Hats To The Heavens!

I’m a hat loving, hat wearing kind of gal! Further, I love costuming. So, you’ll quite understand how I have so many fabulous photos of wondrous hats, taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire

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These pretty towers add even more elegance to what are already such smartly dressed noblewomen…

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And such a tall and pale-yellow number so nicely compliments this saucy mistress!

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Only a straw hat decorated with a bit of plumage will do for this authoress (who secretly dreams of living in a hobbit house). But I digress…

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Oh my gosh, the Queen’s hat! Look at those gorgeous feathers!

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…spy especially upon Her Majesty’s striking red plume and Tudor Rose!

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What a magical crown for one such etherial fairy queen!

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A wild creature perches upon this witch’s hat, zoom in and you might see it!

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Well met sir! Your hat is so grand as to be in a category all its own!

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One noble’s hat was adorned with trimmed feathers on their individual rachis. I thought they made a clever ornament!

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And nothing like prettily fashioned hairstyles and delicate lace collars to add to the elegance of these women’s hats!

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How special the simplicity of this young lady’s cap…

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How daring the effect of an artful tilt and golden feathers. Fantastic!

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And how sweet the pretty veils of young maidens at their games…

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And at their prayers…

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Truly an excellent ensemble, one lady so richly adorned in blue…

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Another one of Her Grace’s gorgeous pieces. What a designer has she!

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Oh precious the crown of yellow buds and green…

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And such a treasured wreath of feathers, from out of a dream…

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There simply are no lack of smiling faces, and thoughtfully designed hats on this festival day!

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But I must tell you this…

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No hat can beat the one worn by the kindest of ladies, Lady Ettie!

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Good Morning! Good Day!

How lovely the start of a new day! Today, mine includes…

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A golden sunrise just outside the window…

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And a friend to watch it with…

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Even if he is more interested in the waking birdies than the sunrise…

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A sweet little bloom in my front yard. What a pretty white flower it will make. I think it’s waiting to open up when it’s not so chilly, brrrrr….

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And these yellow darlings too, I can’t wait!

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A hot cup of coffee (or three) and a bright kitchen view…

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Another one of my odd breakfast concoctions (and some people thought I’d never learn to cook…HA-HA-HA!!!)…

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And time spent working on my new adventure, the very best way to start the day. A magical world awaits!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and beautiful morning, and a day filled with good things!

Spring Morning Walk

Hey there handsome…

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Welcome back friends…

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Good morning darling buds…

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So happy to see you, precious friend…

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The sun shines for you, little flower…

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Well hello there ladies!

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How I’ve missed you, green…

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How pretty you are!

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Come on out, you sturdy blooms…

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Your delicate purple petals make my heart sing today…

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So glad I stepped out to visit you all, before I was on my way!

Pretty As A Picture

These photos are of my cousin, who is some years younger than I (though now a young woman). Lita (my mother, artist & costumer) made this Elizabethan gown for her for an outing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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This little lady was so patient (in quite warm weather and having never worn a full costume before), and so polite (walking here and there with grace), and so pretty! I don’t know how she did it; when I was her age (and well beyond it) I fussed a great deal with my costumes (squawking when something didn’t fit) and romped around like a wild thing on the run (hardly graceful). She was a natural! A true noble!

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The headpiece was spectacularly stitched with pearls lining the top and a veil hanging from the back. The white and green color combination smiled upon youth and innocence. The entire silhouette was perfect, with a crisp bodice and perfectly measured skirts over just the right size of farthingale. Such a well crafted costume!

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And look at that pretty smile, the perfect accessory for such an ensemble!

I think kiddos make the best historical reenactors; mini nobles and peasants, awesome! They make the reenacting of history more authentic. For instance, it is ever obvious when adults are acting in their costumes (as much as they try to be a merchant or lady-in-waiting, etc.). But when children are dressed up and start playing, talking and running, they forget that they are in costume and just behave naturally (just being, not acting).

My cousin was a lovely addition that day, and certainly convinced all that she was a noble young lady from the days of yore!

Brainy Ravens

I’ve always joked that I love cats so much that I was destined to become a crazy-old-cat-lady. However, today I’ve had a change of heart. As much as I love cats, I think I might give being a crazy-old-raven-lady a try instead…

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In my next children’s book, Queen of the Elves, Queen Cloisinia has a pet raven. A pretty cool pet for an Elf Queen, and a lot of fun for this author too! I love nature, and I love looking things up. My first question was, isn’t a raven simply a big crow who signals imminent doom?

