Friday, January 18, 2019

The Art of the Cravat

You’ve read the descriptions. A gentleman in the early nineteenth century sports a snowy cravat, and all the ladies go into raptures. I had to become more acquainted with the cravats when I began writing Regency romances. But I didn’t really appreciate them until I created and wore one myself.

A cravat in early nineteenth century England was a square or rectangle of material, most often linen but occasionally cotton. I have seen mentions of silk versions, but I do wonder how well they would survive the maintenance process (more on that below). Cravats were wrapped around a gentleman’s neck, usually outside the shirt, forcing the points of the collar upward. You may have seen mention of gentlemen who piled up the folds so high they endangered their ears or eyes with their shirt points.

The color of your cravat was as important. This was an era of lye soap and hand-washing. Imagine trying to keep something snowy white. So, if you had a white cravat, it either meant you could afford a talented laundress or you were rich enough to simply throw the things away if they soiled. Then too, some gentlemen chose to wear colored cravats, particularly if they were a member of the sporting set. Famed boxer Jem Belcher preferred a patterned cravat, the print resembling peacock feathers. Everything I can find suggests his favorite was blue on navy, but the portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery shows yellow on russet. Either way, he makes the case for colored cravats.

The laundry process is one of the reasons that I question the use of silk very often. The other reason is that cravats were heavily starched to hold up to the intricate folds some gentlemen preferred. You’ll see mention of valets who handled the cravats too roughly and made them limp, preventing the proper fold.

And you may well have needed a valet for assistance. Cravats are surprisingly long—up to five or six feet! Trying to fold, wrap, and tie it appropriately could not have been easy at first.

It certainly wasn’t for me. As I have mentioned, I decided to impersonate a Regency gentleman for a soiree of the Beau Monde, the Romance Writers of AmericaTM chapter for those who write Regency romances. [We never have enough gentleman for a dance set.] To prepare for the part, I made my own cravat. Mine, alas, isn’t as snowy white as that of Sir Carolus here (AKA the marvelous Cara King), but then neither is the shirt I found. I fold the cream-colored rectangle in half, wind it around my neck, then tie it so that a piece cascades down the front and is affixed in place with a cravat pin. I am invariably asked what my fold is called.

The graphic above was an 1818 satire on cravats, but the particular folds did appear to have names. I call mine the Incomparable, although I nearly called it the Incompetent because it’s so hard to tie!

For more information on how to tie a cravat, see the Historical Designs website or this tutorial by my friend and accomplished author, Kristen Koster

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Such Language! Part 22

Oh, the Rabelaisian buffet that is the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue! What’s your favorite word or phrase this time? Muckworm is soooo very evocative, as is old toast--can't you just picture a spry, dapper old gentleman? What do you think?

Arch Duke: A comical or eccentric fellow. (I see no reason why my younger brother should be called an arch duke just because he prefers gravy to whipped cream on his strawberries.)

Caudge-pawed: Left-handed (Being caudge-pawed made remembering which hand to use when being presented to the queen something of a nightmare for Lucinda.)

Gabey:  A foolish fellow. (Sir Arnold is enough of a gabey to think that his purple and gold waistcoat is the height of fashion.)

Slamkin:  A female sloven, one whose clothes seem hung on with a pitchfork. (To see her now fluttering her fan and swishing her skirts, you’d never suspect my sister Ermentrude was an utter slamkin before her come-out.)

Peccavi: To cry peccavi; to acknowledge one’s self in an error, to own a fault: from the Latin peccavi, I have sinned. (Ermentrude won’t cry peccavi, but I know she’s the one who borrowed my new parasol and left it at Gunter’s.)

Muckworm: A miser (That old muckworm Mr. Pauncefort must be rolling in his grave to see how open-handed and generous his young nephew and heir has been toward his tenants.)

Old Toast:  A brisk old fellow. (Great-Uncle Gilbert walks three times up and down Rotten Row each day, just to hear the ladies whisper about what a lively old toast he is.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Live Like the Mountain's Out

Do you compose New Year’s resolutions or goals for the coming year? I usually do. I enjoyed many lovely things in 2018, including getting to spend time with my dear Marissa, Kristy J. Manhattan (my wonderful critique partner), and other friends. But in many ways, it was a difficult year. Shifting family dynamics and an overly ambitious publishing schedule combined to sap my strength. For only the second time in 45 books, I missed a publication deadline.

