30 March, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

For those without a historical timeline in their heads, let me put you in the picture. The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression that began with the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and ended with the involvement of the US in World War II in December 1940, a conflict that required everyone to use ration books to purchase essentials like sugar, flour, gasoline, clothing, cooking fats, meat and other daily goods. People who lived in the 1930s survived the whole decade and thensome in the clutches of the worst financial times this country has ever experienced. People lost their jobs, lost their homes. A record number of people were unemployed (I think it was up to 1/3 of all working people, most of whom were the breadwinners in their families). How did they survive?

In a way, the people who survived the Great Depression and WWII were better prepared to "do without" than we are today. Our Western world is a world of abundance. We are never hurting for clothing, furnishings, cleaning items, power sources because we can trot down to the local big W and buy it all cheaply.

The problem is that we buy these things... over and over again. And what do we do with the old ones? They go on the local landfill. Or they float around in barges on the sea to be dumped at the first place where it's allowed (and maybe even where it's not). When you've spent some time out in the open sea, it's shocking the things you see floating in the water and laying on the beaches of the world.

Nowadays waste reduction and recycling is on everyone's minds. We carry our paper waste and cardboard to the local recycling center every week. We don't buy soda so we don't have all those plastic bottles and cans to deal with. We reuse glass bottles whenever we can and we take them to the recycling when they break.

But what about our old clothing? Synthetics are just as un-biodegradable as plastics. Nylon, Lycra, Polyester, Microfibre, and others will sit on a landfill until the human race is extinct and the coakroaches have taken over.

Maybe they'll find a use for it all...

But I'm getting a little far afield. Let me try to steer back to the point. As you know, I'm in love with the clothing of the 1930s. One of my hobbies is collecting sewing books from this time period and the following war years. A recurrent theme of these books is mending your clothing or remaking it to conform to this year's styles -- raising or lowering hemlines, remaking lapels, altering sleeves and adding or removing decoration. During the war years, the mantra "Make Do and Mend" was often heard. Sewing books from that time often included instructions on how to convert a used man's suit into a woman's suit by recutting it and doing away with the worn out areas. This was the act of people who couldn't get new clothing for five years.

It's interesting to me that we never see the people of the 1930s and the war years in rags. I'm sure there are some pictures that don't show people at their best. But of all the family photographs I've seen (and it's my hobby -- I've seen a lot of them), I always see people looking like movie stars. Their hair is done. Their makeup is perfect. Their clothing is clean and pressed and not a thread is out of place.

One day I asked my Mum about this phenomenon. Mum was born in 1930 and was a teenager in the War Years. She told me that because they only had one or two skirts, they took very good care of them. They knew that if they abused this skirt, there wouldn't be a replacement for it. So they treated their clothing well. And it lasted.

The problem is that you have to buy good clothing in order for it to last long enough to be remade. Good clothing costs more. But if a pair of pants lasts through ten years of frequent wear, how much more are they worth than the pair that will fall apart and end up in a landfill after only one?

I am, of course, fixating on the clothing side of this equation. But this can be extended to other things. Many new mothers are considering laundering diapers instead of using disposables, and there are diaper services that cater to them. This I applaud. But the non-maternal of us can do things to. Ever write with a fountain pen? Can you count the amount of pens you've thrown away in your lifetime? Recycling isn't just about aluminium cans and plastic bottles. It's about everything we throw away.

Imagine if there was no dump, no garbage collection and all your garbage had to live in your backyard (that's what the Italians are dealing with). Think about that the next time you buy one of those calculators where you can't change the battery. Think about that when you get a new cell phone every year because your plan gives you one for free.

Those of you who know me know I'm hardly a luddite, and I'm not suggesting a rejection of technology to anyone. I earn my living on a laptop and with two industrial printers. My products are sold around the world with the assistance of FedEx and their fleet of trucks and planes. I travel widely and love my little blue convertible.

But I ask, do we really need disposible pens?

17 March, 2008

Living the Long Easter Week-end

You may have been wondering why I've been so quiet. Well, it's because I was doing this trip.

On this ship:

That's Cunard's Queen Mary 2 -- 151,400 gross tons of ocean-going gorgeousness!

Don't call this a cruise. Oh no no no! This is not a cruise ship. This is an ocean liner. This ship is built along the same lines as those classic liners that crossed the Atlantic daily when the only way to get to Europe from here was by boat. This piece of gorgeousness doesn't limit its Atlantic season in September. Oh no. This tough girl crosses the Atlantic well into the autumn. She's no munchkin either. QM2 is only 117 feet shorter than the Empire State Building is tall.

