Adelaide’s Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House

I have been moving my home and office since I got back from New Zealand, so I am behind on blogging about my trip. I cannot help but notice that all US social media is leaving a little space (after election coverage) to talk about the last episode of Downton Abbey airing on PBS this Sunday evening. The season traditionally ends with a Christmas episode that plays on Christmas Day in England.–obviously delayed in the USA. I bought Season 6 on Google Play so I have already seen the conclusion and I will not spoil it.


It did make me think about Adelaide’s equivalent of Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House.

Growing up in California I can relate to places like Adelaide, South Australia. The sprung up, new fortune, scratch-a-community-out-of-the-bush feeling is one I know well. Whether it is a gold rush or agricultural land rush, the place history is not very old and the challenges of creating a “showplace” home to create status in a brand new community is familiar. When I walked up the circular drive to Ayer’s House in Adelaide it felt like a mansion in Grass Valley of another mining tycoon.

This particular tycoon, Henry Ayers, exaggerated his work experience. He was an office clerk but he claimed other skills so he could get a subsidy to emigrate to Adelaide with his wife Anna. He did well with the Burra Burra mines and ultimately served as the Premiere of South Australia five times between 1863 and 1873. He built a huge house in downtown Adelaide near the Botanic Garden. Even now it is gracious.

The clothes are right for the 1920s Melbourne AND they feel modern.

I went to see it because I saw a flyer on the bookshop window advertising the exhibit of costumes from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I have watched all of the episodes on Netflix and the costumes depicting a wealthy feminist detective and her entourage solving mysteries. Sometimes with television I am disappointed with the reality of a set or costume because the camera can fool you. These costumes are the real deal–recreated couture to emulate the roaring 20’s.

I was ready to join the enthusiast crowd of women who sew or craft to go through the exhibit, but first I stopped and spoke with the docent at the front door. It was he who told me about Henry Ayers and why the house is worth a look even when there is not a fashion display in every room.

This mermaid costume was worn by Phryne when she was undercover.

To make it more interesting, the museum staff also created a bit of a whodunit to solve while you walked through the rooms. I did not need anymore entertainment as I was completely enraptured with the clothes themselves. Beautifully made from exquisite fabrics, I enjoyed talking to other women who sew about where they source fabric and how hard it is to find. We all laughed because even though we were from USA and Australia, both of our mothers used to look at a garment in the department store and say the equivalent of “You could make it yourself for less.” Now it is quite the opposite. No one can say they are sewing to be thrifty.

This gives full permission to sew as a creative expression. Many of these garments are impractical and designed and executed as a celebration of beauty.


The show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is based on Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher book series. I have looked for them in the US and have not found them. The gift shop had a new copy of the first in the series Cocaine Blues. I bought it for my Mom. Then when I found a secondhand bookshop at the Central Market I was able to pick up quite a few more in the series. My Mom read them first and now I am reading them. They are not as complex as say Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, but neither do you have to worry about gore or upsetting physical violence.  I hope Ms. Greenwood makes her books available electronically in the USA so more people can enjoy them.

If you are interested in fashion that pushes the envelope and is inspiring and beautiful, the check out WOW! The World of Wearable Art dates for 2016 are September 11-October 9 in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets are available here.




Cambridge Welcoming Le Tour

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France starts in Cambridge, England on Monday, July 7. I will be traveling with Trek Tours and going directly from Leeds to London to watch the finish. I wanted to see Cambridge again. It has been 31 years since I studied at the Cambridge International Summer School and lived in Selwyn College. So I landed earlier today at Heathrow, took the underground to Kings Cross, and hopped on a train to Cambridge.

When I looked for lodging on the dorm room at Christ’s College caught my eye. It is basic, centrally located, and a unique experience for $91 US. Plus I get to eat breakfast in the Great Hall, ie my own Hogwarts moment.

