Monday, 28 January 2013

Top-to-toe nylon, as promised

So stylish... (I do like my hat, though.)

So, last week Mr Robot and I went for a session driving huskies. We booked through a firm called Into The Blue, but the people who own the dogs and host the experience are Arctic Quest and you can book direct with them. It's not really an occasion for dressing up, so I piled on lots of wool and topped it all off with waterproof coat and trousers.

Willful Willow!

This little madam, Willow, ran off to investigate rabbit fur when she was pulling me! I tried to avoid hitting her when she came back and overturned the dog trike. Good job you get helmets and joint pads, eh?

Lined up in pack order.

Mr Robot makes friends with Tamzin


Our home for the night

We stayed overnight in a Sami tipi. It has a wood burner inside, so when we woke up the next morning I lit the fire and got straight back in my sleeping bag! Arctic Quest provide proper arctic sleeping bags, booties, throws and so on, and everything you need to cook with. We cooked our evening meal outside, though.

A cold morning - the lake is frozen and there's snow on the hills! 

Trip was fully paid for - it was Mr Robot's birthday present last year.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bad news for lovers of old-school perfumes

Sad news for lovers of old-school perfume – three very well-loved Carons have been discontinued. This week I noticed my bottle of French Cancan was running low, and Perfume Shrine reported the latest list of banned/ restricted allergens in perfumes, which sent me into a bit of a panic. I contacted my favourite perfume retailer, Les Senteurs, and they told me that the version I have for French Cancan is currently safe. (I ordered a 100ml bottle of French Cancan anyway, just to be on the safe side.) However some classics are going: Caron are unwilling to alter Bellodgia, Nuit de Noel and Narcisse Noir any further, so they've been discontinued. If you like Bellodgia, Nuit de Noel or Narcisse Noir, stock up now.

I'm especially sad about the latter – I'd spotted Bellodgia getting scarcer and bought a couple of bottles of the eau de toilette, but now can only get hold of Narcisse Noir in the parfum, and I simply can't afford to stock up on that. When my last little dribble is gone, that's it. It's the fragrance Gloria Swanson famously sprayed liberally on the set of Sunset Boulevard, to make use of its unsettling properties. Personally I find it very lovely but also quite cold – I always wear it to funerals, and so it brings back bittersweet memories of people I've loved. I'm sad it's going, but fair play to Caron for not mucking about with it any further.

It's not just Carons that will be affected, as Perfume Shrine point out – Opium got fairly heavily mutilated a while back as it was, but the classic Guerlains Shalimar and Mitsouko are also going to be hit badly, and even Thierry Mugler Angel will need changing. Angel is a perfume I'm not especially fond of, but it is one of the great modern fragrances and it's a shame even something so recent will need altering.

What can you do about it? Not a lot. If you have a particular signature scent that you can't bear to be without, stock up now, and keep your bottles somewhere cool and dark so the juice won't turn. I'm going to be adding a large bottle of Caron En Avion to my stash at some point in the near future. Les Senteurs specialise in niche parfumery, but if you're looking for something more mainstream, I can definitely recommend both FragranceDirect and Strawberrynet for big brands at bargain prices – although Brits note you will have to pay import duty on purchases from Strawberrynet as they're based in Hong Kong, so it's worth ordering from them when they've put a big discount on an item, but you might be better off shopping on the High Street otherwise. I've ordered from both in recent months and received excellent service.

I have updated my post 'A brief guide to vintage perfumes: up to 1940' to take account of the discontinuations.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A slow start to the year

A slow start to the year 2013’s started fairly slowly. I mentioned my new year’s resolution was to finish at least one knitted thing a month –well, I’ve managed this month’s knits, but as they’re neither vintage nor retro-futuristic, I shall not trouble you with them here! Since then I’ve been ploughing on with a very plain pair of socks for Mr Robot, which probably could count as reproduction in the sense that they’re plain socks, the likes of which gents have been wearing for donkeys’ years.


