Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Hat For an Antarctic Adventurer

I have for a while now been avoiding a request from my husband to knit him a beanie.  But not just any old beanie.  An Antarctic explorers beanie.  This of course may seem like a strange request unless you know that my husband is also an archaeologist and is returning this summer to continue archaeological work at Mawson's Huts.  It is quite an adventure to get to Antarctic even in this day and age so hats off (pardon the pun) to the men who went down there to explore the region in the early twentieth century.  Mawsons Huts are at Cape Denison, which is properly on the Antarctic continent and can only be accessed during the summer months when there is a bit less ice.

For the last two seasons my husband, lets call him adventure husband (AH) has been asking me to knit him a replica of Mawson's balaclava, made famous on the old Australian $100 note.  Here is Mawson wearing said article of knitwear.

The problem of course is that despite having a collection of vintage knitting patterns I am pretty crappy at knitting.  So I have been politely turning him down.  Given however, that this is the 100th anniversary of Mawson's first expedition to Antarctica, I felt that perhaps I should reconsider.  So I am embarking on an Antarctic hat project.  To start myself off on something that is less likely to be full of holes and more likely to fit I have started with a fairly basic beanie (apparently Mawson also had one of these), so that at least AH will have something to wear in the vintage Antarctic headgear vain.  Although I suspect it will be fairly quickly abandoned for the high-tech gear provided by the Australian Antarctic Division.  

The pattern I am attempting is from one of my WWII knitting pattern books.

This fellow looks like a dashing jewellery thief no?  The sort who would seduce the ladies while relieving them of their valuables.

I am using lovely New Zealand merino wool in a suitable explorer grey colour.  Despite having to restart the first few rows about 8 times (practice makes perfect don't they say?) progress is now being made.  Will try to post some pictures of the finished article and all going well will be starting on that balaclava soon.

On the subject of knitting patterns I couldn't resist sharing a few more images from my collection.  The back of the pattern above has a great ad, discouraging wastage during wartime with a great Dad joke about making wool go the distance.

Then there is this wonderful Vogue knitting book.  I had to do a double take when I saw the year on this.  1947? The cover looks so modern and those sandals are rather like elegant Birkenstocks! The styling inside is also wonderful.  A notch up from your avaerage knitting pattern.  You can tell it is Vogue.  Don't you love the lovely black jumper with the bell sleeves?  It is a bit Hepburnesque.  Or is that just the model? Maybe my knitting skills will improve enough to allow a jumper one of these days.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Outfits for Vintage Archaeologists

Many people don't realise that Agatha Christie spent many years working on archaeological sites in the Middle East with her second husband Max Mallowan.  During these years she wrote a number of her best known books including Murder on the Orient Express.     

Recently, while re-reading her wonderful and light-hearted account of those years Come Tell Me How You Live, I found this terrific passage on the challenges of trying to purchase clothes for an adventure in the desert during the fashionable 1930s.  I wanted to share it with you and have reproduced it below with a few illustrations for good measure.


IN A FEW WEEKS' time we are starting for Syria!
Shopping for a hot climate in autumn or winter presents certain difficulties. One's last year's summer clothes, which one has optimistically hoped will 'do', do not 'do' now the time has come.  For one thing they appear to be (like the depressing annotations in furniture removers' lists) 'Bruised, Scratched and Marked'. (And also Shrunk, Faded and Peculiar!)  For another alas, alas that one has to say it! – they are too tight everywhere.
So - to the shops and the stores, and:
'Of course, Modom, we are not being asked for that kind of thing just now! We have some very charming little suits here - O.S. in the darker colours.'
Oh, loathsome O.S.! How humiliating to be O.S.! How even more humiliating to be recognized at once as O.S.! (Although there are better days when, wrapped in a lean long black, coat with a large fur collar, a saleswoman says cheeringly: 'But surely Modom is only a Full Woman?')
I look at the little suits, with their dabs of unexpected fur and their pleated skirts. I explain sadly that what I want is a washing silk or cotton.
'Modom might try Our Cruising Department.'


