Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Move Over, Dowager Countess—the Queen Is Coming!

So I may have mentioned this before (and please don’t hit me): I was not a fan of Downton Abbey, as you might have guessed from the dearth of mentions of the show on this blog (though I did like the Evil Butlerfilms...)  Truth be told, I don’t watch any television at all apart from DVDs because there’s just too much else to do (like read! and write!)

However, I may have to cave in and get a decoder box (yeah, I told you I don’t watch TV) because of what’s coming to Downtown Abbey’s time slot on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre next year: Victoria, an eight-part miniseries that details the young queen’s life from her accession in June 1837 at age 18 to her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1841.

Cue Marissa hyperventilating.

My hopes are pretty high that this series might be reasonably historically accurate (and not throw in silly assassination attempts like that one added into 2009’s The Young Victoria.) Since they list the role of Lady Flora Hastings, I expect they’ll cover that whole episode (during which the young queen did not show to her best advantage), and we can hope that the actor who plays Sir John Conroy, Paul Rhys, will be suitably dastardly (‘coz honestly, the guy pretty much was almost a classic storybook villain.) It looks like the actress who will play Victoria, Jenna Coleman, does a pretty good job of trying to look like Victoria, particularly her habit of keeping her mouth slightly open that can be seen in many of her portraits. We can hope she gets the fascinating mixture of childish enthusiasm and royal gravity that was the young queen. And hey, we’ll almost definitely get beautiful sets and costumes to look at (just like Downton Abbey, I’ll concede), so it sounds like a win to me.

Do you plan to watch it? We may have to have more posts on this topic when it airs...

Oh, and happy birthday to my favorite monarch: Queen Victoria is 197 today!!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nineteenth Century Wonder-Plant: Lovely Lavender

What do Sequim, Washington; Lullingstone, England; and Provence, France, have in common? Something that no nineteenth century lady, and many gentlemen, would be without.


Lavender is thought to have originated in India or the Middle East. Called spikenard or nard, it was known in Biblical times. The Romans considered it an herb and used it in or on just about everything. Sometime during the Dark Ages, monks began cultivating it in England. The pilgrims are credited with bringing it to America.

I will admit to being fond of the little purple flowers (although the plant just getting ready to bloom in my garden is white), but lavender has a surprising utility. Just consider some of the ways it was used in the nineteenth century:

  • Distilled with water as a light astringent (lavender water, anyone?) or to help laryngitis
  • Combined with other scents for perfumes and lotions
  • Powered into smelling salts
  • Applied as a poultice to bites or stings
  • Used with hot chocolate to put your beloved in the mood
  • As a flavor for snuff
  • Included in herbal tea
  • As an ingredient for baking.
Perhaps my favorite use for lavender, however, is in a lavender wand, which is creating by bending the flowered end of a lavender stalk into the center and then weaving ribbon to close it up. My dear husband gave me one for one of our anniversaries, and I take it out and inhale deeply from time to time. The scent never ceases to relax me.

The beribboned devices were not only used to waft away sour smells but could be found in Victorian cupboards to keep bugs out of stored clothing and blankets. And they were quite right, for lavender actually does have insecticidal properties!

Want to make one of your own? Follow directions here.

So, what's your favorite use for lavender?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Accessories, Part 4: More Gloves

We’re back for another installment in our fashion series on NineteenTeen focusing not on dresses and gowns (gorgeous as they are) but on the little things that complete a fashionable ensemble—hats, shoes, gloves, purses, and other accessories. 

Today we’ll have a look at images of gloves from Ackermann's Repository from 1822-1829 (images from 1809-1821 were examined back in March.) For background on the role gloves played in early 19th century fashion, that post is a good place to start...as is a recently published short book from Shire Publications (love their books!), Gloves and Glove-making, which is an admirably complete (if concise) history of gloves and how they were made in Great Britain. And I have to say that the book was worth it alone for the image of a child's knitted mitten from the 16th century--wow!

So let's look at some pretty pictures. 

Walking Dress, April 1822. The workhorse of daytime gloves, York Tan:

Full Dress, May 1822. I imagine it was almost impossible to keep full-length kid gloves from not tumbling down one's arms once they'd warmed and stretched after a few hours' wear:

Ball Dress, September 1822. It's hard to judge whether the bow visible on her left arm is merely decorative, or is part of a fastening in attempt to keep one's gloves from falling:

Ball Dress, June 1823. Notice the notch in the hem--perhaps homemade to allow for somewhat plumper arms?

