30/08/2007

stitching up daisies

I know I told you I couldn't wait to get started on the Wisp in I GOT YARN, but when I arrived back at my house after that trip to the shops, my eyes landed upon my only unfinished object: this grey scarf that I had begun.

Shortly after I started knitting (or restarted, I should say, having originally learnt to do it as a child), my mum gave me this big bag of abandoned yarn. There were many different types, including several balls of this grey yarn and several of the same texture in blue, without any labels. It's quite rough (in comparison with merino wool, at least), so I decided that it was only suitable for scarves or bags. I preferred blue for a bag and grey for a scarf, so I looked through my books for a stitch pattern, having estimated the yarn's weight and looked up the appropriate needle size in Stitch N' Bitch. I chose daisy stitch, as seen in The Knitter's Handbook.

(< Scarf et moi, close up of pattern is below)

The scarf is 33 stitches wide and I knit through about four balls of yarn, so it's quite long. It is pretty thin, so it's best suited, like most of my scarves, to autumn and the warmer winter months. At the coldest times, only my chunky merino wool scarf will do. That was knit using a kit from Rowan, which included a How 2 Knit Big with Big Wool booklet and two balls of Big Wool. I recommend this kit to anyone who wants to learn to knit and produce something quickly. I love the warmth and texture of Rowan Big Wool, my only caveat is that it pills ridiculously and I find myself winding straggly bits back into the scarf.

Whilst knitting the last ball of the daisy stitch scarf - which I did over several evenings, lying down on my bed - I listened to the CraftLit podcast, which is brilliant! Heather Ordover is an English teacher and tells you what to listen out for in each chapter and story, so it's like a really good English class where you're allowed to knit. She also has a great voice. I have listened to almost all of the Pride and Prejudice podcasts, in fact I have only one left to listen to. I've gotten so far on the Wisp now that hopefully I will finish whilst listening to that. For the hours I spend listening and knitting, I am in heaven. Literature and craft - could life get any better?

On a related note, I am really excited because only 366 people are ahead of me in line for a Ravelry invite! It's a social networking site for knitters and crocheters and loads (yes, okay, if you've read my blog before, you know what I mean by "loads" - THREE) of people who are members already have been talking about it and it sounds brilliant. I can't wait to be allowed in. It's sad but I've been taking photos of my yarn already! *tearful giggle*

28/08/2007

Guilt Is So Not A Good Look

I write about my current obsessions but one thing should be clear. They don’t pass. They fade. I may not be obsessed with an item I have acquired anymore, but I still like it, and I always like it enough to not get rid of it and just move on to someone else. I only ever buy things I like enough to wear for a long time. I’m not a “disposable-fashionista” in the slightest.

I don’t high-street shop a lot. I went shopping three times in a fortnight not long ago, and that was pretty much my shopping done for the whole year. I probably won’t hit the high street until Christmas at the earliest, and even then I doubt I will buy much. I don’t really like the physical, beyond-my-desk-chair kind of shopping. It’s tiring, drains my bank balance considerably, and can be stressful if I'm looking for shoes. Also, it tends to make me feel guilty.

I’m an educated, socially and politically aware person. I have no excuses. I know about sweatshops. I know about organically grown cotton. I know that Primark and Topshop have been featured in the news for continuing to use factories with poor working conditions. I haven’t shopped at either for years, but to be honest, until recently my main reason for avoiding them is that I actively hate almost every item of clothing that they produce each season. I’ve never been into Urban Outfitters, because I know people (from the craft forums I frequent) whose designs have been ripped off by them. I've learnt that you can't just trust the high street. Every store you ask will deny being involved in sweatshop production at the very least. Even if one avoids the less ethically-conscious manufacturers and stores, they can still be, when buying new clothes, be engaging in “fast fashion”, which damages the environment and wastes resources. I was much better at this last year. I signed up to a Buy Nothing New campaign, inspired by The Compact, that was running in one of my favourite forums, and joined Wardrobe Refashion for six months. But I’ve fallen behind. Shiny and new is distracting, but like I said before, I have no excuses for allowing that distraction. Back on the wagon I go! It's a simple, three-point plan.

Shop ethically, and treasure our purchases.

Ethically means organic and Fairtrade. It is harder to find items that fit into both these categories – so I will also look for handmade and organic.