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Edgar Allan Poe had it all wrong…Raven Fun Facts!

Ravens are incredibly intelligent. “Ha-Ha you silly chimpanzees! Let’s duel with an IQ test!” Yes, ravens are smart, smart as monkeys.

They can problem solve. “Ha-Ha you silly scientist! Thought I couldn’t get this cheesy morsel out of your complicated mechanism? I’m a raven. Your games are no match for me!”

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They communicate like us. “Hey friend, look over there!” (They point things out to their companions using their beaks and get each other’s attention by picking things up to show one another, and they can replicate human speech as well as a ton of other random noises that the world throws their way).

They play dead (like opossums) next to their meals so that other hungry birds will stay away. “Hey dude, don’t go near that roadkill, there’s a dead raven, could mean trouble for us.”

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They’re handsome. Ok…I made that up, but look how beautiful that bird is!

They’re tricksters (they mimic the sounds of other beasts, like wolves, around dead prey. Why? So that a real wolf will come by and rip open the meat of the raven’s find, making it easier for him to pick at. I know, gross…but clever nonetheless.)

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Ravens are amazing birds! They play (click here)! They are funny (click here)! They are special (click here)! And listen to these vocals (click here)!

These are just a few of the reasons ravens are so interesting, and clearly why they’ve been kept as beloved pets as well. I think my Queen of the Elves got it right to keep a raven by her side, they’re fascinating!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway Part III.

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First an excerpt from Veleno…a terrible tale, soon to come!

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Standing before her, he held out a large mollusk, far more generous in size than the ones they regularly ate. It was a fine catch, a basket of those would fetch an excellent price, especially on a feast day when the noble houses were entertaining guests and wanted to impress. Pulling a sharp knife from his belt, he sliced between the shells and carefully pried the animal open, discarding the top of the creature’s case to a table. Skilled, he swiftly cut beneath the meat and detached its membrane to make it easier to consume. He smiled once more and carefully handed over the plump, briny offering. Mafalda was embarrassed, the oyster was rather big and she felt hesitant to swallow it before Baldovino. Oysters were said to cause passions in the eaters; she was certain he knew that. As well he stood closely enough that she swore she could feel the heat radiating from his body, though it could have just been the kitchen blaze. He watched her expectantly, almost eagerly, standing tall enough to look over her. She wanted to move away, but only far enough so that she could spy on this man unnoticed; he was very desirable. He wiped the knife in his alternate hand upon a rag hanging at his hip and slipped it back into his belt.

Tentatively accepting the halved shell, the size of which completely engulfed her hand, she looked meekly up at Baldovino and then slowly brought the shell closer to her lips. Just as she was about to tilt the creature’s vessel up to slide the oyster into her mouth, he whispered for her to wait. She paused short and her eyes grew large. She began to blush. Why had he stopped her? She didn’t want to prolong this. Martinella would be back soon, or Tonia might catch an eyeful of the two and Mafalda felt that the man was standing too close, too familiarly. Carefully taking back the shell from her, he again pulled out his knife and scrapped gingerly at the flesh, quickly exposing a large and glistening white orb. It was a pearl, a very large pearl.

Today’s the day, the day for a pearl earrings giveaway! As you know, I’m nuts about pearls! Renaissance Venetians were too, such as the noble lady Mafalda in my soon to come Veleno…one terrible tale! You can check out Inspired by Venice‘s past pearl giveaways here and here.

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These delightful fresh water pearls are drop shaped, and white-yellow-peach depending on the light. Dainty and so lovely! These sweet earrings are by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

To enter the giveaway, get your imaginations brewing and write a sentence or two to describe what happened next after the pearl was discovered in Veleno‘s excerpt above. Write it in the comments! Does Mafalda gasp and greedily snatch the pearl right out of the oyster? Does Baldovino get called away, leaving the gift on the table for her to discretely take? Does she tell him she prefers diamonds? Does a kitchen maid accidentally spill something on them both, tripping as she walks by, and they all laugh? Be funny, or romantic (keep it classy), silly or serious…it’s for fun!

I’ll choose a winner at random from the entries, one week from today (on Monday, March 7th, 2016 at 9:00am Chicago time) and will announce the winner here! Please share news of the giveaway; the more fun entries there are, the merrier for all!

Here’s to smiles and laughs, good stories, and pearls of happiness in each and every day! Enjoy your adventure today!

