Wednesday, 31 March 2010

So Last-Year: Sinha Stanic playsuit from Oli

I can't say I've ever bought everything from Oli. And I'm deliberately trying to cut down on the amount of new stuff I try and buy at the moment...which unfortunately seems to be having the effect of making me run into Topshop and buy mountains of rubbish. I am on Oli's newsletter though. And this floral playsuit from their collaboration with Sinha Stanic caught my eye and immediately found itself in my file labelled 'dream summertime wardrobe' (sorry, it's a rubbish pic).

It breaks so many of my fashion rules - there's no sleeves, it's floral and, ouch, an elasticated waist - but somehow I still love it. Thankfully it's made from cotton and it's one of those outfits I always picture myself wearing skipping around in a field over a mythical English summer. £60 though! It's such a weeny bit of fabric.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

So Last-Year: Quilts 1700-2010

Wednesday night was the opening of Quilts 1700-2010 at the V&A. Expectation was high: there's already been an unprecedented amount of advance ticket sales. If you read the piece on crafts I did for Me and the Girl for Clapham's blog on International Women's Day, you'll know that I worked on the accompanying book. I've been living and breathing these objects for the last year and I was both excited and anxious to see the show.

The actual party was a lot of fun. Waiters with aprons decorated with the V&A/Liberty fabrics served a variety of traditionally British dishes. Sue Prichard, the curator, looked fantastically glamorous - in fact in our eagerness to tell her so, we managed to completely ignore Sarah Brown who Sue was trying to lead around the exhibition. Tracey Emin (since reading her biography Strangeland she's one of my favourite females) gave an interesting opening speech in which she successfully evoked the time, craftsmanship and love that have gone into each and every one of these quilts. She did also manage to repeat that love letters were used as the papers in the back of these quilts - Sue has spent a lot of time trying to refute this myth!

But onto the actual exhibition. I'm now so familiar with these objects and their stories I was envious of the people coming to the show with fresh eyes. These quilts are so beautiful and varied in their looks - some of them are so creatively bonkers compared to quilts produced today - that I think you would have some sense of discovery on seeing them for the first time.

The Sundial coverlet is one of my favourite pieces. It's used as the endpapers and on the flap of the book. It uses lots of different fabrics, sewn into individual panels: beautifully printed cottons in the most fabulous colours. In each corner of the quilt, on the blue, is a small map a different part of the country. The maker has stitched herself into a small corner of the eighteenth century.

I also love all the traditional Northumberland and Welsh quilts that gained widespread popularity in the early twentieth century: some were even commissioned for the new wing of Claridges. This star patterned quilt is in the museum's collection and was made in Northumberland.

The main criticism I've heard of the exhibition is that the contemporary quilts look less impressive compared to the older pieces. Certainly all the artists selected play heavily with the associations of the artwork. Maybe because we are used to judging and assessing contemporary art these look less arresting in comparison? Some of the new pieces are beautifully moving. Jennifer Vickers's quilt, for example, uses blank bits of paper sewn together, occasionally with the face of a missing person. It's obviously as laboriously put together as the historic quilts and, in its quiet way, is as emotionally effective.

There's no denying this is an emotional exhibition. I saw several women leaving the exhibition in tears. Partly this is the intimate atmosphere created in the museum. You're able to get really close to the quilts and see the stitches involved. It's also because of the subject matter, the many 'normal' women (and men) whose lives and dramas these quilts have been part of. It's because it seems an accessible skill open to anyone with some fabric, needle and thread and some paper. And out of this simple mix, you can find great beauty.

Will it, as Sue had hoped when putting the exhibition together, convert a new audience to quilt making? Perhaps, but there's no getting away from the fact these pieces are so labour intensive. I've been slaving over a cushion cover for about a year now. You just don't get the instant progress you do with knitting or other crafts.

It does succeed in making you look again, thinking about what you could create, rather than buy, and most importantly give a little pause for thought in our busy lives.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Last-Year's Reads: Cheap Chic

One of my favourite style guides is The Cheap Date Guide to Style. I love its attitude, that the woman maketh the clothes, not the other way round. They clearly took a book leaf or two out of Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. Cheap Chic was originally published in 1975 and its subtitle, Hundred of money saving hints to create your own great look, lays out its premise. It's the equivalent of Vogue's More Dash than Cash pages and its message is as applicable today as it was then: 'We've become spoiled in England. Surrounded by mass manufacturing and mass marketing, we stuff our closets with masses of mistakes.'