By treasure our purchases, I mean to say that we should look after them properly, check for repairs that need doing and do them. Darn our socks, sew up our hems that have fallen loose, mend the holes in our jeans and get our shoes re-soled. This is far cheaper in the long run than buying new items. Learn how to do it, it’s not difficult or time consuming. I recommend mending clothes as soon as you discover they need repair, otherwise you will put them back in the wardrobe, forget, and then either find yourself unable to wear them the next time or will go out, with, for example, a hole in the crotch of your jeans. Classy. No, I've never done that, but people I know have! If we no longer want items, we should pass them along to a friend or relative who will use them, or to a charity. Which brings me perfectly to my next point:

Shop second-hand, and donate unwanted items.

This means vintage and charity shopping (or "chazzing")! This is better for the environment than buying new, even organic items. They have already done all the damage they can do, and buying from charities actually helps the world. Purists would argue that this does not include vintage which has travelled between continents to fetch a higher price, because it has acquired yet another carbon footprint in the journey. But at least it's avoided the landfill. Find your nearest second-hand or charity shop here. My parents' town has seven charity shops just on the high street, it's brilliant. I love to tour them all, the staff are lovely and the Oxfam specialises in books so it entertains my literature-loving side as well. The best thing to do, however, is:

Buy as little as possible.

To just not go shopping unless we have to. To make do with what we've got and to create and reconstruct our own clothing. Okay, this isn't possible for everything. For example, I can't knit tights, can't create my own shoes, and I lack the millinery skills to make hats. But I can alter the t-shirts I'm bored with, turn dresses into skirts, and decorate anything too plain for me to enjoy wearing. I can knit, I can sew, I can change buttons and I can bead. I just need to do it more often, and shop less.

22/08/2007

Parasol Perfection

If you ever Google for parasols, you will find that the majority of the top results are stores selling garden parasols. An eBay search gets you the variety that only fit babies' prams - and of course, plenty of items that are not parasols. Stores selling parasols sized for the adult human to carry are quite difficult to find. Luckily, my bookmarks contain a few websites that I have been previously recommended, so when I was asked if I could suggest any, I could supply some links immediately. Also, I searched Etsy. How on earth did we survive before Etsy?

Brollies Galore have got the Chinese paper variety, Edwardian parasols, lace parasols and frilly Can-Can parasols. The prices range widely as well, so you can get very pretty cheap ones or if you want to splash out you can get some expensive extravagant madness! They are based in the UK but they ship worldwide. The Black Rose have a black and white polka dot parasol on their website (worldwide shipping) and more at their Camden store.

Victoriana.com have a page that lists antique and vintage parasols in eBay auctions. There are a range of varieties, and as you might expect, a range of prices. You can also order their Amazon Drygoods general catalogue which includes parasols. The Oriental Trading Company do a small selection including one in white lace and some paper paint-your-own parasols. They ship to the USA and Canada.

From Etsy I would suggest Umbrella Heaven, and if you have Cash To Flash or just want to look, Darna's East Angel Harbor Hat Shoppe has a few absolutely extraordinary Victorian-style parasols. They are too over-the-top for my taste (all that lace and all those bows!) but I can still appreciate the work that goes into them, as I am sure you will too.

If you want to do it yourself, here are some instructions for converting an umbrella into a parasol, thanks to that bastion of style advice, the alt.gothic.fashion FAQ.

My only parasol is one my parents got me from Disney World when I was two and a half - it's pink and minimally frilly, and has my name written on it. Obviously this makes it practically perfect in every way - Mary Poppins reference intended - and so maybe I can live without Loretta!

21/08/2007

unfortunate news

Remember these shoes? From my latest post-shopping post I GOT YARN?



Well, it turns out that they are Not Good. I've been wearing them around the house for days and today I ventured out on to the street wearing them for the first time. Ouch. They are fine on soft (eg. carpeted, laminated) surfaces, but my heels hurt when I walk on concrete, tarmac, and other hard surfaces. They're from Office. Don't buy them. I'm going to take them to the shoe repair place and see if they can make the sole a bit thicker or something, because now I've worn them outside I can't return them. Not that Office let you have a refund - they give you a credit voucher instead. I wonder if this problem is enough of a problem to be able to get a refund by law?

