7 pieces of advice on the holidays (by women who know good advice)

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Having nobody to create a bit of magic for wold save time and stress, but oh, the sadness.-Lucia Van Der Post

I love a lifestyle book, I really do. When done right it’s the perfect mix of lifehacks and the comforting words of an older sister I never had. I have a few, and for you I flicked through them looking for salient pieces of advice that will hopefully be helpful in the weeks to come. Let’s get cracking.

  1. Christmas books. I have mentioned The wonderful weekend book many times but I do find it a great seasonal companion, just as a little reminder and source of good ideas. I do not do all of the things all of the time, but since I’ve had it I have tried several recipes, gone with suggestions and embraced the spirit of it. Some of the things I probably did even before, which why it appeals to me. Christmas books is such a thing, I reread A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every year. I should get more though; Thompson mentions John S. Goodall’s An Edwardian Christmas which sounds like the thing I would love, and The Oxford book of Christmas poems of which I hope to manage to get several as it would make a great Christmas gift.
  2. Drills make great gifts. Rita Konig’s Domestic Bliss-how to live does not a have a Christmas section, but it does have one dedicated to presents. In that she points out that nice drills, preferable cord free and with a light in the front for drilling in the back of cupboards, is a great gift for men. I will add that it is also a great gift for women. There is no amount of singing “Run the world” by Beyoncé or writing papers about suffragettes that has been as emancipating in my life as the moments when I have been able to put up shelves and paintings for myself. I don’t need no man for that. I have also done it for several of my friends. Just get on with it.
  3. Don’t ever give children anything that makes a noise. This is from Konig’s book, but also something that I knew before.
  4. Consider a winter picnic. Mentioned in both Thompson and Konig’s books ( in this case I’m referring to Rita’s culinary trickery) it does mean a very different thing in the U.K. In Sweden we might have some serious snowfall around this time of year. Which mean that you can go sleigh riding down the slopes; no matter how old you are it’s still fun. If you feel like an idiot, volunteer as a babysitter for someone you know’s child and then use the child as an excuse. Kids love it and their parents will be forever grateful for a few hours off during the weekend. But you really must put nice things in the basket; warm apple juice with a bit of cinnamon in it to drink, that sort of large thermos intended for meals is a great investment in any case but for this they are brilliant as you can bring bangers and mash with you, or fried dumplings. Can you imagine that; being out on excursion and being able to enjoy some dumplings, maybe a bit of fried rice and cups of smokey lapsang tea. Glorious. And don’t be naff trying to it with chopstick, just pierce them with a fork. You probably want to keep your mittens on while eating bc. of cold. When it comes to dessert, for lack of a better word, on these kinds of picnics I cannot imagine anything but orange flavored milk chocolate. Integral part of winter adventures in my childhood, it has shaped me for life.
  5. What Christmas requires is profusion. Lucia van der Post is to the point with that piece of advice. I always say that there is safety in numbers (I’m a bloody economist of course I would say that) but there is also style in numbers. Many a sophisticated person have figured this out and I have learned from them. Twenty tulips look great, a big bowl of tangerines just catches the eye and a long row of tealights, even placed in the cheapest bodega glass, looks wonderful.
  6. Start small. Again; Van der Post has some good advice. She does point out that decorating the house is a cumulative project, there are layers and layers that get added on. Having the complete thing from the beginning is impossible and even if you went out and bought everything now, you probably wouldn’t like it in a few years becasue it will date quickly, there are trends to Christmas too (and that is saying nothing about the fact that it is lack a sense of time or tradition). If I was to start collection Christmas ornaments now I would probably focus on birds because in a few years it would look incredibly chic with a Christmas tree with just bird baubles, even though they would represent different trees there will still be a theme. That’s not how it will play out though , my tree is an eclectic mix of inherited, bought and made (crochet napkins rings by my pseudo-auntie) and it’s like a photo album. I still love it (and I saw a donut bauble in a shop today and I’m gonna buy it. So there. That makes me happy. In the end there is nothing as boring as too much good taste).
  7. No shame in a bit of catering. I’m 100% behind Van der Post on this one. This whole “oh, one must do it all oneself” bollocks is gonna make us all go mad. There are some amazing delis, I have a lot of love of the frozen food of Picard and even the supermarket has much to offer in this. Do a few key things that you care about yourself, and let professionals take care of the rest. I haven’t baked a saffron bun in years, I might still bake the gingerbread snaps but I buy the dough. Christmas is about eating good food TOGETHER, not about the food. And don’t both cleaning either; after Christmas you’ll have to do it all agin, just tidy up a few choice areas (my mum always checks the stove top so that sparkles when she visits; just don’t look in larder).

