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Picturing a World

Diptych portraits

Blog post alert: A History Blog post on the reunion of two 16th C portraits in a diptych is interesting in its entirety, but what is specially useful to historians of fashion (and thus historical fiction writers) is the accompanying high-rez image, which allows you to examine the clothes closely. I'm quite taken, for instance, with this jeweled button and looped clasp at the sitter's neck.

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Bridesmaid’s dress

Website alert: In an account of a 1908 wedding I've just read, the bridesmaid was said to have worn a "white lingerie gown." Whoa. Not her underwear or nightgown, but what? Short, short answer is a lightweight dress made of cotton or linen characterized by pleats, tucks, and lace, as I learned in a beautifully illustrated post, Terminology: what is a lingerie dress or lingerie frock? (and blouse, and skirt) at The Dreamstress website.  The same website has a splendid glossary of textile terms with links to longer posts like this one.

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For my current fantasy story, I was wondering where a character might hide an amulet. Quick research on clothes turned up a delightful Victoria and Albert Museum post on the history of pockets from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Among its illustrations are three photographs of this doll—"Lady Clapham"—showing her in different layers of clothing. Surely, she herself can suggest a story for children, the motive or crucial clue in a mystery, or one of those novels that involve researching the contents of a trunk. Her pocket, by the way, is tied to her waist.

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Printed fashions

Website alert: In 1852, Francis N. Watkins wrote of his grandmother in Virginia that she was possessed of great ingenuity "as displayed in her original calico prints (in advance of her time), of her silk manufactures, of the loom made by her directions, and of her homemade gamut for teaching her daughters the elementary principles of music." Well, doesn't that raise topics for research by an historical fiction writer?! Local manufacture of textiles? The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg seemed a good place to start looking this morning, and sure enough, they have an on-line exhibition, Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home, with loads of high-rez fabric samples to help visualize the culture and possibly inspire a story. One more resource in these self-isolating days! If you like fabric, fashion, and everyday objects made of cloth, take a look.

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Roman makeup

Website alert: Via a History Blog post, I got to this YouTube tutorial from English Heritage on how the Romans prepared and applied cosmetics. Imagine a tiny, curved mortar with a curved pestle that doubled as an applicator for eye-liner! Don't just imagine—watch. (With bonuses on Roman fabric dyes and wig-weaving.)

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New look

My website is hosted by the Author's Guild, which this month revamped its design templates, the better to fit cellphones and other screens. To celebrate the new, I'm posting a glimpse of the past. For a writer of historical fiction, a magazine cover from the year about which she is writing, which itself illustrates an earlier period, seems about right. Besides, I love textiles.

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Breslau’s milliners

Louise Catherine Breslau was a star student at the Académie Julian at the time during which Where the Light Falls is set. She does not play a role in the novel, but it was like coming across an old friend  Read More 

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Abbéma panels at Félix

What fun! An article, Paris Dressmakers, in the December 1894 issue of Strand Magazine reports on the fashion salon of the couturier known as M. Félix: “A gallery leading from the first salon to a second has four large panels, painted by Louise Abbéma, representing Sarah Bernhardt in ‘Ruy Blas,’ Croizette in the ‘Caprices of Marianne,’ Ada Rehan in the ‘School for Scandal,’ and a fancy costume of the period of Louis XV.” Read More 

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Marottes were wooden or papier mâché forms used by hatmakers when they were decorating or showing their wares. They are clearly akin to penny wooden dolls and also remind me of artists’ lay figures. According to the OED, the word is possibly related to marionette, although the etymology of both is obscure. Read More 

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Millinery workshop

I am reading the catalogue for Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, a 2017 exhibition at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco. The show has now closed, but the museum mounted a great website where you can still explore some of its themes and images—including this illustration by Courboin. Read More 

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