16/08/2007

Big Feet Big Problem – Shoe Shopping For The Outsize

I have big feet. The gadget at Clarks proclaims them to be a size 9 ½ (and I had to use the electronic thing in the children's department because I was too big for the manual sizer, very embarrassing) but because every manufacturer fails to keep to the industry standards, I have worn a “size 8” – Nine West – to a “size 10” – at the bowling alley. The small sizing of bowling shoes is a point of particular irritation to me, as at least twice now I have asked for a size ten and been asked to repeat myself for the amusement of the staff.

More annoying than those rude idiots, however, is a trip to the shops to look for shoes. Especially if I am shopping for a specific occasion. Trainers and sneakers are easy, because I can just get unisex or “male” styles. For pretty shoes, or smart work shoes, however, hours and hours can be wasted, visiting every shop that stocks any kind of shoes, desperately hoping to find something that fits. Attractive shoes are usually not even made in my size, vintage shoes are out of the question. Generally all I can hope for is something inoffensive!

If there is one fashion-related topic on which I am an expert, it is shoe shopping for the outsize. If there is another, it is shades of purple - but I will save that for another post. For now, I bring you an overview of stores that stock shoes in sizes above a size eight, or whose size eight is particularly generous. Outsize supposedly means size 7 and above, but I have never been to a store that didn't carry sevens in all of its styles. I'm afraid this list is rather UK-centric, although some brands are availiable in other countries as well and some stores ship worldwide. If you have any recommendations, let me know in comment or e-mail and I will append them to this list, after paying them a visit myself if they are in the UK! I would also like to apologise for the high number of stores I have included that only stock up to my size, or whose products are very hit and miss. If I only included stores that were always good it would be a very short list! There are usually only varied width fittings availiable at these stores if I have noted so.

Another thing to note is that I only use offline, brick-and-mortar (or at least concrete breezeblock) stores, because I need to try shoes on. I have small ankles but pretty wide feet and long toes, so fit is very important. However, although I cannot rate the service, I have included some online retailers, and almost all of the offline stores listed have websites from which you can order as well.

Lastly, my definition of expensive is "higher than average prices in high street stores". We are not talking "designer" prices here - I have yet to find a single designer whose shoes are made above a UK size 8. Jimmy Choos go up to a 7!

Stores At Which I Have Had Some Success:

Clarks – Produces some shoes in size nine. Visit different branches, make sure you include the "K" branded section/adjacent store, because it's stock is often separate, and ask when they’re getting new stock in. Sometimes they will actually take you down to the stockroom and let you look in the section for nines but otherwise, just ask them to bring up everything in a size nine. Last time I did this they only brought up three pairs, but I have had more success on other occasions. Sale time is actually the worst time to visit because they will have less size nine stock left. I checked their website, and they currently have 37 styles that go up to a size nine, but only the minority of those are "smart" and many of their "casual" shoes are, um, hideous. Nine styles don't go up to an eight, but they're nothing to grieve for. Some styles are availiable in a small range of width fittings. One thing to note is that the vast majority of their shoes are made in black, blue, brown or red leather. They're no good for vegans, or for anyone wanting anything high fashion - all their styles are pretty classic. That said, the shoes are very good quality and comfortable and their staff are usually well trained and competent. No online store.

Evans – Their shoes go up to a ten, however, the last two times I’ve been in there they’ve had nothing nice left. Go as soon as the stock arrives. They also specialise in clothes for UK sizes 16-32. The staff are pretty rude and unhelpful in my local store, I hope this is not a nationwide problem. The website delivers to the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands, and USA.

Long Tall Sally – Sells sizes seven to eleven exclusively, however each style fits wildly differently. Some I tried on in a size nine were too tight so I needed a ten and some were way too big. The shop assistant at the London store said that the manufacturer makes half sizes, but they don’t order them because then they would have twice as many shoes to sell. I really wanted to point out that if they did this they would probably sell twice as many shoes. The range they have in store is really small, but the website delivers worldwide! They also sell clothes designed for tall women.

Monsoon/Accessorize – Half their size eights are really small, the rest are fairly big. Very random but large range. I know all this because I tried on every single pair they had in the King's Road store! I didn't buy anything because none of them were a perfect fit when it came to width. Website delivers to UK and Republic of Ireland addresses only.

Next – Has size nines. I have just discovered that they do free delivery from their website to stores. Go to their website at the start of the season, order a load of shoes to be delivered to the store, pick them up, try them on, and return any that don't fit to the store, which will cost nothing. Otherwise, they're no good unless you like ugly beige things. Whenever I go to the store mid-season or during the end-of-season sale, that’s all they have left in size nine, and when I’ve gotten them to call the warehouse to see if they have anything nicer in stock, they’ve had nothing left, being a popular chain they sell out really quickly. Their website only allows orders from the UK.

