Sunday, 30 January 2011

Enchanted Doll Competition

Anyone who likes fairytales and beautiful dolls will love the work of Marina Bychkova, who makes the most stunning porcelain ball-jointed dolls. Inspired mostly by folk and fairy tales, these hand-made, hand-painted (and anatomically correct!) dolls are also adorned with lavish costumes and ornate jewellery, all made by Marina herself, who has been making dolls since she was about 10 years old.

One of three daughters, Marina was born in 1982 in Siberia, Russia, until her family moved to Canada when she was 14 years old. As a child she made hundreds of dolls out of whatever material was at hand - grass, flowers, paper, cloth. In 2002, while studying Fine Art at the Emily Carr Institue, she discovered polymer clay, and began making more realistic articulated dolls. Eventually she decided to sculpt her doll and have them cast in porcelain, which is more durable and allows finer detail.

The photo above shows Marina with one of her first full-costumed porcelain dolls, the Snow Maiden. Created in 2004, the doll wears a 5-piece removable costume embroidered with over thirty thousand glass seed beads, and weighs almost a pound!

The complete process of making a doll can take 150 to 350 hours. A new doll form is sculpted in Super Sculpey, and plaster moulds are made from the parts. The parts are then cast in porcelain, fired at a low temperature and then sanded in water. Marina has said she hates this part of doll making, as it is very tedious and time-consuming! Then the parts are fired again before the painting can be done.

Each doll is hand painted with china paints. I was amazed to learn that it takes 3-5 days to paint each doll, as the paints have to be built up layer upon layer to achieve the desired intensity, and between each coat the parts have to be fired to dry the paint. The advantage is that this means the paint will never come off. When the painting is finished, the joints are lined with leather and the doll is strung together with tiny steel springs, which means they move beautifully, and can hold poses better than most ball-jointed dolls. You can see step-by-step photos and descriptions of the process on the Enchanted Doll website.

Marina has studied jewellery making for 4 years, so most of her dolls have ornate and detailed accessories cast in silver and studded with precious stones. Look at the beautiful, intricate headdress on this Beauty and the Beast doll, and her tiny silver high heels.

I find the henna tattoos on this doll, called Lavanya, quite stunning. They are engraved with a needle, and then filled with china paint, and are amazingly detailed. She even has a tiny nose ring!

The dolls all have wonderful handmade mohair wigs, often done up in elaborate styles, like this doll of the Empress Cixi of China, who's hair is decorated with an antique Chinese hair ornament made of Kingfisher feathers, as well as various other precious and semi-precious stones.

Marina is running an Enchanted Doll Birthday Contest, where you can win one of her naked dolls. To enter, you have to come up with an original idea for a doll, costume or accessory, and email in your idea in 100-200 words, along with artwork, by 10 March 2011. Details of the competition are on the Enchanted Doll blog. I'm so excited by the idea, I've got ideas buzzing round my head!

(All photos taken from the Enchanted Doll website.)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Beauty Alphabet - N

N is for Nose

"Never forget that your nose is the dominant feature in your face, so be sure it is an asset to your beauty. Protect it from sunburn and freckles with sunburn lotion and a shady hat. Remember a beetroot nose is most unglamorous. If you are one of those unfortunates who suffer from a chronic red nose, it is advisable to see a doctor, as this condition is often due to poor general health.

The skin of the nose is very susceptible to open pores and blackheads. If you have little blackheads in the creases of your nose, one of the best cures is scrupulous cleansing with soap and water. For bad cases you can obtain a blackhead cream from your chemist, and a little metal blackhead remover.

Don't forget about your nose when you choose your hats and hairstyles. If you have a turned-up nose, don't wear a hat with a turned-up brim. If you nose is large, don't wear exaggerated styles. Experiment until you find the shape that makes your nose fade into its rightful place on your face."

(from The Argus, 30 November 1950)

(from The Australian Women's Weekly, 1 February 1956)

This article from the Australian Women's Weekly 1959, offers some tricks on shading your nose with foundation to make it appear smaller. I do tend to agree with them, but you have to keep it very subtle, and blend!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Australia Day

Tomorrow is Australia Day, which commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia (which was known then as New Holland). Like Thanksgiving, it's a national holiday with uncomfortable genocide-of-native-peoples associations, so the day is unofficially also known as Invasion Day, or more recently, Survival Day (as the Aboriginal people managed to survive the best attempts of the British to wipe out their culture). Cheerful stuff.