Caterine Milinaire was a French photojournalist, former editor of Youth Fashions for Vogue, Carol Troy was a New York based journalist and this book successfully combines the French chic with the American straight talking.

Like The Cheap Date Guide to Style, they feature interview with inspirationally stylish individuals. There's some huge names in there, like Diana Vreeland and Yves Saint Laurent, but there's also Ingeborg Day, a 34 year old Manhattan office worker, apparently 'normal' people selected because of their innate style.

Milinaire and Troy go through all the basics, from the undies up, complete with some pretty firm words on the importance of keeping a firm body that I don't think would have been allowed to pass for publication today. They play around with various classic looks, from cowboy to Ivy League and tell you how to do more things with a scarf than you can possibly imagine.

It's now out-of-print but try and track down a copy: it's the perfect book to pull from your shelf when you've convinced yourself you have nothing to wear. Their key advice?

'Find the clothes that suit you best, that make you feel comfortable, confident, sexy, good looking and happy ... and then hang onto them like old friends ... Nobody knows better than you what you should wear or how you should look.'

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Thursday, 11 March 2010

So Next-Week

I've got a busy old week coming up: I'm off to show Mr A.S. the delights of Lincolnshire tomorrow. Then two big events in my working life: the Domestic Sluttery first birthday on Tuesday and the opening of Quilts 1700-2010 on Wednesday.

There's a little piece I've written about one of my favourite style books planned for Monday and after that I'll try and get everything written up as fast as I possibly can, possibly in the wrong order! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

So Last-Year: Songs in the Key of London

Despite this rather sniffy review in the Telegraph, I had a lovely time at Songs in the Key of London last night. Although I did have to sit through some Jools Holland and Phil Daniels doing his best diamond geezer impression and hauling his beer belly around to Parklife, there were some really beautiful moments, not to mention the excitement of the Elvis Costello guest spot.

Here's Robyn Hitchcock's Trams of Old London:

And here's The Pogues' Rainy Night in Soho, which was beautifully covered by Tunng on the evening and brought a tear to the eye. Measure of my dreams indeed.

And finally, here's my second Elvis in a fortnight, singing (a long time ago) Man Out of Time, which on the night was beautifully covered by Blaine Harrison of the Mystery Jets. Harrison also took on ELO's Last Train to London - and won.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Last-Year Travels: A trip to Manchester to visit the King, part two

Now, the appeal of the second part of this trip isn't perhaps so immediately obvious. Why get up early on a Saturday morning, leave the bustling metropolis of Manchester and head to Stockport? Well, Stockport is the home of Hat Works, a museum of millinery. Before you think I dragged poor Mr A.S. over there to look at some fashionable hats, let me plead that this is his obsession. His (not-so) secret ambition is to open a fully interactive hat museum, somewhere in central London. We were there to sniff out the opposition.

Fortified by a sausage sandwich from the Night and Day cafe (this was my own little pilgrimage after years of hearing it mentioned on Steve Lamacq or John Kennedy's radio shows) we took the short trip. The lady at the desk seemed quite pleasantly surprised to hear of an out-of-Stockport postcode visiting. The interactivity was pleasantly high - with lots of hats to try on, some of which even fitted my big head. This was slightly worrying news to Mr A.S.: this was a central element to the appeal of his museum. Back to the drawing board on that front, I think.

There was a great temporary display based around the fate of hats in the twentieth century where we found out that motor cars, JFK and the Beatles were to blame for the death of the hat. Someone had gone pretty full out in their recreation of room sets - I was quite envious of some of the furniture on show (and also that they had a job which had cleared involved them rummaging around charity shops of the North West)

And then back to the Northern Quarter where I spent too long in vintage clothing shops and Mr A.S. spent too long flicking through records. He left empty-handed, I came back with a red number in my 'signature' pattern of polka-dots from this very well-stocked shop. I also managed to pick up a sneaky copy of Lula. The issue was devoted to Strawberry Shortcake and poor Mr A.S. was thanked for his lovely trip with tales of my pre-teen fandom...

So, all-in-all, a pretty perfect weekend. This coming weekend is the long awaited Lincolnshire trip. Can our Pier and Dock Tower counteract these delights? At least I know we've got the sausages covered.

International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day, the wonderful Me and the girl from Clapham has been asking people to do guest blogs loosely inspired by the subject. You can read my ranting on quilts, crafts, jam and the W.I. right here.
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