Monthly Archives: September 2010

Pandora me this, Pandora me that

Pandora:  a miniature fashion doll wearing an exact replica of the latest haute couture, sent to ladies all over Europe so they could order on-trend fashions.  This term originated in France as Grande Pandore or Petite Pandore to describe evening and day fashions, respectively.

Pandora, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1755-1760

In the days before glossy magazines, pandoras were the primary means of disseminating fashion gospel.   Ladies waited with abated breath for the dolls to arrive because only then could they visit their modiste and order the correct cut, cloth, and style.  The dolls were outfitted head to toe, wearing coiffures, jewerly, hats and shoes, along with their gowns and embellishments.   Some were even dressed with complete underclothes.  

Depending on the occassion, Pandora’s were requested in almost any attire imaginable, but for most ladies, two dolls were sent to their homes, whenever the fashion’s required updating. One was typically arrayed in evening attire, the other in day wear. 

There is some suggestion that Pandoras were in use as early as the 14th century, but they didn’t become part of the veritable fashion trade until the 17th and 18th centuries.  Below is a young girl holding a pandora, as we may safely assume by her expression, supplicating her father for the latest fashions or merely showing them off.  Notice the pouf a la Marie Antoinette topped with feathers and myriad other adornments.  Notice too the girl’s expectant, happy face; the father’s indulgent, if a little annoyed, expression.  Based on how my husband acts in regard to fashion, I imagine that’s how most men felt about the Pandora during that time!

Christopher Anstey with his daughter, by William Hoare.  1776-1778.

National Portrait Gallery, London.

Evolution of a Stocking

Hogarth’s The Rake at Rose Tavern, Scene III of The Rake’s Progress, 1733.  In particular note the prostitute in the lower left portion, seated on a chair, fiddling with her shoes.  She is wearing silk gore clock stockings popular in the period.


During the early 1700s, stockings for both sexes were fashioned alike.  Often they were brightly colored, the embroidery contrasting with the gore (a wedge insert at the instep).  Opulent embroidery was common among the upper classes while the lower classes bought plain stockings, most likely made of wool.  If one could afford it, machine-knitted stockings were a much sought after luxury following the invention of the Derby Rib machine in 1758.  This machine allowed for the production of an elastic type sock, a more comfortable invention that its stretch-free predeccesor.  Until the early part of industrialization, the lower classes had to make do with the outmoded and  imperfect method of hand-knitted socks.

Although few intact stockings remain, we do know a vast array of colors and styles were available.  Hosiers experimented with different fabric and designs, moving from the silk gore clock to the silk or cotton lace clocks, and later even stripes, zigzags, and of course the oldest fashion, plain.  The finest ones were commonly made of silk, cotton or worsted, and cost a pretty penny indeed.  Around 1738, they would set a shopper back as much as £1 2s, more than a fifth of some domestics’ wages.

Fit & Design

As early as the1670s, gore inserts revolutionized fit and comfort.  These wedge shaped additions also provided decorative embellishments like embroidery and contrasting colors, although both were seen in lesser detail on earlier socks. 

Antique Lace has several pictures of a pristine gore clock stocking, albeit from the United States, dating from 1720-1740.  The stocking below is typical of European designs for the period.


Going the way of most fashions, gore clocks reached their zenith in the 1750s and were slowly replaced by embroidery without the gore.  Flower and nature motifs also appeared in the middle of the century, followed by the increasinlgy simpler styles (if more complicated methods).

In the latter part of the century, white or cream dominated the stocking scene.  Women were particularly inclined toward lace clocks, a method popularized after the 1760s where open-work patterns took on a–you guessed it–lacy appearance. 

Men’s styles altered dramatically around the 1770s through the 80s.  Stripes were worn by dandies and saw a comeback in the late 80s.  Horizontally striped, aka banded, stocking were popularized around the 1790’s.  This is also about the time the zigzag pattern appeared, although the stripes would remain the dominant fashion.

If you’re interested in the process of making stockings or desire a more comprehensive study, make sure to visit Knitting Together.  They have quite a nice virtual museum.  Another good resource is Notes on 18th century stockings.  This one has lots of links for further inquiry.

From Panniers to Polonaise

The story goes a something like this:  One day around 1730 two pleasantly plump English ladies wanted to take a stroll in the Tuileries gardens.  But the weather was, at least for these Brits, sticky and warm, and, for all the ladies in onerous garb, stifling hot.  To avoid the inevitable thigh-to-fabric rub beneath their walking dresses, the ladies devised a plan.  They thought of donkeys carrying baskets.  Next, they envisioned themselves, their skirts flowing around them, inches away from their skin.  Thus, the pannier was born.

