A few months ago, a publisher asked me if I’d like my work to be featured in a new book introducing English-speaking designers, patterns and knitting methods to a Japanese audience. I was very excited to be included, particularly as Japanese craft books are one of my secret vices — I am often bowled over by the clear layouts of these books, as well as their beautiful designs, and the quiet intimacy of their photography and styling. I also love the way that Japanese sewing, knitting and quilting patterns are charted, often making them possible for non-native speakers to interpret. Well, ‘Happy Knitting’ has just turned up, and its so nice I had to show you.
Me! In a Japanese knitting book! And I’m in good company . . .
The photography is sweet and lighthearted . . .
. . . mmmm . . . tasty yarn.
As well as introducing the work of several different designers, the book shows the Japanese knitter how to use Ravelry and other online resources produced in English, as well as illustrating techniques and equipment common to Western styles of knitting . . .
There are also a couple of simple patterns, which are used to illustrate English-speaking methods of pattern-writing and design.
Its a really lovely book. And how nice would it be to see an equivalent, introducing Japanese designers, resources, and techniques to an English-speaking audience? (I’m looking at you, Kyoko)!
BNN Publishing, Japan
These designs were inspired by Shetland’s iconic lighthouses . . .
. . . such as the Bressay light, which provides the dramatic backdrop to these photographs.
Seven of Shetland’s lighthouses, including the one at Bressay, were designed and constructed by a pioneering family of engineers — the Stevensons (about whom you can read more in the book).
The golden paintwork that distinguishes a Stevenson lighthouse, together with classic matelot stripes, inspired this pair of quintessentially nautical designs.
With simple shaping, and a single round of colourwork per repeat, these are incredibly easy patterns to knit.
The gauntlets will keep your hands and wrists cosy in chill sea breezes . . .
. . .and the sweater is just the ticket for a windy cliffside walk.
Because I know you like to see my styling assistant — here he is, supervising the progress of the shoot.
And having a nice sit down while I gamely attempt to hug a lighthouse . . .(can you spot the Bonxie / Arctic Skua in this shot?)
And I just have to let you know that the books have now left the printers and are actually on their way to me. Nic, my amazing art and production editor, has just shown me a copy of the book on Skype, and, though I do say so myself, it really does look bloody amazing. I’m sure you are getting a sense now of the aesthetic structure of the book — that is — how each of my ‘colour stories’ has its own distinctive palette and theme. In the book, these individual palettes distinguish each section, through the patterns, charts, essays and photography right down to the level of fonts and layout. It looks like it is the truly lovely object I always wanted it to be!! I foresee a very busy weekend signing books (each copy purchased from my online shop will be signed) and then we will be ready to put them on sale on Monday.
Book deliveries permitting, I’ll be back tomorrow to show you the book’s final pair of colourful designs. . . .
Until then . . .
A few weeks ago, I discovered a craft / design book that really blew me away. This hasn’t happened for a while, and I love this book so much that I’ve been itching to mention it. Here’s how I came across it: back in April, I decided I would design a tea cosy for Woolfest. I knew that, if I was going to design a tea cosy it had to be an all-out kitschy novelty item, and I also knew that I wanted the design to have a Woolfest-appropriate sheepy theme. After a few days of thinking about sheep; of the generic shape and design of tea cosies; and just letting things mill about and brew in my head (my general way of working), I had a mild eureka moment: a Sheep Carousel! Yes! This idea seemed a good one, and I felt excited about designing and knitting it. But had anyone thought of it before? Tea cosies (which are often striped) seemed to lend themselves so well to representing a circus tent or merry go round: perhaps another designer had previously had the same idea? This does occasionally happen, and I find it is generally worthwhile checking such things out before one embarks upon a design, so I spent a morning poking around the interwebs, searching for sheep carousels, and carousel tea cosies. During my search I discovered that Jade Starmore had designed a marvelous carousel-themed baby blanket called Widdicome Fair; that Kathleen Sperling had designed an intarsia merry-go-round child’s hat; and that a JC Penney carousel sweater had recently generated some interest when it featured on Glee last year:
So there were a few knitted carousel designs, but none featured sheep, and none were tea cosies. But then, on one of my searches I came across a discussion of a “Merry go Round” tea cosy in a book by Ike Rosen called Modern Embroidery. Like most carousels, this one apparently featured horses rather than sheep, and it was a stitched rather than a knitted design, but I was nonetheless intrigued and wanted to check it out. So I tracked the book down on ABE. Here is the tea cosy in question:
It was indeed a carousel, but happily quite different in inception to the stripey marquee and bouncing sheep that had popped into my brain. . .