I’ll probably return tomorrow with another list because I’m in the mood for it. False sense of having everything under control being the prime reason.

-Suss

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7 ways to customize a sweater(or any other fabric)

So let’s say, hypothetically, that you have a grey sweater in jersey. That very comfy, excellent fit kind that you really love. And that suddenly there is a stain, like a blueberry stain that’s impossible to get out. What to do? You don’t need to throw away the sweater, you can use it as a canvas for your creativity. All of these ideas can used on other items of clothing (I have) or fabric used in the home (I’ve done that too). It doesn’t matter if you are so called “up cycling” or trying to create something original from the start, these are applicable.

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1. Go all Jackson Pollock on it. Paint spatter has a long history, spatterware is actually a thing. You have to have a little bit of space to because you are flinging fabric paint on fabric (in this case) but the results can be very cool. It’s not more difficult than that.

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2. Do the dab. Whether you are using just a paint brush or one of those little round fabric sponges you can create a patter of sorts by a series of gentle applications. If you make dots with a fabric sponge you are basically creating a Damian Hirst painting. He doesn’t do the dots himself you know. If you use the brush and make marks in black paint on white fabric it will look like you have dressed yourself in a dalmatian. Cruella de Ville wasn’t wrong in wanting to do that, it’s how she went about it that was always the problem in my view. Fake dalmatian, fake snake and fake leopard is so much better then the real thing.

3. Stamp it. Fabric stamps are good stuff. You can get a ready made one or one of those “carve it yourself kits” but then you have every possibility of doing a very exact and nice print. Maybe one heart in red on one sweater, a multitude in blue on an old dress and why not make a couple of pillowcases while you are at it. My experience in this tells me that once you start, it’s difficult to stop.

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4. Iron on some letters. Here I’ve just used some left over Q’s from when I’ve been making shirts with witty captions but just randomly ironing on letters all over the from of a sweater is gonna be hella awesome. I’m sure that if I search my memory I have seen it done somewhere, or maybe I have just been thinking about doing it loads. I do have a lot of rarely used letter laying around. I got these from the craft store. You could obviously cover up a stain by just adding a cool phrase using these kinds of letters.

5. Applique s’il vous plaît. If you go to a good haberdashers you will find a range of applications that are ready made and only need to be either stitches on or ironed on. Getting a set of them, adding several over the front at regular intervals is all you need to do. Small embroidered flowers can look tragic using just one or two but a dozen of them? There is style in numbers I always say, meaning that there is safety in numbers. It looks like a thought. There are tiny patches with sequins that I’ve seen and that sort of thing would also look good on most clothing items. This technique is also very good for covering small holes and tears in items.

6. Batik is chic. Tie-dye has a bad reputation but I do love it. What you need to do to avoid that hippie vibe lays mostly in the styling. And having a cool tie-dyed sweater with just a pair of leather trousers and some heels, or just a skirt with a white crisp shirt works just fine. My bleached jeans were more ska-skin then hippie and I loved those. Either have one tie-dyed item in amongst some very classic pieces or go all in by clashing a batik shirt with some batik trousers. Indigo(or other colours) can be bought at the crafts store and then follow the instructions on the packaging.

7. The last draw. My final solution would be to get fabric pens and draw free hand. The great thing about these is that they don’t need to be fixated with an iron, not stitched on, no nothing. They just need time to dry properly. Drawing freehand can feel intimidating but obviously you can use a template.

-Suss

Schiaparelli & sound advice?

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The other week I read Shocking life-the autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, and I’d like to return to it once more. As I noted on Instagram I felt there was some great stories in this book but the designer’s instance of referring to herself in the third person made it a less then thrilling read. I wish an editor had stepped in at some point.

On the next to last page there is a list of The twelve commandments for women. This does ring a bell, I vaguely remember a Swedish magazine or possibly a radioshow bringing them up at some point, but then again as they are well known what I have to say about them is probably old hat, but here they are. These commandments were written in the 50’s and based on her experiences as a couturier but how do they hold up?

1. Since most women don’t know themselves they should try to do so.

Agreed. Knowing yourself, what suits you and what you need are probably vital for putting together a useful closet.

2. A woman who buys an expensive dress and changes it,often with disastrous results, is extravagant and foolish.

This is still good advice. But there is a certain pleasure in being extravagant and foolish, and buying an expensive dress might get you qualified as that to begin with.

