The Year Without a Summer

I can’t wait for spring!  It is still pretty chilly in the Midwest, but I know the sunny, warm days will be here very soon.

Can you imagine what it would be like if spring never came? That is what happened one year during the Regency period. In fact, 1816 is often referred to as the “Year Without a Summer,” and during this time extreme weather dramatically effected England’s cultural and economic landscape. Let’s take a quick look:

In April 1815, the volcano Mount Tambora erupted on the island of Sumbara in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).  The force of the blast launched ash, dust and debris into the atmosphere. The impact was so significant that temperatures lowered globally and the sun’s rays were blocked, making the days appear darker. The altered atmosphereic conditions affected weather and agriculture worldwide, especially in Canada, northeastern United States, and northern Europe.

As a result, 1816 ranks as one of England’s coldest winters on record.  The snow fell as late as May in London, and in the Lake District, snow was still on the highest peaks at the end of July. The excessive precipitation and unseasonably cold temperatures devastated crops. Consequently, food shortages were rampant. To make matters worse, farm laborers were not working, and with thousands of soldiers returning from foreign wars, unemployment was a major problem. Rioting looting broke out all over the country.   Malnutrition and cold, wet conditions led to a rise in disease.

Chichester Canal by J. M. W. Turner
Chichester Canal by J. M. W. Turner

But even during this time of darkness, the artists and poets of the day found beauty in the midst of the shadows. The gloomy, bitter weather inspired Byron’s haunting poem Darkness. Byron said he “wrote it… at Geneva, when there was a celebrated dark day, on which the fowls went to roost at noon, and the candles were lighted as at midnight.”  And in the world of art, J. M. W. Turner is said to have been inspired by the spectacular sunsets that resulted from the high levels of debris and ash in the atmosphere.

Curious about what else was going on in England at this time? To give you a frame of reference, here is a quick snapshot of England’s literary scene during the cold, raw months of 1816:

— Jane Austen’s Emma published. (actually published in December 1815, but the title page says 1816)
–Lord Byron’s poem Darkness, The Siege of Corinth, and Prometheyus are published.
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn is published.
–Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Alastor: Or, The Spirit of Solitude is published.
–John Keat’s O Solitude and On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer are published .
Charlotte Bronte is born on April 21st.

Thanks for stopping by Regency Reflections.  Enjoy the spring and summer months ahead!

Lions, Tigers, and Bears – Oh My! – The Menagerie in the Regency

Today we welcome guest blogger Susanne Dietze. Learn more about Susanne at the end of the article. 

Perhaps the only way a Regency-era tourist might ever see an exotic animal—alive—was by visiting the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. A visit to the Royal Menagerie was a popular outing, and proved an entertaining day out.

By the Regency era, animals had been on display at the Tower for six hundred years, since the reign of King John. The first animals to arrive at the Tower were gifts from Europe and Africa: lions, an elephant, and a polar bear which was fortunate enough to experience “outings,” attached by a leash so he could fish in the Thames.

In the 18th century, it cost three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions to visit (according to author Wilfred Blunt). After paying the fee (or providing a small pet), the public was welcome to view animals such as baboons, macaws, mongoose, ocelot, and cheetahs.  After 1816, the Regency visitor would have no doubt wished to view Martin, a Grizzly bear given to George III by the Hudson Bay Company.

Martin the Grizzly Bear
Martin the Grizzly Bear

The conditions endured by the animals are cringe-worthy by today’s standards. If they survived the voyage to London—cramped in confinement over land and sea—the animals were doomed to an unnatural life. Locked in small cages, they received no exercise, nor did many have the pleasure of eating food that was part of their natural diet (the zebra grew quite fond of ale, ostriches were fed nails by visitors, and the elephant’s rations included a gallon of wine per day). James I and his court enjoyed watching the lions maul other animals in organized matches. Needless to say, many animals did not live long in the Royal Menagerie.

Asiatic elephantInteraction between the visitors and the animals would also astonish most of us, accustomed as we are to zoo exhibits designed to educate visitors while protecting both animal and human. At the Royal Menagerie, however, visitors could feed, touch, provoke, or abuse the animals—often to their own detriment.

In 1698, Mary Jenkinson stroked a lion’s paw, no doubt with good intent. Nevertheless, the lion caught her arm “with his Claws and mouth, and most miserably tore her Flesh from the Bone”. Her arm was amputated, but sadly, poor Mary passed away.