. . . and, as it turned out, Rosen’s merry-go-round was, for me perhaps one of the least interesting designs in a book which was packed full of TOTALLY AMAZING THINGS.
Rosen’s book was first published in Germany in 1970, and translated into English in 1972. Rosen addresses herself to women with “two left hands” who assumed that embroidery had to be fiddly, complicated, and difficult to execute. She clearly wanted Modern Embroidery to be an enabling beginner’s book, and so the stitches featured in her designs are very simple – most use a combination of stem stitch and chain stitch. But the variety of results Rosen achieves with this limited range of stitches is pretty incredible, as well as really beautiful.
This is a book very much of its moment – pitching its use of colour and simple ornament as definitively “modern”: “Sensitive people of taste,” writes Rosen:
” . . . at the beginning of this century, were no longer able to put up with the overpowering ornamentation of the last century, and consequently the reaction against it was a rigorous cut-back of all artificial adornments. A new objectivity asserted itself, and strove under the leadership of prominent architects and artists for a pure clean-cut form. We have been profiting from it up to the present time and we are still gaining from it, for it is a style which was carefully thought out from many angles and deliberately fought for.”
But, among the clean modernist lines that then dominated design, Rosen detects “a longing for pattern,” and a yearning for bright colours that might “harmoniously unify various articles in a room.”
The styling of Rosen’s embroidery in “modern” 1970s interiors speaks to this idea of harmony — decor, objects, and designs speak to each other in a most extraordinary matchy-matchy way . . .
. . . these purple and orange plates with their nifty built-in egg-cups and even the eggs themselves are carefully styled to tone in with Rosen’s table runner . . .
. . . and the forms of cakes and biscuits echo Rosen’s abstract designs.
Despite the overwhelming 1970s vibe of this book (and it is overwhelming – shades of brown, orange and purple dominate; cigarettes nestle daintily among the pretzels) as one flicks through it, it is difficult not to find something contemporary and familiar about Rosen’s designs; hard not to think that Orla Kiely has somehow been inspired by these chained-stitched stems and pears. . .
And there are many knitting design-echoes too: these oven mitts immediately reminded me of Heidi Mork’s lovely Vinterblomster mittens.
But perhaps it is less a question of direct influence: rather, Rosen, (much like Orla Kiely and the inimitable Spillyjane) has a feel for a combining the folksy and the abstract in bold, simple and colourful design.
Rosen’s design referents are vast and eclectic, ranging from the Bauhaus through to Tiny Tim. The text of the book is extraordinarily eclectic too: there are occasions where Rosen seems to be setting out an entire design manifesto, while at other times she becomes philosophic and reflective with observations about the gendered division of labour or the tastes and habits of modern teenagers. In fact, I would say that the book is worth getting hold of not just for the designs (which I absolutely love) but for Rosen’s text, which is often weirdly engaging, even in translation. For example, this is how Rosen introduces my favourite design in the book:
“The more people there are, the scarcer mushrooms and edible fungi become. The case is similar to that in the adage: where we set foot, no more mushrooms grow. Moroever, at the present time, with more free time and a lot of cars to take us out into the open, we would have a lot of fun looking for mushrooms. Let us hope that some professor or other will find an opportunity of making these mushrooms grow in increased numbers everywhere. Since we are accustomed to the fact that scientists make everything possible, and in double-quick time as well, we will console you with this prospect, and in the meantime we have embroidered a dish of mushrooms which at least you can feast your eyes upon.”
