Archive for the ‘History’ Category

(It’s a bit complicated (and I’m very tired, so probably not explaining nor writing in the best possible way), but I’m posting this because I thought I already had posted it and I mentioned to a lovely lady from my corsetry class that she could find links on my blog.  Not sure why I hadn’t already posted about this because it is quite fascinating and intriguing and exciting and all kinds of good things!)

So, popular belief has it that boobs weren’t treated as separate entities and hoisted up in bras (as opposed to smooshed up in corsets) until the 20th century.  At the earliest, you could suggest that some Regency undergarments were close-ish to modern bras.  But discoveries in an Austrian castle that were only publicised earlier this year seem to refute all we believed.  Check out what they found:

There are plenty of articles on these amazing finds – fabric that have survived some 600 years and have the potential to re-write our understanding of undergarments – so I’ll let the experts fill you in better than I can (though, worth noting that they found pants and knickers [Edit – I did originally write ‘knickers’ here, too, but when I re-read one of the articles I found that actually the bikini-like briefs are believed to have been men’s pants.  Apologies, no knickers to see here.  Move on!] too – bonkers!):

Yahoo News

This one shows the knickers, which look suspiciously like tie-up-bikini bottoms – I think we need to re-think who invented the bikini!

More details later emerged in this article, which I found via the good Comtesse (who is definitely worth following if you like to be kept – ahem – abreast of history news (sorry to manage an oxymoron and pun in the same sentence – I’m sure that’s word-play overkill, but please let me off, I’m so tired!).

Hope you enjoyed this instalment of ‘Sleepy Writer talks Medieval Underwear’!



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OK, I think I might have found a new-to-me author to read: just check out this awesomely to-the-point post by Elizabeth Bear on women in fantasy fiction.  Couldn’t have put it better myself!

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I received a lovely comment from a gentlewoman called Oriane who is studying over at La Rochelle University (or should I say, Université de La Rochelle?) asking about writing boxes:


My last folly? I just bought a writing slope similar to yours and while i was looking for more informations when Google googled your ebony writing slope you bought in june!
Yours and mine are really really similar except that mine needs lots of restoration and will look like yours in a long time!
I was wondering how you know it’s a regency era work? I get a bit lost with english furnitures styles! As you may know we in France do have too a regency style but much different and not at all at the same era.


I began answering her in a comment and then realised it would be better if I could include some images, so here goes with a blog post – do read on if you’re interested in my very amateur sleuthing and deduction (just call me Holmes)!  My disclaimer – of course, I know next to nothing about antiques and all I know about my writing box comes from online research … But here’s what I think I’ve worked out and if you know better, I’d love to be corrected!!

Here’s a reminder of the writing slope my mum gave me for my master’s graduation:

Regency ebony writing box.

To be honest the Regency tag came from the person I bought it from on ebay, though they do appear to be an antiques dealer.  Some research I’ve done on writing boxes does back this up – I’ll try to explain the little bit I do know.

The size and shape are more Regency than Victorian (after 1830) – the Regency boxes tend to be longer and thinner, while Victorian boxes tend to be more … boxy, by which I mean wider/taller, like this:

Quite a bit ‘fatter’ than my slope, even though both are ‘triple fold’, meaning that the lid folds back and then the slope folds out:

Most writing slopes/boxes open out just the once to show the writing surface, so I wanted to compare mine to other triple-fold versions.  The fifth item down on this page is another Victorian triple-fold writing slope – again, more ‘chubby’ in its dimensions than my slope.

Of course, this is not a fool-proof way of judging, as you do get Victorian examples of the ‘slimline’ shape, such as this ‘early Victorian’ example:

Though ‘early Victorian’ is close, time-wise, to Regency, so we’re not too far out there.

There is a very similar example (the only difference being the flat top) on another website dated c. 1840 (just after the Regency era, but close):

That seems to be one of the key differences between the slope I have (and that Oriane has) and many that you see – this slope is Anglo-Indian, that is, of Indian manufacture made for an English/British market.  Interestingly, this particular example is listed as being made from calamander wood rather than ebony – I’m going to have to check out some ebony and compare it.  Parts of my writing slope do have a slight brownish tinge, but I have read that ebony, especially antique ebony, can have this tone.  Also, calamander (AKA coromandel) seems to be more stripey, like this rather handsome example:

Probably the best source on the subject that I found was at hygra.com, a wealth of information on antique boxes, which discusses writing boxes and the Anglo-Indian style, where it mentions that ‘reeded’ finish as a feature of this style and that it emerged in the early part of the 19th century.  Hygra also points out that triple-opening writing boxes are relatively rare.  According to them, it was between 1800 and 1830 that the ‘side drawer’ disappeared in favour of internal secret drawers, as seen in my slope:

A triple-folder with secret drawers - yay, wewt and huzzah, I say!!

