Friday, April 27, 2012

Clothesline Envy

I've always taken a sunny clothesline for granted. Growing up our Hills Hoist was massive and basked smugly in northern sunlight; even on a sunny winter's day your clothes would dry in one day, particularly if there was a wind. Windy days were spectacular with sheets and shirts and skirts and jeans and undies whirling out and around as if they were on a sideshow ride for textiles. The hoist itself would squeak (in joy I like to think) as it spun.

I lived in our family home until six years ago, and oh boy, do I ever miss the Hills Hoist. And the sunshine.

Our clothesline now is about 1/3 the size, and extends from the side of the house. It's not a lovely rotary Hills Hoist but a static line, and worst of all it's on the eastern side of the house so only gets sun in the morning. Another month and it will get a scant hour's sunshine, weak and feeble, and the only things that will be dry at the end of the day will be fine cotton handkerchiefs. Even the sheets don't dry unless it's windy.

We don't have a tumble dryer. Firstly we have no room for one in our tiny laundry, secondly I have my green side and don't want to waste power. In winter we have our gas heater on in the evenings anyway so we dry any damp washing on a rack in front of the heater, rotating the items and taking them off the rack once they've baked - er, dried.

It's not as if we can install a Hills Hoist here either. We live in a townhouse with a small courtyard. Even the smallest Hills Hoist wouldn't rotate but simply whack against the walls.

From my office window I can see my neighbour's garden, and they are the proud owners of a big Hills Hoist in full sunshine. Today it's laden with bedlinen, towels and absolutely ginormous undies. My neighbours are elderly, and he wears y-fronts that would fit a horse and she wears those massive nylon granny knickers that come half way down your thighs and apparently reach up almost to your bra. They fill with air like a spinnaker when it's windy. (My mum is also a fan of The Massive Knicker. I hope I don't succumb in my old age.)

Look at that washing, getting all toasty and warm in the sun; mine on the other hand is already firmly in the shade at 10.45am. There's not a breath of wind at the moment and the towels are as damp as they were two hours ago when I hung them out.

Autumn, winter and spring are my favourite seasons. The sting has gone from the sun and the light is wonderfully soft. They are also my seasons for clothesline envy.

I don't envy people their clothes or expensive handbags, or their red sports cars. But I do envy them sunny clotheslines.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Monte Carlo Dress - Adventures in beading

By the pricking of my thumbs, something blingy this way comes.

I've done a bit more work on my Folkwear Monte Carlo dress, adding a little more beading to the shoulder area, making the matching tunic with tassels (and hand beading a bit of sparkle into said tassels) and finally making a very darkly glittering bandeau using both the dress and tunic materials.

There hasn't been much on telly this week so I've been sitting after dinner with bowls of beads and cursing the lousy energy saver lightbulbs we have throughout the house.

The tunic was really easy to make; I used my overlocker (not traditional I know but it gave a nice edge to the garment) around the edges and sewed two of the three pieces together, stabilising it with a bit of jersey mesh I had left over from another top I'd made ages ago. Then I beaded the tassels and sewed them firmly on. They are heavy compared to the filigree texture of the fabric, a metallic lace. The tunic is supposed to cross over in front but when I tried that I looked like battleship full steam ahead. Curse these big boobs! It looks pretty good unfastened though.
beaded tassels
My hand beaded tassels

Folkwear Monte Carlo dress with tunic

Folkwear Monte Carlo dress with tunic
Classic 20s pose!
Now for a look at the bit of extra beading I did around the shoulders - and this pic shows off the bandeau pretty well too!  The extra shoulder beading is discreet - more beads scattered in between the three original rows, sort of like a little spray of beads, a light shower rather than a thunderstorm.

Folkwear Monte Carlo dress with beading and bandeau
Shoulder beading and bandeau
That bandeau took about four hours to bead. It's not beaded all the way around; there's a section right in the middle, then scattered beads out to where I have three rows of beads hanging freely at the sides. This 'Facebook' shot probably shows it better:
Folkwear Monte Carlo dress with beaded bandeau
Vampish Facebook profile pic - one day I will give Jimmy Durante his nose back
Speaking of Facebook, those of you who read this and know me on Facebook too may wonder why I don't publicise this blog on Facebook. This blog is more of a personal thought dump; me being me and occasionally saying things about myself I wouldn't say to most people I know. There is a certain cathartic pleasure in being a blogger and having a name not my own. Aside from which I've grumbled about a couple of people on here who are actually friends of mine and Facebook friends too. Don't want them to read this blog! Only a few people I know on FB know that I'm Carinthia too.

