Tag Archives: Napoleon

Sexy, seductive silk—and sexy, seductive IN silk

Silk is a fabric the delights the eye and, particularly, the sense of touch. Run your fingers over a piece of silk—smooth, luscious, sensuous. And slightly baffling, too, in the way it can be so very tough while seeming so fine and fragile. Colorful threads of Thai silk

Silk seduced me the first time I saw it. I loved the jewel-like colours that the magical fibres can take. The ones shown above will make Thai silk. Aren’t those colours sumptuous? (Which makes me think, in passing, of Sumptuary Laws and the prohibition on the wearing of materials like silk by “inferior persons”. Possibly a topic for a future blog?)

Sewing silk: joys and pitfalls

Paisley pattern silkWhen I was in my teens and early twenties, I made a lot of my own clothes. A friend who was an air stewardess offered to sell me a dress length she’d brought back from Thailand. I couldn’t resist. The silk was mostly ruby and garnet coloured, with a paisley-type pattern, with hints of sapphire and amethyst. Gorgeous. (The pattern was something like the one shown here, only much, much nicer and without the orange.)

girl in red and gold cheongsamAnd then I had to decide what to turn it into. There wasn’t really enough of it to make a long dress, but long dresses were all the rage. I determined to do it, somehow.
Eventually, I succeeded.

I made a cheongsam out of it. I did have to leave out the sleeves and reverse the nap on part of the bodice in order to have enough material. The great thing about a cheongsam is that the skirt has slits up the sides without any fullness at all. So it takes less silk than you’d imagine.

And I loved it to bits. I thought I still had that dress but I’ve been unable to find it, so, sadly, I can’t show it to you.

red chinese silk evening dressBut I do still have a vibrant red Chinese silk evening gown with pintucks down the front that had me tearing my hair out as I sewed. Never, never, try to put parallel tucks into fine, slippery Chinese silk. It might work with Thai silk, which is often thicker and easier to stitch, but really fine silk is a nightmare to sew. If you look closely [click to enlarge], you can see all those nightmarish pintucks. But I hope you’ll agree that the figured silk is both delicate and beautiful.

Selling silk

1760s mantua © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

1760s mantua © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Sophie reminded me about silk this week when (courtesy of @AStitchinTime13) she tweeted a link to a Swatch Book in the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It dates from 1764. A salesman (a middleman) would have used it to display wares to potential customers. Each sample has a code so the salesman knows where to buy it but the customer does not. Sneaky, eh?

These silks would have been used to make extraordinary gowns such as this mantua from the 1760s. The silk is French but the V&A’s notes say it was sewn in England.

The swatch book contains hundreds of images of the silks and scrolling through them is an engrossing way to spend an hour or two. Do have a look. Having been protected from light inside the book, the colours are vibrant. You’ll find more like these gems:

Silk weaving in Lyon

Lyon was the centre of French silk-making and contains a fascinating museum, the musée des tissus, with many displays about the silk industry. It’s definitely worth a visit if you love silk.

Weaver at loom making silk brocade in Lyon, FranceJacquard machine for silk weaving 19th centuryIn the old city, weaving used traditional hand looms like the one shown left. The more automated process perfected by Jacquard used very tall looms that couldn’t be accommodated in the houses of the old city. So new houses were built on the northern hill of La Croix-Rousse with high ceilings to accommodate the new machines and their punch-card mechanisms. This illustration (from later in the 19th century) shows quite a small machine; they could be much bigger.

Apparently, Napoleon realised the potential of the Jacquard loom to help France compete against Britain’s industrialised textile industry. He and Josephine visited Lyon in April 1805. Three days later, he granted the patent for the loom to the city of Lyon. Jacquard himself didn’t lose out. He got a pension of 3,000 francs and a royalty of 50 francs on each loom sold. This print seems to commemorate Napoleon’s visit.Napoleon visits Jacquard in Lyon 1805

Silk and Lyon: and The Aikenhead Honours series

Cover of His Silken Seduction by Joanna MaitlandHis Silken Seduction new coverWhen I was writing about The Hundred Days and my brotherhood of noble spies in The Aikenhead Honours quartet, I couldn’t resist using the old city of Lyon as a setting in book 3 and, especially, book 4 which is a true Lyon love story.

