Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pleased with Punch

Hullo! I hope you had a good Christmas. Mr Robot and I aren't travelling this Christmas as he has to work, so we had medieval-style spiced beef on Christmas Day (rubbed in spices, salt and saltpetre every day for a fortnight beforehand, then roasted) and roast goose for us and three friends on Boxing Day. We dubbed Boxing Day 'blorpfest'; we're still eating our way through the fantastic toffee-nut pie Ian bought, and Matt and Lucy's monster cheese board. Blorp!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to wish you a Merry Christmas - I hope you and all your loved ones are warm and well, and have a wonderful time. Mr Robot and I are having a quiet Christmas Day, but then filling the house with friends for roast goose followed by black forest trifle on Boxing Day. We collected the goose at 7:30am, I'm wearing a myrrh perfume, and all in all am feeling jolly festive. I hope you're filled with seasonal cheer too!

If you missed the documentary Len Goodman's Dance Band Days yesterday on BBC4, I heartily recommend catching up with it on iPlayer. It's an absolutely smashing look at how American jazz got smoothed for the customers of the luxury hotels and restaurants in London, and at the qualms the BBC had over broadcasting the music of the dance bands, plus there's a big creamy dollop of Al Bowlly to top the whole thing off.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Outfit post: It's A Wonderful Life

Yesterday Mr Robot and I went to the Little Theatre cinema in Bath to see It's A Wonderful Life after work. We'd got seats smack-bang in the front row of the balcony, which meant we had a two-seater sofa to snuggle up in, and the cinema was giving out mulled wine and mince pies. Such a hot date demanded good clothes, so I wore the brown 1960s dress suit I bought back in November from Darlings Vintage on Etsy.

(Please forgive the black and white photo, but the lighting was horrible and I'm bright orange if you see the shot in colour! At least this way you get a sense of the outfit.)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Oh, Christmas tree!

I love Christmas. Each year I buy a few baubles to put on my tree. I didn't think I was going to this year, but then I couldn't resist this reindeer in a metal half-ball. Never mind that he looks nothing like a real reindeer. I have lots of fat, jolly non-reindeer stuck around the house.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector [music]


Actually, Phil Spector didn't give this to me, Mr Robot bought it off Amazon. If you want to get away from the usual Christmas music diet of Slade, Mariah Carey and Wham but still listen to something festive, there are loads of CDs around. (I reviewed some jazz and swing Christmas music CDs back in 2011.)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Knit For Victory Update

No, I haven't finished my navy jumper, but I've cast off the back! Just the sleeves, collar and front bands to go (plus the eye-straining task of sewing the whole lot together). You're probably sick of photos of bits of navy knitting, especially as the stitch pattern doesn't really photograph very well, so I thought I'd share my next Knit For Victory project with you.

I'm well aware that I won't complete the next woolly in the allotted time, but that's okay. I joined Tasha's knitalong with the aim of completing the navy cardigan, and anything else is jam. Because I got stuck in a wardrobe rut, I've been noting down what I wear every day for a few weeks, and it's been really useful, revealing that I wear a lot of black and grey in winter. I had planned to do something in black yarn next, but I've abandoned that as it'll be easier to see the stitches in the lighter days of summer, and I really need some more everyday colour to wear.

I'm trying not to buy any more yarn next, as I want to run down my stash so I'll have room for a sewing machine. However, pretty much every pattern I found requires a substantial amount of yarn, and aside from the black I didn't seem to have enough 4ply in any one colour for a vintage-style woolly. Then, on a hunt through my patterns, I found the pattern at the top of this page. Isn't it perfect?

The pattern uses five colours. It's a proper 1940s make-do pattern. The grey and white I've chosen will keep it neutral enough to stop me feeling overwhelmed with colour. The toning pinks and berry purple are a gorgeous yarn from a yarn club Fyberspates and The Natural Dye Studio ran a couple of years ago. It's called 'Unicorn' and is 80% baby camel, plus some silk and cashmere. I've had the yarn in a box for ages, and never quite knew what to do with it. Now - well, soon! - it can become something really special. (In case you're wondering, the grey is alpaca and the white alpaca-rich, so they should have a fairly uniform texture when knitted up together.)

I've really been enjoying the knitalong so far, especially the discussions in the Ravelry group Tasha set up. It's been great learning that so many other people do colourwork the way I do, dropping the unused yarn! And seeing other people's use of colour, and the patterns they've found, is fantastic. There's still time for you to join in...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Space Captain Smith, Toby Frost [books]

The cover of Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost
Sit back and enjoy something silly. I mean spiffing. Or do I mean both?

As much as I enjoy a good adventure story, it’s a sad fact that the earlier the book was written, the more likely it is to contain offensive elements. Edgar Wallace wrote some ripping yarns sadly often tainted by 19th- and early 20th-century racism and sexism (reviews of The Green Archer and The Case Files of Mr Reeder), and the less said about Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond in this regard, the better. However, there’s also a lot to enjoy in an unwavering faith in heroism, decency (even if the standards of what is actually decent have shifted) and the joy of action.

In Space Captain Smith, Frost acknowledges both what was wrong with, and right about, the classic adventure story. The titular captain is a citizen of the Victorianesque British Space Empire. Beefy of build and tiny of brain, he’s loyal, kindhearted and frequently awful without meaning to be - but those around him recognise his attempts to be a good man and forgive him. After years behind a desk, Smith finally gets his first ship, the John Pym, and sets off with his headhunting alien friend Suruk the Slayer (simultaneously a critique of vintage portrayals of ‘natives’ and of aliens in science fiction) and simulant pilot Polly Carveth (unbeknown to him, a sexbot on the run from the job she didn’t want) on a simple mission to take a woman called Rhianna from her hippie planet home to another planet. The ship is a wreck, the Pym is pursued by both fascist, insectlike Ghasts and the religious extremists of New Eden, and things all get entertainingly chaotic.

I love the way Frost weaves in geek culture allusions. Space Captain Smith isn’t as littered with references in the way that Kim Newman’s novels (Anno Dracula; The Bloody Red Baron; Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles) are, but every once in a while one will glint up at you - the reference to Strauss playing while spaceships wait to dock will bring a smile to the face of anyone who knows their classic videogames, while the bowler-hat-wearing hoodlums who attack the team are entertainingly recognisable in their brief cameo. Often Frost mashes up influences: just as Suruk is simultaneously ‘the native’, the Predator and even a little Chewbacca, the simulant bountry hunter who pursues Carveth on behalf of her owner shows elements of Marlowe, Bogart and Rick Deckard. You don’t have to get the allusions, though: the story is enjoyable even if you don’t.