Anyway, I think I have finished my dress, the tunic and the bandeau. I have really enjoyed the beading process and was getting quite quick by the end of the bandeau, so will look for more items I can bling up within the bounds of good taste. Or make another 20s dress :-)

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Monte Carlo dress

OK, I'm a nostalgia buff. I've often lamented here about the busyness of life these days and sighed over less frenetic times. I do have to pull myself up at some point and thank modern living for pain free dentistry etc and remember that the good old days are usually viewed through rose-coloured glasses and period tv shows which can't port into your living room the smell of living in an era sans deodorant.

That being said the 1920s is my nostalgia decade of choice. Women wore short skirts and short hair and had more control over their life (and finances) than their mothers did at the same age. It was an exciting time of jazz, aeroplanes, fast cars (that couldn't brake or handle but oh my those Bugattis were elegant!), cocktails and gorgeous dresses.

Even though I don't have the skinny bod for 20s fashions, I love them.

Six months ago I bought a dress pattern I'd been sighing over for ages - the Monte Carlo Dress, by Folkwear. It's a 1990s pattern based on a 1925 Poiret gown. With a skirt cut on the bias, it's a luxurious construction requiring around 5 metres of fabric. Given that I have been sewing barely a year, I quailed at the thought of making a mistake and buggering up those five metres. It's not like I would be making it in plain cotton; oh no, not this little black duck for whom ignorance can be bliss when it comes to working with fabric. Nope, I was going to do it in something gorgeous, something worthy of a 1920s woman out for a night on the razz at the best speakeasy in town.

In those six months I've made quite a lot of clothes, mostly tops, and a skirt suit, mainly out of knitted fabric. Understanding the directions on the pattern has become easier (except for Burda. Jeez. The translation from German into English is strictly double Deutsch. I'm sure they leave directions out just to confuse the English speakers. Revenge for WWII or something). I read through the Monte Carlo directions last week and they made a lot more sense than they did when I bought the pattern.

So I decided it was time to make the Monte Carlo dress last weekend. My local Sewright shop had the ideal fabric, a burnout velvet in deep midnight blue. I had some paler blue fabric I could use as lining for the bodice, even though the pattern doesn't call for a full lining. I decided the moderately sheer velvet needed lining to cover my knickers and provide some stability for the slightly stretchy velvet itself. I lashed out on metallic lace to make the cape thing that goes with the dress, but haven't made that yet. That's next weekend. It looks very simple.

To my delight making the dress was a breeze compared to some of the things I've over-ambitiously tried to make in the last year. The swear factor was zero.
Monte Carlo dress by Folkwear
My Monte Carlo dress

I've mentioned my ignorance and over-ambition, and put both of them to good use by doing some hand-beading on the front of the bodice. This had to be done before the garment was stitched together. Now, I've never beaded anything in my life, so I blithely went out to Lincraft and bought some bugle beads and seed beads and embroidery needles and set to it. Thankfully my slightly wavy, ever so slightly crooked lines of beads are disguised by the fabric, which is a bit wavy itself. You don't notice the lines aren't completely straight. Phew! I have found one little error I'll have to fix though and I'm not saying what it is :-)

I decided to do something really simple in the way of beading as you can add impatience to the list of my foibles as well and I desperately wanted to get my dress done over the weekend. I hate having to interrupt something I'm doing and put it aside for another week.

Monte Carlo dress by Folkwear, hand beading
hand beading
I sewed all day Saturday. I sewed all day Sunday. By Sunday night the bodice was ready for the skirt, and I'd hemmed half the skirt. This morning I worked until 11 then thought, sod it! I HAD to finish this dress!! So I did. I took my time lining the skirt up with the bodice and tacked it all in place before sewing it with the machine. I did quite a bit of hand finishing here and there too.