The background of my first self-published cover for book 4, left, is a print of the old city. The current cover, right, shows some of the old silk quarter. This is the much longer book that is intended to provide a more complete and satisfying story than the original short novella. I loved having the opportunity to be able to write it and to give my hero and heroine a proper rounded story of their own.

My silk weavers weren’t using Jacquard looms, but the older, narrow hand looms to make their silks and velvets. Of course, the silks that my characters wove would have been different from the ornate floral patterns so common in earlier decades. replica silk evening gowns from Pride and PrejudiceStyles in the 1810s were flowing and clinging. A lot of the fabric patterns were very simple, like the ones used to make these replica ballgowns from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (shown in the Bath Museum).

My heroines, Marguerite and Suzanne, are sisters whose father is dead and whose mother has early dementia. The sisters are valiantly trying to keep their silk business going by hiding the death of their father and doing both the weaving and the selling themselves. Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 and the return of King Louis seem to herald a new era of prosperity for their royalist family.

And then it all goes pear-shaped…
Napoleon's return from Elba 1815

Napoleon returns to France. And, worse, the sisters have spies hidden in their house.

The family’s precious silks and velvets are kept safely in a windowless room upstairs, with Marguerite’s bedroom on one side and Suzanne’s on the other. Each bedroom has a door into the silk store. By book 4, Marguerite and Jack have left for Paris and England.

Selection of Thai silkSuzanne stays behind, in charge of the business. She’s also taking care of Ben, the fourth Aikenhead Honour, who’s recovering from a bullet wound. And he’s hiding in Marguerite’s room, just through the connecting doors via the silk store. All that’s keeping Suzanne away from Ben, the man she fell in love with at first sight, is a couple of doors to which she holds the keys. She tells herself he’s too weak and ill to be a threat to her virtue, even though she’d rather like such a threat to materialise 😉

Ballerina leaps surrounded by silkYou won’t be surprised to learn that it does, though you’ll have to read the story to find out exactly how. I can tell you, though, just to whet your appetite, that the encounter takes place in the silk store and involves a great deal of draping of wonderful, sensuous fabrics. Mutual draping, too. And mutual lessons in how to be sexy and seductive IN silk.

Sadly I have only an image of an ecstatic female dancer surrounded by flying silk. Perhaps imagine Nureyev leaping across the stage in  Romeo and Juliet, trailing one of those dramatic floor-length silk cloaks? That would certainly do it for me. You?

His Silken Seduction

The ebook of His Silken Seduction is available here. And I promise it contains a great deal of sexy, sensuous silk as well as the HEA. Or, if you prefer, the whole Aikenhead Honours series is here and free on Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy!

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland

Joanna, silk lover (and sometime dressmaker)

Pauline Borghese’s House

Joanna’s blog of three weeks ago, set me thinking about Pauline Borghese’s house in Paris. JoannaPauline Borghese's house was talking about her visit to the Villa dei Mulini where Napoleon lived during his first exile. She described an enormous gilt mirror flanked by busts of Napoleon himself and “a woman in antique dress”. Tradition has it that the woman is Pauline Borghese.

Well, I thought that was odd. Maybe it would have been impolitic to take a bust of Josephine. But surely Napoleon had fallen out with Pauline (not for the first time) because she disliked his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria. Why would he want a bust depicting a family he had fallen out with?

So I dug about a little. And it seems that, after her brother’s first defeat, Pauline sold up everything and went to live in Elba. Apparently she was the only one of his siblings to visit him during that time. Continue reading

The Elba Intermission : Napoleon’s First Exile

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

I was reading Louise Allen’s book, The Earl’s Marriage Bargain, this week—much recommended—and it reminded me of the Elba intermission because the story starts in the summer of 1814, after Napoleon’s abdication. It’s such a useful period for Regency authors. It allows us to bring war heroes home and confront them with all sorts of society dilemmas that they’ve been missing.

In the Peninsula and then France, they’ve been in largely male company and they’ve been subject to the rigours of war. They’ve seen death and destruction. They’ve seen horrors that they can never share with their loved ones. And they’ve suffered fierce heat, bitter cold, privations and hunger, too.