3. Most women (and men) are color-blind. They should ask for suggestions.

I don’t think she means actually color-blind but rather bad a knowing what colours suit them and which go well with one another. Asking for advice is a good strategy.

4. Remember-twenty per cent of women have inferiority complexes. Seventy per cent have illusions.

Really? I would say nowadays the numbers are reversed.

5. Ninety per cent are afraid of being conspicuous and of what people will say. So they buy a grey suit. They should dare to be different.

Supposedly by following commandment three that should be sorted. And a grey suit can be a good base for some wonderful accessories. I wouldn’t mind having a grey suit actually, mixing it up with some chartreuse blouses or a raspberry red t-shirt(long sleeves).

6. Women should listen and ask for competent criticism and advice.

This list isn’t well-written, this should come before number three and then the piece of advice after that should specify  “in particular when it comes to colour”. It’s all very anti-Chanel who’s palette was very much about neutrals. They were enemies of course, Coco once(allegedly) put Elsa in the pathway of a burning candle and she caught fire.

7. They should choose their clothes alone or in the company of a man.

I prefer shopping alone as if I’m out with someone else I will spend more time on helping them then looking for myself. And if women should ask for competent advice, can staff be trusted? Not everywhere, a well-chosen friend is probably better. Personal shoppers can be hired, might not be a bad idea for some.

8. They should never shop with another woman, who sometimes consciously and often unconsciously is apt to be jealous.

Disagree. I’m an excellent shopping partner, and I know other women who are as well. And the women you can’t shop with because of jealousy will probably be like that in other areas of your life too, and maybe that’s not a relationship to invest in or maybe have an honest talk.

9. They should buy little, and only of the best or the cheapest.

This actually sounds rather cool. Still valid. But remember that “fast-fashion” is cheap because the price doesn’t reflect the use of common resources and sub-standard working conditions and is in reality very costly for the environment. Go vintage or second-hand. Swap with friends.

10. Never fit the dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.

I’m all for women making time to exercise as it’s vital for a good health but don’t do it to fit into a dress. And in this day and age of prêt-a-porter the clothes are made for theoretical body types. I still have to get stuff fitted for a nice silhouette as I’m between sizes and losing more wight would not be the solution.

11. A woman should buy mostly in one place where she is known and respected, ad not rush around trying every fad.

This is good advice. Establishing a personal connection with sales staff with get you better service and advice.

12. And she should pay her bills.

Schiaparelli herself obviously had a problem because her customers didn’t always pay for the clothes in time and despite being a huge commercial success she wasn’t so financially. But always pay your bills, late fees is a waste of money.

-Suss

Bashō&Bourbon

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I’ve been reading Bashō again. This time it’s been a slim volume called On love and Barley.

Having been introduced to his work by a Penguin little black classic called Lips too chilled last year I found much I recognized in this, indeed the small volume draws from this. However I did also get a good introduction which taken together with that in A narrow road to the deep North and other travels sketches has taught me more about the man behind the haikus.

Born in 1644 Bashō bridges the gap, or indeed seems to be the conduit, between a time of stagnation for Japanese poetry and the Tokugawa-era which saw the blooming of culture.

His love of nature (his pen name comes from a tree), a lifelong curiosity and adherence to Zen buddism imbues his lines with an awe of nature but also act to point our eyes to what is important. He doesn’t have to spell it all out but rather makes the reader notice his or her surroundings. Haiku was an established form of verse but it was outdated and Bashō reinvigorated it by making the most of the rules and on occasion breaking them. Haiku with it’s limited space still allows for much experimentation. In the end he was a traditionalist and respectful of the limitations but I interpret it as he sometimes found that the art had precedence over convention, and thus mixed it up so to speak.

Speaking of mixing it up (I’m stretching it when I compare haikus to Old-fashioneds but bear with); The Old-fashioned has through the reinvigorated cocktail scene in general, and the TV-series Mad men in particular, again become very popular. Like haiku it’s defined by very simple rules but it’s  hard to make an outstanding one for that very reason.

The list of ingredients is short and to the point; bourbon,sugar cube, bitters and and orange zest. Possibly a cocktail cherry; I rather like them but the trend is to skip the fruit. I don’t know why. Then there is the difficult part; the mixing of said things.

I’ve heard more than one bartender say that they judge other bartenders on how they make them, it’s a test. And there is a difference I can tell you. That said, if making them at home-lower your expectations. But it’s also a good opportunity to break the rules.

