Thursday, 30 September 2010

Shooting with the Ensign Popular

Isn't this a beauty? This is the Ensign Popular my workmate lent me. We have given it back now, but are hoping to find a cheapish one for sale at some point because it's a lovely piece of kit. As you can see, it's got a leather case about as long as a man's hand, and the front folds down so you can slide out the leather bellows. (That bit has to be done manually.) The cable on top is the shutter release. You can see at the back of the sticky-out bit – very technical there! – a cream-coloured area; that's the bit that helps determine the focal range.

The back of the camera comes off so you can put in the film. It takes medium format film, much larger than the usual sort and so a good sort of film for me and Mr Robot to practise our developing with.

The whole thing is manual, so you have to set the shutter speed, aperture and so on. I have to confess, I don't really understand that myself, but when we went out for the day I was made Mistress of the Light Meter. It was my job to adjust the little wheel to the film ISO we were using and then read off the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the levels of light around us.


Now, if I've got Blogger's formatting worked out, you should now be looking at the light meter, closed and in its leather cover. Isn't it cute? It is German but the writing is in English so we guess made for the British market, from the 1930s and still functions. You can't tell from the photo, but the plastic on the casing isn't black or brown, it's a very dark burgundy. There's some cracking round the hinge, but that doesn't impair its function and if a bit of the plastic did come off I could just glue it back on again. We bought the light meter on eBay for not much at all. Old camera kit like this is surprisingly cheap, and we had several light meters to choose from but liked the look of this one best.


The following photo should be of the same little device with its top up so you can see the workings. I really love it. There's something so very aeronautical about it. I still find it amazing that things like this can work purely mechanically/chemically; I'm so used to electronics and our age of microchips and arcane circuitry that the simplicity of devices like this and the camera just blow me away.

At first working it was a complete mystery. Stuff of this age rarely has a manual. However, for anything like this Camerapedia is your friend. It will help you date things, fix things and work out how to use things.


And here is a photo we took! You don't get many shots on a roll of medium-format film. You can see there's a dark stripe down one side of the photo. This isn't from developing, we think there may have been a small leakage of light into the back of the Ensign Popular which caused that.

The building is the old 'blindhouse', the drunk tank, in Trowbridge, the County Town of Wiltshire. Taking the photo, it was strange to think that this same camera could have been used to take a picture of exactly the same building 80 years earlier.

Monday, 27 September 2010

New vintage knitting book

Volume two of A Stitch in Time is now available to pre-order from KnitontheNet's online shop. I've mentioned volume one a few times on this blog. Volume two covers a slightly later time period; volume one is 1920s to 1940s, and this one covers the 1930s to the 1950s. I don't know what's in it, but I do know I'll be buying it as the first one is so good and it's difficult for me to find patterns from my favoured period (late 20s/early 30s) that are sized to fit my plus-sized figure.

Note: I am not making any money off this post, and will be paying full price for my copy of the book.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Meet Paul Temple


Have you met this dashing chap and his lovely lady wife? I’d never heard of them until I heard an episode broadcast on Radio 7 one evening during the ‘Crime and Thrillers Hour’, which starts every workday evening at 8pm, and now I listen to it if ever it's on, even if I've heard the story before. (If you are in the UK and like old radio programmes, be sure to check the schedules regularly. Listeners outside Britain may be able to hear some of the programmes via the BBC Radio 7 website.)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Steampunk knitting patterns

Rhian of The Crafty Geek sent me this link: The Sanguine Gryphon's autumn patterns are steampunk-themed. I have a soft spot for steampunk, and love hearing about the events my friends go to and the outfits they wear. (I have the yarn to make one of them a shawl from Jane Sowerby's book Victorian Lace Today, but finding the time to knit it has proved more difficult.) I think my favourite of the patterns is the Tirtoff jacket as I like the way it fastens. None of the patterns feels strongly Victorian, and I personally prefer steampunk that looks a little more historical, but none of these designs would be worn alone – unless you are determined to go out in nothing more than knitted spats! – so along with other steampunky items they probably look brilliant.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Bulldog Drummond

A lot of my reviews of detective and derring-do tales get the ‘heroes’ tag. You may notice that this is absent in this case. I’ve read the first four Bulldog Drummond novels (Bulldog Drummond; The Black Gang; The Third Round; The Final Count) and while I liked Bulldog himself a little more after the last book, and author Sapper’s writing improved greatly over the course of the four, I still found them ultimately distasteful.

My problem with these books is its attitude towards people of colour. There’s a nasty vein of anti-Semitism throughout – whenever Jewish people are portrayed, they are usually described in terms of distaste, and they are always working for Peterson or the opposite political cause to Drummond. Other small things here and there jar, too. The only character with any sort of physical incapacity (a hunchback) is also a villain. Now, this is the point where someone is sure to accuse me of being PC, and tell me that these were the attitudes of the time. The fact is, I’ve got Anglo-Indian ancestry through one grandparent myself, friends with disabilities, and these things offend me. I’m not being offended on anyone else’s behalf, I personally find them offensive, and they make it hard for me to enjoy the books. They’re of so little significance to the books they could probably be edited out, but I’m not in favour of censorship, so I guess I’ll just have to dislike the books because of this attitude.