Her sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2, did it for forty years. She, the old girl, could go faster backwards that most cruise ships can go forwards! She retires this year and will become a floating hotel in Dubai. Bob and I took our honeymoon aboard her back in 2003. We crossed the Atlantic back then -- New York to Southampton, just like in the olden days.

Around 2pm we met the ship at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. This was a new experience for us since last time, we met the QE2 at the New York Passenger Terminal on the West Side of Manhattan. I don't know why QM2 launches from Brooklyn. I know that when she was built, she was carefully engineered so she could fit under the Verrazano Bridge at high tide (she squeaks through with something like a meter to spare). Who knows.

We sailed at 5pm. Well, it was more like 7pm after the tugs had to help us away from the dock in that 45 knot wind! Dinner Thursday evening was casual, but we dressed anyway. We chose the later seating to avoid the bluehairs. We should have realised that on a short trip on a school holiday weekend, the bluehairs weren't the problem; the screaming rugrats were! But they weren't at the 8:30 seating either. =)

Friday night was the formal evening. The evening event was The Black and White Ball. I was originally hysterical because none of my formal gowns are black or white. So I was going to have to make something new. With all the pattern drafting I've been doing lately, who has time to sew!

Bob had a wonderful idea. How lovely it is to have a husband who has not only a real eye for style, but a practical bent too. I was working on the Regency Evening Gown pattern, and he said I would look gorgeous in it, why didn't I make one for our QM2 trip. I happened to have some white silk satin, so I made this gown: .

Saturday we woke up in Princess Cays, the Bahamas. We scheduled a little snorkling. Honestly, we almost didn't get off the boat at all. The ship is just so relaxing and the cattle drive that was the waiting line for the tenders was quite beyond bearing. But bless the Cunard staff -- they directed us to a remote end of the beach where there was no one but ourselves and we sat in the shade of a tree and snorkelled in a cove where the water was only thigh-high for as much as 100 yards. The coolest thing was when we were staning in the surf and these fish leaped over our feet. As the tide washed up, big fish were following the smelt into the shallows. And the big fish were literally out of the water for a few seconds as they chased them on shore. It was like Wild Kingdom!

Back on the ship it was a semi-formal evening. Guess what the theme was: The Buccaneer Ball! Can you stand it? The itinerary enjoined us to wear our best pirate gear. They really had no idea what they were asking! I really couldn't wait to see what the kind of people who take trips on the QM2 wore to a Buccaneer Ball! Here's what we wore:

Or maybe you want to see a full-length shot:

Mostly there were a couple of pirate hats and some of the kids dressed up. We must have delighted the staff though because for the rest of the trip, they were complimenting us. We were even approached in the whirlpool by someone! (Where does one keep a business card in a swimsuit?) Frankly I don't know how anyone recognizes me without the gear. I'm quite a different looking person without the hair and the stays and all the kit!

The Ship's Photographer told us that in his two years onboard QM2, he'd never seen a more beautiful gown. I was delighted.

Sunday was a leisurely return. The activity of the day was reading. There was rain and wind so they had all the deck chairs strapped down. So we went to the beautiful library that overlooks the bow and sat up there on leather couches and read library books. I read a Poirot mystery of course!

Monday morning we arrived back in Brooklyn and the world crashed into our consciousness again. We had to be out of our staterooms by 8am but waited in the lobby until our deck was called around 10am. At least the Grand Lobby has lovely couches! Customs was quick and easy and so was collecting our car from the lot. Staying awake on the 2-hour drive home was difficult though.

Cunard knows its market. People don't choose Cunard for a holiday cruise. They choose them because they are the oldest and only surviving ocean liner company in the world. They actively cultivate an atmosphere of the Golden Age of Ocean Travel onboard. Even though the ship's keel was laid in 2002, the interior decor is largely Art Deco. And many of the pictures on the walls in the passageways hark back to the Jazz Age. The formal dining arrangements, balls in the Queen's Ballroom, and high tea every day give a feeling of living in another time. And because they carefully hand-deliver your luggage to your stateroom, you can do what you can't do on any airline in the world -- take luggage you don't want damaged! And get this -- there is no limit on the amount of luggage you take on a Cunard ship! So you can literally have steamer trunk after steamer trunk of gowns and suits and things you bought in Paris. Isn't it lovely!??!?

And in true running-ahead-of-myself fashion, we're planning our next trip already. For a very special birthday, I want to cross the Atlantic on the QM2, take the Orient Express from London to Venice, and perhaps come back on a Cunard crossing if we can time it right. I am already planning my wardrobe -- evening gowns and day suits... even a pair of plus-fours for the golf simulator onboard! And can you believe the pups could come with us? They couldn't leave the ship, but doggies have their own steward who takes care of them, and you can hang out on the kennel deck all day with them if you like. No wire cages here! Good Lord... I could be an Erte print!