One of my most tried examples of blasphemy is using single-malt whiskey instead of bourbon. Most bourbons are too bland and sweet for me and when making bar cabinet priorities the single-malt is of the utmost importance, I use it for all manner of cocktails.

I got the idea to use it also for Old fashioned from none other then Tony Conigliario, or to be precise, a visit to 69 Colebrook row which is one of the best bars in the world according to me. Having one was an epiphany. If guests want more of a standard version I use a blended whiskey (which also is of higher importance than bourbon in my book, and easier to find a good version of to be honest). Then I’m lazy and use a syrup instead of a sugar cube which means the stirring is is kept at a minimum, and is a good opportunity to add another dimension. Last but not least; there are other bitters than Angostura. In short; by playing around with the elements there is a good opportunity to make something that is familiar and yet original.

Baseline Old fashioned; yields one drink

0.5-1 cl of syrup

5 cl bourbon, blended whiskey or single-malt

2 dashes of bitters

for serving; tumbler full of ice

orange zest (or grapefruit or lemon; whatever works from the citrus family)

  1. Pour the sugar syrup into a stirring glass full of ice and begin to stir.
  2. Add half of the spirit and continue to stir.
  3. Add the rest of it and the bitters and stir some more.
  4. Strain into at the tumbler of ice and garnish with the citrus of your choice.

With this as the format there is no reason why you shouldn’t make a drink with mezcal, elderflower syrup and Scrappy’s black lemon bitters. It’s a variation on this theme that I haven’t tried but I probably should. As always; enjoy responsibly.

-Suss

End of winter- empties

In the last few weeks we have gone from winter (we had snow on May 10th) to summer (May 20th) and sometime around there I used up the last of several things that have gotten me through winter. I can’t stress this enough; I’m not a beauty or skincare blogger. But I have skin, and I care about it etc.

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  1. Vaseline intensive aloe sooth

One thing I’ve learned about having dry skin is that it’s not necessarily about the product, it’s about the routine. Better to buy a cheap but still reasonable bodylotion, and there are several on the market, and then make sure you use it everyday. This is one that I often find at the discount store and I’m very fond of it.

2. Almond oil

In addition to the lightweight bodylotion I go in with almond oil at times, the heavy artillery so to speak. This is available from Swedish pharmacies and is better then the Other stories body oil, but at a third of the price. The bottle isn’t as nice obviously. That is part of what you pay premium for. Or you can do like me and just hide things in the bathroom cabinet.

3. Vichy Aqualia Thermal

Love this pure and simple. It works very well for me as I have combination skin on my face and the difference between t-zone and cheeks is aggravated by harsh weather. Since this is so light weight I can basically put a bit extra on my cheeks to even out. Layering serum is probably wrong/blasphemy/idiotic but whatever. It works for me and I can adjust for the level of winter wonderland we have on any particular day.

4. Flagrant délice by Terry de Gunzburg

This lovely fig and almond scent is sweeter than what I usually like but as it is also quite discrete. I enjoy wearing it on cold days as it is a mood enhancer and almost like being wrapped in a cosy blanket.

5. Dry fast top coat by Seche Vite

I don’t wear nail polish that often, especially not in winter as the weather wrecks havoc with my nails. But if I do, I need a good fast drying top coat because otherwise it will smear as I’m impatient and will probably  put on mittens or gloves and ruin it otherwise. This is the best, with the notable exception of the spray on top coat that used to be available abroad. I suspect that it was an environmental hazard and probably a human one as well but I will tell you; for a while there I had some lovely colourful nails and not a smudge as far as the eye could see.

-Suss

Carbs&Chignons

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So the world is rejoicing that the French decided not to elect a right wing populist as president. Of course,always contrarian the french; electing a right wing leader is what everyone else is doing. So I guess the fascination with them will continue. The food,the style and the attitude. Paris, the city of lights, the undulating hills of Provence and the glamorous life in Nice; they are the object of our dreams and desires. How to get there without leaving the comfort of your own home?

Many a books have been written by the french, by people living in France and about the french themselves. And on a few occasions by the french about the french;  to explain to us mere mortals how they do it. I’ve read more then one of those books, and even when I open the book with the intention of not liking it and assume they are making fun of me, I still manage to find a few tips and tricks along the way.