I don’t like doing that.

So, in case some of you are coming off a difficult year, I wanted to share a saying we have here in the South Sound and my goal for 2019.

Live like the mountain’s out.

You see, many of us here live in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. She’s a majestic peak, breathtaking actually, at one of the tallest in the U.S. And she dominates the skyline above Puget Sound.

When she’s visible.

You would not think a 14,000-foot mountain could play hide-and-seek, but she does. When it’s raining (and yes, it rains frequently here), storm clouds mask her. Even on bright sunny days, there may be nothing on the southwest horizon. When my father came as a young airman to what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the winter in the late 1950s, he spent weeks without catching a glimpse. Then one day, he went outside and stared.

“Who put that pile of snow at the end of the runway?” he demanded.

Mt. Rainier comes out of hiding on the best of days, when the sun is shining and the air is clear. When birds are singing a welcome, and you can smell the scent of fir and salt water on the breeze. On those days, people leave work early, go outside. We climb hills, skim waves. We gather around fires: in rustic pits in our backyards, in fir-shrouded campgrounds, on rocky beaches. We tell stories about our best memories, make new ones. We smile and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Live like the mountain’s out.

This year, I resolve to do that. I want to smile, I want to laugh. I want to enjoy the company of family and friends. I want to write stories that celebrate the best of the past and uplift, encourage, and make you dream of what might be. Dark times come to all. We can be the light.

Live like the mountain’s out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Regency Fabrics, Part 22

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today’s four samples are from the August 1810 issue of Ackermann’s Repository (yes, we’ve gone back in time a bit, as I recently acquired this print.) The overall condition of my copy is very good: the page itself is almost free of foxing and toning, and the samples are in good shape as well, with perhaps a bit of brown spotting.

No. 1 and 2. A fast-coloured deep cerulean blue furniture chintz, calculated for the decoration of drawing-rooms, boudoirs, and sleeping-rooms. The linings best contrasted with this fashionable article, are, bright yellow, rose colour, or crimson, with variegated Chinese fringe. It is sold, with various other kinds of permanent chintz furniture, at Mr. Allen’s celebrated furniture ware-house, Pall-Mall.

My comments: This is a nicely weighty, close-woven, and deeply glazed chintz, in a lovely shade of blue. The printing seems a little off (look at the leaves in particular), and the design is a little less elegant than other Regency chintzes we’ve seen.

No. 3. An imperial fancy striped cambric muslin, calculated for frocks, pelisse wraps, and every kind of morning robe. Lace may be introduced in this article, although we very frequently see it made up plain, with double plaited trimming of muslin or scalloped lace, simply forming a border at its terminations. This article is sold by Edwards and Co. Hay’s-court, Newport-market.

My comments: Oh, so very pretty! This is extraordinarily light and airy fabric; the thread is very evenly spun which makes for a nice tight weave. The cable design (thinking like a knitter here) is nicely done as well. Of course it would have to be made with a lining, but is one of the prettiest muslins I think I’ve yet examined.

No. 4. A raised corded leno, appropriate to the evening or dinner robe. It is frequently worn over coloured sarsnet or satin slips, and offers a very pleasing change for summer wear. No lace or needlework can be introduced to advantage in this light article, except as a trimming round the bottom or bosom; and the under dress cannot (from the transparent texture of the leno) be composed of any article of an inferior order. It is also sold by Edwards and Co. Newport-market.

My comments: Although not as pretty as No. 3 above, this is also woven of very fine (in all senses of the word) thread and would indeed be very pretty over a colored slip—pale pink or blue, perhaps? Definitely debutante wear. J

Any thoughts on this month’s fabrics?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Nice Way to Start the Year

I style myself as an award-winning author, but the number of awards is much smaller than that of some of my sister authors (cough, cough, Marissa). So, when I hear that my books have made some list, I get rather giddy. Allow me to share that giddiness with you.

For the third year in a row, I am honored to have one of my books on Kathy’s Review Corner’s Gems list, this time for Never Doubt a Duke, the first in my Fortune’s Brides series. Kathy is a voracious reader, and I appreciate how she works with authors to showcase great books. She chooses her favorite books of the year to include on the Gems list. You might drop by for a visit. 

