How to make a Jane Austen era,18thc ,Regency gown ,a cheats guide ,for people who dont like sewing

Heres a very quick cheats guide to making a Regency era gown ,its the easiest way and needs nothing but a needle and thread ,some ribbon or cord and an hour or so .
There’s also some very brief background on Regency fashion and brief instructions for making some cheats versiosn of the under layers ,also at the foot of the page are some tips on Jewellery and hair.
 emma regency bonnet
You will need
1/ A sari sometimes spelled as Saree ,this will make the dresses skirt
2/A sari blouse,this will make the dresses bodice
3/ Cotton in the colour closest to the sari
4/ A needle
5/Something to use to lace up the back around 2 metres maximum less if your narrow chested .This can be very narrow curtain tie back cord or piping cord, narrow ribbon ,narrow jewellery making cord or at a pinch though not ideal string,This should be as close as possible to the sari fabrics colour.
6/ Cellotape ,gaffer tape or similar ,, Any sticky tape ,Elastoplast may work on some fabrics ,
7/Something pointy and sharp to make holes, a skewer that you use to test meat or cakes or for threading kebabs on ,a bradel or similar.
Time needed
between one and three hours
1/buy a Sari, these are very long Asian “dresses” though they are not actually a dress but a long piece of fabric with hemmed or otherwise finished edges ,these are wrapped around the body to give the distinctive Indian Sari outfit.Saris come in all style and qualities ,from plain cotton to jewelled silks.These were probably the source of many regency gown fabrics and there is likely to be a sari in the fabric you want
sari green
sari wedding
sari cotton
If you look at actual Regency gowns its easy to spot militaries in fabrics
regency traiend gown
regency ball gown

They usually around 5 metres. They often have a decorative front panel and the rest is either plain or a less elaborate pattern with an embroidered or otherwise detailed edge either side, this eliminates any need to hem your gown.
sari red 1
2/Buy a sari blouse,these come in all shapes and sizes some square necked ,some scoop necked ,some with puffed sleeves ,some with no sleeves so finding a neckline to suit your gown shouldn’t be too hard.Any sleeveless one will be good for an under gown but will need sleeves sewing in for use as a ballgown or day gown.Its also occasionally possible to find long sleeved ones but they are unusual

sair blouse  1
sari blouse 5
sair blouse puffed sleevs
sometimes blouses come with the saris and have matching trim on the sleeves as above ,this is the best choice as the colours will be identical which they might not be otherwise unless you buy plain white or black
sair white back lacing

Saris can be bought on ebay and some online Asian retailers ,or if you like in the UK from your nearest Asian store, Bombay Stores in Bradford is excellent.
OR you can buy a plain white sari blouse and a plain white sari or some white fabric or a white flat sheet ,a sheet means you wont need to hem anything .This plain white one could also be used as an underdress
3/ Note some sari blouses are closed at the front and have a small back lacing panel ,these are perfect as you will not even need to buy something to lace up the dress or do any sewing at the back.
4/If your blouse front fastens
sari front blouse
,sew up the front
sari blouse sewn
,cut the back up the middle
sari blouse cut
and turn over the edge ideally as narrow as possible and if possible twice to make it stronger at the lacing points, you could also turn it over a small length of cord to make it stronger
5/.you need to add some small holes to this with a barbecue skewer or cake/meat tester something long,narrow and pointed .
Its possible you may decide to leave adding cord or ribbon until you have sewn the skirt part onto the bodice,this makes it easier to sew the skirt on ,but harder to check what the whole dress will look like when finished before joining the skirt and bodice )
6/Use , around a meter or two metres of cord or ribbon ,,one metre if your very petite or more if your very busty.You can use narrow ribbon ,though ideally narrow cord ,curtain cord or jewellery making cord is best
7/.cellotape the edges of the cord and thread it through the holes ,you may need to poke it through the holes with the end of a pencil or blunt pointy object.
7.Tie knots in the end of the cord
The skirt part
1/ Unrole the sari and put it as flat as possible ,if it has a front decorative panel either cut this off
sari 2
or use it as a front panel on your gown.
green sari
(this also shows how your dress will look hwne the blouse/bodice and skirt are attached)
The easiest way if your a non sewer or cant view the dress on a mannequin or friend is to just remove it as it avoids the need to match the front pleats perfectly.(You could hem this panel and use it as a shawl if you leave a reasonable sized piece but don’t leave yourself short for the dress)
1A/If your under 5.4 and need the dress to touch the floor in flat shoes your lucky and don’t need to do any further cutting or much sewing.If your over 5/4 and only 5/5 /5.6 don’t mind having the dress skim your ankles you can likewise get by ,If your over that height ou will either need to cut the sari into strips long enough to touch the floor and sew each strip together to make a long strip then hem them or use the sari as it is add a trim or lace around the bottom of the finished dress to make it floor length.
2/ cut a narrow strip ,,only 4 inches wide is needed though 6 inches is best of the sari fabric ,this will go under the lacing panel on your blouse to avoid showing a gap when the dress is laced, ideally this should be stitched on and hemmed all around the edges but you could just hem the top or iron the top over and push it under the bodice when its on and not bother edging it as it wont be seen.
3/ gather or pleat the sari fabric so it looks as close as possible to a regency shape skirt,For non sewers the easiest is gathers ,you can just tie a know in the end of the cotton then do big long stitches and pull them together to make gathers,try to make the gathers mostly at the sides and back and keep the front fairly flat .This finished gathered part needs to fit around your chest just below your bust.You can check this by trying it against your bra ,crop top etc leave a few inches leeway and cut a straight opening around 6 inches long at the center of the back ,the shorter this is the better as its only to let you pull the dress over your head and is not going to fasten closed .If wanted hem this gap or iron the rough edges over so they don’t show.
3a/ For anyone wanting an accurately pleated skirt to their gown regency gowns are usually flat at the front then pleated and full at the back .
beents again
4/Arrange the gathers or pleats so they are very full near the gap and go slightly over it to hide the opening then try it actually on you.
5/Sew this “skirt” onto the bottom of the sari blouse either by turning the blouse inside out and sewing both insides /wrong sides together ,this is the neatest way .Or if you really don’t like to sew you can just sew it to the blouse ,as neatly as possible and hide the join with a big sash or piece of trim ,,this wont look good enough to wear without a sash or belt though.
6/turn the dress right side out and try it on .
7/if its a bit too loose you can just over over the lacing panel more and re add the tape.if its too short you can buy trim or lace and sew it around the hem.
8/you have your Jane Austen gown.

regency golden gown
you can make a regency “bra” by using Sari blouse and cutting out the sleeves and making a bigger neck leaving a very wide arm hole and narrow strips around the neck ,hem these edges or buying a sleeveless low back sari blouse
.Alternatively to give the impression of Regency stays being worn under your gown or to get the Pride and Prejudice Eliza Bennet look you can wear a balconette bra or underwired non padded bra,Balconettes give the closest shape to a Regency pair of boned stays.
bennet 1
.A non wired unpadded bra or cropped internal support vest top will give a softer look.
beent keira
2/Regency underskirt ,again use a sari blouse cut out the sleeves sew a narrower panel of fabric around the bottom in the same way as for the actual dress but it needs to not be gathered at the front and not as full ,either plain white sari fabric, sheeting or white cotton curtain voile .If you don’t have much fabric you can make it very narrow and put a split up the back or sides.
If you cant get a sari blouse cut a long strip of sheeting or cotton voile curtain make sure this is long enough to be ankle length.
sew the edges together making a long tube of fabric and gather this to a width that fits over your bust and directly under your arms,,as though it was a bath towel wrapped around you .
Sew ribbons or similar onto this strip of fabric ,ideally this needs to be one piece to make a strap either side ,but if this is likely to be difficult to get right you can just sew toe pieces of ribbon each side ,the put it on ,tie the ribbons tighter at your shoulders and either leave them tied or sew the ends together.
sometimes Saris have matching shawls called dupattas.
duppatta paisly
If not these dupattas can be bought fairly cheaply at Asian stores or online, they are long rectangular shawls and probably what where the original regency shawls were.You can also buy a large plain or paisley pashmina as these are also a good shape ,Regency shawls were very long rather than square.
regency shawl
regency shawl 1
outerwear ,spencers
Directions for making a Spencer in half an hour can be found on another post .though a contrasting blouse could again be used,ora retailerd and cut short cropped jacket, instructions in my next post
 regency gown
Hats ,headdresses and Bonnets
I will also do a post soon on how to make a regency bonnet from a sun hat or modern hat in an hour
Alternatively you can buy a Turban and add feathers and trims or just feathers
tiara and feather
,these can be bought from Asian Stores. Another option is to buy a velvet Beret and again add feathers. Tiaras came into fashion at this time so a simple Tiara in an appropriate style of jewelled headband can work for balls.
a plain pearl or coral necklace
regn necklace
A delicate diamanté necklace for balls or double sign of coral ,pearls etc
regenc necklace

or for day time a very simple cross with stones set into it or nothing at all.
reg necklace

This will be difficult to do accurately unless your good with curling tongs and have at least shoulder length hair.
For a simple style you can just pull it back to the back of your head and make a bun.For daytime you can cover the join between your own hair and hairpiece with a strip of fabric folded and tied

I have a hairpiece that has ringlets attached ,pull my hair into a bun and pin this over it ,you could also use a clip on short curly ponytail hairpiece.Use lots of hairspray

I now have a post on how to make a cheap and very easy Regency hat or bonnet

I am planning posts on other items such as a cheats guide 30 minute  Spencer  and a guide on how to make parasols Reticules and pockets

Posted in 18thc, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Haworth 1940s weekend a cheats guide to the 1940s look

As Haworth 1940s weekend is this Saturday ,heres brief cheats guide to looking authentic without buying vintage 40s clothing,which while  being without doubt the most desirable option is often not practical especially if like myself  you are curvy and big footed as most 1940s ladies clothing is very petite and shoes are often  small sizes and quite narrow fitting.Luckily there was a trend for 1940s clothing and shoes in the 1980s and many of these clothes look surprisingly like 40s originals .All the clothing below (except for the fur and hat )is vintage 1980s from charity shops ,though  given time is best to shop around vintage shops and on ebay or etsy it’s also possible to pick up bargains at local charity shops.
Good brands to look out for are Hobbs for jackets and skirts ,coast for jackets,skirts and stunning vintage look evening gowns. Older Laura Ashley dresses and jackets can be good,the blue jacket in the photos is a vintage Laura Ashely.Primark is often a good place to find vintage look faux furs and seamed stockings or tights


The ideal is to find a jacket and skirt that look close enough in colour to be a suit,while both the above and below ensembles are obviously not colour perfect matches this wont be too noticeable while the outfits being worn with accessories .
A straight or slightly Aline skirt is best as these are the easiest to find and match to jackets.skirts should not be split at the back unless the split is hidden in a kick pleat and not too short no more than an inch above knee height at most.Its also authentic to wear pleated skirts but these are often harder to match to jackets
Jackets need to be nicely tailored ,either with a little flounced peplum waist or cut in a fairly masculine way . For skirts and jackets wool or wool look synthetic fabrics work best.

1940s haworth 2


I also often buy more recent vintage clothing ,from the Hitchcock blond fashion trend around 2004 as even the 1980s clothing can be a little bit too small on the bust and hips for me and is much more difficult to maintain as it often creases whereas modern fabrics are much more crease resistant .If you can afford it splash out on new clothing then a trip to Boundary Mill ,to a Hobbs, Coast ,Laura Ashley or Debenhams will probably yield results.

brown suit apothacvires

haworth 1940s 1

To go under your “suit” you need a 40s look blouse ,something in muted colours is best ,either with a wide collar or a peter pan style collar as these two styles have been popular recently so are quite easy to find online or in charity shops.I prefer either plain silk blouses or polka dot cotton blouses with peter pan collars.Muted very small print florals can also work but these are harder to match to skirts and jackets so if your only using the outfit once its best to keep to easy to match colours.

to give the outfit an authentic look its necessary to add  accessories .

The main essentials are a 40s style hat and a fur which can be a mink ,squirrel or fox cape or stole .
cindy 40s weekend
The most instantly recognisable 1940s fur is the  fox with its head and legs etc still attached (The reason so many 1940s furs have their heads and legs is that furs made into coats ,stoles capes etc without their legs and head were subject to rationing  and you would need to have the required number of ration tokens to buy it.whereas anything with limbs or its head was classed as a pelt and excluded from rationing .Furs are not always expensive while am artic fox can cost well over one hundred pounds a small mink can  usually be bought for single figures and if you willing to buy something slightly less than perfect its also possible to pick up stoles and foxes.

If you dont like to wear fur then its still possible to look the part but it requires much more work as other details will need to be much more precise.
last 40s talk

try to focus on a stunning hat and eye-catching bags or jewellery. Also to required if you will be outside are gloves  and a handbag .
To complete the look a pearl necklace and earings,perhaps a brooch. While there was a great variety of 1940s costume jewellery pearls are the best and easiest to find choice. Many supermarkets and stores will have simple pearl necklaces and though one were the pearls are graduated in size is more historically accurate any short necklace made of small pearls will look great. If you want something a bit different try an AB crystal necklace,these will need to be bought vintage but are often easier to find cheaply than genuine 1940s pearl necklaces which can be expensive as charity shops have begun to realise re enactors brose them and increased the price of things they consider “1940s y (sometimes to prices substantiality more expensive than an actual vintage shop) wereas AB necklaces are not popular and tend to still be in the cheap sections and can be picked up for a couple of pounds or less.AB or Aurora Borealis chrystals are the sparkling clear crystals that reflect different coloured light ,they are usualy cut with a lot of facets .
ab necklace
A gas mask is essential for complete accuracy as they had to be carried at all times when out ,though my friend gets around this by carrying an 1945 newspaper so she says its the end of the war.It is also possible to buy empty gas mask boxes to carry and as no one ever sees inside the box this is a cheap and easy solution, the empty box is also much lighter than a box and mask.

haworth 1940s 3A  bag of some kind is another essential ,unlike today no woman would go out without a handbag ,,at a pinch a  nw or preferably vintage shopping basket will do ,maybe you have one  left over from school cookery classes ?,even a modern new one is a great alternative to a genuine 1940s handbag which are usually very expensive

40s-shot gloves

.If you prefer a bag or are going to an event such as a dance were a basket obviously isn’t an option finding bags that look like 1940s bags can be hard as far as handbags go but some 1980s clutch bags are quite convincing and there has recently been a trend towards retro style clutch bags so a visit to Primark or a similar store might bear fruit ,try to keep to muted colours as though some 1940s bags were quite bright most were fairly conservative colours and certainly darker colours give a more “vintage” impression. I would remove any clip on straps as they wouldn’t usually have been used.(often 1940s clutch bags have a loop at the back to loop through your hand ).If you do buy vintage make sure its a 1940s style not the similar 1950s style.Avoid patent leather as these are most likely to be later bags .Its also best to try to find single strap bags as while 1940s style did sometimes have two handles or even shoulder straps the iconic 1940s bag is the single handled clasp top bag.

re tea dances or evening events

If you can ,try to find short dress not a long  one as either a faux 40s or genuine 1940s dress such as the satin one below .A wrap dress style in silk or wool or a button front style in silk cotton or wool are the style that are easiest to wear ,bias cut dresses look beautiful but are hard to wear if your not tall and skinny and also hard to source underwear for as modern cut knickers may leave lines ,but so will the catches from suspenders .
cream fox cerise dress
If you buy a short dress can easily be teamed with a jacket if you need to go  to other outside events whereas a long evening gown is only useful for indoor night events.

me and tilly 40s

As can be seen in the full length shots  of my outfits I usually wear high heeled shoes ,1940s shoes were often quite high ,I tend to wear either brogues or peep toe shoes as these are the two most well-known 40s styles.Suede looks authentic for peep toe shoes while brogues are best in plain black or brown.
Due to war time shortages shoes were not infrequently made with fabric and wood or cork was also sometimes used often for wedge heels but these styles though authentic tend to look more modern Again Primark can be fruitful for peep toe shoes.Tesco also occasionally have quite authentic looking 40s styles .Ladies did wear flat shoes but its harder to find authentic looking replica flat shoes and 1940s ones are very hard to find in sizes above uk 4 or 5

1940s womenA mistake sometimes made is to wear pointed toe high heels  or narrow heels which were not in fashion until the 1950s,,I forgot to change my shoes before this photo below was taken and it does spoil the effect.

haworth 1940s 4

Seamed stockings or tights add a nice authentic detail but should be flesh coloured not grey or black,It is possible to draw lines on the backs of each others legs but much harder than you might imagine to get the lines straight and in the uk bare legs can be chilly .

All the hats I have worn above are replica hats made specially for me however you can easily cheat and buy a 1980s wide-brimmed hat and modify it ,I had hoped to go a brief tutorial on how to do this but unfortunately I have not yet done so .Some 1980s wide-brimmed hats can be used as they are. Others if you remove the maribou or ostrich feathers and replace them with pheasant feathers look pretty good.If you do want to try restyling ,take a modern felt hat or even one of the posh school hats ,then cut two thirds of brim from the crown.Twist this free part of brim around to create an interesting shape,tack it in place and perhaps add a feather,any offcuts of the hat fabric can be cut into leaf shapes to decorate the hat .A google search for 1940s hats will give some ideas for styles.
school hat restyled

The hat above is made from an old school hat the brim was cut almost completely off leaving a narrow strip of fabric it was then twist slightly and stitched at an angle to the crown, I also cut the crown slightly to curve to the head, smaller hats will need a hat pin to keep them in place and indeed most hats feel easier to wear if you put a hat pin in them .To use a hat pin push it into the hat so its not sticking out then put the hat on and push the hat pin through your hair style and out of the hat the other side,this is safer than trying to just push the hat pin straight in while your wearing the hat .If yopu cant buy a hat you can wear a headscarf twisted or folded into a narrow strip and tied at the top of your head but this is not particularly authentic unless your in an informal environment or dressing as a worker
For gloves
any neatly cut plain leather or faux leather pair work well and you may already have some or be able to pick them up easily and cheaply from stores.If you prefer vintage a pair of little crochet gloves such as those seen in the photo of me with the shopping basket are the prettiest and cheapest option ,nylon gloves are often later 1950s or 60s and are also really hot to wear. Vintage gloves can be tiny or narrow fitting ,I have fairly small hands and need a sz 7 which I would imagine is the smallest size likely to fit modern ladies hands though perhaps for crochet gloves you may just get away with a sz 6.5 .

Lastly make up

The make up for the 1940s is fairly pale compared to modern tanned look foundations though not as pale as in earlier decades.The key thing is pale foundation ,flesh coloured or very pale eyeshadow and a red lipstick ,pillar box red or something similar as though not all lipstick was red it was very popular  is the look most associated with the 1940s .
For hair if you have short hair or don’t want to put your hair up ,buy a wide brimmed hat and you don’t need to worry about styling it ,if your hair is long enough then you can wear it looped up at the front in two v shapes but to do this you need something under your hair to get the height ,little hair cushions on combs can be bought but if you don’t have any roll up a couple of pieces of faux fur or velvet and roll your hair over these. You will need lots and ,lots of very stiff hairspray ,maximum hold ,spray it as you go along with your make up ,spray it again when your finished and again before you leave and if you have space take the hairspray with you as Haworth’s often breezy ,my hair will usually still stay up even without the hairpins.
I hope these are helpful hints
Have a lovely time at your event .

related posts
hair styles on youtube

footnote .
some ladies needed to kit out their menfolk so heres a little added bit.
I am not overly experienced at searching out mens clothing how ever I do have to kit out my husband and have friends who had helpful hints
John wears a wide lapel jacket which I think is actual vintage 40s but a vintage 80s jacket would work too and plain trousers (without turn ups as turn ups were not allowed under the clothing restrictions) He makes it look more 40s like with a civil defence arm band.Under the jacket he wears a modern shirt and either a bow tie or narrow tie and fedora hat.If you can pick up a waistcoat that would make a nice addition . He also has a back up James Herriot style outfit ,tweed jacket ,corduroy trousers brogues.A friend has a fairly easy outfit ,he wears a long old fashioned mens overall ,like the shopkeeper from open all hours ,he wears a normal shirt ,bow tie and flat cap .
for easy to find mens hats you can get flat caps ,tweed caps or Indianana Jones style hats ,Bowlers hats are also fairly easy to find but expensive.
Flat caps and tweed caps are usually available in charity shops ,The Souke Haworth also has them usually as well as a lot of great mens jackets and hats ,John also got his civil defence armband from there and they are fairly cheap .
I don’t advise uniforms for men who are not regular re enactors as they are hard to get entirely right and often expensive .You might be able to create a faux navel outfit with a roll neck jumper and captains cap from a fancy dress shop ,,think captain birds eye ,,or you could just wear a Breton style cap and say your one of the seamen who manned the small crafts for Dunkirk.
It should be noted that wearing a none allied forces uniform may mean that your movements are limited,Pickering doesn’t allowed Gemrans on trains and you have to stay in Le vishem which is levishem but for the war weekend acts as enemy occupied France .
German uniforms are not accurate for homefront 1940s weekends and are often unwelcome .In many places “enemy forces ” are not allowed on trains or other transport and genuine vintage German uniforms can have extremely unpleasant provenances .Herr flick might seem a fun choice and fairly easy if you already have a long leather coat but SS officers were never the nice guys and were never seen on mainland Britain in uniform.
see below

Posted in Hathaways of Haworth, Haworth and Oxenhope, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , | 10 Comments

How to put victorian or replica victorian clothing on

corset sign

Just a very quick post on dressing in period costume as WGW is coming up and Haworths going steam punk in Nov

The most important thing is highlighted in the Goth day public service announcement

First some donts

If your wearing a steel boned or steel busk corset ,put  your stockings and shoes on first

Dont wear tights unless your not going to need the loo while in costume.