Dining with Grace

A week ago today, handsome and I had a special occasion to celebrate and wanted to make it remarkable. For some time, we’d been wanting to visit Grace, a restaurant in downtown Chicago with an exceptional reputation!

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I can hardly describe, how otherworldly and magical this dining experience was. There are really no words for the glorious eight course meal we had, along with remarkable wine parings, impeccable service and truly exquisite ambiance.

This restaurant isn’t flashy from the street (we weren’t even initially sure we were at the right address), and when you enter, what peace and elegance; dim lighting, soft colors, minimal decor, gentle music…we immediately melted into our seats and relaxed (after a rather heroic city drive under some intense city winds that closed off streets due to high-rise debris falling on cars, during rush hour. Not terribly uncommon in the Windy City.)

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When you first begin, you select from one of two menus and the courses begin. Flora (for the plant lovers) or Fauna (for those who want seafood & meat). I tried Flora, and my companion, Fauna (though we shared, of course).

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Above was the amuse-bouche, “mouth amuser” in French, which isn’t ordered, but served prior to the meal gratis of the restaurant. I was fascinated with the forest plate set before us… we were told to use our fingers (no cutlery).

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To start: Parsnip with malt, pink grapefruit, lemon balm…(mine). So beautiful!

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Osetra Caviar with brandade, lemon, scallion…(his). Oh heavens!

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This one was served with a lid, and when you remove it, you’re instructed to lick the delicious lemon creme on it (like a yogurt cap). From within, smoke pours out, the wood smoke scent was amazing!

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Butternut Squash with ginger, mint, coriander blooms…(mine). I cannot express how divine the taste of coriander blooms are. I’d tasted coriander seeds before, but these little blooms were packed with a burst of spicy, flowery, herby flavor that I’d never tried…it’s a wild little plant!

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Alaskan King Crab with sudachi, cucumber, lemon and mint…(his). On this one, delectable bites were nested at the bottom, and layered over the top. You crack the shell up top with a spoon and then mix it all together. So, so pretty and the crab was so fresh.

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With the main dishes, small house-made breads were served to the side of each course (each piece unique), presented with a very special herbed butter. I could eat that butter with a spoon and I’m not ashamed to say it!

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Pumpkin with coconut, finger lime and sorrel…(mine).

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Hamachi with black cardamom, yuzu and chard…(his). The fish was so tender!

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Beets with goat cheese, cider, red amaranth…(mine). Do you see the goat cheese? It has been crafted into that edible white bowl right there!

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It melts, releasing the incredible liquid onto the plate to meet with the vegetables. I am a huge fan of beets…I was so delighted with this dish!

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Trumpet Royale with oat, cara cara and sea cress…(mine). Mushroom bliss!

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Pig Tail with endive, cauliflower, oxalis…(his). The meat (tender and juicy inside that ball up top) was utterly incredible.

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Chestnut with perigord truffle, buddha’s hand and white kale…(mine). A rare dish using  buddha’s hands, which are a tart, citrusy fruit. Paired with savory truffle, and nutty chestnut, truly unique!

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Short Ribs with watercress, lime and Vietnamese herbs…(his). I didn’t try the meat, but my date loved it. I did snatch another nibble of those coriander blooms however…I think I need to grow some of this plant this summer!

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Paused between the main dishes and dessert to have some Meyer lemon sorbet in a cone to ‘cleanse the palate’. It was like we were on a summer stroll. We could have stopped there and been content, but then…

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Banana with blueberry, cashew and African blue basil…(mine). Oh blueberry!

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Hazelnut with apple, brown butter and sorrel…(his). Hands up! Give me that donut!

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Chocolate with heart of palm, tangerine and citrus begonia…(his). I could have licked the plate.

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Firm, jello-like balls filled with chilled lemonade that burst in your mouth…so, so cool! Some pretty neat food chemistry was going on with this one…

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Peanut with passion fruit, murray river salt, banana and mint…(mine), in the glass to the left, along with a row of our wine pairings. It was a shame to let any of those delightful sips of wine go to waste (some of the most amazing tastes), but we were so delightfully fed and blissed out that we just couldn’t finish them. This three hour meal left us speechless.

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We love a decadent meal, but this one went far beyond that. For us, this was not just a meal, but an experience that we will never forget, marking a special occasion. If you’re planning something special and are local to Chicago, Grace will ensure your night will always be remembered!

