Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Regency Fabrics, Part 32

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.

Today’s four samples are from the July 1813 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent; the page itself is free of foxing and is only slightly toned, though it is a bit ragged on the right-hand margin. The samples themselves are in excellent condition, with only a little fraying on the edges of two of them.

Here we go!

No. 1 A primrose floret sarsnet. There is great beauty and lightness in this fabric, and the colour is chaste. It is necessary in adopting a dress, that the wearer should chuse the colour with some attention to her complexion. It not unfrequently happens, that a dress may be admired for its becoming appearance, from the accidental circumstance of some fitness in the arrangement of colours between the complexion of the wearer and the hue of the dress. Those who are desirous of ascertaining what colours would best suit a Brunetta or a Phillis, would do well to have two handsome figures drawn on a small scale, with faces, necks, and arms painted to each; the shape for dress might be cut out, and the various patterns of silks, muslins, &c. might easily be inserted, to fill up the space, which would afford the means of ascertaining what colours would be most becoming.—If some eminent portrait-painter would write his sentiments upon this subject, he would serve the cause of female fashion. Surely dress, or fashion, might be governed by scientific principles as well as any other matter of taste. This sarsnet is sold by George and Bradley, Golden Key, Holywell-street, Strand.

My comments: Hmm. The actual discussion of the “article” itself gets rather lost in the essay on scientific fashion! Which is a pity, because this is a truly beautiful fabric in a pale buff color, woven in diagonally ribbed stripes that create a dark-light effect. Add the sheen of silk, with just enough body to drape elegantly, and you’ve got one of the loveliest samples I’ve run across. I do wonder if it has faded, as the originally description calls it “primrose”, usually a light yellow, but that’s hard to discern.


No. 2. Peruvian spotted net. Very different in colour from the preceding article, yet in one respect similar, namely, that the paleness of the ground only approximates to the beauty of the blue with which it is spotted. It rarely happens, that a dress of one unbroken colour, let it be ever so brilliant, adorns the wearer, be she dark or fair, or her figure ever so graceful: so large a mass of colour overpowers the countenance and complexion, and produces no high opinion of the taste of the wearer. Sold as above.

My comments: Hmm. Maybe these samples aren’t in as good shape as I’d thought, if the dots on this loosely woven silk netting were actually once blue; either that, or the copy was written for a different fabric than was actually sent. As it’s a net, it was definitely meant to be worn over an underdress; it’s a silk as well, with just enough body to have draped well.


No. 3. Fancy wove muslin. This is a lightsome fabric, that will suit every complexion, and is fitted for the sunnier season. The ornaments best suited to this and the preceding patterns, must be regulated by the taste of the wearers, as less control pervades these matters than heretofore. Indeed, the little expletives of female attire are usually best conceived, and better arranged by the spontaneous hand of the wearer, than by the precise rules established at any particular toilette. Sold by T. and J. Smith, Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden. 

My comments: I’ll agree that this sample is “lightsome”—a charming word for a charming fabric, which makes me think of little girls’ Easter dresses. The muslin is woven of fine, even cotton thread with the pink design woven in, not printed. This picture isn't doing it justice, alas; a very dainty fabric, likely worn over a slip.


No. 4. Russia Paper. This paper is a close imitation of Russia, now so much used in book-binding, pocket-books, purses, and all ladies’ ornamental work. It may be had a shade lighter or darker, at option. It is particularly neat for binding or covering any port-folio, for the toilette or desk, any may be adapted to the many uses for which Morocco paper is calculated. It is not so apt to soil or damage as many of the lighter fancy papers. It may be seen made up and adapted to various purposes, at R. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 101, Strand; where ladies will find the newest articles in the fancy paper line. Size of Russia paper, half sheet wove drawing medium, 12s. per dozen.

My comments: We’ve seen paper samples presented here before, but I have to wonder if this one is here because a fourth fabric sample didn’t arrive by the print date. I’m trying to think of a type of paper used today that might be analogous, but not having much luck: this paper is crisp, even after 200+ years…but it’s maybe as heavy as a kraft envelope. All of the color is printed—the back is white—and the printed surface is glazed like a chintz.

What do you think of this month’s fabrics (and paper)?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

It’s Always Sunny in Regency England

Well, no, no it isn’t, any more than it’s always sunny anywhere. Even the driest places on Earth occasionally experience a rain shower (except for the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, which haven’t seen rain in millions of years, apparently, but I don’t intend to set a story there 😊). But I recently caught myself slipping into the habit where every day in my books is a perfect sunny day, and my characters take strolls and sit in open carriages wearing nothing more than a muslin dress and a spencer. It seemed appropriate when I was talking about the Dorset seashore in August, but November?

Ahem. No.

Fortunately, there’s an intriguing site now parked under Weather Web. Researched meticulously by Martin Rowley of Dorset, it pulls together reports of weather in England for centuries, including 1800 to 1849. For example, based on recorded observations, we know that 1805 was a dry summer in London but 1807 was a wet one. January 1810 saw 10 days of fog in London. And January 1820, when George III died and Prinny became king (though he wasn’t officially crowned until later), the weather was terribly cold. Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, recorded 10 degrees below zero at one point.

One of the most intriguing events is recorded on December 14, 1810. On that day, at Old Portsmouth in Hampshire, what is believed to be the strongest tornado ever reported in England touched down. It barreled through Old Portsmouth and on to Southsea Common, blowing down chimneys, peeling back roofs, and levelling houses. Meteorologists believe it was a T8 on the TORRO scale, with winds exceeding 213 miles per hour. Miraculously, no deaths were associated with it.  

Now, I may not be able to pinpoint the weather in Dorset in November 1804, but I can be reasonably sure it rained, a lot, and the weather hovered between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring me to study lots of lovely shawls, pelisses, cloaks, and redingotes in which to wrap my heroine.

Writing historical novels is such a difficult thing. 😊