As far as telly goes, I’m still mostly enjoying Ripper Street. My problems with it have more to do with the predictable plots than the extreme violence, but that’s possibly symptomatic of the writers trying to fit a whole story into each episode. I still haven’t seen Mr Selfridge, but keep meaning to get round to watching it on catch-up.


If I could have one telly wish, it’s that The Killing could influence programme-makers to spend more time on one story. Spies of Warsaw was done over two episodes, and I liked that very much indeed. David Tennant’s character, Jean-Francois Mercier, was a spy working for the French in Poland, investigating Nazi tank activity. It became especially poignant when he was arguing that it looked as though the Germans planned to invade via the Maginot Line – something that, in real life, came to pass. I preferred the spying side of the story to the romance between Jean-Francois and beautiful left-wing Polish aristo Anna (Janet Montgomery). That said, she did have some very nice jumpers, which made me think it was time to get those socks finished so I can renew work on the navy cardigan. And I’ve never been a David Tennant fan, but he had a certain resemblance to a young Peter Capaldi, which changed my opinion of him rather…

In radio news, one of my favourite radio programmes, the silly-scary 1930s-set The Scarifyers is now back on Radio 4 Extra on Sundays, hurrah! I’d thought we were due for more of that, and now Lionheart and Dunning are indeed back.

You can catch up with Ripper Street, Spies of Warsaw and The Scarifyers on BBC iPlayer.

The BBC does have a 1930s-set drama by Steven Poliakoff coming up, Dancing on the Edge (starting on the 4th of February. I’m not completely excited about that: I adored Shooting the Past (broadcast back in 1999) but some of his other work has disappointed me rather, in particular Glorious 39. However, his programmes and films usually look beautiful, so I shall definitely watch an episode or two.

In other news, I’m supposed to be going husky mushing later this week, weather permitting. (The dogs won’t mind a bit of snow, but getting to them could prove tricky.) I have the world’s uglist mismatched nylon separates to wear, and shall post a photo so you can have a good laugh!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Knit Back In Time, Geraldine Warner

If you've ever wanted to resize vintage knitting patterns, get this book.

A few of the vintage lovelies I talk to on Twitter (I'm @crinolinerobot, if you want to find me!) have started knitting recently. I've been doing it for nearly a decade now – I learned when I was 30 – and wanting to make my own clothes from vintage patterns was one of the things that drove me to learn. It came as a bit of a shock to realise that a lot of the things I was really interested in knitting were only written in one bust size. Susan Crawford and Jane Waller's A Stitch in Time books are fantastic, with resized patterns and modern yarns, but what if you've got an original pattern you want to knit? How do you resize things? Knit Back in Time explains the process clearly and simply.

The book starts with a brief introduction to vintage knitwear styles. Like a lot of vintage lovers, Geraldine Warner draws the line at 1960, but this makes sense from a knitting point of view as by then shapes were simpler and multi-sized patterns and the yarn weights we're familiar with today had become commonplace, so the chances are if you want to knit something from a 1960s-or-later pattern, you'll find it fairly straightforward anyway.

There are two main sections to the book: first, how to adapt vintage knitting patterns, and second, how to adapt later patterns to give them a more vintage feel (changing the sleeve style, neckline and so on). Most people I know will find the first half of most use, and it is seriously useful. It starts out with choosing the right yarn to recreate the shape of vintage knitwear and choosing period-appropriate colours before getting on to the nuts and bolts of resizing. I've taught myself to resize things in an acceptable fashion, but I've got a fairly standard body shape, it's just wider than most vintage patterns were written for. If you have very wide or narrow shoulders, or a very high or short waist, the detailed adaptations Warner takes you through will prove invaluable. If you have a very non-standard body type, you may prefer to get a pattern you know will knit up to your size or shape, and then work some of the features from the second half of the book into it instead.