In true Aussie fashion I will be celebrating the day by going to the beach, although not in anything quite as glamorous as these lovely outfits from 1950. Dibs on the black swimsuit with the spotted tangerine bow and matching skirt by Desses. Which one would you like?

I'm also going to make some Lamingtons. New Zealand has decided that the pavlova really originated there, but I'm sure lamingtons are originally Australia. For you Northern Hemisphere people, lamingtons are large cubes of sponge cake, dipped in chocolate icing, and then rolled in dessicated coconut.

(Photo randomly found on Flickr, by Cindy Lai)

Lamingtons were named after Lord Lamington, who was governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. He apparently hated them, and referred to them as "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits".

I am going to try the CWA (Country Women's Association) recipe found on Chowtown. I've never made them before, so I can't vouch for it, but the CWA is the last bastion of traditional Australian cooking, so I think it's probably ok.

Monday, 24 January 2011

There's a Hole in My Heart That Goes All the Way to China...

Today I feel a bit like this. Naked, in a pool of water, surrounded by menacing pink blobs, with my heart ripped out. Fun!

(The picture is by Tara McPherson, and is called The Weight of Water Part 2)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Happy Birthday William!

It was William's birthday this week, so I painted him a little box. I wasn't sure what I was going to do before I started, so I just winged it. The whole thing is about 3 inches square, and I was painting some of it with a just a few hairs of a brush. The most difficult part was the girl's face. The snake is actually gold, but it didn't come out in the photo that well.

Here I am with Alice's new puppy, Rupert! He is a toy poodle, only 11 weeks old, and so sweet. He's very polite, although I think he's trying to escape here. I made myself a new skirt out of some very cheap fabric from Lincraft, but I liked the spots.
Top: really old one from Portmans
Skirt: made by me
Shoes: red leather espadrille wedges, half price from Wittner
Belt: Wide red elastic belt that I've had forever

Here is a better photo of Rupert with Alice. It's very difficult to take a good photo of him because he is so black, he just tends to look like a mop of hair.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Beauty Alphabet - M

M is for Manicure

"The manicured look is essential for good grooming. Before you start, make sure you have all the necessary implements - polish remover, polish, file, orange stick, cuticle pusher, scissors.

First remove all traces of polish and file your nails, working from the outside to the centre. Round the tips, don't make a sharp point. Next soak your fingers in warm soapy water to soften the cuticle, then push it back with your cuticle pusher.

Use a nail varnish that harmonises with your makeup. Remember that two applications last longer than one. Be sure to let one hand dry before lacquering the other.

Gleaming, well-kept nails mean 10 points for beauty. Never, never be careless with your manicure."

(from The Argus, 23 November 1950)

This 1959 article for teenagers from the Australian Women's Weekly, about how to do a home manicure, gives the interesting tip of running a white pencil under your fingernails if you are using a clear gloss. I've never tried that, has anyone else?

Another article from the Women's Weekly, this time from 1950, shows you how to do those lovely vintage nails with the bare moon at the base! It has lots of other tips also, such as:
  • Make your own hand lotion by mixing equal parts glycerin, lemon juice and rose water, and add a little eau-de-cologne. Bottle and shake well before using.
  • Wipe over your nails with a little polish remover after manicuring your nails (before you paint them, obviously).
  • Keep nail-polish brushes trimmed to a clean, straight edge with scissors (I guess they must have been natural bristles in 1950, like a paintbrush).

This article from Life magazine, 1953, looks at new artificial nails. Apparently they are not "glued-on falsies" but made from a plastic substance called Patti-Nail, and even grow with the wearer's own nails, somewhat like acrylic nails today. They were available at Saks Fifth Avenue, applied professionally, and cost $16.50 ($132.00 today).

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Stylish Blog Award

I'm so flattered to be given this award by Islandgirl from I've Got an Island, who has a lovely blog full of vintage images. Thank you so much!

The conditions of this award are:
1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Award 10 recently discovered great bloggers
4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award

Ok, seven things about myself...

1. When I was a child, I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up. Not just any pirate either, but the pirate captain. I used to practice holding a knife in my teeth (for when I was climbing the rigging) and longed for a hat with a huge feather.

