Saturday, February 21, 2015

Madame Bovary's Haberdashery - a review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Funny, subversive, the point in the universe where Emma Bovary and Jane Marple intersect.

I was worried, at first, the author Meehan knew a little bit too much about how I spent my 20s - overweight knitter with a penchant for op shops in a co-dependent, not particularly healthy relationship with a promiscuous, artistic best friend.  Fortunately the similarities end there.

Everyone in this charming, engaging and darkly sly humourous novel is delusional, narcissistic, criminally manipulative, misogynistic, fraudulent or many of these in combination..

Odette, the beautiful free spirited potter who, "lurching unreflectingly from one style to the next, one man to the next, saw herself as living in wild freedom, just like any male artist" shares a house and a lover, Zac, with her friend Cicely.  Odette and Cicely have been best friends since primary school.  Their relationship is fractured by the manipulative, jealous and intellectually fraudulent Zac.

"Cicely has opinions, but she keeps them to herself".  Cicely has published a mildly successful erotic novel and keeps herself in tea and wool by creating knitted pieces to sell in Miss Ball's Haberdashery.  Cicely is overweight and suffers from hallucinations brought on by her failing vision and later by her dependence on pain medication.  It is through her hallucinations that Miss Marple assists Cicely solve the mystery of Odette's disappearance.

All of the male characters are unpleasant, misogynistic manipulators; while the women are competitive and manipulative.

I worry that Odette is returned to Cicely and is "redeemed" through murder and childbirth to, presumably, be held captive in Odette's dream haberdashery.  But perhaps that is the joke at the heart of the book.

While I enjoyed the novel (not least for the primary role of the fibre arts and the confirmation that crochet is evil, or at least created under hallucinogenics) I might have understood it better if I was more familiar with Flaubert's Madame Bovary.  I suspect I shall read it before long, even if it is written by the antithesis of an Australian woman.  I am better acquainted with Miss Marple and loved how Maurilia Meehan imagines her for Cicely.

I am also glad that Cicely achieves her dream of owning her own shop, the haberdashery of the title, and a room of her own.  But are we all such manipulators and are all our dreams realised at the expense of others?

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who We Were by Lucy Neave - a review

Who We WereWho We Were by Lucy Neave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On finishing this book - my initial notes read:
Sparse and elegant prose but for a novel about passion and betrayal, strangely devoid of emotional connection.  I gave it 3 stars (out of 5)

Nearly a week later and I am back on Goodreads changing my score from 3 stars to 4.  I continue to think about this novel and divine why I couldn't connect.  I talk to friends and colleagues about it and wonder out loud to them why that was - should it have been a series of novellas to explore the effects of the political environments in which they find themselves and the significant issues such as scientific ethics, the effects of the Depression, WWII and the war in Asia in particular.

It's a very, very accomplished first novel.

I keep comparing Bill to Dorrigo from Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North.  Similar experiences, similarly flawed but Bill just isn't sympathetic.

Also, the suspense which might have built in the Cold War period just didn't get there.

Perhaps I wasn't meant to connect.  Annabel and Bill save their passion for each other and their work, and in Bill's case, a political cause.  Annabel is a perpetual outsider, even in her marriage, and theirs is a very exclusive club so maybe I was meant to feel excluded.

I would recommend this book, but if you enjoy the emotional connection to character, you might not find it.  You will, however, have much food for thought.

This novel is shortlisted in the ACT Book of the Year Award.  For the first time this year you can vote in the People's Choice Awards, but get your skates on, voting closes soon.

For information on previous awards, a committed and passionate librarian has created this resource.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

View all my reviews

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Toddler's Romper and Bonnet

This size 2 years, McCall's romper is made in one piece and has a matching sun bonnet.  It also has a matching doll and doll outfit.  Be still my desiccating ovaries!
McCalls 2322, vintage pattern for toddler's romper, bonnet and matching stuffed doll
In these days of sun awareness, the bonnet is perhaps ironic in contrast to the bare legs, arms and back of the romper. 

It is an impractical garment on so many levels.  Ties in the front because you totally trust a toddler with a self tie in front - yeah, right.  Solution - knot the buggery ties so hard that you lose all traction on that toilet training when the "Mummy, I need to gooooooo!" moment comes, as it so inevitably does.  That tie would definitely have to be extended to wrap around to the back.

The pattern instructions suggest lining the romper but state that it is optional.  It therefore gives no  instructions for how to go about lining the garment which is quite at odds with the over-engineering of the doll pattern.

Transfer for decorative stitching on doll

The doll pattern comes complete with original transfer to mark the decorative stitching.

