Friday, 27 March 2015

History of Jewellery in the 20th Century - Part I

First of all, I never can decide how to spell jewellery / jewelry / jewelery and now that I've looked that up, turns out it's yet another Brit / Yank thing; I'd not realised this before. I live in England, so English spelling wins: I'll use the long version.

I was lucky enough to attend a lecture this week on the history of jewellery. It was given by Susan Rumfitt of Antiques Roadshow fame as part of the Women's Institute Centenary Celebration by the Northumberland Federation. Susan has a business in Harrogate, which is a fabulous place not far from York and a pleasant enough journey on the train. I can see us having a day out at Harrogate sometime this year! Anyhow, let's see if I can make any sense of my notes... She began by explaining that

Victorian [generally most of the 1800's when Queen Victoria was on the throne (1837-1901)] clothing was big and very grand. Jewellery was designed to blend in with the clothing itself, sometimes even stitched to the front of an outfit.  

Victoria, Princess Royal by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1876
(Queen Victoria's eldest daughter)

In contrast, 20th century jewellery was meant to complement the clothes and to stand out.  In the post-industrial revolution period mass production techniques were applied to the manufacture of jewellery, bringing down the cost so that most everyone could afford some piece of jewellery. Also, this time period saw costume jewellery rise in popularity.

Queen Mary (1867-1953) (the present Queen's grandmother) owned a vast amount of jewellery, probably the largest collection in the royal family since Queen Charlotte. Her eldest daughter, also called Mary, married the Earl of Harewood whose family was based in North Yorkshire. This meant that Queen Mary often visited in the area of York, Leeds and Harrogate. Her visits were potentially disasterous for shop owners and upper class families alike. It seems that Queen Mary had the habit of examining the goods in the shop/home and if she found something really special she commented "I rather like that." And then sat in silence, waiting. Apparently the only acceptable reply was to give it to her, even if one really didn't want to (yet another reason to love democracy!). This explains at least some portion of her jewellery collection.

In the Edwardian period (roughly 1901-1910) lace fronted gowns were popular, a revival of the rococo style of the 18th century. Jewels were sewn on to clothes in rows: rows of diamonds and rows of pearls were fashionable. The Arts and Crafts movement was around at this time and that look was very rustic, the movement being a rebellion against industrial manufacture. The Art Nouveau style, which embraced industrialism but also imitated nature, used high quality gold and a distinctive 'plique-à-jour' enamel (the term being French for letting-in-daylight), which resembles stained glass. Some of this may well find itself on my birthday wishlist! 

Another reason Queen Mary had so much jewellery is because she and her husband were Emperor and Empress of India. Part of this role involved attending durbars in India, gatherings of the princes of India and of the British Raj, everyone putting on their richest attire in order to impress each other. 

Mary of Teck, wife of George V.

At it happened an Act of Parliament forbade the crown jewels being taken out of the country, so she had to have other jewels made for this purpose. Somehow, upon her return to Britain the jewels seemingly became her own property. Neat trick, eh?

Apparently bangles originated in India, and particularly pairs of matching bangles were hugely fashionable in Victorian and Edwardian times and some . We were told that it sometimes happened that if a family had two daughters, they would each be given one of the pair, which seems fair enough. However, we were told that this dropped the value by 70%.  Seems excessive, but clearly they were meant to stay together! 

In the 1930s, bangles were worn even more, sometimes all the way up the arm. 

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) took to extreme bangles.

We'll pick this up next time, with tiaras!

Saturday, 14 March 2015


To say that Bill has a specific habit at breakfast time doesn't begin to describe how predictable he is: if it's there, he'll have toast with a thick layer of margarine and an even thicker layer of marmalade. But not just any marmalade. Contrary to his usual sweet tooth, he prefers reduced-sugar marmalade. Which of course costs four times the cheapest option, but I have looked for sales and stocked up and just lived with his habit. Until Vivien told me that Lakeland had tins of Seville oranges. So I bought some. That tin sat in my cupboard for a very long time waiting for me to gather time, jars and patience with the whole 'setting' process.

Disappearing fast!

Then I discovered pectin-free jam making and I was away. I think I used some jam-making sugar I already had on hand (which does have some pectin in it) and I did the test-for-wrinkling-on-a-cold-plate thing, but really the whole process took no time at all and was dead easy. The only disappointing thing is that I only got five (six?) jars from the tin, less than I expected. Because - duh - I used half the sugar the recipe called for. I can live with that. 

I really don't like marmalade, but even I like this stuff: not too sweet, not too bitter, a little of each. These days my morning toast has half covered with marmalade and half with my plum jam: heaven. I laughed at a mention in a Phryne Fisher book I read recently: the two options at her table were marmalade and plum jams. We are silly that way.

I've not done a cost analysis, but the fact that it's now something I can eat has to count for something. Also, I have another idea for which we've bought another two tins of Seville oranges. I want to see what happens if you buy the really cheap stuff (27p), boil it up and mix it with a tin of oranges. I figure the cheap marmalade is mostly sugar and's an experiment I think is worth trying at least. Erica, from Northwest Edible Life has opened my mind on this. 