Lion MenagerieLikewise, the 1810 guidebook recounts that “formerly several monkies were kept, but one of them having torn a boy’s leg in a dangerous manner they were removed”—presumably from the furnished room where they had been living since the 1780’s, where visitors could engage the monkeys.

Remarkably, people still got too close to the animals. Many parasols and umbrellas were destroyed by a leopard. Then, too, animals escaped (such as the wolf who ate a keeper’s terrier), or were accidentally introduced to one another—the most famous perhaps being an 1830 incident when two tigresses were let into the lion’s cage by an under-keeper. After half an hour, the keepers were able to separate the fighting trio, but the lion succumbed to his wounds.

In 1831, many of the 280 animals housed at the Menagerie began to be transferred to the Zoological Society of London at Regent’s Park, and the Tower Menagerie was closed in 1835.

As for Martin the Grizzly Bear, such a popular attraction during the Regency? He died in 1838, although some say his ghost haunts the Tower.

 

Susanne DietzeSusanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. Susanne is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.

Contest Winner and A Peek at the Handmade Dress on the Cover of Moonlight Masquerade

We have a winner!

The winner of our Moonlight Masquerade contest for a $25 Amazon gift card is:

Melissa!

Who correctly answered last Friday’s question about where Napoleon escaped from in 1815.

If you’re wondering whether you answered your questions correctly, we have the answers for all four questions at the bottom of the post. But first, we want to give you a peek at the dress that appears on the cover of Moonlight Masquerade. Did you know it was handmade as a homage to the 1820’s? This petticoated Regency dress was made by Patricia Franco, who wrote a little snippet about the dress for us to share with you:

The cover of the book, Moonlight Masquerade, is much more than a collection of words on 1820 ch.backa blank page.  A photographer and designer play a pivotal role in bringing a book to the public’s attention. For Moonlight Masquerade, photographer and designer Brandon Hill brandonhillphotos and the team at Revell Books wanted something richer, something that gave a sense of the era and conveyed an emotion. He found the right place, and the right model, but  jeans wouldn’t do. A quick search through Etsy found a sweeping, blue satin dress – made by Patricia Francisco of Patrician Designs. Nice find!

The dress you see is handmade, true to the period, complete with petticoats and custom fabric trim. This isn’t some Butterick or Simplicity pattern. It is a lot of custom work. Whew! It’s a work/art/passion and the kind of work that keeps Patrician Designs busy.1820 sleeve detail 2

Of course, let’s be real. Truly in period would be hand-stitched by the light of an oil lamp using fabric that somehow survived a couple of centuries. Welcome to the new millennium. Sewing machines and electric lights were involved in the production of this gown.

1820charm.The dress was a project encouraged by a Victorian reenactment  group, back before Patrician Designs was dreamed up. The basic dress probably didn’t take as long as the trim or the petticoats. The trim was cloth not even intended as trim, but the pattern and texture were just right for the band at the high waist and down the front. The petticoats, which are hard to see, took just as much time, especially fitting the petticoats to the dress. All of the layers must hang and flow together. Imagine going for a walk in this dress, maybe even dancing. It is what they did in the regency era.

moonlight-mas-cover-updateIt is a joy to see the dress on the cover, and to have a copy of the book (which will be treated tenderly, no broken spine!) If you want to see more such work, including other eras (even steampunk) go to the same site used by the book cover designers .  Enjoy!

http://www.etsy.com/shop/PatricianDesignsEtc

www.whidbeysewing.com

www.facebook.com/whidbeysewing

 

Thank you for sharing with us, Patricia. The dress is absolutely stunning! (Though I must admit, anything that involves a sewing machine often has me running for the other room.) The last time I attempted to sew something, I spent 45 minutes trying to get the bobbin to wind. At that point, I gave up and decided it would be easier for me to just pay someone else to do my sewing. You have a really remarkable talent!

And now for the answers to our quiz questions from last week:

1) The summer of 1814 was known as the victory summer in Britain because the war with France was over. But in 1815 they were mobilizing troops once again. Why?

a) Napoleon had escaped from Elba.
b) Napoleon had allied himself with Russia.
c) Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena.
d) Napoleon had escaped to America.

Answer.: a) Napoleon had escaped from Elba. He had been put on an island off the coast of Italy by the British and other Allied governments but escaped in a ship with 1000 men and landed at Antibes in Southern France.

