Friday, February 28, 2014

A Stitch in Time

How talented are you?  That’s a question young ladies of good family had to consider when they were about to make their debuts in nineteenth century England.  The ability to make good conversation, play an instrument, acquit herself well on horseback, and perhaps manage a household were supposedly prized traits for gentlemen looking to acquire a wife.  But there was another more important practical skill, for ladies of any social strata:  the ability to sew a fine hand.

Though wealthier ladies were more likely to have someone else like a maid or seamstress mend their clothes (or throw damaged items away entirely in the most spendthrift households), a wife who could reattach a button, hem up a skirt, or take portions of outfits and repurpose them was generally to be commended.  Then too, many a young lady fell to embroidering seat covers, nightgowns, and other items she would need for her trousseau.  Even older ladies were known to embroider to pass the time.

The basic stiches, such as the chain stitch, blanket stitch, satin stitch, and cross stitch were the same then as we know today.  The thread might be fine silk or warm wool.  Designers sold patterns, but some ladies made up their own.  And some of the workmanship was exquisite, as in this apron made from silk.

 Nor were English ladies alone in their accomplishments.  Some of the most beautiful embroidery from the nineteenth century can be found in items from India.  Kent State University Museum has a muslin dress embroidered with iridescent beetle wings (not the shape of the wings--the actual wings!).   Their “details” collection on Pinterest has some lovely examples. 

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has a wonderful online display about embroidery, the designer William Morris played a large role in making English embroidery even more popular in the mid-1800s.  That's one of his designs at the right.  His patronage led to the establishment of the Royal School of Art Needlework, which produced and sold embroidery and designs as well as trained students.

Me?  Well, I have embroidered a few pillow cases and table runners in my time, but I would certainly not rank stitching among my accomplishments.  What about you?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Still Here...

In this age of constantly changing fad and fashion in the world of consumer goods, it’s pretty interesting to note just how many companies and products are anything but a fad, and are indeed chugging along after nearly a hundred years. We’ve already seen how long-lived a brand Keds are...and here are a few others, from my collection of vintage magazines:

This one’s just gorgeous! Palmolive Soap, from McCall’s Magazine, June 1917:

Cookies never go out of style: Nabisco Sugar Wafers, from Harper’s Weekly, February 22, 1902:

Who knew that Vaseline came in different flavors? (McCall’s Magazine, January 1909):

Ermegerd! Jell-O!! (McCall’s Magazine, October 1910)

Eveready Batteries, before the Energizer Bunny: (Collier’s Magazine, July 28, 1917)

Ivory Soap (McCall’s Magazine, August 1910):

Coke, back when it still had small amounts of a now-controlled substance as an ingredient: (McCall’s Magazine, June 1917):

Even mattresses (McCall’s Magazine, October 1910):

This one, however, totally wins...from La Belle Assemblee, February, 1811...for Pears’s Soap!

Any products here you still use?  Do you wish their ads still looked like these?

Friday, February 21, 2014

In Honorable Company: The RWA Anthology

Ever sit in a meeting or stand at a party, look around you, and wonder how you came to be among such wonderful company?  That was my experience last week, when Romance Writers of America announced the authors whose stories were chosen for inclusion in the professional organization’s first short story anthology. 

RWA had sent out a call for submissions last summer.  The idea was to develop an anthology that showcased what romance writers have to offer in the various subgenres, including contemporary, erotic, historical, inspirational, paranormal, romantic suspense, and young adult. To get our creative juices flowing, RWA requested that we submit a story around the theme of “wrong number” (for example, wrong phone number, wrong e-mail address including numbers, etc.).  The set of chosen stories would be edited by former RWA President and number one New York Times best-selling author, Sylvia Day. 

Wrong number, I thought.  How would that work in my historical romances?  No phone numbers and certainly no e-mail addresses.  But there was one wrong number that sent chills through the heart of any nineteenth century society hostess.

Wrong numbers at table. 

Some Society ladies prided themselves in having an equal number of women and men at their dinner parties.  What would happen if a hostess at a Christmas house party found herself at odd numbers and had to enlist the aid of her recluse brother, a hero from the Napoleonic wars?  And what would happen if the woman he had to sit beside was the one woman he’d ever loved, who’d once rejected him before he set off to war?

Thus was born “A Light in the Darkness,” a Regency-set Christmas story, which I am honored to announce will be included in RWA’s anthology. 

And I am shivering with delight over my sister authors who will also be included:

Lila Bell
Allison Brennan
T.L. Costa
Sylvia Day
Cindy Gerard
Sabrina Jeffries
Joan Johnston
Laura Kaye
Diane Kelly
Amber Lin
Courtney Milan
Monica Murphy
Katy Regnery
Erica Ridley
Harper St. George
Vicki Lewis Thompson
Lex Valentine

If a lady is judged by the company she keeps, I have reached the very heights of good Society.  Please join me in congratulating all the wonderful authors who will represent the romance industry.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fashion Forecast: 1830

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1830?