Next the layers

1 /chemise layer  ,this goes under your corset to stop the corset rubbing idealy a long chemise or camisole top and petticoat ,or you can use almost anything else a thin strappy long vest top ,a cotton strappy hippy top, a strappy nightdress



edwardian lace petticoat

2/ Corset layer

The corset now goes on any structural undergarments ,hoop ,bustle ,bustle cushion ,


Petticoats layer ,.

either one petticoat over the structural underlayers or one to add fullness to the skirts .I usually wear  at least one basic one and one decorated one with a taffeta or lace trimmed hemlines or a trained  petticoat with bustle gowns

For 1830s/40s you will need several petticoats but they dont need to be decorated.They can add a lot of weight however ,I found that I average between 1 and 2 stones of  outfit


Dress and extras layer

Put on your dress, add lace collar and cuffs or pelerine or  ribbon and lace collar etc ,this is what makes the gown look correct.

Avoid any jewelry with sparkly stones unless you playing someone very rich ,paste jewels were considered tacky by the middle classes ,black jet look-alike jewelry ,bone looking plastic, mother or pearl ,small pearl brooches or portrait miniatures work well

essential accessories

Fan ,,it’s no fun at all in hot weather or hot rooms wearing Victorian costume unless you have a fan to help you keep cool

Little bag/reticule /pocket

Its essential asd you wont have pockets or a modern handbag  to have somewhere to put change ,hankies ,phones fans

desirable Extras


Mittens or gloves

No lady would go out without gloves or possibly mittens and most wore mittens in the house and evening /opera  gloves which reached upper arm  or night time events or dinner (see above)


No lady would leave the house without a bonnet or hat

bonnet side view

Married ladies would wear a cap or some token piece of lacetrimed ribbon in the house in the early years of the reign

Shawl /cloak

Again no lady would leave the house without them and a shawl is handy if your moving around in drafty places in a wide shouldered dress

Parasol /Brolly

This is a pleasant extra as in hot weather it does stop you feeling too hot and in rain it reduces the amount of extra weight your likely to be a carrying from rain-soaked clothing any outfit will have around 10 metres of fabric and many up to metres so thats a lot of fabric to get wet

Vintage handkerchief

Faux vintage pocket watch.




Posted in 18thc, 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

1480 to 1600 ,When women ruled the world, part one

margret of Austria

While  it is common to bemoan the fate of women in the late medieval /early renaissance period I would suggest that it was in fact a time when women shaped Europe’s history and made changes that are still felt in our modern world.In this first of a series of posts I will give a very  brief introduction to the Queens ,duchesses ,ladies and princesses who helped shape our modern world.Many were not particularly likable but all played a role in shaping Europe.

The  period between 1480 and 1600 was a time when either officially or unofficially women ruled much of Europe for most of the time ,either in their own names or by controlling husbands  or sons who ruled .It is true that many of these women were in some respects  powerless victims,Margret Beaufort was married as a child and had her first and last child Henry Tudor  at the age of  13 ,Katherine of Aragon was  discarded by her husband and died in poverty ,Anne Boleyn was executed once Henry VIII tired of her ,Mary Tudor was wife to a younger husband who though she was devoted to him  had little love for her ,Mary Stuart through unwise marriages ended her days as a prisoner of Elizabeth I (who perhaps learning from the mistakes of both Marys remained unmarried).Yet despite the overwhelming odds stacked against women in  the 15th and 16th centuries these women overcame the odds and made a huge impact on their world and ours for either good or ill

In upcoming posts I will cover ,,


Isabella of Castile

Isabella drove the “Moors” from Spain ,she spent much of her adult life on military campaigns . By her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon she helped  to create  modern Spain. Despite being married  her husband Ferdinand did not control her lands she remained ruler  of them herself.If Isabella and Ferdinand had not removed the moors from spain its possible Spain would have remained Muslim up until the present day .Had Isabella not acted as sponsor to Christopher Columbus Spain would not have had any input to the  USA nor would the conquistadors have troubled the latin American countries for better or worse the Aztecs reign would have continued .She also expelled the Jews from Spain and sadly increased persecution of non Christians but she thus facilitated  the advance of science in other countries as Jewish doctors and scholars feld .She was succeeded by her daughter Juana ,,though only briefly as Juana became increasingly mentally unbalanced  .

Margret Beaufort


Mother of Henry Tudor later to be Henry VII .She began her life tragically ,married  very young (she was probably  between 11 and 12 ).Her husband who was twice her age .She gave birth at 13 to her only child Henry by which time she was already a widow .Yet Margret overcame all the odds to become the mother of the first Tudor King.Without Margret it is extremely unlikely Henry Tudor would have become Henry VII  as it was primarily by her plotting and support Henry managed to invade England and win at  Bosworth .Without Margaret there would be no Tudor dynasty.

Katherine of Aragon

white band-Catherine_aragon

While often seen as Henry VIII boring first wife ,it was Katherine who shaped much of Henry’s early policy and it was under Katherine’s command that England won the battle of  Flodden against the  Scots ,the battle saw the death of not just the king but also much of the nobility of Scotland.By refusing to comply to Henrys demand for an end to their marriage she created a situation were the reformists gained power and England became  more isolated from Europe.

Anne Boleyn


The determination of Henry VIII to cast off  Katherine for Anne and the way both women dealt with the situation shaped Tudor society and culture and a widespread and lasting effect on our lives It is unlikely that the protestant reformers would have had the success in England which they did without Anns protection .Anne was a determined supporter of the reformers and her copy of Tyndale’s New testament still survives.

Queen Mary 1

mary tudor

Always in the shadow of her half-sister Elizabeth Mary Tudor is yet an interesting figure in her own right ,sadly responsible for the creating of an anti catholic bias in the English mind which lasted for many centuries  ,she was also the first woman ever to rule England in her own right and by popular consent.

Elizabeth 1


The influence of Elizabeth’s reign impacted on almost every aspect of modern life in the UK ,our culture ,our trade ,our prejudices and our belief in what it is to be English .

Catherine de Medici

Catharina Medici

Not an independent  monarch in her own right,she ruled through her sons  and played a key role in the politics  of Europe,The years during which her sons reigned is often called the age of Catherine de Medici .She made real changed in Frances policy while unfortunate events such as the St Bartholomew’s day massacre created such a powerful full memory that it had lasting repercussions for Roman Catholics .The Massacre is now largely forgotten but at the time it stunned Europe ,Its effect can probably best be summed up as correlating to the effect of 9/11.

Mary Stuart the Queen of Scots

black dress mary

While Mary was rather a tragic and ineffective ruler ,she ruled as queen in Scotland briefly and provided a son James who was to unite mainland Britain under one monarch.The rule of Mary and Elizabeth made  mainland Britain for a while at least a place entirely under the governance of queens.

whether directly as queens Regnant or regents  or indirectly as queens consort for much of the 16 th Century much of Europe’s history  was being shaped by women.

Margaret of Austria

margret of Austria

Governor of the Netherlands

Navarrese  Queens

Navarre is interesting as it had several queens throughout its history and five between the mid 15th and late 16thc century .Navarre had two  queens during the 16th c who played roles in European politics Catherine and Joan III it was also home to the  the influential  queen consort  Marguerite.

While these are likely to be the only  queens covered in depth there are many other interesting ladies worthy of note

In Russia

Between 1533  and 1538 Elena Glinskaya  ruled as regent .

Eleanore of Toledo

 eleanorElizabeth Woodville

eliz woodvil

Elizabeth  of York


Elizabeth Bathory


Posted in 15thc, 16thc/17thc, history | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Early Tudor white band unimportant mystery or the key to Tudor gown construction?

As I have been working my way through the Tudor era I have been doing further research on the puzzling white band that appears in many early Tudor portraits. The result is this rather long post. I have put forward an assortment of possibilities with arguments for and against each .The white band is a narrow strip of fabric that goes around the shoulders of ladies in an assortment of English portraits from the early and mid Tudor era.

annehorenboutThe band can be seen here going around the shoulders and down the bodice front .There seems no reason for this band in this portrait or most others .


the sole exception is this Holbein sketch were it appears to be holding up the skirts

YoungEnglishWomanHolbein white bandI do not however think that the white band in this case is necessarily holding up the skirts its seems to terminate a little above the garter but if it is indeed holding up the skirts I think it unlikely to be representative of its use in the portraits of upper class women All Tudor ladies seem to have usually let their gowns trail  as theres several comments about trained gowns and also about the middle class womens gowns trailing in mud .Where gowns were lifted they seem to have been back pined

three_ladies back lacing

I know there are several theory’s ,perhaps it is part of the undergown /chemise showing through much as the chemises in Italian portraits  do .

Italian-1520 white band

We have a portrait of Katherine of Aragon  wearing a gown in what appears to be a similar style so it is possible

kath sleeves

.It does explain its  appearance and disappearance  which can  be accounted for by a change in lacing in the gowns.

Early Tudor gowns front  usualy fastened  such as the one Elizabeth of york is shown wearing in  her famous portrait .


and in the Whitehall mural obviously front fasten and have no band

whitehall mural detail

A further portrait also  shows  Catherine of  Aragon wearing a gown that  appears to  fasten at the front,Though in Catherine’s case there is a panel pined across the front.On these gowns trim and neckline decoration is attached to the gown (This is the reason I usually attach trims to gowns which I design and sell as I feel there is some evidence to suggest that at least some less expensive trim was attached to the overgowns in the early Tudor age)


I  do think it possible Tudor gowns went through a side lacing phase as Holbein’s famous sketch shows a gown that appears to neither front nor back laced and the lady has the mysterious white band

holbein front and back gown.Later Tudor gowns either back lace or front lace with a panel pined across over the lacing and the white band accordingly disappears .


I think this unlikely however as both the Holbein sketch of a young woman walking and other sketches show the band with front fastening gowns.

It more likely that the Band in its early stages  is linked to sleeves style and attachment.Tudor gowns change shape in the early decades of the 16thc and it’s During this time the white band appears and perhaps may have covered  not just the side lacing of the  new style gowns  but also have covered the attachment lacing for the sleeves  or to cover pins and protect the gown from any pins etc used to attach the gowns sleeves.This function would hold good even for back lacing gowns as tie on sleeves would still need covering


Though I have to do further research I am also not convinced that all Tudor gowns acquired integral sleeves  either during the White band era or later as I have so far found it impossible to create the later  very wide necked and tight sleeves style with integral sleeves without the sleeves constantly falling off the shoulders.Its also very difficult to get any full sleeved chemise through these tight sleeves.I think its very possible some if not all Tudor gown sleeves were separate to the gowns

maria be medicei seperate sleeves

overgown undergown sep sleeves

Though I confess if this is the case I cant figure out how the sleeves attached as theres clearly no lacing holes in the Jane seymour portrait .The sleeves could only have attached to a layer under jewelled neckline billiment layer and so be hidden by the billiments as above and in later portraits such as the master John Portrait of Mary Tudor

princess mary tudor neckline

Perhaps  instead the tight top part of the sleeve was closed laced sleeve that devloped from tie /pin on sleeves


If you added underlacing to the sleeves above you would have a gown very like the Princess Mary Tudor gown

Or perhaps the  tight sleevs formed part of another gown with a sleevelss gown or bodice  of the same fabric above 1545 bodice  Christoph Amberger (1505-1562) A Woman

If the overgown was sleevelss or had tie on sleeves i also explains  how the undersleeves in so many paintings  such as the Jane Seymour portrait were attached and matched the visible part of the petticoat.Perhaps the expensive fabric  lower under sleeves evolved from separate lace on sleeves and did in fact form part of the undergown ensemble

Its also possible the upper sleeve was not a full sleeve but was merely a piece of fabric pined around the shoulders like a more complex version of the shawl partlets If you contrast the dress below with the image showing a shawl partlet it is a possibility.

tudor  sperate gowns CleveJoosPortraitAngietevavndenRijne

partlet fur hood

If this si so theres three gown sleeves showing in portraits.
The tight sleevelss or very short sleeved over gown ,
A longer full sleeve from an under gown
and a further sleeve from another undergown .
As with the skirts of any undergown only the visible part of these sleeves needed to be made of expensive fabrics ,while slashing in the lower parts would allow the chemise to show through. Some images  of earlier gowns suggest the undergown had eleborate and intergral sleeves covered by shorter overgown sleeves

under sleevs over sleevslucas-van-leyden-the-game-of-chess

However to return to the mystery of the Band .I feel it has implications that go beyond the gowns construction and influence headress construction .The band seems fairly sturdy linen perhaps even stiffened linen as it seems very similar to the linen that sticks out from the bottom of gable hoods .As mentioned earlier I dont belive it can have usualy been a chemise as it  also seems to appear in front lacing gowns were a chemise could not have been visible at the sides.(This can be seen in the second image at the top of this post where the woman has no a front fastening gown but still has the white band)The  preliminary  sketch for the portrait  also shows this (the sketch below is a later copy  but  to identical to the original except in the use of colour.(where I have been unable to find suitable online images of originals I have used these later coloured copies but only having compared them to originals)


The white bands always lie above any Chemise or lie under a partlet layer in both sketches and portraits such as this of Lady Moore.In this portrait there’s also a suggestion that the gable hood linen layer is a layer onto which is pined the fold of the lappets of gable hoods(This will be shown to be important later in the post)

More by follower of Hans Holbein (private collection) bottom

The Alice Moore portrait also shows the band seems to curve around the arm hole and stops at waist level quite abruptly

white band-Catherine_aragonIn the Catherine of argon portrait it also curves under the arms slightly and in other sketches

dauncey hoblein white band

I personally feel the most likely and flexible answer is the white band was used not just to cover lacing fixtures but also to hold billiments or other expensive trims and ,the jewels and beadwork could be tacked to the white band then a few limted pins could hold it in place and also that uit acted as a protective layer between the expensive fabrics  of the bodice in order to attach the  multitude of chains popular at this time ,it seems to serve that function in the Alice More portrait and the one below

white band mary guildford

The white bands  further use was perhaps to protect the bodice from Partlet fastenings or pins as some partlets seem to have been cape like and occasionally shawls were used.(I realise the portrait below doesnt show a white band ,however I could not find the portrait I wanted to use and did in any case merely want to show the cape /shawl like partlet as I doubt this style could have stayed in place without pins

partlet fur hood

If the white band served this function it explains why also used during the side lacing phase then its continuation could be accounted for by covering ties or lacing on the sleeves on later gowns but not on others which may have been in the back lacing or the earlier front fastening style though its possible what we assume to be a full overgown may not be but rather a  later tighter laced closed version of the early tudor late medieval gowns


If you lace the blue gown above closed enough for the skirts part to meet than add a panel to cover the lacing you have the typical Tudor gown

meltonconstableparr raised vlevletThus combining the Front lacing and over panel design with the earlier short sleeved gown

Why is the white band often absent if it covered sleeve  lacing holes on  early Tudor gowns ?

I would suggest the reasons its  puzzling compleat  absence  on some early portraits such as the famous National portrait gallery Anne Bolyn  one  below is also easily accounted for


These are later copies that removed what seems odd and unnecessary  items  or details ,perhaps also they were based on sketches that didn’t clearly show a band.The portrait above also simplifies the French hood and shows billiments attached to it  .The 1530s seems also to be a transitional phase in the White band ,non white band phase ,perhaps as it’s the time front and ,back lacing gowns begin to be more popular

Developement of the band

The white band if it  had an extra purpose  as place to pin billiments ahs other implication.I do not belive that billiments where integral to under gowns  once ,back and side lacing phases developed . it’s at this time it becomes popular to match billiments on hoods to those on gowns and occasionally even necklaces and girdles,the Billiments may have been attached to undergowns but this seems unlikes as it would make it harder to wear the billiments with different gowns .The  more elaborate  jeweled billiments  I belive were always pined onto linen and this includes those on Gable hoods  ,this seems to be the case in the existing portraits  such as those above  and can be seen more clearly on sketches

Holbein_gable_hood_eng construction layers

Or sketches of less aristocratic ladies where there is no distraction from Jewels.The one below also shows a brooch holding the lappets in place at the side further suggesting that Gable hoods were not complete whole but a headdress built up of mix and match layers over a base of stiff linen

English_Lady_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger hood and broochThis would explain their development as an early portrait shows a line linen gable hood prototype headdress

220px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGAnd also one with pined on veil over a white linen base


Though I have not had a chance to explore this using actual fabrics as yet it seems to me a likely explanation ,It’s also possible French hoods were layers of fabrics and trims rather than merely one complete headress.Early portraits of front fastening gowns with applied decoration show hoods in several parts often with matching applied decoration as below or with expensive fabric layers as ind in the Young Catherine portrait or the ones below


isablela of hapsberg frenc hoodThis of Isabelle of Hapsburg is very similar to Catherine’s hood and perhaps it was in fact Catherine of Aragon not Mary Tudor or Anne Boleyn who brought the hood over initially before discarding it like the spanish farthingale for more English fashions such as the gable hood

Later hood styles  appear to carry forward these layers or have layers mounted over bases

NPG 1119; Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger

frenc hoodsWhile some sketches such as the one above suggest a vague link between the french hood and english intermediate hood

HolbeinAnneCresacre1527 white band

Later hoods seem a mix of white linen or silk with added billiments  and with separate probably wired back billiments holding in place a veil as seen in this portrait of mary

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

The English intermediate hood while worn over a coif  seems the only headdress which is actually composed in one piece ,all be it with applied layers of fabric .The shortened version of the intermediate hood appears to have been used for mounting  billments to create a version of the french hood.I realise these are sometimes seen as coifs but several portraits such as the one below show the layer to be quite rigid

french hood

The frequent appearance of white in french hoods ,or red supports the separate  billiments theory as they appear when hoods begin to appear with applied decoration that matches the bodices gold studs or embroidery but continue until late in the hoods history by which stage the trend to match bodice and hood billiments requires s=more complex and expensive billiments which would be too expensive to confine to one headdress or dress

Later also when the hood begins to gain height and acquire a steeper angle  when the billiment is relativity simple such as gold work  or  pearls they  appear to have become separate wired items used to hold the back veil in place

FrancoiseBrezeHead french hood

It’s still  likely the lower billiment is mounted on a linen coif as there is evidence for this

parr-smIf you remove the bonnet in this portrait and add a french hood panel the pearls will sit in the same place as front billiments  on french hoods and a couple of early portraits support this idea such as the one below where there seems to be a layer of peals or beads above the pleated underlayer

Jean Perréal (French artist, c 1451-c 1531) Anne de Bretagne

This pleated underlayer is a continuous feature  of french hoods and perhaps became pined back to become a coif for the hair to hold it up .

The snood in this image must I think have had the hair dressed under it and possibly covered by a linen snood to protect the expensive fabrics from the hair.Hair was unlikely to be as clean as today as lacking our modern complex shampoos there was nothing  to prevent grease and oils building up and some ladies do seem to have used oils to dress their hair perhaps perfumed .The image below also seems to show  the bottom pearls |(or faux pearl glass beads )mounted on a coif .While the back white panel of peals seems to be mounted on linen or silk and the neckline Jewels mounted on white fabric.

tudor-french-hood snood

I think this shows jewels were ordinarily sewn onto linen and not gowns ,headresses etc and confirms the use of the white band and white neckline trims for Jewels.I think the simple band that initaly covered sleeve lacings and prevented damage to delicate and expensive fabrics such as cloth of gold velvet but also began to be used to pin billiments onto .

I will add images of my own experiments with applied trims once I complete more Tudor gowns and also post separate explorations of both Gable hood and french hoods again when I experiment with the construction myself

I am indebted to the blog below for several images of French headdresses

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blake Morrison ,Three sisters a review

I was asked to review Blake Morrisons” we are three sisters”  .I went to the play with mixed feelings, while normally eager to see new Bronte inspired work, I had avoided “We are three sisters” as I hate Chekhov, I find him needlessly depressing and I sympathise entirely with the view of one long dead reviewer of Chekhov’s three sisters who pointed out “that if someone had just bought three tickets to Moscow the play would have ended”,, and probably it would have been for the best.That said I should not have felt so gloomy, if anything could make me love Chekhov ,it would be “We are three sisters” though in truth I struggled to find anything much of Chekhov’s three sisters in Blake Morrison’s (vastly improved) three sisters. While I could not watch more than a few minutes of Chekhov’s  play  without wishing the sisters would just buck up their ideas and get on with life ,aided by solid performances from Barry Rutters Northern Broadside  theatre company  Blake Morrison’s ”we are three  sisters” could not be more  different ,lively intelligent and determined, they are victims of their circumstances, intelligent enough to realise this yet refusing to lie down and give up ,throwing off their victim status with a power and determination one could imagine the Bronte’s themselves possesing.Morrison  has created several of those  rarities, intelligent well written and witty characters who are also Northerners. Though Lydia did at times descend to an ecky thump, flat cap and whippet level of Northernhood   the other characters deftly avoided the trap and made me proud of this innovative and native company.Broadside is the child of and run by among others Barry Rutter, based in Halifax and composed of primarily northern cast and crew, it is fiercely loyal to its northern roots and determined to highlight the talent and creativity of  the area propelled  by the vision  and drive of  its founder  Barry Rutter.wearethreesisters_1998069b
I was delighted to discover on entering the theatre that the parsonage dining room had been recreated in its main elements. The table ,chairs etc where set on a red carpet, the chairs being identical to the parsonages far from common style of chair and on table  sat the sisters writing slopes even the sofa (though on set translated in a chaise long) was the correct colour and set in roughly the same spot. The dining room is so central to Bronte myth and to their actual lives that its only fitting most of the plays action takes place in this space and while I am aware Black Morrison did not want to photographically recreate the Brontes spaces yet even the tiny kitchen set, almost off stage and set lower reminded one instantly of the warm and welcoming parsonage kitchen.I was intrigued by the presence of a gravestone propped almost unnoticed on the “chimney breast which separated the Main dining space from the kitchen and I had assumed it was designed to indict Charlotte’s conviction that the parsonage was itself, built on graves, an idea seized on by some Bronte biographers to imply the Brontes felt surrounded by death, a feeling that grew in my mind when Emily recites in the first scene the stanzas as she paces the main set.
See around me tombstones grey,
I see around me Tombstones grey
stretching their shadows far away
beneath the turf my footsteps tread
Lie low and lone the silent dead

I was later told the gravestone was a mere accident  which seemed unlikely but if so it was lucky accident and if the gravestone  was  intentional it was a nice and thoughtful idea it was, like the equally thoughtfully added chip, chip, chip of the stone mason as he unseen, carves out new gravestones for those silent dead ,another  great idea.

