Saturday, 26 February 2011

Birthday swag!

I am 37 today! Hoorah! I got stuck at a café table next to some very young students a week or so ago (sixth formers rather than undregraduates) and they were discussing how they couldn't possibly celebrate when they turn 30. I wanted to laugh. Being 30 was fine, and I suspect 40, 50, 60 and 70 are going to be pretty ripping too. My family tend to live into their 80s, so if I don't make it to my 80th I'm going to be one ticked-off ghost. Anyway, if you have a 'big' birthday coming up and it's daunting, the best piece of advice anyone's given me on the matter is this: you should do something you've always wanted to do for your birthday. I had my hair dyed pastel blue for my 30th, and for my 40th I'm going to learn to Charleston and go to Burgh Island. Being 40 is going to be great.

As this is my 37th I have nothing special planned, but I have had some nice presents. I got a couple of great CDs: the radio drama Paul Temple and the Conrad Case starring Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury, a 3 CD set of Louis Armstrong recordings from the 1940s, and a DVD of The Lost World from 1925. No complete version of the film exists, and this was compiled from several copies. I also got a set of Warren Ellis' Planetary comics from my friend Kai. As they're about an organisation tracking down the world's secret history, they are definitely Crinoline Robot subject matter, so I look forward to writing about them soon. My workmates got me two skeins of Fyberspates Scrumptious Laceweight yarn to knit the Jersey with a Soft Bow from A Stitch in Time, and a fab knitting bag made from fabric depicting classic Halloween monsters from Rhian, the Crafty Geek. I love old-school monsters!

Incidentally, Paul Temple and the Margo Mystery is being broadcast on Radio 7 in the evenings at the moment. The first episode was yesterday and should be on iPlayer. I haven't checked when it was originally broadcast but it sounded 60s to me from the incidental music and character types. I was very impressed with this one as Steve managed to get herself kidnapped before Paul even had a case to work – match that, Penelope Pitstop!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Annette Hanshaw, Lovable and Sweet [music]

Annette Hanshaw is one of my favourite vintage singers, making recordings during the 1920s and 1930s, and I love this CD of some of her best numbers. In many ways Annette has quite a plain voice: it’s doesn’t have the babydoll squeakiness of Helen Kane, or any soaring operatic qualities. Despite that, there’s so much personality in her voice that you get a real feeling for the person and the emotions behind the songs. In ‘You Wouldn’t Fool Me, Would You?’ she imitates her friend Helen Kane in a fun and friendly manner, while in ‘Ain’t He Sweet’ you can almost see her smiling as she sings.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Now THIS is a fruit cake

I'm not a royalist - my main reason for favouring a royal family is that it prevents us, as a nation, doing something really stupid like electing Boris Johnson or Katie 'Jordan' Price President. However, I've seen a few American commentaries online reacting unfavourably to the fact that this year's royal wedding cake is likely to be a fruit cake, illustrated not with a traditional wedding cake but with a photo of some poor offering with a crate of candied fruit wedged on top. To put matters straight, here is a royal wedding cake of the past, made by Huntley and Palmer's for the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in 1934. Sadly the picture I have is not incredibly clear, but I'd estimate the cake is a couple of feet tall at least, topped with a bouquet of flowers and figurines, with little roundels depicting what I think are landscapes on the sides of the tiers.

Now this is a fruit cake!

Monday, 21 February 2011


I bought a copy of Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles With Modern Techniques from Pin-Up Parade recently (excellently speedy service, by the way). I hate hairstyling. I've never been able to do it. The only time my hair has ever looked stylish was back in the late 90s/early 00s when I had a 1920s bob, and I could just wash it, leave to dry naturally and it did its own thing, falling naturally into just the right shape. As a lot of bloggers point out, though, hair is critical to a vintage look, so I've decided I'd better get to grips with my mop.

The book is great. Because the instructions are so clear and so well illustrated it even makes a complete hair incompetent like me feel I can do some of the styles. I'm not going to try too many of the really curly ones; I don't know if it's caused by having a chunk of Asian ancestry in the mix but my hair is always determined to be straight, and curls fall out of it incredibly fast. I might, at a push, be able to manage some of the wavy styles, but otherwise it's going to be snoods, scarves and pinning all the way.


The book has instructions for the bun of my dreams. I always say I'm not into the 1960s, but that's not completely true, and one thing I've always liked about the 1960s are the really intricate updos. Think Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair or (my favourite) Alexandra Bastedo in TV programme The Champions. I had a go at it this weekend, albeit without the additional hairpieces the book says you need. I do need them – or another 8 inches of hair – but it can be done. What's more, I think if I get the hang of it I could manage it quickly enough to do it for work.

If you're already good at hairstyling you'll be able to follow the instructions for the 'dos in the book with ease. Complete novices should be able to manage a fair few of the others.

