The urge to procrastinate

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I’m back studying 3 days a week at the moment, which means that I am feeling the urge to procrastinate. I’m not sure why the two go together – I’m enjoying the study so far – but whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing, you can guarantee that I’m doing something else. And the something else very rarely involves work, either. You’d think by now I would have managed to play off my two main causes of procrastinating against each other. But no. So, instead of reading about cultural material conservation, like a good little masters candidate, I’m wondering how to start a museum of fashion in Australia. As far as I know, there is nothing of the kind already.

It might be that I was inspired from my travels through the UK last year during the lost months of blogging, and just how many places there are for a costume nerd to visit. Everywhere from Killerton House, in the wilds of Devon, to the V & A in London, or the civilised Museum of Costume in Bath. And that’s without moving off a single train line. After I dragged an uncomplaining friend through 2 weeks of clothing historicism – complete with dress ups, which were photographed but will never, ever be shared with anyone who wasn’t there – I was very upset at the lack of similar enjoyment opportunities at this end of my flight. That was after I got over, or at least accepted, the terrible quality of almost every photo I took on the trip. Camera shaking in excited hands, where you can’t use a flash? Leads to blur, reflection, and frustration. Guess which picture from this post was taken by me. A quick google search both before and after my trip led to disappointment on all sides. There are a couple of private collections which are occasionally open for viewing; there are touring exhibitions, like the Edward Steichen exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – worth a trip for anyone in Melbourne, just to marvel at the beading on the exquisite 1920s evening wear if nothing else – but there is nothing more permanent. And this made me sad. Australian fashion history is neither long nor, according to some, terribly illustrious. But it is being lost. The online Australian Dress Register is probably the closest we have to a permanent display. It suggests that there are collectors out there, and that there is enough interest for people to have begun a digital record of what is held in private hands. It is a missed opportunity to let it slide.

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So, while I put off finishing a reading about the need for uncertainty in conservation, I’ve been daydreaming and finding ways to spend millions of dollars. And that was before it occurred to me to check fashion and costume auction listings… As a semi-employed student, there’s no hope of me ever realising this particular day dream. But a girl can dream. And in the mean time, she can procrastinate some more looking into funding and finding the perfect building to house it…and making lists of potential acquisitions…and drooling over photos… and, in short, anything that isn’t what she is supposed to be doing.

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LIes, damned lies and statistics

It’s an often quoted line, sure. Statistics don’t always tell the truth. But in this case I’m more than a little curious. And yes, I am aware that me posting again so soon is a statistical improbability, thus already proving my argument. But that’s beside the point.

The point is that as a blogger, I use the many WordPress tools available to me to kill time when I’m at my desk theoretically working on other things. Namely, what I’m paid to do. This doesn’t always serve to keep me occupied, so my mind wanders off on tangents. Like how it is that I can have a post with several likes, that I put up earlier today, and yet the stats page tells me that I’ve only had one viewer in the past 24 hours. Clearly, there have been more people out there checking this out, but they’re not showing up. Where does the trick come in?

I know. I’m supposed to blog for the sheer love of it. And based on the fact that an old blog of mine ran for 6 years with only 2 readers that I know about – one of whom was a pretty good friend but became the reason that I discontinued the blog after so long, thanks to their constant email begging for an update on the blog rather than information in real time during our increasingly rare catch-ups – I think it’s safe to say that I really do just write because the inclination – or inspiration – strikes. I would have kept plugging away quite happily if not for my own stubborn unwillingness to provide her with insight into my life. I don’t require validation to write – it’s as necessary to me as reading, sleeping, breathing. That said, it’s nice to know if you’re hitting the mark with something, if there are others who are regular visitors, or if you’re just talking to the walls. If nothing else, it gives me a means to gauge how much of me to disclose. So why is there a gap between the feedback I receive, and the stats page? Where is the black hole?