I dropped my bags in my room at 4:00 p.m. and stretched out on my bed for a few minutes. A poor unhappy baby cried almost the entire flight from Los Angeles and so I listened to a lot of Yo Yo Ma and did not get much sleep. I kept falling asleep on the tube and the train, and the temptation was to nap. I also wanted to see Cambridge so I dragged myself into some fresh clothes and walked across the way to Station Cycles (with locations at the Grand Arcade and train station). I rented a crappy bike that did not fit very well and only cost about $10 to rent. 

My first order of business was to visit Selwyn College on the other side of the River Cam. I took a wrong turn and soon found myself caught up in gnarly rush hour traffic. Cambridge is chock a block with historic buildings so there is really few options for improving infrastructure. When buses and trucks are on the road there is scarcely any room for bicycles. Eventually I found the quieter streets and bike paths–after I bailed at Regent and Lensfield Streets and walked my bike with other pedestrians through the intersection. 

The good news is there are far more bicycles than ever in Cambridge. I have seen so many Bromptons I stopped counting or taking pictures.  After about 20 minutes of trial and error navigation and helpful directions called out from a local, I found Selwyn College. It is looking good. They are prosperous enough to refurbish Cripps Hall where I stayed so many years ago. The main college is just as lovely as I remembered it. It “only” dates back to the 1700s so it is made of brick as opposed to the stone of Christ’s or King’s College. A flood of happy memories came back–especially the hours spent talking about life in Maire Henderson’s first floor room in the old buildings.

The Porter at Selwyn was very welcoming. She and I discussed the merits of closing off the main downtown to automobiles. I shared that I only learned to appreciate Selwyn College’s founder when I lived in New Zealand. From there it was easier to find my way back into town. My memory helped me find my favorite paths to King’s College and the ice cream cart that is still parked outside the gates. I rode across the river and stopped to admire the boaters punting down the river. 

I remembered Dean Joan (USC Dean of Women) admonishing me for not having a romantic rendezvous on a punt while I was in Cambridge. Lots of different groups punt down the river and one day I will return and have that experience. There are some things better not done solo. My bike naturally found Auntie’s Tea Room where Maire and I spent very little money but a lot of time. We drank so much tea that we would be amped up on caffeine the rest of the day.

I returned the bike before closing and wandered around some more on foot. Stopped in at The Eagle pub for fish and chips and then returned to my room. Once again the siren song of sleep tempted me to rest my eyes for just a moment. Like some enchanted heroine, I napped until voices next door woke me up. I am trying to adjust to this time zone so I roused myself and write this blog to keep myself alert a little longer.

I hope to meet an amazing person each day. Today it was the man who sat across from me on the train. We did not exchange names so I will call him by his stop, Royston. He coordinates transportation logistics for television and movie productions. He was just coming home from a 6 day Downton Abbey shoot. Royston is an avid motorcycle rider who has ridden round the globe (literally) and from Cairo to Cape Town.  He originally hailed from Perth, Australia.  He worked on the movie Paddington Bear (!) and his hot tip is to buy Paddington Bear toys now because the movie will make them the HOT toy item this Christmas. You heard it here first.

Swatch: Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits

Downton Abbey Season 4
Downton Abbey Season 4

In the “tradition” of Interweave’s other theme publications, Jane Austen Knits, and The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits, this magazine presents designs inspired by the popular television program Downton Abbey.  The cover promises “27 inspired knitting projects for upstairs, downstairs & the troops.” The story lines in Downton Abbey cover the time period from the sinking of the Titanic, through the Great War (WWI) and the roaring twenties, so the knitting projects run the thin line between retro and costume.

I enjoyed the articles on life in Highclere Castle, marrying an English lord, and knitting for the troops more than the knitting designs. I was surprised by the knitwear for “downstairs.” The projects for the servants hold more modern appeal to me as a knitter and potentially for my wardrobe.

These magazines are expensive at $14.99 US/CAN and are more easily justified if you think of them as a booklet that you will keep for ideas and inspiration. I have not made a project from any of these specialty publications so I can only hope that they hold the same standard of pattern accuracy as other Interweave publications.

This magazine will disappear from the news stands about the time Season 4 begins to play on PBS in the United States: January 5, 2014.