Never Doubt a Duke also graced the Favorite 2018 Books list at Hope by the Book. My thanks to Alysha Worthen and her blog, For the Love of Christian Fiction, for the nomination.

If you’d like to catch up with the latest of my Fortune’s Brides series, Never Vie for a Viscount was launched on December 28. Lydia Villers wants to leave behind her life as a social butterfly and pursue a career in natural philosophy. A shame the only scientist available to assist her is the man she had once hoped to wed. Viscount Worthington has been betrayed once too often, including by the bubbly beauty who now wants to work at his side. How can he believe Lydia’s intentions are true this time? With the help of Miss Thorn and her beloved cat Fortune, an enthusiastic young lady and a wary lord might just discover that only together do they make the perfect chemistry.

Here’s a little taste:

As the rest of the team murmured their goodbyes, Lydia went to set the pincushion on the shelves. Irritating, impossible man. How was she to learn anything when Worth set her at meaningless tasks? Was he trying to force her to leave?

She gasped, whirling. “You are! You want me gone.”

His sister Charlotte frowned. “I’m sure I never said any such thing.”

Worth had his hands behind his back, as if intent on hiding something. “If the work displeases you, Miss Villers, we will not hold you to your agreement of employment.”

Charlotte stared at him. Lydia raised her chin and looked him in the eye. The grey seemed darker, as if his thoughts were as dismal.

“I came here to learn more about natural philosophy,” she told him. “Nothing you have done, nothing you can do, will change that, my lord.”

She thought he might look disappointed, perhaps chagrined that she had caught him at his game. Instead, he stepped forward and offered her his arm.

“In that case,” he said, “may I see you home, Miss Villers?”

She wanted to refuse. He had disappointed her too many times. But he obviously had a hypothesis about her. She should let him test it, offer him evidence that she was more capable than he knew. If he spent time with her, learned more about her, perhaps he would come to understand why she was here and be more inclined to let her help.

She put her arm on his. “Very well, my lord.”

He escorted her to where she’d left her things in her tiny room, then led her back through the house and out the front door.

“I apologize,” he said as they walked along the pavement at the edge of Clarendon Square.

“For humoring me or for failing to accept the results of my experiment?” Lydia asked, voice pleasant from long practice.

“For upsetting you,” he said. “I dislike seeing you unhappy.”

Lydia stopped, forcing him to stop as well. “How extraordinary. Do you dislike seeing Miss Pankhurst unhappy?”

He cocked his head as if considering the matter. “I would like to think so.”

“Then you would allow her to commandeer your time with useless experiments.”


He had always seemed so open, so obvious in his thoughts, until he had sent that horrid note dismissing her. Could she believe him now? How could she continue to work in that house if she didn’t?

“Then why,” she asked, “did you do that for me?”

Again, his answer was swift. “Every natural philosopher has a right to test a theory. My approval, the application to my research, appeared immaterial in that moment. I wanted to know how you would go about testing it, your response to the testing.”

“So, you did have a hypothesis about me,” Lydia said, “and you were testing it too. What was your hypothesis, my lord?”

He colored. Truly, it was an amazing sight. The red climbed in his cheeks until it clashed with his auburn hair. “I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I was merely curious.”

Curious, or wondering whether she’d behave logically? Of course, on hearing what he’d done, she’d all but stomped her feet and called him names, so there was that.

“Apology accepted,” she said, starting forward at a brisk pace.

He hurried to fall into step beside her. “Thank you.”

“However,” Lydia said, skirts sweeping the pavement, “I believe reparations are in order.”

“I see.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Flowers perhaps?”

Lydia clucked her tongue. “Nothing so common, sir. You wounded me deeply.”

“Should I apologize again?”

He sounded so perplexed, hands going behind his back once more. Was that what he did when he was uncertain? She could not doubt that she had disquieted him.

But she did not intend to encourage him.

“No,” she said. “But you could give me a greater part in the work.”

She glanced at him to find his head down, his gaze on the stone at their feet. “Alas, it would be unfair to Miss Janssen and Miss Pankhurst to take their work from them.”

Lydia stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up to Meredith’s door. “Surely there must be something. Perhaps if you told me what we are working toward, I might be able to propose a role.”