Nine West – Very big size eights, and their website lists up to a US 12 - a UK nine and a half, but I have never seen these in store, and they do not ship internationally. Sometimes they have the odd eight and a half in store – I actually got a pair of black and white polka-dot slip-ons in an 8 ½ in an outlet store in the USA, and I have seen them in UK shops too. Sandals are great, rounded or square toed shoes are hit and miss. Don’t bother with the pointed toes, and go in the sales because they are so expensive.
In the UK or Eire? You can order shoes online via
The Shoe Studio, but they only sell up to a size eight.

Office – Some styles in a size nine. Good for ballet-style pumps. Website shops worldwide.

Shellys – Has a size eight/eight and a half which just about didn’t fit me. Website only delivers to the UK, Republic of Ireland and Channel Islands.

Topshop – Does size nine in some styles. Just ask them if they can tell you what comes in a nine. If they haven’t got it in stock they can call other stores and the warehouse for you. Their website ships to the UK, USA and to Australia, however, the size nines are hard to find - you have to click each individual style and use the drop down selector to see what sizes are availiable.

Online Stores, and Offline Stores That I Have Never Visited:

Banana Shoes - Up to size twelve in shoes that are - in a phrase that I have borrowed from Gala Darling - only appropriate for answering the door, kissing & walking (or being carried) to the bedroom. Offline store is in Rotherham. Ships internationally.

Elephant Feet - Quite expensive, but pretty, and the sale selection is good. The brick and mortar store is in London, and they ship internationally, but orders have to be made by phone.

Faith - They never used to have shoes above size eight, and now they have nines, but I haven't visited them since this new development. They are a high street chain but you can also order online or by phone and they seem to ship worldwide.

Tall Girls – Formerly shoe catalogue "Nine To Eleven", specialising in those sizes. Only online, ships worldwide.

Totally... - Producers of size seven to eleven shoes. Pretty expensive, but very cute and they do have sales. Store is just down the road from London's Long Tall Sally in Chiltern Street, but by the time I left the latter Totally... was closed, and I have yet to return. Appears to ship worldwide.

Etsy (added 12/4/2008):

Because there are so many shops on Etsy I decided that it needed its own section so that I could point you in the direction of specific shops selling custom-made shoes and slippers. However, new stores are created everyday so I recommend using the search feature. If you search for shoes on Etsy, use the "items: tags, titles" drop down option and I recommend the following search string: "shoes clothing NOT vintage NOT baby NOT child NOT flip NOT flipflops NOT flip-flops NOT flippers". This will cut your results list down about by about 500 products and make sure you get actual shoes that are handmade, in adult sizes, which are not just customised flip flops. You will get the odd pair of customised ordinary shop-bought shoes but I can't think of a term to eliminate them without also stopping custom-made shoes from showing up, and there are always random things that will show up in the search too, it's not perfect.

I have divided this Etsy section into type-of-shoe categories to make it simpler.

Crocheted Slippers -casablynn offers these simple, Mary Jane style slippers. The size chart in the listing is way small, so I suggest requesting a pair through her Alchemy page if you want them. Similarly, CrochetKnitAndMore offers several different colour combinations of her "The Perfect Slippers" in her shop. A Playful Yarn has several different styles available - Mary Janes, Mary Janes with sock attached, and ballerina slipper style crocheted slippers.

Felted Slippers - superfay has several styles available, contact her for a custom order, and do the same for pawfelts' and opheliafelt's multicoloured creations. My favourite felted slippers have to be mommayaya's elf slippers, I think they're fantastic, but again, you will have to make a special order, nobody plans for us large of feet people!

Shoes - Em And Sprout's cute shoes have rubber soles and canvas uppers, so can be worn outside, and she accepts custom orders. bobilina studio makes shoes and slippers in several different styles and all the listings are custom, so go ahead and order! If you've got cash to flash, you can get more conventional (and inevitably longer-lasting) shoes from El Diablo Shoes, check out these gorgeous red retro platform pumps! I am in LUST! They do several other styles too and they look just fantastic. Lalay makes custom traditional shoes in Istanbul, which look really interesting.