Vauxhall Gardens - 1820.At home again, they have to try to be the kind of tonnish gentlemen who can make idle conversation with ladies in the ballroom. Yes, I know that Wellington insisted his young men should dance well. And I also know that there were females around, not all of them camp followers. But society, in the Peninsula, was not the same as coming back to Society, with a capital S, in England. Continue reading

Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up

  1. Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?
  2. Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle
  3. Regency gowns: clean, alter, mend the damage
  4. Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown
  5. Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?
  6. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?
  7. Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?
  8. Historical Costume 1800-1820: Keeping Warm in a Pelisse
  9. Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down
  10. Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers
  11. Historical Costume, 1790-1830 : Shoes, slippers
  12. Historical Costume 1800-1820: boots and bags
  13. An improper blog : embroidery and the pains of fashion
  14. Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up
  15. Historical Costume 1800-1850 : the Lady’s Riding Habit
  16. A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)
  17. Historical costume pics: gowns, petticoats, dolls, even men

Just before the start of the first lockdown — and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago? — I spent an afternoon in the jewellery galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. What struck me was how much of the fabulous bling on display was royal, or had royal connections. At the beginning of the 19th century, a lot of money went on bling. And the ladies of consequence were happy to flaunt it.

Napoleonic bling

In 1806, Emperor Napoleon was intent on securing an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. To cement the alliance, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, and the elector’s heir. Napoleon presented the bride with this beautiful set of emerald and diamond jewellery. Continue reading

Military Uniforms, Heroes, Love Stories

Lizzie Bennet with George Wickham in military uniformThis weekend, we four Libertà authors are reminiscing about things military.There’s something about a man in uniform, isn’t there? Even Lizzie Bennet was impressed (for a while) by George Wickham in his scarlet regimentals. But is it also true of contemporary military men? Continue reading

Altering History : is it OK in Historical Fiction?

cranium silhouetted against question markAltering History. In other words, changing what actually happened into something that didn’t happen; or didn’t happen in quite that way; or happened at a different time…
Is it OK for an author of historical fiction to do that?

Always? Sometimes? Never?

Does it depend on what the alteration is? Some think it’s OK to alter small things, relating to minor characters, but not decisive things relating to really important characters.

Some might say an author can do whatever he or she likes, provided the reader knows what the author has done. In other words, the author has to come clean.
Others don’t care, as long as the end result is a good read.

Altering History : a Big Deal for Queens

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Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?

  1. Special Licence Marriage — Heyer’s Research Failing?
  2. Heyer Heroes And Falling in Love With One
  3. New Heyer Stories? Guest Post by Jennifer Kloester
  4. Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer
  5. Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?
  6. Georgette Heyer Study Day
  7. The Romantic Hero Revisited — Essential Hero Qualities
  8. Heyer’s children : too young, too old, just right?
  9. Georgette Heyer: the problem of brothers (for sisters)
  10. Who made Georgette Georgian?
  11. Beau Brummell has lots to answer for…

Let’s hear it for the heroes! Tall, dark and handsome?

mysterious hero but is he handsome?

Hero = handsome; heroine = beautiful?
Bestselling author Susanna Kearsley published a blog last week that asks a thought-provoking question about romantic heroines:  — why is it that “some readers, when faced with a blank face, are programmed to fill in the features as ‘beautiful’?”

Good question.
A disturbing question, too, perhaps.

But what about the heroes? Do we readers fill in male features in a similar way? Why?
Do the heroes of our imagination have to be tall, dark and handsome? Continue reading

Napoleon bares his breast — a cautionary editing tale

Napoleon-coronation

Napoleon Bares his Breast
~ or ~
The Editor Is [almost] Always Right

Two hundred and two years ago — on 7th March 1815, to be precise — Napoleon bared his breast to (what looked like) certain death and lived to fight one more great battle. (And if you’re wondering why we didn’t do this blog two years ago, on the bicentenary, we would plead that this website was a mere twinkle in the hively eye back then.)

A cautionary tale of author and editor

Once upon a time there was an author — let’s call her Joanna — who was writing a trilogy of love stories set in 1814-15, the end of the Napoleonic Wars. (He lost, by the way.) Continue reading

Napoleon’s Bees

industrious bee like Napoleon's bees

We like to think of Libertà as a hive of worker bees, buzzing away industriously, creating good and sweet produce for readers to enjoy. But 200-odd years ago, the bee was a French Imperial symbol. Napoleon’s Bees were — to coin a phrase — the bees’ knees.
(Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Feel free to groan!)

Where did Napoleon’s bees come from? Why did the bee become a French symbol rather than the fleur-de-lys?

 

Napoleon’s Bees: Stories & Myths

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