The end result is pretty stunning, even if I say so myself. I'm astonished that I made it. It fits like a dream and my seams aren't too untidy on the inside :-).

I'll have to make a proper beaded bandeau to match it - I've tied a bit of fabric around my head here - and of course the cape thingy.

Without the bandeau and with different jewellery it's timeless enough to wear to a posh night out without feeling I'm wearing a costume - with my husband's new job I may get the opportunity to wear it out a few times! But with the 20s trimmings I'm all set for a 20s themed event when I hear of one that sounds like fun.

I couldn't wait to try it on once it was complete (how nice to try it on without pins digging into me!) and then decided on makeup and a photo or two. I'd told a friend about it and she wanted to see a piccy. All tarted up with the appropriate accessories, I felt like a different person - that same feeling I had at the Paragon cafe in February.

So here I am, 20s woman in my 20s bedroom, complete with cat and the lamp that cat broke. Cocktails, anyone?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The end of a relationship

It's been a week since I touched my lips to her. A week of longing, desire, and not having her constantly by my side for succour when I need it.  She was my escape, my bolt hole for times of procrastination.

She was good for my soul, but bad for my heart.

My friends, aside from a select few, abhorred her. She wasn't welcome, and if I was going to be in her company I'd have to absent myself rather than bring her to them.

Having said goodbye to her, however, I feel better for it, mentally if not physically.

My Lady Nicotine, you and I are through. Love you as I did, on and off for years, it's time to move on. I know I've said it before and you've lured me back, but I'm not nineteen and bulletproof any longer, and you're a bad influence on my health.

I'll miss you at parties and social gatherings, when I used you as an excuse to escape to a quiet corner and be free of the crowd. I miss you when I load new mail in my inbox each morning; remember how I ran to you before having to cope with the insistent demands of up to 50 new messages (excluding spam)? I miss you when I need ideas; those minutes we spent together gave me solutions to problems, plots to write and much more.

Broken hearts mend over time, but not if they're physically damaged. This emotional need, these cravings, will go. Farewell, my Lady!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Those black disc things

A few years ago when I was visiting Adelaide, where my husband was based when we started going out, we got chatting with his next door neighbour, a guy in his early 30s. Ben, the neighbour, had never seen a 7" 45rpm record.

I was stunned. Then I thought, yes, OK, CDs came onto the market in the mid 80s. If he had parents who weren't really into music the entire generational thing about 7" singles may have passed him by.

My husband promptly produced his haul of 7" singles, some of which were his own from the early 70s and some his Mum's from the early to mid 60s. The Beatles, Petula Clark, Deep Purple... all deliciously poppy and scratchy when he played them for Ben, who was watching the little black discs spin with a rather mesmerised if not bemused expression on his face.

His main comment was that the sound quality wasn't great with all the noisy pops and crackles.

"That's probably because my Mum used to wipe the records like this to get the dust off." He demonstrated wiping a record on the bum of his jeans. "She also used to wash them with soap and water."

I too have a collection of 45s and 33s, although I did turf a lot of them out years ago and sold some more on eBay; music I was no longer interested in and had heard to death in the 70s and 80s.

But it's nothing like my Mum, the Hoarder Extraordinaire.

I was at her place this morning, dropping some groceries off and sitting down for a cuppa and a hot cross bun (oops, sorry diet!). She mentioned that she'd like me to have a look in one of her cupboards for an old portable record player she bought in the late 60s or early 70s. She had a hankering to play some of her 78s she hadn't listened to in decades.

I remember the record player. It was essentially 'mine' as I was a bit rough with my records not to mention the 'radiogram' we had to play them on. The radiogram was an elegant bit of late 40s/early 50s furniture, with French polished louvres on either side. One side had a long wave/medium wave/short wave radio which could, if the weather was right, pick up overseas stations. It was one of those radios which showed the station names. Underneath was storage for records; the louvres were the front of a hinged door which swung to the left.

On the right hand side, one would pull the louvres towards oneself and reveal the miracle that was the turntable. It was state of the art for its time and you could load as many as five records on the top, and the arm would only let them down one at a time to play. Of course this did nothing for preserving the records themselves - those at the bottom with others playing on top of them - and probably added to their character with scratches, but it meant you could load up either 15 or 20 minutes' worth of 78s or a couple hours' worth of 33s.