The Blacklist:

Marks and Spencer – largest size is a small eight.

New Look – largest size is a ridiculously small eight. I am sure it is in fact a seven.

Barratts – they stock up to a size ten in a special selection, but they are awful. Plain, ugly, and with no grip at all. I had a pair when I was at school and they were really stiff and I kept falling over in them.

Other ideas:

Shoe boutiques – Worth visiting because they stock brand-name shoes which you won’t find in high-street stores that only stock their own brand. You might be able to ask them to order a pair for you, talk to the manager.

Drag queen stores – There is an ITV2 programme about “tall teens” doing the repeat rounds at the moment which follows a girl (who is a size twelve) as she visits one, with limited success. Stock is a bit random; expect some ludicrous heels and potentially high prices (see Banana Shoes as listed above!).

Finally:

Where to find the perfect fit - part two
from The Guardian features a list of websites for outsize shoe retailers.

If you have any advice or reviews to add, please comment. I am always on the lookout for new solutions to the big feet problem, and would also like to know where you have tried and failed to get shoes.

11/08/2007

I GOT YARN

Oh baby.

Isn't it lovely? This is Rowan Kidsilk Spray in shade 574 and it is going to become one of these. I can barely wait to get knitting. Believe this picture, not the one on the Rowan website, which is ridiculously dark! I'm not even sure it's the same yarn, even though that's the right shade number - mine doesn't have a name on it. I have gone shopping a lot recently, to fully appreciate the wonder that is The Sales. However, now I have yarn I am sated, and there will probably be no more shopping until the January sales. Except in charity shops. I can't keep away from the cheap books!

Another highlight of the sales is this, pun entirely intended:
It was £12.99! Reduced from £40! It is so cool and not quite as garish in reality. It is in my bedroom at my parents' house at the moment but will probably go to live at my house with me soon because it would make my boringly beige room a little more interesting. People who have visited my room would argue that my room is not boring because it is decorated with Don't Panic posters, postcards, photos from art gallery leaflets and ephemera and ATCs I have received in swaps. However, it has only a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling! Ludicrous! I was going to make a Chandy, but now I have this I think I will leave that for another lightbulb.

I possess more things to hang from ceilings than I have space to hang them in. I must have about four different wind chimes - one that lights up, one that is a giant dream catcher thing, one with a wooden frog on top, and one with Minnie Mouse on top - yes, four. I also have a mirror ball and a purple star thing that you can put a candle inside, which I believe my best friend Claire got me at some point. The latter is totally cool but has never been hung! A crime for sure. Maybe I'll have to take down the giant dream-catcher-wind-chime at my parent's house and put that up for a while. Woefully my house is rented so I cannot make holes in the ceiling!

I also finally bought purple shoes. Oh yes. Purple shoes. I actually already have purple boots and purple ridiculously-heeled blingin' sandals (they really are blingin', believe me, if you saw the level of bling...). But I have never before had simple purple shoes. Enjoy and appreciate, ladies and other gentlefolk-

06/08/2007

a lasting obsession - books I have adored since childhood

Yesterday, or perhaps the day before, I thought to myself: "Where did all my childhood books go?" and quickly decided to assume that my mum had sold them all at a book sale - that's what she did with all the Enid Blyton books, I know.

Today I was waiting for Princess Mononoke to come on Film4+1, having missed the start of it on E4. I was only ten minutes late, but last time it was on I missed the start and then had problems understanding the plot, so I decided to wait for the repeat. I flicked through the channels and Back to the Secret Garden was on Five. My copy of The Secret Garden was from a cereal box offer where you got that in with a few other books if you saved up the tokens and sent off the coupon. I knew I still had that, it was on my bookshelf in all its battered glory. I thought I'd managed to save just that one, because it was my favourite, but I didn't understand why I hadn't kept Tom's Midnight Garden or Charlotte's Web either.

After watching Princess Mononoke, which is pretty good, by the way, although I wish they'd hurry up and repeat Kiki's Delivery Service too because it owns my heart, I went upstairs to tidy the top of one of my wardrobes.

Oh the joy of tidying your room, then undergoing intellectual development enough to eradicate some memories, then, several years later, tidying your room again. I found such treasures. The rest of the cereal-box books, some cartoons my best friend Claire drew when we were at school (mostly of us and our role-playing game characters), more books, some crappy CDs, and more books.