2) Which allied armies fought the French in the battle of Waterloo?

a) British, German, Russian
b) British, Austrian, Prussian
c) British, Russian, Prussian
d) British, Dutch, Prussian

Answer.:  d)  The Duke of Wellington led the British forces alongside the young Prince of Orange who commanded the Dutch troops. They were joined by the Prussian troops led by von Blücher who arrived from the east.

3) The hero in Moonlight Masquerade is lent to the Home Office from his job at the Foreign Office, in order to spy on Lady Céline Wexham.  Céline was born in France but spent her adult life in England when her mother and she escaped France during the French Revolution. What were these French living in England called?

a) foreigners
b) émigrés
c) francais
d) frogs

Answer: b) émigrés, a French word for emigrant, was used by the British aristocracy and gentry, who were conversant in French, to describe all the arriving French aristocrats fleeing the Reign of Terror.

4)  The title of Moonlight Masquerade refers to a masked ball. Which of the following costume would not be a typical one at a regency bal masqué?

a) shepherdess
b) pirate
c) hula girl
d) Harlequin

Answer: c) hula girl, which is a Hawaiian dancer. Europeans were not very familiar with Hawaii in the Regency period. The islands had only been discovered by Capt. Cook in 1778, and the only people traveling there were military advisers and merchant ships.

5) Who was made the leader of France after Napoleon abdicated?

a) Louis XVI
b) Louis XVII
c) Louis XVIII
d) Charles X

Answer: c) Louis XVIII, formerly the Comte de Provence, a younger brother of Louis XVI, who was beheaded during the French Revolution. His son, who would have been Louis XVII died from sickness at the age of ten while in prison. Charles X, a younger brother of Louis XVI & Louis XVIII, reigned as king after his brother Louis XVIII died.

Thank you for everyone who participated in our contest. It was lovely to read your answers and get to interact with you, and we really appreciate your enthusiasm over the release of Moonlight Masquerade! Next month we have two more books releasing, and we look forward to telling you more about each of those!

Biblical Aspects of Moonlight Masquerade, new book by Ruth Axtell!

{To celebrate Moonlight Masquerade, we’re running a special week-long contest. Through Friday, March 22, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card . There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, March 23 at midnight.}

 A Wealth of Biblical Themes

Moonlight Masquerade, a new release by Ruth Axtell, bursts with meaningful themes. The story is imbued with scriptural parallels there for the discerning reader’s delectation.

Hero Rees and heroine Celine are drawn to each other from the start of their acquaintance. The secrets each holds, and the role each plays bar the way to true intimacy, calling to mind the eternal verity held in 1 Corinthians 13:12 ~

For now we see in a mirror dimly,

but then face to face.

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,

even as I have been fully known.

Desires must be banked and yearnings deferred. Their path to love’s fulfillment can’t be seen clearly due to earthly encumbrances.

Without giving a plot spoiler, I can say the dichotomy existing between the two lead characters, both spies with different loyalties and purposes, drives the plot along in compelling fashion. One spy, Rees, is subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1) and the biblical understanding is that our authority figures have been instituted by God. He is employed by the British government, and works for advancement, not for his own glory, but to support his family. A strong Christian, Rees still struggles with the deceitful nature of his espionage assignment.

Celine, on the other hand, is idealistic, works with an underground movement and believes only a democratic government in her homeland will bring peace to her beloved country and satisfaction to her soul. Throughout the course of the story, these two complex characters’ motives collide, with hero Rees emerging as a strong leader, a righteous man, and a man not afraid to pursue the woman he loves.

The simmering tensions, and the attractive characters, set in the turbulent latter days of Napoleon’s reign, all combine for a satisfying and thought-provoking Regency read.

Author Ruth Axtell and I (humble blogger Susan Karsten) have each selected our choices for the actors we would suggest to play these evocative lovers on the silver screen. Ruth chose Matt Bomer & Jennifer Garner, and Susan chose Russell Crowe & Emma Watson.

 

Just for fun, Please comment with your choices: Ruth’s actors, or mine. Thanks!

Quiz Question for prize: Who was made the leader of France after Napoleon abdicated?

a) Louis XVI

b) Louis XVII

c) Louis XVIII

d) Charles X

 

 

Cayenne Pepper Laced Chocolate: An Interview with Ruth Axtell

Vanessa here.

