Friday, June 18, 2010

Great Moments in Fabric Literature, Vol XX -Moroccan edition

On the hottest day so far, I tell Rachid I would like to look at fabric. We visit workshops where men sit on rugs sewing djellabas and embroidering the necklines. In the street, they card the thread, extending it and pulling it on to rolls. I resist ordering one of these splendid garments because it would hand in my closet until doomsday. I would like to find silk for table draperies or curtains. But most everything is precut to three meters, enough to make the djellaba. I find one square of antique ivory silk embroidered with apricot flowers.Rachid steps back when bargaining begins. Nothing ever seems to have a price, and I'm pressed to offer one. I offer so little that the seller appears to be shocked. Rachid puts his hand to his mouth to hide a smile. "What will you pay, madame?" I offer slightly more, then the seller says he must have four hundred euros. This is so far from what I would pay that I thank him, compliment him on the silk and walk away. He's dumbfounded that the American has escaped, having bought only a silver hand of Fatima.

Frances Mayes, A Year in the World pages 189-190, 2006

Do you shop for fabric when you travel? I have never been able to. I have travelled all over the world, but it seems as if there is no fabric anywhere I go. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Hunting Creek has made it his business to avoid locations that have possible fabric buying opportunities. Once when we were in Thailand I had fifteen minutes of unsupervised shopping and was able to buy a handwoven wall hanging, but that's about it. If I venture to say that I might like to look at some fabric my daughter will say in a shocked tone, "Mom! You have enough fabric!" (I'd like to point out that I never say things like this when she looks at shoes, sandals, designer sunglasses and clothing.)

If you like to travel via reading before you actually, physically go somewhere, take a look at Frances Mayes' books about traveling. It's almost as good as going.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

School for Scoundrels?

Every Golden Bear had a chuckle yesterday (I laughed out loud, and Mr. Hunting Creek said, "What are you laughing at?" and I told him and he laughed too.) when we read the news that the famous student-poseur who had lied and was admitted to Harvard was also admitted to Stanford!
We always teased Stanford students about their lax admission standards across the bay, but as my kids say, seriously? (Just say that you cured cancer, found the Holy Grail and discovered a Lost City in the Andes! It seems like they'll believe anything.)

A few years ago I was working on a project with a famous Private University that will remain nameless, and I was the person in charge of creating log-ins for the users. I sent emails to all the expected users, with explicit instructions on how to access their site. I was too sanguine, of course; my instructions would have been explicit to a Cal grad, but not to the prestigious Private University users.
The access instructions read in part:
Your user name is your first initial, last name, with the last four digits of your Social security number. The first password is the name of the University. The system will prompt you to change it once you are signed in.
For example, JSmith1234 Password: Private University Name
You would not believe how many users called me to say that their user names weren't working. Yes, you guessed it! They were all using JSmith1234
Or if they figured out what the name part was, had trouble with the name of their prestigious Private University as their password.

Go Bears!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Great Moments in Fabric Literature, Vol XIX

The people, that Christmas Party night, were indeed nice. We wore our formals: skirts not less than eight nor more than fifteen inches from the floor, dresses of light but not bright colors and of materials semi-transparent or opaque, necklines not more than three inches below the collar bone and sleeves long or elbow length. We all passed the requirements of the catalog, but with such delectable additions as long chiffon scarves twined around our necks in the best Nita-Naldi-brochitic manner, or great artificial flowers pinned with holiday abandon on our left shoulders. Two or three of the Seniors had fox furs slung nonchalantly about them, with the puffy tails dangling down over their firmly flattened young breasts in a most fashionable way.

The Gastronomical Me; M.F.K. Fisher, 1943

If you want to visit a Lost World, read about life in the 1920's and thirties in M.F.K. Fisher's semi-autobiographical book. I say "semi" because Mary Frances was never one to let the truth stand in the way of a good story. As my family would say, if it isn't true, it should be!
This was a time when people Dressed for Dinner, and there were very specific rules for exactly what one should wear. It is so different from our New Casual Society as to require translation, almost.
If you haven't read any M.F.K. Fisher, you are missing out on some of the most graceful writing of the twentieth century. It's a misconception that she writes about food; that's just the subtext. She is really writing about hunger in all of its manifestations, and that's a much larger subject.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Great Moments in Fabric Literature, Vol XVIII - Historical Edition