An adventure story for the new Millennium. Ripping!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bill Bryson at the Forum Cinema

Bil Bryson speaks!
Yesterday Mr Robot and I went to see Bill Bryson give a talk, arranged by Topping and Company booksellers. He's got a new book out, One Summer: America 1927. As you'd guess from the title, it's all about the summer of 1927 in the United States. We both love Bryson's work, I'm fascinated by the 1920s, and the talk was being held in the art deco Forum cinema – what better place for it? The cinema is now owned by a church, but it hosts other events from time to time, and Toppings runs a good range of events throughout the year, so I check their website frequently and snap tickets up if something looks interesting.

(Sorry the photo of Bill Bryson is so ropy - I snatched a few shots just as he came on, then put my camera away so I could enjoy the talk and wouldn't disturb other people.)

Mr Bryson read one excerpt from One Summer, plus some from his other books (including the memoir of his midwestern 1950s childhood, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid). He explained that when he started researching his latest book, his plan had been to write about baseball player Babe Ruth and aviator Charles Lindbergh, both of whom had performed amazing feats that summer. Lindbergh had become the first man to cross the Atlantic from New York to Paris in a single flight (in the process becoming the most famous man on Earth), and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a single season. However, he quickly realised just how pivotal that summer was for America, with the great Mississippi flood, the start of the Mount Rushmore carving project, The Jazz Singer being released in cinemas and so many more things happening, and so the book widened in scope, though Lindbergh remained a major part of it.

I'll write a full review of the book when I've read it.


To suit the event and location I tried to dress with a nod to the 20s, in a felt hat and straight coat, plus straight pink/grey tartan skirt and hip-length cardigan, but I don't think it worked, really. If anything the hats has too large a brim and the skirt was too long (and the 1960s bag didn't help). Ah well|!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

RIP Datamancer

I was saddened today to hear of the death of Richard 'Doc' Nagy, aka Datamancer. I'm probably well behind the steampunk community here - not being part of the community, I don't hear news as quickly - but wanted to mention it on my blog because I always found his work inspiring and exciting. If you've ever watched an episode of Warehouse 13, you may have seen some of it without realising.

Steampunk often seems to me to be misunderstood, especially by crafters outside the subculture whose approach to steampunk design seems to be to paint things brown and glue cogs on top. Rather than get into an argument about what was wrong with this notion, it was always easiest just to send them to Datamancer's website. His wonderful computers combined high craftsmanship with full-on Victorian style. Never twee, always functional, his designs to me embodied some of the fundamentals of steampunk: what would the world have been like if the Victorians had had computers? What would have been possible?

Thank you for expanding the realm of the possible, Datamancer.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Two Madames [perfume]

 I haven’t reviewed a perfume for a while, so I thought I’d introduce you to Rochas Madame Rochas and Balmain Jolie Madame. Both were first made midcentury, 1960 and 1953 respectively. My bottles are of the more recent formulations, though by all accounts the older stuff is even better - but then, isn’t it always?

I got both these fairly early on in my perfume-accumulating adventures, when my beloved Mitsouko was reformulated and I was investigating the whole world of other scents out there. Both of these had very good reputations and were being sold very cheap through Fragrance Direct. (I heartily recommend Fragrance Direct if you’re in the UK; their stuff is the real deal, and you can pick up a good discontinued bargain - cosmetics as well as perfume. They also do very good deals on gift sets after Christmas.)

What a shock the perfumes were! Perfumes from particular eras have styles, just as clothes do. Moreover, just as you can shorten a vintage dress or take off the sleeves or whatever and still have it retain something of its original era, so a perfume can be reformulated but never quite lose its place in time. These midcentury Madames smelled, to my nose, quite dated. They were also quite strident. Even though I’d got both very cheap, I started to think I’d made a massive mistake...

I warmed to Jolie Madame first. It’s a strange combination of leather and violets, an Emma Peel or Miss Moneypenny sort of scent. I think the violet is what helped, it reminded me of the early 20th century fragrances I love, Caron French Can Can in particular. Even so, it was on the wrists only, never too close to my nose. Then, one autumn day, it just worked. The violets were sweet, the leather had a darker quality that worked in the damp weather, and it was splendid. I spray it much more freely now when I wear it. The leather is too much for me in summer, and the violet too cool for winter, but sometimes I wake up in spring or autumn and only Jolie Madame will do.

Madame Rochas was took longer to love. There’s something very Marnie Madden (The Hour) about it: very mannered, beautiful yet somehow artificial, and it holds you at a polite distance even when you’re wearing it. I appreciate it more now, because of its manners, not in spite of them. It’s not a perfume to wear with jeans or even tweeds, it’s a very smart, very urban, very retro scent: a 1960s lady who lunches. Once, walking past Fortnum and Mason in London I saw they had a huge Madame Rochas factice (display bottle, full of coloured water not perfume) in the window. That tells you a lot about it. I only wear it to work, and then only on days when I’ve got my makeup nice and am dressed smartly! 

It’s worth taking the time to get to know a perfume. Of all our senses, smell is often the most neglected, and people who always pick beautiful colour combinations, or who have a real love of the feel of well-cut clothes in high-quality materials, sometimes surprise me by wearing only one or two undemanding scents. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of something brainless, but all the time? It’s the equivalent of living off burgers or wearing nothing but onesies and tracksuit bottoms.

My two Madames might not be my favourite perfumes, but I’m glad I can now appreciate them, and that they’re in my collection. Although I do wonder what people think when they meet me wearing one of them... 

Looking for a vintage scent to love? Check out my Brief Guide to Vintage Perfumes up to 1940, 1940-1959 and 1960-1989.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Knitting progress, Poirot and making connections

Joining in Tasha’s 1940s knitalong was a jolly good move. I think I’ve made more progress on my navy cardigan recently than I have in months. I have a half-hour commute each way to work, and while it’s dark at night, in the morning it’s light enough for me to fit a few rows in. I’m a slow knitter, so any extra knitting time is very welcome. My current aim is to be able to wear my cardigan by Christmas. Tasha’s set up a Ravelry group for the knitalong so I’ve joined that.

I’m slowly coming out of my wardrobe rut. I think being ill had a lot to do with my mood as I haven’t got anything new to wear but I’m feeling much more positive anyway. I had a whizz round the charity shops last weekend, but didn’t find anything I wanted. I nearly bought a couple of pleated wool skirts, but had to remind myself that it’s either expensive to get them dry cleaned or a faff to wash them (see my instructions for how to clean a dry-clean-only pleated skirt). I’ve still got one sitting in the laundry basket waiting for me to clean it, I don’t need two more!

