Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Choose A Handbag

It's fall and you know what that means: all the new handbags are out.

If you're like me, the choices can be overwhelming. Tote or shoulder? Clutch or mini with cross-body strap?  And what size -- small? Medium? Back-breaking? And what fabric -- Leather? Sequins? Embroidered?

(Just for the moment, let's overlook the fact that I have way too many handbags as it is, and that these musings are mostly conjecture because... well gosh darn it, a girl likes to dream.)

All of the aforementioned factors are important but as William Morris said (and I paraphrase), "Something needs to be useful as well as beautiful." 

Below, a few ways to solve this time-honored conundrum.

* * * * *

You need something sturdy with a low-key vibe that won't make people think you're carrying a lot of valuables.
(John Collet, "Bachelor's Fare", 1778.)

(Jérome Dreyfuss Carlos woven leather tote, $1815. Here.)

You need something feminine and soft that you can tuck behind you for those occasions when you need a little extra lumbar support.
(Isaac Cruikshank, "A Luncheon at Gibside", 1792.)


(Miu Miu matelasse leather clutch, $570. Here.)

You need something that can double as a form of self-defense should the party get too crazy.
(George Cruikshank, "Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room", 1818.)

(Alexander McQueen Knuckle Swarovski box clutch, $2195. Here.)

You need something that conveys a secret message to the family steward while your husband is busy being Mr. Mom.
(Artist unknown, "Husbands Holyday", 1778.)


 (Charlotte Olympia Baboushka embroidered clutch, $595. Here.)

You need something you can hold in your hand so it won't mess up the incredibly flattering line of your dress.
(George Cruikshank, "Monstrosities", 1818.) 

(Yve Saint Laurent Belle du Jour clutch, $595. Here.)

You need something you can hug to keep you warm so your husband will stop offering you that godawful flannel cloak of his.
(Isaac Cruikshank, "A Hint to the Ladies, 1807.)


(Stella McCartney alpaca and silk-blend Falabella bag, $1725. Here.)

You need something that can double as an overnight bag should dinner turn into (ahem) something more. 
(Isaac Cruikshank, "Oh! Che Boccone!", 1795) 


(Paul Smith Globe 2 Burgundy Swirl handbag, $639.20. Here.)

What handbag are you drooling over?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Big News

To all of my virtual friends who have followed A Bloomsbury Life these last four years, I have big news.

But first I want to tell you a little story.

* * * 
A long time ago (we won't say how long) there was a little girl who loved to read.

And when I say loved, I mean with the unbridled passion that all of you who love books will immediately recognize. 

They were her food. 
They were her water.
They were her everything.

When she was eleven and read Jane Eyre for the first time, she begged her parents to make her gruel for dinner so that she would be able to understand what Jane was going through.

And after she read Jean Plaidy's book about Anne Boleyn, she wore a piece of black ribbon about her neck for remembrance until it got so dirty her mother made her take it off.

When she needed time apart from her four younger and extremely rambunctious brothers and sisters, she would go downstairs to the sun porch and spend hours floating above a roiling sea of shag carpet. Being neither here nor there nor up nor down, it was the perfect place to dream about her future.
(Michigan, August 2012. A time capsule since 1974.)

Because she was little, she didn't put any limitations on her dreams. And so she let herself dream bigbigbig. And she dreamed that one day she would write a book of her very own. 

Lots of time passed. 
She grew up, went to college and moved a lot of different places.
And her dream was still there, but it had a lot to compete with.

She was an advertising copywriter in New York and then LA and then New York again.  
And her dream was still there, but it was on a back burner.

She got married and had a baby.
And her dream was still there, but it was on a very low low flame.

And then she started a blog.
And her readers brought her dream back to life.

*  *  * 
This past March I wrote a book proposal.

For a design book about how our favorite novels (by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and many, many more) can help us live a more stylish and meaningful life.

I showed it to a friend who showed it to a friend who showed it to a literary agent (the über-wonderful Carrie Kania of Conville and Walsh) who was impassioned about it from the very get-go and took me on.

And the other day, I got a book deal with these fine people:

(More about the fabulous world of Clarkson Potter HERE.)

Note: A special shout-out to editor Angelin Borsics and the entire team at Clarkson Potter who I am going to get to know intimately over the next year-and-a-half. Can't wait.

*  *  *

So listen to me, you person who is reading this right now. 
I want to thank you because you -- YES, YOU -- sparked my dream back to life.

Your comments -- oh, each and every single one of your fabulous comments! 
(I can't begin to count all the things I've learned from you.)

You made me believe in the dark of the night that I could do it. 
(And there was more than one dark of the night.)

You took my little dream and fanned it and blew on it until it glowed brightly again...
and then you gave it back to me.