Personally, I think there is only one appropriate reaction to “The Dish of Mushrooms” which is to hail it as a work of pure stitched genius.
I’ve not been able to find out about much about Ike Rosen herself – – perhaps because my German is so poor. I wonder whether any German readers might know more about Rosen and her influence? In the meantime, if any English speakers would like to track down a second-hand copy of the 1972 edition of Modern Embroidery, here are the details:
Ike Rosen, Modern Embroidery (London: B.T. Batsford, 1972) ISBN 0 7134 2655 1
In case you were in any doubt at all: I love this book!
Today I’m really pleased to bring you an interview with Jean Moss, as part of the blog tour for her new book, Sweet Shawlettes, which has just been published. With twenty-five different designs, this book is a veritable showcase of cowls, shawls, capelets and collars. Small projects provide an ideal canvas for exploring new techniques, and one of the most distinctive things about Jean’s book is the sheer range of knitterly styles and techniques it covers. So if you have never tried entrelac, intarsia, or shadow knitting, there’s a nifty project or two in here for you.
Perhaps contrarily, given its impressive technical range, my favourite design in Sweet Shawlettes is possibly the simplest – Enigma – a dramatic and contemporary two-piece shawl. Knit in plain stockinette with two sweet-shop shades of kidsilk haze, it has a truly elegant simplicity.
Working with Rowan, and Jamieson and Smith, as well as international brands like Ralph Lauren and Benetton, Jean has been at the forefront of British knitwear design for more than three decades. Based in the UK, but traveling all over the world, the trajectory of her career really interests me, so I began by asking her how it all started.
Could you tell us a little about how your design career began?
Originally I learned to knit before I went to school because I wanted to please my beloved grandmother who spent hours teaching me. A fallow period ensued but my interest was rekindled in my teens when I started to make my own clothes. It was the swinging sixties and I loved what I was seeing on the street and in magazines, but had no way of achieving anything similar other than to pick up my needles again. From then on I was hooked. It never occurred to me that I’d ever be able to make a living out of it, especially as I had no formal training in design, but after getting requests for sweaters I’d made for the kids, I decided that it might be a way of making some extra cash from home. No-one was more surprised than I was to find that very quickly I was presenting my designs to luminaries such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein and they were placing orders! It was a meteoric learning curve!
. . .and how you began to create designs for hand knitting?
When I started, I was living in an ramshackle old farmhouse with my husband, two toddlers and a menagerie of pets miles away from anywhere. My husband was commuting daily to teach miles away, so we were wracking our brains to find another way of making a living, which involved less travelling. So… we bought a knitting machine! My designs sold well so we quickly had to get more people to knit them. At a London show an agent for Ralph Lauren asked me to do some handknits for him. I jumped at the chance although at the time I had no production capacity and handknitting was definitely not my forte, but within six months we had 2000 knitters in the UK producing handknits for the Polo/Ralph Lauren label as well as selling my own collections to boutiques in the US and Europe. Obviously, as I had no design training whatsoever, there’s a certain amount of luck involved, but this was the eighties when the ethos was go for it and anything can happen.
From your perspective, how has British knitting and knitwear design changed since the 1980s?
The internet has changed everything. When I started I saw myself as a fashion-led knit designer, producing fair isle, aran, lace and intarsia sweaters which were difficult to knit, had limited production and therefore had a very high price point. However, the cult of the knitted stitch has superseded the fashion angle now. Knitters are into techniques, relaxing with their knitting and sharing the fruits of their labours with their friends and the web is a fantastic tool for facilitating this. If you look at the most successful books on knitting right now they are all about techniques – there are far fewer book which are purely collections of designs. This is fine with me as I’ve always been interested in both – I love fashion, but I’m also a technique junkie, so I try to make each design a mini tutorial for at least one technique.
How would you describe your style? Do you feel this has evolved over time?
