Sunday, December 25, 2005

Where it's Christmas all year round

From our yule house to yours: Happy Holidays!

Regular programming will resume January 9 or so, after we return from an as-yet unplanned roadtrip to Sydney. I'm looking forward to visiting Kinokuniya, Paper Couture and Cloth. Please let me know if you have any must-do suggestions of a typographic, knitterly or flea-marketing nature north of the border.

Thank you for visiting girlprinter (Show & Tell) this year. Starting a blog was one of the items on my 2005 To Do List. I haven't learned Portuguese or read Moby Dick or mastered crochet, but I messed with the Blogger template and made friends in the process. That was more than I bargained for, and something for which I'm most grateful.

See you in the New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2005

A random fact about Christmas in the southern hemisphere:

Christmastime may be humid. Gingerbread ornaments may soften and fall off the tree. In doing so, said falling ornaments may activate house sensor alarms, necessitating expensive, unnecessary visits from the local constabulary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's snowing in Minneapolis.

For Zoë, aged one and a bit.

More than once, I've had to explain why the mittens are joined together. (The cord can be threaded through the sleeves of a child's coat, thus preventing the loss of a single mitten, or both.) It's funny how such a concept is so foreign here in Melbourne, where it gets quite cold in winter, and people complain (oh, how they complain) but no one thinks to buy a coat.

Pattern: Toddler Mittens from Knitting for Baby: 30 Heirloom Projects with Complete How-To-Knit Instructions by Melanie Falick.
Yarn: Peer Gynt. I think the colour is #237? Oh, I can't tell: serves me right for what I wrote about Norway the other day.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Brick & Mortar

Another year passes without sending letterpressed Christmas or New Year’s cards.

Before returning to Australia earlier this year, I ran a small letterpress printing business in Cleveland, Ohio. Visitors to my flickr page will have seen images of the wonderful studio I had there, all light and wood and crumbling brick, the large, paned windows looking out toward a sliver of Lake Erie. I knew the moment I saw the studio that I’d never have another like it, and I was grateful even during in the humid swelter of summer or the long, frozen winter, when ice built up on the inside of the windows and I wore a shearling ear-flap hat all day long.

The move was relentlessly hard. For months after, I imagined my presses out on the ocean, one little container among thousands and thousands on cargo ships, visiting places I’ve never been. It was comforting in some ways to have all my possessions so neatly boxed and completely out of reach. It was all out of my hands, and I could turn my attention to not getting a job, not working on our house, not being the friend I imagined I was.

I’m a person who’d describe herself as highly adaptable, easy to make friends, optimistic. Also prone to self-delusion.

Since being back, I’ve been grumpy, panicked and despairing. I’ve looked at factories and shopfronts, done sums and appraised my competitors. I spent six weeks in classes thinking up marketing campaigns for classmates’ enterprises. Rock blasting? Chai tea? Capoiera classes? All were easier to imagine getting off the ground than my own business.

Meanwhile, I’ve missed printing. I’ve never tired of the smell of ink, the feel of fine paper, the rhythmic clunk of the press. Not least of all, I can’t find any thank-you notes I like, and I’m tired of apologising for not having a business card. I don’t think I ever realised how important printing is in my life, that it’s like getting eight hours of sleep, or running five miles on the elliptical trainer, or remembering to take my contact lenses out at night. It’s a deeply satisfying activity to me. Without it, I lose the strongest connection I have between my head and my hands.

The problem, of course, is fear. Fear of failure, of compounding our already considerable debts, of making bad decisions.

But inspiration’s all around. Yesterday, I visited Calico & Chintz, a new yarn and fabric shop on Auburn Road (no website yet.) It’s a huge space with wood floors and exposed brick walls. The owner, Catherine, makes the most lovely linen needle cases you’ll ever find, lined with patterned cottons and closed with vintage buckles. She stocks Brittany needles, and lovely ring binders by Bookbinders Design. My head was so turned by the space and it’s vintage industrial fittings that I couldn’t begin to list her stock comprehensively, but it includes Rowan and Art Yarns and Amy Butler fabrics. If you are in Melbourne and need a Christmas stocking, Catherine has lined linen ones, embellished with a star made from vintage buttons.

