Thursday, 30 August 2012

Georgian delights: meet Lady Georgianna

Scoundrels and fair ladies, talks-of-the-town, rakes and dandies – if that's your sort of 18th century, Lady Georgianna is your sort of band! I met vocalist Abi at Waltz on the Wye – Georgian meets dieselpunk, summing up the fact that Waltz is a real 'welcomes everyone' festival! She wore a stunning dress to the ball, so Mr Robot invariably referred to her as, "You know, the fabulous girl" before learning her name! Anyway, Abi is sickeningly talented, and not only looks beautiful, she is the singer for Lady Georgianna, a trio performing 18th century songs. Dr Micaela Schmitz plays harpsichord and Hetti Price plays cello. Their music is really well-researched, and includes pieces you won't find anyone else performing.

Abi also makes dresses at Moretta Designs – made to order, they're designed to have an 18th century look while being 21st-century-party-friendly.

Post not sponsored in any way... I just thought you might enjoy the beautiful gowns and unusual music!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blake's 7: not sure it needs a 'reboot'

Do you remember 1970s SF telly programme Blake's 7? Lots of jokes get made about Blake’s 7 and wobbly sets, usually by people who haven’t seen it in years (or at all). What they miss is how very different it was from most science fiction popular at the time – think of Battlestar Galactica (the original, of course) and Space 1999, and Buck Rogers was soon to come on the scene. Star Wars had been a massive hit at the cinema. They were stories with heroes. While Blake's 7's central character Roj Blake, the framed, falsely convicted fugitive, had high ideals and selflessness in common with other TV heroes, his allies included smugglers, murderers and mercenaries, people like opportunistic thief Vila Restal and cynical computer-genius-turned-hacker Ker Avon. Avon was actually my favourite character: so blatantly looking after his own interests, he was actually trustworthy.

Blake’s 7 also had Servalan, possibly the most wonderful villainess ever to feature in an SF show – forget born-to-power Princesses Ardala and Aura, Servalan led a military coup on her way to the top and wore telly’s slinkiest, most diva-tastic wardrobe when she got there. She may have led an evil, authoritarian dystopian regime, but she certainly looked good doing it.

Needless to say, I’m greeting the news that there’s going to be a ‘reboot’ (ie remake) of Blake’s 7 with some trepidation. Sometimes remakes are done well. Battlestar Galactica. The US Office. The two film versions of The Addams Family with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston. Sadly more often, they’re done badly. The US Life on Mars. The film version of The Addams Family with Tim Curry and Daryl Hannah. The film version of The Avengers (noooooooooo!). The recent version of The Prisoner, in particular, was not good despite having a great cast. So much of the quirkiness and character of the original was lost, and that’s what makes me worry most about the new version of Blake’s 7. Can they capture Servalan’s blend of sex and severity without turning her into a pastiche? Will they retain the ambiguous morality of Blake and his allies, or will they become generic ‘good guys’? I’d love to see a remake that does justice to the original, and the fact that SyFy are behind it - as they were the remade Battlestar Galactica – makes me hopeful, but I suspect I’d be better off sticking to Big Finish’s radio plays for my modern Blake’s 7 fix…

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Repairing a vintage handbag

Can you repair a vintage bag (or vintage purse, if you're American)? I’m going to find out the hard way if I’m able to! Anyway, before I attempt anything, I thought I’d ask your opinion.

Sod’s law dictates that it’s my most expensive bag, my lovely Riviera, that is in need of repairs. The line of stitching that holds one of the folds in the W-shaped bottom together has gone. The rest of it is fine, so I think it’s because thanks to the shape of bottom the bag can fold flat, and stress from folding over the decades has caused the thread to disintegrate. The bag is constructed in such a way that each piece of the lining was attached to a face and then the faces joined, the lining was not made separately and then attached at the top of the bag. When the bottom seam gave way, it meant the whole bottom of the bag had a split in it.

Now, one way to repair it would be to re-stitch the bottom. I can’t do this myself, it would have to be a professional job with a machine in order to go through the suede covering and cardboard inner, and I’m not sure how possible it would be to do this neatly, and in such a way that the bag still opened and closed properly. If you know a pro who could make a good job of this, please do say. The suede appears weakest along the base edge, with a tiny bit of wear, so I don’t think the stitching could be right on the edge, it would have to come a little way up the side, perhaps half a centimetre or so from the base edge.