Now I need to crochet a snood!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Weekend fun

Penny Dreadful Vintage listed my post on vintage styles to suit apple-shaped figures as one of the blog posts she’s enjoyed recently. Do check out the other posts she’s enjoyed, and also her Etsy shop – along with some gorgeous 50s and 60s pieces she has a couple of 70s numbers that have my inner Margo screaming for release. (I don’t let my inner Margo out. Being fuller of figure, if I let her loose she goes on a chiffon binge and I end up looking like Miss Piggy.)

Radio 4 is continuing its ‘Classic Chandler’ season with Farewell, My Lovely tomorrow. I’ve really been enjoying the Chandler dramatisations, and hearing them aloud has made me respect Chandler’s use of language all the more. His use of the first-person narrative laden with metaphors has often been imitated, but he had a truly skilful way with words that none of the copycats can manage.

BBC4 is repeating the series Glamour’s Golden Age, all about the inter-war years, and tomorrow’s episode, ‘Beautiful and Damned’ is all about London’s Bright young Things. Watch it for the music, watch it for the clothes, watch it because it might encourage Auntie Beeb to give us more deco-related televisuals. If you have iPlayer, you’ve a day in which to watch last week’s episode, ‘The Luxe Experience’, all about the development of the deco style, which I enjoyed greatly.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

'Madeira' jumper: cast on!

I cast on the 'Madeira' jumper from Knit With Norbury last night. That was bit naughty as I am trying to finish off a jumper that I've been working on for at least two years, but the truth is I'm not sure that will suit me and I've had masses of trouble with one piece of it – I ripped it back for the second time this weekend and was feeling quite demoralised with it. I have resolved that if the piece comes out wring a third time, I'm going to sew it on anyhow and wear the jumper around the house. Anyway, that's got nothing to do with the Madeira jumper.

I'm using Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool 4ply in a really nice blue. That's not a particularly cheap yarn, but when you're wearing something right next to your skin, you need it to be soft. I keep my eye out for good-quality yarns on special offer. Most of the vintage knitting patterns I have can be done in a modern 4ply, so I buy full packs (10 balls) when I see a yarn I like on sale. This yarn cost me £33 for a pack from Deramores (no longer discounted) and I doubt I'll use all of it. Leftover balls can be turned into gloves or used Fair Isle designs, they won't go to waste.

I'm not really into a lot of 1950s stuff – Mr Robot likes the music of the 1950s and 1960s, but I'm more of a Jazz Baby myself. However, I do love the knitting patterns of the era, and this jumper should be another one that's smart enough for work, much nicer than the long-sleeved T-shirts I always end up falling back on and still won't require me to plug in the dreaded iron.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Revenge of the nerd

I've started building a database for my vintage magazines and patterns. The idea is that it will help me find whatever I'm looking for quickly and easily, whether that's a lady's twin set from the 1950s or a 1930s baby layette or an Audrey-Hepburn style flowerpot hat. I'd thought it would be a quick job, but as I'm including any sort of pattern, be it embroidery, crochet or anything else as well as knitting, it's going to take quite some time.

I'm including size ranges in my database. I think I've got the hang of resizing now, but would still prefer not to deviate from patterns too much as that will reduce the room for errors introduced by me.

One thing I had hoped to do this weekend was make a bag from a pattern in one of my 1940s Stitchcrafts, but I forgot to buy the fabric while in town yesterday. Doh! Maybe some other weekend.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Weekend radio: The Lady in the Lake, The Moonstone

Good stuff on the speakerbox this weekend!

Tomorrow at 2:30 Radio 4 is broadcasting its second Raymond Chandler play, this time an adaptation of The Lady in the Lake. I'm not quite sure how they've arranged their scheduling as Farewell My Lovely, published three years before The Lady in the Lake, is next week's play, but the stories do stand alone so it doesn't matter much.

On Sunday at 3pm there's the final part of Wilkie Collins' Victorian detective story The Moonstone. It's been split into four, and if you've missed the other bits two and three are available (part two for only one more day) on iPlayer. Show Boat is the Classic Serial starting on the 20th of February.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A brief guide to vintage perfumes: 1960-1989

Here we are, at the final part of my formulated-then-sold-now perfume roundup. A word of warning on these ones: if you were in your teens/twenties during the period covered here, do think carefully before wearing one of the scents from that time too often. You won't have a signature scent, you'll be giving yourself a date stamp.

As always, photos are copyright to PP Gettins (aka Mr Robot).

Madame Rochas (1960)
Heavily reworked, to the point where some people regard the current version as a different scent, although to my nose the current version still smells of another era. Nose-ticking with aldehydes.

Hermes Caleche (1961)

Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles (1962)
Orgy at Versailles, more like – ‘tis a tad mucky under all those flowers.