Lady Of A Summer’s Day

Another one of Lita’s magnificent creations, the one we call the ‘mother’s dress’. This image was taken when I was 22 years old, the role was a reenactment of a Lady Mary Hastings of Queen Elizabeth’s court. She was a married woman with children, and Lita designed the gown to appear modest and mature (a closed partlet, natural colors, no excessive flash).

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Of all the costumes, this one wins the award for perfect fit! When one is reenacting history, and wearing a costume, it shouldn’t look like a costume. What the actor is wearing should look like their everyday clothing. In this gown, I actually felt like a normal woman going about my day, no tugging, adjusting, agonies (from cutting corsets or sharp and loose boning). The gown was not too heavy, no back aches or tripping over hems, the weight was perfectly balanced.

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I was very fond for how the collar was delicately tacked down with little gold beads instead of plastered around my neck. I can’t stand any clothing around my neck (I would have made a fussy Elizabethan having to wear all those starched lacy collars). I also loved the fabric textures and colors; natural color combinations can look every bit as rich as bright ones. And, I loved all the muted gold cording at the sleeve ties and around the hem of the overskirt, as well as the olive velvet lining the hem and running up either side of the forepart.

It was just the kind of simple yet noble gown I could see meandering around an English manor house in, and one Lita envisioned for that lady of history, something Lady Hastings might have worn on any normal day.

Pretty in Paisley

Lita and I are known to have long, animated conversations about costumes, history, and a variety of topics that fall within. We reference period films, look at printouts of centuries old paintings and discuss costumes we’ve seen here and there. And so, for each of her creations, we have a name for it so that parts of them can be easily referenced. This one is the paisley dress.

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These images were taken when I was 16, in the backyard taking a stroll. We named it the paisley dress because of the pattern in the bodice and forepart (which in these photos is tied up the front).

For an Elizabethan dress, an ornate forepart would be seen at a downward V at the front. However, how useful to be able to tie up the overskirt to save the fine forepart from damage in inclement weather!

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This was one of her first Elizabethan gowns, and though not worn with any frequency, found its way out of doors on a number of occasions. The farthingale was slight and we were not using a bumroll, so the silhouette was natural.

I absolutely adored the flaps of fabric at the bottom of the bodice, which gave it such a crisp look. The bodice was firmly made and the fabric itself was a striking gold and maroon.

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Of course, I felt like quite the lady! Nothing better than sauntering around the yard in a gown. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’ve done it a great many times.

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Lita was making me laugh, she always does. Over the years, she’s made it difficult to keep a straight face when it was most appropriate to do so. But what is life if you don’t laugh, and often!

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I don’t think my bangs were the appropriate hairstyle for the Elizabethan period, but they sure were when I was 16! Ah, costume nostalgia…think I’ll drive over and dig through Lita’s costume room, take another twirl in the yard. Oh wait, it’s only 7 degrees outside…that stroll may have to wait!

Feather Fans & Candlelight

These were taken when I was about 15 years old. Lita had the delightful whim to make an 18th century style dress, though there was no plan for the gown to be worn anywhere. In fact, this may have been one of the only times it was worn. The fabric was a very soft turquoise-blue color, a satin blend (stiffer, less wrinkly, less static).

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These were captured while I stood in the living room, taking the dress for a spin. I love that they are in black and white, though I wish we had some in color too. 18th century style gowns required panniers to extend the hips. Here however, pillows tied around my hips made substitute. I think her ensemble is charming!

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At that point, I didn’t have any particular interest in 18th century history, but every other period instead it seemed. However, we’d watched Dangerous Liaisons, The King’s Mistress, Amadeus and countless other period films that pointed that direction, more than a few times each. Period movie buffs, yes we were! And still are!! Where’s the popcorn and Raisinets?!

So, it is fun to find these photos where Lita was inspired to that era, long before we flew to Venice to don costumes for the Carnevale, and long before I’d started writing Venice, which nurtures that century and its clothing in detail throughout the book.

That’s an artist for you; their sewing machine (or brush or pen…) takes them wherever they are led to go, whenever inspiration bites. Love it!

Candy Canes On My Shoulders

Just starting college, I was fortunate enough to join the Guilde of St. George, a group reenacting the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Their home is the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI, though they also volunteer at schools, libraries and other venues, to share Elizabethan history. Here is Lita’s (the costumer) fabulous creation!red3.jpg

These first three images were polaroid photos! I guess we didn’t have time to spare, we needed the photos in hand immediately. They were taken in the spring just before my first summer in the guilde. Ah, the anticipation I felt! I’d already been attending Elizabethean dance and reenacting workshops all that spring.

