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My good friend, Regency Romance author, Vivian Roycroft has stopped by to tell us about needlework in the English Regency Period.
Flowing white muslin, pristine and unadorned, falling from an Empire waist gathered beneath the bustline with a simple ribbon… between roughly 1795 and 1800, the fashion ideal for a young French lady was to dress as a Grecian statue come to life. At first, this meant donning her nightgown for daywear, and young ladies all over France sacrificed their elders’ finery in support of the new government’s republican ideals, which were supposed to hearken back to ancient Greece’s democracy.
But as English ladies across the Channel pointed out, those unadorned white gowns were rather… boring. They all looked the same, they didn’t always flatter a woman’s figure, and their coverage during English winters gave pneumonia a new nickname: the “muslin disease.” Besides, English ladies weren’t supporting the French Revolution, just wearing an elegant gown. Practical beneath their fashion sense, the ladies of England donned flesh-toned knit pantaloons to keep their legs warm, and searched for ways to make the height of fashion more of an individual statement.
Those ladies expert with a needle turned to embroidery; those who weren’t found a seamstress. All of them pored over hand-drawn patterns, both the old ones they’d inherited from their mothers and elder sisters, and those currently available at the linen draper’s shop. Because the muslin fabric was nearly sheer, the designs didn’t have to be transferred to the gown. Instead, the pattern sheet was pinned to the fabric, supported by an embroidery hoop, and the seamstress worked the design atop the pattern.
Soon English society was blooming with embroidery. At first it was limited to necklines, hems, sleeve bands, and shawls, and the work was kept light, at least in sympathy with the ancient Greek statue concept. Much of this early Regency trim followed Grecian patterns, as well, the sort of interlocking geometrics you might see carved into the cornices of old neo-classical buildings.
But in 1804, images reached England of the Egyptian and Etruscan gifts Napoleon had brought back from the Nile campaign to France for his wife, Empress Joséphine, a noted fashion leader. Overnight, the Grecian look vanished and Egypt was hot. Still geometric in design, the new needlework sported fan spreads, greater detailing, and slightly larger designs, as well as tassels on shawl corners.
By 1808, most ladies had tired of Oriental-flavored designs. But they didn’t tire of embroidery, and finework became even more detailed. Floral swags became popular along the hems of ball gowns, with ribbon roses on sleeves and necklines, and delicate patterns stitched across the entire skirt. Whitework embroidery saw a revival, detailed and raised designs worked with incredibly tiny stitches in white thread on white muslin caps, bodices, and petticoats, the latter designed to peep delightfully from beneath one’s gown during a skirt-flaring dance.
Tambour also enjoyed renewed popularity. Done with a teensy crochet-type hook and embroidery
hoop, with fine thread worked into the weave of loose fabric or netting in a sort of chain stitch on the fabric’s surface, this type of embroidery became so well known that, when crochet first appeared in 1820, it was known at first as “tambour-in-the-air.”
In 1973, a set of well-used embroidery patterns from the 1780s was donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Clearly they’re the work of a professional pattern-drawer and gifted artist, and just the thought of stitching one of those beautiful, detailed designs onto thin muslin gives me the quakes. Here’s a link if you’d like to see more.
Lady Clara hunts for the man she loves amidst Napoleon’s war. But with cannons blazing, the cost could be more than her life.
Lady Clara Huckabee stows away by accident. But she’s not sorry to sail aboard HMS Topaze, leaving England behind. It’s a chance to search for her charming French suitor from the Amiens peace, the man she’s determined to marry despite the war and her dominating uncle’s disapproval. All she has to do is convince the Topaze’s handsome captain to see things her way, and everything will be perfect.
A French frigate has evaded the Royal Navy blockade of Brest. Captain Alexander Fleming sails the smaller, elderly frigate Topaze in pursuit, but what he’s supposed to do with a silly stowaway debutante for seven thousand miles wasn’t covered in his orders. In the doldrums, during a South Atlantic storm, and with French t’gallants spiking the horizon, his first responsibility is always to his ship, his crew, his assignment… not his growing attachment for the woman doubling as his captain’s clerk. Perfect; just perfect.
Before disaster strikes, before the cannons open fire, will Lady Clara and Fleming learn that the perfection they longed for isn’t the one they really want?
About the Author
Vivian Roycroft is a pseudonym for historical fiction and adventure writer J. Gunnar Grey. And if she’s not careful, her pseudonymous pseudonym will have its own pseudonym soon, too. Along with an e-reader stuffed with Jane Austen and Patrick O’Brian, a yarn stash, and a turtle sundae at Culver’s.
You can find Vivian and her writing compadre, J.L. Salter, at their shared blog, http://www.TakeTwoOnRomance.Weebly.com, or follow her on Twitter as @VivianRoycroft. And start looking for the second book in the series Love in Napoleon’s War in autumn of 2013!
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