Friday, September 28, 2012

Once Apron A Time

I was in Murwillumbah yesterday, which is a treat in itself.  Ornate Victorian, Edwardian and unspoiled Art Deco shopfronts stand shoulder to shoulder with later, stranger, examples of architecture like kids in a school photo taken on mufti day. My dear husband came out of the St Vincent de Paul Society op-shop, telling me that there were no cricket bats to be found there that day (and therefore, implicitly, it was barely worthwhile going in).  Somehow he had walked right by the front window and managed to avoid being struck motionless with awe.  

The entire, massive window was garlanded with vintage aprons.  It was a sunshiny morning so please excuse the reflections, but you get the idea - winsome florals with complementary or contrasting plain pockets and ties, gingham decorated with embroidery and threadwork, unapologetically psychedelic prints and - the one which held me transfixed - a mid-century apron printed with sailboats.

Now, the sad fact with which I had to come to terms, is that the aprons weren't for sale that day - but they would be available for sale in a couple of weeks time.  To someone else :(   

So I took some photos to remember them by, and gave more thought to aprons than I ever have before, pondering the hypothesis that, like dreams, aprons may sometimes work by contraries.

When I left the beachside village where I grew up, friends sent me gifts of kitchen textiles printed with shells and lighthouses which seemed to bring subtle breaths of sea air to the humid hinterland galley where I hung them.  So I wondered about the women who had worn these aprons when they were new - did the hands which worked these butterflies in green thread have the chance to tend a flower garden and watch the butterflies drift through it, or was keeping moths away from the cabbages as close as they came?

And my soul sister, whoever you were, keeping this beauty immaculately for so many decades - did you wake confused from dreams of the water, only to find yourself interminably becalmed in an inland life?  Was this apron the antidote to years of drought and a landscape without where ripples of blue never relieved the endless dusty brown or cloying claustrophobia of green?

I hope of course that I'm quite wrong, and that their lives were as colourful, charming and fascinating as their aprons.  I also hope that whoever is fortunate enough to be in town when these are offered for sale will appreciate them just as they are, and for what they are - which is, perfectly lovely.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Justifiable Coulrophobia

Rarely do I stumble across a vintage textile so hauntingly wrong that it begs to be shared. There are plenty of hideous prints out there - meh, glimpsed for a moment, easily forgotten. But, dear children, I have discovered the tea-towel which haunted your dreams, excused your terror of marching bands and explained your dread of clogs.

I can take or leave clowns, myself. I've been privileged to see some wonderful, genuinely hilarious clowns. But these . . . I think these are clowns. They have painted mouths, silly hair and oversized red noses. They have slipped into innocuous smocks and journeyed into a country far beyond sociopathia - they are bizarre, horrifying, inhuman, the toothy smiles pasted on to their faces are the smile the bully gives even as he snatches the beloved toy away.

Their nostrils are rimmed with the red of rage, their noses too frightening to bear deep contemplation. Their eyes look up to nowhere, listening to the voices. The front figure taps on a levitating marching drum, the straps of which dangle uselessly below it. The second figure is about to pipe others of their ilk out of their hiding places to join in some unthinkable clown junta.

And this is a tea towel! If I hung this in my kitchen overnight the milk would curdle, houseplants wither, the crystals along the window sill would shatter and my children would thrash and shriek in the grip of night terrors. Any dishes coming into contact with this textile of terror would slowly craze, and food served on them would leave an aftertaste of gall. Cutlery polished by this would curl slowly into supplicatory shapes. Yet someone at the Lehner company, back in the 70s or so, cast about in their repository of mental anguish and came up with this design as being suitable to drape over domestic rails - a dagger through the heart of the home.

And if the clowns themselves weren't quite unsettling enough, the spectral old lady in the background suggests a whole other dimension of sinister creepiness, unusual even for clown-related merchandise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Captain (Crochet) Hook

I just came across this crocheted square on Pinterest and was bedazzled by the pure simple genius and impact of the design:

Okay it's not vintage, but crochet being one of the flagship uniforms of hippiedom I'm sure vintage lovers can relate. I'm so overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of the ultimate homely, comforting craft with the stark intimidation of the Skull & Crossbones design that I hardly know what to think, except that there's no more avoiding it - I'm going to have to learn to crochet.

(You can find more designs in a similar theme over at Repeat Crafter Me, the blog of the creative soul responsible for this brilliant little pirate yarn.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lobster dressing, ma'am?

"Lobster" - such a pleasingly absurd word, it's worthy of Rowan Atkinson. At various times throughout the 20th Century the lobster motif has waved its printed claws in boutique windows from main street to salon - its dual evocations of the ocean (as native habitat) and luxury (ending its life as fine cuisine) appealing both to the consumer's inner child clamouring for a trip to the seaside, and her adult princess's innate sense of entitlement to privilege.

On the street today you'll see lobster prints surfacing again. The lobster is a graphically munificent creature - generally rendered in head-turning bright orange or red, it lends itself to being represented either straight or gracefully curved, beautiful in intricate detail but immediately recognisable even at its most stylized. ModCloth offers this nice contemporary example:

As a vintage Lobster maven, finding vast oceans to trawl, you may wish to cast your own nets. Or you may prefer to employ the help of a stylist who appears naturally equipped to share your vision:

But don't send all your friends to the same guy. How embarrassing to find, when you head out
feeling entirely unique to meet up with the girls at the pier, that everyone else has been given the same style advice. Plus your Dad insists on coming along as chaperon.

When it comes to vintage Lobster dressing, my considered advice is to take it slowly, ease into it. Accessories are a painless place to start - how about beginning with a wonderful Art Deco Lucite lobster brooch or Bakelite belt buckle?

