Friday, September 28, 2012

The Skinny -- Trick or Treat!

 According to the California Milk Processors Board, an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy, which adds up to about 9,000 calories and three pounds of sugar.

Oh, how I miss childhood sometimes!

I was raised in a house where Halloween was the pinnacle of the year, as far as holidays were concerned.  In my mom's heyday, she gave away over 500 hand-packed, hand-tied goody bags to trick-or-treaters in just a few hours.  I grew up in a tiny town, so that was pretty much every kid within a 10 mile radius.  And she did it standing beside a cauldron with dry ice, full green face makeup (with applied nose and chin), corn shocks, hay bales, the scary music soundtrack...You name it, she had it.  Even now, my mom would be dressed as a witch 24/7 if she could get away with it.

From The Heirloom Shop on Etsy
But what are the origins of our idea of Trick Or Treating?  In an excerpt from David J. Skal's book, Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, he says, "Doris Hudson Moss, writing for American Home in 1939, told of her success, begun several years earlier, of hosting a Halloween open house for neighborhood children...The American Home article is significant because it is apparently the first time the expression "trick or treat" is used in a mass-circulation periodical in the United States...It is probably that trick-or-treating had its immediate origins in the myriad of organized celebrations mounted by schools and civic groups across the country specifically to curb vandalism."

As the years passed, and the trick-or-treaters dwindled near where she now lives, my mom turned to collecting vintage Halloween goodies as a way to show her love for the holiday. She has a pretty big collection, but the one elusive thing is a papier-mache Jack O' Lantern.  We've just never found the right one -- for the right price.

Most of the earlier Halloween items (from the 1920s through the 1930s), were geared towards adults -- creepier faces, darker themes, and adult figures in the design.  But it changed with the years.  According to Jason Walcott's Vintage Halloween website (, "...a marked shift can be noticed as you look at Halloween items from the 1920s through the 1940s—the imagery gradually gets less threatening and more cute as manufacturers were marketing their items more for families/kids than adults."

And although these vintage pumpkins look like the modern day candy containers carried by millions of kids, they really started out as real lanterns.  Despite being made from paper, they were lit by candlelight, so that the light shone through their thin paper backed eyes, nose, and mouth.

There are two main types of vintage paper pumpkin lanterns.  German lanterns were made mainly from 1920 to 1935, and have a smoother, cardboard finish.  They were molded in halves and then joined by sewing or stapling.  The lanterns were hand painted, and then a tissue paper face was inserted inside.  Through the late 1930s and 40s, the second type was more popular, and is known as the American Pulp Lantern.  Much like egg carton material, paper pulp was pressed into a pumpkin mold and left to dry.  Then, like the German lanterns, they were painted and given a paper face insert.  The "Choir Boy" style face became popular through the 1950s.  These tend to be very non-scary and cute -- named "Choir Boy" for their open mouths.  They look like they are singing.

According to Jason Walcott's Halloween site, "A good way to differentiate the original pieces from the reproductions is to check the bottom. Original lanterns will have one or more indented rings. Repros will have flat bottoms. Also on the repros, the colors are duller. These Jack O' Lanterns range in size from 4.5 to 8.5 inches in height."

These simple paper lanterns were the precursor to what every kid carries with them on Halloween night -- the classic, plastic Jack O' Lantern candy container!

From In With the Old on Etsy

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Radar -- Victorian Macabre

Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes
Ok, so RDJ is not the trend.  (However, any reason I can find to talk about him is fine by me.  As any of you who know us are well aware, we Blackbird girls are his biggest fans...)  But he did kind of inadvertently start this trend rolling again with the Sherlock Holmes movie franchise.  Not only was the occult-ish, dark storylines riveting, the design of the sets, clothing, and the views of London were super inspiring. And hey, the bare-knuckle boxing scene wasn't too shabby, either! 

Victorian design, especially the darker, macabre side, never really seems to go away.  We just keep reinventing and rediscovering it.  The fascination with the cycle of life and death, as well as the fabrics and embellishments that are representative of the Victorian time period made a reappearance in this year's fall fashion shows.  Designers seemed to be fascinated with the idea of a delicate darkness.  The macabre was lightened by a slight sense of whimsy.

Marchesa skeletal bodysuit, Harper's Bazaar October 2012
Alexander McQueen knuckle clutch, Fall 2012

Needlepoint, embroidery, feathers, trims, gold -- you name it, they did it.  But with a lighter hand.  Alexander McQueen (RIP, dear sir...) was the master of the mysterious, and Sarah Burton continued his legacy this season with knuckle clutches.  These small purses have a Victorian sensibility with a modern, rocker edge.  Other designers went with the elaborate and grand -- but with a defter touch in the design than what has been done in the past.  The designs left room to breathe; again, the idea of delicate darkness.

Ralph Lauren, Fall 2012

Lace is also a big influence.  But we'll talk more about that in a few weeks...

Salvaltore Ferragamo dress, Fall 2012

And, as I always say, try vintage pieces to keep up with the trends -- it's usually one of a kind!  One of the more delicate Victorian ideas is hair jewelry.  Hair jewelry was either made for romantic reasons, mourning, or as "memento mori", wearable reminders that we all will leave this world one day.  These pieces are beautiful, and decidedly original.  Here's a lovely example, a braided hair ring,  from a vintage shop on Etsy, Mag Wildwoods Closet.

