Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category

I’ve got some time off work at the moment, so I had a little book-shopping-binge (my favourite kind of binge) and have been catching up on some much-needed reading.

TheAlchemistOfSouls-197x300In the fiction corner we have the first book of Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque series, The Alchemist of Souls.  Historical fantasy with grit and wit, set in a fantasy version of Elizabethan England, what’s not to like?  The touches of humour (this isn’t a Terry Pratchett, all-out comedy fantasy, just to clarify!) and the period are definitely putting me in mind of Black Adder the Second, which is a compliment in my books, since I was raised on Black Adder and it’s still one of my favourite TV shows of all time.  At the same time, Lyle has created something intriguing and unique and it’s got me looking forward to my reading sessions to find out what happens next!  If you’re not sure, you can even get a sample of the first three chapters on Anne Lyle’s website.  What’ve you got to lose?!

OK, if you need any more persuasion, I am seriously crushing on her dark, dashing and dangerous main character, Mal.  A definite ding dong.  Go read it already.

The rest has been non-fiction, which is unusual to me, as usually the weighting of my reading pile is towards novels, but I suppose I’m on research mode.

45 master characters

No prizes for predicting there would be some writing books in my list.  I’ve been dipping into 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn-Schmidt over the past day or so.  I’m very interested in archetypes, which is what she’s based her ‘master characters’ on, so I’ve been interested in this book for a while.  There’s some good stuff in here, but as always I’d warn against wholesale acceptance of anyone’s advice (mine included!), be it on writing or anything else.  I’d like to speak about this one in more depth, so that’s for another post.  (Also, I’d like to wait until I’ve read it all, before I really comment on it.)


20 master plots

I’ve been pondering plot, as A Thief & A Gentlewoman follows quite a complex one and that makes me worry whether the structure works.  For now, I think it’s best to wait until I’ve written it to really see whether my plans were off the mark or not, but that hasn’t stopped me reading up on the subject.  The Writer’s Journey is a well-known book on the subject, which I’ve had on my shelves for a while now, waiting to be read.  Vogler also draws on archetype, using stories ranging back to myth and legend to the present to help formulate his theories.  I’ve just started this one, so further thoughts to come on another day.  Similarly, 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them is another book I’ve been dipping into, but haven’t yet finished.  More when I do!

colour on clothI’ve got it into my head that I want to try dyeing fabric.  (I blame my friend Karen who was foolish enough to let me touch some amazing sandwashed silk satin she had bought and dyed.  Seriously, I was sat there stroking this stuff for at least half and hour – it feels like peach-skin, but softer and silkier and lovelier and just … swoon!  It’s cheaper and easier to get hold of in its loomstate (undyed) form, so, hence the need for dye.)  Anyway, being a bibliophile (like you hadn’t realised), I needed a book, so I ‘invested’ (ahem) in Ruth Isset’s Colour on Cloth, which is full of pretty colour and instructions on how to use it to make fabric and/or paper even more fabulous.  There are some amazing techniques you can try, which I didn’t even have any idea of, so I’m itching to have a go at this.  Some bits are a bit complicated-sounding, but I’ve been using the internet alongside this book, which has helped me find some simplified and adjusted ways of doing things.

My mind was blown by Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques.  It’s a real eye-opener to not only how to use couture methods, but also the real (massive) difference between couture clothing and ready-to-wear.  There are things in this book that I really had no idea were even things.  And I’m so wowed by it that I can’t even put it any more elegantly!

I have a new appreciation for the kind of work that goes into a garment like this.  Alexander McQueen, 2008, haute couture.

I have a new appreciation for the kind of work that goes into a garment like this. Alexander McQueen, 2008, haute couture.

Shaeffer’s book is a classic for stitchers going beyond the basics and my next book is a classic for those whose stitching strays into corset construction territory.  Corsets: Historic Patterns and Techniques contains patterns and colour photos, together with notes, for 24 corsets (and stays*) from the 1750s to WWI.  This is a great way of getting a range of patterns (though they would need enlarging and checking against your measurements, so this isn’t a task for the beginner) for corsetry and generally having a good old bit of costume perving at some stunning garments.  The Black Corset with Blue Flossing from 1890 on page 74 is utterly stunning.  I’m feeling a real need to make this pattern.  Bad photo below:

Flossing, cording, boning, oh my!

Flossing and cording and boning, oh my!

I’ve recently finished a City & Guilds qualification in corsetry, so this book is definitely going to be put to good use.

And that’s about it for my recent reading endeavours.  For now, I think I’m due some dinner and another installment of The Alchemist of Souls.

* The term ‘corset’ for an undergarment only really began to be used widely in English in the 19th century, before this they were called ‘stays’ (mostly through the 17th and 18th centuries) or ‘bodies’ or ‘a pair of bodies’ (with various spellings, mainly in the 16th century).  The latter being where the word ‘bodice’ comes from.