It was also a delight to see the sisters dressed accurately and with obvious thought and attention to detail, Ann in a grey 1840s gown ,charlotte  in a drab 1840s gown, both in multiple  petticoats which though invisible yet made the gowns move right despite being much more high maintenance than adding the usual inaccurate hoops  and even more impressive  Emily was dressed in a 1830s gown with straight skirts, that seemed inspired by the Gun Group, it was a nice touch that probably went unnoticed by most theatre goers and therefore all the more impressive

.Moving to the performances of the actors themselvesI may perhaps start with my most negative comments and get them out of the way as I feel somehow a traitor to the cause to mention them. It was the performance of Barry Rutter as the school teacher, I entered the theatre eager to love Mr Rutter, I really did, the man is a talented Northerner proud of his roots and has helped create an excellent company in Northern  Broadside. Unfortunately he had not long been on stage before enthusiasm gave way to despair.

Mr Rutters performance reminded me of fireworks, bright and dazzling, it exploded onto the stage with bangs and bright lights only to almost instantly fizzle out and plummet to earth, leaving only a lump of cardboard  that gets in everyone’s way .He was the weak link in an otherwise strong chain. He walks around in one scene in a cardboard mask and one couldn’t help but feel that his performance might have been improved had he left it on throughout the play, as compared to the restraint and sensitivity shown by the other actors, his forever mobile eyebrows and very mobile features created the impression of a great plastic chrysanthemum stuck inside a bouquet of snowdrops. I have heard and also read in other reviews that Mr Rutter has been excellent in past performances and perhaps this was just a bad day for him. I am only sure that Mr Rutter couldn’t enter a scene without leaving you wishing you or he  where elsewhere and he left you sympathizing with a talented cast trying to act round the manic elephant in the room.

The cast was otherwise truly exceptional and on a Saturday afternoon with another long and emotionally demanding performance ahead of them, to what would no doubt be a bigger audience they gave their all to the performance. They made the two thirds full theatre resound with clear and passionately spoken yet restrained performances.The play opens with the sisters, Mr Bronte and Branwell singing one of Ann’s hymns to her melody that has been thoughtfully reset, I am no musician  so unfortunately cannot do justice to its sensitivity  to the characters later roles  but the actress playing Ann  later explained in our interview that it was a five-part harmony. To my uneducated ears the hymn was simply, perfectly sung. The male voices kept subtle enough  not to drown the ladies yet clear  and strong while  the actresses sounded very sweet .

From the very first  the script show that the playwright is very familiar with the Bronte’s letters and other primary sources, It harks back briefly to Chekhov ,it is Anns birthday (name day) and she mentions the contents of her diary paper, a nice deft way to set the scene. I suspect that Blake Morrison read widely and perhaps made notes of the biographical elements of several of Charlotte’s novels such as Shirley and has taken inspiration for some parts of Charlotte’s early dialogue about curates from it. Throughout the play he shows an intimate acquaintance with facts and wide-ranging exploration of primary and secondary sources as well as Bronte novels and poetry so that when he later bends the facts you are absolutely certain it is an artistic and creative decision not ignorance. The research lies gently within the script and often hidden but I believe it helps breath life into the characters. Perhaps  also ought to  mention  here another  major difference between the Blake Morrison and Chekhov plays, especially as it was yet another reason I had avoided the play ,while Chekhov’s sisters seem to me at least to constantly long for  civilisation and culture of Moscow ,thinking very little of their present backwater existence among what they perhaps consider red necks ,In the Blake Morrison play there is none of this denigration of the Brontes surroundings and  while this unavoidably means the play drifts  further from its Chekhovian roots, good for him !

To review each character in more detail I will start with the sisters and with Emily  who was perfectly played  by Sophia di Martino and  while I personally felt the character  as written was at times  too morose she was most people’s perception of Emily  and aside from the odd gloomy comments which are, as parts of the script outside her control the actress absolutely perfectly portrays Emily’s force of character (the actress called her” a force of nature “in our interview ) She recited Emily’s poetry when the script provided her with the opportunity not as mere lines but as something that spoke to her own soul.
There is interwoven into all  her actions and delivery the impression of Emily as something  at once both ordinary yet elemental, yet thrillingly this wasn’t the clichéd Emily but a living breathing funny and sometimes fragile Emily, rooted in her love of the moors yet not enslaved  by the script into a stereotypical hybrid of Kathy and Heathcliff ( the Kathy- like moor wandering cliché was something the actress later mentioned they had been very keen to avoid). I was delighted to see the domestic homemaker and witty Emily brought to life here .I often felt “yes! this is how Emily looked and  moved and spoke” It was almost as if I were  a fly on the wall at the parsonage back in the 1840s. It was a delight
Charlotte was equally well-played, I didn’t get chance to talk to the actress about her  intentions and inspirations as she wasn’t with us later so I will have to go with my own impressions, I felt she was possibly the most Chekhovian of the characters, also I got a very deep impression that this was Juliette Barker’s Charlotte ,rather than Mrs Gaskells  and Juliette Barker doesn’t seem to be much of a Charlotte fan .Its seemed the actress had done her research and she was extremely good in her scenes with Branwell and Tabby. She made  Charlotte a warmer, brighter being .Blake Morrison has obviously thought long and in-depth about Charlotte and it shows .He takes Barker’s solid scholarship but, Pygmalion like breathes life into her chilly marble .
Tabby was brilliant, a character pivotal to the Brontes yet usually ignored it was a real joy to see her brought to life. It may have been merely to provide a  nod to Chekhov and a victim to Lydia as it’s a small part with few lines and  she could have been an almost non entity ,the butt of Lydia’s insults and object of  the girls sympathy but it is a great tribute to the actress that she’s one of my favourite characters from the play ,Her Tabby is blunt, vivacious, funny, yet occasionally heartbreakingly frail. Blake Morrison yet again has breathed the spirit of the real person into the old familiar mould.
Branwell was perfectly portrayed physically .


When he walks on he reminds me of the Leyland bust and his own sketches. I am not sure what I thought of his emotional  portrayal ,I didn’t like this Branwell and not because of his actions. In another play, Bronte Boy, Branwell was just as badly behaved yet still lovable and worthy of sympathy. Blake Morrisons  Branwell seems unsympathetic and I am not sure if that’s due to the original Chekhov play or the choice of the playwright, The scenes where he bully’s and denigrates  his sisters vividly brought to life how life must have actually been in those dark days final days  but as this is unsoftened by earlier scenes of affection you are left with a distinctly unflattering portrait, I am no fan of Branwell yet he was a loving brother and a talented and witty man but I felt little of this in Blake Morrison’s Branwell .
I also found Lydia two-dimensional but that was how she was written and the actress playing her seemed to do her best with, in parts not very good material, though she has some excellent one liners, among my favourites was

“I thought Haworth would be more like Harrogate”

I would imagine she’s supposed to be a monster, but I remember one reviewer described her as one step away from Hyacinth Bucket and that was the idea that stuck in my mind.
To return to the sisters, Ann played by Rebecca Hutchinson  is perfect, she’s often left in the shadows in Bronte biographies and plays so  it was utterly delightful to see another  play that centres so much of the action on her and an actress that brings her so fully to life, the actress playing her was indignant  that a recent poll mentioned Charlotte and Emily but completely  missed Ann off  the famous Yorkshire authors list. That passion for her character and her right to a voice seemed to me to inform and impassion the performance. Ann was the gentle quiet Ann of myth but not the lifeless cardboard cut out of so many portrayals.
Of the male characters  The father  Patrick was also excellent, touching  and intelligent but  funny and  kind and though he obviously has his eccentricities and  has a somewhat fiery nature  he  is not dominated by either  but they merely add another endearing layer to the character.
The minor  characters are a curate “William ” who is so well written and played I believe he has every woman in the audience half in love with him before he finishes his first scene and kicking herself by the end of his second .William is, I assume based on Willy Weightman and has much of what seems to have been Weightmans charisma and sex appeal ,yet also his  compassionate sweet nature  and dedication to improving the lot of his parishioners, all be it intermixed in the Curate character with a superficiality on other  levels and what amounts to an addiction to insincere flirtation.
The doctor is also a revelation, initially a frequently superficial and occasionally brutish character he is also tender ,sad and intelligent, his final scene as he prepares to leave Haworth  reminded me somehow of the legend of a mute swan singing before its death, his lines where simple but moving and perfectly  delivered, the audience was hushed .
It’s strange that though the men seem to dominate the first acts yet they seem somehow disposable, the sisters silent and often unremarked on seemed to me to dominate the play even when  silent or in the shadows

I left feeling that you didn’t need to know the original Three sisters to enjoy Blake Morrison’s  version, Though it’s obviously hung onto a rough three sisters outline,, it had gloom enough to go around but was also bright and witty  ( though I know initially Chekhov wrote “the three sisters “as a comedy. I don’t think you can actually say you wrote a comedy when you have to explain to people it’s a comedy, which apparently Chekhov had to do ).This play however was genuinely laugh out loud funny, in the places intended to be funny and the lines were expertly delivered with perfect comic timing.

Later  we were joined by two cast members the young actresses who had played Ann and the equally talented Emily The interviews were a joy. I asked the actress playing Ann if she had read Agnes Grey as it seemed to show in her character and she said yes she had read all Annes work and esp. her poetry which she loved and that she had read a great deal of Juliette barkers biography which she is still studying. I asked her  if she liked Ann ,she said yes she loved Ann for “her optimism ,for daring to be an unashamed romantic ,for always searching for the good in people and despite adversity daring to dream big and see beauty in everyday, which is a real gift.”
I then asked “Emily if having so little of Emilys own words outside of her novel and poetry was liberating or restrictive. She said it was both “it was a challenge getting to know Emily as she didn’t want to be known” which I thought was an excellent and intuitive summary .Of the character of Emily in the play as elsewhere she felt “a lot is imaginary and other people’s ideas “. She has also read widely and is very familiar with Juliette Barker’s work and Emily poetry .She named reciting the poetry as one of the highlights of the play for herself. Both of the actresses where charming and very happy to talk.

I should like to thank the young ladies for their patience and time which no doubt left them, little time for leisure and food between their interview with us and the later performance. All in all I was glad we had seen the play and sorry I had left it so late, perhaps the play should have focused less on its Chekhovian origins and been keener to stress its strengths which to me seemed to be non Chekhovian elements which to me at least seemed to be the larger part of the play. Blake Morrison seems to have made the wise choice of ignoring what was a perhaps ill-advised brief and imposed a better brighter vision onto it.

Abigail Bell is the pseudonym of  Lyn Marie Cunliffe

Posted in brontes, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucy Locket lost her Pocket,,A short look at a forgotton treasure

pocket boston(

The almost forgotten rhyme

“Lucy locket lost her pocket ,Kitty fisher found it ,not a penny was there in it but the binding round it ”

Is the only remaining record in popular culture of a little known yet long treasured item of women’s clothing and its meaning is like pockets themselves becoming lost to history.

met pocket


Pockets  were an essential item of dress for many centuries and were once the most emotionally valuable  item a woman could posses as can be seen by amount of work often put in to making and decorating these  never seen items.

pair of pockets

In our modern homes ,we can probably never appreciate the value of these items to women in past centuries.Until the early years of the 20th c it was not unusual for  adults to share beds with siblings and certainly most would have shared rooms .If you were a servant or governess of lived away from home in a boarding school  as either a pupil or teacher , your personal possessions could be searched  if a theft had occurred,or examined to ensure you were” forming habits of orderliness ” or merely by the curious (there is an incident recorded in Charlotte Brontes Villette of the  owner of a school rifling through her new teachers clothing and possessions while the teacher is assumed to be asleep)even your underwear was not private ,,there are many records of laundry fees being charged to governess ,pupils etc,I have seen many items of Victorian clothing with names written or embroidered into them and though I can find no confirmation of it I suspect this is because the items would be washed in common with other clothing in big houses ,schools etc as there is no other logical reason for it,,why write your name on underwear you will be either wearing ,storing in your chest of drawers or washing yourself..There was therefore very little privacy, richer women may have had writing boxes or work boxes but even these were not entirely secure,  they were often left open or could be easily picked or forced  openThe pocket was for many years a womans only secure place for items she wanted to keep private or secure.

Pockets could be single or a matching pair.

yellow pockets 1785

they were usually lined and fastened with tape ties,though size varies Most are  a similar shape to those above and around 10 to 12 ins deep and are accessed by front openings.Some are larger ,very few are smaller ,I personally find pockets around 12 ins deep by 6 wide at their base the best size as they are large enough for bulky items but not too cumbersome

Pockets were also a common gift from women to other women perhaps on birthdays ,weddings etc .Pockets could also be bought ready-made but this is less common than making your own.(simple  un embroidered Pockets are fairly quick to make,I can make a pair in a day and if I use embroidered fabrics or damask they can still look surprisingly effective )

perhaps letters from loved ones, mementoes ,keys to her writing box or trunk.Alongside its value as a private space ,it was invaluable on a practical level ,it acted very much like the modern workmans tool belt,containing things needed regularly such as watches,scissors, pins ,handkerchiefs ). They  also acted much like our modern handbags containing mirrors,combs ,money ,perhaps perfume ,smelling salts , a frequent item is a long pin ,,used for securing hats or neck kerchiefs,etc ,this must have been not just useful for securing clothing but seems to have been seen as a defensive item from time to time,we have one story from Samuel Pepys diary were a lady he is flirting with  in church threatens him with a long hat pin . Larger pockets seemed to have also been used to tuck away snacks .I have complied a list of possible pocket contents through the ages( my source is primarily the V and A excellent article but includes some extra items from newspapers ,inquests etc and some items mentioned as ladies possessions in the 16thc)

Almost always mentioned are




Items of jewellery such as brooches



pins of assorted kinds


small knives (needed  for an assortment of things  ,to sharpen pencils ,pen nibs,to open letters, cut open the pages of books as these often came uncut par fruit)

Very frequently mentioned and most often recommended by ladies advice columns ,magazines or letters

small Pins/pin cushion

needles /needle case


(I also assume in instances where these are being carried outside the home the contents included small amounts of thread,,or the thimble and needles are somewhat useless but as most external pocket contents are based on instances of theft which only require  records of items of value thread would go unrecorded)



note book.

Smelling salts

pocket watch ( perhaps rarely in earlier centuries pocket sundials which were carried by the rich)

spectacles (if worn)



snuff box

personal medicines/pills

objects of sentimental value ,lockets, locks of hair,miniature portraits ,love letters,

Less frequently and probably for outside use

Gloves (though mittens seem to have been stashed in pockets when at home)


letters,passports, tickets etc

The words pocket  knife,pocket watch ,pocket handkerchief  ,pocket-book all show the original home of such items .

The word Pocket  is I am told an old English word (12th to 15th c ) however .I feel it likely they were then a visible external items as they could not have been worn under the fitted Kirtles of the early middle ages.These Kirtles did have openings as can be seen here in a painting from the late 14thc but its hard to imagine enough space for pockets large enough to store anything but a few pennies without spoiling the line of the gown and the cord ties of a pocket  around the waist would possible cause an unslightly wrinkle at the waist a little bit like our  underwear VPL  which spoils the look of fitted skirts and trousers in the present day

tommassio medieval painter pockets 1330

I cant find any reference to pockets discovered in medieval graves, eg the Smithfeild plague pits (though later pockets are fabrics which are unlikely to survive some  early 16th examples have wirework decorations  or use fabric with metalic thread work and this  could have survived.Unfortunately  I have been unable to gain access to original excavation reports so its possible there are fragments which may have been pockets .)

It is still hard to imagine gowns with the fitted shape of that below could conceal a typical pocket


There are many examples of extant pouches which are top openings and look a little like bags  ,these seem to be outer wear as  it would be hard to access that kind of opening under a gown and the style suggests a hand bag style object or at least a bag to go on a belt


Certainly in  the 13th c Pouches were outerwear as seen on this tomb from 1283


If we assume pockets became under gown items with the rise of the houppelande around the 1380s/90s


That still leaves at least 450 years of  widespread use and another 50 years when they became rarer but were still worn though they seem to die out in widespread under gown use around 1840 .There are many 184os pockets surviving though they tend to be plainer than earlier examples ,,these come from the Kay Shuttleworth collection


The use of pockets dies out later for children and they continue in use amongst the  elderly and the lower classes.

There is a mention of them in a few novels such as  David Copperfield, 1850,:

‘Releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the elbow, and brought out some paper bags of cakes which she crammed into my pockets, and a purse which she put in my hand, but not one word did she say.’

.I suspect in the 1850s  the pockets demise among younger women  as a common item of  underwear was influenced by  the degree to which a woman could afford the fashionable cage crinolines as,though crinolines have a gap at the front it would be very difficult to access pockets via it and I have never seen an 1850s gown which had either pocket slits or was fastened in a way that would allow easy access to pockets.I personally find it easy and very useful to wear pockets under gowns from the Tudor era up until the late 1830s after which it becomes harder to accommodate a pocket.(ironically the most common use for pockets amongst re enactors is for mobile phones ! as while professional re enactments require absolute authenticity down to the lack of undergarments,,pockets are a great place to stash “forbidden modern comforts)

There are miscellaneous later references in stories but ,,the last official records I can find of tie on pockets is in the inquest notes of  the Rippers victims  from the late 1880s  one  is described as having had” A large pocket worn under the skirt and tied about the waist with strings (empty when found) another was wearing a pair of pockets and another single pocket also tie on (footnote 1)Another ripper victim Elizabeth stride  (d 1888) has a petticoat with a large pocket,,I own a mid-Victorian petticoat with such a pocket and in shape and size it mirrors the original tie on pockets  .One ripper victims (Elizabeth strides)had  contained or at least still had in it at the time she was found..

  • A key (as of a padlock)
  • A small piece of lead pencil
  • Six large and one small button
  • A comb
  • A broken piece of comb
  • A metal spoon
  • A hook (as from a dress)
  • A piece of muslin
  • One or two small pieces of paper
  • (Manchester’s  Platt hall has several lower middle class /upper lower class basic pockets which were probably of the kind worn by the  rippers victims)

cotton pocket

(This image and several more of pockets can be found in this excellent online resource for the visual arts VAD

I personally suspect pockets did not go out of use but merely changed use and were transferred to petticoats .I am not sure how long they survive in petticoats .

There is no other item of  hidden clothing for which we have such an enduring record and which changes so little in design over so long a period.

The majority of surviving pockets  up to the 1800s are almost without exception beautifully made often  they are embroidered or  use expensive fabrics gleaned from scraps of expensive gowns ,later in the 1800 to 1820 when straight regency gowns become fashionable pockets become less ornate and often white,,so as not to show under the gowns ,,a further proof I feel that pockets continued in very general use throughout the regency era of straight often light coloured gowns , The pockets seem to have continued to be less ornate up until their eventual demise but even simple pockets are still beautifully stitched .The obvious time lavished on them and the use of decoration on unseen items  is enough to tell us something of their importance to women ,pocket decoration is purely for the woman herself ,not to show off her husband’s status or her own accomplishments .

If you would like to make your own pocket the V and A Museum has a guide here


Hidden or on display?

Pockets for most of their history and in most countries were very rarely worn outside of clothing or designed to be objects of display.The pockets of the lower classes in the 16th to early 19th c might peep from beneath aprons or hitched over skirts but no lady wishing to appear genteel would usually wish hers to be on display  .Interestingly for a  while  in 16thc Italy it was briefly  fashionable for ladies to wear a lavishly made pocket at their waist , one was found tied to the body of Eleanor of Toledo beneath her satin  gown and they can be seen on numerous Italian paintings.

birth of the virgin alleri, footnote 2)

I can find no record of the fashion spreading to the UK though its possible it was a feature of fashionable”undress” wear .

pocket 16thc

footnote 1  ,The ripper victims provide a tragic but invaluable source of costume information ,unlike fashion magazines or novels these poor lower class ladies are shown in their everyday clothing The pockets found on the victims were the kind now completely lost to us ,made from rough fabrics and  purely functional those of a kind used by the poorest and lowest classes eg  Catherine Eddows owned a pair made of unbleached calico and a further single one made of bed ticking .I use this website as it is the most accurate and “user friendly”online source.

Footnote 2

The source given for detailed treatment of pockets is excellent and the website is recommended for study of 16th Italian clothing ,I do however disagree with Anea who considers the Duchess Eleanor of Toledo was buried in a gown with an integral pocket,I feel the pocket description as being tied on was accurate ,its likely she was buried with a few private possessions which may have perished .The items which survived best in Eleanor’s grave were those in very close contact with the body such as stays or stockings or those under the body ,this is because fluids escaping during putrification preserved them.

Pocket contents list has  been taken largely from information here

Posted in 15thc, 16thc/17thc, 18thc, 19thc, brontes, costume research, Georgians, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Tudors | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Tudor and Elizabethan clothing research sources

I have been planning my new years wardrobes ,I always like to have some central theme or historical figure in mind as  it then makes it easier to focus detailed research on the gowns ,head dresses  etc.My usual choice is assorted queens from the Tudor era as the portraits of artists such as Holbein.


or master John.


All provide excellent sources for both an overall look and more importantly for visual detailing.

princess mary tudor neckline

jane-seymour-portraitHowever when using portraits for such details its a good idea to hunt around for other versions of  them and with Holbein to see if its possible to find his preliminary sketches.


For instance the famous and contemporary  portrait of Jane Seymour by Holbein  has two different versions largely identical  in pose, clothing and style though they  differ in several details eg   in one Jane wears more elaborate sleeves than in the other and there is less embroidery on the blackwork cuffs


The portrait earlier in the post if Holbein’s own “official” portrait while the other version while roughly contemporary is from the studio of Holbein and while obviously based on his original sketches differs slightly.It’s handy to play spot the difference on various portraits.

