Thursday, 30 June 2011

Ethel Waters [music]

Like my other favourite female singers of the 1920s, Helen Kane and Annette Hanshaw, Ethel Waters has a voice that is as packed with personality as music. Waters had a much more difficult start in life – as an African-American woman, she was never going to be overloaded with privilege, and Ethel had an especially tough time being born to a teenaged rape victim, and married very young herself. She got her break when asked to sing while attending a costume party at a nightclub.

You can list Waters achievements: celebrated singer during the Harlem Renaissance, performer at the legendary Cotton Club, the fifth black woman to make a record, the second African-American Oscar nominee… but what you have to listen to her songs to discover is just how well-deserved the plaudits were.

My favourite recordings by Ethel are the ones where she’s telling a story as that really shows off the emotional range of her singing. ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ for example, starts as a polite, deferential statement that Miss Otis is unavailable for lunch, and as the tale grows more melodramatic so her voice soars and dips, at time almost sobbing. I've never heard her recording of 'When Your Lover Has Gone' but it's one of mty favourite songs and I bet she does it proud.

You can get recordings of songs by Ethel Waters on Amazon. I got mine from Duck, Son & Pinker, Bath’s much-missed vintage music store.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Fab 50s wallpaper (and more!)


I've seen a few posts on the Festival of Britain exhibition at London's Southbank Centre. (It's part of a four-month celebration of the 1951 Festival.) A few people have commented on the wallpaper and fabrics in one of the displays on other blogs. It's by Sanderson! Their '50s Wallpaper' and '50s Fabrics' collections are on sale now.

One thing to be aware of with Sanderson is that many of their designs are very large in scale and probably best suited to large rooms. They released a collection called 'Vintage' to celebrate their 150th anniversary and I had thought of getting some of the 1930s 'Swallows' fabric for making dining room curtains, but I have only a little two-up, two-down house and when I saw it I realised the pattern wouldn't have worked in tiny rooms.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Some thoughts on shopping for vintage

Today is Bath's first vintage and antiques market at Green Park Station, a disused railway station in central Bath. Frankly, I was disappointed. The organisers have made an effort, and there were appealing things like a pop-up tea room, but too many of the stalls were just selling bric-a-brac. I don't have any problem with bric-a-bra per se; back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the city, there was splendid and cheap junk market in the old bus depot – as well as my treasured 1930s film magazines, I bought a tailcoat there that had moths (discovered before they damaged anything precious) and generally would have fun padding around looking at stuff. So why didn't I enjoy this market?

For me, there are two ways of shopping for vintage. The way I buy most often is from charity shops / car boots/ jumble sales. Everyone I know with more than a passing interest in vintage knows that it would be ruinous to shop only from dedicated sellers of period items, and that if you're prepared to go regularly and look through the 63 Jilly Coopers three weeks running to find one novel by MG Eberhart, or wade through 87 polyester scarves, some with dubious marks, because sooner or later you'll find a silk one for £2, you can find a great deal of what you need.

(Scared of finding scungy bits in clothes, stained cups or mildewy books? Can't face sniffing the armpits in an old frock before making a buying decision? Dare I say it, you might not like vintage as much as you think you do.)

Anyway, the other way to buy vintage is to shop from a vintage specialist; the vintage clothing seller, the retailer specialising in old china. If someone advertises as specifically selling vintage, I expect two things: one, that prices will be relatively high; and two, that the sellers will be justified in charging a premium because they will have done the legwork required to bring a lot of desirable vintage into one place. I'll spend more, but save time.

I expected the market to be packed with the latter type of stall. There were a few that fitted into this bracket, such as one selling midcentury modern homewares, Mrs Stokes' teaware stall, a stall devoted entirely to door furniture and one selling vintage toys and games, but there were plenty that just seemed to be selling random old stuff at very high prices, with the assumption that people into vintage will buy any old tat, and I can sift through much cheaper random old tat in charity shops. For me to go back to the market, either the prices have to drop or the quality of stall has to improve.

What do you expect from people claiming to be selling vintage? And where are your happy hunting grounds? (You don't have to be too specific, if you don't want people coming to hoover up 'your' stuff!)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Captain Scott's Strong Blend TEA!


Tea like it used to be? For me that's PG Tips, which we always seemed to have while I was growing up, although nowadays I drink fairtrade tea. However, I spotted this in Tesco and decided to give it a try as the supermarket has got together with the blenders of the tea Captain Scott took on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1910-13 to reproduce it in teabag form. (I did not see it as a leaf blend.) Five pence from every pack sold goes to the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is preserving the huts Scott and his men used a century ago.

