April 12, 2009

The Triumph of Individual Style, Carla Mason Mathis and Helen Villa Connor

This is the best book or essay I've ever seen arguing that you can dress to make any body beautiful. They do not merely argue that you can make any body look more like 'the' desirable body; they reproduce art of the last several hundred years in which (female) bodies in wide variety, stunning array, are depicted with attention and admiration, and then they translate some of that art into reasonably-modern clothing. Dozens of features are picked out with examples of how to camouflage or highlight them -- *each* is to be either hidden or flaunted; high bosom hidden, large tummy flaunted, etc etc. Clothing would be a lot less dull and depressing if everyone thought this way.

The line drawings by the authors are noticeably 1980s, that being when the book was written, but the clothes are of such a mad variety of cut that few of them are hopelessly dated; you can think, Oh, not that belt in this decade, but the waistband works.

They get more general, analyzing bodies by asymmetry, scale, texture, proportion, as well as the usual bosom-waist-hips combination; and they have color chips in a wide range, covering a great number of the unexpected undertones we can have (eight varieties of melanin, is it?). I think the reader is supposed to clip out her colors, so if you're buying it used, check those pages. The examples are mostly Anglo-Norman, but the art includes 'ethnographic' as well as 'fine', so most backgrounds occur at least once.

Hat tip to PatternReview, where I'm sure I saw this recommended.

Find in a Library: The Triumph of Individual Style

So wrote clew.

May 28, 2008

Stencil Patterns, Sachio Yoshioka

This is one of a series of image books taken, I think, from the family business archives of a traditional Japanese textile firm. The printed book shows its images in several versions each, recolored or slightly altered; historical reproductions to current mainstream fashion to current youth fashion. Changes are often explained in terms of the digital processing used to make them -- the book has an appendix on how to alter the images yourself, either at a copy-shop or in software. The charm of the whole thing is that it is a long-lived tradition and not dead yet; of course a modern textile artist would consider modern tools. The author is an expert and artist in traditional colors and methods, so one can see how good the new tools have to be to surpass the old ones in anything but ease.

A few images are available free through the Shikosha Design Library, with a reasonable some-commercial-use license; and I think you can buy much higher quality digital images for professional use. (The rights discussion in the book seems even more open than the rights at the download site I've linked to, which may be publisher-specific.)

Find in a Library: Stencil Patterns

So wrote clew.

August 16, 2005

The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, Joscelyn Godwin

Readers will have their own opinions on whether men, and women, are psychologically different now from what they were 400 or 10,000 years ago. It is the kind of opinion that is unlikely to be shaken by argument, because for the historically-minded, much of ones worldview hinges on it. The present book is intended as a modest contribution to the question, not so much in the hope of resolving it as of stirring up the waters and foiling any attempt at an easy answer.

The specific question to which Godwin gives no easy answer is: When the new humanists of the Renaissance started surrounding themselves with classical culture, building temples with statues of antique gods, and dressing, for some special occasions, as like the ancients as they could, what did they think they were doing?

One of the answers is that it was an escape from the actual religious pain of the time. Philosophers who couldn't answer the questions that rent Europe with religious wars could escape into a 'religion' which had no conflict because no-one really believed it.

Another answer is that they were doing magic; that enacting images of a perfected world, images full of hidden meanings and correspondences, would bring this world closer to perfection. How this compared to Christian ceremony, I don't know. Godwin points out connections both to esoteric traditions that may have believed they were doing magic, and to public spectacle used to cause political faith... Oddly, he says we have no modern parallel to the heroic entries and processions, when I think I've seen citizen-parades with mythic allegories in several towns: on the Fourth, of course, but also for military occasions and Gay Pride parades. Opera, to close the circle, was developed by classicizing musicians.

The subject-matter is still, as it was when new, pretty and suggestive to look at with only its exoteric meanings. Godwin provides many illustrations, because he's concentrating on visual art; unfortunately they're smallish and blurry on uncoated paper, but they're good enough for pointers to pretty copies. There are also plentiful pointers in the text to arguments for mystical meanings, even to claims that secret orders maintained esoteric meanings for centuries, while their members were Christian prelates and kings. The text itself is very un-argumentative on the subject, saying, particularly of gardens such as the Villa d'Este, that these claims can likely never be proved to reason, but to walk through the garden spells it out to the imagination.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew.

May 01, 2005

Tatting Patterns, Julia E. Sanders

I don't know if the real author is even known; this is a reprint of a 1915 book (The Priscilla Tatting Book No. 2.)

So this drops from the apogee of real, painstaking, handicraft - the end of the world of unspeakably bored rich women and unspeakably underpaid poor ones - and it was not selling itself with the claim that the designs were easy. I think this is excellent, as easy fine craft designs are usually hideous adaptations of designs that might have looked good in a rougher medium.

On the other hand, this really isn't written for someone learning to tat. There are photographs of all the projects, with many closeups, and I found the directions clear, but they aren't complete algorithms: you do need to look at the pictures and think about what you're doing.