Everything about the turntable was automatic. Select the size and speed, press the button and off it went, the arm swinging across to gently deposit the needle in the right place. It switched itself off after the last record had been played, too, the arm arcing smoothly back and lowering itself onto its resting place. For a small child like me it was a joy to watch in action.

So Mum was worried about me messing about with it - you COULD choose tracks manually - and bought a cheap one for me to muck around with.

We didn't listen to many of the 78s on the radiogram; it was built in an era that meant you had to put a new needle in every few records if you were playing 78s. And of course 78s required a different, slightly thicker needle than 33s or 45s. The portable record player played 78s too and - get this, oh wow! - you simply flicked a switch under the arm from one side to the other to flip the needle bit over from a 33/45 needle to a 78 needle. The 78 needle was made of sterner stuff being more modern and could play 78s until you noticed it started to sound pretty awful.

I forget what finally happened to the radiogram. I suspect it went to charity in the 1980s along with another radiogram Mum had been given by a neighbour, which wasn't quite as elegant.

But the portable record player was sitting in the cupboard, hidden behind pillows and cushions. I wasn't surprised to find it. Mum's cupboards have a Tardis-like quality about them. If you took everything out of them I really think you mightn't be able to get it all back in again.

I plugged the player in, switched it on, attached its speakers (only one was working) and played one of my old 70s records. The sound quality was shite because the speakers were appalling (or speaker, singular, all 4 inches of it).

Mum's collection of 78s sits in a rack in a sideboard in her living room. Records were treasured things when she bought them. During WWII like most things they were rationed. "You'd hear on the radio that Palings had records in stock," she said. "And you'd queue up for them. They cost 2/6. That was a lot of money then considering most peoples' wages were only a couple of pounds."

Even today her 78s - brittle, not flexible like vinyl - are carefully stored in a numbered rack called a Platterack. Stuck at the end is the important bit of paper saying which record is in which slot, carefully printed by Mum with a fountain pen more than 50 years ago. They are a time capsule of the 40s and 50s, the earlier ones cataloguing Mum's teenaged tastes in music. There aren't many of them either - each one would have been saved up for and chosen with care. I hadn't heard any of these old friends for years. I used to like listening as a kid: Glenn Miller's American Patrol, obviously a wartime purchase, Twelfth Street Rag, Charles Trenet's La Mer, Music Music Music, and cheerful foxtrots and dance tunes. Once I discovered the Top 40 I wasn't much interested in Mum's old music though!

We pulled out La Mer as it was at the easily accessible end of the rack, and old Charles T got his first airing in about 40 years. I have the song myself on CD and wasn't surprised at how much detail you couldn't hear in the old 78; the cheap record player and speakers didn't help either. Still, it was fun to get the whole Platterack out and play a few more.

There's something about records which still gives me a little glimmer of excitement when I put them on the turntable. For my own record collection  it was taking them reverently out of their sleeves for the first time, studying the label in the centre then and gently, ever so gently, placing the needle in the groove. That first playing - so crisp, so clear! The sleeves themselves with their artwork and notes. I'd try to keep them looking as pristine as possible and hated them getting bent corners. You just don't get the same thrill with digital downloads. (But oh how I love my iPod and the possibility of storing hours of music in one seamlessly-playing place.)

Mum's current CD/record player is rather like this
These days Mum has a CD collection of light classical, opera and easy listening. Quite a few of the songs on her 78s she also has on CD. She has a small retro vintage CD  and turntable + radio which interestingly enough bears a mild resemblance to the old radiogram in terms of colour and old-style design, but is about 1/6 the size. It has a 78rpm setting, but no special needle for 78s - as she found out after she bought it a few years ago. Mum is dismissive: "People these days just don't know that 78s require a different needle."

Next time I go over there I'll have a better look through the 78s collection; at first glance today they are in great condition. The labels are still as fresh and bright as the day they were stuck on. Some have little stamps on them. There's a elegance about them that I love. It's just a shame they sound so shite!

