Monday, 31 October 2011

R Chetwynd-Hayes: a peculiarly British sort of spooky

This post is prompted by rewatching The Monster Club, a very early (and incredibly low budget) 1980s portmanteau horror film. (Portmanteau films are ones made up of several stories interlinked by some sort of narrative, and I've only come across them in horror films. You could call The Simpsons annual Halloween 'Treehouse of Horror' episodes portmanteau episodes.)

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Bloofer lady: Yvonne de Carlo

“You think you're the only one who works hard? How would you like to have to clean nine rooms and a dungeon every day?”

Lily Munster is such a well-known character it’s easy to forget that behind her was a beautiful actress, Yvonne de Carlo. And before you comment to tell me what a hottie Lily Munster was, I know she was! But nowadays de Carlo’s starlet days have been largely overshadowed by her most famous role. Back in the war years she was quite the Forces pin-up.

Yvonne’s first acting roles were in the 1940s, in films like Salome, She Danced and Criss Cross. Her biggest role came in 1956, as Sephora in The Ten Commandments. She never seemed to get roles that would take her further, though. In 1964 she signed up to play ghoulishly beautiful matriarch Lily in television series The Munsters, and although it only lasted a couple of series, it’s the part she’s best remembered for. She kept on making films after that, and also took character roles. Some of her later films could be described as B-movies, but I love a dodgy film, so that's no come-down in my book.

I have to admit, I much prefer The Addams Family to The Munsters. It’s generally more subversive: whereas the Munsters are just like ‘normal’ families in many ways, the Addamses definitely are not, and make no apologies for it. That said, I do love Yvonne as Lily. She didn’t get as many comedy lines as Grandpa and Herman, but she did often have the sweetness of a 1950s TV ‘mom’ – all wrapped up in a gloriously non-1950s-mum’s shroud-like dress.

I do have a Lily Munster doll made in the early noughties and was quite startled that her dress was pink. Loving the old black-and-white programmes, I'd never pictured her in that colour.

Bloofer bombshell, we salute you!

2012's Bloofer Lady is Elsa Lanchester.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More wool!

(Thinks: I hope Mr Robot isn't reading this, my ever-increasing yarn stash makes him look all sorrowful.)

Is it me or do winter coats have narrower arms nowadays? I'm sure I used to be able to get coats over jumpers in years gone by, but I've torn the linings of more modern coats trying to shove thick jumper sleeves down narrow coat sleeves. Anyway, neither my old fine-gauge black cardigan nor my old navy one are really good enough for work now – the former is missing a button, and the latter is going thin at the armpits and the arms are a bit short after an accidental hot wash. It won't take much work to replace the black one's buttons, but it also has a caramel edging so I'd like a solid black one. With this in mind I've just bought ten balls each of black and navy Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool 4ply from Black Sheep. It was half price, so a bargain. (I've been shopping with them for years; they're brilliant for discounts on discontinued colours).

Next week Susan Crawford is doing a trunk show for A Stitch in Time volume 2 at Marmalade Yarns in Frome. I've been looking forward to this book for quite some time, but with 80 resized vintage patterns, it's been a lot of work for Susan. And it's finally here! I'm hoping there will be the perfect cardi in there. I've got a few nice vintage patterns of my own at home, but it never hurts to have more designs to choose from. I do love the puffy-sleeved designs of the late 1930s and early 1940s, but will have to be sensible and choose things with narrower ones that will fit under my coats.

See Susan's photo shoot video, featuring impossibly glam models and some of the fab patterns from the book!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Shopping joy/ being different

After being about the only person who didn't have a great time on Thursday night (which, if I think about it sensibly, is bloody great, because it means everyone else had splendid fun, so that's a whole room of fun) I've been feeling a bit flat. Crabby old killjoy, that's how I felt, can't have fun with anything, not even vintage, out of step with the rest of the world. But lo! Yesterday I went to the post office to collect a parcel, a vintage wrap dress I ordered from erachel on Etsy. Isn't it cute? those little pink spots are raspberries. The weather is probably too cold for it right now, but it's a plus size and I liked the print, so I snapped it up. (Thank you, zombies*, thank you for my dress.)

