Thursday, 29 January 2009

Vile Weather

It is insanely hot here at the moment, yesterday was 41°C (106°F for you Americans) and today will reach a top of 43°C (109°F)!!! As we have no airconditioning, it was 34°C (93°F) inside the house, and it didn't really cool down at all overnight. We have two more days of weather in the 40s, then it should start becoming more reasonable. I personally loathe hot weather, so I've had a terrible time.

Yesterday was my day off, so the Wolf and I just sat on the sofa in our underwear and watched most of season one of Mad Men. For those who don't know, Mad Men is a fantastic new tv series from Showtime set in New York in 1960. It follows the lives of a group of executives who work in an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. The plot and acting are great, and the costumes are really authentic. I particularly like Betty's candy-striped dresses with their tulle petticoats (although in the picture below she's wearing a floral number), and Joan's (centre) sexy office wear.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Illustration Friday - 'Pale'

I've finally been able to participate in Illustration Friday again (although I'm almost too late!). This week's topic was 'Pale' and I instantly thought of Snow White, who is one of my favourite fairytale characters, along with Little Red Riding Hood of course. I coloured this rather hastily on Gimp, so it is a little rough, but I think with some time spent on shading the dress and tidying up the red bits, it could be quite a nice picture. Click on it for a bigger view.

Also, here is my Christmas present from the Wolf, another beautiful ring from Metal Couture. I've always been enamoured by Catholic imagery, so I love those flaming Jesus and Mary hearts. I am running out of fingers now, so this had to be for my little finger.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

I am in Sewing Hell

In theory it seemed so easy. "I'll just whip up a nice sundress from an old 1953 Vogue pattern" I said breezily. Four calico toiles later, and it's still not quite right! The pattern is quite basic, a sleeveless dress with underarm bust-darts, waist darts at the front and back, and a full skirt made of four panels. However, the original bodice pattern was such a strange fit on me, that I ended up drafting a basic bodice pattern with the help of my 1950's sewing book "Successful Dressmaking" by Ellen and Marietta Resek. This was a better fit, but there were still strange wrinkles and baggy bits all over the place.

So I consulted another dressmaking book I have, simply called "Sewing" by Honor Gillott. It's from 1973, but has a whole chapter on Fault Identification. Now, I've always thought I had a fairly average figure, I'm 5'5" and an average weight. Turns out I have a Problem Figure. Not only do I have square shoulders, but I also have an erect, sway back, a full, high bustline, and a small waist. Which sounds like quite a nice description, but means I had to add neck darts, shaped front and back waist darts, raise the shoulders, reposition the bust darts, enlarge the armholes, shorten the back waistline, the list goes on. I must say, boobs are a real pain when you are sewing, they are round and pokey, and non-stretch fabric doesn't want to go around them in an attractive fashion without a lot of trouble. Possibly I need to go and do some dressmaking and pattern drafting classes, but right now it's just trial and error. Love that stitch ripper!

Considering how bloody frustrating sewing a dress that fits is, I feel a little more justified about my latest purchase, a wonderful (but expensive) dress from Stop Staring. I tried on a small size the other day in Faster Pussycat, and it looked absolutely amazing, but it was a bit tight across my (giant) shoulders and under the armholes, so I ordered a size medium from the Stop Staring website in the US. I think it will be useful dressed down with a pair of flats and a black cardigan, or dressed up with a pair of black patent high heels, matching thin waist belt, and seamed stockings.

Friday, 9 January 2009

A Wardrobe for £100

I found this article the other day when I was going through some old magazines on microfiche. It's the winning entry from a 1952 competition where you had to say what you would buy if you were given £100 to spend on a completely new wardrobe. I thought it would be interesting to see what clothes an average 50s woman would be expected to own, and how much she would have paid for them. I've typed out the article below, adding the current equivalent in Australian dollars in brackets next to each price. I used the Reserve Bank of Australia's Inflation Calculator to get the current monetary value.

