Apr
06
2012
3

What Victorian trades and professions had the weirdest names?

Velocipede, Victorian fashion, zebra clothAnyone who’s looked in a 19th century street directory while researching their family history will have seen job descriptions and business names that are frankly puzzling. A twister? A japanner? What kind of work did these people do? What were those manufacturers making? Recently I was asked to help figure out the facts behind this [&hel[more...]

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Feb
06
2012
0

What is dupion silk?

dupion silkDupion silk fabric is not “as smooth as silk”. The texture is uneven with intermittent stretches of nubbly thread in the weave. It may be used for elegant clothing and furnishings now, but it had to overcome its original reputation for being an inferior, rough silk. Making silk begins with gathering heaps of silkworm cocoons. [&hel[more...]

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Dec
09
2011
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Did Queen Victoria's royal train have a dining car?

Breakfast cart for royal trainQueen Victoria travelled by train regularly. Even though she had her own royal train, luxuriously furnished, she never dined or breakfasted on the journey without stopping. The carriage she commissioned in 1869 included a small kitchen, but it was just for making tea and a few snacks prepared by a footman. There was no dining [&hel[more...]

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Apr
06
2011
1

Were Argyle gravy jugs named after the Duke of Argyll?

Inveraray castle kitchen, ArgyllIf you’ve heard of an argyle gravy jug, you’ll know it’s a pot with a double wall. Hot water goes into the cavity between the outside and inside, and creates an insulating jacket to keep the gravy warm. They were popular in wealthy British households in the later 18th century, a period of elegant dinners [&hel[more...]

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Feb
28
2011
4

How did Argyle socks and knitwear get their name?

blue, green, black argyle sockArgyle socks have centuries of history, and yet that particular name wasn't used until nearly 1940. Socks with the typical “Argyle” diamond design used to be called tartan hose or plaid stockings. They were knee-length, and made from wool, sometimes rather scratchy wool. The pattern of lozenges in two or more colours, criss-crossed by narrow [&hel[more...]

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Jan
12
2011
0

What knitting accessories make good gifts?

Victorian knitting basket, apron, needle caseDo you keep your yarn in a hand-woven basket or a plastic bag? Do you keep your knitting needles in an embroidered case or a mass-produced box?  If you’re choosing a gift for a knitting friend, or for yourself, attractive needle cases or knitting bags are an obvious first choice. Most people who enjoy crafts [&hel[more...]

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Oct
22
2010
0

What is an etagere?

etagere design american 1850sWhat makes an etagere different from other sets of shelves? The name came into fashion in the 1850s when English adopted the French word étagère for a piece of furniture with open shelves for ornaments and oddments. The etagere was a decorative piece made from hardwood by a cabinet-maker. It looked good in a drawing-room [&hel[more...]

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Sep
14
2010
0

Is a highboy different from a tallboy?

Antique American highboys Tall chests of drawers, made in two pieces, with an upper chest fitting into the top of the lower, were popular in the 18th century. In Britain they are known as tallboys, while Americans call them highboys. The English master cabinet-maker Chippendale inspired some of the best designs on both sides of the Atlantic, including [&hel[more...]

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Sep
01
2010
0

Any recipes and suggestions for cooking sloes?

sloesIf your sloes are not all wanted for sloe gin, try making them into jellies, jams, or spiced conserves to go with savoury dishes. It’s more trouble than gin – you have to really cook, not just mix – but you’ll end up with attractive and flavourful jars of stuff you made yourself, and the [&hel[more...]

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Sep
01
2010
2

What is a bullace and what recipes suit it?

bullacesA bullace is a wild plum that can be either dark blue-purple or light yellowy-green, sometimes flushed with red. Black bullace and white bullace are the traditional names for the two kinds. There are a few cultivated varieties too, which give rise to more names and varied colours. Damsons are similar to a dark bullace, [&hel[more...]

