Thursday, 26 April 2012

Enjoying Art in McCall's 9722

After sewing for such a long time, you can imagine I have more than enough clothes. But one thing I didn't have was a simple black skirt. I dug this pattern out of my hoard:

(Get a load of her figure - the waist to hip ratio is almost Edwardian!)

Anyway, I've always been intrigued by this pattern as it is just one big piece, with what looks like clever draping and darting to give it shape:

Skirt pattern piece, bottom right
I had some plain black cotton drill left over from the Margiela inspired jacket that I made for Mr Needles in February, which had been folded neatly in one of the random piles I have around the house,  known as 'my projects'. Because I didn't want it to shrink after I made it, I thought putting it in the wash would be a good idea; the only problem was I didn't shake it out of its folds. Result - semi-permanent creases, and even some minor loss of colour on said creases! AAARRRRGGGHHH!!!

Big white crease!
There was no way I was going to waste such a large chunk of fabric, so I soldiered on, and would just have to live with the odd faded streak. And this is the result:

Me and a Russian Depeche Mode fan!

This was one of the quickest skirts I've ever made, and if I hadn't got so fixated with binding the hems and putting in lining, I probably would have finished it in 1 evening.

I love the way the clever draping at the sides lets the skirt fall over your hips:

Close up of pleating
I stuck to the pattern, and kept the back pleat sewn shut. This makes the skirt a little more restictive, and therefore you have to do that 'wiggle' thing when you walk.

 I decided to air this new skirt last Sunday, when I went along to the Southbank Centre with my good friend Issy. This is where the art part comes in - we saw 2 excellent exhibitions there, Brain Activity by David Shrigley, and Joy in People by Jeremy Deller. I've rarely had so much fun looking at art! The day started with a film by Deller about Depeche Mode fans around the world (see picture above), accompanied by art and banners made by fans from Russia:

Issy with some fan art! (I love her new Orla Kiely jacket)

A banner celebrating Depche Mode's record label boss?!?
Then we continued into the exhibitions. The Deller exhibition was particularly immersive; the artist celebrates and documents the everyday, often making you laugh at the absurdity of it, or make you look at that which you see all the time with a fresh eye. There were 3-d films of bat swarms, recreations of his teenage bedroom, spider graphs of the origin of House Music, even a replica of a greasy spoon cafe in the middle of the exhibition, with free tea for all!

Replica of Valerie's Snack Bar

The History of the World, 1997, by Jeremy Deller

Then on to David Shrigley, and his odd sense of humour. Again, the artist doesn't stick to one type of media, using everything from taxidermy to ceramics and film to make his point. He's particularly well known for his distinctive, scratchy drawings:

This was one of my favourites pieces:
There was also a taxidermied dead rat, just randomly placed in a corner; I have to admit I enjoyed seeing other visitors jump, and even scream, when they came upon it.

If you're in London, and you need cheering up, I'd definitely recommend both of these shows.

And do you like my new shoes? They're from Clarks, only £44.99.

Onslow Dance from Clarks shoes
They come in black too - I might have to get those as well!

Monday, 23 April 2012

A Stroll Down Savile Row

After receiving an email from The Chap, detailing the upcoming protest against Abercrombie & Fitch's expansion on Savile Row, I was inspired to take a look at the street on a recent walk around the West End. For those not familiar with it, Savile Row is the home of bespoke tailoring in Britain, with tailors having worked here for some 200 years.

Since I've lived in London, I've always taken time to walk down this historic street, and I never fail to stop and look at some of the beautiful displays of craftsmanship. If you're lucky, you'll see the staff in action in the workshops below:

Over the years, I've seen it change. Some of the old names have gone, some have modernised, like Gieves and Hawkes, and entirely new ones have established themselves, such as Ozwald Boateng and Richard James. It could be argued that Savile Row represents an outmoded elitism, but it has often been the site of rebellion - this was, after all, the road which the Beatles had their Apple headquarters located on, and where they staged their final concert, on the roof of no. 3 Savile Row.

No. 3 Savile Row, the site of the Beatles last concert

I also like this little oddity on the windows of Henry Poole:

Henry Poole, official tailor to Haile Selassie!