The other option, and the one I currently favour, is to get some wide black satin ribbon, iron a fold in it lengthwise, then apply Gutermann fabric glue to the outer sides and carefully position it in the bottom of the bag, effectively creating a lining at the bottom. While this would mean the inside of the bag is no longer pristine, it would nonetheless be very hard to spot, and invisible from the outside. The Gutermann glue is fantastic stuff, it dries quickly and holds well. I’ve used it to repair other (much cheaper!) vintage bags in the past.

Have you any other ideas?

Friday, 24 August 2012

They did it! Tesla Museum funds raised!

Last week I mentioned that I'd chipped a bit in to the appeal for funds to build a museum to Nikola Tesla. Well, they've got the money! The goal was reached in less than a week, and the team has got more funds beside. Over a million US dollars, in fact, donated by people in over 100 countries, according to their updates. (See how the appeal is going at Indiegogo.)

I do think it's really important to support heritage schemes and indie projects. It's not enough simply to give people the bare essentials (although that is critically important). We all need a history, somewhere to come from, and dreams, somewhere to go to.

So hurrah for the future Tesla museum! Perhaps one day I'll be able to visit it.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Style of One's Own

Nanatastic?
This should probably wait for the end of the year and my annual ‘Building a Vintage Wardrobe’ post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a bit about. I’ve hit the point where I have the basics. Vintage bags – black, brown, even an evening bag. Retro shoes in black and brown. Several jumpers and skirts. A few dresses, both repro and original. Rather a lot of costume jewellery, and a few scarves. And I’m finally over the point of feeling I need to get anything because there’s a hole in my wardrobe. (I try not to buy on impulse, but when you’re plus-size you do get the urge to shove anything that’s your size into your basket because Halleluia, it fits!) No, now I can look for things to build on what’s already there.

 I can see a style coming through. I’ve always loved simple shapes and avoided prints. I have a few print items now, but they tend to be quite clear patterns, with no brushstroke effects or watercolour wishy-washiness, and small to medium in scale. I’d much rather have a woven colour pattern like tweed or tartan, or a textural decoration such as embroidery. Colours are mostly quite quiet: neutrals, greens and blues, plus an occasional splash of red. Shapes? Still simple. Shift dresses, plain skirts, that sort of thing. No ruffles or frou-frou. No peter pan collars. Bags are boxy, shoes uncomplicated. The only place there’s ever a real sense of drama is in jewellery, which I cannot resist.

Now, there is a down side to the way I dress: things can look decidedly ‘nana’. I’m not sure if it’s down to my figure – I’m plus size in my late 30s, so I've got quite a matronly shape - combined with the longer skirts of a lot of vintage styles, and my own general taste for unobtrusive colours and patterns. I think the way round this will be to make sure my accessories are sharp; 'neat and appropriate' is fine, but 'stylish' also needs to be in there.

So where is my style heading now? Definitely still more towards the deco end of things, although I’m quite fond of 60s flapper-influenced styles and 70s-does-Edwardian looks. While I lean towards the styles of the 1920s and 1930s, I’m never going to have ‘my decade’. That means I’m not ‘properly’ vintage, but nuts to that, I’m dieselpunk, if anything, not a re-enactor anyway. What I want to look for in future purchases is a hint of the deco, be that in pattern or silhouette, and not a nostalgic ‘wasn’t it romantic?’ take on deco (like the languid ladies on greetings cards) either. It needs to have speed in the streamlining, a hint of the wonders of the machine age. Things don’t have to be vintage or repro, but they need to embody the deco spirit. This should give my accessories the edge I need to avoid premature nanahood!

Where's your style going? Take me on your journey too!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Help build a museum to Nikola Tesla!

Nikola Tesla could finally gain a fitting memorial.

Remember I changed my New Year’s Resolution? Well, I’ve been sort-of keeping the replacement. The new one was actually a two-part resolution, and one part was to put something into the trolley for my local food bank every time I’m in a supermarket that has one, which I’ve been successful at.* I’ve been less good at finding vintage/steampunk/dieselpunk kickstarters that I want to chip into. So far I’ve only managed one, and that didn’t get enough funders so I got my money back.

Anyway, I have got a fundraising thing for August. A group of people are seeking to raise money, via Indiegogo, to build a museum to Nikola Tesla on the site of his laboratory, which still has some structures in place. The Oatmeal is supporting the campaign. (They also have a page on Why Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived.) As the other people trying to buy the site plan to turn it into a shopping area, I really hope the museum-planners get it. If you are thinking, 'Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum', join in!

And, just to prove to you the awesomeness of Tesla, here is Grieg's 'In The Hall of the Mountain King' played on Tesla coils.