I did finish one collar, one of the simple patterns; my work is wobbly but it's wearable.

pentagon collar

The really glorious collar, not this one, is a sort of basketwork with ferns growing out of it, which looks particularly hard to adapt on the fly. This could be tricky. Either my neck is not the expected 1915 size, which is possible, or I got my gauge wrong in the work I did, which is probable, or I'm not willing to wear my collars as tight as they did then, which is pretty much a dead cert.

Detail for other enthusiasts; the pentagons round the edge are done in slightly heavier thread than the fagoting filling in the crescents, and they're also done in needle tatting, which makes them denser than the original pattern had.

ISBN: 0486235548

So wrote clew.

September 27, 2004

Storybook Style, Arrol Gellner, Douglass Keister, Douglas Keister

A bookful of pretty pictures of goofy houses, mostly small West Coast imitations of romanticized rural Old World houses; half-timbering, tiny turrets, pointy roofs, etc etc. They complement Susan Susanka's basically modernist small, efficient, utilitarian houses, although I don't think Susanka's fans would find the Storybook houses intellectually respectable. Christopher Alexander could mount a better defense.

Hot-country traditional styles make at least as much sense in most of California as glass boxes do. The sublime goofiness of the style doesn't just transplant architectures but translates them; Seattle has some surviving Spanish/Moorish 1920s architecture that looks both subtly wrong and subtly right, because the eaves and so forth have been altered to deal with our rainfall and seasonal solar angles. I suspect the adorable Berkeley and Carmel cottages have rather more windows and outdoor porches than would have been comfortable in the originals.

There's a surviving silent film of Hollywood's improbable architecture, "Hollywood the Unusual", which I found as an extra on a DVD of "The Garden of Eden" (which the SPL has, Seattleites). It has a wider range than Storybook...; not just the half-timbered 'village shops' and Graumann's Chinese Theater, but imposing pseudo-ancient-Egyptian architecture and 'Moorish' gas-stations. Also, there are people in 1920s plus-fours or tea-gowns dancing through the gardens to a new piano score. This is the sort of record that current copyright law puts at risk.

The movie "The Garden of Eden" was charming, and its star very pretty, although the plot was half-slapstick half-sensation and not very intellectually respectable. The heroine wasn't just a feeble Imperilled Pauline, either, she's as active as a comedienne usually is. In other serendipity, we get some truly delightful combinations underwear, villains in lipstick - usual in the silents; why? - and what may be the earliest filmed scene of a concert audience waving lighters in the dark.

ISBN: 0670893854 (Storybook Style)

September 08, 2004

The Torchon Lace Workbook, Bridget M. Cook

Bobbin lacemaking must be the most inefficient way to make (admittedly ornate) cloth that anyone ever came up with. Still, in a world with ASCII versions of B-movies, what obsessive re-creation could be surprising? And, unusual among handwork, it doesn't aggravate my tendinitis, probably because one doesn't have to maintain the thread tension by hand; the weight of the bobbins does that. As with many relaxing pastimes, including not just handwork but Tetris, the boring repetition is much of the charm. I really enjoy the tapping noise the bobbins make. I don't know which childhood toy they sound like; probably Lincoln logs or Tinkertoys, which were also made of softwood.

Apologia over, I can say that of all the beginner's books I've looked at, and the leaflet that comes with the beginner's kit from Lacis, this is by far the best. The patterns are simple but reasonably attractive, they are given in a very logical progression of techniques, and the painstaking linework is really useful. Every exercise, and most of the beginner's patterns, is drawn out with each over-and-under clear to see, and the the drawing is also color-coded so that you know which stitch was used to generate a given crossing.

Cook also uses color for the threads themselves in the beginner's exercises. The exercises are so symmetrical that an error will show up in asymmetrical color. The results are more like 1970s macramé armbands than old lace, but as a pedagogical technique it's effective.

Somewhere else I ran across a mention of Torchon lace as 'ragged lace' or 'beggars' lace', because it's the simplest bobbin lace, the one a farm family might plausibly make for their own use. What startling exaggeration; it still requires hours of handwork, regular thread, and an undisturbed padded surface to work on, any of which a beggar would be hard put to preserve for her own use.

ISBN: 0713457406

January 27, 2004

Practical Skills in Bobbin Lace, Bridget M. Cook

I admit I picked this up just for the joy of the title - it's like "Careers in Birdwatching" or "in the sense popularized by Lacan". But I like knots and flowcharts, and it's full of diagrams of getting into and out of either, in a sense (p. 96):

Two complicated crossings

And, if I did take up bobbin lace, I would have at least as much fun with this book on how to work out patterns of my own devising as with a book of algorithmized patterns.