Diorling (1963)

Yves Saint Laurent Y (1964)

Miss Balmain (1967)

Lancome Climat (1967)

Estee Lauder Estee (1968)

Estee Lauder Azuree (1969)

Givenchy Givenchy III (1970)

Yves Saint Laurant Rive Gauche (1971)

Chanel No 19 (1971)

Clinique Aromatics Elixir (1971)

Very herbal, but also chic. Can be worn to work without being inappropriate, but also ideal with a little black dress.

Lancome Sikkim (1971)

Jean Patou Mille (1972)

Christian Dior Diorella (1972)

Estee Lauder Alliage (1972)

Estee Lauder Private Collection (1973)

Charlie (1973)

Eau de Patou (1976)
Recently rereleased as part of Patou's Heritage Collection, though I've yet to see a comparison of the latest version with the original.

Yves Saint Laurent Opium (1977)
 Has been reformulated, and by all accounts in a fashion displeasing to Opium addicts, so if you like it hunt down some older bottles now. I haven't seen any older bottles with discounters for a while, so Etsy or eBay would be your best bet.

Estee Lauder White Linen

Estee Lauder Cinnabar (1978)

In any battle between this and its near cousin Youth Dew, Youth Dew wins. Cinnabar is, however, lovely in itself.

Cacharel Anais Anais (1978)

Lauren Ralph Lauren (1978)

Molinard de Molinard (1979)

Guerlain Nahema (1979)

Balmain Ivoire (1979)

I quite like this: it’s green and soapy and clean-smelling. Apparently it was inspired by a beautiful woman in an ivory satin evening gown, but for me it’s one for very hot days or times when smartness is essential because it is so clean.

Caron Nocturnes (1981)

Giorgio Beverly Hills Giorgio

Tuberose and orange blossom hell. Was actually banned from some restaurants in the 1980s. Personally, I loathe it: it’s loud, it’s vulgar, and it carries for metres in every direction. On the plus side – if it is a plus – you can get it dead cheap in Superdrug or Asda. (I should say at this point that most of the perfumes on my ‘Don’t come near me wearing that!’ list are 1980s tuberose and orange blossom. I find they’re usually far too strong, and they cling to my throat so I can taste them. Giorgio is by far the worst.)

Yves Saint Laurent Paris (1983)
I like this rose and violet blend - very pretty. People do say it’s been altered a lot since the 1980s.

Chanel Coco (1984)

Givenchy Ysatis (1984)

Very much a 1980s scent, but in a less strident way than some.

Christian Dior Poison (1985)
Another 1980s tuberose and orange blossom powerhouse like Giorgio, but not as obnoxious. Okay, I’m being unfair, this is quite possibly the scent of the decade, and would be the perfect finishing touch to an 80s look. Just dab, don’t spray, and let me stand upwind of you, mmkay?

Calvin Klein Obsession (1985)
I still have a bottle of this from the late 1980s. In some ways it’s typical of the era in that it’s both strong and sweet, but it’s not as throat-clingy as many others.
Cacharel Loulou (1987) 
More tuberose and orange blossom. You know my thoughts on this sort of scent.
Estee Lauder Knowing (1988)

Calvin Klein Eternity (1988)

Estee Lauder Beautiful (1989)

Elizabeth Arden Red Door (1989)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Waltz tickets bought!

I am being organised. Mr Robot and I have both our event tickets and accommodation for Waltz on the Wye, I have cheated and mail-ordered a dress for the ball and things are looking good. It's the picture you see here, from Recollections (and I hope they don't mind me using their pic), but I'm having the upper part (bronze in the picture) in an old gold striped silk, and ivory lace and underskirt instead of black.

I'm feeling an tiny, tiny bit guilty for buying a ball dress, but I am going to knit/cobble together all my dayime outfits, I cannot sew clothing, and the dress was on sale, so for about £100 I'm getting a Victorian-style silk dress. It would cost me that much just to get a pattern and enough fabric to make one, and they know what they're doing, whereas I would doubtless have made a pile of costly patchwork bits! Someone on knitters' group Ravelry recommended them. I do worry that the colours I've chosen are slightly weddingy, which didn't occur to me when I placed my order, but if they are at least it will help me shift the dress on eBay when I no longer need it. Hopefully Customs won't sting me too much for import costs...

Now I need to start work on all the other bits I need for the event - I was up until nearly midnight finishing off the last of my work knitting, so now all my time are belong to me!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Nice blog if you like making things

I stumbled across Jeggings Does Vintage yesterday and thought it would interest lots of people. Its writer, Jenny, plans to create one vintage item from scratch every month through 2011, and in January she knitted a really nice jumper that looks just wonderful on her.