When the Lord and Lady got up, servants and maids helped them wash and dress...Men's and women's dress was similar, both wore stockings made of wool or silk, then a shirt with long sleeves, which were often detachable and worn so fashionably tight that they had to be stitched on each time the shirt was worn. Detachable sleeves were a favorite gift, especially as a love token. A tunic or gown went over the shirt, secured with a brooch; above a full skirt a lady's gown had a tight-fitting bodice, while both the shirt and tunic might be slashed and laced above the waist to reveal her bare skin. Then came a coat, or surcoat, and in cold weather a fur-lined pelisse, often sleeveless, might be worn on top. Out of doors a mantle might be thrown over everything, fastened at the shoulder by another brooch. The poor wore shorter garments; for the rich the sheer length of their clothes was a way of displaying wealth- although the young Henry II became known as Curtmantle when he reversed the usual trend and set a fashion for short cloaks. Since clothes were made without pockets, coins and valuables were commonly carried in a purse attached to the belt, though they could be tied into a skirt or shirt sleeves...They wore thin soled leather shoes. It was said that the shoes of an elegantly dressed gentleman would fit so well that no one could see how he had got into them or imagine how he would get out of them again.

1215, The Year of Magna Carta; Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. 2003

My favorite part of history is learning how people actually lived their lives. And really, what could be more interesting that how other people lived hundreds of years ago? I love the fashion ideas from 1215 - slashed bodices and sleeves to show skin, (like torn jeans?), detachable sleeves (great idea!) and sleeves so tight that they had to be sewn on each time. Also what could be more itchy than woolen stockings? When you recall that they only had silk, wool and linen for clothes you begin to appreciate cotton and all of our modern fabric choices.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Half is better than none

Eileen danced on, unaware that half of Bob had become detached (again!) while they were walzing to the Blue Danube.
Debbie checks her magic charm bracelet. Is it time to restore Bob's missing half? No, she'll wait to the end of the dance, when it's her turn to waltz with Bob.
(If disembodied dates don't bother you, find the pattern here.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Simple Gifts

I had a frugal moment at Trader Joe's. I usually use Agave Syrup to sweeten my iced tea, because I like it slightly sweet and sugar doesn't dissolve in the cold tea. I don't like it as sweet as Sweettea (all one word around here, from the Mason-Dixon line on south.) But while poking around at Joe's, I saw a bottle of labeled "Simple Syrup" for about $2.59 or thereabouts. (Agave syrup ain't cheap either.) Now simple syrup is commonly used by bartenders to sweeten cocktails; it is a mixture of sugar and water. I can buy five pounds of sugar for about $2.59. But what a great idea - a bottle of syrup to use to make my tea sweet- for pennies! (My inner Scrooge was delighted - more money left for goat cheese and dark chocolate!) I decided to make my own simple syrup for summer use, recipes for which are easily obtained in any classic cookbook.
I made mine by bringing to a boil one cup sugar and one cup water.(You can also use more sugar or more water. The ratio is up to you. I have seen 2 cups sugar to one cup water but that's way too sweet for me.)Then I let it cool and poured it into a cleaned and sterilized 16 ounce vinegar bottle that I had bought to use to make my infused vinegars.
You can flavor your simple syrups with lemon or orange peel, with a vanilla bean or with all kinds of fruit. When I make lemonade I infuse it with lemon peel. It also makes a nice hostess gift in a pretty bottle along with some nice tea and some lemons. But for my iced tea purposes, I leave it plain. It's decadant and frugal at the same time. It costs pennies to make. I know what's in it. And I feel smug every time I pass that bottle on the shelf at Trader Joe's.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scary Pattern Illustration

I don't know why images like the faceless woman pictures disturb me so, but they do. I would even go so far as to avoid buying patterns that have faceless illustrations.
That's one reason (out of many reasons) why I don't like Connie Crawford's Butterick Patterns. The anonymous faceless robot women creep me out.
This style is a little KGB-agent for my taste as well. But if you don't mind wearing Femme Nikita's Blue Power suit, you can find it here.
Do you think those buttonlike thingies are control knobs?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Great Moments in Fabric Literature, Vol XVII, Fairy Edition

Everyone was dressed in the very height of fashion. The ladies wore gowns of the most exquisite colours (though to own the truth, very few of them were colours that Stephen could remember having seen before.) The gentlemen wore knee breeches and white stockings and coats of brown, green, blue, and black, their linen was a sparkling shining white and their kid gloves had not as much as a stain or mark upon them.
But in spite of the fine clothes and gaiety of the guests, there were signs that the house was not so prosperous as it once had been. The room was dimly lit by an insufficient number of tallow candles, and there was just one viol and one fife to provide the music.
"That must be the music that Geoffrey and Alfred spoke of," thought Stephen. "How odd that I could not have heard it before! It is every bit as melancholy as they said."
He made his way to a narrow unglazed window and looked out upon a dark, tangled wood under starlight. "And this must be the wood which Robert talks about. How malevolent it looks! And there is a bell, I wonder?"
"Oh, yes!" said a lady who was standing close by. She wore a gown the colour of storms, shadows and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell
page 151-152, 2004, Susanna Clarke,