So, what's the tea like? It's good and strong, but not as tannin-heavy as I'd expected – the pure Assam a local café sells definitely has more of that 'mouth tightening' quality than this one. It would make a perfectly acceptable breakfast drink (in fact, it just has!), and if you like strong tea, as I do, you could drink it at any time of day. I daresay Scott and his men did. However, having bought it once, I think I'd prefer to stick to my fairtrade tea (ActionAid has plenty of information about the treatment of workers in the tea trade) and just send my money straight to the charity. It's nice, but no nicer than the other strong blends I drink.

(Photo is mine; the cup is one I got from the first Mrs Stokes Secret Tea Party, and is a 1970s Colclough. YES, 1970s!)

Monday, 20 June 2011

A bar in a trunk! Now that's luggage.

Looking for something to give your home that 'Victorian Exporer' feel, or just some bits and bobs that make it clear that a Chap of Action dwells there? Today I was shown just the place to find those things.

Mr Robot has been in search of a gimbal for making a steampunk smoking device. (I am convinced he's going to set his clothes on fire, but we will deal with husband brulée when it happens, and I shall try to persuade him to wear wool when he tests it as wool doesn't burn well.) Anyway, brass gimbals seem really hard to find. I don't like breaking up perfectly good vintage items, and I've been unable to find a broken ship's binnacle compass that would do the job. Mentioned it to my Dad, who's a nifty car booter, and he sent me a link to a French company called Authentic Models. They did indeed have just the sort of compass I was looking for, but so much more too.

How about a bar in a trunk, for all your alcohol-dripping travel needs? If you're not quite that keen on a tipple, they have whole collections of stateroom and campaign furniture. Pen sets and model zeppelins, globes and compasses, cinema seats and sextants. I want it all. Happy browsing!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

26 June: Bath Vintage and Antiques Fair

The first Bath Vintage and Antiques Fair is on the 26 June. I have no idea what it'll be like, but if you're in the area it sounds worth a look. I'll probably go, although it's unfortunate that they've managed to put it in at the end of the month when everyone (me, for sure) is out of money, and I have a wedding reception to go to that evening. Mr Robot is currently on a quest to find the perfect summer hat, so I might be able to lure him along with the prospect of hat hunting. (And gimbal-hunting, for his portable self-righting hookah. Best not to ask about that one; I am worried he'll set himself on fire if he ever achieves it.)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Good news! [books]

One of my favourite books of all time, and definitely my favourite 'alternate reality' novel, Anno Dracula, has been rereleased. I bought a copy for my friend Kai. (I am a terrible pusher, I've hooked at least four people on Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, which are modern ripping yarns but I feel it would be stretching things too much to review them here as there's no historic aspect.) The front of the new reprint states that ther following books – The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha – are going to be out soon and so is Johnny Alucard!

When I stalked… I mean, talked to Kim Newman at a showing of the Hammer film Dracula 1972AD in Bath a couple of years back, I asked about Johnny Alucard, which he'd been writing for getting on for a decade. (It seemed appropriate as one of the characters in Dracula 1972AD is called Johnny Alucard. He said it still wasn't finished. But is it now? Could it be? The other two books are set during the First World War and in 1950s Rome (reviews to come, 'cos you deserve them and I fancy rereading the books); I'm expecting the next one to be set in the 1960s or 1970s and have been looking forward to it for years. Literally years.

Anyway, next time you're in your local bookshop, do take a look at Anno Dracula. You just might want to buy a copy.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

O hai! You're new here!

I'm guestblogging on Retro Chick today, so I thought I'd do an introductory post on this blog in case anyone finds that post interesting and comes here. (Yeah, right...)

I'm Mim. Crinoline Robot is about all the things I find interesting, and some of the things I do, that also come under the headings 'vintage', 'retro-futuristic' and 'alternate reality'. That covers quite a lot. Knitting from vintage patterns. Silent movies. Steampunk. Tales of derring-do. Old perfume. I doubt anyone has exactly the same mix of interests, 'cos we are all unique and marvellous human beings. You may be a purist with regards to decade, refusing to look at anything post-1959, you may hate those papery book things and be thinking 'TAKE ME TO THE CLOTHES!', you may hate clothes and be longing for films. Because of that, all my entries are tagged. I try to tag with decade as well as subject so it's easy to get to all posts about a particular decade as well as individual subjects, and most of my posts have fairly obvious titles so you can browse through the archive click-down thingy on the right of the page easily. In short, have a look around, you should be able to find anything you might like pretty easily.

