Quite often, it’s objects or artefacts that inspire me. Take this gorgeous Chinese lacquer and embroidered silk screen, for example. It may date from as early as the 1820s and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. I found it when I was looking for ways of illustrating a blog about the Regency pelisse, which ladies wore outdoors to keep warm.
Inside, they wore shawls. Houses, back then, tended to be draughty, hence the need for draught screens, like this one. Continue reading →
Those who follow this blog will know that I often bang on about cover failings. I want my covers to be historically accurate. For me that means: no Regency heroes with beards or designer stubble; no twirling round the dance floor wearing knee-high boots; ladies in Regency costume that isn’t swathed in a tablecloth (see left); and hairstyles and accessories appropriate for the period.
It also helps if the cover models look vaguely like the characters in my story, but that’s a rant for another day 😉
Historically accurate backgrounds?
I’ve recently been mocking up a cover for a book I’m writing. It’s set in London in the period between Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814 and his return the following spring. My hero is a serving soldier who’s enjoying his first leave for 5 years.
I thought it could be good to show uniformed soldiers in the background on my cover. I found the image shown right.
In this occasional series on costume, we’ve featured a lot of day wear, but never what ladies wore when they went riding. The image above shows the Berrington Hall stables and a green riding habit on a mannequin. The waist is around the normal place and it doesn’t have full upper sleeves, so it probably dates from the late 1820s or early 1830s though it could be Victorian.
The development of the riding habit
Judging by the Paris prints, the riding habit changed a lot in the early part of the 19th century. In the Regency period, they looked pretty much like pelisses, except with much more skirt. Here are two, dating from 1816 and 1817, courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.
It is a lovely feeling, a clean sheet with so many possibilities. New story, new characters, new settings. It’s the time I can let myself dream as I begin weaving the story.
That is the point I am at now.
I have an idea for the book and the settings will be Regency London and mainly (probably) at my hero’s country house. And it is summer.
I first began thinking about this idea in September, when my current work in progress was coming to an end. Now I wonder if I chose a summer setting because the seasons were changing? Maybe I was hoping to hang on to those hot days and balmy summer nights. But I shall be writing the story throughout the winter: bare landscapes, long nights, icy days.
It shouldn’t be a problem, I am a writer, aren’t I?
It’s winter. Dark and gloomy. Though, here in UK, it’s still quite warm. Or at least not as cold — yet! — as winter sometimes can be.
We have houses with central heating and double-glazing to keep out the cold and the draughts. Back in the Regency, they weren’t so lucky. Though, to be honest, I remember a house we bought in the 1970s that was incredibly draughty. I used left-over curtain material to sew a draught-excluder in the shape of a snake for the gap under the sitting-room door.
And I grew up in a non-centrally-heated house with a draught screen as part of the standard furnishings, about six feet high and with four brocade-covered panels. We had draughts and we definitely needed it. Continue reading →
Have you ever met someone on the phone — a business colleague, perhaps — and created a mental image of them from voice and conversation alone? If you later met them face to face, how did the reality measure up to your mental picture?
I vividly remember doing just that with a woman who subsequently became a close colleague when I was working in London. From her voice on the phone, from her senior position in the organisation and from what she said to me, I pictured a middle-aged, rather motherly figure with mid-brown hair in a beautifully-coiffed jaw-length bob. It was a pretty strong mental picture, though I have no idea where it came from. Continue reading →
In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing
What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?
Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)
As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.
From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.
A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.
That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading →
Caraco isn’t a word that many of us are familiar with. It’s not in many dictionaries, either. It is in Wikipedia, though, along with this illustration of a lovely caraco jacket, dating from 1760 but altered in the 1780s. The original is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
So… what is a caraco?
It’s a woman’s jacket, usually waisted and thigh length, with a front opening. It could be worn as the bodice of a gown and was termed a “caraco dress” when it was complete with a skirt. Some simple versions had high waists even as early as the 1780s.
According to Wikipedia, the original French caraco was often worn with a stomacher to fill the front opening, as with the silk one in the picture above. The English version was designed to meet in front and didn’t need a stomacher. Which is a pity, as stomachers can be truly beautiful, like these from earlier periods… Continue reading →
This blog looks at the lovely Georgian polonaise gown, as a follow-up to my earlier blogs about the hard work of the seamstress and the lady’s maid. We marvel at these gowns in museums — and most of us know that every stitch was hand-sewn — but do we stop to think about the detail of the process?
Shown left is a modern replica of a 1780 polonaise gown, made in plain white fabric to show off the detail of construction. Shown right is an original gown dating from the late 1780s and with the back only partly lifted.
Normally, the back of the polonaise would be lifted in two or more places to show the petticoat beneath, as shown below. Continue reading →