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These were taken before the dress was completed. It is fun now to look at before and afters, as they remind you of the phases that a gown must go through to get the right fit. I was to wear this dress for about 10.5 hours each Saturday and Sunday for 9 weekends in weather that grew into the mid-nineties, and humid at that, over outdoor terrain (rocks, roots, hills). Even after dress rehearsals, I better understood how the dress and I were getting along, and Lita made some adjustments.

Here, the hem was yet to be measured. Lita already knew (with that clever-artist-sewing-brain), but I learned that the front must be higher (or you trip 50 times a day) and the back longer to cover the bum role to get the correct silhouette. Also, one must make the chemise sleeves longer than your shirt sleeves would normally be. Once you get the bodice on, it pulls the sleeves up and they’ll be too short otherwise.  I also learned that before you work with fabric, you must wash the fabric (even a few times). This is because, unwashed fabric inevitably either bleeds color or shrinks dramatically once exposed to rain or a spilled goblet of water.

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We also discovered that in spite of the excellent wire boning that was used within the bodice, a serious corsette (as every noblewoman reinactor in the guilde wears), is the only way to keep the bodice from folding at the tummy. The following season, Lita made one excellent corsette (which I think straightened me out and made me grow taller by 2 inches).

In the end (seen below at the faire), the cream petticoat (underskirt) was removed for this striped one. Did you know that Elizabethans wore stripes? Yes indeed! The cream would not do out of doors, as it became grimy with dust the first day. And, I had a serious thing for chocolate ice cream at the time, oops! The sleeve ties were removed in favor of hidden hooks and eyes as I get ribbons caught on everything.

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Though I’ve always said I have a favorite amongst all the gowns that Lita has made, it’s actually not true. I have a place in my heart for every one. What did I love about this gown? First, the pearls. I am a sucker for pearls. Those strands around my body…if it was acceptable to wear pearls like that today, strung and swinging around my torso, I’d be the lady to do it. I love how the pearls are dotted everywhere, even the hat. Secondly, Lita’s chemise was incredible. It is painstaking work to hand-fold the cotton at the neck and at the wrists before sewing it into the body of the shirt. That with the pretty little bands of color that played off the gown, loved it. But my favorite part? The upper part of the bodice was her best bodice work in my opinion. The stiff candy cane shoulder rolls and exceptional design kept the bodice from falling down my arms or shifting (I’ve got sloping shoulders and get pretty darn grouchy when my costumes shift about).

It was so exciting to be a part of the guilde that first season, and I learned a great deal of history. But you know what made such delightful memories? The workshops, the dance classes, and all the planning with Lita. We’re like history gossip girls when we get together, we can talk costumes and history for hours!

A Little Peasant Girl

This photo is a special one for me. Though not the very first costume, it was one of the first little renaissance dresses that my mother made for me. This was taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire when I was about eight years old.

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I, like other children who visit the festival, was fascinated with all the performances, games and shops. I couldn’t wait to go to this faire each summer, and we’d visit often during the 9 weekends that the festival is open. I remember waking up on summer Saturday mornings like it was Christmas, so excited to dress up and go to Bristol. We’d hop in my mom’s jeep and off we went, a whole day out of doors, cheered by the spectacles, the music, the sounds, the festival food.

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I was very, very happy. This was the time my excitement sparked for history, the root of where I became inspired to imagine and dream, the reason I became an insatiable reader and eventually a writer.

And though I’ve heard my mother say that her early creations were a little rough around the edges (because she was just teaching herself to sew), I’d say to all those aspiring to make costumes for your children and yourself, or in taking up any art form for that matter…imperfections don’t matter, the experience of making, your learning and the joy your creations give others, is what does.

This dress was perfect, mom.

Venice’s Fish Market

I don’t need any excuses to reminisce about Venice. However, we had a terrible snow storm yesterday that for me, led to one of those white knuckle driving experiences. There were cars stranded on the roads in what was a pure ice storm. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was shaking from cold, or the stress of being out at a dangerous time.

This morning, safe and sound as the world outside recovers, I fancy that I live in Venice where I don’t ever have to drive in dangerous conditions, because there are no cars. Where would I go, car-free this morning? The pescheria!