 Modom tries Our Cruising Department - but without any exaggerated hopes. Cruising is still enveloped in the realms of romantic fancy. It has a touch of Arcady about it. It is girls who go cruising - girls who are slim and young and wear uncrushable linen trousers, immensely wide round the feet and skintight round the hips. It is girls who sport delightfully in Play Suits. It is girls for whom Shorts of eighteen different varieties are kept!

The lovely creature in charge of Our Cruising Deparrment is barely sympathetic.
'Oh, no, Modom, we do not keep out-sizes.' (Faint horror! Outsizes and Cruising? Where is the romance there?)
She adds:
'It would hardly be suitable, would it?'
I agree sadly that it would not be suitable.
There is still one hope. There is Our Tropical Department.

Our Tropical Department consists principally of Topees - Brown Topees, White Topees; Special Patent Topees.  A little to one side, as being slightly frivolous, are Double Terais, blossoming in pinks and blues and yellows like blooms of strange tropical flowers. There is also an immense wooden horse and an assortment of jodhpurs.

But yes - there are other things. Here is suitable wear for the wives of Empire Builders. Shantung!  Plainly cut shantung coats and skins - no girlish nonsense here - bulk is accommodated as well as scragginess! I depart into a cubicle with various styles and sizes. A few minutes later I am transformed into a memsahib!
I have certain qualms - but stifle them. After all, it is cool and practical and I can get into it.
I turn my attention to the selection of the right kind of hat. The right kind of hat not existing in these days, I have to have it made for me.  This is not so easy as it sounds.
What I want, and what I mean to have, and what I shall almost certainly not get, is a felt hat of reasonable proportions that will fit on my head. It is the kind of hat that was worn some twenty years ago for taking the dogs for a walk or playing a round of golf. Now, alas, there are only the Things one attaches to one's head :- over one eye, one ear, on the nape of one's neck - as the fashion of the moment dictates - or the Double Terai, measuring at least a yard across.

I explain that I want a hat with a crown like a Double Terai and about a quarter of its brim.
'But they are made wide to protect fully from the sun, Modom.'
'Yes, but where I am going there is nearly always a terrific wind, and a hat with a brim won't stay on one's head for a minute.' 
'We could put Modom on an elastic.'
'I want a hat with a brim no larger than this that I've got on.'
'Of course, Modom, with a shallow crown that would look quite well.'
'Not a shallow crown! The hat has got To Keep On!'
Victory! We select "the colour - one of those new shades with the pretty names: Din, Rust, Mud," Pavement, Dust, etc. 
A few minor purchases - purchases that I know instinctively will either be useless or land me in trouble. A Zip travelling bag, for instance. Life nowadays is dominated and complicated by the remorseless Zip. Blouses zip up, skirts zip down, ski-ing suits zip  verywhere. 'Little frocks' have perfectly unnecessary bits of zipping on them just for fun.
Why? Is there anything more deadly than a Zip that turns nasty on you? It involves you in a far worse predicament than any ordinary button, clip, snap, buckle or hook and eye.

In the early days of Zips, my mother, thrilled by this delicious novelty, had a pair of corsets fashioned for her which zipped up the front. The results were unfortunate in the extreme! Not only was the original zipping-up fraught with extreme agony, but the corsets then obstinately refused to de-Zip! Their removal was practically a surgical operation! And owing to my mother's delightful Victorian modesty, it seemed possible for a while that she would, live in these corsets for the remainder of her life - a kind of modem Woman in the Iron Corset!
I have therefore always regarded the Zip with a wary eye. But it appears that all travelling bags have Zips.
'The old-fashioned fastening is quite superseded, Modom,' says the salesman, regarding me with a pitying look.
'This, you see, is so simple,' he says, demonstrating.
There is no doubt about its simplicity - but then, I think to myself, the bag is empty.
'Well,' I say, sighing, 'one must move with the times.'
With some misgivings I buy the bag.
I am now the proud possessor of a 'Zip travelling bag, an Empire Builder's Wife's coat and skirt, and a possibly satisfactory hat.
There is still much to be done.

Agatha in her Empire Builder's Wife's Outfit  Source

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Interruption in Transmission

Well, I am long overdue in saying hello to my very small but hopefully cheerful band of blog followers!  How nice to meet you all. 