There are no actual garment patterns in Knit Back in Time, so you'll have to find those for yourself, and you will have to be prepared to take a little time and do some straightforward maths for the resizing. I'd still recommend that a fairly new knitter starts with one of the A Stitch in Time patterns, with the resizing done for them, but as long as you've made a couple of garments following patterns as written, this should give you everything you need to resize old patterns and create unique garments for yourself. I'll certainly be using it myself to get an even better fit next time I resize anything.

Book source: my copy was a gift from Lyndsey Mayhew. It's published by Search Press, priced £15.99, so you can order via Search press' website or get your local bookshop to order it in for you. (I'm not getting paid for that link, I just thought I'd make it easy for you to get the book if you want a copy!)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

"What Every Woman Should Know"

I know, I know. Don’t read the Daily Fail, online or off, it just encourages them. But when I saw What Every Woman Should Know I couldn’t resist it – I’d gone into WH Smiths in Bath to buy the February copy of Vogue (no, no idea why I wanted it so badly) but saw this and bought it instead. After mentioning it on Twitter it turned out Gemma from Retro Chick also owns a copy, and a few other people were thinking of buying it, so it’s not just me lured in by the promise of 1930s fashion and trends.

 The paper quality - both pages and cover - of this is very nice, definitely more akin to a proper book than a magazine. It falls into that odd space we in the mag trade call ‘bookazines’, with minimal adverts and high quality paper stock, but you’ll find it stacked alongside the magazines and newspapers, not with the novels. Often bookazines are a sort of ‘best of’ of other publications, so you’ll see ones on a year in sport, or a particular celebrity. This is all women’s interest material from the Daily Mail in the 1930s.

I do own a couple of hardback books containing reproduced articles from Good Housekeeping in the 1920s-40s, and comparing the two was interesting. I get the feeling both were aimed at a similar demographic; certainly there’s not a massive difference between the fashions and recipes presented in 1930s Good Housekeeping and 1930s Daily Mail. What is different is the tone, with headlines like ‘Wear This If You Are Thin’ and ‘What You Can Do With Salmon’. It’s more prescriptive, and possibly less practical, as GH also covered things like mortgages and what to look for when buying a house.

While the articles are interesting in themselves, I wish more care had been taken over the details when the bookazine was put together. The different colour tones of the extracts help identify them as separate, rather than leading you to expect to read them all in succession, allowing you to dip in and out, and a conscious design decision could well have been made not to make the reproduced documents uniform in tone. However, there’s no indication of the date when any of the articles were published – the shifting clothing styles suggest they’ve been jumbled up, not printed in chronological order. This may well be why I found the recipes more interesting than the articles on fashion; fashion went through very clear, sharp changes in the 1930s and it makes no sense to me to mix them up.

As well as facsimile extracts, there are reproductions of photos, presumably copied from actual photos or negatives rather than the pages of the paper as the sharpness is rather better. There are lots of very appealing pictures without captions: no indication of who the photo is of, when it was taken, or why it is being presented. Is it an aristocratic beauty? A fashion shot? Why are the shots placed alongside each other? Who knows. You could say that this is part of the nature of the bookazine, that they are more ephemeral and aren’t meant to be on sale as long as books, but I’ve seen many bookazines made with much more attention to detail. I'd also bet a couple of the shots are actually from the 1920s, because the hats and clothing looks wrong for the 30s, even the very early 30s. The real killer is that most of photos get repeated. Really! In a volume this size! I can't believe the Mail had so few usable photos from the 1930s on file, so this is shoddy in the extreme.

What Every Woman Should Know is still a nice thing to own, and if you’re going on a train journey or flight and love vintage, you’ll probably get more out of this than you would out of a modern glossy magazine, for not much more money. Enjoy it as a piece of fluff though: look elsewhere for serious information on fashion and lifestyle in the 1930s.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The soundtrack to the midcentury cocktail party of your dreams

Julie London was one of the biggest stars of the 1950s, but I have to confess I only really knew her breathy, sultry voice from her most famous song, ‘Cry Me a River’. I really wanted to hear some more of her recordings, though. Mr Robot got me this three-CD set for Christmas, and it’s perfect.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Steamcheese!