Even sillier than Phryne Fisher books, I was "inspired" to look up this video of one of my favourites, Lady Marmalade by these amazing ladies. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

National Unplug Day: Sundown March 6th to Sundown March 7th

I grabbed a link several years ago that I've just recently rediscovered. It was about something called the Sabbath Manifesto, something to do with some Jewish organisation and something called 'Reboot', which is basically about slowing life down.  The original thing that attracted me was their "Ten Principles" for observing a weekly day of rest:

  • Avoid technology
  • Connect with loved ones
  • Nurture your health
  • Get outside
  • Avoid commerce
  • Light candles
  • Drink wine
  • Eat bread
  • Find silence
  • Give back
What's not to love?

I spend a fair amount of time on my computer, but it's been several years since I carried a functional mobile phone. I keep meaning to get that taken care of, just for emergencies, but it's clearly not a high priority for me.  I am appalled when I see the behaviour of a lot of people who carry these 'smart phone' things, particularly when they are supposedly in social settings. It is so incredibly rude to ignore someone you're out with and I can't imagine how hurtful it must be to feel you have to compete with a little box for someone's attention. They are both wonderful gadgets and horrible, foul things, these screens that hold us prisoner. The National Day of Unplugging has this brilliant / funny / sad video that shows just what we are doing when we stare at a screen instead of engaging with a person. 

Selfies: don't even get me started - I just don't get them!

I have lately been less on Facebook or blog-reading than at my sewing machine / out running / reading a book, which is good, but I could certainly improve a lot more. I may give this 6-7 March thing a go and see how that feels. 

Monday, 2 March 2015


My bookshelves are positively groaning with the addition of my Christmas gifts (and a few other purchases of items not received). I recently read a blog post that talked about 'how to unclutter your book case'. She said to decide first how many books you would like to own. She came up with 60; I thought somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000...which doesn't sound very helpful except that I wouldn't necessarily own all the books I currently have. And of course I've not that much space for bookshelves, so I'm not really in any danger.

Anyhow when I noticed that the Marsden Boy Scouts were having a book sale of course I dropped in for a look as I was passing. I headed straight for the craft section, then the biographies and other non-fiction and then only lightly perused the novels for Veronica Roth's trilogy. No such luck.

But I did find a few other books of interest: The Viceroy's Daughters I have read before and know I will enjoy it again. It is largely set in the inter-war period and is about the three daughters of George Curzon.  It also has a lot to say about the Mitfords (one of whom who married Oswald Mosley, the ex-husband of the eldest Curzon daughter) and about Duke and Duchess of Windsor (AKA Edward VIII who abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson).

The foodie book is rather silly and full of ideas I'm not likely to take up both for the health of my body and of my pocketbook, but I shall no doubt learn a term or two.

The Historian was selected mainly because of its title and the nice thickness, but it turned out to be about vampires, something I'd not realised. Fortunately it was nothing like Twilight, read more like a mystery and gave some wonderful descriptions of old cities in Eastern Europe, where we are headed this summer. 

I thought How to Shop and Why We Buy sounded intriguingly yin and yang. The former turns out to be a list of recommended outlets and boutiques across Britain whilst the latter seems to be an insight into how social psychologists study the habits of shoppers and make recommendations to stores. I'd hoped it would be more along the lines of 'how not to buy'; then again, I know quite a bit about that already.

Finally, the book about economics may well prove to be over my head, but I have enjoyed Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist, so we'll see.

I think six books for £4.50 to a good cause was a brilliant deal, don't you?

Friday, 27 February 2015

Money and Gender

Have you ever thought of financial management in terms of gender stereotypes? I was recently considering which financial chores are difficult for me and which seem to come naturally and I discovered I think of 'male' and 'female' jobs. Not that my money is anyone's responsibility other than my own. I sometimes seek enlightenment from Bill about 'accountant-speak' or ask him to double check that I'm not missing any info off a form, but I don't ask him to deal with the bigger issues as much as I would sometimes dearly love to off load the responsibility.

Wallington Hall, May 2014; just because I like posts to have pictures and I like the tranquility of this one.

I find being frugal - not spending money, looking for good prices, doing things myself, is almost second nature these days. Having experienced financial instability at a young age, I'm much more comfortable keeping a good sized margin between me and the 'financial edge', the subject of one of Amy Dacyczyn's editorials in her Tightwad Gazette newsletter. Spending less, even doing without, isn't that hard for me. I'd rather have financial security than just about anything I can think of buying.

What I struggle with is the tax preparation and the management of investments. I didn't have that much problem with going out and making money during my working days, but I would probably struggle with going back to work after over seven years of retirement. I could do it if I had to, but I wouldn't like it. Which pretty much describes the other tasks. I do what I have to, but I really hate it.