Mr Robot wasn't really in the mood for taking photos and so didn't point out that my hair was a mess. He also managed to cut the ruffles off the bottom of the photo! The hem of the dress sits roughly level with the bottom of my knees, and above the hem are three bands of gathered fabric, so it's got three tiers of double ruffles. As you can see, instead of the usual fabric ties it's got a pink fabric cord. Because of the length I'm not sure if it's late 50s or early 60s, although the darker colours and lack of pockets lead me to guess it's 60s but it's pretty, whatever it is.

I have a confession: I never used to like pink very much. However, this dress and my Heyday Fleur black roses are making me wish I had a pink cardi. Hmm. Black would definitely be more sensible!

Then on the way back to the car, we dropped into a house clearance place that sometimes has vintage knitting patterns and I spotted this vase. I'd been looking for this sort of thing (large, vaguely deco, not too glossy) for the dining room, and although I'd been hoping to find something green, I liked this white shell shape. £3. I got it home, looked it up on the internet and it's SylvaC, mould 513. Although the base stamp is really unclear, that makes me suspect it's most likely to be genuine as a fake would probably have a sharper base stamp. It doesn't really matter if it is fake, I bought it because I liked it and for £3 it's an absolute steal.

So things aren't as awful as I was thinking, and with bargains like this coming my way I must be doing something right, even if it isn't the same as everyone else.



*I review books freelance. Lately I've been up to my ears in zombies. The undead are buying my winter wardrobe.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Private Vintage Club [events]

Just out of interest, I'd love to know your expectations of an event called 'Private Vintage Club'. I didn't have a terribly good time last night, but I think it was because my expectations of what the event would be, and what the actual event turned out to be, were radically different. I was expecting more vintage really, so having settled on wearing an Able Grable dress and worrying that repro might not make the grade, no matter how lovely, was quite surprised that so few other attendees were wearing vintage (although all had made an effort, which is always lovely).

Anyway, the emphasis inside was clearly more 'club' than 'vintage', and being a crotchety old lady I wasn't keen on the music. I'd been wondering, would it be swing? Would it be rock'n'roll? Would it be 60s girl bands and the Rolling Stones? No, it went 'doof doof doof' like at every other trendy bar in town. Argh.
You also couldn't order drinks at the bar. I necked my glass of champagne pretty fast and wanted MOAR booze, but was told I'd have to wait for a waitress to come round. I waited. And waited. And got out my knitting. Eventually I was able to order, ordered a dry martini, was brought a vodka one (gah!) and got charged £9 for the privilege. I'd only pay a fiver more for one at the Savoy and that's got an Art Deco setting and jazz music! Booze FAIL. A couple of quid less (and the right drink being delivered) and I'd have ordered a lot more.

Now, the vintage clothes at the fashion show didn't disappoint (although the hair and makeup did). The show was done jointly by two bath businesses, Scarlet Vintage and Hannah Dulcie ( a lingerie shop), and while I'd have preferred more dresses and fewer pants, and indeed more clothes pre-1960, it was lovely to see the clothes on real people. I do wish there had been a voiceover telling us something about the garments, and that the fashion show had gone on longer.

So, not a fun evening for me, but I think lots of the other attendees really loved it. As I said, I think the problem was the gap between my expectations and the reality, there was nothing wrong with the event itself.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The A-Z of Crinoline Robot

I nicked the idea from Retro Chick, but felt the subjects were possibly not right for this blog, so here is an A-Z that sums up this blog pretty well!