Character Development

Hello darlings and welcome to another installment of "Living A Vintage Life".

So I've been thinking about who I want to be at the annual meeting of the Adventurers' Club at the end of this month. One of the highlights of the evening is the Balderdash Cup Awards where each participant is given a framework and has to make up a story. To me, making up a story is a much easier task if I am already portraying a specific character and I can use that character to inform the story. Also I find that I feel so much less insecure if I portray a charcter.

Yes, fans, I am insecure. If I'm in a room where I know no one and have no idea if I share interests with anyone in the room, I feel insecure. The last time this happened to me, it was at a friend's Hallowe'en party where she was inviting a bunch of her husband's work colleagues from Manhattan and little old me. Luckily it was a Murder Mystery party and I was a ringer who was supposed to plant clues and help move the story along. I was a gypsy fortune teller. I suppose I did well because the next day, people were shocked to know I didn't really have a Romanian accent. Ha!

So I need a character for this Adventurers' Club meeting. Bob will undoubtedly portray a British Big Game Hunter, someone whose speech is hardly intelligible except for the ocassional words "Injah" or "spendid fellow" or "used to hunt with his father" and the like.

My first thought was to do an American silent movie starlette with a squeaky Brooklyn accent, like Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls" or Lina Lamont in "Singing in the Rain". This would require a 1930 long gown, lots of jewelry, and possibly a fur. I have everything but the gown and we've discussed the Vintage Vogue pattern in a previous post.

Then I thought I'll be one of the old English huntin'-shootin'-fishin' set like Aunt Dahlia or Honoria Glossop from "Jeeves and Wooster". They're the type who laugh loudly and smack you on the back too harshly when they're amused. Although I know both women would dress for dinner, I could show up in my hunting tweeds with a rifle over my arm. I'd love to make a 1930s hunting habit, but I really don't have time.

And then Bob had this idea that I should be the native wife of his big game hunter, wearing a sari and henna on my hands and feet. I do have a sari and a long black wig. I'd really have to practice the accent though...

But I think I've settled on a character similar to Lina Lamont. I think I'll call myself "Lily Lynette". I don't know why. Just rolls of the tongue.

Your thoughts, darlings?

07 March, 2008

Back in the Land of the Living

It's been a long time since I updated this blog, but it's been an insane winter. I haven't had much time to do anything Long Weekend-ish, but it's never been far from my mind.

As I wrap up some work stuff and look forward to working on personal projects, it occurs to me that I have some fun things to share with you.

At the end of this month, some friends of ours will be hosting a party they call "The Adventurers' Club". Here's the announcement that came to my email:

The Adventurers Club is a themed costume party based loosely on the club at Disney World. The setting is a cross between a Gentleman’s Club and a Geographic Society. Set somewhere in the 20’s or 30’s. Costume ideas include period clothing, Vintage military uniforms, Safari gear, or the usual formal wear.

Poplar Hill is a two hundred year old manor house. We will be mainly using the Entry Hall the Dining room and the Drawing room. There is limited space for dancing in the entry Hall. We will be playing vintage music all evening for those who like to dance. If you are a beginner at vintage dancing, there will be many experienced dancers around to show you some steps.

At 6PM the party begins, there will be some food and drink but no sit down dinner. (Think appetizers) Alcohol is BYOB. General merriment, dancing, and partying will hopefully ensue. At 7:30 we will be holding the Balderdash Cup Awards. The party will then continue until 9PM or they kick us out.

The Balderdash Cup Awards is a bit of storytelling meets improv. Each contestant is given a framework for a story randomly generated. Example – ‘please tell us how you traveled to Machu Pichu by Camel to find the Ark of the Covenant’ You then have about three minutes to come up with a five minute story. The Judges will award the Balderdash Cup for the winner to keep until the next meeting. Messer Condray Esq. will be defending the Cup. Please let me know in advance if you wish to compete.

I haven't done anything 30s-themed in quite some time, so I'm at a loss what to wear. And then I found this little gem in my pattern stash:

I bought this pattern years ago (it's out of print now -- Butterick is apparently only doing post-WWII "Retro" patterns now. Ick!). I had some white double-sided satin and dyed a yard for the top teal green. I found that too. The gown is fairly simple to put together and easy to alter to my butt-much-bigger-than waist-and-bust size because of the construction of the dress. Other than setting a zipper (with which I have very little experience *smirk*), this dress should go together in a day. I'll let you know my progress.

And I will be updating this blog more often from now on...