2. While at University, I had a part-time job as an artist's model. The best fun I had was modelling for a lovely artist in his 80s, called Max Middleton. We went down to the beach to take photos, and his wife packed us tinned asparagus sandwiches to eat. He was a perfect gentleman, and it was all quite jolly. The painting above is not of me (I'm a bit too shy to show you that) but one of a whole series he painted of girls by the sea. He also paints landscapes and all sorts of other things. More of his paintings can be seen here.

3. I have a huge crush on Gomez Addams. He's practically the perfect man - he's handsome, has a great sense of humour, dresses stylishly (pin-stripe suits, smoking jackets, and, my personal favourite, sock suspenders), is deliriously romantic, and filthy rich. What's not to love?

4. I cannot even begin to explain how much I loathe tuna. The smell is just repulsive. Even if I was starving, I don't know if I could force myself to eat tuna.

5. I LOVE books. I like reading them, of course, but I also like them just as physical objects. Some old leather bindings are really very beautiful, and since doing those bookbinding courses, I know how much time and effort it takes to make a book look that good. It also makes me happy thinking of all the knowledge in the world being trapped within their pages, just waiting to get out into someone's head.

6. The most embarrassing thing I've ever done was to turn up to Friday night dinner with my Jewish boyfriend's parents wearing an iron cross as a necklace. I was going through a bit of a punk phase at the time, and just thought it looked rather tough. I had no idea that it was one of the highest Nazi medals! No-one said anything, but when I realised a couple of weeks later, I nearly died!

7. I've kept a diary ever since I was 6 years old. My first diary was white with rainbow-coloured hearts, pink and purple paper, and a lock. Nowadays, I prefer a Moleskine notebook or a hardback sketchbook. I don't write everyday, and sometimes there are weeks where I don't write anything at all. An ex-boyfriend described it as "very Samuel Pepys-ish", as I tend to write about what I'm wearing, eating, doing etc. It's great being able to go back and see what I thought when I was say, 14, and read about things I'd forgotten.

And here are the 8 recently discovered great bloggers I found (I ran out of time!), in no particular order:

How Was Your Day Darling?
Baxter Street
Miss Retro's Blog
Behind the Curtain
Tales from a Vintage Wardrobe
A Sip of Sarsaparilla
$25 Vintage
The Freelancer's Fashionblog

Eye Candy - 1940s Resort Wear

Ladies, a bit of eye candy for your Tuesday morning! These resort fashions from 1947, photographed in Puerto Rico, are so classy. They were high fashion outfits meant to be worn by wealthy women vacationing somewhere warm during the winter months, and the article mentions that these looks would filter down into cheaper versions for "vacationing housewives and working girls" the following summer.

This pure silk dress is so gorgeous, and look at the model's tiny waist!

I love the dress on the bottom right, which is described as having a pattern of red geraniums on a black background. It has a split in the front of the skirt, showing off the black petticoat with a jagged, ruffled hem.

If you look closely at these two dresses, you can see that the fabric is printed to look like fish scales, like the skin of a rainbow trout!

All photos are from Life magazine, 1947.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Beauty Alphabet - L

L is for Leathernecks

"But this summer your skin will be fresh and smooth because you will take special care to avoid that "leather-skinned" look which spoils so many Australian women. Plenty of sun on your face will do your skin good if - and this is essential - you replace the oil drained from your skin by its rays.

Before you set off for the beach rub cream well into your face and neck, and remove the surplus with facial tissues. This will help you obtain an even golden tan. If you freckle badly, wear a large, floppy hat.

When you come home, wash your face thoroughly in warm water to remove all particles of sand and salt - then dip you fingers deep into your cream jar and massage a generous quantity into your neck and face. Leave it on for at least 20 minutes, then remove with tissues and splash with cold water. And don't forget to cream your face each night before you go to bed.

It's most important, this lubrication. Fresh air and sunlight have given us a wonderful basis for skin beauty but too much exposure removes the natural oils. Replace them with a skin food that suits you , and discover a new peach bloom in your skin."

(from The Argus, 23 November 1950)

Hmm, I can see that being out in the sun could dry out your skin, but cream (and by that I suppose they mean moisturiser?) is not going to stop you from burning!

This article, from The Australian Women's Weekly, 9 September 1959, begins with the words, "suntanning is a type of beauty treatment". As someone who grew up during the 1980s in Australia with the Slip, Slop, Slap campaign, this advice seems very dubious to me. The prevailing wisdom in the 1950s seems to have been that suntanning was good for the skin, as long as one built up a tan slowly, starting with 8 minutes exposure, and slowly increasing the time spent in the sun. "The drill is to change your position - keep turning like a sausage in a frying pan" [my italics] is a phrase that makes me shudder. Sunscreen was available in the 50s and the article recommends using " a dependable ray-filter" until you have built up your tan.