Apple, my body type. You’ll see me mention it a lot in relation to my wardrobe.
Brooches. My new year’s resolution for 2011 was to buy more brooches. You can pick them up cheaply and they add a nice vintage touch to any outfit.
Crime. I read a lot of crime novels. Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie are probably my favourites, but I also have a lot of affection for Freeman Wills Crofts and Mignon Eberhart.
Derring-do. Bulldog Drummond annoys me, but I have plenty of time for Dick Barton, Special Agent, and for Paul Temple and his sparkling wife Steve.
Events. I’m a recluse, but every once in a while I go and do something. It probably won’t be the same sort of thing you see on most vintage blogs, but variety is the spice of life...
Film. I love silents with live accompaniment, and black-and-white on the big screen in a darkened, old cinema. You can keep your modern multiplexes. I also have a great affection for old horror films, especially Universal ones from the 1930s and Hammer from the 1960s.
Goth. I used to be one, I just don’t interact with the subculture any more. Still love my old albums, though, and you can’t beat a good black dress.
Hairdo. In my case, hairdon’t. Unlike most fans of 20th century things I never do anything with mine. Sometimes I fantasise about shaving it all off and buying a set of impeccably styled wigs.
Icons. My style icons are Morticia Addams, Helena Bonham Carter, Myrna Loy and Colleen Moore. Sadly, I resemble none of them.
Jazz Age. My favourite era is probably mid-20s to mid-30s, just to confuse people who like to go by decade.
Knitting. I love knitting; it enables me to make some of the clothes I want in the colours and sizes I want. A lot of people wish they could knit - if you’re one of them, you can. I didn’t learn until I was 30.
Life. Don’t talk to me about life.
Mitsouko, queen of perfumes.
Noir. Give me Chandler. Give me Hammett. Give me Mickey Spillane (but only if there’s nothing else on offer). And serve it up with side dishes of Powell and Loy, Bogart and Bacall or Ladd and Lake.
Offensive. I try to flag up when people might find things from books or films I’m reviewing offensive. Some things were commonplace in days gone by. You might not want to deal with them nowadays when reading a novel or watching a film for fun.
Pulp. Doc Savage, the Shadow and many more. I like my thrills fast and my spills savage.
Queenie. Mr Robot says I am like Queenie from Blackadder II. To which I say, WHERE’S MY PRESENT?
Repro. Being a chunky sort of lady with a thick waist, repro is my friend, especially when I can get it custom-made to fit.
Steampunk. I’m not a steampunk (possibly I come closer to dieselpunk), but as with goth I have friends who are, and I dabble on the fringes. Just call me a cog-hag.
Tea. I get very annoyed with people who can’t tell the difference between afternoon tea (posh) and high tea (substantial, rustic). HIGH TEA IS NOT FANCY.
Underwear. If you’re dressing from an era when foundation garments were firm, you need a firm foundation too.
Vintage. To me that means stuff that’s at least 50 years old, not something with shabby chic roses plastered all over it. If it’s not old enough, it’s not vintage, end of story.
Wine. It doesn’t have to be vintage.
X-rated. Some blogs are, this one isn’t, although I may discuss knickers from time to time.
You. This blog is about things I like, but if you’re here, I hope it’s about things you like too.
Zeppelin. I’m still not steampunk, mind you.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Some 1930s advice on knitwear

Baby, it's cold outside! Here's some advice from my 1938 The Bride's Book.