Another thing that’s lifted my mood, generally better health aside, is the return of iconic 90s show The X-Files to my telly. One of the cable channels has been broadcasting the show from the first episode. Back in the 1990s I loved The X-Files. I even loved it when Mulder and Scully left and Dogget and Reyes took over in the early noughties. However, rewatching it is making me realise just how very good that first season was. There’s not a weak episode in the bunch. Scarily, Scully’s wardrobe is also making me aware of how much influence the 90s had on my personal tastes, especially my minimalist impulses and love of plummy lip colour. Could be worse, I suppose - what will the young’uns of the noughties carry forward, taste-wise?

On the subject of telly, it’s weird to think that Poirot has ended. Bruce Partington-Plans has written about the final series of Poirot extremely well, so I shan’t repeat what he said, but it will be sorely missed. I enjoyed the programme, but also loved the fact that so many other people did too, and it was something we could all share. I’m not sure if there’s anything that has lasted long enough and been watched widely enough to have the same impact. Watching Poirot, I never felt I was watching alone (okay, Mr Robot was always there, but you know what I mean) because I knew Gemma (Retro Chick) and Bruce and loads of other people would be watching it too. I don’t get out and about much, so it’s one of the few times when I felt properly connected to other people in vintageland.

On which note, are you planning to watch BBC2’s Cold War season? I’m looking forward to the documentary tonight, but anticipating even more eagerly Romola Garai in the 1970s-set drama Legacy at the end of the month. She was brilliant in The Hour, and I love a good espionage thriller, so here’s hoping Legacy has a decent script. It’ll give me something to knit along to...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wardrobe ruts and frustrations

Time for a new look?
I’m feeling in a wardrobe rut again. I did the same at this time last year - in early autumn I get excited that I can get all my favourite woollen skirts and jumpers out of the wardrobe, then by November/December I get all glum. I can think of a few reasons for this:

1: The weather is getting to me 
Perhaps the dark nights are just inducing feelings of gloom, and it’s creating a general dissatisfaction. Also, I've been ill since getting back from Burma/Myanmar, and that's guaranteed to dull any enthusiasm for clothes. (I found myself wishing for a onesie at one point, erk!)

2: Christmas is coming 
And that means parties. I’m nearly 40 and I really don’t know what to wear to get ‘dressed up’. I wear things like shift dresses with diamante jewellery to work, so the standard middle-aged partywear option feels like workwear to me. I feel anything especially girlie or sexy is probably a little ridiculous on me. This causes me masses of stress as I’m constantly aware of my age and weight (neither of which bother me on a day-to-day basis the rest of the year) and despairing of both. And I get invited to very few events anyway, which makes it all doubly stupid.

3: I do actually have a boring wardrobe 
This is a real possibility. After all, a tweed skirt and a jumper makes a nice change from summer clothes in early autumn, but rotating the same few tweed skirts and jumpers for months can get a tad dull. I do suspect I wear the same combinations of garments most weeks, and that my colour palette is limited. To this end I’m going to note down what I’ve been wearing day-to-day and see where things could be lifted, and where I could remix outfits.

I asked on Twitter whether people had advice for perking up a wardrobe, and one answer, which made me laugh and then think seriously, was Ankaret Wells’ comment that I should get a denim waistcoat. My response was that I can’t remember the last time I wore denim. (Seriously, I haven’t owned a pair of jeans for 20 years.) But why not step out of the comfort zone? Simply changing jewellery or adding a scarf doesn’t seem to be enough, so perhaps wearing something completely different is the answer. Yes, it might be a fashion disaster, but at least it won’t be boring.

Do you have any tips for perking up a tired winter wardrobe? What gets you out of your rut? I'm honestly not sure whether to trawl the chazzas for more of my usual sort of thing so I can mix and match more of what I currently own, or whether to try something completely out of my usual style (print! embellishment! modern!)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma/Myanmar

The main memorial has a central round 'atrium'
and two large columned wings.
If you read this blog regularly or chat to me on Twitter, you’ll know I went to Burma/Myanmar recently, in part to search out my family history. One of the most important places I wanted to visit was Taukkyan War Cemetery, within driving distance of Rangoon/Yangon. With Remembrance Sunday tomorrow, I thought I'd share my trip with you.

My grandfather’s youngest brother, Walter Alexander (‘Bunny’) and his stepfather, John Rowley, both served in Burma, and both died there. I don’t believe Rowley has a grave, and I know Bunny definitely doesn’t, so their names on the memorial are the closest thing they have, and none of the family has been able to visit it before now. Rowley was a friend of Bunny, and married my widowed great-grandmother. He was a Yorkshireman with the 2nd Battallion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry; Bunny joined them, though he never set foot in England in his life. The KOYLI suffered terrible casualties during the war, losing nine men out of every ten. Rowley promised my great-grandmother that he wouldn’t leave Bunny, who was just 18 when he joined up and 21 when he died, behind. Rowley kept his promise in the saddest possible way, and so I wanted to put a little cross at the memorial for both of them.

Every one of these columns is covered with names
 It is possible to get the bus from Rangoon/Yangon to the cemetery, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re feeling especially adventurous - you need to get to the station in the north of the city and on the correct bus. Fortunately, as part of our trip (arranged through excellent local travel company One Stop) we had a car and driver for the day. Spring, our guide in Yangon, was a little surprised that we wanted to go to the cemetery, probably because it’s a long way for a destination without much of tourist interest, but as soon as I said it was a family thing he understood completely.

Bunny and Rowley.
Taukkyan War Cemetery is a peaceful place, kept in immaculate condition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission staff who work there. I headed straight for the central memorial, which is huge and lists all the servicemen who died in Burma during the war. I’d already looked at the CWGC’s website, which has details of many war memorials and cemeteries around the globe and allows you to search for graves, and so I knew the number of the face Bunny and Rowley were listed on. I entered next to a different face. The names are grouped by regiment, and I entered next to a face bearing the names of servicemen from Africa, names like Saidi Mwembele and Seluce Kasungu. Every November I seem to come across at least one idiot who spouts anti-immigration nonsense and links it to the war; I wish I could take them to Taukkyan and show them every face of this memorial - the Brits and the Anzacs, the Indians, Gurkhas, Africans and more. United they fought, united they fell, and if they died for anything, let it be for greater tolerance and decency, not for ignorance and distrust.

