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Fabric a la Romantic Regency: A Glossary of Fabrics from Original Sources from 1795 – 1836 Paperback – November 5, 2013
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About the Author
I'm the owner of the Mantua-Maker Historical Sewing Patterns, established in 1994. My costuming career began early, making dresses for my sister's dolls. I discovered costuming at the BayCon masquerade, a science fiction convention held in 1985, and soon thereafter fell in love with historical costuming. After many years of collecting historical clothing terms, I decided to assemble and share them with other costume historians. I hope you enjoy my work.
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Anyone who even tiptoes through the Regency knows that fabric was as important to these people as the way it was cut. They were obsessed with it, and consequently, were constantly tossing around names of fabrics known to them that are long forgotten. Ms Salisbury says in her very good introduction, which I was allowed to see before purchase, that this is so, and makes it difficult to always have much of a definition of what a particular cloth was. I understand. What I was not permitted to see was a typical listing. If I had, I wouldn't have bought it. This very large book is an absolutely encyclopedic list of places in which the name of each cloth is found, with pieces of quotes from some of the sources, everything from a few words out of a 1797 dictionary to La Belle Assemblee to the Gazette. I don't own every copy of La Belle Assemblee. Even if I did, this would be cumbersome. And words from the reference without a picture are little help, discovering it was "an autumnal brown wrap-coat with sleeves of twill and sarcenet." Ok. So? What is sarcenet? I was expecting at least a couple of sentences describing this cloth - its typical uses, for rich ladies or middle-class, summer weight or winter, typical colors. What I'm instead generally left with is very little, and nothing I can put together without going to the sources cited. In truth I'm making it sound more helpful than it is. With a very common dress material, like sprig muslin, there is no statement concerning what it was, what it looked like, was it fashionable throughout the period, was it embroidered or block-printed, etc. I did find some small quotes that seemed to be instructions to a professional loom operator of the period. Again, not helpful. These references are great I suppose for someone doing in-depth research, but I was hoping for a couple of general sentences from the author herself. You don't get that. Therefore, some listings, like sarcenet, will give you a few dictionary words, "fine thin woven silk," others don't. It doesn't give you too much even at that. This listing starts with "a white crape petticoat" and a reference to the magazine I must dig up that may or may not offer a picture. Cumbersome, and not what I expected.
I saw her other book, Elephant's Breath and London Smoke, that was strictly colors, where you do get to see a typical entry. But I have several books on colors, as well as the invaluable OED, and therefore can almost always discover what a color was. OED doesn't usually discuss fabric, certainly not in anything like detail. So far, I can't find anything that does, in at least general and helpful terms.
That being said however, the book instead is chock-full of references to obscure fabric names from the period, complete with references from periodicals of the time. Woot! This is ever-so-useful if you spend a lot of time reading fashion descriptions and are wondering "What the hell is paduasoy?"
My only complaint is that the references are laid out in such a way that they are a little difficult to separate and decode: all of the references for one term are basically jammed into one paragraph, and it's like reading several hundred pages of footnotes.
So my feeling is this--it's an immensely useful book for academics and serious reproducers of historic costume. For anyone who would prefer to drool over some eye candy in a glamorous picture book, this one isn't going to be a good choice.
This book will not be AS useful in stand-alone form for the user who is wishing to peruse fabrics by category -- for instance, by evening dress. Rather, this is the book you turn to if you already HAVE a list of fabrics used for evening dresses, and you want to know what those terms actually mean (and see them used in context). :)
Additionally, the author notes that although one fabric might be described as the height of fashion one year, it may be deemed common in the next. For that reason, the dates of the sources have been provided so the reader can discern the popularity of a fabric by year.