Sweaters and Knitted Frocks
These are a great comfort for sports as well as for travelling, for they do not crease or get out of press as other clothes do. But they cannot be selected at random any more than other items of the wardrobe.
Suppose we begin with sweaters, and discuss them in relation to our various types of brides. Will a knitted pull-over or sweater suit the tall girl? It will - provided! Provided in the first place that it has a longish V-neckinstead of a high, round collar; and provided in the second place that it reaches a bit below the waist, with a contrast in colour to the skirt. The element that creates a broken line between head and skirt hem helps to give the tall figure the illusion of a more normal height. Skirt and sweater, of opposing tones, will do this. If, however, it is desired for some readon, that the skirt and sweater match, then the long line this would give can be broken by means of a wide leather belt of a contrasting shade, and a short silk scarf to match the belt. In this way the same height-reducing effect can be accomplished.
The short girl - yes, she can wear a sweater or pull-over, but it should match her skirt, and it should have a high, rounded neck, or even a turtle neck or ribbed collar. To make her look her tallest it should not be finished off with a ribbed band which pulls in at the waist line or just below but, on the contrary, it should fall quite straight, and it should end at her hips.
The plump girl, however, must approach the slip-on woolly or sweater with caution. This type of garment has a tendency to cling to the figure and emphasis its curves. For this reason the plump girl will not be at her best in a sweater. She may, however, wear a knitted jacket or cardigan. It should not be fastened but should hang unbuttoned, in order to create a straight, slim-making line. Also the wool should be fairly light in weight, because if it is heavy it will add unwanted bulk or breadth. The sweater for the thin figure should fit well - not too loosely - and it should be of a rather heavy weave. Its colour and line, as well as the length, would depend on the height of the wearer.
Both the tall and short girl may also wear the knitted jacket or cardigan, but for the former it should reach below the hips, while for the latter it should be barely hip length.

So there you have it. Knitwear, I'm doing it wrong - by 1938 standards, at any rate. I strongly suspect we are all doing it wrong by 1938 standards. I thought it would be fun for you to read nonetheless.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Difficult vintage: Mitsouko

The modern interpretation of vintage can be a bit twee, all roses, peter pan collars and cutesy jewellery. You can generally weed out the twee from the not-twee with vintage perfume. To modern noses, a lot of vintage fragrances are difficult to love. In the 1990s, the powerhouse scents of the 80s (Poison, Giorgio and their ilk) gave way to ozonic scents, and the noughties have seen the rise of the fruity floral and gourmand scents, incredibly sweet and often very linear. Confront someone into twee-vintage with a scent devised 60 years ago and the best comment you can hope for is 'old lady'; people will actually recoil from a bottle of Bandit. (It is worth noting at this point that most scents have been reformulated over the decades, and modern formulations have often been tweaked not just to keep in line with current regulations on ingredients, but to be a little more in keeping with current fashion. Some have been more tweaked, some less, but virtually all have changed a bit.)

Mitsouko, from Guerlain, is one of the most difficult, beautiful fragrances you can buy. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, authors of Perfumes: The Guide, cite it as their favourite scent. One of the bloggers on Perfume Posse (I think it may have been Patty) wrote: "Mitsouko is Mitsouko. You either worship The Queen or you don’t." Jean Harlow wore it, and before her husband killed himself, he doused himself in her Mitsouko. In Belle du Jour, before setting off to work in a brothel, Catherine Deneuve smashes a huge bottle of the stuff. Before I knew any of this, back in my student days about 15 years ago, I read an article in Vogue by Roja Dove on 'dark' scents. I was intrigued. Mr Robot bought me a bottle of Mitsouko for Christmas and a love affair began. (With the perfume; I'd been with Mr Robot a couple of years by that point).

First made in 1919, it's a classic old-style chypre, and is said to mark the era after the First World War just as L'Heure Bleu, with which it shares a bottle shape (as you can see in the photo), marked the end of the pre-war society. This is the scent of the start of the Jazz Age. Nowadays the term 'chypre' seems to get slapped on anything woody or containing patchouli, but the traditional ones had an oakmossy base and bergamot in the top. Mitsouko has a heart of jasmine, rose and lashings of peach. It's strong, but not overpowering, and is quite complex. To my mind it has something of the smell of old books about it, which is fitting as it is a challenging scent, not always easy to love but very difficult to let go of.

Like all old scents, Mitsy has had some reworking over the years, and her current incarnation is not her best. For one thing, oakmoss, with its damp, thick odour, has been replaced with the drier-smelling treemoss. If you can only get the current formulation, the Eau de Parfum is definitely the best option. The Eau de Cologne is not nice at all. I use my bottle as shoe deodorant!