My week was made by the finding of Flying Pig To The Rescue, which is an pretty obscure children's book which I completely adored and kept re-reading long after it was too basic for me. It's about a pig who can fly but nobody knows except his sister, and he adopts a superhero guise in order to save a satellite and the ozone layer. It's absolutely full of really bad pig-related puns, even the names of the characters are pig-puns.

I also found my pretty battered copies of Matilda and Harriet The Spy. I remember that when I read Matilda I spent ages trying to see if I could move objects with my mind. I reasoned that although my family weren't evil, I was clever and was bullied at school so that should be enough to make me telekinetic. No such luck. I had to content myself with imagining what I would do with those powers. Harriet The Spy started off an absolutely massive obsession with spies. I decided I wanted to be a spy when I grew up, and collected any book on spies and code writing that I could find. I started scribbling notes in notebooks about everyone I knew, and tried to cover a miniature notebook in orange, green and yellow bits of tissue and sugar paper in a camouflage pattern - I have no idea why I thought this was essential. I also wished someone would notice me and send me to a psychiatrist, although I had no idea what they were for. When the film came out I was excited, but once I saw it was very disappointed. I expected the film to be exactly like the book, and they left so much of it out! It disturbed me that they could do that, and I read the book several more times in a row to try to wipe out the incorrect version from my memory. That film is probably the reason why Michelle Trachtenberg annoyed me so much when she turned up in Buffy!

I also found several Jacqueline Wilson books. Oh yes. I too had the dreaded "Jacqueline Wilson phase". I'd say that 90% of British females go through the "Jacqueline Wilson phase" in their late pre-teen years and early teens. It takes hold of you and there is no escaping it until it has run its course. It starts when one of your friends recommends you one of her books. Or when everyone else in your class is reading her books, so you think you should too. Or one of your relatives buys you one. Or the librarian suggests them. You start and for a while you're obsessed, but then you get bored and move on to more mature fiction. Wilson's books are good for what they are, edutainment for angsty kids, but they're not the sort of thing you treasure forever as an adult. Although they deal with issues that affect children pretty well, they still manage to be quite shallow (I say this, and I cried at Double Act! It was the bit when Ruby was ignoring Garnet and being really mean, they're twins, so naturally before that argument they did everything together,
and I thought it was so horrible to poor Garnet). I think it's because they're not realistic enough - there is no swearing or sex in Jacqueline Wilson novels, even between adults, and there is always a happy ending. So I have a whole pile of these to shift onto BookMooch or the charity shop. Or perhaps I shall keep them for when my female cousins go through the phase. Although I think I might cling on to The Illustrated Mum, Girls Under Pressure and Girls Out Late, because the TV versions were actually quite good. Or The Illustrated Mum was. Girls In Love was pretty bad, what with the goth stereotypes being taken to the max - classic ITV scriptwriting there - but the guy who played Russell was kinda hot and it did have Olivia Hallinan, later of the fabulously weird Sugar Rush in it.

03/08/2007

this eyeliner obsession

I have finally reached perfection of eyeliner .

Many years have been spent doing it wrong and relying on three varieties of eye-makeup:
1. Eyeshadow all over eyelid and along lower lash line
2. Eyeliner on the inner rim
3. Both.

But those years are over! Somebody finally got through to me! That person was Merriam of Miss Vintage. Under the 'Icons of Style' section, there is a guide to Audrey Hepburn's make-up. It is excellent, very detailed, and even without photographs it made perfect sense. I tried out the eyeliner yesterday and managed to reproduce it today. Mine isn't quite as flicky because I am scared of flicks and I am crap at drawing a line so I've smudged it with glittery grey eyeshadow (Bourjois Little Round Pot Eyeshadow in 'Gris pailletté' 92).

I am still in awe that it works and it looks good! I am going to try different colour eyeshadows on top of the eyeliner too. It's an eyeliner pen (Maxfactor) and stays wet for quite a long time so if you press eyeshadow on top it sticks really well.

01/08/2007

How We Are: Photographing Britain

I went to see this exhibition today at the Tate Britain with my mum and my sister. It was the first time I had visited that gallery since I was in primary school, back then it was simply the Tate Gallery because the Tate Modern didn't exist. It seemed really big, but every museum and gallery we visited seemed huge because the biggest building I was familiar with was our tiny school. I remember being very bored, having to sketch some random old painting, and a group of kids from our school trying to get lost.

