Category Archives: Miss Tolerance

History is an Unknown Country

Sake Dean Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon to George IV and William IV

History is made up of stories.  About people.  Often about people behaving miserably, or heroically, or foolishly; people thinking they were smarter than they were, people who wanted to be important, people who were unexpectedly kind or cruel.  The tricky thing about history is that it tends to belong to the people who wrote it, or to the people who got the best press or yelled the loudest or wrote the best version.

I once almost got into a fight with a Beefeater in the Tower of London when I dared suggest that Shakespeare might have been wrong about Richard III killing off his nephews.  Shakespeare’s version of the story has become enshrined as something “everybody knows.”  And “everybody knows” is almost always a problem if you want to get something right.

I was thinking about this because I’m reading Black London, a terrific and fascinating book by Gretchen Gerzina about the history of Africans in England.  Early in the book Gerzina tells of going into a bookstore looking for material about people of color in London.  The saleswoman told her, with a touch of asperity, that everyone knew that there were no blacks in England prior to the end of WW II.   Continue reading

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Corsetting: It’s All About the Infrastructure

Yes, it’s all true: I am in mid-corset.  Because I have to make a Regency coat, and it won’t look right without the infrastructure (modern underpinnings will not cut it).   To my considerable surprise, the whole process is much simpler than I had imagined: with a decent pattern, up to the point I’ve reached now, it’s really a matter of tracing the patterns (I’ve been using baker’s parchment) and cutting out the pieces and following the bits and pieces.  My gusset-anxiety has proved to be an over-reaction; gussets are no harder than anything else.

So here’s how it’s been coming together.

The interlining (you do this first, both as a “try on” piece and because if you’re going to screw something up, might as well be on the layer no one will see):

It’s amazing how real it all looks with the stitches in and everything.  I am surprised by this every time I sew.  Here’s a closer look at the gussets because I’m so pleased with them.  The fabric, by the way, is coutil, which is a very closely-woven fabric with a herringbone patter, and the preferred material for the interior of corsets.

And here are the gussets, all pinned, for the lining.

And here are the lining and interlining, all in form and pinned together, awaiting only the exterior layer.

And here’s the cover, in a plain figured cotton.  I decided against satin or anything ritzy: I want this to breathe.  I also decided against cherry red or deep blue (although white, as the color of choice for corsetting, didn’t become popular until the Victorians) because I plan to wear a light-colored dress over it.  Which I will have to make.  But that’s another post.  I still have to stitch the hip gussets and the strap seam.  Then the whole gets pinned to the already-pinned lining/interlining, and basted together.  And then the really cool/scary part begins: the boning.

The thing that looks like a ruler is a busk: a flat piece that will run up the front between the breasts.  The rest are stays of varying lengths.  By the time you read this, I may already have begun that part.  I will review my progress next week.


Dressed to Kill

Sometimes the synchronicity is just so…synchronous, you know?  I wasn’t looking for fabric when I went out today.

After the farmer’s market this morning (strawberries! ripe tomatoes! peaches sweeter than my daughters!) I went to a garage sale a friend was having, and for $30 picked up six lengths of green brocade-y sort of fabric–not period, but close enough to play period on TV, as it were.  I had no idea what I would do with this fabric, but it was beautiful, and sometimes things come up (viz: my younger daughter coming home last month to announce that I was costuming, not just her, but three classmates, for a scene from Romeo and Juliet) and you need fabric in a hurry.

Let me parenthetically explain that I am a self-taught seamstress; I love the construction aspect of the whole thing, making a garment come together, the architecture.  I have no patience for the finishing bits, and it’s only because I can hem, or whipstitch, or do whatever it is while watching TV, that things I sew don’t look like a bad pile up on I-280 at rush hour.  So I don’t often take on anything much more complex than a costume for my kids.

Anyway: I got home, settled the dog, and got an email from my publisher (can I say how much I love saying that?  I really do) talking about an idea that would require me to, like, wear Regency clothes for a photo.  I do, in fact, have one Regency gown which I made more than 20 years ago for a much younger and, alas, slimmer me.  It hangs in my closet and I pet it occasionally (silk velvet…slides through your hands like garnet colored water) but I have not worn it for years.  But because I am me, I had to start going through online resources, looking for patterns, thinking about what I would do if I had to make myself a Regency outfit…

And I have this fabric, see, that would make a perfectly splendid coat over a muslin round gown.  It would not be perfectly period; coats were generally made of plain-colored fabric; patterned fabrics generally had very small patterns that were woven in.  But…oh, it would be a handsome thing.  I’m thinking a coat using the spencer pattern shown here: but with an ankle length skirt, worn over a dress like the one below, only in a light muslin (the silk is utterly gorgeous, but 1) not my color and 2) too expensive).

The problem is, even before I began fretting over the spencer and gown, I’d have to make myself a set of stays.  Stay-making is a big production, particularly because I can’t just wear any old stays any more: they’d have to be highly structured.  In fact, I got the pattern for stays this afternoon and spent an hour reading them: I’ll tell you, that sweet ingenuous muslin-gown look had a hell of a lot of infrastructure.  And really, do I need a project like this?

And yet I have this fabric that so wants to be made into something splendid.

But now that the thought has occurred to me, it’s really hard to stuff back into the bottle.  If you don’t hear from me for a while, look under the sewing machine.


The Girl in the Diaphanous Gown

Jack ThurstonI wish I could read the way I did when I was fourteen: I went through eight library books in a week (the legal limit), plus rereading books, and working my way through the spinner racks at the drugstore.  I read comic books, classics, SF, historicals, mysteries, Regency romances.  I read a huge amount of romantic suspense–and its down-market cousin, the Gothic.

Gothics had nothing to do with dark eyeshadow, macabre jewelry, or black Doc Martens.  The form arose from 18th century novels like The Castle of Otranto: a young, innocent woman comes as a stranger to a place where she is buffeted by turbulent familial or social currents, falls in love with the brooding master of the house, misidentifies threats to her life (or thinks the peril emanates from the object of her affections), nearly loses her life, and lives happily ever after.*  The covers were almost always the same: brooding castle in the background, scantily clad heroine running away from unseen menace in the foreground. Continue reading


The Happily Ever After Dilemma

When I wrote up the FAQs, one of the questions suggested to me was: What is next for Miss Tolerance? As I head toward the finish of book three, I have very concrete answers, none of which I will give here, because, really, wouldn’t you rather read the book?  I’m hoping so, anyway.

But I’m also thinking about her future.  I have ideas for plots and twists in her unconventional life that could go on for some time.  But one question I get a lot is: is she going to settle down?  Will she be happy?  And on that question I haven’t an answer yet.  As I said in the FAQs,  I don’t think she’s going to have a conventional happy ending.  And that may disappoint some readers.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

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