I find it helpful to examine each portrait  however famous or universally accepted as carefully as lawyer  would some important legal contract they was required to sign.

The portraits will be the foundation of any costume  and on their accuracy and reliability the authenticity of  your finished outfit and your reputation depends.However carefuly made or recreated an outfit based on a flawed source is effectively useless .I use the outfits as visual aids ,I consider them as  I would a thesis or academic paper .While it’s obviously outside my pocket to make 16thc gowns  of cloth of gold ,venetian silk damask etc  or trim hood with genuine gemstones I can do everything possible to recreate the shape ,look and layers as accurately as  possible . I always strive to have them as near to historically perfect as possible and always point out any aspects of costumes which I have been forced to compromise on

purple tudor gown

After choosing a portrait or painting I usually do the following checks


Is it actually a confirmed portrait of the person it claims to be .I do use disputed portraits but never use them for any outfit that forms the core of a teaching wardrobe ,if you’re replicating a  Tudor or Elizabethan costume for historical purposes ,knowing its function when being worn is essential and unknown sitters are useless for this .

2/ Is the portrait completely contemporary? ,later portraits ,copies etc while useful are flawed ,its unlikely later painters saw the clothing worn with their own eyes  or saw the fashions being worn .Even if the painter is copying an original lost portrait the new version will have been created with a different purpose in mind to the original ,For example consider this famous portrait of Anne Boleyn.

457px-Anne_boleynIt’s in the National portrait gallery labeled as Anne Boleyn and always used in biographies of her .It’s widely believed by the public that this is Anne’s contemporary portrait however that is not the case it is a much  later copy and only one of several versions of the same image.The one below is from Hever castle the Boleyn’s home


In all later portraits there is a hidden agenda , items may have been added to  highlight the prestige of the sitter  or details showing links to them by the person commissioning the portrait.

For example

I always have misgivings about the famous B necklace worn by Anne  in her most famous portraits .The portraits in which she is wearing it are later copies ,there is never any record of her wearing a necklace like it in verbal accounts  and it doesn’t show up on other contemporary portraits of her . There seems no reason for her to have chosen to habitually wear such a necklace.While loyal to and proud of her family ,Once in the public eye she was always very keen to stress her royal and aristocratic ties rather than her less exalted family ties .Perhaps she had a B necklace when she first went to court but wearing a B necklace for an official portrait rather than  one showing symbol of rank or some necklace with her and Henry’s arms or initial intertwined seems odd .It’s doubly suspicious to me because the source of the portraits in which she is wearing the necklace seem to be  the Hever castle painting ,Hever was the Boleyn’s seat and her family home.It seems much more likely that in later years the opportunist Boleyn family commissioned portraits of the now  famous rather than infamous Anne ,mother of the reigning queen and were keen to highlight unequivocably her origins in their family .The image bears no relation  to  most other possible images of Anne which all seem like each other but unlike the portrait.


anne  b

.I personally feel it likely the Holbein sketches are Anne and are preliminary to the lost full length portrait and the  more formally posed sketch is the basis for the medal below.


Which is our only contemporary image and  was stuck in her brief reign.To enter a detailed assessment of these portraits is beyond the scope of this post but the Anne Boleyn files contains and excellent and as always very well researched treatment of the subject here

The second  point follows on and is an extension of the above comments, do some parts  of the painting look less reliable than others ? as its possible details have been added later or mistakes made in restoring the painting.An excellent  example is the Leonardo da Vinci Lady with an Ermine


The lady is wearing a unsual hair style which is more or less impossible to recreate and a strange double heandband.The painting was heavily retouched and the veil which ran under the lady’s chin painted the same colour as her hair to match it ,Thus not only can the painting provide a misleading hairstyle but also give the impression the lady’s head is uncovered.The actual hair should look something like this ,another Leonardo portrait ,usually called La Belle Ferronnierre


It’s also handy to do a “character check” on the painting to make sure it has a satisfactory provenance.

3 /Try to always use a second and preferably  written source. For the Tudor court  the accounts of the great wardrobe  provide much detailed information on fabrics trims etc and accounts from ambassadors ,courtiers etc give details on when and where the gowns were worn ,how suitable they seemed ,the impression they created etc.I think the Medici version is called  the gardrobbe but Medici letters and documents are availible online here

4  Moving on from portraiture try to find  extant similar items  For later Elizabethan outfits we have the items and information gained from the Elizabeth 1 funeral  effigy .

effigy-corset on

The clothing removed from the original are the usual source for detailed information on the stays worn under late Elizabethan gowns.


and  are backed up not just by Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts but also  the famous  portrait of Elizabeth Veron in a state of less than formal dress showing how they were worn .though there are minor difference in the stays in essential details they are the same



Getting the under layers correct is the basic foundation needed to have the costume look perfect and is the main problem for this era ,very few extant undergarments exist and are mostly  either from overseas and often from funeral effigy or clothing taken from re interred bodies.

For extant over gowns we have no actual  complete early  UK Tudor gowns ,we some shifts or shirts such as those below now in the museum of costume in Bath

Drea bath smocks

It is only for the later period we have extant clothing.This is largely from tombs ,effigies or religious statues .The most reliable gown we have has been restored from fragments taken from the body of Eleanor of Toledo and is not entire ,though the surving fragments allow it to be compelty recreated…the orginal gown fragments are dark the added fabric used to recreate the gown is white

extant elenaore

elenaro extant

whatever may be the moral implications of disturbing a body and removing its clothing ,the information gained from clothing taken from the Medic tombs is invaluable.The Eleanor  gown provided details of lacing ,under layers ,fabrics and trims ,a pair of stays worn with the gown were also recovered and restored


and also stockings

HOSEExEleanoraMCM2The wealth of information gained from clothing from the Medici tombs was my main reason for choosing Eleanor of Toledo as my choice for late 16th outfits this year,it would be possible to recreate an entire outfit at actual size if desired ,Sources used here include an excellent but expensive book on the  subject  Moda alla Corte dei Medici.

16thc gown

.The tomb clothes are backed up by portraits  of both Eleanore and other ladies.I will be using the gown for my Elizabethan talks and though italian it is a useful source as we have written evidence Elizabeth 1 dressed in italian style gowns and we also have contemporary portraits of Elizabeth shown directly below and other ladies  such as Mary queen of Scotts seen under the Elizabeth portrait in similar gowns.


black dress mary

The Eleanore funeral gown is backed up by other extant items such as the Pisa gown ,cut in exactly the same way as the Eleanor gown and with similar decoration .

pisa gown

The uk is represented by some very late Elizabethan /early  Stuart overgowns and jackets most of which are in the V and A museum and can be viewed online

vam overgownThe most useful  Uk item for teaching purposes is this jacket dated by the portrait in which it appears to 1620s but in basic design  the same  that is seen in earlier late Elizabethan portraits such as the Elizabeth Veron one


Once I have a firm idea of the underlying look and shape of accurate gowns I usually turn to costume dramas which have gained a respected reputation for accuracy for example Elizabeth R which created details  replica gowns from many of Elizabeth’s portraits including this excellent  incredibly detailed replica

elizabth r gown

Created using the little known phoenix portrait.

Elizabeth20 phoennix

Or this equally impressive replica of a much more famous outfit based on the Ditchley portrait

mitchley side

385px-Queen_Elizabeth_I_('The_Ditchley_portrait')_by_Marcus_Gheeraerts_the_YoungerThis outfit perfectly illustrates the advantage of using reputable costume dramas is it recreates the back of the gown which is barely glimpsed on portrait.

ditchley back

It also highlight a problem in creating costumes for use in public ,Most people assumed that the series had taken liberties with the back of the gown however a close look at the portrait shows that the back is indeed made from a more or less identical  fabric.Its occasionaly better if creating gowns for  non academic events to alter them slightly ,for instance make the back of this gown white as is assumed is the case as opposed to them more accurate version above.

The final use of costume drama is to see how comfortable or uncomfortable a gown is likely to be and how it moves, how much it limits movement and how much space it takes up .

Having used Elizabeth R as an example of good costume dramas which used respected costumers,original extant sources and sound research I would like to add a cautionary word about popular and well known though much less reliable costume dramas,some were nominated or won costume Oscars or awards which can give the impression of reliability however awards are judged by many criteria and visual impact is much more important than accuracy

The other Boleyn  girl is infamous in costuming circles for the liberties taken with Tudor costumes ,from the slightly less noticeable flaws such as the weird  far too short french hoods ,with coloured rather than black veils in Marys case and none at all in Annes ..

The Other Boleyn Girl

The hoods are  also shown with gowns of a much later style but most infamous are the “dressing gowns /Overgowns which seem based on mens 18thc dressing gowns


Yes even badly costumed films do occasionally provide helpful inspiration for instance the Other Boleyn girls contains two excellent and surprisingly accurate versions of the rarely used English intermediate hood ,,all be it worn far to back on the head in Marys case


Another popular misconception gained from movies and series such as ,La rein Margot,The other Boleyn girl and the Tudors is that 16th women habitually wore gowns slipping off their shoulders

la_reine_margot_1993_diaporama_portraitOr without the prerequisite  under layers


Though I love this red gown ,none of the ladies have on chemises or the correct petticoats.The drastic effects of poor layering can be seen in the two contrasting images of a stunning Elizabeth R gown .(images from costume movies and screen stills can be seen here (

eliz green gown

which can been seen 1 hour 4 mins into the episode the marriage game

and again worn in a much less impressive manner and with poor attention to detail and without the correct layers in The acclaimed saga of England’s virgin queen here

tudorelizabethan055.2Other examples of reused gowns can be seen here,the results often show the necessity for correct underlayers and accessories,though in some instances they are useful for seeing  how a gown can be changed to look different once its been used.

I hope this has been a helpful post both in providing sources of extant items and in giving general tips for costume research

There is an extreemly exhaustive list of historical costume sources to be found

Posted in 15thc, 16thc/17thc, costume research, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Tudors, work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A day in the life of Emily Bronte ?

I have been working on displays for the day long Bronte event and thinking over possible subjects  .I decided a display on  “a day in the life “would be something that people would find interesting and which I could probably put together with a reasonable amount of accuracy having lived from time to time in a similar manner  to the Victorians ,,though with the modern convienances  of  plumbing  (usually) running water  and an inside toilet.For several years we lived in the very far north of Scotland in a tiny village at the end on a peninsula .(our house first house was near the blue house on the far left our second at the very far right on the seafront with a long front sun porch )



The long road to the village  meant that we were also at the very end of the power and utility lines .It was more common than otherwise to wake up in winter to have no power ,,indeed friends still living in the area reported waking up  with no lights or heating  on three days  last week .

We know that Emily got up early ,,before the servants to do the heavy work such setting the fires and that the Brontes like ourselves and our friends had pets and /or livestock so the early morning  and late night routine in  is probably a pretty accurate .I have based the later morning and afternoon on the average occupations of a Victorian lady and the night is again based on personal experience or that of friends.

(Image below From the BBC series Jane Eyre)

jane wakes

Emilys day

nightgown 1830

1/ Wake up,pull back bed curtains  light a candle ,put on thick socks ,warm shoes,dressing gown (or wrapper gown) and shawl.(there’s no point in washing at this stage in the day as everything your about to do is messy and it’s not impossible that any water in the bedroom kept for washing has a skimming of ice ,(,our washing up water  in the kitchen froze on a couple of occasions and our house had modern insulation).Pull the bed covers back to air the bed .


2/Take your candle and light a candle or lamp on the stairs so the next person up doesn’t need to grope around .Do this in all the rooms that will be used while it’s still dark.The image from Jane Eyre above is excellent as it show the ladies in their correct nightwear and the way everyone had candles to get around.

3/Stoke up the kitchen range and put the kettle on.


4/ Let the house dogs outside or if the dog sleeps outside let it in .Break any ice on the livestock  waterbowls,collect any eggs otherwise once theres no longer birds to keep them warm you end up with frozen eggs,we collected frozen eggs on occasion and they were not particularly pleasant.


5/ make a pot of tea (or coffee) to get warm , have a piece of bread and butter,then put on coarse cloth oversleeves and apron.

a_victorian_maid fires

6/We know Emily rose early to do the elderly servants morning jobs so she would  clean the grates and  tidy out the bedded down fires relighting the ones in rooms likely to be used  during the day and setting fires ready to light in the other rooms.She would need restock the coal scuttles , clean and dust the fireplace and sweep the hearth ,reuse large chunks of charcoal ,,, maybe add the removed tiny cinders to the paths at the back of the house .I would bring in kindling regularly to dry it for fire lighting and  I would also bring in logs to store  somewhere inside so they burned well but the Brontes probably used coal or at least had servants to bring in logs.


7/dust the areas of the room close to the fire to remove soot,peat dust etc which settles with alarming regularity each day.


8 /Trim the wicks, clean the chimneys and shades of any oil lamps and refill with oil, (pre paraffin oil was muckier than later paraffin) Most lighting in the Brontes era would have been by candles .Tidy any candles still ok  trim around the wick if needed ,replace all the used candles ,clean any wax off the candle holders

Luckily I didn’t have to do then next bit but Emily would need to bring in water from the pump for breakfast,I am not sure what the Parsonage water pump looked like but I didn’t see taps or tanks so water would have needed collecting from outside.

servant water

9/wash hands and possibly face  and remove coarse cloth apron and oversleeves ,put on new clean plain better quality apron  maybe do your hair at this point Emily wore hers  up at the back of her head twisted and held in place with a spanish style comb

perhaps now or soon after open shutters and any curtains

10/Set table for breakfast ,,have breakfast when everyone’s down .
Morning Prayers.

we know th Brontes had prayer time .


Housework next


while tabby and later younger servants would have done some of this ,while Tabby was ill and later too old for kneeling on floors Emily probably did some or all of these tasks at some point ,Daily work would typically involve sweeping the hall free of dust mud etc and I would imagine in wet weather scrubbing the hall floor and  kitchen floor as pets tread in mud .Then scrub the kitchen table  ,sweep the rooms floors and stairs ,maybe shaking out and beating any hearth rugs if any in the front room  and kitchen as they tend to get dusty from soot or ash ,wiping down any lower woodwork that might be mudded  by the dogs brushing against it or shaking themselves when coming in wet ,plumping cushions ,airing the beds making the beds  ,Donkey stoning the Front step.

donkey stoning

Donkey stone was a funny hard substance that when damp could be rubbed on stone a bit like chalk  to create a lighter  bright finish to stone flags ,,Its was a source of pride to have a donkey stoned clean step,,I can remember the women in my grandmas row of houses doing their steps,I did it a couple of times as it seemed fun  ,,at pre school age its was fun but hard on the hands .It didnt last long either and smudged

do nkey stone

The Parsonage definitely  “did its steps” as can been seen in the photo below

bronte parsonahe bronte era 1850

Sweeping the  outdoor paths would  probably be done by the servants as would black leading the range.polishing , front door  and its fittings ,knockers, boot scrapers etc.

Next as everyone is now up and about their day you can sort out the bedrooms ,Change the wash stand towels ,wash the washstand bowls,


Bring in water and ,refill the  wash stand jugs with water.Empty chamber pots ,swill  buckets,

collect and empty Hot water bottles ,


bed warmers ,foot warmers,perhaps fill dogs water bowls .refill flower vases check any flowers in vases to make sure they look ok.

(Probably on wash day you would now get dressed )

Once weekly wash day


washing clothes ,,ideally done by servants but they seem to have regularly been  helped by the Brontes,In North and South by Mrs Gaskel the heroine also helps on washing days of it seems likely that most young ladies from less well off families secretly did their bit  ,,likewise Ironing ,,not just clothing but bedding ,towels which were made from cotton or lien not the fully towelling of modern towels. several table clothes,tray clothes ,napkins,,  We know Emily ironed some items as she was using an Italian iron used for finer work when she was bitten by a dog .

This list below is a conservative estimate of a weekly Bronte  wash load for an average of two beds for the Brontes (women often shared beds )and one bed for a servant  or servants and assumes not all bedding was washed every week but in rotation

4 sheets

4 pillow cases ,2 bolster pillow cases


10  handtowels towels plus shaving clothes for the men

assorted Kitchen hand towels  tea towels,dish clothes ,glass clothes ,dusting and window clothes, and in addition probably towels or similar used for drying the dogs

at least 7 tablecloths,6 traycloths,10 napkins

(a clean fresh looking one would always be used for each main meal,,eating Breakfast and supper at the kitchen table would mean less washing of table linen.Tray clothes for Mr Bronte meals ,visitors afternoon teas ,napkins  for 4  people and Mr Bronte and those for guests at afternoon teas etc.

10  or more Aprons

(A clean one would always be used for  major batches  of baking and certainly a clean dress apron for smart day wear so for Emily ,Charlotte and at least one servant that would amount to at least 10 a week,probably more depending on how often the morning coarse aprons used for cleaning grates were washed .

5/6 pairs Under sleeves probably collars ,mittens,tippets etc as well

6 chemises

5  nightdresses, the girls plus servants

2 to 4  mens night shirts

6 to 8 petticoats

8 pairs stockings at least

21 or more handkerchiefs,,

4 wrapper dresses

most  of these items would also need starching,,collars cuffs, some petticoats,

Storing linen meant using lavender ,moth balls etc.

Once the housework was done

When the early morning  housework was done ,it would be time to dress properly go upstairs put on  a corset petticoats  a day dress ,collar ,cuffs or undersleeves  and mittens,perhaps also an apron.I very much doubt on days when there was no guests Staying or visitors expected that anyone would fully dress before the grates etc where done as its very hard to bend down for any length of time in corsets and wrapper gowns were  usually made of less expensive fabric with fewer frills,trims and flounces so where  easier to wash frequently than the more expensive gowns and certainly I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get too many petticoats wet and mucky from ,ash or soot or soapy floor cleaning water

Go downstairs do any baking ,bread ,pies for the days meals ,maybe custards ,ricepuddings,  some days also  the more in-depth weekly bake of cakes ,jam making, pickles making .We know Emily made bread from the story of her learning German from a book propped in front of her  while she worked.

mrsbeetonchops off head of turtle in bbc adaptation

Set table for lunch ,eat lunch ,clear table,wash ,dry and put away the lunch plates cups etc

kitchen maid pots

Light fires in rooms only used later in the day .

musical instrument practice maybe ,now or perhaps in the early evening


Now is the time to do essential  but Socialy acceptable  ladylike work  which would be ok to be interrupted  during should a visitor arrive. Light sewing (making household items or clothing such as petticoats  dresses etc, would be done in more private times earlier in the day or later after tea when the light allowed ) but crocheting lace,tatting,embroidering cuffs ,handkerchiefs , making baby clothes for the poor or for friends ,making pockets, purses, mittens etc was all allowable at this time of the day .


Some days you would probably receive visitors make and set trays for afternoon tea.Most visitors ,maybe curates ,people on parish business ,sunday school teachers, vergers, friends, all would require at the very least a  tea tray laying ,while many would also require cakes and possibly bread ,butter and cold meats or pies .On some other days you would make visits to parishioners, the sick ,to shops or friends.This ought to done in the afternoon as you won’t be catching the homeowners in their flurry of housework or during preparations for their evening meal ,though mill workers might be visited later in the day.


You would need to shop for items  either daily as  in most fresh  foods such as Milk Meat ,fish,fruit and some vegetables ,though some might be grown in a cottage garden and  many others might be delivered,also less frequently special trips for fabrics ,paper, medicines ,cleaning stuffs,

If going out ,put on gloves,bonnet ,shawl and cape or mantle,take muff in bad weather,if  formally visiting you should ideally change your  collar and cuffs for smarter ones,for  formal visits to upper class guests  perhaps even change your gown

Walk dogs, so again don outside wear  shawl ,bonnet ,gloves change shoes (I also think it likely there were designated walking clothes  which where older items already past their best,maybe kept in the back kitchen.As I have done a lot of Bronte work I have seen the damage done to petticoats and shoes etc by mud and peat ,even with a modern washing machine and stain remover I have never succeeded in removing peat stains from petticoats and gown and cloak hems .while soaked bonnets never again look their best ,so I think they had special bonnets ,gloves, stockings ,shoes ,maybe even petticoats and dresses in very bad weather)

muddy skirts

Make tea .evening meal

set table for evening meal,eat evening meal.

maid cleaning table

Clear evening meal plates wash and dry,scour any pans

feed scraps  to dogs and cats ,feed dogs

Light candles ,lamps etc ,maybe bedroom fires on cold nights,perhaps bring in some water ready for the next morning

put Hens chickens etc in their hutches or coups,lock doors,close shutters around the house


Free time for reading, writing ,talking,letter writing maybe ,it’s quite hard to sew by candle or lamplight so if any fine sewing was done I suspect it would be tapestry  or rug work where tiny stitches were not needed

before bed perhaps snack supper of Bread and Butter  in summer ,or bread or teacakes toasted on the fire  in winter with tea.

LP56-toast-toasting fork-fire-kettle

Evening Prayers

Let cats and dogs out

fill bedwarmers and hot water bottles ,wind clocks

,”bed down” the fires ,,covering with ashes to keep them barely in and thus avoiding having to kindle a fire in the morning and  making them safe to leave overnight without wasting fuel.

Bed ,take off ,shoes ,collar ,cuffs ,dress ,petticoats corset chemise,,stockings, put on bed socks ,nightdress ,night cap.make sure bedroom fire is safe for the night,put out your candle

Posted in 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An easy cheats guide to making Victorian dress

As part two of my make your own Victorian outfit I will do a quick cheats guide to making a gown the instructions will create a gown like this.I also give instructions on how to make a  cheats bustle gown but this is a slightly harder project

To make this you will need

Some wide pretty lace or fringe or beaded trim  for the neckline,bought lace is easy to find on line and cheap ,or you can use lace cut from a vintage table or tray cloth

A commercial  boned evening /clubbing bodice such as this

This is to recover  for your dress bodice ,try to find ones that are well made  such as wit and wisdom ,top shop etc are best as they come with straps,Or if you don’t have or can’t find any of these you can buy a boned corset in the style  below  from ebay ,these are more trouble to work with as they can,t be cut to make a v at the front and will need the front fastening part sewn together then had a strip of fabric stitched over the studs to stop them showing through.