While I wait for Ruth to arrive, let me remind you what’s going on this week at Regency Reflections.

To celebrate Moonlight Masquerade, we’re running a special week-long contest. Starting today through next Friday, March 22, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card . There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, March 23 at midnight.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Axtell and talk with her about her exciting new release, Moonlight Masquerade. Ruth, welcome to my porch. Can I get you something? Tea? A scone?

No. Well, have a seat in this freshly dusted wicker chair. My footman (i.e. the hubby) will stow your landau. My tulips need a bit more manure. Now, tell me what inspired you to write Moonlight Masquerade?

I first got the idea quite a few years ago, so the memory is quite sketchy, but I think it was a dream I woke up with. It was in regency times, and I remember an aristocratic lady and her butler, who wasn’t really a butler at all. That’s all I had to go on.

So the butler did it?  That was a risk given the societal norms of the Regency.

It was a challenge to have a noblewoman attracted to her butler, when social strictures would have scarcely had her seeing him as a human being on her level. So, I used the fact that she was a French Republican (i.e., believing in the original ideals of the French Revolution and Enlightenment-liberty, fraternity, equality) to make her see her servants differently than the normal mistress would have.moonlight-mas-cover-update

Wow, that is different, and you had to master so many facts about the French Revolution on top of your normal Regency research.

There were so many facts about the Napoleonic Wars that it’s hard to pinpoint just one. I think the more I read about Napoleon, the more I discovered how much harm he did to the European continent, and specifically that he set France back about a hundred years because of all the wars he led it through. Whereas Britain went full-speed ahead in the industrial revolution, bringing prosperity to its populations, France’s manhood, it’s agriculture, and money to invest in factories was decimated for a long time to come.

Ruth, let’s go back to the butler, Mr. Rees Phillips. What are his best and worst traits?

His best traits are his faithfulness and sense of duty. He has helped support his widowed mother and sister for many years since his dad died bankrupt. He is a loyal employee of the British government. But, these exemplary traits are also his worst because they make him rigid and uncompromising in many way. They also cause him to accept a subservient role in the Foreign Office where he has toiled for years.

 Is Lady Celine Wexham a good match for Mr. Phillips?

She is passionate and impulsive. These traits allow her to give her all to a cause or to those she loves. But they also cause her to act before weighing the consequences.

Before, I ask you about the juicy stuff, can you sum up what spiritual truth would have made a difference to your hero’s journey.

That God is above politics, patriotism, and nationalism.

Sounds like a lesson we can all take to heart. What about Lady Wexham?

That God is good and wants only the best for her.

Now that we’ve filled our religious quotient (this is RegencyReflections.com/ChristianRegency.com), let’s talk passion. How would rate the novel’s passion: smokin’ like Louisiana ribs, tepid like warm chamomile tea, deliciously layered by red velvet cake, or some other decadent food?

Slow, simmering burn like a dark chocolate laced with cayenne pepper. You don’t realize there’s a bite till it has melted in your mouth, and it’s too late to spit it out.

So Lady Wexham’s and Mr. Phillips’s first cayenne seasoned kiss takes place about midway in the story. When you wrote it, what was going through your mind? I know the rhythm of a romantic song can set the pacing of a love scene for me. Even a Hershey with almonds can create a spectacular smooch.

I am in my characters’ mind, so I am experiencing their motivations and feelings. I don’t need music or chocolate so much as just getting into that zone of who they are and what they’re experiencing at that particular point in time.Ruth Axtell (2)

Ruth, I admire your talent. You were one of the first voices I found bringing Regency stories to the CBA. How would you describe your career?

I describe a writing career as a challenge, which you undertake because you are compelled to. Currently most writers are trying to transition and adapt to the new digital age of book publishing. I describe successful as able to get the spiritual message across in each story, AND be able to make a living at writing.

Well, a three-book deal from Revell does help pay a few bills. Maybe a couple of Sunday bonnets. Before you get back in your landau and finish viewing our apple blossoms, tell me what nugget of truth you want the readers of Moonlight Masquerade to take with them.

That two people finding each other and falling in love, and submitted to God, can transcend whatever temporal differences seem to stand in their way.

Thank you, Ruth for stopping by and letting me run on about Moonlight Masquerade.

Here’s today’s question. Enter a comment with the right answer for a chance to win.