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Sep
01
2010
0

What recipes are there for sloe liqueurs like sloe gin?

sloe gin and patxaranSloe gin is not just the easiest way of using wild sloes, it’s probably the most popular in the UK. Other sloe-flavoured liqueurs – patxarán or pacharán from northern Spain, Italian bargnolino and Schlehenfeuer from Germany – have interestingly different flavouring, even though the basic idea is much the same. Sloe gin Pick sloes after [&hel[more...]

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Aug
26
2010
0

What was Mary Queen of Scots’ wedding like for ordinary Parisians?

Henry IV celebrates entry into Paris 1594When Mary Stuart married François, Dauphin of France, in 1558 what could the public see? For days in advance the city was busy. Workers set up theatres inside the palace, and hung draperies inside and outside the cathedral. Many people earned extra pennies constructing walkways and a stage with vineleaf decoration in the cathedral square. Dressmakers [&hel[more...]

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Aug
24
2010
2

What is known about Mary Queen of Scots’ first wedding dress?

Mary Stuart before her wedding, and in white veil as widow15-year-old Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was married to 14-year-old François, Dauphin of France, in April 1558. The wedding celebrations for the future French king and queen were magnificent, and a report of the grand ceremony and festivities was published one week later. So what does it tell us about Mary’s dress? [She] was dressed [&hel[more...]

Aug
19
2010
2

What trimmings suit a full-skirted Victorian wedding dress design?

Victorian wedding dress, full skirt, flounces, veilWhite wedding dresses were popular in fashionable circles by the mid-19th century, even though many brides still chose other colours. The idea of a once-in-a-lifetime wedding dress was more flexible than today, and wearing white was quite a new fashion. Victorian dresses that look very “bridal” to us now were almost the same as evening [&hel[more...]

Aug
08
2010
0

What was the Gallery of Practical Science, or Adelaide Gallery, in London?

adelaide gallery of practical scienceThe Gallery of Practical Science opened in 1832 in London. Its aim was to inspire an enthusiasm for science, with plenty of working models of science and technology in action. Inventor Jacob Perkins was the driving force in forming a “Society for the Illustration and Encouragement of Practical Science” which ran the National Gallery of [&hel[more...]

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Jul
16
2010
0

What do people in France call styles that we call French?

french twist chignon bananeWhen we say French twist, French manicure, French cuffs etc. are these truly French fashions? French people call the chic hairstyle we know as a French twist or French roll a chignon banane (banana bun). On the other hand, a French braid or French plait has the same name in France – tresse française – [&hel[more...]

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Jul
01
2010
0

Is the Callanish stone circle open all the time?

Standing stone circle at CalanaisAnyone who can get to the Isle of Lewis can visit the standing stones of Callanish, and move around freely – quite different from the untouchable Stonehenge circle at the other end of the UK, which attracts about 20 visitors for every one at Callanish. The main site has a sheep-proof fence, gate, and a [&hel[more...]

Jun
28
2010
0

Were Victorian feather fans decorated with real hummingbirds?

victorian feather fan with stuffed humming birdThey may seem horrible to us, but feather fans with a cute dead hummingbird were a Victorian fashion for more than twenty years. Stuffed and wired into shape, the bird was posed stylishly, sometimes along with feather flowers or even insects. The fans weren’t the folding type, but the kind that was sometimes called a [&hel[more...]

Jun
07
2010
0

Can a luckenbooth brooch have a heart but no crown?

antique luckenbooth brooches - Anstruther-Duncan collectionMost luckenbooth brooches sold today are heart-shaped with a crown above. Sometimes the design is a pair of interlocking twin hearts.  But it wasn’t always so. This kind of traditional Scottish brooch could be a very simple outline heart, as you can see in some museums. So don’t take it as a rule that only [&hel[more...]

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Jun
04
2010
0

How did you make a bustle for a dress in the 19th century?

bustle tournure dress-improverBustles were undergarments for dresses designed to swell out dramatically at the back of the skirt, in the fashion of the 1870s and 1880s. Dressmakers had various ways of providing hidden support for these curves. Bustles generally depended on cushioning, or a frame, or some combination: padding held in shape with wires, or a frame [&hel[more...]

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