This pattern is completely intact down to the transfer paper. It was never made by the original owner.

I am tempted to make this in a bright gingham or sweet Liberty print just because I can and not because it would be useful to anyone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Draft from the Past - half circle skirt

Madame Weigel does it again. 

This pattern is for a half circle (in one piece) skirt with faced waistband. 

It adorable but not even the slimmest of my adult friends, has a 24 inch waist.

The instructions and pieces are intact and I doubt the pattern has been used.

It would look so cute in a print with a crisp shirt and cardie or matching bolero.

As much as I love it, this one will be going on eBay - or speak up in the comments and we can do a deal if you'd like it.  That might keep me in pattern money for a little while.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Improvised thread cone holder

So I thought I needed one of these which cost about $80 and have to be mail ordered.

commercially available thread cone holder with heavy base

What I really needed was to identify the function of the item I desired and look around me.

So I made this, for nothing, and don't have to add another unitask object to our home.

Lazy Kate threaded through the loop of a safety pin on the sewing machine's reel holder

Large sewing projects just became more efficient by not having to change the thread.  And this weekend I have half a house of curtains to make and then there are 14 or so tablecloths and several hundred metres of bunting for the wedding to sew soon, too.

Here I was winding bobbins and taking photos.  It sews better when the Kate is on the floor.

The old Husky has been serviced and is such a work horse for jobs like this.

Another improvised thread cone holder is documented here.  May give it a go as well.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Fig at the Gate

"I used to love nightclubs, now I love nurseries."

That quotation from Kate Llewellyn's "A Fig at the Gate", is a good summary of the book.

Published in 2014, it is subtitled "The joys of friendship, gardening and the gaining of wisdom".  The memoir documents a several years in Kate's life in the creation of a new garden, spending time with the oldest of friends and gaining new ones, and the consolations of age.

I wavered between enjoying very much being directly addressed by Llewellyn and reading her personal diary and having an uncomfortable feeling of TMI.  I suspect it is because I am starting to feel my age as well.  And while I am considerably younger than Kate, I am past the half-way mark by a few years now.

"It may be that gardening creeps up on one when some of the fury of youth falls away."

Some of my discomfort I experienced initially with this work is not the writing or the format (a series of diary entries), but that we see the joys of gardening differently. Llewellyn, initially, sees gardening as a subsitute for sex, I see it more a channelling of the nurturing impulse.

I became less uncomfortable as the years pass (she chronicles 2009-2012).  Perhaps the because really we have a simile for a relationship.  The initial obsessive and physical joy gives way to the creation and nurturing of new life and the grief of death.

Llewellyn explores the joys of the flesh through her garden as well as the more emotional connection of the company of her family, her oldest friends, creating new life, and making new friends.

I loved that this book made me think and address some of my own assumptions and it gives me hope for my own future.

My third book of 2015 and number 3 in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.  Earlier reviews here and here.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Overall or Sunsuit

I suspect that most of the patterns I bought in the bargain bundle were from the same family.  If I could put them in date order, I might be able to work out how many children and of which gender.  There's a lot of supposition in that sentence.

The second pattern I opened was another Madame Weigel's pattern.  This one for a child's overall or sunsuit (for Boy or Girl), 1 year.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year

There was no instruction sheet or illustrated list of pattern pieces for this one, but the instructions are on the back of the envelope and the pieces listed.  The only bit missing is the trouser patch pocket.

The pattern advises creating a waistband facing but provides no instruction.  A lot more assumed knowledge than on modern patterns.

My mother made us similar overalls as children, usually cut down from men's suits or corduroy trousers bought at op shops (yes, this apple didn't fall far from that tree).  She would have sewn down the straps to the back of the garment so there weren't buttons sticking into baby's back.  She would also have added length to the straps and sewn three or four button holes along the strap to allow for growth.

The bonus in this pattern is a redraft of the shoulder strap, or it could be a for a different garment.  The original shoulder strap is only an inch wide.  The sewer redrafted the piece on newsprint at half the length and double the width or the original.  I tend to agree with her - a useful strap for kids is quite wide.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year with hand-drafted pattern piece
The sewer used a pencil to write her cutting instructions:


Pencilled instructions on hand-drafted and altered pattern piece

The newspaper used is The Herald Sun, dated 1950.  That's as close as I can get and there are tantalising bits of advertisements on the paper.  On the side with the annotation is an advertisement for Ovaltine and on the reverse, part of a shop ad for New Look styled winter coats.

I wonder if the sewer attempted her own New Look coat?