I wrote Bunny and Rowley's names on the back of
this little cross, and left it near their face of the memorial.

We found Bunny and Rowley easily, and Spring, asked the gardener if it was okay for me to place my little cross nearby. He said yes. We made sure we got photos for the family.

After that, I took a walk round the graves. They’re split by religion, as different sections of ground are consecrated to different faiths, and then within those sections the dead are grouped by regiment, so soldiers lie beside their comrades. I liked the fact that there were flowering plants on the graves, and that butterflies fluttered around. The place was neat and tidy, but it was also beautiful and peaceful. Going to the cemetery was a sad, sober occasion, but I found consolation knowing that Bunny is, in a way, with his friend and comrades, and has such a tranquil place where he’s remembered.
Looking at the memorial from one end, out across the
graves of some of the Indian soldiers.

All photos copyright PP Gettins.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Fit for a prince: the 1922 Bagan Thande hotel

This was built in 1922 for a royal visit

I've now been back a week from my holiday to Burma/Myanmar, and thought I'd tell you a bit about the Bagan Thande hotel. While I wasn't fussy about which hotel we stayed at for most of the trip, there were two locations where I got specific. At Inle Lake I wanted to stay in one of the Golden Island Cottages hotels, as these are run by a co-operative of people from the local Pa-O ethnic group, and I liked to know the money was going into the area where I was staying, plus the hotel was actually on the water (little houses on stilts) so we could watch the boats of the local pagoda festival being rowed past. In Bagan I really wanted to stay in the Bagan Thande as it was built in 1922 for the visit of the then Prince of Wales (who became Edward VIII in his brief stint as King and then, of course, became the Duke of Windsor). 'Thande', the name of the hotel, roughly translates as 'diplomatic residence'.

'David', as he was known to his family, did a diplomatic tour of the Far East in 1921 and 1922. He didn't embark on the tour entirely willingly, and he certainly wasn't entirely welcome: both India and Burma were struggling for independence at this point in time. (I must admit, as a Brit I spent a fair bit of time on this trip wishing my countrymen hadn't been such arses, and at the same time as someone of mixed ancestry wished they hadn't been such arses to my ancestors. 'Us' and 'them' in one package!)

It's wonderful watching sunset by the river
Nowadays the historic building at the Thande is a restaurant downstairs and suites upstairs. We didn't splash out on a suite, instead having a really nice bungalow with a wonderful river view (handily not far from the riverside cocktail bar), but when the weather is damp they serve breakfast in the restaurant so we did get to eat on the ground floor of the Prince's building. It's a very nice teak building, very clean and shiny, though I have to confess I didn't get much of a sense of history from it.

The dining room is very large and open, and I have no idea whether it was originally designed to be a large reception room or if it's been altered. In fact, I've been unable to find out much at all about Edward's visit to Bagan, although I'm sure he enjoyed looking round some of the magnificent temples; you'd have to be a barbarian not to be dazzled by their beauty.

This trip was entirely paid for by Mr Robot and myself, no freebies. We booked via a Burmese agent, One Stop, who I heartily recommend - all our transfers and flights were organised for us, and booking through an agent can mean you make big savings on the prices hotels quote if you book direct. I'd also recommend using a Burma/Myanmar-based agent as you will save significantly compared to using a European agent or package tour company; the prices some European firms were quoting for one person was as much as we paid One Stop for both of us together.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

I'm knitting for victory!

Tasha from By Gum, By Golly has launched 'Knit For Victory', a 1940s-inspired knitalong. All you have to do is knit something 1940s (or 40s-inspired) between now and January 31st 2014. I don't often join in knitalongs as they usually involve making something I don't fancy making or come up when I'm halfway through another, urgent project. However, half-finished large knits are okay for the knitalong, so I'm using it to give me the impetus to finish my navy cardigan.

I'd been feeling a little bad about how long it's taken me to knit the navy cardigan, which I started last year (July 16 2012, according to my project list on Ravelry – I'm idontlikecricket if you're on Ravelry too). However, looking at that same project list made me realise how many things I have completed since then, including swap box projects (two shawls!), Mr Robot's Wartime Farm tank top, and the gorgeous 1950s cardigan my friend Sarah wore to get married in. Not completing the cardigan hasn't been a sign of slacking, it's a sign that perhaps I need to spend a few months being a selfish knitter and making things for myself.

I'm hoping to finish the cardigan and then knit myself something else. I have a pack of black 4ply, so was thinking of It Cannot Fail To Please from A Stitch in Time vol 1 in black. However, I also have a load of silk/cotton blend in grey with a silver thread running through it, which I'd originally bought to knit a jacket but now fancy using for Lamour by Sarah Hatton – I reckon in that yarn it will look pleasingly dieselpunk. I guess I'll have to wait and see what mood I'm in when I've finished the navy cardi!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The 'Singapore Girl' and Pierre Balmain

1970s 'Singapore Girls', via singaporeair.com
Flying out from Heathrow Airport with Singapore Airlines, we heard an announcement that there were suites on our flight. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘You must be really fancy to have a suite!’ Then ahead of us, we saw the most amazing looking woman. An exquisitely beautiful Asian lady in a blue, flower-patterned long skirt and top, her hair in a glossy, flawless chignon.

“I bet she’s got a suite,” I said to the Mr, “A lady like that can’t possibly be flying economy.”

When we got to our gate, she was not alone. There was a whole gang of identically-dressed women, plus a couple in red and green versions of the same outfit. What could it be? The world’s most elegant finishing school on an outing? The International League of Hotness on tour? Actually, it was the cabin crew for our flight.

Back in 1968, Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, the airline that split to become Malaysian Airline System and today’s Singapore Airlines, got Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain to design the uniforms for its female cabin crew. He came up with a slinky, yet covering, batik outfit based on the traditional sarong kebaya. The airline has its staff's uniforms individually fitted every six months to ensure an immaculate fit, and employs grooming consultants to help staff pick the ideal makeup for their colouring. I'm guessing that they also teach the staff how to do their hair, as while the adverts often show ladies with their hair down, all the ones I saw had either bobs or perfect updos.

Other airlines may have changed their uniforms over the decades, but I can see why Singapore Airlines has stuck with the sarong kebaya: it’s elegant and lovely and somehow timeless. I suppose its simplicity of line owes a lot to the 1960s as well as tradition; the uniform is devoid of pointless frippery, while the classic batik pattern hasn’t aged the way many prints would have done.

The ‘Singapore Girl’ became quite an icon in the late 1960s and 1970s, and when you’ve seen the cabin crew, it’s easy to understand why.