Is there anybody out there who knows this? Or anybody out there at all? Because right now there’s an insomniac camped by their keyboard waiting for an answer…

It’s the Little Things…

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It seems somewhat petty to post what I was doing the day after Anzac Day, Australia’s national day for commemorating war dead. After spending the day contemplating the effects of various battles, of hearing about what happened in Tobruk, at Messines Ridge, Beersheba, Long Tan, Kokoda, Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan and, of course, Gallipoli, I found myself contemplating Gumtree instead. Specifically, contemplating the effects of my Gumtree perusal and bullying of my father. Ethel now has new wheels (which I haven’t yet photographed as Ethel and her wheels are still in two different suburbs. Whole other story). It was while I was doing this that I came to certain conclusions about an article I’d read the day before.

Sam Brito blogs for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. His blog is usually on subjects relating to men’s view of the world and is an often entertaining read. On Anzac Day, he blogged instead about the perceived differences between my generation and that of my grandparents – the ones dubbed the “Great Generation” for having lived through such momentous events. After my initial read, I was quite happy to concede his point. I very much doubt that I would have been comfortable picking up a rifle and trotting along to the western front. It was only later – after starting to fume at the assumption that it was a good thing to blithely accept the declaration of a war on my behalf, and deciding that war would be a very different thing today – that I really gave serious thought to his basic premise, that the current generation are useless and soft. That was when I started the comparisons.

Let’s leave my grandfathers out of the equation for the moment. They played their own part in proceedings, but back in WW2, I would not have been on the same playing field with them (whatever I may think about that today). The only fair comparison I can make is with my female forebears. My grandmothers are very different women. One of them was a seamstress by trade, raised in a large working class family and growing up sharing a bed – not a bedroom folks, that’s a bed – with 2 of her 5 sisters. She was very much what Brito was talking about, able to get down to it and make do with whatever came to hand. The other grandmother is a spoiled only child used to having everything delivered to her on a plate – much like what the current generation are accused of being. Yet she survived the war, and often casts up the hardships of being away from her husband and the general privations suffered as an excuse for her poor behaviour and sense of entitlement today. The other grandmother never mentioned any of it.

You might guess from the descriptions which one I’m most like. So yes, I like to think I would have coped admirably with life as a woman in WW2 Australia. I get by with what I have, make do, and I mend surprisingly well. I can bake – and improvise to get around rationing. I can handle the stress of parting, and I can put up with terrible conditions when I know there is no alternative. I’m more realist than princess, so I think I’d cope just fine. And, as the assembly of Ethel’s new wheels shows, I can turn my hand to many different fields. Sure, i couldn’t pull a Nancy Wake and become a hero of the Resistance – but neither could most people, which is what makes those who can do it much more notable. I like to think I’d at least manage to be a Jessica Mitford, but the truth is that I’m more likely to be her sister, Nancy.

So what is the outcome of all this linking and thought? Well, even my princcess-ish grandmother made it through the war years intact. As did her aircraft mechanic husband. And given that at least part of the “Great” generation was roundly criticised throughout the 20s for their wayward and fast lifestyle (flappers, anybody? Bright young things?), what nobody has looked at is the possibility that the times made the generation great, not necessarily the people. Cometh the hour, and all that. It’s a terrible way to find out what your generation is made of, and not one that should be wished for in any sense.Wishing for a lasting global peace is probably the only thing the critics and I have in common. Huh, who knew that was possible? Meanwhile, I’ll take the best of Rosie, and be on my peaceful way – continuing to refuse to take weapons against enemies and disputing anyone who says there is a need for any conflict.

A Shameless Plug

Yep. This post is completely a shameless plug of another persons’s blog. But it’s an extremely well written and very entertaining blog, so i figure it’s alright. Plus, I haven’t reviewed another blog for a little while now, so I was due to venture forth into the blogosphere. The fact that doing so earns me an entry in a competition to win stuff – free shoes!!! who could say no? – is entirely beside the point.