We’re in for a wild decade, fashion-wise. Just as passion for the picturesque had taken over the aesthetic sense of the time, with its accompanying romanticism, so did it in fashion: sleeves, collars, skirts, and millinery will go to extremes in size, hairstyles will attain new heights of elaboration, and women will have to learn to go through doorways sideways. If twenty years ago, fashion was all about vertical lines, in the 1830s it’s all about the horizontal.

Alas, Ackermann stopped publishing in 1829, so for the 1830s I’ll be dipping into other publications, especially La Belle Assemblee (and its successor, the Court Magazine) as well as a French magazine, Petit Courrier des Dames. We’ll try to have fun with these crazy 1830s, because by the end of the decade fashion...well, gets boring. And so...

From February’s La Belle Assemblee are this pair of Evening Dresses , in what appears to be a striped pink satin with full sleeves caught in just above the elbow with a band of fringed trim (which also appears around the skirt). Her companion in green has sleeves in a style we’ve seen for years: a short puff sleeve covered by a transparent oversleeve. Fur boas, as Pink is wearing, will be popular all decade...and that’s quite a turban on Miss Green, decorated with what looks like sprays of very narrow, fine feathers:

Interestingly, La Belle Assemblee seems to feature both English and French fashions. I happen to have both for the month of May, including the original text. Here’s what was said for the yellow Evening Dress on the left: A straw-coloured crape dress, over a gros de Naples slip to correspond. Corsage uni, cut low and square, and trimmed with a falling tucker of blonde de Cambray. Béret sleeve, finished en manchette, with the same sort of lace; a nœud of gauze ribbon, to correspond in color, is placed in front of the arm. The skirt is trimmed with a most superb flounce of blonde de Cambray, headed by a cluster of narrow rouleaus of satin to correspond with the dress. The trimming is raised a little, in the drapery style, on the left side, and adorned with two bouquets, each formed of a single flower, with buds and foliage. One of these bouquets terminates the trimming, where it is arranged in drapery; the other is placed at some distance below the first. The headdress is a crape hat of a shade darker than the dress. The inside of the brim is finished next the face, in a very novel manner, with gauze riband. The crown is adorned with white feathers, placed in different directions, some of which pass through openings made in the brim, and partly shade it. The jewellery worn with this dress should be a mixture of gold and pearls:

And for the French Fashions (a Dinner Dress, Carriage Dress, and Public Promenade Dress), here’s the descriptions:

Dinner Dress A dress of dark blue gros d’été; the corsage cut low and square, drapé across the bosom; the drapery lower than usual; the folds fuller; the sleeve quite tight from the wrist to the middle of the upper part of the arm, and from thence to the shoulder extremely full. The trimming of the skirt is formed of rouleaus arranged en treillage. The cap is an intermixture of rose-coloured gauze ribbon and blonde lace. It is ornamented with bouquets of roses. Necklace of gold and pearls, Ear-rings, pearls.

Carriage Dress: A pelisse composed of vapeur gros de Tours. The corsage, of the shawl kind, but, falling much lower than usual, is bordered with a rouleau of the same material. The corsage is open to the waist; the skirt ornamented down the front, en cœur, with the material of the dress, and rich silk cords and tassels. The sleeve is of uncommon width, but the fulness is arranged in folds from about the middle of the arm to the wrist; the folds confined by rouleaus placed three together; plain black velvet cuff. Richly embroidered chemisette, and small black velvet cravat, edged with narrow blonde lace, and fastened by a pearl brooch. The hat is of rice straw, trimmed with branches of myrtle, and vapeur and white striped ribbons:

Public Promenade Dress: A redingote of gris lavande gros de Indes. Corsage a la Louise very open at the bosom, with a large square collar. Sleeve of the usual form, finished with a velvert cuff, and a trimming of black blond lace. The corsage, and one side of the skirt, are also bordered with black blond lace. The lace is set nearly plain on the skirt, which wraps over, but very full round the corsage. Lavender-coloured gros de Naples hat, ornamented with bouquets of violets, intermixed with  nœuds of gauze riband, tartaned in different shades of green.

That’s it for my 1830 prints—for some reason, I seem to be a little lacking in this year. But here are a few definitions of some of the terms bandied about here:

Gros de naples: a sturdy, plain-weave silk fabric
Blonde: a bobbin lace originally made from unbleached Chinese silk thread (with a faint yellow coloration) Corsage: the front of the bodice. A corsage uni is a front cut in one piece, without seams.
Chemisette: a garment of muslin, cambric, or tulle worn to fill in the space when the front of the bodice descends in the center (think of today’s camis)
rouleau: decorative bands around a skirt or sleeve
redingote: A lightweight coat, often belted
What do you think of 1830’s fashions?