(And yes, pannier is the name for a basket slung over a beast of burden)

Worn between the 1730s until the 1770s, panniers spread the appearance of ladies’ hips to shocking widths.  It’s hard to imagine now, but the most fashionable could not fit in many doorways without turning aside.  Collapsible panniers were created to render this problem obsolete but gentlemen scoffed at the idea of widening door frames merely for ladies’ whims.  They had, of course, encountered a similar caprice earlier with Marie Antoinette’s towering coiffure, the pouf.  The notion of hip widths of eight feet were just another frippery to be endured.

Tired limbs were another casualty that resulted from these large hoops.  Elbows suffered from behaving as wings from ladies’ sides and so a second invention ensued: the elbow pad, fastened near the lower waist so the arms would not despair of fatigue.  This silly business thrived until the Polonaise gown came into vogue in the 1770s.

1775-1780, altered several times; rosettes and green trim are 19th century

Styled to look like a tiered cake, with rings and cording beneath the skirts, the Polonaise gown imitated milkmaids who tucked up their skirts to avoid the muck.  Pocket slits appeared on the open skirt, allowing a stylish lady to tuck the fabric however she fancied that day.  Despite the necessity of three small panniers (at a minimum) to achieve this style, overall the look was poufed yet streamlined, the waist nipped in with petticoats underneath.

Robe a la Polonaise, 1770s

Francois Boucher, Pompadour, and The Four Seasons

François Boucher was the most prolific French painter of his time.  Beloved by the Marquise de Pompadour, whom he painted numerous times, his works include oil paintings, Beauvais tapestry designs, reproductions on porcelain, and the now obsolete decorations for festivities at Versailles.

The Four Seasons, below, were once believed to have commissioned forLouix XV’s favored mistress to display in chateau at Crecy.  Now, they are suspected to have been created by Boucher for an unknown patron, although they belonged to her at the time of her death in 1764.  They were then bequeathed to her brother, who sold them in 1782.  Today they are a part of the permanent art collection at the Frick Museum, New York.  Rumor has it, Pompadour is the woman in winter.





To see The Four Seasons at their Frick home, see this video by NY public media.


18th Century Chinoiserie

When the Swedish-born Scottish architect Sir William Chambers retired from his trips to China after 1749, he brought with him a resurgence of Chinoiserie, or Chinese-esque design.  Popular in Europe since the 17th century when the East India companies began trading, Chinoiserie reached its zenith from 1750 to 1765, gracing boudoirs, textiles, and gardens alike.  

The still standing ten-storyed Pagoda at Kew Gardens, completed by Chambers in 1762, is a longstanding example of Europe’s interest in imitating the Chinese arts.   Not quite the  colorful splendor it was in its heyday, the pagoda originally boasted a roof of varnished iron plates with a dragon perched at each corner.  A total of 80 dragons carved of wood and gilded in gold once adorned the pagoda.  None remain today.

Pagoda, Kew Gardens, Present Day 

Pagoda, Kew Gardens, 1763 

The fashionable, overcome with the asian craze, decorated their homes with porcelain, silks, and laquerware, adding elements from Chinese fret on staircases, wallpaper, and floors to the marvelous commodes, vases and mirrors of the period.  Even everyday objects like sugar bowls were not spared the far east touch.  Much of this design, however, was derived from the artist’s internal repertoire, a definite reimagination of the east with a westerner’s unique flair for the Chinese manner.  Chinese euro-style, so to speak.

Sugar bowl with pagoda style lid, Victoria and Albert Museum

Carved Dragon Canopy Bed, Victoria and Albert Museum

As you may have noticed from above, Victoria and Albert Museum have a very nice collection.  Definitely worth checking out.

Want more?

For everything chinoiserie, including a modern spin with an incredibly cute presentation, visit Chinoiserie Chic.

Have expensive tastes and a budget to match?  De Gournay manufactures hand-painted Chinoiserie wallpaper reproductions from the 18th-19th century that are positively stunning.


Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Summer’s rolled along into September and the garden’s plump with tomatoes.  The only problem: what to do with them besides freezing and canning?   Oven Roast.

Forgoing the cherries of last year, we planted juliets and big beefeaters, the latter of which I resisted because I didn’t like the name.  Silly, I know.  Beefeater makes me think of sloppy burgers and tasteless tomatoes, and if I’m being nice, gin.  I did, however, capitulate after our retired neighbor, Corwin, turned us on to these mammoths. 

His tomato plants grow taller than a tween while ours have ever remained gnomes.  His secret appears to be plenty of clipped grass—not a weed to be had there—and what I’m beginning to suspect is plenty of good fertilizer. 

But, I still prefer the juliets.  They’re succulent, sweet little bombs that unlike cherries, don’t pop on the vine if forsaken by rain and sprinklers.  They sprawl around the garden, creeping low and of late, mingling with the garter snakes (yikes!).  For those with arthritic knees they may coax out a few newfound pains, but they’re worth every ache.  Especially when they’re plucked fresh, chopped into coins for salsa, or as I’m doing today, oven roasting.  It’s been chilly here in Minnesota and as oven roasting is akin to sun roasted, I’m giving it a whirl. 