I promise not to let you down. 

This book is for all of us.


P.S. Mark your calendars for a spring 2014 due date. :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paradise, Re-evaluated

Last week we talked about how excited we are that autumn is just around the bend and all the creative projects we're looking forward to doing.

What we didn't talk about is that after a long hot summer the pressure to suddenly transform yourself into some kind of domestic artisan can be slightly intimidating (I'm raising my hand). Yes, I love knitting and sewing and getting busy with my hands, but sometimes all my big plans can leave me feeling slightly overwhelmed.

And then I just sit paralyzed by fear and indecision and do nothing. 

So here's the mantra for this month:
(via Flickr)

In other words, you're going to start small and take it from there. 

This month, choose a simple easy project that isn't going to get you all "flustrated" (flustered +frustrated). Then, once you've successfully tackled that, you'll be ready to take on a more ambitious one. 


1. I have long been a fan of Wool and the Gang and their DIY knitting kits. They use super thick Peruvian wool and big needles and their patterns are all super chic and super easy. Just check out this insanely sexy wool collar. 
(Jane wool collar HERE)

Doesn't it transform this denim jacket into something totally runway-worthy?


I am also completely crazy about these woolly shoulder pads. Aren't they so Arcadian rock-and-roll? In my fantasy time travel mash-up, one of the Bronte sisters would wear this to the Glastonbury Festival.
(Over My Shoulder pads HERE)

I love how they're so unapologetically in your face, unlike the '80's versions which we hid underneath our shirts and tried to pass off as our own shoulders (and fooled no one).


This iPhone 4 case is a perfect needlepoint project for somebody who wants something that can be finished in a week or so.
(Via Miniature Rhino HERE)

Jessica Marquez from Miniature Rhino created this design for her boyfriend and has been kind enough to share the pattern with all of us.
(Details HERE)

Another option: Scoot over to Purl Soho and get yourself the Leese Cross-Stitch iPhone 4 and 4S case and choose one of their patterns. 

...OR THIS...

Say you already have a basic pattern for a sweater you want to make but that you'd like to spice it up a bit. Why not just change colors at the neckline and cuffs? (I can't remember where I found this sweater but I saved it because those two little details make it feel so classic and noteworthy.)
(Photographer unknown.)

...OR THIS...

As amazing as this bag is, how great would it be with a color palette and  pattern of your own choosing? 
(I'm pretty sure I spotted this bag at Anthropologie 
but it's no longer on their website.) 

Take one straw shopping bag (I found a bunch HERE) and choose a simple cross-stitch border (I found some free ones HERE, HERE and HERE) and go to town. 

Note: Just make sure the straw bag you buy is unlined inside -- you don't want to be sewing through fabric. (You can line it afterwards.)

...OR THIS...

This chain knitted bracelet from Marni's fall collection got my undivided attention because of the dynamic tension between that brass chain and the wool. Apparently, it got a lot of other people's attention too because it sold out on Net-a-porter in like two seconds.

I don't know how to crochet, but I'm definitely motivated to learn via a Youtube tutorial if something like this can be the end result. A length of brass chain (found at any hardware store), three colors of wool and a black cotton ribbon to tie the ends together are the only materials you need. It looks like you work a few rows of basic crochet on either side of the brass links and then bind off (ask your neighborhood knitter to be sure).

So embark on a project that excites you.
Something that has you itching to get your hands all over it.

And remember... take it one step -- or one stitch -- at a time.

Because stitches have a way of adding up...
(Me with one of my burlap samplers.)

...and they can take you to some crazy places.
(My solo show at ACME, 2010.)



Monday, September 3, 2012

Paradise Regained

We made it, people.
It's September.
And you know that what means...

1. We're getting closer to standing with our backs to the fire. 
(Photo via HERE)

2. Taking a walk in ethereal blue-gray light.
(Venice, Italy. Photographer unknown.)

3. Busying ourselves with indoor pursuits.
(William Hogarth, "The Distressed Poet", 1736.)

4. Getting our wool out of storage.  
(Photograph by Mark Neville.)

5. Sitting around stewing.
(Winter Vegetable and Tofu Korma. Recipe and photo via 101 Cookbooks.)

6. Transitioning our spaces into private refuges.
(Photo by James Merrell from THIS fabulous article.)

 7. Contemplating our fall entertaining schedule.
(Print by John Faber, 1733)

8. Puttering.
(Photo by Valerie Finnis.)

9. Hugging something hairy.
(Pillows via La Garconne HERE.)

10. Inviting our long-lost summer friends over for a cuppa.

(Photographer unknown.)

Yes, it's still quite warm here in Los Angeles, but as long as it's September, I'm in an entirely different state of mind.

How about you?



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