When choosing a top ideally buy a size larger than you need as once it’s recovered it wont stretch and you may also need to cut off a back zip will make the bodice even smaller.

The rest

you will need ,cotton and at least two needles,

scissors ,


around 4 metres of very thin curtain cord ,ribbon or thong,,

you need something around shoelace width ideally or as narrow as possible this will be used for lacing up the back of your gown.You can if your very short of time and resources use ribbon but this will look odd unless you make a very long back flounce to cover most of it.Cord by contrast isn’t really noticeable

You will need around 5 metres of fabric,,the dress above is Damask  but thats rarely used for Victorian clothing.Most of the others are taffeta which is an excellent choice as it is also usually washable and if you buy synthetic fabric it rarely creases.The taffeta below is called “shot ” fabric which means it has two colours woven in the fabric and shimmers in the light,I always use shot taffeta for dresses unless they need to look like working class or middle class everyday dresses and all the gowns below are the same style  fabric

green fit bustle gown





,but you can use fake  very plain  fake silk if you need an everyday middle class dress,this was a governess gown.

moor top2

velvet ,embroidered silk which is very realistic looking but can be expensive.


or satin but satin while cheap does pucker very easily and is a pain to hem..

you can buy taffeta fairly cheaply off  ebay from around £2.99 metre all the fabric above was that price or cheaper .It’s also possible to use a cotton floral duvet cover  such as this from Ikea.


which has become very popular with costumers as it’s almost a copy of late 18th early 19th c fabric.For a wide skirted dress you need a double duvet cover.

Patterned cotton is a good choice as its very easy to hide bad stitching or wobbly seams and looks really authentic

If your making a narrower skirted dress which isnt going to have a hoop you can use a single duvet cover such as the one below,also an Ikea duvet cover and again a pattern very similar to a genuine 1830s dress

1830s bronte gown

or  find a pair of curtains in a charity shop .The dress below is curtain fabric.

st ives bluebells 1830s gown



The skirt below is made from a vintage Laura Ashley curtains, making a skirt and using a Victorian looking blouse is a way to make a cheap Victorian looking outfit but it doesnt look as authentic as a dress.

laura ashley skirt

You can add a waist coat to the skirt which looks better


or a modern but Victorian looking jacket

victorian mourning outfit

The dress below also uses vintage curtain for the pink skirt.

pink bustle dress

This gown is made from a cotton duvet cover from a charity shop

green cotton bustle dress

I made an extra very frilled skirt with a slight train to go under the dress to make an extra outfit,I used an old duvet cover and a lot of cheap lace

me tills 1870s dress


If you are lucky enough to find some vintage silk or velvet curtains when you cut the skirt make sure you utilise the hem of the curtain,,its likely to look very machine sewn but you can always cover the line of hem stitching with narrow trim of ribbon,lace or fringe etc.I made a mistake hemming the gown below and used velvet ribbon to hide the old hemline

Mrs rochester3

(The  pelerine “collar” here is a tray cloth restyled )I dont advise using striped or checked fabric as its harder to match on the sleeves and bodice .

If you have a large  budget then kilt fabric is perfect as it doesn’t need any hems at all as  the edges are already finished,its not wide enough to use the edges for a single tier skirt but makes stunning tiered ones.The dress below also used the edges of the fabric for the wide sleeves which also didnt need to be hemmed and for a piece of fabric around the neckline instead of the usual lace,I am not sure how much fabric was in this as I used other for a skirt but theres at least 5 metres

red taratn vcitroain gown

You can make a similar cotton gown that will also have edges by using a sari or rather two ,you make it the same way by cutting three tiers.This is very authentic as many Victorian gowns used Indian cotton probably originally saris.

tiered gown



Make the skirt ,this is fairly easy ,hold the fabric against you until you can be certain you know where to cut to make it the right length ,,if your make a skirt that will go over a hoop or net petticoat make it at least 3 ins longer than you need as the hoop will make it higher ,if it’s going over a very wide hoop leave  at least 6 ins ,this may be too much but better safe than sorry .Mistakes at this point will be hard and time-consuming to correct so leave the piece longer rather than shorter .If you do make a mistake ,it’s not the end of your project  you can buy a wide strip of lace or contrasting fabric to sew around the bottom of the hem but its extra expense and trouble as its hard to sew trim on straight when a skirts already been sewn together and as can be seen below not very noticeable

Mrs Rochester


Having cut a long strip of your fabric or two strips if you’re using curtains or a duvet ,sew them together ,leaving a few inches at the top ,this will be the back of your dress and the gap will be at the centre back of your dress ,its going to need to fit over your head through.


cut a  wide (3/4 in) strip of fabric or ribbon exactly the right length to go around your waist


Run a needle and thread along the top of the “skirt and pull it into gathers until its the same size as your ribbon leave around 1 in   un gathered at either side of the gap and fold these over to make a neater edge.If you want a neater skirt you can pleat it but this is harder


Sew the gathered up “skirt” onto the ribbon ,it doesn’t  need to be overly neat as it will be hidden under the bodice but the stitches need to be close and strong ,,using the thread double is the easiest way .Fold the ribbon over the top of the gathered up skirt piece and stitch it down.


Its helps to iron the waistband as flat as possible as it reduces bulk at the waist but it’s not essential,,don’t forget to iron it inside out .
If the skirt needs hemming try it over the hoop then cut to length and hem ., do a narrow hem so your stitches are close to the floor when the skirts on as ,no ones likely to notice how neat the hemline stitches are so as long as its a colour of cotton close to the fabric you don’t need to worry too much about evenness or neatness.If you feel like going the extra mile you can add velvet ribbon or fringe etc trim to cover the stitches but it’s rarely noticed.

If you really dont have time or dont want to hem the gown you could use pinking shears or scalloped edged scissors to create a hemline .The Gown below has no hems whatsoever.

The gown below could also be made instead of a single tier gown if you have been able to find very wide but short curtains or two pairs of curtains not quite long enough to make a single tier skirt ,the curtains could be used individually as a tier each .If you can find a long skirt of some kind to sew them onto that would make life easier but if not you could use a sheet as the base for the tier layers .Just follow the original skirt instructions for any under skirt and the tiers

green dres

7 /optional

Make two puff sleeves ,cut two generous  long rectangles of fabric that are wide enough to reach your elbow or above depending on how long you want the sleeves.Sew the  sleeve ends together to make a cylinder,now gather the bottom ,keep trying it on your arm until it’s how you would like it ,now you can fold over the rough edge and stitch it roughly ,,cover your stitches with some gathered lace.,repeat with the other sleeve .leave the tops of both rough until you finish your bodice..Its not essential to have sleeves you can just add very deep  lace (see the green and blue gowns below). If you used curtains and dont have spare fabric you could  use a  different fabric for the sleeves such as tulle or lace .A deep venise lace flounce will usually look fine though.Try to avoid Nylon lace as it will be very noticeable at your neckline and its the lace which is the main feature of your gown,if it looks modern the dress wont work.

dark green gown

To make a long sleeved gown is harder but essential the same cut a rectangle but this time hold it against your arm to work out how it needs to be shaped to make a fitted sleeve ,Alternatively make the puffed sleeves elbow length

emily shoot pars

If you need long sleeves for an early Victorian dress you can use these elbow length puffed sleeves and add to tubes of fabric to make long sleeves.This was a long sleeved daytime bodice that went with the green tiered dress,making two bodices and keeping the skirt separate is a brilliant way to have two outfits for the price of one


Or if you have a blouse for under your dress you can make Pagoda sleeves ,for these you make the top narrower so its not making a big puffy top but keep the bottom wide ,it makes an upside down v shape and  you leave them un gathered at the bottom to make the wide flared Victorian sleeves below.Its also easy to make a short plain sleeve then make a wide sleeve for under it ,this will again give you twolooks for any dresses

cb birthday pars

pagoda slssve side

pagoda sle.For


Make bodice,first cut the front waist to the shape you want,start with smaller cuts than you feel might be needed just in case you make a mistake ,then trim a bit at a time.For most Victorian dresses a pointed front even a very slight one  is the most flattering.

parasonage red dress

,though early dresses had straight or slightly curved fronts some of which were higher.This is an original gown from the V and A Musuem


,,you can use either for bustle dresses as it wont show ,but a v shape gives crisper folds at the waist.

mina dress


Next cut off any back zip,if you keep this but cut off the knobbly base and remove the actual zipper it is useful to put this at the back edge of your gown between the edge and the lacing holes as this will prevent tears to the fabric

Now you  begin covering the bodice  place a piece of fabric in the centre front and tack it down.

bodice top layer

,If you have a pretty decorated piece of fabric it can create a nice focus

cavailer gown

or a jewelled panel from a evening gown(the panel above is from a cushion and the panel  below from an Asian Dupata ).


Any decorated piece of fabric can look very effective.

bodice front

but if not use the same fabric as for the rest of the gown.Make this piece of fabric wide enough to reach from strap to strap but no wider and lay it on the fabric

Next lay a piece of fabric next to the front panel at what ever angle you think looks best and so that the right side of the fabric is face down on top of the bodice  ,if in doubt you can lay it along a boned panel in the bodice so you can a stitching guide and can be sure each side will be the same .If they are slightly uneven or the seams not straight you can always cover the join with trim or lace as below.

cavailer gown2

The fabric panel  doesn’t need to be long enough to completely cover the strap you can patch this up later with spare pieces as its easier and the piecing wont show as its going to be covered by lace.

Now stitch  this second piece down leaving at least an inch overlap on the pieces so that is theres a later tear on the seam you dont automatically see the bodice underneath .Stitch this  row of stitches over again ,this stitching needs to be very strong ,flip the fabric over so its right side is showing and tack its edge down as you did the front piece ,now repeat the process  at the opposite side.

If your feeling adventurous you can try stitching  the two side panels over your centre panel almost covering it making a fake jacket closure

hathawys blue gown

Which ever style you choose  repeat it at each side with another strip of fabric on and so on until you have covered both sides of the bodice,For a typically Victorian look its best to use at least four.

brown bronte gown

and separate panels either side but you can use just three as below

Now tuck the bottom and top edges neatly under the bodice and tack down.

When you reach the back fold the edges of the final piece over and stitch it inside the bodice .If this is the right size then you can move on to the final steps ,if not add another piece of the fabric in the same manner as the other pieces ,however on the final piece slip the only zip tracking into the edge and secure with a few stitches,,this will give a firm edge to hold the bodice in shape once you add the lacing holes

lastly piece up any gaps on the strap parts and sew the puff sleeves into the bodice ,gather them as needed to make them fit ,Its best to try to keep the gathers at the top of the arms but not essential as the lace will  hide any mistakes.The finished gown minus the lace trim will look roughly like this


Add the gathered lace to the neckline,if you can find old lace ,or an old tablecloth or tray cloth to cut lace off it will make the dress look more authentic but it does cause problems for washing.

,Modern venice /venise lace is best as its easy to wash but looks authentic,this can be bought from ebay or fabric stores.

If you want a day gown not an evening gown you can use a long thin table runner or tray cloth cut it part way down the middle and cut a small semi circle out of  the top of this  cut to make a faux Victorian collar or pelerine as seen here,this could also go over a low necked gown to make it an day gown

brown bronte gown

lastly make holes at the back of the bodice to thread ribbon or ideally cord through the lace the bodice shut when on.It might seem when the dress is of the lacing cord looks clumsy and will stand out but this is not the case even when seen directly from the back.

back bustle dr4sss

from most angles is barely visible .

unquiet slumbers bst




If you have spare fabric its best to save a piece to put inside the bodice to cover any gap between the two back parts of the bodice once on.Even a small gap that shows skin or under layers sill stand out(.If you make this “modesty panel” a foot or so longer than the bodice it will tuck down and hide the closure gap in your skirt.You could also add a frill as below which would blend in with any frills on a bustle.

back bst

oh la lal moncrome

But you may wish to try the bodice on first as if it meets perfectly as above  you may not want to bother with this stage ,,though save some fabric just in case you need to do it later .

To make the holes you ideally need a pointy tool ideally  bodkin,but you can just as easily use a DIY bradel, a sharp kebab or similar skewer or any other sharp pointed object you may have to hand .Dont use scissors as they make holes that are too big and dont use a knife as it will slash the fabric and possibly your finger as well .I usually add holes at around 2/3 inch intervals but it’s entirely up to you and what you feel is needed .

To thread the lacing cord in seal each end of the cord tightly by wrapping cellotape or parcel tape around it to stop it unravelling.Now thread it though to make a fish bone type lacing design  or a straight one as in those seen below.Its essentially the same way you would thread shoe laces.

bustle dress back


Do not the x shaped one as the x shape will stand out and is inaccurate,While back lacing gowns were uncommon in Victorian times they were made so this closure is authentic and much easier than using buttons etc which would require a perfectly tailored bodice to fasten

Try on the bodice ,if it fits tack on your skirt ,you can leave the back gap in the skirt  as its rarely noticeable.You can easily hide it by making over laping gathers in the back skirt or making a longer panel for under the lacing cord ,no one has ever noticed a gap in my dresses ,even on film footage.


but if you prefer to have it closed you can buy velcro which is hard to stitch but much better than stick on velcro.

Bustle gowns

The bodices of these gowns can be made following the instructions above ,Leaving out very wide long puffed sleeves as this is not a style used in bustle gowns,you can use smaller puffs or gather  and ruche in wider ones.


.To decorate the neckline use either lace.

pink bustle dress

or beaded trim.


though its also possible to buy pleated satin ribbon .The decoration below is on an 18thc dress but the pleated trim is the same for Victorian gowns

detailing bodice

You could also add two wide lace panels either side of the neckline to make a v necked dress ,just cut two lengths of lace long enough to tack under the gowns neckline at an angle to meet front and back.





black dress side train


Or a piece across the centre  front to make a higher neckline



To make the front draped bit add a very wide and long blunted ended triangle of fabric  (ie cut and very long triangle longer at the front then chop two triangles off each side end .imagine ts going to be tied a bit like a scarf around your middle

.Now  stitch it to the bodice at the front dont stitch right from side to side but just across the centre front   .Make the bit were you sew it to the waist flat at the front.

green cotton bustle dress

gathered at the sides.

pull it towards your waistband and drape it until it goes all around to the centre back if theres enough fabric spare you can make an extra draped bit.Stitch it to the waistband.

bustle red


This should create at least a little bit of a draped front.If you fold it over in deep folds you can avoid adding any decoration ,pleats or trim to this






If you make this piece long and wide enough you should  be able to gather it into a reasonable draped shape by playing about the the blunt ends of the fabric panel.

If you use velvet or contrasting fabric this front panel is a major style point to the gown.The least amount of work taken on a bustle dress can involve draping this over a contrasting skirt to give a more or less complete dress,just add another draped piece at the back.

wycoll blue vel dress

To create both front and back drapery try sewing ribbon to the end  of the blunt ended edges or use a safety pin and keep experimenting with how to drape it.Dont worry if the v isn’t central some bustle gowns didnt have exactly central front drapes .

Instead of this front draped panel or as well as you could add two side panels ,like little aprons but at the sides,adding this under or over the apron front drapery gives a much more complicated look to the gown.

green dress detail

I will give instructions for creating the bustle bit further along but first the easy bit. The skirt can be made almost the same way but instead of gathering the waistline all the way around  leave the front almost straight as for this gown.


,just gather the sides a little bit  and back more .For the hemline instead of making it exactly the same all the way around cut the front higher and the back longer to give some extra length to go over the bustle ,,a trained gown is ideal so you do not  have to worry too much as getting the back length exact .The skirt in bustle gowns cant be sewn onto the bodice as theres another layer over it .You can just leave it without a proper waistline and add ribbon ties or velcro fastening.




The hard part of bustle gowns is the  actual bustling and this is difficult .I usually make bustle gowns in three parts sometimes more .The bodice ,the skirt and the bustle.For the bustle I use assorted sized pieces and assorted shapes .You can use a long wide piece of fabric and simply  gather it up at each end.then get a narrow piece and do the same and another piece this will give three gathered tiers add these to a long piece of ribbon and tie onto your waist over the skirt then put the bodice on.

Thats basically  what this bustle is .

green fit bustle gown


.Alternatively do one long gathered rectangle gathered as above and add either one or two more in decreasing sizes ,or cut  one  small long rectangle and gather it at the top  as below ,then sew a piece of gathered fabric to the bottom of the modesty panel used under the lacing  to make a little frilled back.

cherry tree back bustle dress


Or use a lot of draped or gathered  lengths intertwined over a long panel of contrasting fabric.You dont need to follow any pattern just make a lot of different lengths pf fabric and ruch them ,this gown has a front panel which was long enough to gather at the sides then drape up but this used a lot of fabric.


back heb

cut a lot of the little frills and stitch them onto a long strip of fabric,this is not  hard but does take a very long time.

bustle dress back

for a very simple bustle you could just use a panel of lots of pleats these take a while but are not hard to make.

back bst



Bustle dresses need a lot of time spent hemming but you can get around this if you add frills that are edged with pinking shears as in the red gown below


All the dresses shown in this post were made using this cheats guide  method and it can be used  to make Tudor , Elizabethan and restoration  bodices in the same manner but you will need different sleeves .For early Tudor gowns you can omit adding a front  v to the waistband and just cover the bodice as it is ,likewise for the Restoration gown below  for Elizabethan bodices ideally a longer v shaped front but its not essential

green and gold gowngreen tudor gown front

,please do comment at the foot of the post if you need any further help .

Further DIY clothing posts are here

and lastly ,though its a Regency bonnet the instructions will work for an early Victorian bonnet also

Posted in 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth, history, work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Charlotte Brontes wardrobe unlocked The going away Gown

This was a dress I had been hoping to examine closely as its one of the gowns which can be assigned to Charlotte with absolute certainty and one I had tried to replicate (unsuccessfully) from memory .It was the first gown that I caught sight of on my arrival at the library ,the hem just peeking out from its layers of careful wraping.The dress is made from good quality very crisp silk and the hem further stiffened with corded fabric edging so the skirt of the gown  stood out in stiff but graceful folds that for some reason brought to mind those statutes of ladies that recline on Tudor and Elizabethan graves their petticoats and gowns all falling in stiffly folded curves around their feet.

With so much to see I was unsure which of the gowns to examine first but as the mysterious Brown gown lay closest to me I decided to start there and leave the Iconic and well-known  going away /Honeymoon gown for later.

It’s a strange and moving item ,the stiffness of the fabric  and the gowns construction  almost creates an impression of an occupant and  its strange to imagine what is now laid out with such care  on a table was once hung neatly upstairs with similar care waiting Charlotte’s arrival from her wedding at the nearby church and just a few hours later would have been clothing Charlotte as she walked happily out of the Parsonage door to start her Honeymoon tour .I suspect it arrived at its destination hours later rather less crisp and pristine than it now looks but  such is the case with all natural fabrics  and the gown was an eminently sensible choice for traveling .

It’s beautifuly tailored with a  comfortably cut double bodice giving an extra layer of warmth  .The loose sleeves and front fastening bodice making it comfortable in heat  of the day or cold  of the evening and easy for tired travel weary figners to remove.The dark but elegant colours are  less likely to show mud spatters or spills.Smart and very fashionable but not overly showy,The collar shows signs  of the same (now)  gold silk fringing as the waistline and when new this probably shone attractively in the sunlight making  the gown look less dark than it seems laid out flat .

I  know some gowns can change colour over time and I am not sure how  or if this fabric has changed colour with age,I know is widely considered to have been mauve ,,though mauve was an exepnsive colour to buy in the first half of the victorian age,, ,it’s always been carefully stored so there’s no sunlight fading  or fading from washing ,discolouration from coal or woodsmoke fires etc and its doesnt look markedly different inside so  the colour change must have been within the fabric itself and I dont know enough about fabric conservation to know how early victorian dyes age,certainly later analine dyes can fade but this would have been pre analine .There does seem to be possible signs of shattering at the neck ,which is  no reflection on its conseravtion ,its tragicaly an unavoidable result of reactions within some silks to  metals used in the dying process so may be thats also caused discolouration. I think as its trimmed with the gold look fringing and the mid brown corded velvet fabric  it was probably always fairly dark ,though perhaps with more colour evident.

Sadly the dress shows very little sign of use ,the lining along the hemlines is pristine,There is areas of damage at the neckline but they may be fabric aging or from a brooch or caused by its outing on a model in the early days or the 20th c.Theres also some odd pin marks along the hemline which look like a previouse hem line but that seems odd as theres less than an inch difference .Despite these I dont think the gown saw major ,its impossible to remove hemline staining from mud or general pavement dust and debris (as anyone trying to resell a modern wedding or prom gown knows) and this gown has none of those which I am pretty certain it would have had it been worn around Haworth,for country walks or in a victorian town.

It’s possible it only saw one outing on the day Charlotte left for her honeymoon.

I did not however examine this as closely as the other items as while I was extremely careful will all the clothing I confess to being so nervous of damaging this gown that I had to will myself to move any part of it and the fabric does seem to be rather fragile in some places on the bodice .I am used to examining artifacts and usually  focus on the item before me to the exclusion  of other thoughts but in the case of this gown I  felt an almost unbearable sadness that this tiny  gown had seen such high hopes and happiness yet months later was probably hidden away in a trunk  it’s very sight a source of pain and sorrow .

The gown is  very full skirted like most of Charlotte’s later gowns  but is not in fact an actual gown but a two-part outfit ,as was becoming fashionable at the time ,this allowed for an extra bodice to be made to convert gowns to a secondary use without requiring a complete change of clothing ,,perhaps this gown also had a second bodice now lost,It is beautifully and I would guess professionayl made and much more detailed on a closer inspection that it seems when viewed in the small postcard images.