It’s funny what a difference a new year can make. I always joke that I’m solar-powered, but I really have felt my spirits lift since Christmas, and I’m sure the lengthening days have something to do with that. (Do you find brighter days cheer you up?) Mr Robot and I have also been making plans for fun things to do this year, which puts me in a good mood. Husky racing, a Meatloaf gig (the tickets were Mr R's Christmas present from me), and hopefully a trip to Burma to visit my granddad's home town... we've a lot to do!

Yesterday I bought a pair of tickets to Steamcheese, a steampunk day in Frome, Somerset. It’s being held at the Cheese & Grain (a venue which a Frome-resident friend of mine refers to as the Cheesy Groin!). There’s a market in the daytime. Bands on the bill in the evening include Sunday Driver, Professor Elemental and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing. There’ll also be some local burlesque and a poetry performance, but I have to confess to being less enthused about those, unless the performers take a really novel approach to ‘stick a cog on it’.

There’s no Waltz on the Wye this year, so my friends who’ve organised it are looking forward to a day where someone else does all the planning and entertainment-wrangling, while Mr Robot and I are looking forward to getting squiffy and going home to sleep in our own beds. I’m already contemplating clothing: one outfit to do all day, take a change of clothes, or nip home when the market closes at 3 and come back for the evening? It’s about 15 miles from Trowbonia, so not far.

Being a guttersnipe, I suspect I’ll skip dressing nicely for the evening and spend the whole day in the same kit, with the mid afternoon interlude being spent in a pub. I quite fancy wearing 1920s beach pyjamas, but I’ve got several months to decide on an outfit, so who knows what new ideas I’ll have had by then?

Tickets to Steamcheese cost £15 (plus a booking fee) until the end of January, £20 thereafter, and you can buy them online.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Building a vintage wardrobe, two years on

Had I written this a month ago, it probably would have a very different tone. I lost interest in a lot of things, including clothes. However, reading at other bloggers’ looking-back-on-2012 posts, I’ve been really impressed with their clear personal style, immaculate grooming and beautiful outfits, and it’s given me new inspiration.

Unlike the year before, I didn’t have specific purchases in mind for 2012. I said I wanted to get more repro dresses, keep my eye out for authentic vintage that fits and that I like, and track down a handbag. Well, I failed at the first two. I bought just one piece of repro (although it was an Able Grable evening gown) and one vintage dress that fits. That wasn’t the only vintage dress I bought it was the only one that fitted. The other two are hanging on the back of a door, a big reminder of why it’s best to be realistic about one’s measurements when shopping online. I think this is one of the reasons why I went off clothes: too many (self-inflicted) disappointments.

I did add a few things to my wardrobe. There was a skirt from Oasis – one of their rare size 18s – in a fabulous 50s-style print. Had it been six inches longer it’d have been perfect, as it is it’s still a jolly nice summer skirt. In a fit of The Hour-inspired shopping madness I bought a lovely green dress from Fever. I also got a few charity shop bits, such as a pleated skirt.

I finished knitting my Jersey with a Soft Bow, and really don’t like it. Oh dear. Having solved the problem of it being too wide in the re-knitting, it’s far too long. The yarn for it was pricy, so I’m going to wear the wretched thing. And don’t ask about the work-in-progress navy cardigan. (Note to self: STOP KNITTING YOURSELF TOPS IN 4PLY, YOU KNIT TOO SLOWLY.) 