It was in trying to outline the 'Getting Things Done' Project List that I became aware of this weirdness in my thinking. I'm practically 19th Century in looking at money jobs: "men's" work is making the money, investing, dealing with tax authorities, giving the "little woman" her household budget and setting other spending priorities.

"Women's work" is running the household for as little as possible and developing the skills necessary to save money. I don't enjoy all those skills, either, but they don't give me the headache that some of the financial stuff does. I suppose part of "women's work" is spending the money to provide food and household goods. I quite enjoy grocery shopping, but I hate buying things for the house, particularly decorating decisions.

Do you like some parts of financial management better than others? 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Homemade Doorstops and Floor Protection

I've found that inviting people over is a great way to push me to do those little projects I wouldn't bother with otherwise. It makes me sit down and do something I enjoy...once I get started.

One doorstop started with Bill's idea. At some point when the downstairs loo was being built last spring he put a milk bottle, half filled with water, where it would stop the new door from banging the wall and leaving a dent. That milk bottle remained while we were away on various trips and while I was doing my UK tax return. It wasn't until I'd sent out the Thanksgiving invitations that I turned my attention to making a bag to cover the milk bottle. I probably could have chosen an easier doorstop to make, but Bill liked his idea and I so tried to work with it.

The outside was a lush fabric scrap some crafting or sewing group had given me (as it, it would go to the tip if I didn't rescue it). The lining was some fabric I bought 20 years ago for a project I never tacked. I still had the receipt folded up in the fabric. I'm not that wonderfully thrilled with how the bag turned out, but it's completed and it's totally functional. Job done. Were I to tackle it again sometime, I wouldn't fit the bottom part to the size of the milk bottle, I'd just make a big squishy looking bag that had the drape I wanted (the first time) for the top part. I'm not very spatially competent, me.

The other place that needed a doorstop was to protect the corner of my china cabinet from the dining room door. Bill gave me a block of wood that was just the right shape and size. I proceeded to wrap it like a give. Then realised that I was just making another hard surface to put between the two hard surfaces, which wouldn't accomplish anything...duh. Starting over, I buried the block in several layers of wadding and then went back to wrapping.  The result is kind of silly, but I like it. The green matches the carpet and the chair covers; the dark blue matches the blue velvet curtains in the dining room.

The one innovation I was quite pleased about came about after Bill had installed the bamboo flooring in the extension. He was about to put my Grandma's sewing machine cabinet in the alcove opposite the loo but worried his new floor would be scratched. I've been saving milk bottle caps for Vivien for some charity that gets money for recycling them (we have some mad projects going on like that). I took four of those bottle caps, cut larger circles around them from dark brown fabric and stitched covers for each of the bottle caps. Bill put those under the legs of the sewing machine and it slid around just great!

Have you done any 'home sewing' lately?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Pasta Sauce

Bill got an ENORMOUS crock pot for Christmas. I was happy enough with my old £5-bargain-from-the-fleamarket-15-years-ago crock pot, but he wanted one that you could take the 'crock' part out and soak it. 

I've been trying to think what to do with this GIANT thing other than cook 16 meals worth of beans at a time. I think of crock pots as being mainly to do with beans or with meat. I don't wish to add substantial amounts of meat either to our diets or our pocketbooks. 

One thing I did remember cooking 20-some years ago when I lived in Salt Lake was the pasta recipe from The Tightwad Gazette.  As I recall it was practically a party day any time I took a jar off the shelf for dinner. 

I had loads of homegrown tomatoes then and I did the proper canning thing with a hot water bath and all. I remember being really paranoid because of the odd case of botulism associated with home canning, so I was very careful to follow the rules. And I promised myself NEVER TO TASTE something I'd canned that wasn't just right - I'd talked to a woman recovering from botulism who'd done just that, even though she knew it was risky. She was lucky to have survived.

The recipe doesn't call for a crock pot, but I remember struggling to get it all into my biggest pan. So I decided to see how it worked in the new BIG crock pot. I used tinned tomatoes (on sale at my green market four 800g tins for £1!), counting them out and squeezing most of the juice/water out. Bill helped me by grinding the onions and green peppers in Grandma & Grandpa's old meat grinder. I cooked everything except the tomato paste in the crock pot (it was barely half full, but those were huge tins of tomato paste) over night. I added the tomato paste the next day, mixed it all up and put it into jars, not quite filling them to leave room to freeze. 

It smelled and tasted wonderful, mainly because of the herbs and garlic! That said, the tinned tomatoes weren't as big as my homegrown ones (and nothing ever compares to home grown tomatoes, right?) so the paste is a bit acidic. I may try adding a bit of baking soda, not being a huge fan of sugar. When I make it again - and I expect I will - I'll probably double up on the tinned tomatoes. Also, I'll probably try cutting back on the oil, maybe by a third to begin with. We're not on a low fat diet by any means, but it's not unusual for us to find processed foods too oily and a lot of older-fashioned recipes are too rich for our taste.

All that aside, I was well pleased with the outcome and will look for other sauces to make in batches to freeze. 

Do you use a crock pot much?