It has a very complex construction compared to the other gowns ,the pleated bodice being built on a more tailored underbodice.The bodice had a  detailed  waist trimmed with silk fringe.It is trimmed at the hem ,cuff and neck with mid brown corded possible velvet fabric .Its fastens  with hooks and eyes .It’s a telling contrast to the earlier Brown gown laid next to it which  while it was carefully and neatly cut and sewn  was almost certainly homemade with several signs of wear,the brown  gown seemed to me at  to shout governess or at least teacher as do some of the other earlier gowns in the parsonage online collection  .This outfit was that of a  reasonable wealthy fashionable middle class lady .

Posted in 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth, work | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anne of Cleves ,not as bad as shes painted

The Lady seems to have had a bad press ,Henry’s wives tend to be used to embody almost every female stereotype that exists ,The faithful ,longsuffering wife,, Catherine of Aragon ,,the adventuress and other woman ,,Ann Bolyne, the  chaste ,gentle and quiet loved and tragically  lost young mother ,Jane Seymour ,the ugly ,stupid frumpy ,Ann ,the young silly strumpet,Catherine Howard ,the good  wise  older woman /stepmother Katherine Parr. The labels are usually wrong based on Victorian writers or hearsay and when  occasionally accurate tell nothing like the whole story ,,For example Henry VIII is supposed to have loved  the  virtuouos  and shy  Jane Seymour , yet Jane was quite old by Tudor standards,, well over 25  and a woman that’s very probably jane is caught sat on Henry’s  knee while hes still married to Ann ,which doesnt seem very maiden like behavior. Likewise Henry is supposed to have  been devoted to Jane ,yet when  he saw Janes newly arrived Ladies in waiting he was heard to say that had he seen them before he would never have married Jane ,within months of their marriage he had taken a mistress and though he was certainly extremely upset by her death  and actually wore mourning for several months ,the letters sent out to inform ambassadors of Jane’s death also mentioned he was inline for another wife .

In this light we should therefore reassess Ann.The first portrait we always see of Ann is the longer version of a miniature painted by Hans Holbein

The smaller miniature in its pretty ivory box seen here was part of a number of mail order bride portraits Henry commissioned so asses the merits of potential brides.

The miniature was enough to persuade Henry to send Holbein off to paint an expensive full length portrait of Ann and the full length version sold Henry on Ann as his next bride.Interestingly no one even Henry complained the portrait was inaccurate and Holbein remained Henry VIII and the courts painter of choice.The mystery may be partly solved by a side view image of Ann.

The features that look regular and attractive front on do seem rather sharp and angular side on and its been suggested Anns nose was much longer and the painting may have been retouched.Even so to me at least she still doesn’t seem that bad,She seems to be prettier than her predessor Jane Seymour.

and not unlike her successor the pretty Katherine Howard as far as facial features go.

In fact to me this portrait above seems more likely to be Anne than Catherine ,the attribution of the portrait as one of Catherine is based mostly on the fact the lady is wearing royal jewels and yet this portrait is nothing like almost every other portrait thats linked to Catherine or has in the past been said to be her.Other potential portraits of Catherine are always in the same basic style and shes always wearing the same style of clothing

I think it not impossible therefore that the minture portrait of the lady with a rich jewelled hood and the queens jewels  is  one of Ann .We think of Anne as always dressed in the highwaisted Flemish style but she quickly adjusted to English court life and did not continue to wear Flemish clothing long after her arrival but soon adopted English fashions.The lady in the miniature portrait is quite curvey as is Ann and has a similar stance and facial features ,she also seems older than the very young Catherine Howard who was almost certainly a teenager when Henry met her and may have been in her late teens as queen .

Its uncertain why Henry found Ann unattractive , when Henry remarried there were a number of occasions when both Ann and hes new wife Catherine were together at events,sometimes dancing together and Several ambassadors remarked that Catherine was not as pretty as Ann who Henry thought ugly.(when she took to wearing English dress for the first time after the wedding, one contemporary remarked that the fashion ‘set forth her beauty and good visage that every creature rejoyced to behold her’)( quote compliments of Ms sunydale)The problem Henry had with Ann appears to be less black and white than the Flanders Mare comments suggests.

Its likely that one thing Henry really disliked was her figure ,he singles it out for complaint in his comments to courtiers and she is far more buxom than his other wives ,Henry seems to have liked small breasted petite built ladies and Ann is always shown as curvy.Likewise her succesor Katherine was extreemly petite

It’s also  likely it was her lack of English ,social skills and “elegant accomplishments” that most soured the relationship.They certainly got off to a bad start as Henry who liked to play games of courtly love appeared to Ann on her arrival “in disguise “,Ann didn’t recognise him ,treated him rather coldly and when he tried to kiss her ,its possible she may have slapped him ,,not what Henry would have expected.Ann was probably never likely to make up ground from this first meeting .

Unknown woman at the court of Henry VIII suggested as either Ann or her sister Amelia

Despite being discarded I can’t help feeling of all Henrys wives Anne was the most fortunate ,,She spent very little time living with him,He was so nice to her while they were together she thought everything was fine more or less up to the point where she was “dumped”She got along ok with Henry but doesnt seem to have been in love with him unlike his unforunate first wives and she got a very handsome settlement during Henry life, a high position when at court and enjoyed a great deal of liberty not given to most women at that time and certainly more than she would have had in cleves.She also seems to have avoided Henrys amorous attentions which considering his vast build ,stinking leg ulcer and bad breadth was probably not a bad thing .While her fortunes were less good under his successors ,she survived both Henry and his other wives and apart from a slight run in with Henrys secret service was usualy left in peace .

Posted in 16thc/17thc, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Tudors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The city garden Spring ,gardening on a budget

This is the first full year  I have had to plan and plant the garden and the new plantings and wildlife friendly features such as frog niches and new trees will have  a chance to take effect .I am also starting to see the aesthetic results of much of my plantings ,last year I sacrificed flowers and height to prune shrubs and hedges into a bushy shape and cut back some to allow others space to fill in gaps .This has made the dividing hedges and back wildlife  patch much bushier  and deeper with many more birds using both.

bacl artbour spring.png

I  lost a huge number of plants to slugs and snails which has meant I had to adjust my planting schemes to plants less attractive to slugs .I also added a lot more trees this year which should fill out in the next few weeks and improve the views and privacy.

back woodland garden towards house.png

I have spent overall very little to make the changes and mostly using cheap budget options so I thought reviewing the usually frowned on plastic planters, supermarket and bargain store plants and trees would be useful but first a quick garden update.

We have no longer got the wide range of winter visitors to the bird feeders the siskins have left for their summer feeding grounds and all the continental blackbirds left for home ,though we have two pairs which visit the front and back gardens  and the bullfinches may also have left ,though they usually visited the feeders at dawn ,which has the days lengthen I no longer see.We still had the goldfinches and they have increased to a small flock from just a pair ,the greenfiches  occasionally visit ,the gold crests are nesting and the assorted sparrows ,robins blue tits ,coal tits ,great tits etc all still visit while the woodpecker visits with its new mate.

The hedgehogs have all woken from hibernation.and for the first time we are seeing frogs in both the back and front garden.


unfortunately thus far they have only appeared at night so I am using a photo from wiki photo credit

Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak Image:MFB.jpgOwn work

The foxes have cubs this year and are just starting to let them stray out of the den and romp about in the back small patch of woodland behind out house.

The woodpecker has acquired a mate and the goldfinches are still regular visitors in much greater numbers than last year,all the bird clearly enjoy the new trees and shrubs hoping from one to the other our back hedge is usually full of sparrows and the gold crest is still in the conifer .

Bees are starting to appear as are the first butterflies ,the first to appear was a peacock butterfly several weeks back ,then the small whites and most recently the speckled wood butterfly

speckeld wood

Photo mine though from our last house as thus far this year I havent managed a photo of any butterflies.As far as garden design goes ,we were lucky enough to have the large shed taken down ,this has left a fairly decent sized flat patch at the top of the garden which I am planning to use for a hidden patio ,though it’s currently rather bedraggled looking .

top patioo from wodoland garden.png

I also planted  up a new hedge and made a curved bed which will eventually be a birch arbour,though it’s looking pretty grotty at present ,the back “soil” is odd ,I think its made of a several year old pile neat grass clipping and ideally I would have dug it all out but the elder tree and roses from the back field are growing into it and the ground is several feet higher at the back than in our garden so I scooped out as much as possible added decent soil and compost to a narrow little bed for indestructable plants such as the pink gernium and some periwinkle and put gravel and stones on the base I will add a plain planks bench and train the two sapling birches to make a curved arch which will cover it without growing anything into the dodgy dry mess at the back ,once I have some free chas I will add further layers of stone to cover the “soil”

future birch arbour.png

Our front garden is finally starting to fill out

front garden front wall spring.png

For more or less all these changes I have had to compromise and do things which I know are far from ideal.

For several reasons ,one probably common to most gardeners lack of spare money and for other reasons ,several of which are likely to be shared by some of my readers;

Lack of any transport other than public transport ,lack of  close by ,reasonably priced garden centres ,most importantly I don’t own either the house or its garden,though I plan to stay some time,I am conscious that anything spent on plantings is money that wont be retrieved and which I may never see the results of and as a rented property whatever is left behind must not need regular maintenance but still provide food and shelter for as much wildlife as possible.

Any changes that the landlord doesn’t like or which will be high maintenance must be easily removed by us when we leave ,hence flower beds in the front garden need to be removable so they are built over the top of a thick plastic membrane and could be scooped up and placed in planters then the spaces filled with gravel.Likewise back shrubs or trees need to be removable  and beds easily grassed over where needed.In the front this meant working with mostly gravel ,slate and tiny beds

front garden front wall spring

Lastly despite plans to stay  its possible that I wont see the results of any plantings even from winter to spring so even when we do have funds major spending has to be restricted to plants for pots .

Making  a flower or veg bed

In an ideal world this involves lots of hard work to create nice deep rich fairly wide beds lots of digging especially ,plus improving and enriching your soil, in our easy to remove front garden this is impossible.Even had we owned the house the front garden would be a problem ,its crisscrossed by assorted pipes are very close to the surface ,while the main water pipe runs along the top,deep digging ,beds that cover the pipes heavy paving slabs or anything too big ,anything deep rooting or permanent fixtures are all out .When we arrived it was just gravel.I figoured anything was better than nothing .

front garden


I got permission to make some narrow flower beds as long as they could be undone completely if needed .The new beds are certainly an improvement but follow none of the rules

front garden front wall spring

The beds are almost grow bags shallow plastic bottomed and narrow,they were made using some soil added with compost and bone meal ,fish and blood meal and coffee grinds which seems to produce quite good results but does mean that most plants cant put down deep roots and they need a lot of watering as theres only 18 inches of soil at most and in some parts less than a foot ,theres are some shrubs and roses that hug the hedge and will be allowed to stay and for which I cut holes into the plastic membrane but everything else had to rest in this shallow soil .The front side garden above  was created and planted up for less than £1oo which includes the slate chips compost and planter ,I used barerooted shrubs and bulbs and plants from bargain stores and took cuttings from the hydrangea ,fuchsia and flowering currant to use in other parts of the garden ,while using pink geraniums from the back for the front .The gardens now a regular spot for blackbirds ,gold finches sparrows ,hedgehogs and frogs ,its also the only part of the garden we havent restricted the foxes from .

Cheap bulbs and plants in bags

Most of my garden plants and bulbs and some shrubs are from discount stores or supermarkets often from their reduced corners.This is without doubt the less politically correct way to buy your garden bulbs plants and shrubs .All the books and gardening magazines ,gardening shows and radio programs advise against it and admitting to buying plants from poundland is probably akin to admitting you buy porn on the scale of moral decadance.I love to shop at a family owned garden centre with a huge range of excellent plants which are also very reasonably priced ,but its an hours drive when we don’t own a car ,its half a day and a hugely expensive trip  on public transport involving three trains and it would be impossible to bring home anything large and despite its very reasonable prices I could never afford to fill the new beds from it.

What we do have walking distance away are supermarkets and bargain  stores  which by contrast let me fill a new flower bed with 4 seasons of plantings  for under £10 Eg the front garden beds wich iincludes queen of the night tulips ,hyacinths ,dwarf and large  daffodiles  scented narcissus ,some dutch  iris ,gladioli and crocosimia plus 2 hostas and two hardy fuchsias  these were all not just from a bargain store but most came from its clearance section .I have rarely had bad results from bargain store bulbs usually most come up and look just as good as those I buy from garden centres .I bought snowdrops for the back  and side gardens for 5o p and didn’t really expect any to grow as snowdrops can be picky even when bought in the green but 3/4 came up and looked brilliant while the bargain tulips from our front drive side bed have come up twice looking great both times .The exceptions were some lily of the valley which never appeared and some Nerine bowendi which also never appeared ,,though it possible in both cases they were eaten buy snails or slugs before I noticed them as both were under shrubs in quite parts of the garden and often plants only get a couple of days before they are munched (I had a crown imperial fritillary in the Front garden which had put up a decent sized shoot before I checked one morning and it had been all but destroyed with just a tiny chewed up stump remaining )

The bagged up barefooted plants are more of a gamble with around 1/3 not doing anything or looking sorry for themselves .I had no coneflower or poppy come up and only one of the three phlox and lupins .However unlike potted plants they are easy to carry back from even the most distant store and very cheap from £30 of bagged bargain store plants I did get a clump of lupins healthy as any bought potted ones ,a very perky clump of phlox ,a green hosta which despite poor soil ,slug attacks and deep shade does fairly well 3 variegated  hostas which are forming decent sized clumps already in the woodland bed  and 7 peonies  all except one which gets dog trampled fairly often are doing well ,though none of which have flowered yet  as most peonies don’t like being moved its not unlikely that any potted peonies would have flowered in their first year .And some spiky purple plants the name of which escapes me .I have bought several bare rooted barins store roses ,all but one are doing very well and look no different to potted ones ,though they did need some cosseting ,In our last house one poundland Zerpherine Dourhin rose lasted 17 years and spread the whole length of our back fence which was in deep shade.The store bought pair £4 bargin corner apples are meanwhile doing fine though thy are are rather odd shape as I am training them as espalliers that doesnt really matter .

I tend to see all the bagged up store plants as the plant equivilent of battery hens ,they  have been abused ,are likely to be in poor condition and it make take time to get the same results you would get straight away from potted up garden centre plants.

Planters and the joys of plastic

As for bagged supermarket plants buying plastic planters seems to be frowned on from what amounts to pure snobbery.I buy a lot and they are great .I would like to have a collection of spansih and potruges pots ,hand thrown terractotta plant pots ,huge leaded planters ,half barrels,but then I would also love a Stoves gas range,a bean to cup coffee machine and an antique oak  kitchen dresser but I am not getting any of those any time soon so just as I put up with my electric cooker and use a caffetier instead of de longi coffee machine I look for the best planters in my price range and theres a lot to choose from many of which look as good as metal ,terracotta or stone for a tiny fraction of the cost .



Plastic fake terracotta pots are cheaper ,easier to move and need less watering ,I was very lukcy to find a number of hand thrown terracotta plant pots which look brilliant but do without a shadow of a doubt need more watering than my plastic ones and I have laready had losses ,while the dogs,squiresl and birds  can knock over a plastic pot with just some spilled soil ,the small terractotta ones often get cracked or broken .I am increasing my stock of terracotta plant pots because my main seedling area is at the front of the house so I wanted something more attractive but its at the cost of both more money and more time spent watering.

Plastic lead style and metal planters are even better much much cheaper ,much lighter and without the assorted problems of having plants baked by metal heated in the hot summer sun ,or frozen by chilled metal in winter.

I recently also found some amazing very cheap fake cast iron wall baskets and hanging baskets ,needing less heavy and intrusive wall mountings and again avoiding the metal heating up and drying out the compost problem.

Most useful of all are the cheap poundland or bargin stores planters in fake ceramic or terracotta or in assorted colours ,I use green ones which are easy to hide in grass or foliage to create changing plantings and buy the huge plastic ones for vegetables ,trees and the more slug vulnerable plants ,while the terracotta ones I mix with genuine terracotta planters.Probably my favourites where some shiny black deco style ones which I used ast our old house to make a patio on our garage roof

iona garage

Posted in gardens and gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Leeds walks ,around Headingley

This is another of my around Leeds posts ,this time I have chosen Headingley centre as the starting point ,unlike the kirkstall Abbey post this isn’t really a set walk ,but rather a wide circuit of Beckett Park.


It occurred to me that there may be visitors to the Carnegie stadium or newly arrived students that might like a guide to some quick easily accessible green spaces and find some of the links interesting

I have started the walk from Otley road in the centre of Headingley as  not only is this is the main drop off point for buses from both the city centre and from Skipton ,Otley and other areas but also the place were Alan Bennet spent part of his early life living above the current dry cleaners and remembers with fondness trips to Bretts fish and chip shop.

If you get off the bus on Otley road depending on which way you have come into Headingley you will be either next to or facing Wilkos ,either way the route is the same just walk downhill towards the edge of Headingley centre towards the lower  traffic lights ,at the cross road trafficlights you will see a small row of shops ,some hairdressers ,Salvios Italina resturnat and dominos pizza ,your walking up the road that dominoes is on either side of the road will do it doesnt matter ,the road goes fairly steeply uphill and leads to Beckett Park .when you reach the very top of the hill you will see a tarmac footpath that goes from were you stand across Beckett park and via a ginnel /snicket onto Foxcroft Mount., the entrance to Beckett Park  gives you two options you can walk across the park in the direction of the Beckett park red campus building which will bring you into sight of Queenswood a larger piece of ancient woodland thats approx 800 yards or so  across the park .Much closers to your left is Batcliff wood a small sliver of ancient woodland that runs between Beckett Park ,Kirkstall road and the edges of Headingley.Theres at least three different paths into the wood  ,a narrow one that runs along side the allotment fence and two middle ones that are covered in leaves ,,or mud depending on the season

bluebells batcliff wood 1

Further down theres a further path into the woods which is the main through path from Batcliff to Kirkstall road.Every path leads ultimately to the same point , they lead to the main road junction with a side turning that will take you down the side streets onto Kirkstall lane or into Headingly again.As which ever path you take will lead you to were the paths meet and from which you can take a different path back you can take all or any path ,I often walk the dogs in bad weather by meandering down one path and taking another back and then do the same again ,doing this you pass woodland clearings ,mini crags and little tree clad dips .Theres several felled trees which have been cut and left where they fell to create glades to sit in .Though small its a haven in what is quite a busy area, its rare that you can hear any traffic or human noise ,unless theres a cricket or rugby match on when you can sometimes hear the crowds from the nearby Headingly Carnegie stadium

.Batcliff wood is largely  Beech wood ,with the odd silver birch ,oak,horse chestnut .Scattered around the edges and in the odd clearing wild cherries ,wild apples, hawthorns  and the ubiquitous sycamore.

In spring it probably looks (and smells )at its  best with the greater part of it carpeted in English bluebells

batcliff 6

The wood while small is full of wildlife and at almost any time of day ,any time of year you will hear rich and varied bird song , I recognise  the songs of song thrushes ,wrens ,robins ,blackbirds and occasionally chiff chaffs,in winter and early spring you can often see the red kites flying overhead or magpies and Jays in the trees.(I have never managed to get a woodland shot of a jay but the one visiting my garden from the woods is more accommodating )

jay in garden

sometimes you can see or hear woodpeckers, at dusk  owls and from time to time more unusual visitors such as this green ring necked parakeet

parakeet 1

The wood has a decent size colony of  grey squirrels though its usually only winter you get a clear view of them .Batcliff is a brilliant safe and easy to get to piece of peace and stillness ,though also a good place to let your dogs ,,or kids have a run around ,theres plenty of  smaller trees  which are easy to climb as every path ultimatly leads to the same point at both ends,, the Becket park footpath at one end and the main road at the other theres no chance to get lost or stray too far away from civilisation and your transport links ,you can cross Batcliff in 10 mins or spend an hour .

Double backing though Batcliff   you will arrive back to the Beckett park footpath with the park spreading out before you though the trees

bluebells batcliff 2

,you can either head back downhill into Headingley ,or take a right and cross Becket Park towards Queenswood .

Becket park is a pleasant sized piece of parkland which I guess was probably part of an estate of which the older part of the campus also formed part ,the park has many undulating stretches which I am told are the remains of medieval plough lines and the lower parts get wet and boggy after even quite moderate rainfull ,also if your a dog walker it is usually crossing Beckett park  or one of its small copses that the dogs find and roll in fox poop or urine ,I have often said if we could bottle the joy  they dogs have when they are having a good roll around in stinky stuff ,there would never be any one sad ever again .Even half an hour later my wee dog is clearly delighted with her new look and scent

tilly dirty

At any point on Beckett park its possible to spot Queenswood ,it  stretches out at the bottom of the  parks hill .

As with Batcliff theres several paths into the wood ,the ones you arrive at first are closest to the campus approach road that runs parallel to the  park and wood but after a hundred yards or so the road ends in a car park and its safer to let kinds and dogs loose .

As with Batcliffs paths its quite hard to get lost in queeneswood ,all the uphill paths will ultimately end at either the arch or a avenue of trees that approaches the arch.The arch itself “vickys arch “as it used to be known  is not as at first might seem part of a ruined house ,nor is it a folly  ,it was built by the landowner to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria ,who due to a change of schedule never saw it .

In winter its glimpsed from between bare branches ,in summer its hidden until your almost upon it queenswd arch

Once you reach the arch ,which you do by heading uphill until you reach either dense unassailable under growth or a fence to get back you just head downhill in the same way  ,any path downhill will take you through to the bottom main path htrough the woods which is edges by fallen tree trunks ,following this will bring you back onto Beckett park.

From the bottom of Beckett park any uphill path will get you back to a main road and from thence any downhill path will bring you back into Headingley.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to kill with Kindness

I very quick post on organic gardening plant food.