Whenever I walk down the Row, it's hard not to feel inspired, and a little proud that I live in a city with such a historic street devoted to such beautiful craftsmanship. 

But then you get to the end, and you're confronted with this:

No. 7 Burlington Gardens, otherwise known as the European flagship of Abercrombie and Fitch. Actually, you smell it before you see it - the perfume seeps out into the surrounding area in clouds. On a daily basis, crowds of tourists gather outside and spill into the road, while a bouncer (a bouncer in a clothes shop!) lets people in one at a time so they can buy over priced pastel t-shirts.  And this takes me back to the opening of this post: Abercrombie & Fitch aren't content with cluttering up the end of Savile Row; now they want to expand into the street itself with their childrenswear.

I don't know what makes me angrier - the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch feel they belong on this historic street, or that there are so many people taken in by their inane wares. They really are a triumph of style over content - the one and only time I went in, the majority of their stock seemed to consist of logo heavy t-shirts, with no innovation or craftsmanship whatsoever. Then I had to leave because the combination of heavy perfume, loud music, and no visible daylight was making me nauseous.

It's especially ironic when you look into the origins of the Abercrombie & Fitch name. Started in the late 19th century, it catered to the elite of New York, then all of America, specialising in sporting goods and travelling clothes. For example,they provided flying kit for Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh; over the years, their clients included Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and the Kennedys. But changing tastes and bad decisions led them into decline, and the company ultimately folded in the 1970's. (I actually remember my mum going to one of their clearance sales at the San Francisco branch. I seem to remember she came back with some beautiful brown brogues...)

So do what you can to stop this - join the protest on Monday, or sign the petition. I may never be able to afford anything from Savile Row, but I like knowing it's there, and that it helps keep alive a tradition in tailoring that we should be proud of.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Charity Shops Ain't What They Used to Be - the Biba Poster Dilemma

I'm not about to become a charity shop blogger - there are ladies much better at it, and more dedicated, than I am, like Lakota at Faith Hope and Chariy Shopping, or Scarlett Loves Elvis. But I had an experience in a local charity shop recently that has left me puzzled.

Let me explain.

I was practically brought up in charity shops ('thrift stores' to American readers, or 'op shops' to Australian readers). My mum would drag me around Goodwill as a child in San Francisco, and when I was a teenager, I liked nothing more than spending afternoons in the local Salvation Army, picking up bits and pieces that I would re-make. So the charity shop habit is hard to break. But it's frustrating in London, as I rarely find anything worthwhile- it all seems to be H&M from a couple of years ago - and don't even get me started on the prices.

But ever the optimist, I wandered into a local charity emporium with the hope of maybe finding a little treasure. (I won't name the shop, just that it rhymes with Boxjam...) I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw these tacked above the mens racks:

Could these really be Biba posters? And those shiny bits in the corners - is that sellotape? I had to get a closer look:

Sorry about the quality - I was nervous I would get told off for taking photos...

On closer inspection, they appeared to be the real thing - Biba logo in the corner, suitably aged and yellow. Could they be fakes or reproductions? I doubt it - not the sort of thing someone would bother faking, and the quality of the paper seemed too good. And they were stuck to the wall with big bits of sticky sellotape! SELLOTAPE!!!

I couldn't see a price. I approached the till, trying to act all casual. 'How much for the 2 posters over there?' Notice I didn't mention Biba, in case they put a huge price on it (tactics!). But I didn't expect this response:

Boxjam dude - 'They're not for sale.'

Me (flustered) - 'Really? Why not - I'm willing to offer a good price.' Of course, I had no idea what this would be. And the fact they'd treated them with such disrespect implied they didn't really care about them - so just take my money and give it to the starving children!!

'They're just for decoration. It's hard to display posters for sale, and these were just gathering dust downstairs, so, no - they're not for sale'

Me - 'OK, but you do realise they're probably worth quite a lot. Maybe they shouldn't be stuck up with tape?'

Charity guy - shrugs - 'They were just gathering dust, no one new they were there, so we just hung them up to brighten the place up.'

Me - 'Are you sure you won't sell them?'

'They're not for sale.'