My signature style has always been a combination of colour, texture and form. However, I’m interested in exploring as much of the art of knitting as I can and I like to think my designs are ever-evolving as I learn more and more. I keep my camera to hand and I take many pictures of interesting objects, people and places – looking back over them often sows the seeds of new patterns. Fashion is essentially ephemeral, and what gives me a buzz is creating timeless pieces that transcend fashion, which hopefully will look just as good in twenty years time as the day they were knit.
You have a great knack of selecting exactly the right yarn for a design. What’s most important to you in a yarn?
I’m flattered that you think that as I do try hard to find beautiful yarns for my designs. I make a list of the yarn requirements for each project and then try to find one that fits the bill. Having said that, it’s become impossible to be au fait with every yarn on the market at any given time, so I always start with yarn companies I love like Rowan, Sublime or Jamieson & Smith. You can never know how a yarn will behave until you’ve swatched it, some projects demand drape, others need stitch definition and every pattern is different, but for me it’s important for the yarn to feel good in the fingers whilst being knit.
I love the glamour of the 1920s and 30s. Poiret’s orientalism, Fortuny’s sumptuous pleats and the fashion drawings of Erte and Iribe are all hugely inspiring. Women were trying out all sorts of new ideas as they threw off the shackles of the Victorian era and fashion design was innovative, outrageous and chic – all the things I love. It’s hard to name one fashion icon, but having done a whole book on Audrey Hepburn, I must say the research was a delight. She was the perfect muse, as Ralph Lauren famously remarked: “Who wouldn’t want to drop everything and design for Audrey Hepburn?”
Definitely Morocco, but I love the theatricality of Venice too. I’ve been hosting knitting holidays with my partner Philip Mercer for ten years now, mainly in the UK, but our trip to Morocco last year was one of my favourites – design inspiration wherever you look.
Your love of plants and flowers has inspired many of the designs in “Sweet Shawlettes”, and your garden is clearly very important to you. Do you see any similarity between the processes involved in knitwear design and gardening?
Yes I do find many similarities. At the start of each book I have to have a couple of weeks of cooking time, when I do nothing but displacement activities like gardening, cooking, playing guitar or going on long walks. This gives me a chance to mull over and crystallise ideas and it’s amazing how the seeds of designs are often planted years before and given the right conditions they spring forth – much like growing plants.
Now, a giveaway! Courtesy of the nice people at Taunton Press, I have a copy of Sweet Shawlettes set aside for one of you. Following Jean’s remarks about gardening and knitting, to enter, please leave a comment on this post telling us the name of your favourite garden flower. We’ll (randomly) select the winner on March 21st, the date of the final stop on Jean’s world blog tour.
Good Luck, Everyone!
If you’d like to follow the Sweet Shawlettes world blog tour, here is the full list of destinations:
Wed 7 Mar Jen Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Jen Arnall-Culliford
Thurs 8 Mar Yours Truly
Fri 9 Mar Rock and Purl Ruth Garcia-Alcantud
Sat 10 Mar Woolly Wormhead Woolly Wormhead
Mon 12 Mar Yarnscape Alison Barker
Tues 13 Mar Confessions of a Yarn Addict Anniken Allis
Wed 14 Mar Joli House Amanda France
Thurs 15 Mar This is Knit Lisa & Siobhan
Fri 16 Mar The Knitting Institute Katy Evans
Sat 17 Mar Life’n Knitting Carla Meijsen
Sun 18 Mar ConnieLene Connie Lene
Mon 19 Mar Just Call Me Ruby Susan Crawford
Tues 20 Mar Tiny Owl Knits Stephanie Dosen
Wed 21 Mar Ulla-Bella Anita Tørmoen
I am currently completely obsessed with the knitterly potential of colourwork tubes. Here is my latest tube – which I have called the Mucklemuff. In Scots, ‘muckle’ is a sort of catch-all emphatic expression which means big, large, or much. This skater’s muff is all of these things, and its name is also a shout-out to the lovely and talented Mary-Jane Mucklestone.