In fact, the first sunscreen was developed in 1938, by chemist Franz Greiter (who also came up with the idea of SPF), and is thought to have had an SPF of 2. The first widely used sunscreen, however, was Red Vet Pet, a sticky, red coloured, Vaseline-like substance, which sounds rather disgusting to use. It was developed in 1944 by a chemist called Benjamin Greene, and became popular once Coppertone acquired the patent, creating their famous ad featuring the Coppertone Girl.

I wonder how effective these sun creams were, as they promise to let you tan without burning. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, about 4 times higher than in the US. With my very pale skin, I try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Although tanned skin was seen as a status symbol in the 50s (and even up until the end of the 80s) finally it doesn't seem so awful to have pale skin.

Cross-stitch Update

Last year, in June, I posted a photo of the huge cross-stich I was working on. No, I haven't finished it, but here is an updated photo so you can see how much I've done on it since then.

The left panel is almost done (sort of!). I'm left handed, so I have to finish that whole left strip before I can move over, because I scrunch the right side up as I work (hence the wrinkles in the fabric). Can you see her hair? It's starting to look more like a picture now. I'm excited!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Books of 2010

Every year I try to read 52 books (one a week), and each year I fail! In 2010 I managed 44 books, which is slightly better than the previous year's total of 41. I only read 6 books from the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die list. Apparently I should be reading 17 a year to complete the list before I die, so I must try harder.

I keep a notebook of the books I read, with the details of the title and author, a brief description of the book (so I remember what it's about), my comments, and a rating out of five stars. For 2010, these were the five star books:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
Although this starts slowly, I was soon wrapped up in the story of the Joad family, farmers who are forced off their land during the Depression, and make the arduous trip to California to find work. Powerful and heartbreaking.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Another classic, I had been put off this novel for years by the creepy premis of a middle-aged man having a relationship with a 12 year-old girl. The sheer beauty of the writing makes it very readable, and I was impressed by the way Nabakov forces the reader to sympathise with both Humbert and Lolita, neither of them particularly likable characters.

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)
This novella, set in the Ozarks, has just been made into a film which is rather good. The book is infinitely more bleak and beautiful, and some of the phrases are so clever and evocative that I just had to stop reading for a moment and roll them around in my mind and marvel at them.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
A novel about African American maids in Mississippi in the early 1960s, and the women they serve. I was completely ignorant of the fact that segregation was still in force at that time, and found this book fascinating. The author, who is white, was brought up by a black maid whom she adored, and the book is in a way a tribute to the woman who cared for her as a child.

Some other books that I enjoyed were:Elizabeth's London by Liza Picard - A fascinating look at all aspects of life in Elizabethan London. Chatty and amusing.

Under the Dome by Stephen King - my first Stephen King novel! A complete potboiler about a small American town that is suddenly placed under a giant transparent dome by unknown forces. Great characters.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness - The sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, about a pair of children living on a planet where all the men's thoughts can be heard outloud. One of the best series for older children I have ever read, easily comparable to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

Butterfly by Sonia Hartnett - Set in suburban Australia in the 80s, Plum is 14, full of self-loathing and uncomfortable with her family, herself, and everything. Sonia Hartnett is a genius, and this is a dark and delightful read.

Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz - a largely autobiographical story about a teenage Jewish boy from Budapest who is sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Horrifying but strangely matter-of-fact, remniscent of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

All in the Blue Unclouded Weather by Robin Klein- I love this book when I was a child. It's about four poor sisters growing up in a rural Australia town in the 1940s.

Horns by Joe Hill - A man wakes up to find he has grown horns, which makes the people he meets act on their deepest desires, and tell him their darkets secrets. Strange and touching, and quite sad.

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory - A novel about the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, and her jailors, the Early of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess Hardwick. The voices are very authentic, and it's an interesting take on Queen Mary, who is so often portrayed as rather stupid.

I also have to confess that I enjoyed reading the Luxe novels! Written by Anna Godbersen, the are like Gossip Girl for the 1890s. Set in Manhatten, they follow a group of wealthy teenagers as they scheme and generally behave badly. They are not particularly well written, and the plots are fairly obvious, but there is a lot of description of clothes and houses, and Godbersen has obviously done research into the times. Complete froth.