*If you’re financially able to do something similar, I really recommend it. There have been some truly horrendous news stories on Radio 4’s Today programme about parents going without meals to feed their kids, kids not having proper food… One lady ended up in hospital with malnutrition. This shouldn’t happen in a first world country! I know an extra tin of tomatoes or bag of pasta makes very little difference to me each time I go shopping, but over a year I’ll have bought enough to make a real difference to people’s lives and it’s so easy.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Falling Machine, Andrew P. Mayer [books]

The cover of The Falling Machine by Andrew P Mayer
MOAR STEAMPUNK, I'm afraid. I've had more time to read for myself recently, and this is part of a backlog of steamy books I've acquired. I've mentioned that I review for SFX. Every so often they have an office clear-out, and the reviewers get the chance to take home some of the surplus books*. I won't bore you with details, but what it's boiled down to is a nice pile of steampunk novels that I haven't got round to until now.

Mr Robot did start reading this one, and told me that he "Put it down in disgust after 30 pages". I disagree with him, I enjoyed it, but it did strike me as a book more for females than males, and one that you could easily give to a 12-year-old just getting into steampunk. That it's suitable for younger readers isn't a criticism as such; some of the best fantasy/horror/SF books I've read this year have been aimed at young adults, possibly because the writers have had to concentrate on things like character and plot rather than sex and violence.

Steampunk is naturally quite pulpy, usually falling somewhere between Jules Verne, Edgar Wallace and Raymond Chandler. The more of it I read, the more I feel that the British-set SP tends to favour the lone adventurer, the man (usually) of action, whereas the US-set stuff often has a superhero slant. An Avenger, rather than a Alan Quatermain. What I liked about The Falling Machine was that the superheroes, The Paragons, already existed, and were getting older, losing their edge. Sarah Stanton, teenaged daughter of The Industrialist, sees her friend Dennis Darby, leader of the Paragons, get killed. As most of the Paragons each follow their own agendas, she and Darby's finest creation, Tom the Automaton, plus ageing English Paragon The Sleuth, try to find out who is the traitor within the group, the person who got Darby killed.

I really liked Sarah as a heroine. On a purely shallow level, it's nice to read a heroine thinking about how cumbersome her corsets and bustle are, and to see one getting plenty of scrapes and bruises. She's credible. She's an appealing character, without being written up as the usual cleavage-heaving kickboxing sexpot. (I am bored of those, frankly.) Her father may be The Industrialist, steaming top hat and all, but he's also a Victorian dad, leading to plenty of arguments. The Paragons have a wonderful headquarters, but within it they are people, still prey to rivalries and conflict.

My main criticism of the book is that it ends on too large a cliffhanger. It's written to be the first volume in the Society of Steam trilogy. However, it's one thing to leave loose ends for the next volume, but in the case the story was simply incomplete. It didn't have an ending, more a convenient stopping point between chapters, and that was annoying.

I don't know if I'd recommend this to adults, but I may well end up buying another copy to send to my elder goddaughter, because Sarah is a great heroine for teenaged girls to read about.

Visit The Society of Steam website.

*I won't duplicate reviews I've done professionally on this blog, but SFX do put up some of my reviews on their blog. I reviewed The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow recently for them.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Ideas for a retro closing ceremony

After the smashing O-word opening ceremony a couple of weeks back (are we allowed to refer to the sporting event now without bringing the wrath of LOCOG down on us all?) I had high hopes for the closing ceremony, but this was not fulfilled. In fact, a lot of the closing ceremony seemed to be about all the things we'd hoped the Olympics had purged the nation of, especially celebrity culture. There were bits I quite liked about it, so I've had a few ideas about how it could be improved.

1: The Giant Flag? The Giant Retro Party!
Swap this for splitting the audience into two halves, School Disco and Wedding Party. Have appropriately themed dancers in each section - schoolkids, teachers, dinner ladies in School Disco, Nans, Bridesmaids, Best Men and Your Dads (who must have a dance off!) in Wedding Party. I favour a 70s/80s look for them myself, but that could be a generational thing. This means all the athletes fall in one part or another and the musicians can gee them up appropriately, and get each half of the crowd singing at different points. If two parts is not enough, I'd suggest quartering the crowd and adding Muddy Festival and Village Fete, with 90s ravers and 60s vicars as appropriate.

2: The Playlist
Over the past 50 years there have been lots of songs with sporting or O-word-friendly themes - Keep On Running, I Am Sailing, We Are the Champions, Jumping Jack Flash, Gold and so on. Lets include lots of those, but have them played by current bands.