The title of Moonlight Masquerade refers to a masked ball. Which of the following costumes would not be a typical one at a regency ball masque?

a) shepherdess
b) pirate
c) hula girl
d) Harlequin

 

Napoleonic Wars

To celebrate Moonlight Masquerade, we’re running a special week-long contest. Starting today through next Friday, March 22, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card . There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, March 23 at midnight.

 

What is so fascinating about the Napoleonic Wars?

I think I’ve been fascinated since my junior high school days when I watched the 1972 War MV5BMTI0MzI3NzMyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA5OTQ1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_and Peace series on Masterpiece Theatre, with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre Bezukhov. I fell in love with the bumbling, pudgy anti-hero wearing oval shaped glasses. Of course, I also fell in love with the dashing Prince Andrey Bolkonsky in his white uniform (or the actor playing him). I was caught up in the story although it wasn’t until the 10th grade that I tackled Tolstoy’s original work. I was fascinated with that period of history and didn’t realize then that I was getting the Russian perspective of this war that lasted over two decades.

In school, I studied the War of 1812, which was only a brief slice of the Napoleonic Wars. The other day I was talking to a young college student who didn’t realize the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars were connected!

From the perspective of U.S. history, Napoleon wasn’t such a bad guy; he was our ally, for one thing.napoleon

Soon after reading War and Peace, I read The Scarlet Pimpernel, which became a favorite. That and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities gave me an understanding of the French Revolution, which preceded the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the rise of Napoleon.

Then I discovered the English regency period and gained more of the British perspective of the war, albeit from the London drawing room or country house. The battle-hardened captains or majors returned from “the Peninsula” recovering from a wound but still splendid attired in their red uniforms. These stories depicted Napoleon as a monster, the enemy, an insult added to the injury of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.

220px-Bem_postcard_7
Natasha Rostova

But it wasn’t until writing Moonlight Masquerade that I began reading some in depth works on this period of history. From them I got a deeper understanding of Napoleon, how he rose to power, his genius as a military commander, but his failure as a political leader. I came to the conclusion that he did more harm than good, destroying much of a continent, a generation of young men, and ultimately slowing down France’s development about a hundred years. While Britain forged ahead with the industrial revolution, France went backwards, remaining largely agrarian for much of the rest of the 19th century.

In the end, war is a terribly destructive force.

 Today’s Question: Which allied armies fought the French in the battle of Waterloo?

a) British, German, Russian

b) British, Austrian, Prussian

c) British, Russian, Prussian

d) British, Dutch, Prussian

 

 

 

 

Moonlight Masquerade: A Regency Novel by Ruth Axtell

I’m excited to introduce a new Regency novel today. It’s entitled Moonlight Masquerade Ruth Axtell (2)and written by Regency Reflection’s own Ruth Axtell.

 

To celebrate Moonlight Masquerade, we’re running a special week-long contest. Starting today through next Friday, March 22, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card . There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, March 23 at midnight.

Before we get to today’s quiz question, let me tell you about the story.

Lady Celine Wexham seems the model British subject. French by birth but enjoying life in 1813 as a widowed English countess, she is in the unique position of being able to help those in need–or to spy for the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte. When Rees Phillips of the British Foreign Office is sent to pose as the countess’s butler and discover where her true loyalties lie, he is confident he will uncover the truth. But the longer he is in her fashionable townhouse in London’s West End, the more his staunch loyalty to the Crown begins to waver as he falls under Lady Wexham’s spell. Will he find the proof he needs? And if she is a spy after all, will he do the right thing?

moonlight-mas-cover-update

Moonlight Masquerade has garnered some excellent reviews from both authors and reviewers alike:

“All the elements of suspenseful romance and clandestine spying encounters twist through Ruth Axtell’s latest page-turner set in Regency London.”  Ruth Leubecker, Machias Valley News Observer.

“Take a French emigre who is the widow of British nobility and add in a British foreign office employee who is posing as her butler and you have a recipe for a book filled with tension. Add in a dash of spying, a pinch of counter-espionage, and a dollop of intrigue stirred with a generous helping of interest in each other and it created a recipe for a book that drew me happily to its pages.”  author Cara Putman

“When danger comes looking for Lady Céline what will Rees do? Will her charms blind him to who she really is so that he betrays the crown or will he unmask her to the world?
Moonlight Masquerade is an interesting look at the war between Britian and Napoleonic France and the various parties with an interest in the outcome. If you like court intrigue, the Regency era, and subterfuge you will love Moonlight Masquerade!” M. Myhren-Bennett, Blooming with Books

I’m personally reading this story now, and I absolutely love the French spy angle. It’s neat to see England through the eyes of a French woman and compare the different cultures. And then there’s the whole spy question. Is Celine a spy, or isn’t she? I’m looking forward to finishing the novel, and I think anyone interested in the Regency Era will find this spy twist entrancing.