Ball Dress, July 1823. Ooh, more ruffle-edged gloves! These will more or less remain in fashion for the rest of the decade, until longer-sleeved dresses came more into fashion for evening wear:

Ball Dress, August 1823 and Full Dress, December 1823: Ruffles AND a bow!

Evening Dress, November 1825 and Dinner Dress, March 1826. After a few years of more of the same, a new fashion emerges: the wearing of large bracelets on top of one's gloves. How else could you have shown off your arm bling? And they might have helped a little in the sagging glove department...

Evening Dress, March 1827. Mourning gloves--or are they gauntlets? It's a little hard to tell whether the pointy bits are part of the dress or part of the gloves, though I'm leaning toward their being part of the gloves:

Morning Dress, March 1827 and Carriage Dress, April 1827.  About now, colored gloves--especially blue and light gray--seem to be fashionable for day wear. They occasionally match the dress, but more often seem to match contrasting colors in accessories like hats:

Ball Dress, July 1827. Here's a first--a pair of gloves accented with ribbon to match the dress. The zig-zag hem is also pretty cute:

Ball Dress, December 1827. What looks like eyelet embroidery around the hem--as well as seams on the back of the hands, a feature usually seen in daytime wear:

Evening Dress, February 1828. Note the embroidered floral pattern on the backs of the hands:

Dinner Dress, March 1828. And more embroidery, this time in gold:

Carriage Costume, August 1828. The old stand-by for daytime use, York Tan gloves, are still standing by:

Evening Dress, December 1828. These bracelets definitely appear to be stemming the tide:

Parisian Carriage Dress, March 1829. And gloves in contrasting colors remain fashionable for daytime wear:

I hope you've enjoyed our up-close-and-personal look at gloves!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Six Reasons to Have a Secret Room

[Did you miss us on Tuesday? I had reserved that day to tell you more about Love and Larceny, then promptly got busy writing! My apologies! I hope you’ll enjoy today’s post twice as much. J]
I don’t know about you, but secret rooms have always intrigued me. When I was young, I even wrote a story about children who discovered a secret room in their attic and made it their home. But young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century might have come across secret rooms more often, for the British and the American elite had a surprisingly large number of reasons to construct the things!

  1. To Know More Than You Should—You remember the old movies that included spooky castles and paintings with moving eyes? Well, it turns out those aren’t so far-fetched! Hosts did really want to keep an eye on their guests. Take Singer Castle, for example. Built by Frederick Bourne, head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, in the early 1900s on the appropriately named Dark Island in the St. Lawrence River, the mansion features a library with grates for spying on the occupants. 
  1. To Hide Something You Cared About—Let’s face it—misers are downright stingy, to the point where some thought it best to hide their jewels, their rare books, and even their wine. Stair treads, window seats, bookcases and the like have been used to hide the entrances to secret treasure rooms.
  1. Someone You Cared About—A priest’s hole is another common literary gambit. In fact, secret rooms were built in many a Catholic home in England during the sixteen century to hide priests and families persecuted during the reign of Elizabeth I. The spaces were designed to allow someone to hide for a short period of time, but those doing the hunting figured that out and tried to wait them out. Some of the spaces were cramped, damp, and filthy by the time the poor priest could leave, and some actually died while hiding! Harvington Hall, Worcestershire, boasts several such holes or “hides.” 
File:Brighton Pavilion stables edited.jpg
  1. To Sneak Off to Special Spots—Sometimes you just have to escape. Secret passageways have been built in a number of stately homes, but perhaps none so charming as the ones supposedly beneath Brighton Pavilion. It seemed the Prince Regent wanted to be able to visit his horses in the stables without getting wet in the rain, so he had a passage built underground.
  1. To Have a Special Place All Your Own—Secret gardens and secret grottoes abound in tales from England, the most famous of which may be Frances Hodgson Burnett. For example, Dewstow Gardens contain a number of grottoes and ferneries waiting to be discovered.  
  1. To Romance That Special Someone—Parents and other scheming
    relatives have worked tirelessly to keep couples apart, often sending them to opposite sides of the manor to prevent any sort of romance after hours. That didn’t stop enterprising gentlemen from building secret passages over, under, and around the barricading architecture to reach their lady loves. Brentfield Manor in Secrets and Sensibilities and now Love and Larceny is riddled with such passages, and even a secret room or two, making for some very interesting ways to thwart determined chaperones.
Me? If I was to build a secret room in my house, I think I would line it with bookshelves and all my favorite stories and give it a comfy chair and a window looking out onto Mt. Rainier.