On the way back to England, our flight to Heathrow was diverted to Manchester because of a storm, so it took about five hours longer than expected. They must have been very tired, but our cabin crew remained elegant and helpful to the end - a real credit to the airline that employs them.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) [film]

When it was announced that Baz Luhrmann was directing a new version of The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite novels, for the big screen, I was excited, and perhaps a little apprehensive. As stories came out about it, little snippets of news, I grew alternately more excited and more apprehensive. Now I've seen it, and I feel...

Meh.

'Meh' is probably not the reaction a person should have to this film. A lot of it is spectacle, great zoomings-in from a whole city to one person, wild parties, fast cars, and probably comes across much better in 3D at the cinema than on a little 2D screen (I saw it as an in-flight movie). I enjoyed the spectacular aspect; it wasn't historically accurate but it was glittery and giddy and all the things we want the Jazz Age to be.

I was also surprised by the soundtrack. I'm not a fan of modern 'urban' musical styles - I just don't connect with the sound, and choose to listen to other styles. Knowing Jay-Z was doing the soundtrack to Gatsby, I expected to find it intrusive and out-of-place, but it was blended with 1920s tunes here and there and worked very well.

So, looks good, sounds good. Why the 'meh'? Basically, the characters. Tom and Daisy have a complex relationship, Gatsby and Daisy have a complex relationship. In this film, Tom is an utter oaf and his mistress Myrtle completely vulgar. You can't imagine why anyone would want either of them. Because of that, you should root for Daisy and Gatsby at least a little, but Daisy comes across as a drip until almost the very end, where she will not lie to her lover, and Gatsby is, well, an arse. In the Robert Redford/ Mia Farrow version of the story, you do feel Gatsby and Daisy are trying to reclaim their teenaged dreams in some sunlit, impossible time. Redford's Gatsby is a dreamer. Di Caprio's is ambitious, hardheaded - more accurate for a character who's dragged himself up from nothing, working with bootleggers and criminals, but it seems odd that he's so hardheaded even with Daisy. To Redford's Gatsby, Daisy is a dream he might just be able to grasp. To Di Caprio's, she is a property and social status to be acquired.

And so, I don't think I'll go out of my way to watch this again. It looks great, but it's not a film that really touches me.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Bloofer Lady: Fenella Fielding

Valeria Watt entrances Sergeant Bung
2013's Bloofer Lady is the sultry star of Carry On Screaming, Fenella Fielding. Throughout her career Fielding has preferred to focus on stage acting, which means she's far less well-known than her beauty and talent merit. That said, she's managed a few appearances in cult telly programmes, including occasional appearances in The Avengers and being the PA announcer in The Prisoner.

However, it is for her role as Valeria Watt in the 1966 film Carry on Screaming that she's this year's Bloofer Lady. I really like Carry on Screaming; it's less smutty than many films in the series, and is a lovely pastiche of Hammer films. It's set in the Edwardian age, and Constable Slobotham and henpecked Sergeant Bung are investigating the mysterious disappearances of young women from a local wood. Dr Orlando Watt, with some help from his sister Valeria and a hairy creature named Oddbod, have been petrifying the girls and selling them as mannequins.

Needless to say, when he meets the lady of the manor, Bung falls in love. And who can blame him? Valeria Watt's slinky dress and long black hair are classic Bloofer Lady style (Vampira and Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams had already carried the look off with aplomb.) However, Valeria wasn't just slinky, she was scarlet. Films brought colour to horror in the 1960s, and Carry on Screaming gave the classic Bloofer Lady look a stunning blood red velvet variant. Watt's evil deeds are stopped – though not before he petrifies Mrs Bung, leaving Valeria and the Sergeant to live happily ever after.

Beautiful Bloofer Lady, we salute you!

2011's Bloofer Lady was Yvonne de Carlo
2012's Bloofer Lady was Elsa Lanchester

Friday, 18 October 2013

Digging up family history

Apologies if this post looks a bit funny: the reason I've been quiet for a week or so is that I'm in Myanmar (Burma). My grandfather was born here, and never got to come back before he died. I promised myself that one day I would come here for him, and now here we are!

We've spent a few days in Yangon, where we took time to visit the War cemetary. My great-uncle Bunny died in 1942 and doesn't have a grave, but his name is on the memorial. I will do a proper post on the cemetary later, when I have access to Mr Robot's proper photos. It's phone pics for this post, I'm afraid! We also visited Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the stunning building in the first photo. Then we went on to Inle Lake, which was utterly amazing.

Anyway, now we are in the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, which was a hillstation called Maymyo when granddad lived here. We had a fantastic guide, Sozo, who has helped other people looking for places where their families lived. I fear he has more success with white people as their houses were bigger and the names of the buildings stuck.

First we looked round the Christian cemetary. My great-grandfather is buried there. Sozo is friends with Father Joseph, the local Anglican priest (he is a Burmese gentleman), and also maintains the cemetary, though it is hard work. Father Joseph has been having the site cleared and is trying to re-identify graves, but as great-granddad McDonald had a ling-gone wooden marker we found the approximate area where his grave was, but not the specific site. It was very kind of Father Joseph to take time out from his church work to show us the cemetary in detail as I am sure he is a busy man!

Then we looked for the house where granddad grew up. My great-aunt gave us directions, and we found the approximate location, but again, not the house itself. From the directions, we are sure that the house stood on a site that is now a playing field. However, we did find a house that looked just like granddad's would have done in the 1910s, with a brick ground floor and wooden upper floor with verandah. It's one of the oldest houses in that part of town, around 100 years old. Sozo spoke to the chap who lives there, and he allowed us to step into the yard to take photos.

It isn't the grand sort of colonial house you see in most photos of hill stations. I'm quite glad about that. The history of Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Burmese people, the mixed people, sometimes seems in danger of being lost. This little house is part of that other history, the story of people who weren't grand or authoritative. My people. I feel I've brought a little piece of granddad back to the town he loved.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Peaky Blinders and some bimbling around

I’ve been going through one of those phases with no big things on, so I’ve just been ticking away like a clock, going through my regular routine.

The Shelby clan
As far as viewing goes, I can’t be bothered with Downton Abbey - it moves through the years so quickly. Does no-one notice that the inhabitants of the Abbey have barely aged in about 15 years? That annoys me so much I can’t even be bothered with the plot. I have, on the other hand, been enjoying Peaky Blinders. If you’re not in the UK or have missed it, it’s set in the 1920s, and the Peaky Blinders is a criminal gang, centred on a working-class family, who organise gambling and other crimes.

