Monday, 9 July 2018

Paper and wool

I went to Ballarat again over the weekend and spent a chilly couple of hours examining every last dusty fetish object in the draughty shed full of worrying detritus from the recent past which calls itself the Mill Market. My investigation did have a higher purpose – I am trying to buy some large enamel bowls and some hundred-year-old medical implements to frighten children with – but I didn’t find anything suitable. No doubt I will be able to do some excellent child-frightening in the 1960s Lurex brocade evening coat I brought home with me but that’s a personal goal unconnected with work. It is important not to get these things mixed up.

The first object I picked up was an unused envelope from the mid-60s, printed with a pretty coloured sketch of a sunbathing woman and the words ‘Greetings from Caloundra’. On the back was written ‘$12’. Naturally I was extremely annoyed for the remainder of the afternoon and so I failed to buy this:

Inside the book there is a Fair Isle vest pattern which I also photographed, and which I feel myself teetering on the precipice of attempting to actually knit. I’ve had a hankering for a Fair Isle vest at least since the video for Cloudbusting, probably since the video for Waterfalls, maybe even since Magical Mystery Tour. I already know the pattern in this book isn’t right and knitting it won’t bring me the feeling of completion, of wholeness, that I seek. It’s got a scoop neck instead of a V. But something about the element of 1970s interference with an interwar design classic just won’t leave me alone. I like the visual disruption and the conceptual mess. (It’s the brown pottery obsession all over again.)

If I really am going to knit something major what it ought to be is a 1940s cardigan, i.e. my personal Waterloo of jumper knitting that brought me undone sometime in my late twenties. I was given a great big bundle of forties patterns and I fell for them, hard; the one I settled on was worked in an all-over lace which was fairly simple but still somewhat beyond my capabilities, and it was designed for tiny little 4-ply yarn and I foolishly chose to knit it in black. So when I discovered I had knitted a back and two left fronts I was so enraged that I didn’t even stuff it in a cupboard, I actually threw it all into the garbage.

All the patterns too, they went in the bin as well. Crikey.

There is another reason why it should be a 1940s cardigan and that is to soothe away the aching yearning I feel every single day at work when I walk through the museum and catch sight of this woman factory worker in a video about aircraft manufacturing in Melbourne in WWII. Not being even slightly facetious about this. She's doing something that involves hot metal and a lot of sparks and I want her jumper [secondarily I want her shirt, but that's easily arranged]. I want it bad:

I don’t think I’m the only person in this workplace who harbours these kinds of highly suss, politically and maybe even morally inappropriate sartorial desires for the clothes people wore in the Second World War. Possibly I'm the only one who's fully conscious of it. Today I am kitted out in the unofficial workplace uniform of sensible shoes, serviceable pants, a collared shirt and a heavy knitted jumper. 

Everyone wears this getup at least half the time. It’s how you’d use your clothing ration if you were a civilian enmired in a total war of uncertain duration. I sometimes wonder if this aesthetic is only a semi-wistful response to how we think about the 1940s here, or perhaps it also somehow embeds an awareness, unusually present to us, that our everyday lives have silently become weaponized and we had all better be ready, at all times, to blow the whistle and deploy the fire buckets. Or perhaps this is merely how all employees of public sector authorities dress themselves? I'm not in a position to know.

Annoyed as I was by the second-hand market and my own complicity in the whole filthy enterprise I did not even take a photograph of one object that I am now quite sorry I did not shell out $28 to purchase. This was a used blotter which had lain in somebody’s desk drawer since 1942. It was about the size of a modern wall calendar and it had a cover of once-stiff, now furred 1940s green cardboard which enclosed about ten well-used sheets of blotting paper. Inside the back cover, under the printed heading Addresses, in faded handwriting, was a series of revised directions for correspondence addressed to a soldier. They began with Royal Park, passed through North Africa and ended with Lae.

I have successfully resisted the temptation to come over all Derridean in contemplating the resonances of the indecipherable traces of writing – blurry, mirrored, fragmentary, crossed with other lines - bled into this object. It’s not necessary. I hope you enjoy thinking about those soft old sheets of paper.


elsewhere said...

You look very Land Girl in that photo. I guess people didn't have social media in the 1940s so they needed Fair Isle knitting to take up the slack of time. Why don't people at your work feel impelled to dress as though they were in the Great War?

Those knitwear patterns reminded me of the clothes Carol Ferrone wears in the 1970s episode of Back in Time for Dinner. I was transfixed by her sleeveless pantsuit thing. If ever you see a pattern for one of those or the genuine article, let me know. It'd be great for my workplace (not because we dress as tho it's the '70s--more because I'm always looking for a broader definition of 'suit').

lucy tartan said...

Good question re: the absence of unconscious first world war cosplay - possible answers include that it's too difficult to pass as normal, that WWI was not civilians' business in the same way as WWII, and that everyone is just thoroughly sick of the FWW centenary.

I sure will keep a lookout for a sleeveless pantsuit thing. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

elsewhere said...

Hah hah hah. Thanks!

If you've not seen and would like to borrow Danger UXB, an old TV series with a highly detailed evocation of Blitz life in London, you'd be welcome (but I'd understand if not).

P.S. I am not a robot.

lucy tartan said...

I know you're not a robot! Would love to borrow Danger UXB, sounds a bit like the 70s version of the retro knitting - double periodisations rule. I will try to make it for drinks tomorrow night but not sure at this stage.

The 'prove you're not a robot' thing is Blogger's idea of wit and nothing at all to do with me. It makes me do it too.

Gill Stannard said...

If you’re looking for surgical implements for an exhibition the medical museum might be able to help you

lucy tartan said...

Thanks Gill I actually want objects that students can handle and so they will eventually be destroyed, but I hadn't thought of contacting the medical museum to ask if they have any ideas where I could get stuff from. There's an anesthesia museum too I'll get onto them as well.