Where’s a carpenter when you need one?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Love and Larceny Launches!

I’m delighted to announce that Love and Larceny, Book 5 in the Lady Emily Capers, is now out as an e-book. This story follows Daphne Courdebas, the last of our intrepid friends, alas, to find a beau.

But even an Amazon can fall hard.

Daphne Courdebas is known for her daring. So when her former teacher now countess Lady Brentfield asks her, her sister Ariadne, and their friends Lady Emily Southwell and Priscilla Tate to return to Brentfield Manor to investigate things that go bump in the night, Daphne is ready. But once again, things are not as they seem at Brentfield, especially when it comes to Daphne’s new friend, Wynn Fairfax. Wynn is determined to prove himself to the lovely Amazon. What’s a lady known for saving the day to do when she finds her own heart in jeopardy?

Here’s a snippet:

Daphne climbed into the secret passage beside Wynn. “Which way tonight?”
He seemed surprised to see her, which was silly given the fact that he had come to find her. Who else did he think would answer his knock?
“Daphne,” he said, tone somber, “I didn’t come to explore. I have something I must say to you.”
“Can you say it while we walk?” she asked, pushing past him. “I have a terrible urge to move.” She lifted her skirts to clamber up the steps to the main passage.
Immediately, the darkness closed around her, and she realized Wynn and his candle had remained behind. Glancing back at the glow below, she called, “Wynn? Is something wrong?”
“No.” She could hear the sigh in his voice. The space brightened as he climbed up to join her.
“I can refuse you nothing,” he said, and for once he didn’t sound all that pleased about the matter.
“That’s because you’re a good friend,” she assured him, reaching out to take the candle from his grip. “Perhaps we should remain here in the west wing, as that is where Emily is concentrating her efforts.”
“Indeed,” he said, still with that defeated tone. “Lead the way. You can count on me to follow. That seems to be my role.”
Daphne frowned at him, then held out the candle. “Do you want to go first? You can have the light.”
“No,” he said. “I need to find the light inside me.”
Daphne shook her head. “You’re in an odd humor tonight. Perhaps we’ve stayed up too late. I’ll try to get you back by a reasonable hour.”
“I’m no invalid,” he snapped.
“Well, certainly not.” She turned and raised the candle high so they could both see their way. “But everyone needs a good night sleep now and then. You can’t expect to be at your best if your brain is muddled.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with my brain either,” he said behind her. “What I seem to lack is conviction.”
“About what?” she asked, remembering to lower her voice. They were passing over her mother’s room, and she doubted she could be convincing as a dream two nights in a row. Then she felt Wynn’s hand on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop.
“The only place I lack conviction is about you, Daphne.”
Balancing carefully, she turned to face him. “About me?”
In the candlelight, she could see that his dark brows were down, those sea-green eyes intent on her face. Indeed, every part of him seemed tense, as if he were about to jump a fence or shoot a bow.
“Daphne,” he said, “there is so much I want to tell you, but I know how difficult it can be for you to stand still and listen. Perhaps it’s better if I show you.”
He pulled her close and kissed her.
Once again her world exploded, and she found herself trembling with the sheer wonder of it. The sweet pressure of his lips, his arm stealing about her waist, made her head spin in the most delightful way. Was this how all young ladies felt when they were in love?
Wait. She wasn’t in love. This was Wynn.
She broke from his embrace and shoved him away from her. “What are you doing?!”
He teetered on the beam, off balance and leaning hard on his bad leg. As she watched, horror dawning, he toppled to one side and crashed through the plaster to disappear into the darkness below.

When the daring Daphne first appeared in A Dangerous Dalliance, the original version of Secrets and Sensibilities, I knew I wanted to tell her story someday. It’s taken years (a lot of years!) to finally have the opportunity. I hope you’ll agree her story was worth waiting for.

Find it at


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fashion Forecast: 1836, Part 2

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in the second half of 1836?