Other new stores are lovely blogs brought to life. Rosa, Ana and Hilda are selling their wonderful wares in Lisbon, until the end of December. Camilla’s shop is open just in time for Christmas. Alicia’s Ella Posie Boutique in Portland looks to be a winter wonderland right now, all feather wreaths and sparkling lights. Carly’s Nest Studio is in Adelaide, only one state west of here. All of a sudden, there seems a desire for brick and mortar. It’s so nice to buy something from the person who made it, nicer too to see the work in the context of an environment created by that person.

So inspired by these girls’ leaps of faith, I scoured the internet again for real estate, and, very quietly lest I jinx it, I think I might have found The One. I was the first person to see it this morning, and even on a grey overcast day, there was light. It’s clean, and newly painted. It’s a ten minute walk from home across a park and down Rose Street. All day I’ve been in a heightened state of panic, but it’s the good kind, the kind that’s just like falling in love.

Calico and Chintz
99 Auburn Road
Hawthorn 3122 (right by Auburn Station.)
(03) 9813.5634

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Oh, for a proofreader with autistic savant tendencies.

(Only one friend caught this mistake, and called from England to tell me. Could it be possible that everyone else observed a superfluous Leap Day?)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Uromager n. (Danish) Maker of things mischievous and always on the move.

I’m unclear if this word existed in the Danish language before Christian Flensted, mobile-maker extraordinaire, or came about as a title for Flensted himself. You might not think you know about Flensted mobiles, but you do. I’ll explain why later.

Last weekend, I went to the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar at Melbourne’s Swedish Church. I’m not sure how large the Swedish community is in Melbourne, but I presume most of them were at the bazaar, including the two zaftig blonde Vikings in tight, tight t-shirts with SWEDEN emblazoned across their chests. The bazaar has a long tradition at the Swedish Church, and it made an impact when I was a child. I desperately wanted a pair of painted red leather clogs. Come to think of it, I still do.

We went looking for Danish paper cut mobiles. The original ones in my parents’ house came from the Christmas Bazaar. We weren’t disappointed in our search, and muscled our way in between the genuinely Scandinavian. The mobiles are lovely, delicate things. Cut from paper and hanging by thread, they move gently in the breeze, each part moving independently, but in concert with it's other parts.

It turns out that paper craft is an important part of Danish life, most particularly at Christmastime. This article talks about how families will spend an afternoon cutting and pasting paper ornaments for their tree, trying to out-do each other and the ornaments made the year before.

The mobile lady was hardly able to keep up with sales at the Christmas Bazaar. Caught up in the frenzy, I came home with five, rationalising that some would be given as gifts. All, however, can be found hanging chez girlprinter.

Thus began a dangerous train of thought. Perhaps I could make some mobiles of my own? First, I googled Danish paper mobiles. This is how I learned about Christian Flensted. In 1954, Flensted broke from traditional mobile making with his Stork mobile. Since then, he’s become famous for his innovative designs, and along with his wife and son regularly issues new and original designs from their Department of Space Research.

Researching Flensted, I had a growing sense of familiarity. Did you see Stephanie’s mobile? I had this exact mobile in a different colourway as a child; my Mum recently repaired the thread and gave it to me. Turns out, the Hen & Eggs is a Flensted design. Mine is a thin wood, the contemporary versions are plastic. [Update: I'm mistaken. The new ones are made of paper. Thanks, Stephanie!]

In some ways, it’s not surprising that Flensted found his calling as a mobile maker. He lives and works on the island birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, who alongside fame as a writer and storyteller, was famous for his paper cuts. Andersen never went anywhere without scissors; once, when he thought he might be robbed in a London taxicab, he hid his money, watch and scissors in his boots for safekeeping. This fascinating essay by Jens Andersen (entitled “Scissor Writing”) talks about the relationship between Hans Christian Andersen’s writing and the performative practice of his paper cutting. I won’t write more for fear of this post degenerating into a Master’s-level cultural studies essay, but it’s an interesting read, I promise.