Australian Women's Weekly, April 16, 1952
"You are an average housewife running a home on an average income. Your wardrobe is limited, you have a good winter topcoat, but nothing else of much value. Suddenly you are given £100 ($2865) which you must spend all at once on clothes. State what you would buy with that money so that you would benefit not only this summer but for several seasons to come."

Mrs Jenkyns' reply:
"£100 pounds to spend all at once on clothes! What a delicious prospect for any woman! But what a temptation to dash out and buy that ravishing evening gown that you would probably wear no more than twice a year, or that elaborate flower laden hat that seemed to make you look like a film star! However, if I did not want to collect a wardrobe of unrelated and expensive "mistakes" there are a number of basic rules I would follow.

I would draw up a shopping plan to satisfy everyday requirements. I would choose simple clothes, look for quality in workmanship and materials, buy related items that can be mixed and matched, and choose neutral colours for basic clothes and accessories. I would budget for good accessories because they last for years, and a simple frock worn with good shoes, bay, and gloves is better dressing than an elaborate one with tired or shoddy accessories.

I have divided my scheme into three sections: accessories, winter clothes, and summer clothes. The top coat, which was the key to the plan, is a navy one of the tent variety, straight in front with a full swing back.

2 pairs of navy shoes at approx. £3 ($86) a pair
1 pair white shoes - £2 10s ($71)
1 pair black suede 'flats' - £2 10s ($71)
2 pairs sheer nylon stockings - £1 10s ($50)
4 pairs manufacturer's 'seconds' nylon stockings - £1 12s ($46)
1 pair navy skin gloves - £2 ($57)
2 pairs white fabric gloves - £1 10s ($50)
1 navy calf handbag - £4 ($114)
1 white handbag of easily cleaned leather - £3 ($86)
1 metal handbag top and 1/2 yard faille [to make bag] - £1 3s ($33)
1 grey silk umbrella - £4 ($114)
1 silk scarf - £3 ($86)
1 red carnation or a bunch of good lemon coloured flowers - £1 ($28)
Total: £34 ($974)

Winter Clothes
1 navy wool suit with straight skirt and boxy jacket of fine navy/white houndstooth check - £12 ($344)
1 grey lightweight wool shirtwaist frock with white pique collar and cuffs - £7 ($200)
1 white finely stitched blouse - £2 ($57)
1 grey flannel skirt - £3 ($86)
1 red twin set with long sleeves - £4 10s ($129)
1 navy and 1 red velour beret at £2 ($57) each
Total: £33 ($945)

Summer Clothes
1 navy faille suit with gored skirt and fitted jacket - £10 ($286)
1 pale grey linen suit - £6 ($172)
1 lemon cotton sunfrock with matching jacket - £2 10s ($72)
1 pale blue cotton frock with a small white pattern - £2 10s ($72)
1 white short sleeved blouse of coarse lace or broderie englaise - £3 ($86)
1 white straw hat trimmed with navy - £3 ($86)
1 lemon straw hat of the forward beret type - £3 ($86)
Total: £30 ($860)

I would make a white pique 'shell' hat to wear with summer cottons, a cummerbund-stole with navy and white striped taffeta, a knitted lemon cardigan, and two pretty aprons to protect my clothes while working.
Cost of materials: £3 ($86)

That brings the total expenditure to £100. However, it is quite possible that my underwear was in a sad and sorry state, in which case out would go the umbrella, the scarf, the 'glamour' bag, and the grey linen suit, and I would try to knit the red twin set, altogether saving about £17 10s ($500). This I would allot in the following way:

1 good foundation garment - £3 ($86)
2 slips at approx 30s ($43) each
3 pairs of panties - £1 5s ($36)
3 singlets or bras - £1 5s ($36)
2 summer nighties at £2 ($57) each
2 winter nighties at £2 10s ($71) each

I love the idea of the mix and match wardrobe, and the prices seems fairly consistent with today's good quality clothing. Although I am a little shocked at how much stockings were! At almost $25 a pair, you would have been seriously annoyed to snag one. I though the repro 50s stockings from What Katy Did were expensive, but now it turns out they are just at 1951 prices! There is an interesting side note that mentions that a twin set is useful for wear "in the house, for golf, or for any completely informal occasion." And they seem so posh to us now!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Books of 2008

I love reading, and every year I set myself the goal of reading 52 books by the end of December. I generally read whatever I fancy, but last year I also started to read some books from the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die list. Of the 45 books I managed to finish in 2008, only 14 were in the 1001 Books list, so I shall have to get cracking!