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Materialistic Valentine

Ah, Valentine’s Day--when we think of scarlet hearts, succulent candy, and stolen kisses.  We’ve talked in the past about how popular the day was in the nineteenth century, with posts on celebrations, the art of penning love poems, and watching for the letter carrier.  As I went looking for inspiration for today’s post, however, I found another sort of Valentine, one purportedly dating from 1849.  It seems that master of British caricature, George Cruikshank, poked a little fun at the day in this valentine:

The gentleman sending this particular note wants to make sure his lady love knows what she’ll be getting should she marry him.  Oh, he’s young, rich, and handsome, good-tempered and well-educated.  That goes without saying (although he isn’t so humble that he doesn’t say it).  That’s not what distinguishes him from other suitors.  He’s willing to lay it all on the line for love.  Here’s what he’s offering:

  • Unlimited bonnets and dresses
  • 300 pounds of pin money a year (pin money was a lady’s spending money.  Note that at this time, a person could live frugally in London on around 150 pounds a year.)
  • Smuggled French gloves and perfume to spare
  • A splendid set of jewels
  • A box at the opera
  • Champagne and cheesecake (interesting combination!)
  • A grand piano
  • Annual trips to Europe
  • A handsome carriage
  • A townhouse and a country house.
Be still my beating heart!  What lady could possibly refuse?

Me, for one.  If I had to think about marriage materialistically in the nineteenth century, I’d add a few items to the list:

  • A large library and sufficient funds to keep expanding it
  • My own study adjoining said library
  • Escort to all literary functions of my choosing
  • Annual subscription to the Royal Society presentations on the latest advancements in science.
What about you?  Any materialistic items you’d advise your valentine to consider before proposing?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Baking, 1917 Style

As we learned last week, with the entry of the US into World War I, voluntary food conservation came into being in order to not only provide food for American troops heading over to fight in Europe, but also relieve severe food shortages for European civilians. The Food Administration encouraged homemakers to be frugal and to do without; the women’s magazines jumped in and began to publish recipes that reflected the new frugality.

And so this week, I! I haven’t tried any of them—too busy getting ready for April (hint, hint). But I think I might try this first one some time, because....well, chocolate and potatoes? Carb heaven. It’s from a Royal Baking Powder ad in the July 1917 issue of McCall’s Magazine:

Potato Chocolate Cake
¾ cups shortening
2 cups sugar
½ cup chocolate
¾ cup milk
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
5 teaspoons Royal Baking Powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup mashed potatoes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped nuts
½ teaspoon cloves

Cream shortening, add sugar, melted chocolate and mashed potatoes, mix well. Beat eggs separately and add yolks to the first mixture. Add milk and dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Beat well. Add nuts, vanilla, and beaten whites of eggs. Mix thoroughly and bake in greased loaf tin in moderate oven one hour. (The old method called for four eggs)

This one (from a Royal Baking Powder ad in June 1917’s McCall’s) is less tempting—I’m not a fruitcake fan—but I just love the recipe name. Makes you jump up and say, “yum!”, doesn’t it?

Or not.

Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 cup seedless raisins
2 ounces citron, cut fine
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
5 teaspoons Royal Baking Powder

Boil sugar, water, fruit, shortening, salt, and spices together in sauce 3 minutes. When cool, add flour and baking power which have been sifted together. Mix well, Bake in loaf pan about 45 minutes. (The old method called for three eggs)

And finally, from an article in September 1917’s The Delineator entitled “More French Recipes”, is a recipe from a B. Simmen of Ruschlekom, Switzerland:

War Cake
1 cupful granulated sugar
2 teaspoonfuls cocoa
2 cupfuls milk
2 cupfuls flour
1 tablespoonful melted grape jelly
1 egg
1 or 2 teaspoonfuls powdered cinnamon
1 teaspoonful baking soda

Take the granulated sugar and add to it the egg. Then beat together and add the cocoa, cinnamon, and the fresh milk or cream. Add the milk or cream very slowly. Mix in the flour. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in one tablespoonful of melted grape jelly.

Butter a high baking-pan, as this dish bakes better in a high pan rather than a shallow one.

Shell some nuts and put them over your cake. This dessert is inexpensive and will keep for several days.

I rather like how the recipe’s author neglects to mention baking the cake!

Bon appétit!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wanted: Suitably Impressive London House to Rent for the Season

Location, location, location.  I’ve heard it said that’s the most important part of house buying, and as my husband and I consider downsizing, we’re finding it to be true.  But location wasn’t the only factor important to the families who went up to London for the Season in the nineteenth century, that time between Easter and the end of summer when anyone who was anyone ventured up to London for the rounds of parties, balls, and matchmaking among the upper class.  Families who were nobly born had a London house as well as an estate in the country and perhaps a hunting lodge somewhere they might reasonably expect to find small creatures to persecute, I mean hunt.  The rest of the aristocratic families did what many of us do today--they rented or leased.