Peaky Blinders uses modern music (as part of the soundtrack, it’s not part of the characters’ world), but I like it. It probably helps that it’s the sort of thing I’d like even if it weren’t on the programme, always did like a bit of Nick Cave... I might have been irritated by the music if other aspects had been weaker, but it’s mostly nicely done. Many characters are still feeling the effects of the First World War: gangleader Thomas Shelby still has nightmares about the war, and treats the men he served alongside with rather more kindness than most other people. He’s even more tolerant of Communist rabble-rouser Freddie than he would be of most people – more tolerant than even his family expect him to be.

Aunt Polly - note the shirt and tie, she's a little dated
The interiors and clothes reflect that fact that most people didn’t move over to all-deco, all the time, with gin and motorcars, is great. Aunt Polly, in fact, the Shelby matriarch, has something of a careworn Gibson Girl look, still in the clothes of an earlier era. The only person who’s really embraced the Jazz Age is Ada, Thomas's sister, and while her drop-waisted dresses and Louis-heeled shoes are clearly more frivolous than the clothes worn by other characters, there’s still a seediness to them.

Ada Shelby, in her fab 20s clothes
I’ve only taken a dislike to one character, and that’s Grace, mainly because she’s written to be practically perfect. She’s blonde and pretty with a beguiling Irish accent, and why, if you don’t like her she will sing at you with her gorgeous voice and then you will love her. Barf. Compared to the other characters, she comes across as alarmingly lacking in depth. I don't know why that is, as she has a clear backstory, and far more to do than characters like Ada, yet of all of them, she's the one that doesn't fit into the story properly. Possibly it's because of all of them, she feels the least realistic, the most like a concession to 21st century thinking. Anyway, she's not enough to spoil the story, annoying as she is.

EDIT: Like Peaky Blinders? I've also written about Peaky Blinders series 2

This Tuesday I finally handed my friend Sarah the 1950s cardigan I’ve been knitting for her to wear to her wedding. As part of the process I had to do a couple of adjustments such as lengthening the sleeves, and I was terrified that it wouldn’t fit. However, it fitted perfectly once she had it on, and should show off the nipped-in waist of her dress to perfection. She even loved the sparkly clear buttons I chose.

Finally, I managed to get a few more of the old, green, Penguin crime novels in Oxfam. These things have been like hen’s teeth lately, I hope no idiot is doing horrible things to them in the name of ‘upcycling’. (Why I hate upcycling.) Anyway, there was a couple by Dickson Carr in the quartet, which makes me very happy as they are hard to come by and I enjoy them.

Have you been watching or reading anything that’s both vintage and fun of late?

Friday, 4 October 2013

Quatermass 2 [film]

Mysterious objects have been falling from the sky
I love Quatermass, the science fiction-horror television series from the 1950s. The first series (Quatermass) is mostly lost, but the second and third ones (Quatermass II, Quatermass and the Pit) still exist, and I’ve got what there is of all three on DVD.

Recently Quatermass 2, the late ‘50s Hammer remake of Quatermass II, was on telly. I love Quatermass and I love Hammer, so it couldn’t fail, right? Wrong. The main thing I didn’t like about the film was the one thing that couldn’t be ignored: I really didn’t like Brian Donlevy as the Professor. Apparently the character’s creator, Nigel Kneale, also wasn’t keen on Donlevy in the role. For me, Quatermass has to be an eccentric British boffin, someone whose brilliance can be mistaken for madness. I see him as nudging close to the line that divides Dr Jekyll or Dr Moreau from respectable scientists. Donlevy is American, and in common with the heroes of the American SF movies of the 1950s it always feels as though he has the potential for action. I’m not saying Donlevy is bad, but he’s not Quatermass!

The storyline is a cut-back version of Quatermass II. As in the original, strange objects have been falling from the sky, and Professor Quatermass, investigating them, discovers a factory that is allegedly developing artificial food, where the workers all behave in a very strange manner. Where do the objects come from, and how are they connected with the workers at the factory? However, the film is less inclusive than the television programme. The global aspect of the story is missing – whereas in the original version, artificial food factories the same as the one Quatermass investigates exist in Siberia and Brazil, in the film there’s no reference to other countries.
The 'artificial food plant' looks suspiciously like a space colony...

Quatermass’ daughter, Paula, is another casualty of the conversion, and that’s a real shame because in the series she helps track an asteroid using a radio telescope, and takes part in the analysis of a substance her father finds. In the film, the most prominent female at Quatermass’ research centre is a secretary - who gets sent out of the way when serious science is being discussed.

All in all, I found this an unsatisfying version of the original series, lacking much of the atmosphere and global scale.

Monday, 30 September 2013

A few 30s/40s family photos

I got sent a lovely thing this week: some photos of my family, mostly from when they were in Burma/Myanmar. I think the reason I'm so fascinated by the said of the family is because it's so different to my life and the British history I was taught in school. I remember my granddad talking about finding snakes under the house, or how he'd go walking into the jungle and bring back epiphytic orchids to hang in a tree in the back garden. I remember him showing me the curly Burmese writing.

Mr Robot and I are planning to visit Pyin Oo Lwin – formerly known as Maymyo, the town where Granddad was born and grew up. His sister Sheleagh is still alive, and now living in the UK, and it's her son who sent me these lovely photos. I believe their house is now the site of a Hindu temple, but we shall take a look at the road anyway, and lots of the churches, schools and other buildings they went to should still be there.

The first photo is of my great-grandmother Mary Florence, nee de Solminihac. She was from Kolkata (Calcutta, back then) and moved to Burma/Myanmar when she got married. I'm not sure what the uniform is – some sort of women's army support, I'd guess. The second is also her, on the steps of Rose Cottage, their family home. The third one is my great-aunts Molly and Sheleagh, plus Jean, Molly's daughter. 

I hope you like them. I was overjoyed to receive them.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

How to repair vintage enamel jewellery

It's easy to find vintage enamel jewellery, but at best it's usually 'nibbled'. What's more, it's easy to chip a piece if you're not careful. Today I repaired a couple of brooches, so I thought I'd share how I did it in case it's useful to anyone else.

What I started with
Two enamel brooches, both probably 1960s, made by Solihull company Exquisite. The oak leaves are part of a whole sequence of leaf brooches produced in that era, and I also have the horse chestnut, which was a gift from my friends Andy and Rachel. I found this one in my local Scope charity shop. The oak leaves were in pretty good condition, though the enamel had come off the tip of one acorn and was chipped on the leaf behind it.