Which leads me onto the other cunning part of the closing ceremony preparations: the focus group. Before any song is definitely included, get together a focus group of at least 100 people, show them (individually) the name of each song in turn and ask them to sing a bit of it. At least 50% of the focus group have to be able to sing or hum part of the song for it to be considered properly. Sod being new and exciting, this should have been the biggest party in the world, something that sent people away going, "That was the most fun I have ever had!" and made people watching think, "DAMN! How do I get to London?", not "What the hell was George Michael singing and why did they include it?" And that means songs people can sing along to. It's not rocket science.

Rio, I'm waiting for the call...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Crinoline Robot’s vintage week

A pair of china earrings in the shape of blue flowers
I love these old china flower earrings.
Most ones you find are a bit nibbled,
and these are no exception, but they're
frilly enough that it's not noticeable

Heh, it’s been a while since I wittered on about the everyday side of life. I have bought a few bits and bobs, including a very nice black crepe 1940s dress from Darlings Vintage.

 My local charity shops seem to be succumbing to the curse of price creep – Advantage In Vintage visited Bath recently, and didn’t think much of the prices there. I’d been thanking my lucky stars that, despite living not far from Bath, the ones in my town weren’t at those levels, but now they’re starting to get that way. Bah. There’s no way I’m paying £8 for a supermarket dress. I saw a Welsh tapestry bag in one last weekend, for a fiver – and not only was the lining torn, there was a great big, irreperable hole in the vinyl on one side (the bag was a clasp one, and the tapestry was on the flat faces only). A fiver, for an unusuable bag! Ridiculous. Last year I paid less than that for a much better, leather, bag that just needed a quick repair to the lining. It’s hit the point where my best purchases are coming from professional dealers and junk shops – they may not be the cheapest options, but they’ve weeded out all the old tat.

Still, some things are still good value in the chazzas, CDs in particular. I’m on a 50s kick at the moment; I listen to it a lot at work right now. Sinatra and Dean Martin for £2 each? I’ll take ‘em. Hopefully some Bobby Darin or Julie London will turn up at some point…

 This was also a week for thinking about my hair. When I moved jobs, my former workmates got me a couple of splendid books, and the one showing 1930s hairdressers the right way to put in perm rods has fuelled some thoughts. I am too lazy to faff around with curlers, but a perm… hmm… That sets the cogs turning. Lucy, my hairdresser, reckons I should stick with the bob because it suits me, but I shall continue to mull over a perm. It’s that or change the colour; my natural colour has come through and reminded me why I’ve spent nearly 20 years dyeing my hair. I wish it would hurry up and go grey so I can do the full Mrs Slocombe rainbow! Mr Robot thinks a proper cartoon red, or even blonde, would work on me. Other options to consider...
Bright!

 Now my hair’s nice and short, I’ve really been rocking the giant clip-on earrings. They probably do look tacky. I don’t care, I like them. I just have to remove the left one when I’m at work or I end up clunking it with the phone. The earrings at the top of the page were one of my junk shop bargains. One has a 'nibbled' leaf, but for 50p I aten't complaining.

 Finally, the knitting for myself is going slowly as I’m working on a design for the Christmas issue of Simply Knitting, heavily influenced by 1960s graphic design. I shall tell you more about that when it’s in print! I shall let you have a peep at the colours, though.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Delayed Gatsby

It's no good getting huffy,
you'll just have to wait!
If you’ve been standing on the edge of the dock, looking at the light across the water… well, you’ll just have to be your own Gatsby a while longer, as Warner Bros have announced the release of the Baz Luhrmann film version of The Great Gatsby has been delayed until next summer. The summer release makes sense to me, in a way: the story takes place then, and I certainly always picture it as hot, everything somehow overexposed by brilliant sunshine by day and followed by humid, unreal nights.

 I have to confess, my main thought on hearing this was, ‘Drat, I was hoping for a pile of 1920s-influenced clothes to come into the shops and now I’ll have to wait.’ The trailer for the film left me feeling rather cold, but then I really love 1920s music and felt it was a shame the trailer had a modern soundtrack, although that is characteristically Luhrmann.

In the meantime, I am seriously hankering after a set of 20s-style beach pyjamas from Time Machine Vintage on Etsy, but I'm trying not to shop for a bit. Nnnnnngh! DO WANT!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A pair of 1930s baby bootees

A copy of Patons woolcraft dating from the 1930s with two knitted baby bootees on top
The bootees were knitted in a 4ply yarn.
Knitting pattern terms haven’t always been standard. This copy of Patons Woolcraft is the oldest pattern book I own (not counting ones I’ve downloaded – the Winchester School of Art Knitting Reference Library has put complete Victorian knitting pattern books online). For Nerd Wars round 2, one of the challenges was ‘Sheep in History’, and involved knitting a pattern or using a technique that was common over 50 years ago. I chose to knit a pair of baby bootees from Patons Woolcraft. (In case you’re wondering, ‘bootees’ is the British spelling. ‘Booties’ is American.)