Moving along, I was hoping to find a Dover-type how-to book on the traditional Danish paper cut mobile. I discovered a distinction between mobiles (which might be wood, or plastic) and paper cuts (generally simpler, made of paper, usually with one main hanging object.) I found this book on Polish paper cuts, and this one about Mexican-style papercutting. This snowflake book looks like a good one for impressing little kids. But nothing on the Danish paper cut. I might need to bypass tradition and correct technique and branch out on my own: who knows, I might find my inner uromager.

Isaac asked “Who invited you?” when I told him I was heading out to the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar. Stupidly, I forgot that I am part Norwegian: a very, very small part, but a part nonetheless.* This year, I’m trying to channel my inner Scandinavian with my holiday decorations. I have the mobiles, and a wooden Swedish table tree. I have pewter ornaments, and vintage mirror glass balls hanging from twisty willow branches. I have a simple red berry wreath on the front door. I have an idea to thread fairy lights all through the jasmine vine that runs along our front verandah, but that may or may not pose insurmountable logistical challenges. I’d like to remember winter by lighting candles and drinking glüwein. Because traditions develop out of our attempts to mark an occasion: if I want to have a swedishjapanese Christmas, with latkes on the side, I will.

*Tonight, we discussed our uninformed views on Scandinavia as a whole. We agreed that the Danes seem to be the coolest. Lars Von Trier has something to do with this, I think, in my case not because of his films, but because of his wonderfully bizarre TV series The Kingdom. Denmark is also the home of Legoland, a long-time dream destination, and in recent times, the home of the Australian-born Danish Princess Mary. Australians, disenchanted with British royalty since Princess Diana’s death, have taken to this Australian-Danish connection with pathological zeal. Let me say publicly right here that my vote for the Danes has nothing to do with Mary, but everything to do with paper mobiles and Lego. For me, the Swedish come in second. I’m thinking of Camilla’s gorgeous-looking new store, and a certain tennis player from the 1980’s. The Finns are close in third place with Marimekko. Norway, unfortunately, is last. As a part-of-a-part-of-a-part Norwegian, I can say such a thing. They do, however, have fjords, and I look forward to being roundly criticized for overlooking some wonderful crafty tradition or cultural export.**

** When googling 1980’s band A-ha to see if they were Norwegian (affirmative), my first hit is a scholarly essay on the band, published by the Celcius Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the Australian Flinders University. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to read it, but you can if you’d like to.

Melbourne’s Danish mobile lady: Vibeke’s Handicraft (03) 9789-1080. She has a shop: Noa Noa Living, 18A Beach Street, Frankston.

Above images (from top left): a Flensted mobile, from Gifts of Norway, from the Danish Export Shop and from Sweden's Finest, by Oda Wiedbrecht.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Overheard at work

"...that's why they look so groovy. Because he doesn't try to represent a REAL cow, but a papier mâché cow..."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Last year

Alison Fisher Road

I’ve always loved Christmastime. As kids, we spent hours below the tree, investigating boxes, weighing them, guessing at their fantastic contents. Occasionally, this led to disappointments (the year our imagined canoe turned out to be a set of children’s encyclopedias, for example) but our parents spent a great deal of time and effort choosing gifts, and Christmas Day was always joyous in my memory. The day itself was always long and hot, with the promise of testing out new beach inflatables the next day or the day after.

The tree was tinsel, or plastic. Mum made gorgeous, sequined decorations, which went underappreciated by us kids. I feel hot with shame remembering that I once asked why we couldn’t just have a regular tree, with store-bought stuff and tinsel, like everyone else. When I was eight or nine, Father Christmas left me a doll’s house, and I still have a clear memory of making it out in the dark, of straining to see if it was something real or if I might be dreaming it, of feeling it’s smooth wooden contours with my hands and it’s shadowy contents within. The house itself was a simple pine structure, but my Mum had furnished the house, sewing curtains and cushions and clothes for its little wooden inhabitants. I learned only recently that it hadn’t come with electric lights: my Dad installed the little lights in all the rooms, and made light shades out of paper cupcake cases.