The recipe is simple: slice, spread, a little salt and pepper, a spray of olive oil, and a leisurely 4 or so hours at 220.  Next batch, I’m thinking oregano and basil.

Writing the opposite sex

Men are my favorite part of romance novels and hands down my preferred characters to write.  Why?  I grew up around men, never had any sisters, and because of that, tend to be bewildered when it comes to certain female behaviors.  For example, I take less than a minute to order off a restaurant menu. When I go to the hair salon, I’ll chop my hair off on a whim and not cry about it later.  And yes, handbags the size of houses are just plain odd. 

Stereotypes aside though, I do love romance novels (a decidedly feminine interest, or so I’m told).  In a well-written romance sexual tension and witty repartees cannot be beat and although the experience hinges on a relatable  heroine, the hero should tantalize the reader.  Otherwise we’d be reading chick-lit wherein bad boyfriends with bad teeth and bad manners reign and maybe, just cross your fingers, the heroine is slightly happier in the end.  (OK, chick-lit is not that bad.  BJD and the like were very, very good.)

More often than not, creating compelling male characters results from toeing the male pov line, which next to your complicated heroine’s brain should be refreshingly simple.   Heroes are action oriented beings, moving the plot along at a quickfire pace until confronted with the sole problem they cannot conquer and immediately solve: lust and subsequent love for the heroine.  Rationality doesn’t work in dismissing the hero’s interest just as flat out charm fails in gaining the heroine’s affection.   They must fight and fight dirty to end up happily ever after. 

This is where writing by gender (or switching it up) comes into play.  Vexing the heroine is a beloved sport and the hero often accomplishes this with masculine observations, i.e. vulgar and/or amusing honesty.   Although contemporary romance might be the exception, this direct manner of speech does not work so well with the historical heroine, no matter how feisty she may be.  Men can get away with so much more than women:  noncomittal grunts, the cliched pleated brow, the stalkerific yet somehow compelling stare.  They don’t even have to talk to get their point across!

Male characters also have freer license to act unreliably.  They can make demands without being regarded as high maintenance or bitchy.  They can be unbelievably rude, sexually frustrated, evasive, and dense without these flaws overshadowing their character.  Display this behavior in a woman and many readers are going to assume there’s something imbalanced about her. 

But the most rewarding aspect of male characters is that you, the writer, can forget using all adverbs and many adjectives, throw out vague modifiers, and stick with strong verbs.  “Would you kindly step aside?” becomes “Get out of my way!” and so on.   There’s also the fact that men get to bellow and bark, which is a minor cherry on top. 

Now Get Working:

Writer’s Digest has a great article to jump start your thinking on “How to Write Intriguing Male and Female Characters.”  For reference, I also like to read work by alpha dogs like Hemingway and then scale back degrees from there in terms of speech and observation.  His style is sparse and to the point, some may even argue masculine at its best.

Hope you enjoyed!

Spring 2011 Bulb Plans

I have an ongoing battle with tulips.  Of course they’re breathtaking, dominate the garden in spring, and readily available.  They are also a royal pain when you favor perennials.  I can barely handle the annuals I have to rip out of the garden at summer’s end.  But tulips that must be dug out by the bulb?  Ay!

So last fall, thinking to save myself the headache, I defiantly resisted planting tulips.  My perennial garden flaunted hyacinths, muscari, and daffodils, all selected for their superior fragrance and ability to return without further work on my part.  The dreaded tulip was shunned. 

Inevitably,though modern day tulips lack scent and the vast majority refuse to rebloom, I bemoaned their absence from my gardens whenever I drove around town.  Even the bountiful Red Impressions, which I usually don’t spare a second glance, started catching my envy.

You can guess where I’m heading with this. Come late September I’ll be back on the bulb.  I ordered Going Baroque tulips for the small circle garden outside my office and plan to supplement with early and mid varieties.  They are scheduled to arrive the week before we head to the BWCA, which will have me cursing as I rush to get things done.

But just look at these.  They’re so beautiful I’m bumblebee-ish with excitement.

Figuring I should round out my 2011 bulb collection (so I can quit complaining about the tulips I must pull come early summer) I also ordered Crown Imperial fritillaria (above).  At 5/$25, they were a steal at  Colorblends.  I usually see them for around $16 a piece, maybe 50% of that price on sale.  Alliums were a good deal there too so Globemasters are coming my way.

In addtion, I ordered 100 more grape hyacinths for underplantings (they last forever and smell great!) and crocus for beneath Josie’s favorite tree.  With that, I should be set.  Well, except for the Casa Blanca oriental lilies and Madonna lilies for a pop of white.  And trumpet lilies.  This garden obsession is really never ending.