I was really thrilled to receive some nettles from an organic garden to use to make nettle plant food,after  a while festering soaked in water ,I diluted them to make feed for my seedlings and the shrubs I had planted in winter,all seemed well and I have to admit to feeling very pleased with myself,I had made organic ,environmentally  friendly plant food for all my little plants,,that night a few looked a bit unhappy ,but I figured I must have damaged them carrying them in and out of the garden or by using the watering can rather than the little seed watering can,the next day the rest seemed fine I water a few that were dry and put them outside,suddenly late afternoon a few more had started to wilt ,figured they needed watering so gave them a drink ,came back from walking the dogs and started to bring the plants in for the night (still hardening them off )plant after plant was clearly dying ,,wilted leaves ,stems flopped over sideways ,I had already lost around 30/40 plants,I got help from a more experienced gardener who recognised the effects of weedkiller ,I  never use weed killers,I was assuming I had over watered or under watered or killed them off not using the seed watering can  or put them in too much sun .

we hosed them down for ages and then brought them inside ,most looked pretty sodden and miserable but the next morning around two thirds had perked up ,I had lost another third and I lost around another dozen during that day and half a dozen today ,but the rest seem fine.

I have dug up and moved the plants that got the biggest dose of the killer plant food and all the shrubs seem fine .

What seems to have happened is that the field  next to the organic garden was sprayed with weed killer of some kind which either via the soil or leaves has seeped into the nettles ,not in big enough quantities to kill them but certainly enough that once concentrated in the syrupy nettle “tea ” was enough to kill small plants  .

I just wanted to share my experience so that other gardeners can learn from my mistake,also as its clearly not in large enough concentrations to have any effect on big plants ,I thought despite the heartbreak its just as well I lost the seedlings as otherwise I would have been pouring contaminated feed onto the garden all summer.

I will also think twice about growing vegetable crops against dividing hedges or fences in any future gardens that we live in




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Plants that kill ,what not to plant in your garden

I recently bought some seeds of an amazing looking plant VERATRUM CALIFORNICUM,it had interesting leaves and seemed a great cottage garden plant however when I looked up its cultivation I was absolutely horrified ,its not only extremely toxic to humans and animals ,so much so that even breathing the pollen can cause serious problems ,its also deadly to Bees and other insects .


(this is quite a useful database but some entries are a little bit over cautious ,in this case it is pretty accurate).

I therefore thought a short list of plants toxic to wildlife  ,pets and humans  or plants likely to cause problems in other ways such as skin blistering ,would be handy .It would be more or less impossible to grow nothing toxic in your garden and most “poisonous ” plants are pretty hard to hurt yourself with so I haven’t included  the traditional ones such as foxgloves which would require a fair bit of carelessness to cause harm to humans and are excellent bee plants .I also havent included plants so rare as to be unlikely to cause problems ,only  commonly grown plants that are a major problem for bees ,butterflies and other animals or an easily caused health  risk that has frequent cases eg plants that cause similar problems to stinging nettles.


Rhododendrons and Azaleas  ,almost all  the common species are toxic to many bee species and all rhododendrons can cause Honey to be mildly toxic to humans.Native Irish  honey bees die within hours of visiting bushes  it also kills miner bees.Most bumble bee species seem to be safe from death but may be having other problems that are not as easily observed .Where bee species are not poisoned the honey produced from too much foraging on Rhodendrons can cause problems to the hive or humans .Their leaves can also cause poisoning to pets and livestock who might ingest them ,but mostly they are included in the list because they are widely grown ,popular in garden centres and because of their catastrophic effect on Bees.

Lupins ,cause problems for bees that are still being researched ,they seem to cause a reduction in the birth rate and also cause few malkes to be produced ,a few garden lupins are probably not going to cause problems but growing  them as green manures and allowing them to flower may be a problem .

Daphne ,all Daphne plants are extremely poisonous to humans and animals  and many also contain skin irritants ,they are all brilliant bee plants and most have beautiful scents,I use them to the back of flower beds where their berries or contact with leaves or sap  wont be a hazard  

Oleander toxic to animals  and humans but also to  butterflies and bees ,usually causing complete hive death.

All  true lilies and almost anything with lily in its name are potential poison hazards , day lilies ,turks cap lilies are a major hazard  to pets just tiny amounts of Lily can harm animals and  it takes very little to cause death especially  for small dogs and cats,Lily of the Valley is poisonous to humans and pets, Its probably good to avoid low growing lilies if you have pets or have cats or other similar sized animals coming into your garden.Some lilies are also useless bee plants as they have been bred to be pollen free to avoid the problems associated with staining fro, lily pollen.Plants with Lily in their name,these are almost always poisonous,Lily of the valley ,Nile lilies etc ,but you tend to have to eat quite a bit to cause human poisoning but if you have small children or pets growing them somewhere hard to reach is probably safest ,I grow lily of the valley in a high  narrow flower bed set into a wall

Anything with Hellebore in its name is likely to be toxic and several are skin irritants but likewise many make excellent bee plants ,I grow Hellebores in wall set beds and leave them alone ,Monkshood a really beautiful tall plant is an excellent bee plant but also extremely poisonous ,one of the few garden plants to have fairly regular reports of death attached to it ,though few are from accidental eating of parts of the plant,,all parts are toxic ,many  cases are deliberate poisoning .

Aconites ,,again anything with aconite in its name is likely to be toxic and a skin irritant ,another group of plants with regular reported cases of poisoning .

Angles trumpets can cause brood death in bees .

Amaryllis ,toxic to bees and pets, also a skin irritant.

Plants that cause skin problems

Almost every plant can cause a problem for some one or other but there are a few which are a likely to cause problems to most people and these are the only ones included below


Rue,I love Rue ,its got pretty leaves and is a good bee plant ,but it has an unfortunate downside,it produces a fairly nasty  skin irritant ,contact with the plant will cause a reaction with sunlight causing at the very least itchiness but also blisters.

Giant Hogweed

deep painful and long lasting blisters and sensitivity to sunlight ,this is a very common reaction to even tiny amounts of sap



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Devon butterflies ,a little shop of horrors

As my regular blog readers  know I have been making my city garden more wildlife friendly ,I had toyed with releasing butterfly larvae of the comma butterfly ,once common here but now absent .It was at this point my paths crossed with that of Devon butterflies.


They seemed reputable and I assumed wrongly they must have links to two more reputable and respected Devon butterfly organisations .I  first started to be concerned when I heard of how unpleasant they were to clients,answering even simple enquiries with sarcastic and abusive emails  ,that would have been enough to deter me  from buying from them but  after doing a little research worse was to come . I had not realised that there were such unethical ,cruel and ignorant people still running businesses.

The owner has clearly and enthusiastically   advocated killing song birds and protected species,by laying mouse traps or catching them and wringing their necks .He explained on his business site how best to do this using mousetraps.

dead blue tit

(photo is not related to the incident but is part of an excellent post advising against using the same traps were they can be a danger to birds

heres a few quotes from the companies site.

” if you have trouble with birds pecking holes into the sleeves usually blue tits or great tits,these birds must be killed or they will keep returning and teach their young the same practice ,just catch them and wring their necks ”

Robins ,wrens  and blackbirds which despite being some of our most beautiful songbirds  he called “pest species “They are in fact legally protected species but also far from being in any way pests they are  hugely beneficial to gardeners by eating pests  and their beautiful song brightens up even the most urban areas .He suggests laying mousetraps to kill Wrens


Blackbirds and robins



They company’s response when told that this was illegal was not an apology or even a retraction of the advice”

“A company spokesman said the information “should have been labelled a tip” rather than as advice.

Devon butterflies also tell  customers not to listen to conservation groups or local butterfly recording groups and to ignore the law

This site states

All species listed on this site are suitable for release into the wild to increase numbers and to introduce new genes into existing populations, except those not on the British List marked*. Take no notice of Butterfly Conservation and Moth recording groups who say this is wrong or against the law, which it is not.

Yet again and rather shockingly for someone who is in business breeding animals Devon butterflies are wrong

It is illegal to release into the wild any non uk native species or any species that is not a UK visitant ,the fine is  £1000 (or more) and possible prison sentence


Its also incredibly cruel as the site sells several rare species who would ordinarily live specialised niche environments such as the rainforest and which will clearly die if released .

He calls the UK butterfly conservation organisations idiots and liars

Butterfly Conservation have just released a publication, The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 and the verdict again is more lies and propaganda from a bunch of idiots who don’t know what they are talking about.

Despite the evidence of every other organisation ,group or government body Devon butterflies claims that butterfly species are not declining.

“don’t know what they are talking about claiming most species are in decline when they are clearly not.

The truth is most species are increasing but they do not want to admit it.”

I was at a loss to understand why someone who makes a great deal of money from selling butterflies at least a third of which is to people who want to release them into the wild ,would want to claim that theres no need to help boost butterflies numbers,,but then it occurred to me that unless you have a huge breeding stock of all the British butterflies and can control when they are laying eggs ,turning into pupae ,emerging then you will need to “import” stock from the wild or at the very least provide outside areas which you can persuade wild butterflies to lay eggs in so you can then harvest those eggs

Again from the devon butterflies sites guidelines to buyers .

“The following species are protected from sale, this means you cannot capture a wild specimen to sell alive or dead but you can legally capture it for yourself as a set specimen or to breed from. Any resulting specimens or livestock from breeding is then classed as Captive Bred

Adonis Blue, Black Hairstreak, Brown Hairstreak, Chalkhill Blue, Duke of Burgundy, Glanville Fritillary, Large Heath,  Lulworth Skipper, Mountain Ringlet, Northern Brown Argus, Purple Emperor, Silver Studded Blue, Small Blue, White Letter Hairstreak, Wood White, Chequered Skipper, Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Silver Spotted Skipper. The Large Tortoiseshell is extinct and cannot be added to this list.

By coincidence Devon butterflies sells several of these species and judging by his diatribe against butterfly conservationists  it seems at least possible that there has been to have a disagreement about collecting eggs or capturing wild butterflies,,

Again from the Devon butterflies site

“Have you ever read such a load of rubbish and bullshit as stated by Dr.Martin Warren of Butterfly Conservation.

His Statement is below and is the words of a total prat who knows nothing at all.

Collection and release weakens wild populations. Collecting eggs, larvae and adults from the wild may reduce natural populations. Captive-bred stock lacks genetic diversity and is weakened through adaptation to an indoor environment. Release of captive-bred stock can introduce disease and may reduce the vigour of natural populations.

The above statement is just a load of bullshit issued by a parasitic charity consisting of a bunch of know nothing scumbags.

 Lets all release more and more butterflies and moths and to hell with the Butterfly Conservation idiots.”


I now deeply regret considering releasing butterflies as despite providing the correct food stuffs and despite the area having previously had colonies and other colonies existing close by  ,it clear that this supplier has no regard for wildlife or for any animals so I cant imagine that he is kind to his own stock and I cant escape the impression that buying butterflies from Devon butterflies will be “robbing Peter to pay Paul ”  and Yorkshires gain would be Devons loss . I do not want to fund directly or indirectly  the capture of wild butterflies or the depletion of local numbers because butterflies are trapped or eggs are collected to sell to me .

Likewise neither could I bare the thought  that I had given money to someone who can cheerfully advocate trapping wrens in mousetraps or wringing blackbirds ,robins and blue tits necks  .

The Devon butterflies site claims that  they supply  schools, universities and re introduction programs ,assuming that this is indeed true perhaps blog readers who are involved in any of these organisations would  spread the word and  find other more reputable suppliers .


Posted in gardens and gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Footseps of the Artists ,the Kirkstall Abbey walk

The first of my posts on walks around Leeds ,these are all designed to be easy to access ,dog friendly and fairly easy and short while incorporating areas of interest.Unlike many walk guides I have tried to keep my posts as general as possible ,theres there few set routes or set streets ,lanes etc ,I am personaly  dreadful at keeping to a map route but for anyone with a mobil phone its pretty easy to plan a detailed walk to almost anywhere.By contrast my posts will point readers in the general direction making the places easy to find but leaving you free to make your own choices on how to get there.None are remote or across countryside so its impossible to go too far awry.

The first walk incorporates Kirkstall Abbey .One of the largest and best preserved Cistercian Abbeys in the UK .Admission to the Abby and grounds  unlike most other major Abbey ruins is free .

kirkstall abbey

Instead of Parking in the close by and excellent car park (which also has convient bus stops close by) I have chosen to start the walk on Queenswood Drive  which is just a few minutes outside of Headingley to incorporate Morris Wood .Primarily because the walk can then be started at Headingly Railway Station (regular trains from Leeds price for ticket £3.30 ,journey time 5 to 10 mins Headingley is the second stop after Burley park ,trains from York  and Harrogate also arrive here and I think run half hourly)and also to  help place the Abbey in  its actual and historical context showing the range  of its land and its current setting.It  also provides a very atmospheric view of the Abbey as you approach ,much more evocative than the main road car park it helps give and impression of  how pre industrial revolution travellers would have seen it


kirkstall from Morris wood

This view seems to me to be very similar if not identical to that of the painting by William Henry  Boot ,though the modern house roof obscures the earlier view of the lower part of the ruins


If you get off the train at Headingly walk under the small railway bridge then take either the  small narrow footpath that goes alongside some allotments or the tarmac footpath both will lead onto a main road ,Queenswood drive ,the tarmac path directly ,the narrower path ends a few metres away from it but the roads visible on your right from the end of the path  (the narrow path is far quicker as it comes out further up the road but often muddy).

Which ever path you take dont cross the road but walk along the main road  Queenswood drive  in an uphill direction,  you will see some shops ,when you see the pelican crossing if you look towards your right you will see the tops of trees visible over the roofs of the houses diagonally across from you the take one of the turnings that go through the low rise houses,Woodbridge road is the most direct  ,Morris Wood can be accessed via an unpromising looking footpath.,+United+Kingdom/Morris+Wood,+Leeds,+West+Yorkshire/@53.8229878,-1.6120746,1620m/am=t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m14!4m13!1m.

Morris Wood.

Morris wood

A small sliver of mature woodland which has been sadly neglected ,Morris Wood never the less still has a large population of song birds ,you can hear blackbirds,robins and Thrush and in winter when there’s little tree cover often spot the red kites hovering overhead.

Theres a number of little Paths that go through the wood ,it doesn’t really matter which you take as long as they are going roughly downhill and towards the railway line ,theres a bridge over the railway line around 1/4 mile into the wood and once you cross the bridge the end of the woods is only a hundred or so yards away .If you have a small dog you may want to lease it up before reaching the bridge as the fencing stops short of the ground and anything smaller than a cocker Spaniel would easily fit under .

As you leave the woods you walk downhill  into a small modern group of houses but across the road the Abbey stretches out in front of you ,this view gives a brilliant idea of the Abbeys site ,showing its proximity to the Aire ,its extensive parkland and hints of its old woodland.Its not hard to see why it has enchanted so many artists.Even with the modern busy roads and new housing it looks magnificent.

From the woods its fairly easy to reach the Abbey as it’s clearly visible and there’s a choice of routes ,you can take main roads and paved paths or I prefer to walk across the fields down into the Abbey grounds any route will take between 5 and 10 minutes depending on your walking pace and where you want to come out near.If you have walked or travelled some distance you might want to incorporate the main visitor area into your route and hence take the main road and paths .

Though the  Abbey has  its own small gift shop  shop in the grounds outside near the car park there is both a  Museum and small cafe /tea room ,the  tea room is open 10 am to 4 pm most days of the year and seems welcoming  and friendly.The Museum entrance  costs between £2 and £4 ,its open 10 am to 5 pm but last admission is at 4.30 I have not yet been in the museum as I have always had the dogs with me but it has excellent visitor reviews ,it doesn’t merely focus on the Abbey but has  much wider range of exhibits ,,including an unexpected recreation of a Victorian street .There is also a large children’s play area in this part of the Abbey and a small memorial garden up the steps behind the tearooms.

The Abbey itself is suprisingly child and pet friendly ,its a popular spot for local dog walkers and for family picnics.

Once you cross the road to the Abbey grounds or arrive their via the playing feilds depending on your choosen route  ,you can walk around both the grounds and Abbey free of charge ,the Abbey has extensive grounds which have clearly marked routes that can be walked ,but its much more pleasant to merely  walk around the Abbey in a wide circle ,this incorporates mainy of the views sketched by Turner and takes you through  the park type area  pleasant any time of the year but delightful in spring as its planted up with thousands of spring bulbs.

bulbs Kirkstall

You could  include part of the riverside walk which runs alongside the river Aire and  where a wide range of wildlife and  water birds have been spotted including Kingfishers ,otters and deer  or just walk along the banks of the Aire that are next to the Abbey

swans river aire

Doubling back from the riverside walk you get a wonderful view of the Abbey. Admisson is free and you can walk around the entire site ,outside of opening hours though there abby is surroneded by a wrought iron fence there is a pleasantly bordered path which goes around the outside of the Abbey giving excellent views of the ruined buildings so that whatever time of day you visit its possible to get a good view of the buildings.

abbey grounds4abby grounds 2abbey grounds 3abby grounds 1

But there is also free admission to the Abbey ruins proper

kirkstall abbey

The Abbey has numerouse information points giving details of its history so without a guide book or guide its easy to get a good idea of its history  or the parts of its hisotry which interest you ,I will not add an in-depth history here .The ruins are extensive ,the nave alone is so wide that it originally had a road running directly through it .

The Abbey is surprisingly picturesque ,it was the subject of one famous painting.

Kirkstall Abbey, on the River Aire 1824 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Kirkstall Abbey, on the River Aire 1824 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

and many other paintings with yet more sketches Turner made both inside the ruins

The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey circa 1806-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey circa 1806-7 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

by day and night ,,sketching at night required much more effort than might at first appear,requiring some form of light from candles or oil or both and walking in deep darkness for some time across unfamiliar ground carrying sketching pads etc so he must have found the ruins intriguing.

The Ruins of Kirkstall Abbey at Night c.1799 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Ruins of Kirkstall Abbey at Night c.1799 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Turner  seems to have spent some time in the Abbey and in the surrounding area and sketched it extensively and from many viewpoints ,it’s still possible to trace Turners route both inside the abbey and in the wider area ,I am quite surprised there isnt a “Turner trail”

Lock Gates circa 1816-22 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Lock Gates circa 1816-22 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856


Lock Gates, with Kirkstall Abbey in Distance circa 1816-22 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Lock Gates, with Kirkstall Abbey in Distance circa 1816-22 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Kirkstall Abbey circa 1816 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Kirkstall Abbey circa 1816 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856


Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Lock Gates, with Kirkstall Abbey in Distance circa 1816-22 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Lock Gates, with Kirkstall Abbey in Distance circa 1816-22 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Kirkstall Lock, on the River Aire ca. 1824-25

But Turner was not the only artist to sketch or paint the Abbey ,the less well known

Thomas Girtin ,who is a well repsected but largley unknown painter who was a contempory and indeed friend of Turner.

Kirkstall Abbey from the North West circa 1797 by Thomas Girtin 1775-1802

Kirkstall Abbey from the North West circa 1797 Thomas Girtin 1775-1802 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Joseph Lye painted the Abby much later

Lye, Joseph, active 1889-1906; Kirkstall Abbey from the North West

Lye, Joseph; Kirkstall Abbey from the North West; Abbey House and Leeds City Museum;

One of my favourites is this late painting of Kirkstall at night from the road ,showing the incongruous way the Abby rises into view from the adjoining bust main road,I have detoured one night to walk along the road by moonlight and the view fo the Abbey is every bit as atmospheric as the Abbey at Whitby having a gothic splendor .

Meegan, Walter Linsley, 1859-1944; Kirkstall Abbey by Moonlight

Meegan, Walter Linsley; Kirkstall Abbey by Moonlight; Abbey House and Leeds City Museum;

To return from the Abbey either retrace your steps or just head back to the main road and walk along it until you reach a junction the railway station is around 5 to ten minutes walk uphill from the junction.If your feeling peckish there is an excellent fish and chip shop on the corner of a street just a few hundred yards from the junction ,portions are huge and the assorted options are all very reasonably priced ,though theres no eat in option you can wander up to the bench on the main road,sit on the ground at the playing feild  or eat as you walk .

I hope this has given an insight in to one of Leeds many hidden treasures and will provide a pleasant day out.

Leeds has many hidden treasures ,it also has more green spaces than any other UK city and is second only to Vienna in the amount of green spaces within its city boundaries and Vienna had help from its history as many of the spaces are imperial gardens whereas Leeds has taken the initiative in preserving and creating its green spaces.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The cheats costume guide ,making a simple medieval head dress . part two circlets and crespines

How to make the head dresses below from either a vintage hat as in the lower black version or from cereal boxes as in the version below.They will take between half and hour for a simple band to three hours for one below.


babette 1

These two head dresses are the easiest and quickest medieval head dresses and need so sewing skil or experience  ,they also use very little fabric and can be made using just old cushions clothing and pearl , jewelled or gold chain style  necklaces or upholstery trim,alternatively pearl trims can be bought very cheaply on line ,Ebay sellers have very good quality threaded pearls from around £3 per metre and plastic pearl trim from 99p in various designs.

Before starting choose your style and have some idea of the trim you want to use ,I include a small gallery of medieval head dress images below





You will need.

One breakfast cereal box such as a cornflakes or wheetabix box


Any size will do for the simple circlet but a large one or ideally two boxes will be needed for the more complicated version with the side pieces.

Scissors strong and sharp enough to cut the box and fabric.

Cellotape to cover the band of cardboard

Needle and cotton

Trimming of some kind ,

trims hood

Old necklaces,new cheap necklaces from shops such as primark ,upholstery trim or trim taken from a dress or fancy cushion,purpose bought pearl or jewelled  trims can be bought on line

lastly some small strips and other pieces of fabric to match your trims

hood 5

Anything from just over  30 cms will be ok but a longer piece would be preferable ,it needs to be between 6 cms for a very narrow band or up to 10 for a wider one,you need enough fabric to go around the circlet band and meet in the middle behind it.For a crespine you will need another few peices of fabric to cover the side bands and small square oblong or circular pieces to make the inner parts ,or some net .

you could use an old velvet cushion or silk cushion,silky duvet cover or curtain ,velvet skirt or blouse or purpose bought fabric of which you will need half a metre or off cuts

spencer sleeve panels 21

Many stalls and shops have a section or box full of roll ends samples et.


veiling ,either a piece  of organza ,tulle or other transparent fabric or an old see through headscarf or panel from a gauzy or chiffon evening dress.The henin below has some very lightweight semi transparent cotton voile of the kind used for high quality voile curtains


If you live near an Asian store or can buy from ebay ,its also perfect to buy an Asian veil ,these come in assorted sizes and shapes ,some are used for the hijab ,some are long narrow shawl type veils used  to drape loosely around the neck and head ,thse come in all colours and ready edged and hemmed ,they also come with more detailed trimmings around their edges or even with delicate bead work.A combination of a small Hijab type veil with a longer shawl type one will give you both a barbette and wimple.