I'd love to be able to make more things from vintage patterns myself, but freelance knitting and reviewing have a horrible habit of getting in the way – they ate most of last weeknd, which is why I haven't reviewed the radio version of The Big Sleep yet. I had planned to do a comparison with both the Bogart/Bacall film version and the original novel, but I had a novel to read for work instead (not the hardest life in the world, it has to be said!)

So, I will be following Jeggings Does Vintage and admiring her makes instead.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Festival of Vintage, York

I saw this over at Retro to Go and thought, "Ooh!" As I'm at the other end of England and am already forcing Mr Robot to attend Waltz on the Wye at the start of May I won't be going, but the Festival of Vintage in York this April does look rather good – it has shopping, but doesn't feel over-commercial, and covers a really nice spread of decades, 1930s-1960s.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Bombay Waterfront (aka Paul Temple Returns) [DVD]

The final one of the Paul Temple films I own, this is better than Send For Paul Temple but not as good as Calling Paul Temple. John Bentley returns as Paul, and I do rather like him in the role, with yet another actress doing duty as Steve. Patricia Dainton is very pretty, but really rather too young.

Friday, 4 February 2011

How d’you like them apples?

Lots of vintage-loving ladies comment on how the High Street isn’t great for shoppers with a small waist in comparison to their bust and hips. Well, I’d like to come at this from another angle: I’m an ‘apple’, storing my fat on my bust and, in particular, my waist, not on my hips. I know I’m not the only apple in the world. There are probably plenty thinner than me, but still with a larger-than-average waist size for their hips, and the High Street doesn't really cater to us either. (If there is some magical creature out there who can wear everything in the shops, I've yet to meet her. I suspect she's a fashion unicorn.)

Vintageland is, in its way, even worse for apples than the mainstream simply because we’re constantly having ‘the vintage figure’ held up to us in a way that suggests our bodies are somehow ‘wrong’. Well, there were all sorts of ‘ideal’ figures in the past – the flapper wouldn’t have wanted the figure of a sweater girl and vice versa – so I want to look at vintage styles that can look fab on apples. If, like me, you’re a heavyweight apple, I’m not going to tell you they’re going to make you look thin. They won’t, and you shouldn’t have to feel they ought to. They’re simply styles that don’t require as much differentiation between waist, hip and bust sizes as some other fashions.

1920s tubular styles While associated with the very slender, these are actually fab for apples because they bypass the waist altogether. Apples tend to store weight on the bust as well as the waist, so there’s a good chance an apple will have similar measurements for bust and hips, perfect for a straight dress. You may find you will need to go down a dress size or two – I’m a UK 18 because of my waist, but eliminate that and I’m a 14-16.

This style is great for daywear as tunics and calf- to knee-length straight skirts are really practical.

1930s styles An apple may be wider than the 1930s norm (I know I am) but the the ideal 30s silhouette was a gentle wave rather than a dramatic curve. Just l0ok at the picture at the top of this post. You may find the smoothing effect of shapewear useful here, not to make you slimmer but simply to help streamline a rounded tummy, which could otherwise disrupt the line of the figure.

1960s shift dresses As with the 1920s styles, the waist is bypassed, making this another great choice for apples.

These are styles that I think look great on apples, but the gal with the right attitude can make anything look fantastic, so if you're an apple and want to rock a curvier look, such as a 1950s one go for it! Confidence is the best accessory you can have.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Nice shoes!

I spotted these shoes in my local Hotter Comfort Concept the other day - aren't they cute? I'm seriously considering getting a pair in plain black for work, although I like the beige too and I have been thinking about getting more brown accessories. One thing I really like is the small heel; I have a pair of vintage-looking shoes from Office, but the heels are very high (allegedly a mid heel!) and some days I really can't face them and end up in my hiking boots. Not trés chic. A pair of these would get me out of the big beefy boots and help me with my resolution to be a bit less slobby in 2011. The 1920s are also one of my favourite eras (please let Boardwalk Empire have an influence on the high Street!) and it's really nice to be able to get some 1920s-style shoes easily.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Fed up of headscarves?

You can now get Susan Crawford's 'Greta Turban' kit online from KnitontheNet. I've got one of the kits on my desk at work, and they make really lovely gifts. They contain everything you need, including the needles, and the turban is great if you need to cover up your curlers in a hurry.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Marlowe on the BBC

If you love your men tough and your dames tougher, you're going to love what BBC Radio 4 has in store for us this year: Toby Stephens starring as Marlowe throughout the year in dramatisations of all Raymond Chandler's novels. The Beeb did the same thing with John Le Carré's Smiley novels last year, and I did listen to those and thought they were highly successful.

Click here for the schedule so far. Annoyingly there are a few decent-looking things on during work time, but the dramatisations of the novels have been saved for weekends. I wish I were able to listen to the drama this Friday as I watched Double Indemnity a couple of weekends ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. (Plus it has Patrick Stewart in. Mmm, Patrick Stewart…)