Today’s Question: The summer of 1814 was known as the victory summer in Britain because the war with France was over. But in 1815 they were mobilizing troops once again. Why?

a) Napoleon had escaped from Elba.
b) Napoleon had allied himself with Russia.
c) Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena.
d) Napoleon had escaped to America.

Silk in the Regency and Its Connection to Computing

Inspired by Kristi’s post on wool last week, I set out to choose another fabric popular during the Regency—silk. While researching this topic, however, I ended up down several fascinating rabbit holes. For example, did you know that a silk loom influenced computing? Neither did I, but it’s true.  So while I am going to talk about various forms of silk in this article, I will also take you a few yards—or should I say ells?—down this particular rabbit hole—and maybe one or two more.

Silk Cocoons
Empty silk cocoons. (Wikimedia)

I expect entire books have been written about the history of silk. Many legends exist as to how someone in China discovered that unwinding the cocoon of the silk worm created a soft and lustrous cloth. The Chinese held a monopoly on the product for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. Then the Japanese, Koreans,  and Indians learned the secret, and caravans carried it west to the Persian empire, the Greeks, the Romans. . .  The Italians were the first Europeans to produce silk in quantity, but Louis XI of France changed that.

By the Regency, France, Lyon in particular, was a leading manufacturer in silk. A couple centuries before this, however, the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, took their skills to England, and Spitalfield became a center for silk production.

Raw Silk
Strands of raw silk (Wikimedia)

England’s climate is not conducive to silk manufacturing, so it has never become an important center of the fabric manufacture. Likewise, the industry never made inroads in North America either. (One rabbit hole: The wife of a governor of Virginia thought to start a silk industry in the colony, but imported the wrong kind of mulberry tree to support the worms. Now the MidAtlantic region is covered in trees that drop useless and rather nasty-smelling berries every year.)

february 1813 plateMy fashion plates of numerous years during the Regency show that silk was popular for those flowing, filmy gowns so fashionable at the time. This takes us to another rabbit hole—if England and France were at war most of this time, and England didn’t produce much silk, then where did all that fine, Lyon silk come from? I expect many a dressmaker claimed she had stock-piled the stuff before the war, as she would never confess that she had purchased it from the “gentlemen” AKA smugglers.

Now to the different types of silk.

Shot silk suit - 1790 (Wikimedia)
Shot silk suit – 1790 (Wikimedia – click for larger resolution)

Shot silk: This is where the face is one color and the warp is another, so the color shifts with the light.

Chine: This has the pattern printed on the warp before weaving, so the design comes out blurred.

Satin and Taffeta: These are familiar fabrics to us. They were heavier silk weaves, with satin lustrous on one side, so not as popular in most of the Regency.

Lustestring: A ribbed and lightweight silk that would have rustled a lot and been quite lustrous.

Sarsnet: A fine weave silk, light and airy. Sometimes twilled-looking.

Silk gauze: a little heavier than chiffon.

Watered silk dress
Watered silk dress (Wikimedia – click for larger image)

Moiré or watered silk: This is an example of ingenuity of the time. They ran wet silk through rollers with a pattern that impressed that pattern into the fabric.

Brocade and Damask: These are textured silks where the pattern is raised. Sometimes these appeared in linen or wool, but generally brocade and damask meant silk. Brocade only has the pattern on one side; damask is reversible. The patterns are formed using a jacquard loom, which brings us to computing.

Joseph Marie Jacquard
Joseph Marie Jacquard (Wikimedia)

Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the ideas of Basile Bouchon  and Jean-Baptiste Falcon, who used holes punched in tape and a series of needles to make the pattern. Inn Jacquard’s looms, cards were punched with holes then strung together. Threads were fed through these holes so that hooks on the loom knew ehen to grab a thread to create the pattern. Thousands of threads were often involved, and stringing a loom took days. Creating the punch cards took some serious skill as well.

Charles Babbage used similar punch cards to store information in his mechanical analytical machine in the late 19th century, and Herman Hollerith used punch cards for storing data from the 1890 census. If anyone knows something about computers from before the 1970s, they have seen the old-fashioned punch cards still being used for programming.