It took time to adjust to Christmas in the wintertime. Slowly though, I came to love the period between Hallowe’en and the New Year, the waning days punctuated by Thanksgiving and Christmas. It made sense in an intellectual way, just as shrimp cocktails and sunburn made a deep-seated, visceral sense. I fantasised about hanging stockings off an iron bedstead and my sweetheart and I filling the other’s stocking with tokens of love. But I was never quite in the right circumstances to completely embrace this new kind of Christmas. I made a Christmas pudding once or twice. One year, I had a tree in New York that, despite its modest size, completely dominated the apartment and joined its brethren out on the sidewalk a little before it’s time. I married a man completely uninterested in Christmas, gift-giving, or family traditions. Without children or religion, I never felt I’d found a way to acknowledge the season or to relive that sense of delicious anticipation and wonder.

Until last year. I was sure we’d missed our chance to get a tree when we drove back to Cape Cod from New York and passed by the plant nurseries, all closed for the season. Instead, we found a fantastic tree at a Provincetown hardware store, free for the taking. I made gingerbread ornaments and borrowed Isaac’s aunt’s wonderful box of tousled treasures. We bought lights, and filled two refrigerators. We cooked for days. When I wasn’t cooking, I was knitting, or wrapping, or watching Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show (while knitting). It snowed some, and the steely sky merged with the bay on the horizon. On Christmas Eve, my parents arrived, with my sister, her boyfriend, my brother, his wife and their three-month old baby.

On Christmas Day, Isaac cooked two geese, in two ovens separated by a hill. He spent the afternoon walking back and forth between the two with a baster. The baby was passed back and forth, Isaac’s cousin sang at the piano and my mother received three cardigan sets. We ate, and wondered if it might snow.

The blizzard began during the night. By morning, snow was piled deep against the house, and it was still snowing. Walking down to the beach, coats and boots over pyjamas, my sister-in-law and I sank thigh-deep into snowdrifts, lost our footing, and marveled. The snow-muffled quiet was the deepest hush I’ve ever known. Walking back, the prints and marks we’d made on the way down were already obliterated.

It was two days before our road was plowed. There were concerns about making a flight to Mexico, about the baby’s upset stomach, and, uncomprehendingly, the tsunami. But those two storybook days made Christmas as real again as cold crayfish, the grit of sand in sunscreen or the live broadcast of the Boxing Day Test.

Friday, December 02, 2005


(Roll your mouse over image to see inside [thanks little birds.])

The insides of fridges and closets. Now: bathroom cabinets.

I bought this tallboy last week at Haley’s, an auction house near work. I didn’t bid, but instead paid what the man asked for, which may or may not have been too much. I’m an easy mark: “Here’s our favourite customer today!” Mr. Haley calls out from behind the high desk where he sits in a fug of swirling cigarette smoke. It’s the third time I’ve been in the store this particular day: clearly, I want the tallboy. When he goes to make a phone call to check if the seller will accept my low-ball offer, I seriously wonder if there’s really anyone on the other end of the line. I pay my money, and miraculously, lying down, the tallboy fits into my small car.

I didn’t know it was called a tallboy until I stopped in at the salvage yard nearby and described it, inquiring as to how much it would cost to have it stripped. Almost as much as I paid, turns out. I’m a fan of all things tall and narrow. Books. Furniture. Men. We’ve had our bathroom stuff in plastic crates up until now, and the tallboy is almost exactly what I’d had in mind. Ideally, it’d have a screen door and enough space underneath for Henry’s litter box, but it’s really close.

So far, the cabinet’s in a mostly orderly state. My things, as usual, tend to proliferate and spill over into any available space, but for now, it’s Isaac on the top shelf and me below. Only one drawer has put into service as yet. Isaac likes to think he keeps it simple: shaver/shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush, mouthwash, but he’s not quite the survivalist he’d lead you to believe. I could tell you a story about the time he ran into a male colleague in Kiehl’s, both of them toting shopping baskets, but I won’t. Let’s just say that the word metrosexual struck a chord when I first heard it.

I’m leaning toward stripping it myself. I’ll begin with the brass pulls while I mull it over some more. What do you think? Paint or strip?