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Living in the middle of the U.S., I crave fresh seafood. So whenever I travel close to the sea, all I want to eat is fish and shellfish.

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With its place on the sea, Venice draws in fresh seafood every day for its restaurants and citizens to pick from. The variety of creatures for sale are amazing, leading to endless dishes!

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Always clean beds of ice; assured that your seafood is kept cool and fresh.

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I’m attracted to food displays where colorful fare is laid by type in heaps. The bounty and organized clutter looks like art to me! I always have to pull out my camera, whether tables of cheese or piles of shrimp.

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Those long crustaceans to the right are canocce, a kind of shrimp. They look like they have big black eyes, but those spots are actually at the end of their tails…maybe to frighten predators with?

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These are seppie (cuttlefish), which produce black ink to ward off predators when they are disturbed. In Venice, you can order spaghetti nero di seppie, which is pasta mixed with the ink of the cuttlefish. The pasta turns black, and though I haven’t tried it, it is said to make pasta whisper fresh flavors of the sea. Cuttlefish dishes are abundant in Venice; the animal is often stewed in its ink and served with pasta or risotto.

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Seafood heaven, what more can I say? I’d learn how to cook it all if I lived near a market like this.

What I especially love about seafood is how simple it is. When it is fresh, it doesn’t need a lot of fancy cooking and sauces. A little roast or steam, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of green garnish; let me sit to that table for a while!

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Ah well, I’ve enjoyed this momentary respite from the weather by thinking of Venice’s fish market. But alas, I must now bundle up and see how much ice remains on my car.

A chapter of Venice is dedicated to this fascinating place, where the boats pull up from the Grand Canal to deliver such bounty. If you want to take a stroll through the market, but can’t get to Venice just now, I hope you’ll enjoy my storytelling as you amble through the market in my book.

And as for those of you in Venice just now, please share something special about the market in the comments! We’d all like to know your favorite part about this spectacular, cultural, Venetian jewel!

The Itty Bitty Littles

Hello delicate dandelion…

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Soft, quiet, beautiful…swaying in the wind in a warm grassy field…

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But wait! What just bumped into you and disturbed your little seedlings?

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Who’s there? I think I hear tiny footsteps crunching through the grass…

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Oh my! An itty bitty little! What a pleasure to meet you!

Coming soon, teeny-tiny friends on a big adventure!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

Forbidden Fashions by Isabella Campagnol

A woman’s clothing, how she adorns herself, the makeup she wears, and her hairstyle…these things eternally hold very deep symbolism all the world over. It is often something that is controlled for the sake of modesty, honor and religious piety. What women wear, how they look, is the world’s obsession. It communicates whether she is of means or no, what she thinks about herself, what she wants others to think about her. It speaks of her personality and her beliefs. It speaks of a great many things.

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Isabella Campagnol offers us an incredible front row seat into what clothing and adornments meant for women in Venetian nunneries in her invaluable scholarly work: Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Venice (as with all of Europe) placed ladies into nunneries for centuries. You can read about it in my book Venice, as well as my other posts (Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven and Naughty Nunnery Parlors). Noble parents might have birthed 7 noble daughters, but inflated dowries meant only one, perhaps two of them could make an excellent match. The rest went into enclosure…forced, beaten, tricked, guilted into going. Yes, of course some went willingly and wanted this pious life. But most didn’t. Being a very young woman sent into a nunnery, to spend the rest of your life there completely closed off from the world, was a horrifying fate for many. And nothing could stop them from having worldly desires.

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As we see in Campagnol’s book, just because you’ve lost your worldly freedom doesn’t mean you’re going to follow the rules; Venice’s noblewomen broke them, again and again and again. From curling and showing ones tresses when they were to keep their hair completely covered, to transparent fabrics where solid ones should be, to hiding, coveting and wearing gems and adornments when these items were forbidden, to smuggling in or making and wearing every sort of item out of luxurious fabrics that were not allowed. Noble nuns even found ways to dye their hair in secret, wore makeup and furs. They wanted beauty, individuality, status, comforts, and freedom. Despite confiscations, punishments and shunning, the enclosed women pushed back.

Campagnol also shows us another side to the equation…a great many women who being disposed of, were left destitute of their basic clothing and linen needs. Once having lived in a comfortable world, they were now forgotten and left to suffer without a great many items, their urgent letters and requests falling on deaf family ears.