ISBN: 0-486-25561-1

December 17, 2003

The Secrets of Real Lace, Elizabeth M. Kurella

This particular book is about how to identify how a piece of lace was made, so it has many comparative closeups of machine laces and the handmade 'real' laces they imitated. The oddity is that the worst fault of the machine laces - the one visible from more than three inches away - is their poor large-scale design. It seems as though it would have been technically possible for them to be designed as well as the handmade ones, or even better, or most likely exactly the same. Maybe the machines were awfully hard to program. (To look up: Lace Machines and Machine Laces, Pat Earnshaw, 1986. Lace was so valuable and the market for it so large that lacemaking machinery must have been at the edge of possibility - patterned knits by machine in the late seventeenth c., jacquard apparatus lace (?) by 1825.)

The main difference between the machine and hand lace, especially the (unbelievably labor-intensive) bobbin laces, is that the machine lace is done with more or fewer repetitions of only one or two stitches in one direction. Once the author points it out, it is easy to see the effect of that, something like a picture from a dot-matrix printer - even far away there's a direction and grain to the fabric that overrides the decorative pattern in it. Hand lace can completely change the direction and roughness and shape as well as the density of the stitch, so that the elements - petals, swags, feathers - are shaded and grained like the things they represent. The result is like good engraving of the same picture.

Under a magnifying glass, the surprise in bobbin lace is that there's no difference between the material design and the background; the regular threads from the tightly-twisted net in the background unplait, hop a tiny distance into a motif, participate in some quite different kind of weaving, and can come out of the motif to plait up with threads they were nowhere near on their way in.

I don't know where to file books on lace - art, technology, or clothing? Possibly all three.

ISBN: 0-9642871-0-2

August 08, 2003

Tu Marcellus eris

The Hermitage has sent on tour a collection of works done for the Imperial Russian court by women artists. (Seattleites, it's at the Frye Museum.)

One of Angelica Kauffman's dramatic paintings is of "Virgil Reading Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia"; Octavia has swooned, everyone around her is throwing up their hands or glaring at Vergil, Vergil looks like a puppy who ate the flowers. One line on his scroll is legible: "Tu Marcellus eris".

Virgil's political subtext is known. Marcellus, Octavia's son, had been assassinated; he is compared in the poem to an earlier heroic Marcellus (who died in battle). Dryden's translation, next to the original:

The Trojan honor, and the Roman boast,
Admir'd when living, and ador'd when lost!
Mirror of ancient faith in early youth!
Undaunted worth, inviolable truth!
No foe, unpunish'd, in the fighting field
Shall dare thee, foot to foot, with sword and shield;
Much less in arms oppose thy matchless force,
When thy sharp spurs shall urge thy foaming horse.
Ah! couldst thou break thro' fate's severe decree,
A new Marcellus shall arise in thee!
Full canisters of fragrant lilies bring,
Mix'd with the purple roses of the spring;
Let me with fun'ral flow'rs his body strow;
This gift which parents to their children owe,
This unavailing gift, at least, I may bestow!"

Ingres also painted the scene - maybe more than once?. So; political assassinations still relevant for these painter's patrons, or is the drama generally catchy enough?

Several of her paintings were scenes from A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, which I had maybe heard of but haven't read. I certainly recognize a line from the Prologue:

"They order," said I, "this matter better in France."

It's by Laurence Sterne, was in the 1917 Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, and is available online. Art is educational, though sometimes only about other art.

June 08, 2003

Liberty Meadows, Frank Cho

Subtitle: Eden Book 1

It's an okay comic, set in an animal rescue facility (demented, anthropomorphized animals; coupla nebbish guys; babelicious, athletic women). I checked it out of the library because somewhere, a while ago, I ran across an annoyed comment by Frank Cho that he had gotten a complaint from someone about how oppressively beautiful the main female character is. IIRC - I probably don't - his defense, aside from 'get over it already', was an engaged puzzlement that a competent, pleasant, central female character should be so annoying.

I think I know why his representation of her is annoying. The female characters (Brandy, some unnamed ag students in the bar - none of the animals, why not? ) - are drawn in as realist a style as he uses. Some of this is that the humans are more realistic than the animals; but the men are less detailed than the women, and Brandy is most 'posed' of the lot. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, pp. 28-37, has a convincingly illustrated argument that realist drawing reduces the amount of reader identification with a character. Something I don't see in Understanding..., but think is at least as important, is that distortions of a drawn character to express emotion are a strong appeal to identification, because they're much closer to how we feel when we have the emotion than to how we see other people who we deduce have the emotion. Brandy, when emotional, is still drawn realistically. All the other series characters are distorted at least sometimes when strongly emotional.

So the oddity about Brandy, heroic female character, is that she's drawn as the one character in the book we couldn't possibly be. Or possibly she's the character who has no subjective existence to express, which is even creepier.

There is a excellent book by Marina Warner on a related thought: Monuments & Maidens: The allegory of the female form. If I recall correctly - and alas, it's been a while since I read it - this combines lots of evidence that Beaux Arts Paris usually represented all the strengths and virtues by realistic female images, with lots of evidence that the same people had no such expectations or allowances for actual women; and she may have an argument that these habits are mutually reinforcing.

Liberty Meadows, ISBN: 1-58240-260-4

Understanding Comics, ISBN: 0-87816-243-7

Monuments & Maidens, ISBN: 0520227336