Helg over at PerfumeShrine has done a wonderful review of Mitsouko.

Photo taken by, and copyright to, Mr Robot.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Principe Valiente and Spanish swashbucklers

Reading comics is a great way to learn a foreign language, so when I saw reprints of the 1930s Prince Valiant comics in Spanish on a newsstand in Seville, I had to get them. Annoyingly, the first book (1937) wasn't available, but as comics are the sort of thing you can dip into at any point, I got 1938 and 1939 anyway. I'm not sure that all the words I have learned will be useful, even though we do do a lot of sightseeing when in Spain, but it's good fun to read the comics. Principe Valiente is probably quite a good one for a beginner like myself as there are no speech bubbles, just captions, so (hopefully) less slang.

Prince Valiant was first printed in 1937 and is still going today. Along the way he's got married, had kids and even grandchildren. Early titles included Derek, Son of Thane or Prince Arn. Can you imagine a hero called Derek?! Valiant is a rather better name, although I do find it a bit odd that he has such a fetching bob and everyone calls him Val; at times I picture Louise Brooks playing him!

The Spanish seem to do some very good swashbucklers right now. In the past when I've been there all I've managed to find on telly are strange talk shows and soap operas, although Mr Robot and I did spend a happy afternoon watching Wheel of Fortune in a bar in Toledo. (We even managed to work out the phrase for 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' in Spanish before the Spanish competitors got it, which we were quite pleased with.) But I digress.
This time there were some ripping programmes on the telly, one a costume drama which seemed to have a king and queen estranged from each other, prompting her to dress up in a flag and prove to him how much the people loved her. He then died. I couldn't really follow that one as there was lots of talking and not much action. However, El Aguila Roja (trans: The Red Eagle), an adventure series set in the 17th century, was much more ripping stuff. I'm guessing from the enormous official Aguila Roja website it's extremely popular. I definitely liked it, there was plenty of swordfighting and manly crumpet.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Attack of the vintage Lego woman!

WARNING: PANTS TALK AHEAD

I've done posts about having an apple figure in the past. I don't mind being big, but yesterday the complete lack of a waist really got to me. Let's face it, if any woman ever wants to look like a doll, she's more likely to say 'Barbie' than 'Lego lady'. (If I ever look like a doll it's going to be Gene Marshall, but that's for another post.) The problem isn't so much not being able to find clothes to fit, it's the knowledge that clothes are never going to fit right – my choices are too tight round the waist (muffin top on separates, strained seams on dresses) but fitting at hips and bust, or fitting round the waist with room to carry my sarnies and a couple of apples in the top and saggy hips. Fashion doesn't favour apples.

Anyway, it's turned my thoughts to shapewear. After feeling gloomy and brick-shaped yesterday, today I dug out a very nice navy shift dress over the top of the world's ugliest knickers. According to the label when I bought them, loads of women see an instant reduction when wearing them. Well, I didn't. HOWEVER all through the day my dress hung nicely, and by the end of the day my 34 and a half inch waist was closer to 33. Moreover, the ugly grundies were comfy all day (although there was some rolling at the back, which would be a problem if you wore a dress made of delicate fabric). And everyone told me how nice the dress looked. That counts as a WIN.

One of my vintage treasures is a late 1930s book for brides, which includes a chapter on how to choose all sorts of clothes. One quote that's always stuck in my mind is this: "Should you wear a Girdle? In the majority of instances the answer to this question is in the affirmative. To illustrate: suppose you never wore shoes. Little by little your feet would spread. In certain ways the same thing applies to the figure… as time goes on, the body, like the shoeless foot, begins to spread." I'm starting to think that advice might be sounder than I had believed in my own svelte bridal days!

So, do you wear shapewear regularly (men or ladies; there are now 'Manx' pants for the chaps, after all). Are any brands especially good? I'd be interested to know whether long-term wearing of it has a lasting effect. I might be able to get into a Tara Starlet dress after all...