Alternate these for a week or two - grow comfortable in Lobster. You'll soon be ready to introduce the initial area of textile . . . perhaps an apron?

Following this, the real fun begins. By now your friends, family and co-workers should have run out of breathtakingly witty crustacean allusions, leaving you free to burst forth in dazzling Lobster glory. Take it to the pool party and keep your eyes open . . . if you see a cutie whose Catalina trunks match your 1940s Sweethearts in Swimsuits 2-piece, he might be "the one"!

Don't forget to take a nifty little appliqued
cover-up to pop on after your swim . . .

. . . or a plain blouse with this wonderful 1940s Horrockses skirt would work just as well.

Now you're ready to conquer the world in head-to-toe arthropod style! Whether your preference be for a single, striking lobster as on this mid-century sun dress by Ann Jeffres of Miami Beach (love love love the colourful ribbons forming both decoration and single shoulder strap) . . .

. . . or a repeating pattern which may have the odd picnicker mistaking you for a tablecloth . . .

. . . you honestly can't go wrong. Lobster dresses are fabulous. They are of royal lineage. Below is the proto-lobster-dress . . . a 1937 collaboration between the visionary couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and surrealist superman Salvador Dali.

Interestingly, this original fashion plate sketch envisaged more of a sun dress, ideal for sauntering romantically along the tide line and stepping daintily on octopi.

A scenario which appealed to Wallis Simpson, pictured wearing the dress in this Cecil Beaton photograph, waiting patiently by a clump of seaweed for the tide to come back in as she rather fancies some braised octopus.

This post is respectfully dedicated to the beloved littlebig sister of Archimedes, celebrated and occasionally misunderstood down the ages for her proclamation "give me a piece of string long enough and a sausage around which to tie it, and I will move the yabbies* of the world".

*it's a little Australian freshwater lobstery creature :)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Madame Weigel Presents

It's the first evening of the school holidays, with frogs singing from shadowy places in the waterlogged garden. My small industrious daughters have both chosen to start writing (Miss 6 - a story and Miss 7 - a book) so I shall write a little too.

Ephemera, of course, endears itself simply by the courage of its continued existence - but how seldom do we see a pattern company as a major sponsor of an important theatrical production?

Madame Weigel's was Australia's foremost producer of paper patterns. I love this poster especially because the first dress I ever attempted to make was from a vintage-even-then Madame Weigel's pattern from the early 1950s. I was about seventeen, with two years proud ownership of a Vactric sewing machine under my belt. I still have (and use) that machine - it is slightly older than I am and only performs one stitch now, a trusted friend which I wouldn't exchange for anything. I also still have that first dressmaking project, patiently waiting for a zipper to be sewn in at the side. There's no point in rushing these things.

The poster I believe dates to the summer pantomime season of 1913/14. The J C Williamson company would open an extravaganza in Melbourne for the Christmas holidays, and bring it up to Sydney for Easter, also undertaking extensive tours of New Zealand.

My parents owned an antique shop when I was young - not one of today's sterile shrines to French polish, but a beloved old building which they transformed from the original lending library/head shop they took over to a fossicker's paradise brimming with unbelievable treasures. When the J C Williamson company finally reached the end of its run in 1976, my parents arrived home from auction one evening bearing cartons spilling over with opulent costumes (thus assuring my primary school of years of extravagantly outfitted school plays).

So I love this poster for several reasons. The past is an enchanted land.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Couple of Kinks in 60's Fashion

For weeks now I've been searching for just the right words to accompany the dreamy improbability of these mid-60s images. But I think after all they can do most of the talking for themselves.

The Kinks' drummer Mick Avory, endearingly wooden and the most ham-handed of dandies, models for Carnaby Street's John Stephen:

(Seen here with singer Kiki Dee.)

And teenage lead guitarist Dave Davies, adapting to the singular lack of props with leonine grace, notches up this Terylene campaign on his tally of adventures - sartorial and otherwise - in Swinging London. You could just tell that Dave would spend the remainder of the sixties not chatting up dollybirds, but assessing their outfits for Terylene content (doesn't it make you want to rush out and buy something in Terylene?

Notice the intriguing ghostliness of his face in the middle image. I'm sad that the last picture had been cropped of text, and have also seen an ad from this series featuring a member of The Hollies. (Do you know of others? I'd adore to see them!)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Make It Sew

I stumbled upon this unquestionably wonderful piece of embroidery recently - it was captioned, quite rightly, "Set Phasers on Stunning" - and fell to romanticising about people clever enough, and passionate enough, to pay homage to Star Trek in textile form. I didn't go down the "why Carmen Miranda headdresses" path though, for who am I to question art?

Okay so in villa Silver Visions, Thursday nights are inviolate bastions of Next Generation viewing. If one of us has to be out that night, they expect a scene-by-scene recount the next morning. We'll fondly discuss plot points over the intervening week, but it kind of stops there. I've never considered undertaking a Star Trek craft project, and I think I can say that my true love hasn't either (though maybe he could write a song about them). But I'm so glad that there are people out there who felt compelled to share the joy, and picked up a needle - be it sewing, tapestry or knitting....

A pair of spocks!

Phaser embroidery (love the sound effect)

I admit that the quilts scare me a little, mostly because of the hours/days/weeks/months of work which must go into them (which is why all quilts intimidate me) - also because I don't think I'd necessarily sleep that well beneath any Enterprise personnel. But I do love this threadwork giving the effect of transporter beams....

And so, on to the Next Generation:


charming simplicity - brilliant colour choice

And my personal favourite....