is a charming rat. As Hearst, Edward Herrmann plays a powerful man, terrified of losing Marion despite all his power in other areas. At first there's a feeling of lighthearted fun, but things slowly become more serious, more frantic.

The costumes are almost all in black, white and silver; director Peter Bogdanovich wanted to film in black and white but the studio wanted colour so he turned to costume designer Caroline de Vivaise to help him create a more monochrome look.

Well worth watching if you find it - I bought my DVD from HMV.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Secret Tea Party

This weekend I am going to the Secret Tea Party, hosted by Mrs Stokes. I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm hoping someone can suggest a hairdresser who can sort out my mop. It's a bit long and straggly, and whenever I try pincurls I end up looking like a refugee from Studio 54 – and while the 70s look may be hot next season, it's probably my least favourite decade of the 20th century, style-wise. Anyway, I've never been to this sort of event, so I'm hoping it will be fun and happy with good music.

Working out what to wear has been easy: my new 1938 jumper, plus a pencil skirt, which I will buy this lunchtime, and the nice shoes I bought from Office last month. If only decisions were always this simple!

The cup is one currently on sale on Mrs Stokes' website.