The lucky heather was another charity shop find. Exquisite produced different sorts of heather brooches by the truckload, I believe mainly for the Scottish souvenir trade. It was all battered and unloved, so I thought I'd buy it, and when I got it out of the charity shop I realised just how badly the poor thing had been treated: someone had given it a really inept repaint at some point in its history, blobbing excess white all over what should have been leaves, and it had lost its diamante.

You may have a brooch, necklace or earrings to repair, but if your jewellery has this sort of enamel on, you can fix it. (NB: I am assuming you are handy with a paint brush. If you can handle gel eyeliner or painting metal wargames figures, you'll be fine.)

What you need
Enamel paints
Thinners
You can get these from your local model shop. Try to buy paints as close in colour to the item you're repairing, as this will save you having to mix a shade from several tins. Enamel paints are mostly used by people making model railways and military models, which means you'll have a far better choice of greys, greens and blues than bright pinks or purples. Also, make sure you buy as pot of white as some colours will require a base coat (more on that later). You might also need a pot of gloss coating if you can only find a matte version of your chosen colour.

Paint brush
Pick a smallish brush if you're doing fine work, a medium one if the area you're painting is one colour and requires a single swoop of colour.

Cocktail sticks
Tissues
A ceramic ramekin or a shot glass
A table knife
Some waste paper. 
You've probably got all these at home. You might also want a pair of tweezers if you have false nails.

What you do
Lay out your waste paper on your work surface in a well-lit, well ventilated area. I've taken my paper away for the photos as the print would be distracting, but I did work on some. Pour a little bit of thinners into your ramekin or shot glass - it's a waste to dip your brush directly into the bottle as this will make the whole lot murky.

Have a close look at your jewellery. Some colours might be painted over the top of a white base coat – this is most likely to be the case when you've got several colours used all together, as in the leaves of my oak brooch, or when red and yellow are used as these pigments are often more transparent than greens and browns. Decide whether you need to start with white.
Halfway through, with a white base coat on the acorn and leaf

Pick up your chosen tin and give it a good shake. Lever the top off with the table knife and set it carefully aside. Papa Robot, who taught me all I know about this sort of thing, uses tweezers for moving lids, and if you've got false nails that might not respond well to the thinners or paint, that might be a good idea for you too. Now stir your paint with a cocktail stick. Sometimes they settle, and this will ensure even colour and drying.

Carefully dab your brush into the colour. I start by simply running the tip of my brush on the cocktail stick. It saves wastage, and you only need a tiny bit of paint on the brush anyway. Remember, it's easier to put on another thin layer than it is to remove a badly-done blobby layer. If you're doing a white base, apply it ONLY to the damaged area. If you're using a colour straight away, decide whether you also want to blend it in a little to the surrounding paint. Paint!

Now wipe your brush on a tissue to remove excess paint, dabble it in the thinners to remove the rest, then dry your brush on another bit of tissue. Wait five minutes or so for your paint to dry, then start on your next colour.

Here are my finished brooches. As you can see, after putting the green on the oak leaves, I added some streaks of brown to replicate the original pattern and hide the 'join' between my repair and the original enamel. I found a little diamante to finish off the lucky heather.

The finished repairs!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

More Colleen Moore!

I was really pleased this week to discover that two of silent superstar Colleen Moore’s films have been rediscovered. (The news has been out there for a while, I was a bit slow to pick up on it.) Colleen Moore is one of my style icons and, more importantly, helped set the flapper look of 1920s America, which spread around the world. However, because many of her flapper films have been lost, she’s largely missed off of any modern lists of 20s trendsetters.

The rediscovered films are Synthetic Sin and Why Be Good? Colleen’s last two silent movies, made in 1928. They were found in Milan, but are now back with Warner Brothers, who are taking good care of them. Film and acting changed so rapidly in the 1920s, it will be interesting to see what these films are like – Colleen had a great gift for comedy, and I’m hoping the more natural style of acting favoured in the later part of the decade will allow that to shine even more. What’s more, the two have a full-on deco look that’s sure to please any lover of the Jazz Age.

According to the news reports that I’ve read, the films are currently being restored for release on DVD. Oh, how I hope they do a Region 2 release!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A couple of gorgeous London pubs

In the back room after the family have gone
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? Well, not up to London to visit the Queen, but to London to see my brother graduate. After years of hard study in addition to doing his day job, my little bruv has got a BSc in Social Sciences, and can pursue his dream of being a teacher. He did it through the Open University.

I have massive respect for anyone who studies with the OU. For non-Brits, it's a university where the work is done mostly through home study in the students' spare time, with additional tutorials and summer schools. It's backed up with programmes on the BBC, too. It has the same standards as other British universities, but the way it's structured means people who can't study full time because of work or family commitments, or who might find accessing a bricks-and-mortar university difficult (eg people with severe physical disabilities) can get a degree, masters, even PhD.

Another view of the Fox's back room
Anyway, in addition to seeing Dibbles* get his certificate we had lunch with family in a pub called the Fox and Anchor. I found it via the daily Emerald Street email. I'm not usually one for girly bobbins, but Emerald Street really is good and the email always includes a bar or restaurant review. They send out separate emails for London, Birmingham and Glasgow/Edinburgh – I get the London one, but I wish they had one for Bristol!

The Fox's website says it's in Clerkenwell, but it's definitely round the back of Smithfield Market. Is Smithfield Market in Clerkenwell? I don't know! At any rate, you just need to walk round the meat market to find it. We needed somewhere easy to get to from the graduation venue (the Barbican Centre), as one of the party wouldn't have been able to walk far, with a traditional menu, as another was a fussy eater, and the Fox seemed to fit the bill. It's lovely inside, all dark wood panelling. At the back there are even little mirrored booths, where perhaps once upon a time Victorian blokes entertained loose women, or worked out a dodgy deal or two.

The food was jolly nice, though I hadn't realised you needed to order vegetables separately and my chicken-and-ham pie came all on its own so I quickly ordered some additional veggies. My brother ordered the pork pies with mushy peas, and they looked really good. The beers were excellent.