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Fed up of boring shoes?  Looking for the ideal 18th century footwear for a Lady of Fashion?  Want to bring a bit of elegance to 21st century footwear?

Now you can!  I am rather excited at the prospect of American Duchess’s Georgiana shoes – today pre-orders open for these pretties:

(And, no, it’s not an April Fool’s!)

They’re silk satin, which means they’re completely dyeable to whatever colour you fancy, and they look quite divine.  I am pining for a pair … let’s see if I can scrape some pennies together!

I don’t get to do reenactments or the like, but I would quite happily wear these for special occassions of the non-historical variety.  LOVE them!


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I’ve mentioned bits and pieces that I’ve ordered and a something special for the Lady Luck Outfit, and at last it’s time for show and tell, with some things less exciting than others:

Fray-stop glue (wooo, exciiiiitiiiiing  ;P  ) and spray-on fabric stiffener – that’s a little more exciting as you can build up the stiffness the more you spray it and it washes out.  I think that’ll be useful for all sorts of things, like pleats/ruffs, hat decorations and perhaps even kanzashi.  I also suspect that it’ll be useful to keep bows in shape and for using fabric strips for cockades.

Ostrich feathers – fluffy!  Now I’ve seen them, I’ve decided they aren’t long enough for wearing in the hair (~10″), but they’ll be great for decorating a mini-tricorne or …

… masks!  These two are for moulds for papier mache – they’ve got pretty good shapes, though the black one (which I love!) needs eye-hole adjusting, but with that, it’ll be FAB!

Yay for the Tamina slippers!  I thought they were lovely when I saw them online, but they’re even prettier in reality – very pleased with them, indeed!  I’ve worn them around the house a bit, but I think I need to stretch the front very slightly as they dig in a little, but that’s no big deal.

And, finally – my super-awesome-special-pretty-surprise for the sash of the Lady Luck Pierrot:

I found this lovely on ebay – it’s an 18th century silver and paste shoe buckle that was at some point turned into a brooch.  I slipped a scarf through it to give an idea of how it’s going to look as the buckle at the front of the Pierrot sash.  I really love it rather a lot and am so pleased – it’s my first 18th century antique!

Wow, I really am too obsessed with that century.

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Good morning gents of the womanly and manly persuasions!  As the title suggests, I have something pretty to show you and recommend most heartily – new tee:

See me pose!

I was very pleased that my t-shirt arrived so quickly (from the USA, as well!), nicely wrapped and with excellent sizing advice from the artist herself.  A lovely cotton t-shirt, nice and cool for the summer and great for layering in winter; I particularly like the long length – no accidental stomach-flashing for me!  A massive thumbs up for American Duchess.

These would make fabulous presents, if you can bear to give them away … maybe it’s best to buy two and keep one for yourself, and at the good Duchess’s very reasonable price, that is actually in the realms of possibility!

Hmm … now to chose which one to buy next time …

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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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I was going to contain my excitement and not say anything on this blog about this particular thing until I had it in my possession.  But I’m clearly not very good at that, because here I am about to gush about the wond’rousness of the very apt MA graduation gift from my Lovely Mum …

An antique writing box.  AKA, a writing slope or lap desk (though, I think that technically they are all slightly different things, the three terms do tend to be used interchangably, so I will do the same).  Isn’t that a brilliant present idea for a Creative Writing MA graduand?  (I know, my Mum’s brilliant!)

I can remember seeing these on TV as a child (probably on the Antiques Roadshow) and thinking they were the coolest thing since, well, ever, but not knowing much about them, I’ve been doing a little research.  So here’s a little guided tour around a gorgeous Regency rosewood writing box that recently sold on Ebay (for far more than I could aford, alas!).

Regency writing box recently sold on ebay.

A writing box from the outside apears much like any other rectangular box and may be plain or richly decorated.  It’s only once you open it that you realise that this is more than ‘just another box’ – a handsome slope covered in baise, velvet or leather (usually with gilt and/or blind embossed decoration, a pen holder (perhaps stained with the ink of some late-night letter-writing), an ink well (or perhaps a couple in different colours for the adventurous or the accountant amongst you) and maybe even a pair of candle sconces.

Interior of the same box.

And those writing flaps lift up, leaving space for writing (or painting/drawing) materials, important papers and the like:

What lies beneath.

While these boxes came with locks (specially made to lie flush when unlocked, so they don’t dig into one’s arms or catch on sleeves while writing), one can never be sure who might manage to poke around in one’s writing box (ooh-er!), so where can a young woman of society keep her lover’s letters away from prying eyes?  (Or indeed, keep her cash from being misplaced, as almost happened to Jane Austen when her writing box was mis-placed on a chaise heading to Gravesend!)  Fear not, for some clever little writing boxes (including this one) have a cunning solution – secret drawers:

Ssssh - don't tell!

