Friday, June 30, 2006

Pleasure & Profit

A few months back, I was the lucky recipient of a July 1951 copy of The Workbasket: Home and Needlecraft for Pleasure and Profit. (Thank you, A!)

The Workbasket is most definitely a forerunner of, and all our crafty blogs: a place where women could share craft ideas and make a little pin money on the side. I’m a sucker for the ads in vintage magazines, and the entrepreneurial schemes advertised in The Workbasket have me entranced. There’s no doubt in my mind that were I a housewife in middle America in July 1951, I would have sent away for the no obligation FREE BOOKLET Thrilling Work Coloring Photos at Home.

Absolutely no doubt. (As a Berkeley student in San Francisco in 1994, I paid actual money for a publication advertised in a free weekly purporting to reveal the key to riches reading unpublished book manuscripts.)

Listen to this:
Fascinating hobby and vocation learned at home by average man or woman who is artistically inclined. Work full or spare time. Modern method brings out natural, life-like colors. Many have earned while learning.

Sign me up! The Workbasket is full of these enticements:

$25 in Gifts for You! Not One Cent To Pay!

Shine Shoes Without “Polish.” New invention. Lightning seller. Shoes gleam like mirror. Samples sent on trial.

FABULOUS EARNINGS – Fascinating pastime. Growing Genuine, living miniature (Ming) Trees. New sensational Business or Hobby. Astounding information Free.

MAKE MONEY making new greaseless doughnuts at home with electric machine. Wholesale to grocers, drug stores, cafes, hamburger shops. Send for free recipes and plans.

Of course, there’s something slightly sinister about all this, but I’m guessing that The Workbasket’s readers weren’t anymore naïve about their chances of striking it rich than we are, and anyhow, nobody’d try anything if they weren’t just a little bit naïve, don’t you think?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hello, old friend!

Was how I greeted my press when the movers returned this past Saturday. Quickly, the happy reunion turned somewhat sour when the key securing the flywheel refused to budge. The level of difficulty for The Move Part II was always considerably higher, but my movers aced their first tests, moving the downstairs studio upstairs without incident. They didn’t even need to remove the beading from the narrow door, which I’d presumed was a given. Again, it was the C&P (a 10x15 Chandler & Price platen) that brought the exercise to a standstill.

In the past, the main shaft that connects the flywheel to the gears on the opposite side has been threaded out as a single part, but during the last reassembly the key holding it into the gear was clearly hammered in for the last time. Neither tapping, hammering nor levering helped. Nor did crude jokes, lame jokes, muttering, swearing or sexual innuendo. The tone grew somber. Eventually, the flywheel was removed with an ingenious application of a tyre jack, and it was decided to try to use the shaft to twist the press in through the door. Which, in theory, would work, but 1500 lb. of cast iron isn’t so nibble on its feet.

We sent the flywheel upstairs first, and I volunteered to go up with the press alone, still unsure about the capability of the lift. As it approaches the sixth floor, the lift slows dramatically about two or three feet before it reaches level, which is always a nervous time. And surely it didn’t creak nearly so much before we began this whole exercise?

I wish I had photographs to show you of the tortured process of getting it through the door, but my camera battery was flashing low, and I was far too busy trying to channel my anxiety into a psychic force powerful enough to move cast iron. My panic-hazed memories include images of the press half-tipped off the pallet jack, leaning heavily into the tiled wall, an ill-considered decision to remove the 4 x 4s, and the necessary disassembly of the roller arms. There was a moment when the press was lodged in the doorway, the doorframe jutting into the space where the feedboard attaches. At this stage, someone asked if this might be far enough inside, but this was a desperate, vain hope. I’m sure I was laughing, but my mind was crowding with images of other paths I might have taken: the writer’s sharpened pencil, the birdwatcher’s folding binoculars, an admittedly expensive, yet portable, violin. There was a great deal of pushing, as mind power gave way to brute strength. I shouldn’t be picky, but I’m certain there were three screws in the gear guard when we began: there are two now.

But it’s in.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Under the weather

There is a whooshing sound in my head right now and a gripping pain in my ears, as if a vice is clamped over my head and slowly tightening. My thoughts are slowed down to pace that I can observe and record their muddled meanderings, but not to worry: I won’t bore you with them all. Just to say that I chose this state in which to begin a pair of wristwarmers last night, using the Magic Loop method, in a crossed rib. No matter that I’ve never tried the Magic Loop before, nor translated a textured pattern into the round, or that I haven’t executed a cable stitch in oh, twenty-five years? In fact, it took a good long while to figure out that C3R translates to a three-stitch cable.

My grandmother taught me how to cable when I was a kid. I don’t think I actually made anything with cables, but I liked practising the technique, which seemed like magic. Last night, semi-prone, in sub-optimal light, I launched into the project, convinced I could work it all out on the needles. Firstly, there was some wrestling with the circular cable and some grumbling that a 100cm Addi might be too long for the purpose. I propped my laptop up in bed and referred to this page for directions. Quite informative, but I clearly need a few more synapses in operation to understand what she’s saying about swapping the first and last stitches to join the circle. Straight away I screwed up the patterning, and this was just the rib. Things really fell apart when I attempted the cable: there was twisting when there shouldn’t be, stitches dropping off here and there, a couple of rounds of inadvertent moss stitch. But I kept knitting, oblivious to the mess, hoping I’d find my way out.