Much of the land in London once belonged to large estates dating back to the middle ages.  The mighty families who owned these estates later developed them, keeping the land itself, but building houses on it they would then lease to suitably wealthy and pedigreed tenants.  For example, much of Mayfair, that area near Hyde Park devoted to the aristocracy in the early nineteenth century, was developed from lands belonging to the Grosvenor family.  

Some leases lasted only a Season.  Others lasted as long as a hundred years.  As you can imagine, if your family held one of those longer leases, generations would come to consider the house “theirs.”

Within these leased houses were several types.  There was the terraced house, must like today's townhouses, like these in Bath:

Most of these homes had only a few rooms suitable for entertaining.  They were perfect for sitting with a few friends and having a nice coz.  If you hoped to entertain, you would be better served to lease a larger townhouse with a small plot of land, enough for a garden, like Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington:

Such houses might boast a gallery suitable for a large dinner or perhaps a small soiree.  If you wanted to host your own ball, you’d have to locate a mansion with more extensive grounds.  This last type was the most rare in London, kept in the family so to speak, and was the most expensive to lease.  They might also be a bit outside London proper, like Holland House:

The larger the home, the larger the upkeep as well.  Larger houses required more servants, more furnishings and artwork.  Gardens required gardeners; stables necessitated grooms.  Sometimes smaller was more efficient.  However, larger was certainly more impressive.

So, what will your preference be, my lords and ladies?  What sort of home would you prefer this Season?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Food, Glorious Food...or Food for Glory

On the United States’ entry into World War I in April 1917, the military wasn’t the only thing to mobilize.

Under the direction of future president Herbert Hoover, the U.S. Food Administration jumped into action to convince America’s housewives that they could have a positive impact on the course of the war by conserving food, so that not only American troops would be well-fed, but also the millions in Europe for whom getting enough to eat was a daily struggle. This wasn’t pure altruism; as Hoover wrote, “Of course, the prime objective of the United States in undertaking the fight against famine in Europe is to save the lives of starving people. The secondary object, however, and of hardly less importance, [is] to defeat Anarchy, which is the handmaiden of Hunger.” By “anarchy”, Hoover meant communism, to which Russia had fallen in 1917.

The U.S. Food Administra-tion had six main principles:
"First--To save the wheat. If we eat as usual from our harvest this year we will have little more than enough for our own supply, but we can divide with our allies if each individual makes some sacrifices by eating at least one wheatless meal a day, substituting corn bread or other cereals.
Second--We want to save the meat, for our cattle and hogs are decreasing, and we must send to our allies, so we wish every householder to buy less, to serve smaller portions and to allow no waste.
Third--We wish to save the fats. We consume three times the fats that are necessary for nutrition, and we need them now for war. We wish no butter used in cooking; we want less butter served on the table; we want less lard, bacon, and other pork products used.
Fourth--Any deficiencies in food supply, by economy along the above line, can be amply covered by increasing the use of fish, potatoes, beans, peas, turnips, cabbage, and vegetables generally, corn, buckwheat, rye, and rice, which we have in abundance this harvest.
Fifth--We want to save transportation. Our railways are unable to meet the war pressure for munitions, men and coal, so that we wish every one to consume products of local origin as far as possible, to buy from the local miller, the local packer, buy and eat vegetables grown near home. Aside from eating an increased proportion of these commodities in order to save on the staples, it is extremely important that any surplus of these commodities shall be preserved or well stored for winter use.
Sixth--We preach and want everyone to preach 'the gospel of the clean plate;' to buy less foodstuffs, to serve smaller portions, and to see that nothing of value goes into the garbage can."

This movement to conserve food was driven by a huge advertising blitz. Women’s magazines in particular ran numerous articles on eating locally produced food, eating more fruits and vegetables and poultry and dairy products, which could not easily be transported overseas at this time, cutting down on waste in general and abstaining from certain foods on certain days, hence “Wheatless Wednesdays” and “Meatless Mondays” (foods like cottage cheese and egg dishes were suggested to replace meat).

To make it even more official, housewives could sign a food conservation pledge and receive a special placard to display in their front windows proclaiming that they were doing their bit for the war effort—a clever bit of psychosocial pressure. (That's the pledge above, from the August 1917 issue of Today's Housewife).

Even advertisers jumped on the conservation bandwagon: companies like Domino Sugar ran ads stating that it was every American woman’s patriotic duty to preserve and can fruit to keep it from waste ...using Domino sugar, of course (from McCall's, August 1917).

And of course, the magazines were full of recipes and suggestions on how to conserve food. Stop by next week to get the deets on how to make an Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake (yes, really), and more.