There is actually an example on Hygra of a slope from 1810 with similar drawers.

Well, that’s the information I’ve pieced together – one of the difficulties seems to be that often these boxes were commissioned and quite idiosyncratic, so no two would be identical, which makes it hard to make comparisons!

As I’ve said, I’m no expert and I’m having to rely on other people’s dates being accurate (ie, the ebay seller and that other 1840 date given above), but I’m satisfied that this is an Anglo-Indian box is probably late Regency or very early Victorian, probably somewhere between 1820 and 1840.  I’d also note with my box that it’s not very ‘fine’ like the examples on Hygra of Anglo-Indian boxes, it’s actually slightly crude when you look more closely in some places (hidden spots, really!) and there’s a little damage on the lid where the wood seems to have split, but I think that’s down to the pitched style of the lid, which appears to be very unusual.

Anyway, I hope that’s of use to you, Oriane, and perhaps of some interest to anyone else!

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Hello hello!

The lovely Abby over at Stay-ing Alive is writing a paper on museums and the historical costuming blogging community and she needs your help.  If you blog on historical cotumes or read blogs about them, please head on over to her blog and respond to her survey – I suspect it might lead to some very interesting things, indeed!

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For her Blog Birthday, the lovely Comtesse Olympe de la Tour D’Auvergne ran a giveaway – I was one of the lucky winners (remember, I said I had my lucky streaks!) and today I got home to find this fabulous prize waiting for me:

I’ve had a quick look through and it’s wonderful – lots of lovely photos, including some full-length pictures of garments I’ve seen parts of in Costume in Detail: yum!  I have some 18th century books and a little bit on the 17th century, but nothing on any other eras, so this book fills in those gaps and indulges my love of 1950s dresses and some Victorian bits and pieces – even better.  Thanks a lot, Comtesse!

But, before I can sit down and read it properly, I had a few things I had to do (both while watching season 2 of Daria!):

The start of a quick and dirty harem pant toile (complete with awesome photography!), using this belly-dance-tastic tutorial.

And tracing one of my Gent’s waistcoats to form a basis of my first foray into man-clothes – one of his Christmas presents (yep, it’s that late!) was an IOU for a home-made waistcoat and it’s also going to be one of the key pieces of his outfit for my masquerade Birthday party.  I’m a bit over-excited – he’s going for steampunk!  How amazing is that going to be??

So, I’ve done those two bits and now I get to snuggle down with my new book – and relax, aaaaah.

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Happy Bastille Day?

It’s that time of year – Bastille Day.  I know many people celebrate today, but I feel torn.

On the one hand I am no monarchist: much as I enjoy reading about the lives of historical Queens and researching and making clothes of the nobility, I’m not into that kind of class system.  (Especially when aristos are wasting flour on powdering their hair while normal people starve!)  So, huzzah for liberté, égalité, fraternité! 

But – and I’m sure you knew there would be a but – going around murdering people left, right and centre, well, that’s not really the way to go about it!  So, less of a huzzah for liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort.

Liberty, equality, brotherhood or death? Hmm... tough choice.

The violence of the French Revolution may seem like some story from 200 years ago, but I can’t help but remember that it was real life for thousands of people – there was blood, tears and cheers, sweat, muck and lies.  Lives ended, some perhaps justly, others less so, all violently and horribly; people like you and I suffered.

And that is why I find it slightly harder to say ‘Happy Bastille Day’ – for today was the start of it all and however dashing that Pimpernell was or however dastardly Robspierre, there was death and cruelty and misery on both sides.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (BBC)

On a lighter note – liberty, equality, fraternity or death does remind me of the Eddie Izzard sketch: Cake or Death?  Alternatively, you may prefer Blackadder’s le Pimpernelle Scarlett.  Enjoy:

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All I will say is: weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!

Regency ebony writing box.

Or should I say, the Regency ebony writing box that will soon be in the post to me?

A triple-folder with secret drawers - yay, wewt and huzzah, I say!!


Edit: I will be doing a more detailed post with more pictures when it arrives!

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