His face closed, and he took a step back from her. “I’m afraid that must remain quiet for now. Good afternoon, Miss Villers.”

He turned and strode back the way they had come, for all the world as if she were chasing him.

You can find Never Vie for a Viscount in ebook at many fine online retailers and in print from Amazon:


Here’s to a great year, my dears. You know it will be amazing because, it’s 19!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Christmas!

The day is fast approaching, my dears, which means Marissa and I will be taking time off the blog to celebrate with family and friends from today through January 3. That also means it’s time for presents! 

You will have seen Marissa’s lovely present a few weeks ago, but if you missed the announcement, go here to see how to read Marissa's free short story, “A Perfect Night for a Trip on the Lake.” 

For my own part, I have made available a short story I wrote for a dear friend of mine, the inspiration for Hannah Alexander in the Lady Emily Capers. “Hurry Santa” is one of the only contemporary romances I ever wrote (don’t hold that against me!). You can find it on a secret page on my website. 

And if you simply cannot wait for the next Fortune’s Brides story, you might want to know that the fourth book, Never Vie for a Viscount, is now available for preorder.

Lydia Villers wants to leave behind her life as a social butterfly and pursue a career in natural philosophy. A shame the only scientist available to assist her is the man she had once hoped to wed. Viscount Worthington has been betrayed once too often, including by the bubbly beauty who now wants to work at his side. How can he believe Lydia’s intentions are true this time? With the help of Miss Thorn and her beloved cat Fortune, an enthusiastic young lady and a wary lord might just discover that only together do they make the perfect chemistry.

You can preorder the e-book at the following online retailers. The print edition is available at Amazon.


May your Christmas be filled with wonder, and your New Year with hope. See you in January.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Popping in for Popovers

I’m drawing up my grocery shopping list for my family’s Christmas dinner (it’s just a week away—eek!) We always have a roast beef at Christmas, served with the traditional horseradish sauce. Queen Victoria evidently enjoyed a good piece of roast beef herself on December 25. But because I live in New England, not the old one, our roast beef is eaten with those lovely bubbles of bready goodness, popovers.

For those who haven’t had the good fortune to be acquainted with popovers, they are muffin-shaped, mostly hollow rolls made from a thin, eggy batter; they are baked in either muffin cups or in special high-sided popover pans. Cooked in a very hot oven, the thin, liquid batter releases lots of steam, which creates the hollow effect, rather like a soufflé. When done, you slather popovers with butter and enjoy...honestly, given the choice I’d rather skip dessert on Christmas and just eat more popovers.

The origin of the popover is in Yorkshire pudding, the traditional accompaniment to a beef roast, which follows a similar recipe but is cooked in a pan (originally set under the spit on which a roast was cooking, so that the dripping juices from the roast fell into the pan of batter, enriching it.) For some reason, cooks in the new world came up with the idea of cooking the batter in individual, small servings and using butter rather than meat drippings...and the rest is delicious culinary history.

Being huge popover fans in my family, we have the special popover pans, but 5 oz. Pyrex custard cups will work as well.


Set your oven rack to the middle of the oven, because these babies rise.


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter

Generously butter a dozen or so small Pyrex custard cups; set them in a baking pan, which makes the whole thing easier to handle. Whisk together all the above ingredients, preferably in a mixing bowl with a spout. The batter should be thin—rather the consistency of heavy cream—and don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy. Pour the batter into the prepared cups till they’re about half to two-thirds full—don’t fill them completely or they won’t puff. Put them in a cold oven and turn it on, setting the temperature to 425°. Set the timer for 45 minutes, and go do something else to take your mind off them, because you can’t peek—if you open the door, kittens will sob, puppies will turn their backs on you, flowers will fail to bloom...and your lovely popovers might collapse. Only after 45 minutes can you check on them, to make sure they’re deliciously golden brown; depending on your oven, a few more minutes might be necessary. When done, remove them immediately from their cups, and serve at once with butter.

If you feel like gilding the lily, finely grated Parmesan cheese and/or herbs can be added to the batter. Or you can serve them with herbed garlic butter—but I digress... 😋

Enjoy...and I hope your year-end celebrations are warm and wonderful. See you next year!