Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In my clutches: redlegs becomes a bag lady!

No, I have not finally found my natural place in a Soho doorway; rather those kind ladies at Atelier Hats offered me the chance to take part in one of their workshops. You may not be aware that apart from selling spiffing hats they also hold small classes in the shop. Initially I baulked a little due to advanced sewingmachinophobia but was reassured that the teacher was good and I would cope. So last Saturday morning I found myself wearing a pinny and prepared to attempt to make a clutch bag.

My choice of fabrics

Nana's choice of fabrics
I was accompanied by Nana, a lady from Streatham who already made corsages and jewellery out of African fabrics and was seeking to expand her repertoire. Needless to say she was rather more experienced on the needle front than I. Coffee and Halloween biscuits consumed we began by rifling through a selection of fabrics, I was torn by the choice between a very forties style check or a sheeny french floral fabric but eventually picked the latter along with a rich purple silk for it's lining. Nana chose a cloth featuring geisha and a pale pink satin lining. This done we set about making our paper patterns and cutting out our fabrics.
Nana pinning 

Our instructor, the lovely April.
We were provided with printed instructions and April, the instructor, very clearly described what we should be doing taking us in hand if we seemed to be doing anything daft. Finally the sewing machines, or 'beasts' as I like to call them came out. Nana set off happily but April very patiently guided me through the process. I seemed to slowly get better although poor April had to spend half the afternoon re-threading my needle and there were a few, ahem, 'which buttons did what mishaps'. Eventually I ended up with something that did indeed resemble a bag and embarked on the final stage: fun with glue. The final result was not perfect, a bit gluey around the handle, but not bad for a beginner.

My first efforts at machine sewing

I think the handy amongst you out there could quite easily follow the instructions and get on with it but what you don't get by using a book or on-line instructions are the hints, warnings and advice that come with an experienced maker.  It would be a very good idea for the crafty to, like my fellow student, take a class like this before embarking in any kind of concerted effort to make something for sale.  Being told the only brand of glue that works well for example or being warned of bad practice/signs of low quality whilst also being told where you could solve time are invaluable pieces of info.

Sewn bag

Glue drying

At the same time a sewing ignoramus such as myself can manage to produce something. The pace was not rushed and it is a pleasant shop to sit in for a few hours surrounded by lovely hats and people coming in to enquire about them. There was no pressure or stress. I learned how to make a basic clutch bag, but it was interfaced, lined, had a neat metal handle and is quite sturdy. Other classes range from making tote bags to creating corseges and trimmings to fascinator and full hat creation.  It strikes me as a rather nice way to spend a Saturday and would be particularly good things to do with mothers, sisters, maids of honour or even a stray man. Details of courses can be found here and the Aprils's work can be found on Etsy here.
The final result

Nana's bag

Monday, 17 October 2011

Halloween costume ideas

One of my friends uses the tag ‘every day is Halloween’ on her social networking sites and I am with her in wishing it was. I love it, not trick or treating, that was never done here when I was a child but a Halloween party, apple-bobbing and creepy stuff was the high point of my infant year. To be frank I did have a Wednesday Addams kind of personality as a child. My default art subjects as a six year old were Dutch ladies and things spewing blood. I still love Halloween and my heart sinks whenever I get someone moaning about it being an imported foreign money making thing.  I know I am going to have to politely point out the very native British nature of the thing, everything from lanterns to costumes to trick or treating has its origins here. And then there are those dog in the manger types who just moan about everything being commercial and inauthentic as a cover for being miserable gits. Fortunately I notice more adults having fun with the thing and certainly in London there is tons of good stuff going on from huge extravaganza, to the silly to the small.  Halloween suits London, the city is intrinsically sinister.

Me lurking at a Halloween party last year...
Last year I posted some ideas for Halloween costumes and was really chuffed to hear a few people had a (very effective) go at them.  In view of the festival’s British origins I thought I might suggest a few  outfits that might be effective and will complement glasses of warm cider and English ales, more Samhain than night of ghouls.

The ethereal approach.
Leaf mayhem.
This chap has gone the whole hog..I'd like to know what he is drinking...
For those who can cope with painting themselves and do not mind smearing themselves over fellow revellers I think dressing as the Green Man/Green Woman would be effective. Actually you might not need to do the whole bright green face thing: perhaps celtic swirls or a few artistic rendered leaves. would suffice .The rest of the outfit just needs to be green, it could be sexy vintage green dress or wench or semi naked (as long as the heating in your venue is good). The essential thing is greenery, cheap artificial ivy from the pound shop or real greenery nicked from your neighbours garden (but watch where you put it, gardeners itch). I may go for it next year as it involves a little effort rather than a great cash outlay.