Here’s Mary-Jane, myself, and Gudrun, looking like a line-up of shifty woolly criminals at the Woolbrokers during Shetland Wool Week. I think I am removing the sticky-label for jumper-weight shade 125 – which is, incidentally, one of my favourite J&S colours – from my head.
You may recall that, during Wool Week, I was completely blown away by the sight of the swatches that Mary-Jane had knitted for her book – 200 Fair Isle Motifs. The Mucklemuff uses one of Mary-Jane’s motifs, and illustrates just how useful her book is for knitters.
Each motif in the book is swatched and charted – in colour and black and white. Alternate colourways are given, and many pages include suggested allover patterns as well as single repeats. This is incredibly useful for imagining the potential of an individual motif. Sometimes repeats do surprising things when you chart them en-masse – they often don’t work up quite as you’d imagine. But, as I turned the pages of Mary-Jane’s book, I was immediately able to picture the zigzags and crosses of motif no.172 as a balanced allover pattern — saving me hours of chart-fiddling and squinting. I whipped out my needles and started swatching, and soon the Mucklemuff was born!
The Mucklemuff is knit in 2 shades of Artesano aran (I used shades c853 (pine) and 3528 (deep purple). It begins as a provisionally cast-on lining tube in plain stockinette, which is knitted to half the length of the finished object. The ‘outer’ is then knit in colourwork, folowed by the second half of the stockinette lining. The two sets of live stitches are folded in on themselves and grafted together – leaving a small gap to fill with fibre stuffing (I used combed Shetland tops from Jamieson and Smith). After stuffing, the final stitches are grafted – and the end result is an entirely seamless, lined, stuffed, super-cosy, and pleasingly double-layered tube. Stitches are then picked up around the top and bottom edges to create a neat i-cord finish and attached wrist-loop (for carrying your Mucklemuff).
And the pattern also includes instructions for creating an optional icord strap, which is simply passed through the Mucklemuff, thus . . .
. . . before being tied around the neck.
The Mucklemuff pattern is my present to all of you, and it is now available as a free Ravelry download until January 6th. You have 12 days of Christmas to get your skates on and download a copy!
I’m going to take a proper break now – though I may pop back here from time to time, I’ll be on my holidays and not answering my email until January 9th. Thanks so much for sharing 2011 with me, have a lovely Christmas and Hogmanay and I’ll see you again in 2012!
Say hello and goodbye to about half of today’s ‘to go’ pile.
I had not intended the disposal of my academic books to turn into a wholescale excavation of the existing contents of our bookshelves, but that is what has now happened. When you consider that I have already disposed of over 40 boxes of books; that our shelves are still full to bursting, and that Tom spent much of last weekend building new shelves to house the three-boxes-full that I decided to retain, then the extent of the problem becomes apparent. So, today it was goodbye to Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, and Julian &*(*(&*! Barnes. It struck me, as I flung them onto the ‘to go’ pile, just how much bourgeois shite has been published over the past few decades under the name of ‘British literary fiction’. About the only Booker-winning author that I was genuinely pleased to see was James Kelman (and he doesn’t really count). I also decided, as I culled Paul Auster, and John Updike (shudder), that Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was about my favourite ‘literary’ novel that has been published in my lifetime. (Excluding crime fiction, which I love, and read voraciously).
As well as getting rid of the turkeys, I said hello to some old favourites:
It was particularly nice to rescue Watson’s wonderful Annals from their dusty corner, and place them prominently on a shelf.
I am almost done with the books. Normal business will resume here shortly.
I’ve so enjoyed reading your comments on the last post – that kind of spontaneous and interesting discussion is one of the reasons why I am so very fond of the interwebz. Thankyou. You have made me question my half-baked anglocentric thoughts about that poem, and inspired me to brush up my German. I was particularly intrigued by the different cultural connotations of a planted ‘avenue,’ and was very struck by Stella’s marvelous rendering of ‘treiben’ into a ‘conspiracy of leaves’. Séverine was wondering why I mentioned Rilke in the first place: well, I suppose that he is one of those poets who, like Arthur Clough, or John Ashberry, I have always enjoyed but have never developed any sort of academic interest in. And I suppose, too, that simply sorting through my books has made me reflect on the various continuities and discontinuities in my reading. It seemed curious to me that, while I had no qualms in getting rid of whole boxes of literary theory, and novels of all kinds, I absolutely had to keep all of the poetry.