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Campagnol’s book is an eye-opening treasure. Undressing countless archives for the fashion facts, she gives us a glimpse into the sometimes dazzling yet often cruel world that many women experienced behind the veil.

All The Pretty Things

For some time, I had this blouse that was ill fitting. If I were honest, I don’t even think it fit properly the day I purchased it, but I loved the colors and the fabric so much that I bought it anyway. And every time I wore it, it just didn’t feel right. After many wears, I simply gave up.

For those who know me, I’m neither a shopper nor a keeper. I don’t like shopping for clothes at all, and when I’m through with a garment, I have no trouble throwing it away if it is ruined or giving it to charity if it isn’t. Only, I couldn’t part with this blouse! I’d look at it in the closet all of the time and knew that if I wore it, I’d just feel uncomfortable all day. But what to do with it?

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I have a lovely friend and mentor who is fabulous with a sewing machine. One day, she told me that together with her young daughter, they’d made little bags to give away as party favors for a birthday party, using fabric scraps. When I saw photos, I felt the outcome was exceptional…the kiddos at that birthday party went away with a very special gift to remember the event! And then, I thought of my blouse.

This photo is the result. This mother-daughter team repurposed my beloved blouse so exceptionally that I felt the quality was better than what I’d find in a shop. With what they were able to render from my top, there were three bags of different sizes made. I love them. I use them all of the time.

However, these are more than pretty bags. They embody re-use, and happily with an item I couldn’t part with. But also, they are caring craftsmanship by two ladies who were proud of the work of their hands, thus making something beautiful and useful. Rather than just another thing I own, they make me smile when I use them because they are special. They remind me of how lucky I am for the friendships in my life. And they remind me of what it means to not just gobble up yet another thing at the big chain store, but to value the good things in my life.

Naughty Nunnery Parlors

Below, Pietro Longhi’s The Visiting Parlour in the Convent.

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Do you know what Veronese means? It means you hale from Verona, much like Venetians come from Venice. Just as I am an Evanstonian living in Evanston! I’m a sucker for these little worldly details. What are folks from your town called? Share it in the comments!

Giuseppe de Gobbis was a Veronese painter who spent some time in Venice between 1772 & 1783. Some find his works reminiscent of Pietro Longhi (see previous post here). View this work by Giuseppe: A music party in the interior of a Palazzo. This painting is so rich with details about Venice’s late 18th century. See the caged canary hanging from the ceiling, the spectacular capturing of the clothing, the gold mountings below the large mirror, that couple carrying on a rendezvous behind the gentleman’s tricorne hat? Where’s my magnifying glass?

With a chapter written in my book Venice about the enclosure of noble ladies in the nunneries over the centuries, and my applause for Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven, and also having read Casanova’s retelling of his visits to nunnery parlors in his memoirs, I am also intrigued by this painting by Giuseppe de Gobbis: Parlatorio delle Monache (The Parlor of the Nuns).

Comparing the two, I think many may find it ironic that both of the paintings seem so festive (one without the nunnery, one within). How so, when nunneries were a place of enclosure and pious, careful behavior? True to history, I think it really depended on the decade and the nunnery itself. Some Venetian nunneries closed in the ladies so rigorously, that they would brick off even the slightest view a nun may get of street life. And it was also in those places that you would only be allowed a visit from a proven female relative, say your mother, with still an extreme partition between you both, and a devout nun would be keeping watch. A little too much gossip and giggles and you might be chastised! Ugh!

But then, we also find many accounts of scenes like Longhi’s above, and Giuseppe’s. Perhaps the later 18th century was more lax, but again, it depended on the nunnery. There are plenty of accounts where rules were bent. Say, on festival days when your whole family would come (men and women) and you’d share good food between far less oppressive grates. Musicians would be hired to keep the nuns merry. Games would be played. Only, it was at such times where one nun may begin flirting with another nun’s visitor (say a brother), and then the intrigue and sneaky behavior and passing of secret letters began…perhaps even an exchange of a kiss between those grates. You get the picture, laxity got a bad wrap and allowed for naughty behavior. Casanova knew this, and took advantage. Certainly, this type of romance had serious challenges, but that made it more interesting for a man like him, and plenty of others. We’ve got the written proof.

This week, I’m going to share another one of my favorite books…Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents by Isabella Campagnol. Her excellent research in this particular history proves not only enclosed nuns’ need for independence, personality and beautiful things, but also something to grab attention…say on that festival day in the nunnery parlor!