I am also overdue in posting, but am planning to return on the weekend with a post about Agatha Christie and archaeology.  I am a big Agatha fan and yes, the name of my blog is a nod to her book 4.50 From Paddington.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Tea things for vintage ladies

I love morning and afternoon tea.  I love the ritual of preparing and drinking tea and sharing homemade treats with friends and family.  Over the years I have gathered together quite a collection of vintage tea things.  Some came from my grandmother and great grandmother and others I have picked up here and there at markets, fetes and antique shops.  Although my house is largely blues, creams and timbers I always seem to be attracted most to 20s-40s green and orange tones crockery.  

So here is a little glimpse into my collection ....

The tablecloth is a wonderful square cloth, late 1930s I think, that often gets brought out for tea time.

The Trocadero teapot below was a gift from my father to go with my trocadero crockery pieces.  

Owning these I feel I own a bit of Sydney history.  The Trocadero or "The Troc" as it was fondly known was a dance club that opened in George Street, Sydney in 1936.  

And finally for this post, one of the latest additions to my collection, a "My Fair Lady" plate that came to me earlier this year from my grandmother.  It is so lovely. 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Marvellous Max Dupain

Max Dupain must still be considered one of Australia's best photographers.  When I was growing up I had a poster of one of his pictures on the back of my bedroom door.  This image to be precise.

It was Max Dupain that made me want to be a photographer when I grew up and I nearly did a degree in photography when I left school until archaeology called me in a different direction.  I especially love his photographs of Sydney in the 1930s and 40s and how well they capture Sydney and Australia.  I can still see this Sydney when I walk around the city, when I get the ferry, when I go to the beach and when I stand on the same corner at Central Station every day on my way to work that he photographed in 1935.

All images have been reproduced from www.maxdupain.com.au


When the postman calls ...

I have been on a little buying spree lately to feed my recent and slightly alarming obsession with vintage patterns.  Which at least takes up less room than my previous vintage crockery obsession.  My latest purchases all seem to have arrived in the mail at once today.

There are the Simplicity dress patterns that have come to me from New Vintage Lady in Los Angeles.

The very interesting 1939 McCall publication called "Dressmaking Made Easy" that I managed to find for the amazing price of $3.95 here in Australia.  No photos of that yet but there is a posting about it over at What-I-Found

A 1939 New Idea with the pattern for a cute tennis "frock" - and some truly hilarious ads for various potions and pills that will make you loose weight, cure troublesome nervousness, get rid of unwanted body hair etc.etc.

And a 1939 (there is a theme developing here) Australian Home Journal that came with pattern pieces for the four dresses on the front.  Helpfully in my size.  Love the Australian Home Journal.

I found this particularly interesting because I already have a 1942 Australian Home Journal, produced when there was a paper shortage during the war.  So while the June 1939 magazine has separate pattern pieces for each dress, by 1942 they have very cleverly supplied pieces for the jacket only which you then fold and trace in particular ways to get the patterns for the three dresses.  I am hoping to have a go at the pink dress with the geometric pocket detail soon, so can report back about how converting the pattern pieces works.

I also love the pattern in the 1942 magazine for the air-raid shelter suit, complete with hood - there is also a matching children's pattern for this a few pages later.  Very much like the Winston Churchill inspired Siren Suits that were popular in the UK although with surprisingly wide legs given there were restrictions on fabric here at the time.

Some very lovely person at the National Library of Australia has made volumes of the Australian Home Journal from 1949 - 1952 available for free here where you can view online or download about 400 pages.  It is well worth a look.  In the online version the pages even turn.  So make yourself a cup of tea and settle in for some after dinner reading.  

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The nth degree of charm and newness

“Tonight dear?  Of course – but only if you can find me.”

According to McCall, the “nth degree of charm and newness” can be achieved by decorating your room with matching chintz curtains, cushions, upholstery, bedspread and wallpaper and then making yourself a matching housecoat from the same material.  I am not yet convinced that all that chintz would be relaxing - this perhaps explains the twin beds.   

Unfortunately the housecoat pattern (McCall 3372 ) is not on the vintage pattern wiki to see what the non-chintz version might look like - but if you can find it, you might like to whip out your Singer, order in a few thousand yards of curtain material and get sewing.