The apparent back panel is in fact removed with a little press in the right place to reveal these delightful little drawers.  And if all that isn’t enough storage space for you, Regency boxes and some Victorian ones often had a larger side drawer that opened from the outside:

Document storage, creation and secrecy?  In essence, the lap desk was the historical gentleperson’s laptop.  (Instead of secret drawers we have encryption and passwords – I know which I feel more secure with!)

What I find even more exciting is the thought that all those 18th and 19th century writers we love (and sometimes hate) penned their words in such boxes – Byron, Dickens, Austen.  This page has some interesting information about Jane Austen’s writing box (upon which Pride & Prejudice was written!) and the escapade I outlined earlier when it was almost lost (but thankfully recovered!).  Here is a box apparently similar to Austen’s and Jane Austen’s World has an image of the actual desk, which was donated to the British Library by one of her non-direct descendants.

The best site I found for information on writing boxes is Antigone’s guide to Antique Writing Boxes and Lap Desks.  It contains an absolute wealth of knowledge and has given me some sense of the development of the box and features to look out for.  Do go there for a more in depth look at writing slopes and boxes.

Approaching this as a buyer, the first thing I realised rather swiftly – buying from an antiques dealer is going to be considerably more expensive than buying from ebay.  Out-of-our-price-range more expensive.  The other option could be a local auctioneer – Arthur Johnson & Sons – who hold auctions every Saturday and list their items online from 6pm the Thursday before.

So, this gentlewoman is on the hunt for the Perfect Writing Box…

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What a weekend!

Friday – I got home from work to this yumminess:

(They’re a bit creased as I’ve hand-washed them, but haven’t ironed yet.)

The photos really don’t do these fabrics justice.  I’ll confess, I’ve been too busy to do a burn test, but from the feel of the fraying threads on the cut ends and the way they hold colour (so luminous), I am sure they’re silk.  If not, they’re bloody good synthetics.  To call the darker one navy is to do it a great disservice: it’s far richer in colour than navy normally is – it’s more of an indigo.

And I was right about the lighter blue – it’s not electric blue, instead it’s an absolutely amazing cerulean blue shot with a lighter violet, which makes it seem almost ultra-violet when it shimmers and catches the light.  Even better, the two sides of the fabric are quite different – one seems a mid almost-turquoise shot with purple and the other is a light greyish-blue with the violet sheen.  I seem to recall that the edges of the polonaise-style jacket (up to the trim line) are a green facing, which is making me think of using the opposite side of the fabric for the edges and using a purple trim (perhaps purple velvet ribbon).  I suspect I’ve not explained that very well – I’ll put together a diagram at some point!

Polonaise style jacket from the Cut of Women's Clothes

Which leaves the question – mostly light with the darker side on the edges, or mostly dark with the lighter?  Decisions, decisions!

Saturday – went to the library, got the Beginners Crewel Embroidery book, another introductory embroidery book and this little haul:

I’m thinking calico pockets embroidered with green leaves and twisty stems and blue and purple flowers with yellow stamens.  Unfortunately they didn’t have crewel thread, so I had to get regular stranded cotton, but I figure this will be good to practice with and when I have a bit more money I can order some (probably from Sewandso.co.uk as recommended by Rosel).  Oh, and the ribbons are for cockades (as per the good Duchess’s tutorial plus a couple of other (less good) tutorials I’ve found in old books) – I’ve got some blue and white buttons as well as some brassy anchor ones, so I thought I’d go for a nautical theme.

I also had an eye test on Saturday and for the first time ever, I was prescribed glasses.  I got a great deal (two pairs, including scratch-resistant coated lenses for £99 – one pair of those lenses is usually around £70) and picked up one pair yesterday (the other is on order).  I always wanted glasses as a kid and now I’ve got them, it’s really weird – I think I’m glad they’re only for me to use when I feel I need them (when my eyes feel tired or I feel a headache coming on and I’m using a computer).

Saturday evening (I said it was a packed weekend, didn’t I?) I worked on the stays and I’ve finished sewing the boning channels on the front panel:

They’re not perfect, but not bad considering my newness to sewing and still-developing machine skills.  In the end I decided to sew straight through the ridgeline that forms the two horizontal bones as it would have been a massive headache to sew around them by machine (if I were hand-sewing I would have done that, though – I do like the look of the horizontal stitches) plus the ridgeline is a different width to the cable-ties, so it might have looked odd.

And as for the rest of Sunday – well, I read those embroidery books and did a little bit of stitch practice with some spare embroidery thread I had in my stash.  Unfortunately it’s off-white and pretty much matches the calico perfectly, so it wouldn’t show up very well in a photo, but this week I’ll get started on the pockets and will post pictures then.

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