But I fear that your congratulations on the ‘cleanness’ of my break with the books may be premature. I woke up on Monday night worrying that the Italienische Reise had found its way into one of the disposed-of boxes… Happily, I got up to discover Goethe in his right place in the ‘kept’ pile, and today I also heard the heartening news that my friend Claire has found my missing copy of Sartor Resartus (apparently lent to her some years ago), so all is right with the world. But, inbetween my frequent rests (fatigue hovers around the edges of everything at the moment) the rearranging continues. Yesterday it began to annoy me that, while I had got rid of Eliza Haywood and Amelia Opie, authors such as Brett Easton Ellis, Zadie Smith, and Jeanette bloody Winterson (Art Objects is almost as ridiculous as her views on homeopathic medicine) remained on my shelves. Needless to say, Winterson is now correctly located in the large ‘get rid of’ pile that is developing in the kitchen. And I was just about to dispose of Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, but I turned to the flyleaf and disovered a quotation from Rilke that I had written there in 1993. I put it back on the shelf.
Not the best few days I’ve ever had.
I began dealing with the boxes slowly. But two of my neighbours, seeing me struggling with books up and down the tenement stair, kindly decided to help me. In just a couple of hours, we had transferred the contents of the boxes into my living room.
It was hideous and overwhelming.
While I was studying for my masters degree in the mid ’90s, I worked in a University bookshop. The returns policy on mass-market paperbacks was simple: you had to rip the covers off, and throw them in the bin. I remember regarding this task as both depressing and sacrilegious. Books were just commodities?! NO! Acquisitive as well as appalled, I developed a habit of rescuing these books at stock-take time. Having ripped the covers off to render them worthless, I then bought wrapping paper, and re-covered them to render them of readable value again. I found several of these personally wrapped books among my boxes: George Eliot, Dos Passos, John Stuart Mill.
I have always loved reading, and regard the book-as-object as something to be cared for and treasured. And since I was a teenager, I’ve also enjoyed having books, and spent many happy hours seeking them out at library sales, bookfairs, second-hand shops.
I kept on reading and acquiring my way through three degrees. By the time I was appointed to my first lecturing post, my office at work had become a necessary storage space for all my many tomes.
I am still reading and acquiring — ironically, at the very moment the delivery company arrived with my 49 boxes, I was in the process of ordering a couple of books on ABE – but I no longer have the luxury of an external space in which to store my acquisitions.
And they are just that – acquisitions, possessions.
I treated myself to a compact OED when I finished writing my PhD. As an object, with its wee magnifying glass and drawer – it is incredibly pleasing but when was the last time I actually used it? I absolutely love the digital OED, which does not pose storage issues. . .
I hold no truck with authors like Graham Swift, who like to gripe about the effects of digitisation. As far as I’m concerned, e-books hold the potential to put the power of the word back in the hands of writers, encouraging an artisanal independence. And you don’t have to worry about where you are going to put the bloody things.
In their simple status as objects I no longer have use for, I have no problem getting rid of my 49 boxes of book-possessions – but, unfortunately, they are also objects invested with a personality – mine.
The objects speak of fifteen years of teaching.
And of thoughts toward a doctorate.
I spent most of Thursday being profoundly irritated by the fact that, after sorting through thousands of books, I still couldn’t find the paperback copy of Sartor Resartus that I bought on Bury market when I was 16. But, in the end, what does that particular object really mean? I have another copy (of course), my original thoughts about it, and a reinvigorated interest in Carlyle. But it is sometimes very hard to shake off the meanings one invests in objects. As long as these particular objects weren’t here, I didn’t have to think too much about what they represented. Dealing with their presence – as well as their sheer volume – has been quite difficult – much more emotionally difficult, than, say, getting rid of my shoes. Quite apart from the fact that properly cataloguing and selling them would be a gargantuan task that I have absolutely no enthusiasm for, I fear that if the books had stayed around, they would have started to seriously mess with my mind. So, after putting aside all the poetry, the old Marxists, the books written by me or by my friends, I have got rid of the rest. I felt quite peculiar, but lighter, as if sloughing off a dead skin. I am not going to tell you where they went. But if anyone ever comes across a book with my name or notes in it, I don’t want to know.