Modern druids at Stonehenge.
Continuing the ancient Briton theme how about the ‘Romans go home’ squad? You could start with being a druid. We don’t know what this lot actually wore, the tradition is long robes, a bit of holly or mistletoe and a scythe. I think you could do quite a lot along the toga and exotic jewellery line for this one, so bed sheets and a trick to Primark could set you up nicely. Alternatively you could back-comb your hair, get a bit metallic and paint yourself with blue swirls, girls if you can mock up a silvery bra type thing you could do  even do Boudicca. This is another good cheap option and one that can be sexy, demure or downright fierce. Mind you, bearing in mind the Romans didn’t go home, for quite a long time you could just give in and come as Britannia, plastic roman helmet, shield and more bed sheet creativity.  I suspect one of those cheapo devil's forks you see everywhere right now would double up nicely as a trident.You could be imperious and demand drinks all night…. be careful who you call a subject though.

Winsome Druid.
Little boys rocking the woad...
A more sultry approach...

Aunt Sally and Wurzel Gummidge.

Moving forward and bearing in mind some people love the excuse to wear a wig, sword, crinoline or bonnet, coming as an Aunt Sally might be fun although you have to remind people in the pub that they are not actually allowed to throw things at you (Aunt Sally is an old game involving a wooden figure). Her face make up is good fun, for those who remember the television series getting your chap to dress up as a scarecrow (and they are seriously creepy) might be a good idea. The bonnets can be bought cheaply, any old long dress will do: it is the make up that matters.

Aunt Sally make up.
How about coming as Punch and Judy? Judy with her dress, mob cap, big stick and baby would be easy to do and instantly recognisable. Another good sinister fictional character is Miss Haversham with her tattered ancient wedding finery,easy to create with old net curtains from a charity shop and spray cobwebs.   A ships figure head might also be good,you need coiled hair, very static bright make up and the name of a ship painted on a sash and a tight long skirt, I have seen it done and it can look effective.

Punch and Judy would make a good costume for a couple.
Figure heads....

And if anyone out there really has to be a zombie I would suggest that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies be your starting point this year…..

Any other ideas out there to share? xxx

Welcome and ta very much for following. xxx

Hello! This is just a brief not to say hello to those people who have signed up to follow me, thank you so much for finding the time and interest to do so, it is really really welcomed. Please do not hesitate to email me if you are planning to come to visit London or if you think there is something I should write about.  Redlegs. xxx

This is what all London's vintage types will be wearing this, really....

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Penhaligon's Juniper Sling .

As a Londoner I regard Gin as a birth right, we should be christened with it instead of holy water.  It has through the centuries been our solace, our ruin and our ‘dutch’ courage (quite appropriate as the drink itself originates in the Netherlands).  It has morphed from evisceratingly rough alcohol dispensed straight into the mouth from a tube into a sophisticated libation. It is the ingredient for Martini and White Lady cocktails, sophistication distilled and poured into a glass.  In a tumbler with tonic it kept the stiff upper lip, well not exactly stiff but better immured to hot climes and angry natives. Recently with the introduction of smaller boutique distilleries it has become fashionable and shaken off the “gin and orange and a slice” doldrums it found itself in in the seventies and even then it was still the chosen tipple of a certain kind of brassy sassy London Jolie Ladie of a certain age.

Gin went through and endearing yet unglamorous phase in the 70's

Gin does not, contrary to myth make you sad (unless of course you exhaust your stock), nor does it, as long as you resist mixing it with cherry brandy and Sambuca shots, give you a worse hangover than anything else.  The fact that it is flavoured with medicinal herbs and berries should all being equal make it slightly more agreeable than a basic vodka. As you can see, I do like gin. But until now I have not had the urge to smell of it. Smelling of alcohol is something I have managed unintentionally several times so perhaps I should go with the flow. I was therefore amused to hear a perfume house had made a gin scented perfume and that for some inexplicable reason they were offering me a sample to try.

True, we girls do like the a nice smelling chap...
To be fair the perfume house in question is the distinguished Penhaligons, founded in the 1870’s whose shops are always worth a visit if you are in London. What is more the perfume itself is not ‘gin’ themed but it is inspired by the predominant flavouring of most traditional gins, Juniper.  The scent itself is called ‘Juniper Sling’, a name that conjures up the image of a 20’s bright young person waving a glass in the air. Now I am not blessed with good skin for perfume, everything seems to smell pleasant enough for the first few minutes before metamorphosing into a cross between toilet freshener and a stale dusting of tabac talcum powder. It was with some trepidation that I opened the bottle and sniffed.  It did rather smell like gin and tonic, I like gin and tonic so I slipped some on my wrists.

Interior of Penhaligons Covent Garden shop.
It certainly didn’t smell as if I had been stirring my arm in a vat of Bombay Sapphire, rather the first impression was of a fresh smart fragrance. I waited for the talc effect, and was pleased that for once it didn’t seem to set in. A fruity Juniper scent is the initial niff but it becomes warmer after it has been on the skin for a while. This is probably explained by some of the other spicy scents in the mix: primarily cinnamon with a whisp of cardamom. It is one of those things a decent scent does, this one starts as a bracing stiffener in a chrome  and glass cocktail bar full of aviators and brittle flappers and ends up as a wood panelled speakeasy full of Italian gigolos and oriental seductresses in silk. Oh dear I am getting carried away, but that is what scents evoke; pictures.
The mint green and silver deco inspired  product design.