The bootees were knitted flat. I’m not a fan of foot-garb being knitted flat; in my opinion seams have no place in socks. However, as babies don’t do much walking around, a seam isn’t such a problem in something like this. The construction was unusual, starting with knitting a rectangle – the bit that goes round the leg – then working on the centre stitches only to create a flap for the top of the foot. This creates an eight-sided T-shape, and you pick up across the lower five sides of the T to work the toe and sides of the foot. The seam runs down the sole of the foot and up the back of the heel and leg.

The pattern was mostly easy to follow, although if I hadn’t read a few Victorian patterns I might have thought ‘knit plain’ meant stocking stitch rather than garter stitch (the photo wasn’t clear enough to be really helpful), and I found the instructions for where to rejoin the yarn for the toe and sides of the foot a bit sketchy.

There are a number of other patterns for baby garments in this book, but I think I prefer the designs I’ve got from the 1940s and 1950s as they’re a bit more intricate.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Midnight in Peking, Paul French [books]

Peking*, January 1937, and the badly mutilated body of a young white girl, her heart removed, is found by a reputedly-haunted ancient tower. It sounds like a work of fiction. In a happier world it would be fiction, but on the 8th of January 1937 nineteen-year-old Pamela Werner was indeed found that way. Midnight in Peking explores the case.

I don't often read true crime stories. In fiction the horrible things never really happened, so I'll happily read about Miss Marple or Detective Carella or Bryant and May's investigations. True crime often leaves me disturbed for days, thinking over the person who was hurt. What attracted me to this one was the time and setting: China was in political turmoil, with the republican government under threat from both the Communists and the Japanese, who in 1937 were already at the edges of Peking. It was a country with greater, wider problems to face than the death of a schoolgirl. And I am in my own way a product of colonialism, with a mixed heritage. When Pamela was living in the strange, gilded cage of Europeans in Peking, I still had family in Burma, although my grandfather had left Asia by then. Those lingering bubbles of Empire fascinate me, things that could not last (and I do not wish had lasted), like little fantasy lands.

What happened to Pamela could have burst the Peking bubble. The colonial forces couldn't investigate in China, and the Chinese police couldn't investigate inside the foreign quarter. Colonel Han, Chief of the Morrison Street Detective Bureau, worked alongside an envoy, DCI Richard Dennis, to investigate the murders. And what French reveals is their efforts to find the truth constantly hampered by the need to save face. People living and working in the disreputable badlands, the district of brothels, nightclubs and dive bars between the foreign-controlled Legation Quarter and the Chinese street where the Werners lived, simply weren't co-operative. The British authorities ordered Dennis off parts of the investigation and, crucially, forbade him to have anything to do with Pamela's father after a certain point. Saving face was more important than showing Europeans in a bad light. Pamela's killer was never caught.

And yet Pamela's father kept on looking. He never cared about saving British face, and had clashed with the authorities numerous times, even when he worked for the British. He had nothing to lose by carrying on the investigation. As Europe slid into turmoil, and the situation in China worsened, even after the Japanese took control of Peking, Mr Werner kept searching for the truth. In his seventies at the time of her death, he was a renowned scholar, crucially fluent in many Chinese languages and familiar with local customs. He paid detectives, put things together, uncovered lies, and sent his evidence to the British authorities... who ignored it. Many decades after his death, though, his researches have come out, bringing as much justice as could be possible for Pamela.

A fascinating book, and one of those that will affect me for some time.

According to the official website, Midnight in Peking is being made into a mini-series for ITV. I'm guessing it will be similar to the one based on The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which was adequate although nowhere near as interesting and engaging as the original book (another of the very few true crime ones I've read).


*French refers to the city as Peking in the past, and uses Beijing for the modern city.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Perambulation of Dewstow Gardens


One entrance to the grottoes.
Who doesn't love a good grotto? I've been horrendously busy again of late - a swap parcel to finish, the last few days of month two of Nerd Wars (it's a knitting thing!), and, of course, a new job to go to. However, now I'm on a photography mag it's really spurring me on to improve my photography, and one of the few good days of summer was too nice to resist, so Mr Robot and I headed over the border into Wales to join a bunch of steampunk chums for a Perambulation of Dewstow Gardens, organised by Naomi and Zoe.