(Photo at the bottom is Mae Murray in Circe. She'll regret not wearing more supportive bloomers one day...)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [film/ book/ radio/ telly]

WARNING: SPOILERS

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS

Still reading? Well, if you learn something you didn't want to know, you've had fair warning! Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré is one of my three favourite books. (The other two are The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.) I was quite apprehensive when I heard there was a film version coming out. The book is superb, a slow, relentless drawing towards an unpleasant conclusion, a tale of subtle betrayals within betrayals. Would there be time to reproduce its intricacies in a film?

At this point I should mention that when I was LA Confidential at the cinema, I was gutted because I was a big fan of James Ellroy's LA Quartet and the film was far less intricate and nuanced than the book. I'm rarely a fan of books translated to the big screen.

There have been excellent version of Tinker made in the past. In the late 1970s the BBC made an absolutely fantastic television series. If you think the current film has a dream cast, the cast list for the programme knocks it for six, with Alec Guiness as Smiley, Ian Richardson as Bill Haydon and Patrick Stewart as Karla. I'm a big fan of the television show, which has some bits missing but on the whole is faithful to the novel. In December 2009 the BBC broadcast a radio version over three episodes. Simon Russell Beale was Smiley in that version, and both Mr Robot and I felt he was consciously playing Guiness' version of Smiley, with very similar voice mannerisms.

And so to the film. I wasn't a fan. To begin with, it was incredibly dark and stylised. The television version has the advantage of being made at the time the novel was set, and so the makers didn't have to try to make everything look like the 1970s. The makers of the film tried far too hard. I found that in the clothes, in particular, which were often louder than people of Smiley's age and class would actually have worn then. They also made some sets far too big and industrial looking, such as the floor of the building where Control's office was based, and the filing stacks. Bill Haydon, posh, Oxford-educated Bill, is drinking his tea out of a utility china cup, ffs! He'd have his own cup.

Then there was the crudity of some pieces. Tinker, Tailor does not need spicing up. In particular, it does not need Connie Sachs swearing, scenes where women get beaten up or people getting killed in completely pointless ways (slit throat, gutted in a bathtub, shot in the head) just so the filmmakers can slap a bit of gore on the screen. I'm fine with location changes, I accept that there may have been financial reasons why the locations in the book cannot be used, but sticking in a new mum with her baby at her breast and a bullet in her forehead is just exploitative rubbish. Don't even get me started on the bit where Smiley sees Bill making out with Ann. The ending blows completely. Jim's final act needs to be hands-on, and Smiley should not have a happy ending. I've never read a le Carré - and I've read most of them - with a happy ending.

There were some aspects I liked. John Hurt was a perfect Control. Colin Firth, who I had extreme doubts about when I heard he was playing Bill Haydon, managed to display Bill's charm perfectly, although I wish they hadn't downplayed the character's complexities so much. I still prefer Ian Richardson's Bill. Gary Oldman was pretty good as Smiley, although possibly too tall and strong-looking.

It's not a bad film, just so much less satisfying than every other version of the story to date. I think there's just too much in the book to make a really good film, and the film-makers had some strange ideas about how much sex and violence a film needs in order to hold the audience's attention. If you want to watch a version of Tinker, Tailor, pick up the BBC TV version on DVD, and if you want the story at its best, read the book.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Vintage space travel posters

I love Steve Thomas' vintage travel posters and he's recently added new ones to his collection, 'Rock Climbing on Titan' and 'Zip Line Tours Through the Aseroid Belt'. They combine the graceful style of vintage travel posters with the fun and excitement of science fiction.

I first came across them via a link on The Steampunk Home, although I think they're more diesel than steam. I knew Mr Robot would like them too, so one year I bought him two large posters from Steve's Zazzle site ('Venus By Air' and 'Midnight Zephyr') and now they hang, framed, in our dining room, alongside reproductions of actual vintage travel, film and event posters. They fit in extremely well with the others, and hang near the bookcase of science fiction. In fact, doesn't the 'Sail Under the Ice of Neptune' poster remind you of the classic poster of the Normandie from the 1930s?