I keep a notebook of all the books I read, with a short description of the book ( so I don't forget what it was about) and I also give it a rating out of 5, which is daggy I know, but interesting to look back on. The books that I gave five stars to last year were:

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill - a brilliant collection
of short stories, some horror, some not

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - hilarious satire of bucolic English novels, with wonderful characters

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden - beautiful children's story about a gypsy girl, one of my favourites as a child

What to Eat by Marion Nestle - very interesting look at nutrition and how supermarkets and food companies influence what we eat

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - need I say more?

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir - meticulously researched and very readable non-fiction

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough - I'm a sucker for a good historical novel

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling - bookbinding and pornography in Victorian London

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates - fascinating novel based on the life of Marilyn Monroe

There were only a few books I really didn't like. I found The Light of Day by Graham Swift very tedious and had to force myself to finish. Candy Girl by Diablo Cody was terribly self-indulgent, and although it's rather fascinating to learn about the inner workings of strip clubs, it left me feeling rather seedy. I also tried to read Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. What a mistake! It is terribly dull and rather badly written, with shallow, two-dimensional characters, and the worst thing is, it's very, very LONG. Avoid.

I've been obsessed with Tudor England, so I read quite a few books with that theme, both fiction and non-fiction. I read quite a lot of Phillipa Gregory, who is quite reasonable. I enjoyed Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett, which is about Thomas Moore's family, and The Sixth Wife by Suzannah Dunn, which is about Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. I also read The Concubine by Nora Lofts, which is from 1963 by doesn't seem to have dated that much. For Tudor non-fiction I stuck with Alison Weir, and read The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Henry VIII: King and Court, which are both excellent.

So now I'm off to read a novel by Alison Weir called The Lady Elizabeth, which has such a lovely cover I had to buy myself a copy!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Christmas Holidays

I had a simply gorgeous time over Christmas, visiting my parents in Tasmania and catching up with some old friends. The weather was delightful and I think I managed to eat my own body weight in chocolate! There were lots of prawns, turkey and my mother's delicious chestnut chocolate cake for dessert. The above photo is of the rather fantastic pizza ovens in the garden of a friend of the family's where we spent Boxing Day. The house is outside of Hobart in the middle of rolling green fields dotted with cows, and there were chickens up the back and bumble bees buzzing around. Very bucolic.

I grew up in Evandale, which is in the north of Tasmania, near Launceston. Its claim to fame is the National Pennyfarthing Championship (I kid you not!) which has been held annually for the last 26 years. Riders come from all over Australia, and even from overseas, to compete in a race around the village.

Anyway, Evandale was apparently established as a military post called Collins Hill in 1811, then after a few name changes in became Evandale in 1836. I have always enjoyed visting the graveyards of the two main churches (they are opposite each other and both called St Andrews, how daft) and I thought I would try and find the oldest gravestone.
It was in the Anglican church graveyard, and dates from 1855, and I cannot believe I've never noticed it before! It is a masterpiece of atrocious spelling.

You probably can't see that clearly, but it reads thus:
TEH6 1855

Owing to the weathering of the stone, it took me and my mother about five minutes to work out exactly what it said, as the letters were all run together. I am very curious about it, and can only surmise that the stone carver was bordering on illiterate, as all the other gravestones from the 1880s etc are perfectly readable. Who was James Read and why did he die when he was only 17 years old? I suppose I shall never know.