By chance, I wondered if my grandmother might have left a cable needle in amongst her last, unfinished project: a red sweater for me. I found the bag in my wardrobe and pulled out the contents. The pattern I’d requested was a traditional Aran turtleneck in a red 8 Ply. (The model, coincidently, is the older sister of a friend, her hair teased huge in high ‘80’s fashion.) The back is finished and the front is on the needles, about a third of the way up from the ribbing, left off half-way across one row. In the last years of her life, my grandmother suffered a series of small strokes and the painting and handwork that she loved just got too hard. I didn’t find a cable needle, but there were a number of French chocolate wrappers mixed in among the ball bands, which was a happy reminder of a woman who knew how to maximize her pleasures.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I love my new building

Buttonmania is on the second floor, around the corner from studio #1. Earlier this week, I had a message that Kathy wanted to speak to me about my machinery mover. She ushered me into her cavernous storeroom to show me a series of button-making machines that she plans to display in her future button museum. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven: a button museum, downstairs! I never, ever want to leave the building, and I'm not even moved in yet.

My mover agreed to move us both this Sunday, but then it became clear that Kathy would be too busy with her upcoming sale, so the move's been postponed to Saturday next. I've been feeling very anxious about it, but somewhat less so since speaking with Kathy. She told me how a tenant once had safes delivered to the second floor via her front window, hoisted up by crane. If the move doesn't happen soon, I might just paint the floor in my new place, but I'm guessing that would be a very bad idea. Last week, a visiting friend advised "the printing's the thing" when pressed about some persnickety detail of the paint job. He's right, but I find it hard to stop.

If you are a button person in Melbourne, the Buttonmania sale runs next Monday to Saturday. If, on Saturday, you notice a harried woman pressing chocolate chip cookies on her disgruntled movers, that’ll be me.

Buttonmania, Level 2, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9650 3627.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I'm days late for Monday's white, but white's all I've been surrounded by this past week. It'll disappoint some to know that the orange wall from last week is a "before" shot: it wasn't nearly so lovely in real life, I promise. Wholly underqualified for the task, we started with ten litres of undercoat. By yesterday, punch-drunk with victory, I idly suggested to Andrew that perhaps we should knock on our neighbours’ doors to see if anyone needed a touch-up.

Over the week, the job grew in proportion to our confidence. At first, I suggested that perhaps we'd just tackle the orange. Then we decided on a single coat over the other three walls, minus the window frames. By Friday, I was taping the glass; on Saturday, Yeup was poly-filling the frames and suggesting silicon caulk. Isaac and Andrew felt that it'd be a shame not to do the ceiling beams, which is lucky because even with the extender pole I can't reach them. The last beam nearly broke us when the paint lifted off in great, wet sheets on Sunday night, and there was nothing to be done other than re-sand and seal. This was when I got cranky, and even Andrew's imagining of the Scrape 'n Paint, a two-in-one tool that scrapes and paints in one fluid motion couldn't shake my gloom.

This morning, I washed the white streak out of my hair, which Isaac described as more Paulie Walnuts than Susan Sontag. The windows need a little more work, but other than that, we’re done! And, fingers crossed, it seems that The Move Part II will take place this Sunday.

The week of painting gave me ample time to think about white. I thought I’d lucked out at Bunning’s the Saturday before last with a paint specialist on hand. But he knew far less than I did, identifying cool whites as warm and vice versa, so I was on my own. Turns out I’m a bit of an armchair paint maven, courtesy of Martha and years of shelter porn. I’d love to pitch out for a Donald Kaufman shade, or Aalto Colour, or a custom-mix from Porter’s, but I decided to stick with Dulux, a standard Australian brand.

One of the first things I noticed looking through Dulux’s white selection were these two shades: Chalk U.S.A and Antique White U.S.A. As an Australian living in the US 1994-2005, I never identified a particular shade of white as American. (At least, not a paint colour.) A white named Santorini I’d understand. U.S.A: nothing resonates, I’m afraid. Perhaps an American reader might have some ideas about this? I did however, dally with Antique White U.S.A, but ended up selecting Fair Bianca. I went through this process painting our bathroom three years ago, and chose Fair Bianca that time as well, so I guess this is the slightly creamy white for me.

I’ve always envied those responsible for naming colours, and I’m often amused by what they come up with. But I don’t think I’ve ever been struck as forcefully as I was this week, idly flicking through chips for a line of outdoor weatherguard paint. In the midst of utilitarian Pot Blacks and Garden Posts was a solid, no-nonsense grey named Simone Weil. If you happen to be a socialist, teacher, resistance fighter, factory worker, labor organizer, anarchist, Christian or philosopher you need look no further the next time you paint your outdoor retaining wall.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006