And with that, I walked out of the store a bit dazed. Is it just me, or does anyone else think it's odd that a charity shop, that prides itself on helping the starving and needy abroad, would refuse an offer of money? Or should I have admired their defiantly anti-capitalist stance? Was it wrong of me to expect that the offer of money would get me whatever I wanted?

Maybe they were just junk, and I was getting all worked up over nothing. So I consulted the oracle of all antiques - Ebay - to find that the 1 of the posters, in good condition, was selling for $275/£173!!! (See it here

The posters were originally made to advertise Biba cosmetics around 1970, and were shot by Sarah Moon; the description in the Ebay listing exactly describes the one I saw. This made me even more frustrated, but of course I don't have a spare £170 for a poster. More than anything, I was just really annoyed that such lovely pieces were being treated so badly, and that a store which usually goes out of it's way to price more desirable pieces in a higher bracket had missed something so obvious.

What do you think? Have you ever had a similar experience?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Fabric Shopping in Amsterdam*

I love London, but every now and then you feel a bit worn out by it. Mr Needles and I were feeling this way recently, so we went on a little break to Amsterdam.

I hadn't been to this city for at least 16 years, when I was a student on a budget, so I was curious to see if it had changed, and if I would enjoy it. And of course, I had to see if there was any fabric to buy!

We stayed not far from and area called De Pijp ('the pipe'?), which is centred around a big street market on Albert Cuypstraat.

Tucked among the pickled herring stalls, a few vintage clothes shops, football paraphernalia, and the obligatory Bob Marley/marijuana leaf flags, there were some great fabric shops, and one of the best haberdashery shops I've ever been to, called Jan:

It had everything! Need feathers? They had every colour and size. Buttons? Too many to choose from! Bag handles, embroidered motifs, tons of zips, beads, yarn - I didn't really know where to start, as I didn't have a specific project I was working on. But I did buy this claw thing, which I'll make into a necklace, for about 2 euros:

 Mr Needles even got swept up in the excitement, and found this coin thing, which he's been wearing as a medallion:

There were also a number of fabric stalls, which I neglected to take any pictures of, but they were all pretty good, with a wide range of specialist and everyday fabrics, as well as some interiors fabrics. It was among a selection of said fabrics I found this for about 6.99 euros/metre:

It's like one of those t-shirts - 'I went all the way to Amsterdam, and all I got was this lousy London fabric'. But it's far from lousy, and I think it will make a great pencil skirt.

Other than that, Amsterdam was a great fun, and a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of London.

Here are some other facts about the city, the result of my not very reliable research -

They like cheese. A LOT:

Bikes are the dominant form of transport. This is rush hour:

If you like cats, you're in luck, as most cafes seem to have them, and they're very friendly, to the point of pushy:

But I think this one had been smoking:

*And speaking of smoking, the title of this blog is not a euphemism for buying funny cigarettes - I can't stand the stuff!

The city is beautiful. You turn a corner and are confronted with storybook scenes on a regular basis:

Heinekin is more popular than water:

The most succesful Dutch artist isn't Rembrandt, but Dick Bruna, the creator of Miffy:

And you have to make the obligatory trip to the Red Light district, which seems to have been cleaned up a great deal since I was last there. It also seemed pretty small, really just a few windows around a small section of canal:

If anything, it's worth a laugh watching goggle-eyed teenage tourists (mostly boys) who don't know where to look!

And that's my far from comprehensive guide to Amsterdam. See you soon!

Snood and Earrings Competition - Winner!

It's time to announce the winner of my first competition. I'll refresh your memory regarding the prizes:

A snood crocheted by me:

and a pair of earrings, made out of buttons, again by me:

As it is coming up to Easter, I thought it was appropriate to use my glass chicken for the prize draw. Here it is with the entries:

And the winner is......

La Sophia!

Brilliant! I'm sure she'll be able to incorporate it into one of her fabulous outfits. Sophia, send me your address, and I'll make sure your goodies get to you as soon as possible... And for those who didn't win, I'm sure this will be the first of many giveaways, so check back for more. In the meantime, have a look at Sophia's blog, and her creative way with a thrifstore find.

Take care!