In keeping with the deflation of sleeves that occurred earlier in the year, these dresses from August’s Court Magazine have sleeves cut much closer to the shoulder and upper arm, though there’s still fullness in the lower sleeves of the muslin Morning Dress at left and the illusion of fullness in the lace pelerine on the plaid Walking Dress at right. Purple and green seems to be a popular combination this year; note the plaid fabric and the fact that the green-trimmed Morning Dress includes purple gloves!

Skirts seem to be growing in fullness—witness this Ball Dress from September’s Court Magazine.  However, the crinoline was a thing of the future, so it took a lot of (heavy) petticoats to create this line. Imagine trying to dance with layers and layers of fabric swishing around your legs! No wonder women fainted at times—it took stamina to dance all night!  I do however like the pretty embroidered hem and accented bows at waist and sleeves.  There’s not much to be said about the Morning Dress at right, as so much is covered by the black mantle...though it does appear the plaid is cut on the bias.

This Evening Dress and Morning Dress from November’s Court Magazine are relatively plain in design, accented with black bands and bows in the dress at left and flounces of black lace at right. Note again the very full skirts, the black net mitts with the Evening Dress, and the bonnet at right that is fearfully but wonderfully made of red ribbon!

A handsome (if scarily) green Walking Dress from December’s Court Magazine showcases another trend seen this year with the collapse of the sleeve: the admiration of exaggeratedly sloping shoulders as an ideal of feminine beauty.  Take a look at dresses from 1834 and compare them to this year’s, and you’ll see what I mean.

Back to purple and green once more in these dresses from December’s Court Magazine! A very voluminous Walking Dress at left, with strange open oversleeves covering skin-tight undersleeves in dark purple...and a surprising raspberry-pink bonnet. The Morning Dress at right in emerald green has sleeves caught into puffs with self-fabric bands, a ruffle-trimmed pelerine bodice, and another pink headdress of ruffles and ruches:

And that will be it for Fashion Forecast posts, mostly because I lose interest in the clothes after this date and have collected very few prints from 1837 and onward: the drooping shoulders and frankly rather dowdy dresses just aren’t any fun! But I’ll continue to post new acquisitions to my collection as they arrive, and promise plenty more Regency Fabric posts in the coming months.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Nineteenth Century Heroines: One for the Ages

It’s been a while since I discovered another nineteenth century lady worthy of being part of our ongoing series, but a friend recently gave me the book I Married Adventure, and I simply had to include Osa Johnson as a real-life woman who could have been a romance heroine.

Osa Leighty Johnson is a part of the nineteenth century only because she was born in 1894. Raised in a conventional family in Chanute, Kansas, a twist of fate brought her in contact with one of the celebrities of the day, Martin Johnson. Martin had already distinguished himself as an adventurer, having sailed partway around the world with famed author Jack London. Then sixteen-year-old Osa and twenty-six year old Martin had a short and sometimes rocky courtship, but they married in 1910 and set about promoting the pictures he’d taken on his adventures.

Though Osa initially thought Martin had decided to settle down, she soon learned that her husband simply could not stay in one place for long. Martin was a photographer at heart. Nothing made him happier than taking pictures of strange peoples and strange animals in strange places. From cannibals in Borneo to pygmies in Africa, Osa journeyed beside her famous husband into places no white person, and certainly no white woman, had ever dared venture.

And she didn’t just journey. Oh, she was the first to admit she liked pretty dresses and a proper kitchen. But Osa worked right beside Martin in the field. She learned to work the big motion picture cameras. She learned to shoot both pistol and rifle, bringing down even a rhino that charged her husband while he was filming, saving Martin’s life. She hiked up mountains, forded flooding rivers in massive transports, crawled through gorilla trails in the dense jungle. She learned to fly and took her airplane, Osa’s Ark, cross the entire continent of Africa.
Always, Martin and Osa were a pair, her making sure his life was as healthy and easy as possible given their unconventional vocations, him being devoted to her safety and comfort.

Tragically, Martin was killed in a commercial plane crash in 1937, a crash that severely injured Osa. She could easily have retired to Chanute and lived out her life on speaking fees alone. But she didn’t. Instead, she wrote books about her experiences; took a huge safari with her into Africa to shoot portions of the motion picture Stanley and Livingstone, starring Spencer Tracey; and designed real-life-looking stuffed animals for the National Wildlife Federation.

Osa Johnson died at age 58 and was buried alongside her beloved Martin. Her family started the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in her honor. 

Now that’s a heroine for the ages.