The How We Are: Photographing Britain exhibition is really good. We think it took about two hours to go around but that's because my sister had to read everything and make notes because she has to for the 'A' Level photography course she hopes to do. I found it so interesting I wanted to make sure I read everything too. It presents a double history of photography and of Britain and shows examples of art, journalistic and fashion photography.

They have some of the first photographs ever taken, which are really strange. They look more like drawings than photographs to the modern eye, because they are so small and the image doesn't fill the whole of the print - it looks like there is a sort of mist in a circle around the image. Take a look at these online photo albums for an idea of what I'm talking about, although this is much more pronounced in the earlier photographs in the exhibition.

A lot of the earlier photographs in the exhibition are social documents - they depict the living conditions of the working class in cities, for example. I think that before photography, it was really only the rich and famous whose images were captured for posterity, and it is interesting that so many photographers were interested in the lives of ordinary people. I burst out laughing at a collection of photographs that were given to police to help them catch "militant suffragettes" - they are of such poor quality that I don't think the women had anything to worry about.

The photographs get more recent as you move through the sections and you see examples of groundbreaking technology in photography and of new ideas about composition and use as they developed. Some of these photographs are of famous Britons but the majority are of ordinary people, sometimes relatives or friends of the artists, sometimes subjects whose names are unknown. There are also some landscapes, but the focus is on images of people.

One cool thing about this exhibition is that it was actually open for submissions! Any photographs taken in the UK that fit the exhibition's themes of portrait, landscape, still life and documentary could be added to the How We Are Now Flickr group to be displayed on screens at the gallery, on the Tate Britain's website here, and on the website for The Observer. The Tate is selecting the best 40 and they will be part of the final display (6th August – 2nd September 2007) and archived on the website. More information can be found here.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and I recommend that you catch it while you can!

Book Review: Shopping for Vintage

This is possibly the most exquisitely designed book I have ever held between my two hands. It is a style classic in it's own right; a little hardback covered in beautiful fabric. The first 176 pages are full colour and glossy and the rest of the pages, which make up the vintage source directory, are quality matte paper printed in gold. The tag and ribbon you can see on the picture of the cover (scroll down - I am cameraless so the Amazon picture is all I've got) is in fact a bookmark, which I love because using an old receipt or postcard to keep a page would spoil the act of reading this book.

Shopping for Vintage covers designers from La Belle Époque to the "aspirational Eighties", most are illustrated (by Richard Merritt) and short paragraphs introduce who they were and describe. There is also an overview of vintage accessories by type and designer or decade, which is fairly broad, although it covers luggage but unfortunately not hats! Anyone who knows me will know how much I am offended by this omission!

I think that as far as vintage design goes, this book provides a good place to begin - if there are any designers or looks that you find particularly interesting you will want to do more research because the information in Shopping for Vintage is so brief. However, the last sections of the book - a directory of vintage stores and other sources - are brilliant. When I read through them they made me desperately want to go shopping. This is not your typical back-of-book directory focusing on the author's home country and skimming a few other locations, this is detailed and well researched. Names, addresses, phone numbers and websites (where they exist) are given, sometimes with a paragraph about store content and pricing. Stores the authors has clearly visited and loved are covered in more detail, and although stores from the United Kingdom get a lot of emphasis, these picks range from The Diva's Closet in Sydney to a store called Granny's Goodies in South Carolina, by way of Dongtai Lu Antiques Market in Shanghai! The directory is also peppered with quotes from various fashionable personages, giving shopping advice and insight into why people like owning vintage clothing.

There are tips for buying vintage, which you will find most useful if you have cash to flash, and a section entitled "Vintage going forward", where the author suggests which contemporary designers and "pieces" will become collectible in the future - again, for those with enough money to consider fashion as an investment! Despite this, the book would be enjoyed by both collectors and people who are hunting for a vintage bargain to actually wear and although the author focuses on vintage designer labels, she does not assume that every reader and fan of vintage fashion will have excessive amounts of money to spend on it, or will want to. The shopping advice and price information in the directory is very helpful if you are looking for a bargain.

I recommend this book for anyone with a burgeoning interest in vintage fashion and to any fashion tourists who want to know where some of the most interesting clothing stores on the globe are. It is a well designed, informative little book that you won't want to hide away on your bookshelf - it's far too pretty and inspiring for that!



Eight out of ten!
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