Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Coming back into fashion

Don't hold your breath.  In the grand scheme of things I don't move quickly, but I'm coming back into fashion.

It all began nearly forty years ago at college.  I won't write about how I got there just now but I should say that for the first three years our main subject was called "Dress and Textiles" with the emphasis on Dress.  It took me about 18 months to cotton on to what was required.  I thought I just had to demonstrate good dressmaking skills whereas what was really needed was innovation.

The top designers of the day were people like...  er ..oh yes,  Bill Gibb and ...  er ....  oh dear.  I really can't remember any more.  Because I only really noticed Zandra Rhodes.  And when I suddenly understood that each design brief was an invitation to do exactly as we wanted, I took off.

This assignment was to design and make an outfit based on an ethnic source.  I printed the design (based on old Chinese landscape paintings) on satin and the top had a chinese-style jacket openening with rouleau loops and covered buttons, all heavily influenced by Zandra Rhodes.

Here's another, possibly my favourite and I think perhaps the first one I designed after realising you could make what was in your head, no matter whether anyone had seen anything like it before.

In case you're wondering, the idea came from a photograph of a green and salmon-pink conch shell, a little like this one, only with bottle green on the widest parts of the shell:

See?  No?  Oh, well, turn the shell 90 degrees anti-clockwise.  There you have it.  The salmon-pink border is the muslin underdress, plain salmon-pink.  The cheesecloth tabard is made of one huge piece of fabric, (well, two, one back and one front) printed and then smocked over the whole bodice to create those  little lines you see on the shell. 

I should mention that when I say printed, what I actually did was make card masks which I pinned to the plain white fabric.  I then hung the lengths on the wall in the print room, mixed my dyes and applied to yards and yards (well, they were all yards then, not a metre in sight) using only a spray diffuser.  Luckily I was a clarinet player and knew about breathing.  It was impressive, none the less.

So there we were, immersed in fashion for two or three years.  When I say fashion, I do of course mean the sort of things worn on catwalks and shown in Vogue, not what the woman-in-the-street was wearing.  I did wear my outfits, though, at parties. I'm sure many of the others on my course continued to be influenced by and to some extent work in the world of fashion.  By the time we had to specialise in our fourth (degree) year, though, I had become more interested in our 'second' subject of textiles: construction, dyeing and embellishment, and I drifted away from fashion completely. 

Now, I'm coming back into fashion.  Where the development of my work and business is concerned, though, I do play a very long game indeed.  And I'm talking very small scale. 

I'm not known as the Purple Potter for nothing -  I do wear a lot of purple, with red, pink and couple of other colours thrown in for variety.  There are many colours I don't wear and some I really can't as anything remotely green tinged does hideous things to my skin.  I do love all colours, though, and enjoy seeing other people wearing them, so I'm going to make silk painted scarves.  I bought some scarves to try about three years ago, last summer I decided to get on with it and last week I made my first scarf.  I'll do a second and possibly a third this week, just to establish what I want to do and what materials I might need to order and then I'll be putting the project aside until later in the year.  As I said, the long game. 

There are other ideas bubbling away in there, though.  Earrings and brooches to go with the scarves.  Friendly plastic.  I'll say no more for the moment, but watch this space.  Eventually.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Magazine prescriptions

I've not been quite well.  Most of my general malaise has been caused by antibiotics, which I finished yesterday.  This afternoon I've been womanfully resisting going to bed for a sleep because I Must Be Better.  Well, I am, enough.

So yesterday and today I finished my filing.  Some of this filing goes back about 9 months because last time I did it there remained a few categories unfiled which went back into the filing tray.  But now it's finished.

So far today I have been fairly productive:  a useful Team Viewer session with Dad, helping him create some labels, researching suppliers of silk dupion for my next batch of textile canvasses, and one or two other desk jobs.  However, steam having more or less run out, I didn't feel well enough to do anything else remotely demanding so I thought I might take on the Magazine Mountain.

Some months ago I resolved to reduce the pile of magazines waiting to be read by trying to read one per day until the mountain became a foothill.  (I have other piles of magazines - those needing filing in order, those needing culling for recipes or pictures, etc.  This pile is magazines I receive on subscription and is the Magazine Mountain.) My resolve didn't last, though and the Mountain has achieved new heights.

Mum buys me Country Living on subscription.  I've been getting this magazine one way or another since it first came out, which I think must have been in the early eighties.  It used to be much more about the sort of life I led or would have liked to.  These days not so much but it still has the sort of recipes and food articles I like and pictures of homes I'd like to live in if someone would like to give me the million pounds or so required to buy one.  I enjoy the magazine, though.  As much as anything, I enjoy the way the various section editors use colour and often harvest photos of things just to remind myself of colour combinations.  There are interesting bits and pieces to read, too.  I keep some of the back copies so that if my parents come and visit there are some for Mum to read, but as they don't visit as often as they used to there is less need for this.

Country Living is issued monthly and I probably read most issues before the next one arrives.  They then go in the pile, for Mum to read when she visits or, if older, for cannibalisation by me before recycling.