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The Duchess herself, in full regalia

For those who aren’t aware, American Duchess is home to many things relating to historical sewing, re-enacting, and general interest. The lovely Lauren has created some truly spectacular outfits and blogged about them, to share her knowledge with the world. In an even greater triumph, she has also created a line of shoes to match historical periods. Her 1920s shoes are enough to make me squee, and I’m just waiting to see what she comes up with when she hits the 30s and 40s. Her contribution to accurate historical outfits hasn’t ended with footwear, though. She is also responsible for designing several prints on Spoonflower (a website worthy of a post all its own). With all that, it’s amazing that she has time to blog at all, but she does, regularly updating on her current projects, inspirations, and outfits. It’s an entertaining read and well worth a look if your sewing bent leans to the historical.

Plus, she gives stuff away. What’s not to love?

Lost Arts

I was walking to the gym the other morning before work and saw something that made me think of some of Mum’s old tales of her early working life. Admittedly, it was quite early so I might have been mistaken. But I don’t think so.

A woman was walking down the street towards me. She was a bit older, I guess, and one of the regulars that I see in my made dash to get to the gym in time for my session. It’s a busy road, so there’s always lots of people, but some, like this lady, I see most mornings. Her and the workmen on the massive building site who are always incongruously well behaved and polite. But I digress. This particular woman was walking along, bag slung over her arm with the strap nestled in the bend of her elbow, looking quite intently at things other than the footpath. She was knitting. And I’m not talking about a scarf. This was something that required concentration to follow the pattern. Something needing skill, and tension control. Something I would struggle with if I was sitting down in the most comfortable chair in the world.

Very few people knit their own things these days – far fewer than those who sew, I think. Wool is just so expensive, and it takes so much time to either complete something, or get good enough to do it quickly. It wasn’t always the case. Knitting was once one of the essential skills of womanhood. Or, for the more upmarket, crochet to trim lace borders. It’s so much easier to just go to the shop and buy the things, knitted by people paid a pittance in other countries, or by machines. But here was this woman, so enthusiastic about her knitting – or on such a tight deadline – that even the walk to the station was used for it.

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Mum used to tell stories about her working life back in the late ’60s and early 70s when it was not uncommon for women to knit on the train on their way to work. This was obviously in a time before the peak hour rush on trains meant travellers barely had enough space to put a book in front of their face, let alone manage needles, wool and pattern book, but it still can’t have been easy. My own abortive attempts at knitting ended up with tangles, dropped stitches, and mis-matched sleeves. Hate to think what it would have turned out like if I was on a train when doing it. Also hate to think about what my fellow passengers would think if I pulled it out. But apparently it’s not so long ago that you’d keep your ball of wool in your handbag and knit away happily for the duration of your trip. It’s not that much further back in time that it was not considered strange to buy a pattern to knit not just a jumper or a cardigan, but an entire dress or coat.

What has happened to the art of knitting? There was a bit of a revival a few years back, famous people taking up needles and making themselves wonky scarves that were never worn, but it never seems to have developed into anything. As the weather cools, I’m tempted to pull out last year’s shot at a cardigan and see if it can be salvaged. Because I need another distraction in my life – something to keep my mind off the looming lack of income if threatened redundancies at work mean I am no longer seeing the knitting woman of a morning.

The Journal

I’ve been a collector of vintage patterns for many years now and find that my collection is rapidly outgrowing my ability to store it properly. That doesn’t stop me from adding to it though – far from it. One of the biggest single contributors to my collection is the Australian Home Journal.

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But that’s a magazine, I hear you say. And you’d be right, of course. The Home Journal was a magazine, but it was so much more than that. For one thing, each issue came with patterns to make the dresses (or hats, coats, toys – anything, really) that was shown on the cover. Which is how it came to be in my collection so frequently. For women who made their own – and their children’s – clothes and lived on a strict budget, the magazine was a god send. It gave them patterns, but it also provided them with reading material. Each issue was crammed with helpful hints for housewives: stories, knitting patterns, advice, recipes, you name it, it was there, in a breezy and topical fashion perfect for the woman who was likely to be interupted at any moment.