I had far more success with handbags. I bought five this year, four genuine vintage and one modern but with the structured look that I like. Two were from dealers, the other three were charity shop finds. The black vinyl one by MacLaren of Norwich, 1960s to judge by its label, is my everyday bag when I’m wearing black shoes, the brown leather by Dents is modern, but does for everyday use when I’m wearing brown footwear. The more ornate black bag is a 1950s Riviera, still has its original purse inside... and the stitching has gone in the bottom. Erse. I need to repair it before its next outing. Then there's a lovely 1960s brown mock-croc handbag, which isn't in the photo as I thought I'd bought it last year. And I think I bought my black art deco evening bag this year too. Hmm. That's a lot of bags! I hadn't realised it was so many before I wrote this post. No wonder Mr Robot looks sad whenever I start looking at new ones.


Accessories are guaranteed to fit, so I bought plenty of those. Again, most of them were from charity shops – if you keep looking, you can still find a beautiful original piece for less than the price of something on the High Street. I’ve yet to wear my bright green felt hat, but some of the silk scarves have had outings. I’ve also acquired a lot of 50s-60s diamante jewellery. I got a couple of sets from Etsy, where you can buy them for relatively little, and found others in charity shops. My sparkles make an odd contrast with my nantastic tweedy skirts, but they really do brighten up a rainy Monday or bad-mood Tuesday.

So, where for 2013? I can honestly say I don’t know! I know last autumn I thought I should try to pull things in a more deco direction, and the repro items I want to get this year are all 1920s-1930s in style, but without thinking about things I’ve stacked up on midcentury accessories. There's been a strong leaning towards dusky pink and forest green, too. So I’ll just keep wearing and buying things I like and see where things are in another 12 months...

Friday, 4 January 2013

Sexton Blake: The Eight Swords and Other Stories

It's shameful of me, I know, but I hadn't heard of Sexton Blake before Mr Robot bought me a couple of CDs for Christmas. Why shameful? Well, the first Sexton Blake story came out in the 1890s, a series of books was written about him over 50 years (and writers included John Creasey and Michael Moorcock; not small names), there were annuals, comic strips, silent films (DO WANT!), sound films and radio. Oh, and an ITV television series. Consider me thoroughly ashamed.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Resolution 2013

Happy New Year! Have you made a new year's resolution at all?

My resolution for 2011, to buy more brooches, was a success. 2012's resolution, to buy more buttons was not. Not because I couldn't find vintage buttons; Etsy is a great source of these and I also got some from a local haberdasher, Jumblejelly (the shop's in Bradford-on-Avon, although I actually bought my buttons from their stall at a vintage fair.) No, 2012's resolution failed because halfway through the year I realised there was no point to it. I was simply amassing buttons without knitting quickly enough to have anything to sew them to, and they weren't doing me or anyone else any good.

I made a new resolution, a two-parter: first, I wanted to put money into startup projects with a vintage / steampunk / dieselpunk bent. £10-20 or so each month. Funding for the arts and creative projects is one of the things that's been hit by the recession, and I truly believe people need creativity and dreams. Some projects didn't reach their targets, but one that did was the campaign to build a museum to Nikola Tesla on the site of his former workshop, so perhaps one day I'll be able to visit it and try to work out which brick I paid for!

The other part of my half-year resolution was to put something in the trolley for the local food bank every time I shopped at the supermarket. I did this, and Mr Robot and I also did a special Christmas shop too because no-one should have a 'Cratchit Christmas'. It makes me angry to think even now, in our first world country, people walk 20 miles to get something to eat. Anyway, I could rant on about this for hours. Suffice to say, this one is no longer a resolution, it's a lifestyle change, and I'll keep doing it as long as I'm in work and can afford to.

So, what will I do in 2013? I've struggled to come up with something. Mr Robot suggested finishing one knitted project a month, which is a good idea. I'm also going on the 5/2 diet; basically my knees and back have been troubling me, and while physio has helped my knees, my back's getting worse and taking some of the weight off my joints has got to help. We'll see how that one goes; I'm not going to talk about it much because I do feel very guilty and like a body acceptance traitor, but some days I find myself barely able to put my tights on because my lower back hurts so badly, and that simply won't do. So the knitting will be my main resolution, and I promise you lots of lovely knitted things to look at and no tiresome twaddle about celery!