If you have come from Retro Chick, I've put some tags at the bottom of this post to get you started. 'Forgotten Bombshells' will take you to two posts, one on Chili Bouchier, the first British cinematic sex symbol, and one on Sabrina, the 41.5-19-36 beauty who wowed 1950s Britain. 'Icons' will take you to my style icons, from Morticia Addams to Myrna Loy. 'Clothing' is pretty obvious!

So, o hai, thanks for visiting, I hope you like the blog. Please have a look in the bar at the right before you go as I have a long list of other blogs I read, and you can click through to the newest posts on some really interesting blogs there.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Edgar Wallace, 'The Green Archer' [books]

Edgar Wallace The Green ArcherAnother rip-roaring tale from Edgar Wallace, The Green Archer features a beautiful girl looking for the mother from whom she was stolen as a baby, her kindly foster-father (who conveniently became a millionaire, Beverly Hillbillies-style, after oil was discovered on his land), a redheaded journalist, a very secret policeman who is also a master of disguise, an Anglo-Indian petty criminal and his wife, assorted villains and, at the centre of it all, Abel Bellamy, a very ugly, very rich man who's bought a castle near Reading. Running through it all is the mysterious Green Archer, the castle's ghost, who appears to be walking once more.

The figure of the Green Archer pulls the story together and makes it more than a series of set-pieces. As Valerie tries to find out where her mother is, thereby arousing the interest of Bellamy, who is determined to do her harm because he hates her mother so. The Green Archer is always there, tramping through the castle and occasionally bumping off Bellamy's less pleasant associates. It is quote good fun trying to guess who the Green Archer really is, and while you're certain to get it, Wallace lays a good trail of red herrings.

Featherstone, the policeman, falls in love with Valerie. He's quite an odd character. We initially meet him masquerading as a chinless wonder to keep an eye on Valerie, and later he infiltrates the castle as the butler. With his ability to dress up he could be good fun, but he's the hero and so has to spend his time defending the girl.

Spike (the journalist), John Wood, a philanthropist he associates with (and who gets drawn into the action) and Coldharbour Smith, a Docklands villain, are all seen less often. Interestingly, most of the characters are either American or have lived in the States: Bellamy, Valerie, Spike and John Wood are all American, while Valerie's foster-father is an Englishman who emigrated. I don't know much about Wallace, so don't know if this was done to improve his sales in the United States, or whether it was because a British audience would more readily accept the frankly unlikely plot if it had foreign characters, but it seems a pretty high number to me.

My favourite characters are Jules Savini and his wife, Fay. As soon as it was mentioned that he was Eurasian (what would be called Anglo-Indian nowadays) my heart sank a little, and early in the book Wallace does manage some ghastly comments along the lines of him being half-English, half-Indian and combining the worst of both. Jules starts off working as Bellamy's secretary, trying to work out the best way to part his employer from a chunk of his fortune. However, the nasty comments die off, Jules and Fay both prove capable of heroic acts, and they end the book drying off a big pile of stolen money with a toasting-fork. They're fun, unlike Valerie and Jim, who are your standard 'nice' leads.

I'm not going to say The Green Archer is racism-free, it's not, and as well as Bellamy calling Jules an n-word* there are unpleasant terms used for Chinese people too. But compared to a lot of the period, it is extremely mild. If you're wondering why I keep reading books like this when racism annoys me, it's because I love a good ripping yarn. However, I don't want anyone picking up a book I've read and getting an unpleasant surprise. I did actually enjoy this book, finding it more coherent than, say Bulldog Drummond, which lurches from set piece to set piece.

*You won't see that word appearing on this blog. While I'm not in favour of external censorship for anyone, I'm happy to censor my own blog!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Shopping bits and pieces

Mr Robot has gone into work today in his Laird London fedora. He's expecting his workmates to take the mickey, but I think he looks super. He was hoping to look a bit Bogie, I reckon the overall effect is more rat pack, but either way it's a good look. I can definitely recommend Laird London for service if, like me, you're out in the sticks with nary a hatter in sight. I bought the hat for his birthday, ordered the wrong size, and they exchanged it for me without charging extra postage.