It’s all from a blissfully simple point of view, that everything a woman needs to know can be found in this one magazine. There is nothing about what’s happening in the wider world (although wartime issues did have handy hints for around the home, ways of making-do-and-mending). There is no hint that a woman could have a life outside of her family. My inner feminist ought to be shrieking in horror at some of the tips (one article from the magazine pushed the boundaries by demanding, “Why must we try to be slim?” The power of the headline was somewhat diminished by the sheer weight of slimming products that featured during the life of the Journal). Somehow, though, it all seems so completely foreign to my own lifestyle that it qualifies as a quaint reminder of both how far women have come and how far there is still to travel. The only areas retaining any relevance for me, other than as artefacts of a bygone era, are the sewing patterns.

I’m not sure what happened to the Australian Home Journal. I can’t find out much about it online. My mother tells stories about wearing dresses made from the patterns when she was a little girl, back in the hey day of the magazine in the 1950s. She seems familiar with it into the 1960s – enough that she when she came across some in her travels, she gave me a shoebox of them as a present one Christmas and then sat down and told me which outfits she’d made. The earliest mentions I can find date back to the 1920s, but it seems to peter out in the 1970s with nothing at all beyond 1982. Is it that the women of Australia had moved on? My own mother was still a housewife at that point, with 3 young children at home and a very tight budget. She was far from unusual among the mothers of my peers when I went to school, although perhaps more handy with a needle than most. Is it just that the magazine wars between New Idea and Woman’s Day killed off the rivals who did not stoop to scandal and celebrity – both notably absent from the issues of the AHJ that I’ve seen. There are certainly no magazines that I’m aware of today that covered the breadth of topics in this magazine without descending into sensationalism. Whatever happened to the magazine, it lives on with collectors. There’s many an ebay bidding battle over the treasured early issues. I’ve never managed to get my hands on an actual magazine pre-1945, although I do have a couple of closely guarded patterns from earlier issues, magnificently complicated affairs from the late 1930s, full of slash-and-gather detailing. And I mourn for the collection that my mother talks about, my grandmothers boxes of magazines and patterns that were just thrown away when she and my granfather moved out of the family home back about the time that the Journal seems to have disappeared. If only we could know in advance what the generations to come will find interesting.

The Bug Lady

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It seems I am going through a phase of being attractive to – ahem – wild life at the moment. First, there was the sighting of The Thing in my bunker. Yesterday, the world of bugs struck again.

Out for my Sunday constitutional, it was somewhat later than I normally endure exercise, so I was hot and sweaty. A particularly persistent fly was buzzing around me, much to my annoyance. It’s hard to keep to a set pace when you’re waving your arms like a mad woman in an attempt to rid yourself of the little pest. It was sticky, buzzy, and more than I was prepared to deal with. But it got it’s revenge on my continued attempts to swat it.

Not only was I sweaty, red faced, and decidedly hot, but I was also short of breath. Which meant my mouth was open when the fly got too close. And when I say too close, I mean that it was inside my mouth and part way down my throat before I even put the equation together and started to gag. Yep, I swallowed a fly.

Just to round out the grossness, there was another incident at work today. My office is the reverse of my sewing bunker. It’s a glass box, for the most part, with the windows to the back looking out over garden beds which have struggled in the recent lack of rain. It seems they aren’t the only things to have suffered though. Some of the wild life has been drawn out, and I don’t mean the swans that have appeared on the lake.

It took a moment to notice what was climbed along the flower stalk of an iris. Then, just as the stalk wouldn’t support the weight anymore, I realised that it was a rat moving through the greenery.

Yep. Flies, vermin. It’s all happening around me at the moment. Does give a whole new meaning to the rustling I’ve heard in the grass on my way into the office of a morning…