You too can buy Steve's posters from Zazzle! I was really happy with the quality of the prints and the paper, and the posters I've got are a couple of feet tall and the pictures are clear and sharp.
See more of Steve's work on his blog.

Pictures used with permission of Steve Thomas.
NOTE: I am not making any money from this post – no, not even from the Zazzle link. Crinoline Robot is, and always has been, completely sponsor-free. And now I'm going to drop major hints to Mr Robot about those Steve Thomas iPhone skins.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sword of Albion: Elizabethan spooky swashbuckler!

The 1500s may be rather earlier than everything else on this site, but as Mark Chadbourne's novel Sword of Albion is a superbly satisfying tale of derring-do AND a bit of an alternate reality tale, I reckon it's good to review here. I have a real fondness for tales of swashbuckling chaps doing adventurous work, and this one has fantasy elements mixed in too.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Will Swyfte is one of Francis Walsingham's spies. Walsingham was, in real life, Elizabeth's sypmaster (played in a rather phwoarful fashion by Geoffrey Rush in the film Elizabeth, I fondly recall). However, unknown to most of the people in England, what they are actually fighting is the Unseelie Court, who John Dee (another real historical figure, the Queen's astrologer) has managed to drive out of England. Now the fairies are using the Spanish to fight back, starting by recapturing a secret weapon hidden deep in the Tower of London. At this point you're probably thinking either, 'GREAT!' or 'What a load of bollocks'. If you're of the latter frame of mind, this really isn't a book for you.

I bought this book for my holiday to Seville, started it there but didn't finish it. I wish I had, because at one point our dashing heroes end up in Seville! One thing I appreciated greatly is that neither the Spaniards nor the Scots are portrayed as bad people; in fact the principal Spanish character, Don Alanzo, is shown to be a man of courtesy and skill, and James V of Scotland (later I of England) is depicted as an intelligent and witty man. Moreover, Will uncovers truths he really doesn't like about his own countrymen. As much as I love tales of derring-do, the unbridled nationalism of some early 20th century ones does grate on me, so it's nice to get a volume that's stuffed with swordfights and chases yet doesn't label any one group of humans as 'bad'.

Really good fun. Silly, but fun. It'd make a fantastic telly progamme.

I have also reviewed the sequel, The Scar-Crow Men

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Vintage embroidery styles: 'Jacobean'

During the reign of James I & V, a new embroidery became fashionable, based on patterns on textiles from the middle and far East. It's a style of embroidery, not a hard-and-fast technique. The design is usually fluid, while still strongly structured, and is mostly of stylised plants, although animals and landscapes to creep in. It uses many different stitches and is very colourful. The style became popular again in the second quarter of the twentieth century.

I'm not 100% certain when Jacobean embroidery started to become really popular in the twentieth century, but publications about it were definitely starting to come out in the 1930s. I have patterns for it in my Stitchcrafts from the late 1940s and many more well into the 1950s, tailing off in the 1960s and 1970s. This would fit in with what I have observed of embroidery trends in the twentieth century, with more delicate work popular in the 1930s, bolder shapes and colours (and designs quicker to execute) becoming more common in the 1950s and very strong colours and more angular shapes done in thick yarns popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the war years yarns were rationed, but darning wool was not, and as Jacobean embroidery does not require a great deal of yarn in any one colour AND can be done well in wool, it would be a good style to adopt during those days of shortages. I suspect its popularity in the 1950s may have had something to do with the general feeling that the British were now 'New Elizabethans', although that is pure speculation on my part.

The style seems to have been applied mainly to soft furnishings – cushions and chair backs, fire screens and curtain tie-backs, but not often to tablecloths or dinner mats, nor to clothing. It would suit a mid-century home very well.
All pictures on this page are from the 1950s.