 I've written about Crafts magazine on this blog before.  In brief (well I'll try, but you know me) - I've subscribed to Crafts almost since its beginning.  I'm missing about 5 issues from the first 18 months but other than that have every issue published.  It's rarely about anything resembling the sort of work I do and yet I still find it occasionally inspirational and always at least pleasing to look through.  Back copies are now stored under and behind a table in my attic studio.  They're still available if I crawl under the table.  There's a general principle of moving copies to "back copies" status at the end of a calendar year or sooner if I've finished reading them.

Crafts is published bi-monthly.  I rarely read it straight away and it became something of a casualty during the Pear-shaped Year.

Ceramic Review is also a bi-monthly magazine.  I probably find it less inspirational than Crafts because my ceramics work is slow to change and progress.  Making, as I do, primarily tableware for everyday use, for the most part I'm content to maintain (or during and after the Pear-shaped Year try to catch up with) stock levels of the things that people always want while occasionally doing something a little different just for variety.  Some of the articles in Ceramic Review are very informative, though, because even if they are about processes or materials or styles not relevant to my work, some of the information or ideas are transferrable.

A year or so ago I contemplated going through all the back issues of Ceramic review, removing and filing all the articles I thought would be of future interest and recycling the rest.  This idea was met with such horror by John West of Lansdown Pottery, that I just couldn't go through with it.  So back copies of Ceramic Review are filed on a shelf in the study, behind the table (so you have to pull the table out to access them, but not exactly underneath.)  The problem with this is that they have filled up the available space and are now being stacked flat on top of the row.  Not ideal and eventually, (soon?) this space, too, will be filled.  And what will I do then?

The Magazine Mountain lives just underneath the calendar on my desk.  Well, that's where it started out.  As the Pear-shaped Year and it's only slightly less busy following friend progressed, the MM grew so that this morning I noticed it completely covered the calendar, which has therefore to be taken down to be consulted.  This Will Not Do.

I enjoy using the malapropism of magazines on prescription anyway, but allofasudden it struck me - is that what these magazines have become, a prescription?  Something that is good for me so I order it, pay for it and bring it in to my home with the best of intentions but rather less conviction.  Do I get Crafts and Ceramic Review because they're professionally Good For Me or because I really want them?

I'll fess up.  I dismantled the MM and distributed it into the piles of three publications.  There were 11 copies of Country Living, all at least partially read and most just waiting to have pics cut out.  It's less than a year's worth, anyway.  Remember, Crafts and Ceramic Review are bi-monthly.  Of each of these, there were 18 copies, that's THREE YEARS' worth!  And, (my name is Jane and I'm a magazine non-reader) there were 16 publications that had not even been taken out of their polythene wrappings.

So - what to do?  Catch up with my reading, file and promise to read all magazines on receipt?  Cancel one or more subscriptions?  Continue, but start marmelising the back issues into lever arch files so the rest can be recycled?  (Sorry, John.)

Suggestions on a postcard.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ruby Thomas' Lemonade

It's been a while since I wrote a foodie post for this blog, so it's overdue.

I like to make jams, pickles etc as Christmas presents but for one reason or another it wasn't a jam-making sort of year so I was looking for some substitutes.  I made a rather tasty grapefruit marmelade (not nearly enough left for us so I may have to make some more.  I also decided to make a batch of Ruby Thomas' Lemonade.  I used to make this often but had completely lost my copy of the recipe.  I had to seek help from The Oracle (also known as my mother) and fortunately she still had the original.

Ruby Thomas was a friend of my maternal grandmother's when she was out in India.  My grandfather (well, both of them, actually) was in the army and they came back to the UK on leave for a few months only to be prevented from returning by the outbreak of war, so this recipe dates back to the 1930s.  Now, we think of lemonade as a fizzy drink but this is in the old tradition of home-made lemonade that you see people in old movies drinking in hot weather (or indeed permanently hot places like the southern states of America), so it's more of a cordial.  I've found it very good made with hot water if you want a winter pick-me-up.  I daresay you could put honey in it or something stronger if you wanted it for a cold remedy.

As I said, I haven't made this for many years; I think I stopped because it's made from sugar.  I haven't ever changed my eating habits much but I do drink sugar-free when I can.  I wasn't sure I could even get the ingredients any more but the Epsom Salts were available from Boots and the acids from our local wine-making shop.  A word of warning - when I read the Epsom Salts tub I found that they should not be consumed by pregnant women.  It says breastfeeding women too but we checked with the maternity hospital who said there was no problem after the birth.

Ruby Thomas' Lemonade
6 lemons
3 lbs granulated sugar
2 oz Epsom Salts
2 oz citric acid
1 oz tartaric acid

A large mixing bowl.  If you are fortunate like I am, your mother will have offered you one of her two Mason Cash bowls when she downsized.  If not, improvise.  Use more than one bowl if necessary. 


In a large mixing bowl, mix sugar, grated lemon rinds, acids and salts. 

Add the juice of the lemons and stir.  

Pour in 4-5 pints boiling water, depending on how much you can fit in your mixing bowl!

Stir and leave to cool.  Strain if necessary then pour into bottles, preferably sterilised as you would sterilise jars for jam.

Should make about 5 large bottles.  The lemonade will keep a month or two in the bottles but once opened, keep in the fridge where it should keep for a couple of weeks.

To use, dilute with water to taste, probably 1 part lemonade to 4 or 5 parts water.