The publicity states the perfume house wants to evoke the bright young things of the twenties and they have produced a faux period newsreel  to promote it. Well I think it does have a vintage edge. The bottle is stylish and provides good dressing table/shaving shelf eye candy.   When I first tried it I was in a very traditional gentleman’s club and it suited the surroundings well, perhaps because this is a scent designed to be ambiguous: the gents can wear it and I felt it was masculine enough to accompany ironed cotton and cufflinks.

A still from the promo mockumentary...
I liked it, and as I always say, this is not a sponsored blog so I don’t have to endorse anything. It smelt evocative and had staying power. Also it is unlikely, due to its mid-upper price range and Penhaligons niche position unlikely to be worn by hordes of people. I love cocktails and all the scents combined to make it so yes, I would actually happily wear this.  A bottle of eau de toilette is £78.00 so perhaps a friendly Santa will give me a bottle for Christmas, certainly the Travel Atomiser at £16.00 would make a rather nice stocking filler, along with some gin for the gentleman or lady in your life. 

What are your favourite scents? Is there one you think is particularly evocative of the  past? We'd love to know. xxx

Monday, 3 October 2011

Where are the feisty women? not in the House of Commons.

The season of party political conferences has been upon us in the UK and I am concerned by the lack of female influence in real terms or of any charismatic feminine role models to inspire us. Labour talks the talk but seems to promote vaguely ridiculous women, the Tories seem to be an all blokes club with no interest in women whatsoever and the Liberal party does not contain a single woman that I can actually recall or name. Where are our Hilary Clintons, Angela Merkels and Sarah Palins? It is not that we cannot produce strong female political characters, Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Castle, Nancy Astor and Mo Mowlam come to mind. I don’t necessarily appreciate the political views these women advanced but I respect them for at least being deeply attached to them.

Mo Mowlam
It is all highly depressing and I feel that I am not represented at all as not only a woman, but one who is single, of working class origins and in work.  When a female MP does get anywhere she is banging on about positive discrimination, maternity rights or (appallingly) attacking women’s reproductive freedoms.  I suppose we have Theresa May, an Oxbridge graduate who was a financial consultant, whatever that flaming is.  Yvette Cooper is married to a rather idiotic man.  The only woman in politics who seems to have gained the interest our prurient press in any of the conferences so far is the woman with the big boobs dancing with Keith Vaz MP.

The only woman at a political conference to catch the media's attention...
So who should represent me? Well there should be more women in parliament than men in a perfect world. Why? Well on the grounds of simple representational fairness: there are more of us.  I’d also like someone who has actually done a ‘proper’ job i.e. one has been a shop assistant, chef, mechanic, miner, driver or is ‘properly’ professional such as teacher, doctor, nurse or even at a push: lawyer. What I don’t mean is kind of consultant, PR wallah or professional lobbyist who are over-represented and quite frankly don’t tend to understand the realities of ordinary life in this country.  I’d prefer, even though I am Oxbridge myself, that they not be Oxbridge as again there are too many of them.  If  with Labour they should have been involved with a Union and should be drummed out of the party forthwith if they send their offspring to a private school, the very height of hypocrisy.

I certainly don’t have a problem at all with public school graduates themselves in politics but at the moment , again, they are grossly over represented within the power bases of all  the three major political parties. Preferably they should be older, let’s face it small children are (and should be) a major distraction.  Also age does bring experience and wisdom.  There are exceptions but exceptional people will shine. In terms of female politicians a stress on youthfulness is even more damaging, older women are often already often socially sidelined.
Although they are important issues female M.P’s should not ghettoise themselves by concentrating on  so called women's interests. Actually women care just as much about policing, defence, foreign policy and the economy, particularly the economy. When things go wrong with these they affect us as much, if not more severely than the male population.  It is absolutely sexist to expect female politicians to concentrate on these matters or to assume conversely that male politicians have no equally pronounced interest. Similarly the use of women politicians by the right to bolster pro-family policies is sly. We are all citizens, marriage and procreation should not attract extra rights, if anything the elderly deserve more attention as not only do they continue to pay taxes and have worked and done so for their entire lives in many cases but they are vulnerable. The elderly are also, incidentally, largely female. 

Barbara Castle: Civil Servant, ARP Warden, Journalist, Cabinet Minister

So here is my dream MP: Female, over 45, either no children or they have grown up. Experience in a real job, trade union background, not Oxbridge, never a consultant unless a Doctor. Would be nice to have an atheist but doesn’t really matter.  Fierce tendencies also desirable along with a sense of humour and zero tolerance of little-boy behaviour from slimy male politicians.  At present I am simply not being represented or served. This is my personal opinion and is of course from a socialist bias. But some of my favourite past ministers and MPs have not belonged to the Labour party. But at present I am dismayed by the army of smug twats dominating the place. What about you? any thoughts?


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