From Mag Wildwoods Closet on Etsy


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bonus: A New Window

The fall window is special because there are a lot of events in a two month span that will bring extra people downtown, and we want them to remember us. There is the Liberty Antiques Festival, the Fall Festival, the downtown Trick or Treat in the Park (which brought thousands of people out last year), and we usually get some extra shoppers during the High Point International Home Furnishings Market. This display has to be amazing, memorable, and able to transition us from the end of summer to the Christmas window (which usually goes up in November).

This window was supposed to be country primitive, because we haven't done that in a while. We made props at home, and started scouting for furniture, and...changed our minds. New idea, new scouting, new discussion, and...we changed our minds again. We got to the very day that the window was to be redone, and...changed our minds. Sometimes, an idea fades because a necessary piece sells at the last minute and there isn't enough support for our theme. This time, we just weren't in the mood.

If you read Friday's blog post, all about Edward Gorey, things will start to look familiar. Near the end of  our shift at the store, a stray comment was made along the lines of  "Wouldn't it be awesome to do a Gorey window," which transitioned into "How can we pull it off?" The last half hour of our on-the-clock time was a power brainstorming session, and then we were on our way to the store for supplies-- twenty dollars worth of foam core, black markers, and paper for the walls.

Back at the store, a significant amount of time was spent on the figures. We used actual Gorey illustrations, modified slightly, as our characters. We outlined them with pencil, filled in with black marker, and then cut the pieces with a utility knife (very tedious work). We assembled the pieces with packing tape and yardsticks for support, and, most importantly, gave them names: Zelda, Mona, and Edgar.

We had to turn the paper sideways so that the pattern would be correct, which meant that papering the pegboard was a two-person job...which meant that it took longer than usual. The black and white floor is leftover from the Alice window, but some of the tiles had fallen off and we had to reattach them. The curtain is just a piece of vintage black fabric, which by some miracle, is the exact dimension that we needed. All that was left was to bring down the blue sofa, chandelier, column, and a ton of gold mirrors.

This is when it's important to stop and think about the practicalities of installation. Nothing is worse than having to pull something out because you didn't think it through, especially since this was such a spontaneous idea in the first place. You measure the furniture to make sure it will fit. You think about tall things, heavy things, and delicate things. You think about placement. And so, we determined that the events absolutely had to happen in a particular order. We even wrote it down, as silly as that sounds, so that we wouldn't create extra problems for ourselves. First, the wallpaper. Second, the column and the figure in hiding. Third, hang the chandelier (which is lower than the column). Fourth, hang the mirrors. Fifth, lay the floor (so the ladder didn't gouge it). Then, the sofa and tea cart. Last, the figure of the man and the lady on the couch. It went off without a hitch. In fact, the prep work took 90% of our total window time, and the installation was pretty fast (except for the wallpaper).

We now have a scene that tells a story. Edgar has returned home to find Mona very upset. She has found his letters from his mistress, along with some ominous life insurance papers. Mona has no idea that Zelda is slipping into the shadows with a bottle of poison. (Zelda knows how to fix her problems, and Mona may not be long for this world.) A quick glance at the rug under the sofa hints that Mona has some secrets of her own....

 We have never done a window this spontaneously before, and I'm not sure that we'll do it again, but we. love. this. window. It is so Gorey, and so us. But the prep work was tedious. We worked all night, a total of 10.5 hours making the props and installing the pieces. I still need a nap.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Junk Love Monday: See You at the Office

We have a ridiculous number of collections. We freely admit this. But, we are capable of showing restraint (sometimes). There are many things that we love, but don't allow ourselves to purchase, because we don't have the space (or resources) to add that collection. Today's post is paying homage to a collection that we wish we could have.

Vintage Industrial Office Collection - Binder Clips Gear Timeclock Face Tool Box
Instant office collection, from toby11 on

 In a weird coincidence, we are both the children of accountants. This means that we both spent many childhood hours killing time in an accounting office, which would bore most people to tears. But, when life gives you tedium, you either whine about it, or you can figure out a way to amuse yourself. Find an unoccupied desk and plunder. Staple stuff. Remove staples from stuff. Punch holes in whatever papers you can find. Find creative uses for white-out. Learn when NOT to use white-out. Connect paper clips to each other and leave your beautiful chain in the top drawer as a surprise for the desk's true owner. Enthusiastically use the paper cutter until some adult notices. Flip through the Rolodex. Try each of the pens and doodle on the blotter.  If the blotter has a calendar, it's especially fun to add holidays, deadlines, and non-existent To-Do list items for the person who works there. Put Post-It notes on everything. File (or un-file) papers. Learn lightning speed on an adding machine. Explore the infinite uses for rubber bands.

Vintage fountain pen, at Collector's Antique Mall
Vintage Date Stamp, at Collector's Antique Mall

And so, we love vintage office supplies. It is always a struggle to buy these items for resale, because the urge to keep them and love them is so strong. We have kept a few things, but only to use them for their intended purpose. We are never allowed to think of them or speak of them in any "junk love" sort of way. We've just found that a vintage hole punch or paper cutter works better than a new one, and it was cheaper.

Hummer Line Rex Double Hole Punch, Vintage Industrial Desk  or  Office Tool
Sexy hole punch; from GoodlookinVintage on
Vintage Rolodex, from Collector's Antique Mall
Vintage staple from our shop