Why french women don’t get fat supposedly got quite a buzz when it was published. I have the Swedish translation that I bought at a gift shop a few years back. And Giuliano is a bit full of herself, i.e. lives up to the myth of the french woman, but many of the recipes are good I have to admit. I don’t know how “valid” it still is. She advocates a life with carbs,and I agree, but many of the food fads continue to rage, get exchanged for new ones and obesity is still one of the biggest health problems in the world.  So maybe she sold a lot of books but her solutions probably mostly preached to the gospel. I don’t think she did intend to save the world however.

A book more recently published is How to be Parisian wherever you are-love style and bad habits written by a group of very chic french women. the kind that has an inherited Hermés bag, a cool piece of new Chanel and has perfected the art of messy hair. I would say that this book,also intended for the hapless non-french, doesn’t take itself to seriously. And it does involve some good recipes. If we are talking style ideals and role models I would say that this bunch isn’t all that bad. I’m obviously biased; I think french pharmacies are brilliant with their affordable skincare, love good food and have a had a penchant for striped tops since childhood. Also any excuse not to wash my hair to often,or brush it, will be used. They say it’s chic, I nod my head and wear my hair in a messy bun for the 19th day in a row. But it is a fun book to browse through. I liked it more then I thought I would.

One thing that the french has figured out is that older women aren’t a menace to society. Yes, they do love young women, the femme-infant has a place in the french heart, but there seems to be room for all women.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just thought I would mention these two books, that have in common that I gained more from them then I thought I would. The good thing about advice from a book about how to be french is that you can pick what you like and ignore the rest, which really is the best kind advice book. And I haven’t visited France since 2015 so aching to go back.

-Suss

 

George&Junkshops; 7 things to look out for

A junk shop is not to be confused with an antique shop. An antique shop is clean,its goods are attractively set out and priced at about double their value and once inside the shop you are usually bullied into buying something. A junk shop has  fine film of dust over the window,its stock may include anything that is not perishable and and its proprietor, who is usually asleep in a small room at the back, displays no eagerness to make a sale.

-George Orwell

I’ve quoted this passage from the essay Just Junk-but who could resist it by George Orwell before and I will again as I happen to think it’s very funny and it’s funny because it’s true. Everyone I know remembers how when I moved into this flat there was the oddest junk shop on the corner and it fit this description perfectly. We have all bought stuff there and some of it was very good, and possibly a bargain. The most memorable thing however were the long essays that the proprietor left in the window for passers by to read, explaining his worldview and what was wrong in society today.  A lovely bit of eccentricity that the neighborhood did gain from I think.

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Had I had this wonderful essay by Orwell then I would have bought more things probably; Orwell is a gem of a writer but also a seasoned shopper. Some of the things he tells us to look out for in the essay(included in The decline of the english murder)

  1. “Victorian brooches and lockets of agate or other semi-precious stones”; Orwell concedes that 5 out of 6 are ugly but the beautiful ones are worth the trouble. I will start looking immediately, this sounds like exactly the thing I like. Why don’t I have lockets of agate already ?(because I love jade that’s why)
  2. Papier-mâche snuffboxes with pictures painted on the lid; If I had a small collection of those my accessories would be well organized. I have those Muji thingies but they are not very sexy. Probably more practical but since I use the same pieces to death in periods (and then they are either on me or in my small Wedgwood dish) it’s not really something I need worry about.
  3. Scrap screens; He points out that the best were made in the 1880’s but these do not come cheaply anymore. I do agree that they are wonderful. An old friend bought one and used as a bed board, simply marvelous in that kind of minimalist Stockholm home that is de rigeur nowadays. And as Orwell points out; it is fun adding your own scraps if needed . I would like a screen in any case and I might just make my own with all the maps and other travel mementos I’ve gathered over the years.
  4. Glass paper weights with pictures at the bottom; Don’t buy the expensive ones from John Derian I implore you. Buy a 70’s one with the words “Bienvenue à Nice” at the bottom instead. You need a bit of kitsch, you really do.
  5. Old French sword-bayonets(to use as a fire poker); Pure genius.
  6. Keys to fit almost any lock; And if you don’t want to find a key to unlock a secret drawer in a chest (also bought in a junk shop), you can always turn them into art or accessories.
  7. “Indeed,I have often found that the cheapest way of buying a frame is to buy a picture and then throw away the picture”; This is very true but it should be added how many pictures that look a lot better when they are out of their frame. It absolutely used to be the case that people got very elaborate gilded frames for pictures and paintings so that other could clearly see that the it was something expensive that had been framed. That it ended up overshadowing the actual artwork seemed less of a problem. You might just get two for one with that.

-Suss