The bar at the Black Friar – look at the frieze!
After a long meal Mr Robot and I waved goodbye to my brother and the rest of the family, had one more beer, and set off on our photo safari. We were walking round the edge of the City of London, where it meets the City of Westminster. A loop round Old Holburn, Fleet Street and the Embankment meant we ended up in the splendid turn-of-the-20th-century Arts and Crafts pub, the Black Friar. I've just bought a new camera, so hopefully these last two photos will give you a clearer idea of what we love about it - there's just nowhere else like it, with its marble walls and brass reliefs of monks brewing beer.
The back room at the Black Friar
*My brother doesn't read this blog. Good job, eh?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

How to find your perfect jumper

Late 1940s: short sleeves, squarish shoulders
I had a brief chat on Twitter about jumpers over the weekend, so I thought I’d share some Thinks on the matter with you. Knitters probably think more about fibre and fit in jumpers than non-knitters, and as much as I'm coming to appreciate the boxy styles of the 1960s, I can't help thinking the simple, square shapes that came into style then and never really disappeared are at least partly responsible for the way the general public see handknits; a perception of poor fit and lack of style that knitters are still struggling to overcome. This isn't to say simplicity can't be stylish, but it needs to be done well, with careful attention to drape and shape.

Everybody looks for different things in their woollies, so I’m not going to be prescriptive about whether body X should wear woolly Y, but I am going to make suggestions according to what you might be looking for, with reference to vintage knitting styles. Knitted garments haven't changed massively over the years; if you're buying your knitwear on the high street, stick to the silhouette of your chosen era (boxy shoulders in the 1950s, emphasis on the waist in the 1950s) and choose a period-appropriate gauge of knitting (smaller stitches for pre-1960s styles, but not so fine they couldn't be handknitted) and you can't go far wrong.

I don’t want to add bulk  
Choose a fine knit. If you’re knitting your own garment, don’t go over a DK/worsted weight; I’d opt for 4ply/fingering or lighter. Here in the UK, DK started becoming more popular in the late 1950s, so look for patterns produced before then if you want the widest choice of designs knitted in fine yarns. If you’re shopping for woollies, it’s fairly easy to find fine knits, but don’t go for anything too fine – you don’t want to cross the line between ‘jumper’ and ‘long-sleeved T-shirt’.  

I don’t want to add bulk but I still want to be warm 
Choose fleecy animal fibres. The fibres usually have qualities that make them far warmer than the plant-based or synthetic alternatives, and they’re also breathable so you won’t get horribly sweaty and then chilled when you cool down. Nowadays all sorts of exotic fleeces and blends get spun into yarn, but you really can’t go far wrong with good old wool. Most of my vintage winter patterns (pre-1960s) specify a wool yarn. Silk, while an animal fibre, has a very different handle and drape from fleece fibres, and isn’t as warm. My current favourite yarns – and no, I'm not getting paid to say so! – are King Cole Merino Blend 4ply, Wendy Merino 4ply and Excelana 4ply. I adored Sublime's pure wool 4ply, but the rotters discontinued it...

Mulesing (the removing of part of the sheep’s skin to prevent their hindquarters getting filthy, which encourages fly strike, a very nasty condition) is being phased out in sheep farming, and is banned in many countries already but if you’re worried about that, why not look for a locally-farmed wool so you can be sure of the source? You could get a beautiful jumper and help support rare breeds in your area. 
Ribbing at the waist gives shape

I want something satisfyingly chunky 
You do get patterns using thick yarns from the 1930s onwards, but really, look to the mid-1950s and later for the best choice of chunky knits. Initially the thicker yarns were used more for jackets, but by the 1960s when lightweight, easy-to-dry synthetic fibres were being used to make yarn, designers embraced the opportunity to make all sorts of bulky knits with big stitches. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, Aran styles took off in a big way.  

I want to show off my waist  
Ribbing pulls inward, so look for garments with ribbing in the waist area. This could mean the entire garment is knitted in a ribbed pattern. You’ll find plenty of short jumpers ending in a deep ribbed band at the waist, as in the first picture on this page, but it’s also possible to find patterns for longer knits with a ribbed section at the waist point, as you can see in the second. Hunt through designs from the late 1930s to mid 1950s. Ribbing is often used in designs with ‘negative ease’. This means the finished knit is actually smaller than the wearer’s body, and stretches to match the wearer’s shape.  

No waist, but no less chic!
I don’t want to show off my waist 
Obviously, look for a woolly that goes straight up and down: 20s styles are great for this, and tend to reach to somewhere between the waist and hips, but some of the nicest examples I’ve seen from then combine knitting and crochet, so you’ll need to be bicraftual to make them. Patterns from the 1960s are straight but can be very plain, as simplicity was part of the midcentury modern look. 

By the mid 1950s, squarer knitted jackets came into style, and so did hip-length cardigans, so you can pop these on over a more fitted knitted top. If you want a 40s or 50s look without drawing attention to your waist, opt for patterns that pull the eye upwards: fair isle yokes, for example. 

I need versatility  
BRING FORTH THE TWIN SET. I love twin sets. Many combine a sleeveless or short-sleeved top with a long-sleeved cardigan. You can wear the top on its own in milder weather, pop the cardigan on over other things, or wear both for maximum warmth on really chilly days. What’s more, nothing says ‘vintage’ like a nice knitted twin set. If you like to show off your waist, pick a pattern where the cardigan element is a bolero or cropped design and the underlying top is nicely fitted.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover in all its glory

Hoorah, my latest column for Simply Knitting is now in print, and that means I can share a few more photos of the Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover with you. I actually completed the knitting back in May, but didn’t want to put any photos up until I could be sure I wouldn’t inadvertently use a duplicate of whatever ones the magazine printed.

My aim in writing the column was to tell readers who aren’t massively active online - and certainly when I was on Simply Knitting fulltime there were lots of those - all about Susan Crawford and Charly Surry’s (Landgirl 1980) work in getting permission to do the pattern, creating it and publicising it to raise money for the Women’s Land Army Memorial. I hope a few of those knitters do decide to go online to buy the pattern; it’s a really good cause.
 
Mr Robot did not enjoy posing for the photos, as he hates having his photo taken. But pose he did! He doesn’t seem to hate his tank top, as it’s nice and warm. He’s even worn it in public to 1940s-themed events. I quite fancy a fair isle knit myself now. They’re jolly versatile, as well as great fun to make. However, it will have to wait as I have Sarah’s wedding cardi and then the never-ending navy cardi to complete first.
We couldn't resist an imitation of the Mollie Makes covers!

You can find Simply Knitting issue 112 in the shops right now or via My Favourite Magazines. It’s got a pattern for a great pair of Frankenstein mitts, and comes with a Christmas knitting booklet that’s got a fantastic Fair Isle hat designed by Mary Henderson. (I know I already have a Fair Isle beret, but I’m tempted to knit another, Mary’s design is so nice!)