Okay, let's put that to one side. If Sapper wasn't well-known for having written these books, I'd suspect them of having different authors because the plotting and narrative style change so much from the first to the fourth. The first three have an unknown, omnipresent narrator - the author's voice. The fourth purports to be told by one of the participants. Bulldog Drummond has a wealth of people on Drummond's side, not just his friends but former servicemen too, and in both Bulldog Drummond and The Black Gang there is a significant villain working alongside ultimate ne'er-do-well Carl Peterson. Later on Peterson and his lady friend Irma take a more hands-on approach to their business. The narrative in the first book seems bitty, chapters ending on moments of extreme peril like a 1910s movie serial, but by the end the storyline feels much smoother, and the tale balances plausibility and silliness very well. Had it not been for the aforementioned anti-Semitism, I'd probably have enjoyed The Final Count.

Would I recommend these books? Certainly not for children, given the attitudes the books display. However, if you're interested in adventure stories and James Bond in particular (Fleming cited them as an influence) they're worth taking a look at, even if you don't enjoy them.

Source of books read: Oxfam bookshop - the editions I got are from the 1950s.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Vintage-style gloves


Yes, I've been knitting again. (I had thought the black background to the picture would make things look clearer, but it just makes them look horrible. Sorry about that!) This pattern is 'Gloves for a Spring Wedding' from Susan Crawford's book Vintage Gifts to Knit. I made the larger size, and I have modified the design slightly, altering the position of the lace pattern as it fell very close to my thumb originally and changing the fingers slightly. There's a vent and two buttonholes on the other side of the wrist for each glove to fit snugly, but I don't have buttons yet. Loop have some really dinky 1940s ones in stock, and I may get four of those if they fit, although my buttonholes are tight and I may end up using tiny craft buttons.

The patterns in the book are vintage-inspired rather than reproductions of vintage patterns (I hope I got that right), but Susan really knows her vintage knitwear. Vintage-inspired is always a tricky subject, because for every person who understands what they're doing there are probably five others who'll make something and slap faded roses all over it and call it vintage, even if it's something like a baseball cap or those bum-toning trainers. You're safe with this book, though, unless you are a thorough purist who only accepts things made within a particular time frame.

If you want to make items from vintage patterns but don't have the time/ room/ money for a sewing machine, do try knitting. I didn't learn to knit until I was 30, and even then one of the things that was driving me was being able to make things from vintage patterns. I was lucky enough to be at the launch party for Vintage Gifts to Knit at Jelly in Reading, and both the event and the designs re-enthused me for vintage knitting. Start with a bag or hat and you may get the bug too.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Still here!

Yup, I'm still here. It's been a really busy week with a few late nights in the office and I haven't had time to take the pictures I need for the posts I have planned, but in the next week I should have more book reviews and a new vintage knit to show you.

In the meantime, here's another of Mr Robot's Dig For Victory pics.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Another old camera

Knowing my husband and I like old cameras, a workmate has lent us an Ensign Popular. The Popular was around in various forms for a few decades, but I’m pretty sure the one we’ve got is from the 1930s. It’s a hard black leather box with rounded ends, and the front flaps open so you can slide out the bellows with the lens in. It’s much less sophisticated than our Dacora 1, lacking things like an autotimer, but a few steps on from the box cameras of the 1920s. It has a very tiny aperture and, like the Dacora 1, takes medium format film.

I've got a week off work next week, and hopefully will have some photos developed from both cameras to share with you.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Satin Christmas baubles [homeware]

I am absolutely delighted to see John Lewis are going to be selling satin Christmas baubles this year. I remember them from my childhood, and think of them as very 1960s/1970s. Usually I take one look at the 1970s and run away screaming – I hit my teens in the 1980s, when anything 1970s was unspeakably unfashionable; there was a real brown/black, flared/tight, folksy/urban split between the two decades, and back in the 1980s nothing could be worse than being a bit 1970s. However, when it comes to Christmas it’s a case of the more nostalgic, the better, and I am very pleased to see satin baubles making a comeback. All the family ones have unravelled over the years, so I shall definitely be buying some new ones.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

1960s Fair Isle beret

I have mentioned before that I’m a fat robot. This limits the vintage clothing available to me nowadays (when it is available, it’s more Mrs White than Miss Scarlett), and as lovely as many reproduction dresses are, I simply can’t afford to buy myself a repro wardrobe. In the spirit of making do, I’ve decided to knit myself some things. For garments it's going to be tricky as most vintage patterns come in sizes much smaller than I do (usually around a 34-in bust), so I'll probably be relying on Susan Crawford's book A Stitch In Time for a bit – she's already done the hard work of resizing patterns. Accessories will be easy, though, and will really help create unique outfits.

This is the first thing I’ve knitted from a vintage pattern, although it was actually done in the spirit of experimentation. Yarn weights have changed over the decades and I wanted to try yarn substitutions, so decided to do a small pattern in odds and ends of yarn from my box. I’m not particularly into the 1960s, although Fair Isle berets were around from the late 1940s, and the colours are simply what I had to hand. That green, especially, is completely inauthentic. Nonetheless, I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The camera works!

The camera my husband bought recently is a Dacora 1, from 1952. We were a bit gutted to discover the shutter was stuck, but on Sunday, after the application of a bottle of wine (to us) and a goodly amount of WD-40 (to it), it worked! The shutter fired. Today we've loaded it up with black and white film. I'm a bit concerned that there's moisture on the lens. It may be WD-40, but we'll pop some silica gel in the camera case anyhow to see if we can dry it out. If the droplets stay, I guess we'll get some interesting distortion affects.

The amount of technical stuff to learn with a camera this old is quite staggering. Mr Robot is the techie one so he's doing all the f-stops and working out the focal lengths. I'm planning to start developing, messing around with chemicals being more my line than moving little wheels and calculating distances.

I hope to have some Dacora 1 photos to show you in the not-too-far future.

(Do click on the link to see what it looks like, it's so gorgeous! Ours is in a little brown fold-out leather case too.)