Also, if you're eagerly awaiting the launch of A Stitch in Time 2, the issue of The Knitter currently on sale comes with one of the patterns, the Jan Sweater. You can see a piccy over at KnitontheNet. The design is knitted in Excelana, the vintage-style yarn Susan Crawford has developed with John Arbon Textiles. If you're in the south-west and want to see the yarn in person, they have some in stock at Marmalade Yarns in Frome. I was there last night and really chuffed to see it on shelves! Marmalade Yarns is on the same street as a number of interesting-looking shops, so I will have to head off there and do you a shopping report.

Finally, my hits on this blog have taken a big leap. I have no idea why. Anyone else experiencing the same? I'm wondering if it's a Blogger thing.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Beret good

It seems like I’ve done nothing but go places recently, but in between times I did manage to knit this beret from my old Patons Fair Isle hats pattern (estimated date: 1960s). Once I’ve made a few more, I’m going to parcel them up and send them to Jill in my firm's London office, who sells woolly hats to raise money for a cancer charity, thereby achieving three things: using up scraps of yarn that would otherwise be thrown out, raising money for a good cause, and getting a little bit of vintage style onto the streets.

One thing everyone comments on is the colour scheme. Picking colours for a pattern like this is pretty tricky. First, you need a background colour. Then you need three dark and three light colours. That sounds easy, but choosing six shades with enough difference for the pattern to be distinguishable yet enough similarities to look good beside each other is actually quite tricky. For this one, it was all built around the orange-ochre colour, which I got a part ball of and was desperate to use. I had originally planned to use red instead of the cypress green, but on the bands it ‘popped’ too much, overwhelming the other colours. The cypress was one I’d set aside thinking it was too similar to the other green, yet it looks fine.

I have to admit, this is not a vintage colour scheme. I should have a go at knitting a hat or two in the original colourways, but they always look too gaudy to me. Still, I’m not knitting them for myself!

Here's my next charity hat in progress: I'm working 'in the round', and if you're not a knitter that can look daunting but it's actually really easy, and avoids seams. I like seams in some things, such as jumpers, as they add structure, but in my opinion they have no place at all in hats, socks, or mittens. I've used the red that didn't work in the green one. The base colour is quite a powerful shade of blue, so the red provides a strong enough contrast for the rest of the band.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Secret Tea Party: Charleston and cake

Yes, sir, I can charleston! And it's all thanks to Mrs Stokes. Her latest vintage tea party promised, along with afternoon tea, charleston lessons. I've always wanted to learn how to do it, so today I went along to eat cake and dance it off. (There was plenty to eat, and the five of us on our table did not manage to clear the cake stand. I fear I have not worked off all those sarnies.)

The witty Countess Arseuppi was our compere. The dance workshop was run by Graeme and Ann of Hoppin' Mad, and I was surprised at what an easy dance it was. I only did the solo workshop, not wanting to partner up for the pairs, and there were a couple of moves I wasn't especially good at. Still, I managed not to kick anyone or fall over my own feet, which is pretty good going for me (had there been such a thing as 'remedial sports' at school I'd have been in it). Later Graeme and Ann did a couple of exhibition dances, which were just brilliant.

Other bits going on included a raffle, a pop-up salon doing hair and makeup, and a fab display by Bath shop Vintage to Vogue, including a fun 1950s dress in a playing card print, and a lush 1930s evening gown in the sort of matte black silk velvet that stops the light completely.

There was also a stall selling items from Mrs Stokes and from another trader whose name I have forgotten. I did have a hard time restraining myself from buying a handbag from Vintage to Vogue or a pretty glass vanity set or vintage hairbrush set from the stall.

Of course, what really makes an event like this is the people, attendees as well as organisers. It was lovely seeing so many people looking fab. Not everyone went 20s, not everyone went vintage, but everyone made an effort, and after wading through the mire of denim that is the Southgate shopping area all that charm was really refreshing. What's more, everyone was happy to chat, and loads of us joined in the dance workshop. If you've ever fancied going to an event like this and don't have anyone to go with, fear not: Catherine (Mrs Stokes) makes sure all the lone attendees get to share a table so no-one feels left out or lonely.

I got the impression – but don't quote me on this! – that the next secret tea party will have a burlesque theme. Assuming it doesn't clash too horribly with my wedding anniversary plans, I'll be shaking my tassels then…

Photos are: The charleston workshop; some of Vintage to Vogue's lovely stock; people enjoying a chat with the pop-up salon beside them; my fab tea companions Sarah and Andrea