This is not the entire list. Each area of the world that produced silk produced its own sorts. These are just some of the ones most common in clothing fabrics of the time.

The Evolution of the Empire Waist

Regency fashions are so iconic that one can tell at a glance if a clothing ensemble is from that era.

Constance Mayer 1801, free flowing white dress
Note the flowing lines and the Grecian draping of the gown in this 1801 painting.

The easiest thing to spot is, as one would suppose, on the women’s fashions. During this time period the waist of dresses rose higher and higher until it rested just under the bust. This was a drastic change from the heavily corseted fashions that preceded and followed the Regency era.

But why the change? What spurred a three decade shift away from the structured gown to the flowing silhouette we know and love?

Greece and France.

While the English might not want to move to France or have Napoleon take over their country, there were plenty of French things they did like. Fashion was one of them. So when French ladies began emulating paintings of Grecian goddesses in their fashions, England followed suit.

The Grecian influence can be easily seen in some of the first high waisted dresses from the early 1800s. Crossed trimmings, geometric shapes, even shawls and drapes hearkened back to the depictions of Aphrodite and  Queen Hera.

1813 gown with horizontal line trim
This 1813 Ackermann’s Repository gown shows the military lines and trim becoming popular during the war.

Gradually these Grecian influences softened as designs strove to be new and different each year. As the war began, military stylings began to appear. Frog closures, military trimming, and even boxier shoulders made an appearance. As this happened, the waistline crept ever higher, until there was little to be called a waist for it fell so close to the bust line.

Skirts tended to flow close to the body, lending themselves to many a cartoon about the potential risqueness of the fashion.

1817 fashion plate
Notice the ruffles and the wider skirt bottom of this 1817 gown.

After the war, the British once more traveled to France and incorporated their fashion trends. The skirt belled out a bit more, forming a A-line shape. The waist also began to lower. Inch by inch, year by year, it crept back down to it’s original position. Ruffles and voluminous shoulders and necklines appeared. Corsets finally returned and the waistline went from rising and falling to shrinking.

I have to think that if you were a young woman who had grown up in the looser clothing of the Regency, the fashion requirement of lacing corsets would have been a harsh adjustment.

What do you think? Do you like a high waistline? Wish the free-flowing, high-waisted gown would make a fashion comeback?

A Dandy in Sheep’s Clothing – Wool in the Regency

Kristi here. Let’s take a moment and play a word association game. I’ll give you a word and you describe the first mental image that word brings forth. Ready?

Wool.

For me, I think of nubby socks and thick sweaters. I think bulky and occasionally itchy. Some of you may be envisioning the white fluffy stuff still clinging to Dolly’s hide. But unless you know a lot more about wool’s potential than I did, you probably didn’t envision anything like this coat from Italy circa 1800.

(All photos in this article are from Wikimedia Commons.)

WoolCoat_1800Italy

Yes. That coat is made of wool!

Wool is an extremely versatile fabric. There are well over two dozen types of wool fabric according to fabric.net. Wool can be turned into anything from felt to tweed to broadcloth to jersey.

The way we usually envision wool: Yarn used for knits and bulky weaves.

While normally wool is associated with thick, warm sweaters and heavy outer coats, lighter weaves of wool are actually great in warmer weather as well. I had the opportunity to handle some woolen fabrics similar to those used in the Regency time period. The fine patterns and delicate weaves astonished me.

Wool is for so much more than knitting an afghan or a pair of boot socks.

So the next time you read that your favorite aristocratic heroine donned a wool dress or the dashing hero shrugged into his wool jacket, don’t think of the rough wool their servants wore. Regency men and women didn’t have to give up any elegance or frippery to enjoy the many benefits of wool.

It isn’t a surprise that they used a lot of wool given the abundance of sheep grazing the English countryside.

What is surprising is that something that starts out like this (Recently Shorn Wool):

Royal_Winter_Fair_Wool2 copy

 

Can turn into all of these different things:

Fine blend wool fabric

Wool YarnWool Embroidery Thread

And then be used to make all of this:

Wool carpet from 1640

Man's_tailcoat_1825-1830 copy Robe_a_la_Française_with_wool_embroidery_LACMA_M.90

Woolen Tailcoat, circa 1825        Linen Dress With Wool Embroidery