Just checking in to let you know that I have turned a corner. I am now on a second round of antibiotics, the abscess is finally going down, and I am, at long last, starting to feel a little better. But it really has been a very odd time. I’ve been occupying an unpleasant sort of limbo — stuck in bed with Noah’s deluge beating on the windows, shivering and sweating while Dalston and Salford burned. As I mentioned previously, I’ve never had tonsillitis before, let alone a peritonsillar abscess, and I had no idea how evil it can be. In an effort to distract myself from how totally shit I feel, (as well as from the nation’s many woes, and the fact that we now have preening bigots like David Starkey pronouncing on them), this is what I have been doing:
:: re-reading both Carlyles (I blame Stephanie for this, who mentioned Thea Holmes’ book in a comment of a couple of weeks ago). With their Scots melancholy and humour, as well as their many physical complaints, they are appropriate, (if not always happy) companions for the convalescent, and I now find myself filled with an urge to knit wristikins, and visit all their haunts and houses. I’m not sure how accessible Craigenputtock is – has anybody been there?
:: finishing knitting up the green thing. I reworked the sleeve caps an unprecedented three times – a task which has rather added to the limbo-like sensations of the past fortnight. I’m pleased I did it though – for they are now very nice sleeve caps indeed. I am now engaged on the predictable hunt for the perfect buttons.
:: watching a helluva lot of films. After weeding out numerous turkeys (Mule, why did you tell me to watch the odious Grey Gardens?) here are a few DVD recommendations:
1) There’s Always Tomorrow I am a long-time fan of Sirk’s, but had never seen this, which, with its iconic pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray; Russell Metty’s slick cinematography; and Sirk’s characteristically unsparing take on domestic America, I enjoyed immensely. As in the best of Sirk’s, films the children are pleasingly nasty; MacMurray was surely born to play ‘Rex the Robot man’, and Stanwyck’s wardrobe – all tailored cocoons and angular lines — was pretty sweet as well.
2) The Small Back Room. The only Powell and Pressburger film I’d not yet seen. Another iconic pairing – this time of Kathleen Byron and David Farrar – some gripping scenes on Chesil Beach, and a portrait of self-destructive masculinity that knocks the socks off anything Kathryn Bigelow was trying to do in The Hurt Locker (which I really couldn’t stand).
3) Queen of Spades. I can sort of see why Thorold Dickinson’s atmospheric and long-unavailable dramatisation of Pushkin’s ghost story is sometimes described as being un-British – but surely its bonkers eccentricities make it quintisentially so? Highly recommended.
4) Silent Running. Films like Soylent Green are one of my many guilty pleasures, and Tom was surprised that I’d never seen this wee gem of 70s sci-fi directed by Doug Trumbull (who is perhaps better known for doing Terence Malick’s SFX). Genius.
5) Tom and I really liked Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy when we saw it a few years ago, so we were ready for the absorbing rhythm and inconclusive narrative pleasures of Meek’s Cutoff. Tom was a little irritated by the film, and thought that it took itself a bit too seriously, but, apart from wondering why on earth the women were knitting on wooden needles the thickness of broomsticks, rather than the ‘wires’ they should have been using, I really, really enjoyed it.
6) Chico and Rita. A beautiful, lyrical evocation of the intertwined histories of Cuba and its music from the ’40s to the present. It is a long time since I’ve seen a film that was so happily, unashamedly affectionate about its subject matter. Tom and I both loved it.
Well, that’s enough for now – I’m off to consume some actual, solid food. Novel! Exciting!