Mum wasn't keen to keep playing her old records today though. I suspect she's got used to the cleaner sound of CDs and realises that nostalgia sometimes isn't what it used to be. Who knows, I might be clambering up the ladder again next week to put the old record player back in the cupboard!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Belt tightening in more ways than one

Earlier this year I embarked on The Clean and Lean Diet. Well, most of it. I didn't give up the glass of wine with dinner :-). Despite the wine I have managed to drop four kgs and am now within 2kgs of my goal weight. Woohoo! I'm the same weight I was in 1992. Mind you it's taken me three months where it should have taken about six weeks but what the heck. If dieting makes you miserable about the things you can't have it's not worth it; happiness should be part of every diet plan I reckon!

A key element of the C&L diet is having protein and vegetables at every meal, and the diet book naturally suggests go for organic. Not something I've been able to fulfil sadly as a) there aren't many organic options near where I live and b) it's really expensive. The 'protein at every meal' bit is expensive enough without sourcing organic versions of it, but I do buy from the fishmonger, butcher and greengrocer rather than the supermarket. Of course we're talking good meat, the pricey stuff, not sausages which are a no-no, full of the wrong kinds of fat. Chicken breasts. Lean steaks. And fish. (I suspect this is why wealthy people are often lean - they can afford the good grub and aren't stuck with sausages.)

However, I have dutifully got used to having baby spinach and rocket with my breakfast, sometimes raw, sometimes cooked. I am encouraged to eat up to half an avocado every day, as it's full of 'good' fat, which is no hardship as I adore avocados.

The thing I have really cut down on is sugar. Rather than nibble a biscuit (or, frankly, stuff it into my mouth and scoff it if I'm really peckish), I'll grab a handful of raw nuts instead. I confess to chocolate, good chocolate, say 20grams of dark Lindt, after dinner, but during the last week I've even cut that out and don't really miss it. Sadly sugar means fruit though, and I do LOVE fruit!  Fruit the diet tells me is OK are berries such as blueberries. Yup, the expensive stuff again. The thinner the skin on the fruit, the less sugar it contains apparently. Melons and oranges are bad news.

Carbs I've cut down on too, as veggies have carbs in them and I'm doing OK only having bread, pasta, rice or potatoes once or twice a week.

And then there's the chewing. Chew everything at least twenty times, the book says. I've always been a fast eater. One of my friends years ago told me I eat like a dog!  The C&L diet says that every meal should take at least twenty minutes to eat, but I've broken that rule too, mainly with hot breakfasts. Cold, congealed eggs and limp cold cooked spinach don't appeal. In fact I wouldn't eat them. Breakfast I still nosh into quite heartily, but I've noticed now that I finish my other meals a lot later than my husband. The 'eat like a dog' mantle is resting firmly on his shoulders. Even I have never seen anyone hoover up bacon and eggs like he does.

So all this is working, and it's really positive. This week getting on the scales has been the high point. (The tax news was obviously the low.)  Finding that I had to tighten one of my belts a notch almost had me whooping out loud.

My crap tax news means that I can't buy clothing, shoes, books or music until I've got that debt out of the way.

The hard thing there, I may add, is not buying books! My love affair with books is a blog subject in itself. I think I have a book-buying addiction.

Clothing... heck, I've got a wardrobe crammed with the stuff, and now I make some of my clothes too. New clothes I don't need, but I will miss the challenge of being creative with fabric (fabric also coming under the banner of luxuries I can do without).

Shoes... again I have plenty. Too many - I did a cull again a couple of weeks ago of boots that don't fit right and shoes with not much wear because they're uncomfortable and handed in a big, stuffed-full carrier bag to Vinnies. I live in boots in winter and have boots I bought last year which still look new and are comfortable.

Music... well, I've been using iTunes now for ages to buy; it's cheaper than buying CDs. I don't buy a lot of music any more anyway. Certainly not Top 40 stuff but I do find some interesting jazz and folk on my cruises around the radio dial and have a hankering to hear it on demand rather than when it makes a radio playlist.

The one thing I'm not compromising on is the diet. Buying and eating meat and fish might be more expensive than sausages or simply turning veggie (there is only so much tofu I can take in a week), but losing weight is having a positive effect on my psyche and self-confidence. That's one thing the taxman is not taking away from me.