Corsets & Lace: Haute Couture – The Victorian Age

My current novel-in-progress is entitled GILT. It’s set during the 1870s in New York City. I’m definitely a country girl (actually a backwoods girl), but the first time I visited New York (I was seventeen.), I fell in love with that huge, gritty (grittier then than now), glorious, amazing metropolis. In subsequent visits, both on business and on vacation, I haven’t changed my mind. I LOVE NEW YORK!

As I continue to write and do research for GILT, I’m immersing myself in the New York of the 1800s, and I’m fascinated! My main character, China Deliverance Creed is a seamstress, or at least she was before she married into a very wealthy New York family. She is amazed and delighted with her new life, especially the elaborate clothing, hats, and shoes that are now hers simply for the asking. As I began to write those scenes, I was perplexed about how to imprint the very elegant, very complicated Victorian clothing on my brain. I want to write about it as if I’d worn it every day of my adult life.

Then the miracle! A small book catalog somehow found its way into my mailbox. Here’s what I found. Yep, a coloring book!

When I told my literary agent, Victoria Skurnick, about it, she commented, “Ah, the coloring book. The bane of my childhood – I have no artistic talent whatsoever and could not stay within the lines. But now I think of it as a historical tool, which makes me appreciate coloring books anew.” Like Victoria, I’ve never been a good colorer (if that’s a word), but when I color Victorian clothing, I imprint my brain. What a great way to learn!

The other treasure I found was this — a book filled to the brim with fabric swatches:

The tactile experience of touching these swatches makes Victorian fabric come alive for me. I am a weaver, so I have that advantage, but I don’t have experience with many of the natural fabrics worn in those days, especially the silk, which is much too delicate and way too expensive for me to use on my loom!

I love to wear silk and cotton. Not wool, which makes me break out in a rash. Recently I’ve fallen in love with bamboo socks! Do you have a favorite fabric to wear, or one you don’t like?

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6 Responses to Corsets & Lace: Haute Couture – The Victorian Age

  1. Ans de Groot says:

    Hello Sue, I am like you cotton silk or linen and not woolen clothing all though a % of wool makes a coat look better!

    Unfortunately, I do have to wear a ‘rompbrace’ after three times surgery on my intestines. ( so actually a corset).
    Before I had a normal size 42 and loved to wear jeans, I finally found a brand making them long enough for me.

    Now I am back to dresses in a model without a waistline which are suitable for me. Way back in time I learned sewing but I am not a creative person. Maybe I have to find myself a private couturier? ?

    All ways thought I would become a member of a historic club and would wear historic clothing, it’s not possible anymore helaas.

    Lots of success with your new novel, hugs Ans

  2. Sue Harrison says:

    Ans, I love dresses like that, too. So comfortable!! Thank you for your good wishes for my newest novel. I’m always happy when I’m writing!

  3. Jody Harrison says:

    I can wear all fabrics. Love the soft wools in cold weather but since I don’t live in the cold weather now I basically wear cotton and other light fabrics.

  4. Sue Harrison says:

    It’s wonderful to be able to wear all fabrics, Jody. Wool has such a beautiful look to it. I wish I could wear it!!

  5. Julia Carter says:

    Cotton, 100% cotton please, is my favorite fabric. And most polyester I hate. In knits, polyester pills and looks cheap. Beautiful cotton batiste for little girls’ smocked dresses as well as Baptismal gowns are breathtakingly gorgeous. Other cottons I love are dimity, gingham, dotted Swiss, seersucker, and broadcloth. Cotton is cool in the South, and maybe that is why I love it so.

  6. suehar says:

    I totally agree with you, Julia. I usually don’t like polyester. I did much sewing with gingham when I was in high school and later with seersucker, but I’ve never worked with dotted Swiss or dimity. Cotton is beautiful. I remember and still love thinking about those Cotton advertisements that ran on TV, probably back in the 1990s. The fabric of our lives!

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