Gold or silver net veiling ,,this can be bought very cheaply and is easily found online especially on ebay ,this can be used to make a caul or to cover plain fabric to make it more lavish looking.

A caul ,made using a small piece of fabric.

Time needed.

A simple circlet without a chin strap (barbette) or veil and with simple decoration will take between half and hour and an hour ,a more lavishly decorated version will take longer depending on the amount of detailing you want to add.

A head dress made with a vintage hat  should take around the same time,you only need to sew trim at the top and or bottom and its finished.

A chin strap barbette will take almost no time as its merely a piece of fold fabric you pin together at the top of your head.

A veiled version using a scarf or asian shawl will also take no extra time as you merely wrap the veil around your head to create a wimple and put the circlet over it.

A crespine headress.

This will take as long as you took to make the circlet times three so again the amount of detailing will set the time needed.

If your making a caul to go behind the crespine head dress that will take around half an hour also and need around a one foot  wide piece of fabric ideally more.

to make a simple circlet

cut a cereal box into strips ,work out how big the head dress will need to be by putting these around your head

birdwatch and blog stuff 096

cellotape these strips together  in overlapping layers

birdwatch and blog stuff 103

Now cellotape the layers into a band.

birdwatch and blog stuff 105.JPG

the head dress  wont be circular but it just needs some tape to shape it.

birdwatch and blog stuff 120

If it still doesn’t seem exactly  circular add a narrow strip to adjust its shape.add layers of cellotape until its covered.

birdwatch and blog stuff 114.JPG

try it one and work out if the width is correct  if not cut out strips until its the desired size,cellotape the cut edge,the aim is to have the cardboard entirely covered in the cellotape ,this makes the head dress more sturdy flexible and water proof.

now cover the circlet /band with fabric cut a wider and longer than needed strip and stitch it together inside the circlet,when you have to stitch the outside visible ends together be as neat as possible ,you can cover this join with trim or if your using a veil it will be covered by that but if your just using the circlet alone despite  being at the back of your head the join will be visible up close .

Add trim,you can just add a single strip but the more elaborate the trimming the better the head dress will look eg adding two strips of pearls one at either edge ,stitching pearls onto upholstery trim will mask the fact that its furniture trimming,edging the trim with narrow pearl strips adds texture and looks professional .The trimmed head dresses below are Tudor hoods   but I include them to give more examples of how to build up a very rich looking decoration.


black french hood

The gable hood below is narrow evening dress trim edged with cheap plastic pearl trim ,this could easily be used around a circlet

gable hood front

or the simple lengths of pearls used on the french hood could be used top and bottom of a circlet

bolyen hood


cap detail

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The cheats guide to making a high waisted Medieval gown .

This is the simplest complete gown to make.It also uses less fabric than the lower waisted dresses and even less if you make a narrow sleeved version.

henins front tippet

You will need

some fabric ,old curtains or bought fabric

(I will mention the fabric choices futher down the post)

A bodice /top

Something boned ,one that might have been used  for clubbing ,evening ,prom,it doesnt matter if its long as  the bodice will be cut off to the correct size,the fabric is not  important ,though its less messy and easier to sew  if you avoid pvc /fake leather ones.If your going to wash the dress then using pale colours is probably safest so the bodice colours dont run into the dress

wit and wisdom denim bodice

Some lacing cord ,cord or ribbon

this is to fasten the dress with ,as the bodice is not very long you wont need very much maybe two metres ,you can use ribbon but its not very effective and can be impossible to untie.Gold braid or cord looks excellent if your using a front lacing style if not then try to get as close a match to the dress fabric as possible

Something to make holes in fabric with

,,a bradel,kebab skewer  etc

cellotape or masking tape ,,only a tiny piece

a needle and cotton


a fake or real fur collar,,a modern fur scarf works well

white queen gown

a belt  any sturdy leather belt works  as below or a piece of trim fastened with a safety pin

blue dress

Fabric notes

Old curtains will work well and mean you dont need to bother hemming your gown or you can buy fabric in which case you will need between 4 and 6 metres depending on the fabric width and your height.To decide on how much fabric or the curtain length you need hold fabric below your bust and then work out how long it will need to be to touch the floor in the shoes you will have one.If your going to make a wide sleeved gown you will need up to two metres extra fabric depending on how wide you want the sleeves.

bluebells woods

Fabrics to choose

This is the most important part of the costume making ,many entirely accurately made  gowns look bad because the wrong fabrics been chosen.

The fabric needs to be non shiny and though synthetic fabrics are great as they dont crease and are usually washable ,the fabric shouldnt look too modern.modern. Crushed velvet,crinkle taffeta ,satin,anything printed and any design thats floral  or striped even damask or brocade.Brocade is a nice fabric if your buying fabric as it looks luxurious but inst as expensive as velvet ,it can be bought for around £6 or even less a  per metre if you buy off ebay from china .

brocade gown alone

Best choices are velvet ,Taffetta(which gives a good alternative to modern rather lightweight silks  )I dont have a taffeta medieval gown but I didn make a taffeta  tudor gown and a high waisted regency gown and the fabric looked quite good

golden gown cross


regency golden gown

You can also use damask ,brocade or wool,you might find other fabrics fake linen or jacquard fabrics .The  main thing is for the fabric needs to hang nicely ,floaty fabric wont hang properly.For a handy guide I have added some photos of medieval women ,if the fabric you find drapes like their gowns it will be fine.




cleves amberger portrait

medieval women head dresses


There is only one colour which its best to avoid at all costs which is yellow ,during both the middle ages and Renaissance yellow was the colour outcasts were made to wear,those that society marginalised such as lepers ,those who were socially outsiders   Jews and Muslims and those it condemned such as prostitutes, Brown is best avoided as is grey  as these tended to the the colours worn by peasants and the lower classes They are also hard colours to match to head dresses or to trim with fur as the fur wont contrast properly .Purple was a colour which was reserved for royalty and gold or silver for the upper aristocracy but this might not be an issue at most events .A  gold  medieval gown from the middle ages actually exists  at Uppsalla cathedral so we know of at least one gold fabric which is authentic.


The dress if from the 1400 and gold fabric does look amazing.

queen margreat golden gown 1400


As can be seen in the paintings theres quite a range of colours ,By far the most popular for almost all classes seems to be blues,reds and greens and these all work well with most shades of fur .Quite bright colours were worn but as bright blue isnt a colour most people associate with the middle ages its probably best to avoid it and use deeper shades.I personally like to use red and gold damasks as these wash ,dont need ironing and dont show marks .If your buying new fabric faux silk damask is a really good choice as thought its quite light ,its looks a much heavier luxurious fabric once its been worn.


Velvet is also excellent if you can find vintage curtains .Both the gowns below used old velvet curtains

leah blue gown

blue dress

Unfortunately  buying new velvet is very expensive ,the fabric is usually narrower than other fabrics such as damask or taffeta so you need much more , using fake velvet/velour  isnt very effective for these styles of gown  as its too shiny and hangs more loosely ,it does make a good fabric for low waisted medieval gowns)

med black gown

.Taffeta is a  much cheaper choice if you have to buy fabric  but it needs to be a crisp dress taffeta not  lining fabric.Taffeta wont work if you want to me a wide sleeves gown as the sleeves wont be stiff enough

brown borgia gown


One chop off the bodice to the right length ,it should rest at about the same height as your bra bottom ,or slightly  lower if you are quite a large cup size.Luckily this is a v shaped bodice which is an ideal shape for medieval gowns .

spencer 1

Decide if your dress is going to be front or back lacing ,front lacing is much easier to get in and out of but does mean you have to sew the back opening of your bought bodice together and cut a line down the front instead.If you do this, try the bodice on before covering it to make sure the back isnt too narrow,if it is un tack it add a narrow strip of fabric and sew it back together

Cover the bodice by taking fabric onto it ,decide if your dress will be front or back lacing then add the first panel to the centre of the bodice front and tack each extra panel onto these.

spencer guide 2

Stitch the edges down over the top and bodice bottoms,dont worry if it looks untidy ,only you will see this part of the dress.

spencer neck13

add the next panels by placing them good side to good side on top of your first panel  with a decent amount of overlap so that  if part of this seam comes undone you will only see the same fabric so it wont be as noticeable. sew the wrong sides together to the bodice ,flip it

spencer 12

and do the next piece carry on until you reach the edges of either the  front or back of your bodice

spncer body done

.Make the sleeves.

For narrow sleeves

Cut two long rectangles of fabric wide enough to go around your arm at the top with a little spare and long enough to entirely cover your hands.

Stitch one into a tube and put it on your arm pull it up until it meets the bodice arm hole  and check the length of the sleeve ,if its ok then you can work on narrowing the arm to fit snugly ,if not chop off more of the sleeves length,,if you decide to have pointed cuffs bare this in mind when cutting the sleeve to length.

Shape your sleeve by pulling the fabric tube snug against your arm ,,starting at the top pinch the fabric together ,keep hold of it pull the tube off and tack the sleeve to the pinched in width ,put the sleeve back on and do this with your elbow and then your lower arm.

Dont cut the fabric ,turn the sleeve inside put if it fits ok then turn it back the right side and cut it where the tack lines are ,turn it inside out and sew it together.use this sleeve to cut your second sleeve to shape ,,leave a little spare fabric  width  even when cutting this sleeve just in case you make a mistake.

Sew both sleeves onto the bodice.

Wide sleeves

drape the fabric around your wrist and arm  tuck it into either the dress bodice ir your bra strap to work out how long it needs to be and then decide how wide you want the cuff snip a small nick in the fabric to mark the width you need to cut.

If you have enough fabric its safest if you cut two rectangles  of the right length and width utilising  the curtain hem for your cuff hem if your using curtains.To work out the sleeves shape drape one cut rectangle on your arm and pinch it together under your arms ,cut the under arm piece  and tack it to make the right size for attaching the sleeve to the bodice.

The remaining step depends on what shape you want the sleeve ,you can leave it very wide down its entire length  ,these would look like a houpland


You might find it more comfortable though to make the top part of the arm slightly more fitted than is strictly accurate as it makes the sleeves less awkward and also much less draughty if your outside.

These wide sleeves need lining to look their best but you can get around this by sewing fur around their ends or a trim around the ends .

bluebells woods



Make the skirt.

This is the easiest part especially if you bought curtains as they wont need to be hemmed .

hold the fabric or curtains against you and leaving a few inches spare cut them to the length you need for the skirt to meet the floor,wear the shoes you will be wearing for your event so you can get this as close as possible,if in doubt err towards the too long ,medieval gowns tended to be slightly longer than floor length ,but they were never short enough to show ankles.Though in the late middle ages narrow skirted gowns were briefly popular most medieval gowns ,most of the time had generous skirts,even the pale blue velvet one I made while it seems narrower skirted had quite full ones.

bleu velvet gown seated

To make the skirt ,sew  the fabric into a tube leavings a small gap about as big as that a modern zip would need ,,you wont need a zip but this hole is to allow the dress over your head.

pleat the fabric until its the right size to stitch onto the bottom of the bodice,make the front pleats slightly less full than the sides and if its back lacing add  deep ones at either side of  the back where the bodice laces to cover the  gap in the skirt.If the dress is front lacing then pleat the front so the gaps covered  ,its not as big a problem at the front as more if it will be covered by the fur collar and belt.

Stitch the skirt to the bodice ,you can make a waistband for the skirt first by sewing it onto a ribbon but as the waistline of this dress is quite high its better to use as little as possible at the bodice bottom to avoid bulk that might dig in when the gowns laced up.

Now make holes for the lacing cord ,use the pointy object ,bradel etc ,to thread the cord in cellotape the ends flush so they dont fray as you try to thread them into the holes.Thread the cord in so it makes a herringbone design not the x shape normally seen on modern dresses as not only is the x shape inaccurate it also doesnt close as neatly or lace up as easily.

Keep a panel of the fabric to put under the lacing cord make it long enough to go under the gap left in the skirt ,if its going at the back tack this on at the front you could just place it under the dress and lace the dress over it.For front lacing gowns you could also use a contrasting colour ,this is seen in a lot of medieval paintings and is probably another dress thats under the top gown.You could try getting the same effect by adding a contrasting panel to the centre of a front lacing gown but its much harder to get right.

red gown

This will give you a dress like this

medieval gown 3


Make or buy a fur collar

you can use a modern bought fur scarf which gives a good shape  but might not be long enough to go all the way around in which case cut it in half and sew each half to the gown at shoulder level.

You could use a collar cut from a vintage or modern fake fur coat or jacket if you use a coat you could also cut off the cuffs from the coat to put on your gown.

white queen gown

and use yet more of the fur to make a muff using a spare piece of the dress fabric

tudor muff

If you have neither you can buy a new or second hand fur hat cut the brim off cut the top into strips of a matching length and sew them together to make a collar ,this was how I made the original pale blue gowns collar,though it doesnt look as effective its much nice than having no collar.

blue med gown

If you have not stitched the collar to the gown then add loops or a piece of ribbon or cord to each end of the collar so you can pin it on using these or thread them under a belt.


to put the finishing touch to the outfit its good to have a belt ,a modern leather one is authentic and pulls the gown in nicely while giving something to attach the collar to  ,but you could use a length of jewelled trim ,a length of thick peals,braid or very wide cord.


A head dress usually the head dress worn is a Henin


I will give instructions on making these in another post and add a link shortly.


gloves front

You can make an impressive pair of fake medieval gloves by using a pair of modern leather ,suede or fake leather gloves ,sew a piece of rich looking fabric or trim or fur to the top and add some pearl or gold trim to the edges .

If you dont have trims you could add more or the fur taken from a scrafe or fake fur coat.

ermine gloves

Prayer book ,book of hours

purple book full

Find a small book ,it doesnt matter what the book is about as long as its hard backed ,though its often easy to find  old prayer books cheaply online or in charity or second hand book shops .

Use a piece of velvet ,silk or similar and cover it ,turning in the fabric inside the covers as though you were making a new dust jacket  but  with fabric and securing it using cotton and stitching it instead of using tape.

Then decorate it will something that looks lavish ,the book above I used braid on .The one below used dress trim around the edges and a modern cheap costume brooch in the centre

red prayer book

The one below used just a brooch bought from china for a few pence

prayer bok i


As mentioned above you could use any spare fake fur to make a muff ,I am not sure what medieval muffs looked like but a richly decorated one looks good and is almost essential if your going to be outside in winter

The one below used around a metre of gold braid stitched together for its centre

gold muff detailing

This used a small panel of embroidered silk.A piece of fabric this small could be taken from a cushion or bought as a sample

ivory and gold muff small det

To make any muff is very easy.

If your cutting off a fur coat sleeve its very easy ,just cut a long enough length so you can fold the ends in .tuck each end in until it meets the opposite end ,no sewing needed ,you now have a fur lined fur muff.

If your making one from scratch  then cut a long rectangle of the outer fabric sew it to make a tube ,cut a rectangle of the fake fur thats double the length of the outer fabric ,sew this into a tube push it inside the tube of our outer fabric and fold the fur back over the edges ,now sew the fur down .

or use two lengths of embroidered trim sewn together for your centre

blackwored white muff

Optional extras

You could make a cloak,I have instructions on how to make a cloak in my Victorian accessories cheats guide and its essential the same to make a medieval one .


or mantle style cloak

This is very easy its just a length of fabric or a curtain pleated to fit loosely across your shoulders then a wide band of fake fur added,if you use a curtain you can use the hem and curtain edges for the front edges of your cloak so theres very little sewing .If you have a fake fur coat cut a wide band of fur from its hem and sew this onto the top of the cloak.


l hope this has been useful ,if you prefer a different style of medieval gown I have instructions on making other styles.

An Italian style gown ,this is made in more or less the same way as this gown but with a longer bodice and tie on sleeves.

borgia med gown

It needs a chemise under it

ever after gown chemise

Or at least fake chemise sleeves sewn into the dress

under gown borgia

These gowns need more decoration to look authentic

white borgia gown

A very similar style is the over gown with and under gown

This is two dresses  made as for the high waisted gown and a chemise ,

leah and peter

Or a low waisted dress

leah river med gown

arwyn gown train


cloak and green eowyn gown

medieval gown snow



I will add a link to instructions on how to make these shortly but the instructions on making a Tudor gown can be used if the waistline is shaped differently and sleeves added.

Posted in 15thc, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cats ,garden birds best friend or worst enemy

As a cat owner and wildlife gardener ,I often see posts on birds sites about cats ,usually reviling them as killers and despoilers of our wild birds ,the decline of song birds ,house sparrows ,finches and virtually every english bird is blamed on them .There are calls for feral cat culls,calls to keep cats indoors at night ,make wearing collars compulsery.I would suggest that cats are often scapegoats and indeed possibly the gardeners and garden birders best friend .Cats are preditors with an inbred urge to hunt and there clearly are birds killed by cats but few compared to other sources and perhaps the very  few birds some cats kill should be seen as a sacrifice made to allow hundreds of thousands of other free use of the bird feeders aiding the survival  of species and individual birds  now dependent on garden feeders and ourselves rodent free homes because it makes no major difference to bird numbers.We have two cats and a huge number of birds visiting our feeders but never have any birds killed

green bird middle

We are merely using cats as the scapegoat for our own short falling .The main reason for the decline of British birds of all kinds is man ,,our farming practices ,our countryside management ,the motor car and as gardeners we probably kill many many more birds and indeed other wildlife such as the endangered hedgehog  by our widespread use of slug pellets,pest poisons and pesticides ,these are responsible on average for more wildlife deaths than all the cats in the country ,they kill song birds and hedgehogs ,yet are easily and cheaply bought ,to protect birds we ought to be campaigning for the withdrawal of slug pellets from UK sale .Likewise the use of antifreeze in fountains or spilling from cars kills not only cats but any wildlife that comes to your fountain or water feature to drink .Laying poison to control rats ,mice ,ants ,,all kills wildlife often horribly.

I have first hand experience of a cat cull ,in one area where we lived the local potato farmers decided one day to shoot all the farm and feral cats and kittens  (our kitten was probably collateral damage as it disappeared around that time).Within weeks they were over run with rats ,the rats caused huge damage and cost them a lot of money.

I also have over half a century experience of cat owning for as long as I can remember ,my grandparents owned cats ,my parents and now myself of all those cats only one ever caught birds which made up much less than one percent of his kills but all caught mice ,voles etc and many caught rats, moles and occasionally rabbits,the same would apply to friends and neighbours who owned cats .We have a local feral cat ,its kills are grey squirrels and pigeons and probably  rats and mice ,shrews and voles ,hes hangs around our garden a far bit and has never shown any interest in small birds .Feral cats need to hunt efficiently ,big prey is essential ,wasting time trying to climb trees to catch tiny amounts of protein is a luxury reserved for domestic cats .The major casualties of cat kills are almost certainly spring fledglings ,these kills would not be significantly  lessened by the removal of cats ,magpies ,jays and other carrion and birds of prey  and dogs will kill fledglings but other birds kill them both  in the nest and on the ground .These larger birds need to feed their chicks and small birds chicks are easy prey .

I also see not a few rare birds are killed by the motor car ,in Scotland  we regularly saw buzzards dead either in or by the road we once saw the horrendous  sight of bird of prey being tossed between cars on a busy road.I have seen more car killed birds ,usually birds of prey than I have seen birds killed by our cats .Until moving to our current house I saw plenty of hedgehogs ,all dead either in or at the side of the road crushed by cars .I also see the occasional dead badgers.

How cats help birds.

From observation I have come to the conclusion that cats overall help birds ,when our cats are in the garden ,pigeons stay away ,being ground feeders they wont risk being lunch .Likewise the grey squirrels who are also bird table and feeder thieves will usually stay away .

squirrel on feeder

,while during the day the bird feeders are still visited by all the small birds unhampered by pigeons and squirrels.

squirel nut

Our local feral cat has killed both a pigeon and a squirrel .

I quite like squirrels ,we live in an area that has never had and is never likely to have red squirrels and the greys provide some delightfully entertaining added wildlife .Grey squirrels another reviled pest dont make any significant difference to the number of birds visiting the garden or deter ground feeding birds.

bird bath top feeding space squirrel and blackbirds

but they do delay the small birds feeding time by hogging feeders.

squirrel stealinbg

which in winter can be a problem ,I do sometimes throw the cats out to give the birds some squirrel free feeding time .If your feeder isnt kept full I think that squirrels might easily empty a feeder before all the birds had a chance to feed ,we top our up regularly so its not an issue .The sole bird feeding problem from grey squirrels is their making off with apples and fat balls.

squirel fat ball

Cats also prevent vermin from stealing food and visiting the garden .At our last house both ourselves and our neighbours fed the birds ,our neighbours bird table was frequently emptied by a rat ,ours were left alone the rat  could be seen skirting the edge of our garden next to the fields but never came in ,our cats sat outside ,the birds fed the rat stayed away.

Rats not only steal bird food but will take fledglings ,they are very skilled climbers so I would imagine they could also quite easily empty a nest.More importantly when people see rats they reach for the rat poison ,rats do indeed die and are then scavenged by birds of prey and other wildlife ,rat poison kills more wildlife than cats .Though birds lives like any lives shouldnt be measured against each other ,the birds killed by rat poisons tend to be much rarer than the odd blue tit chick taken by a cat.

What do cats actually kill

Cats kill vermin if you feed birds ,food falls to the ground ,,it always does even feeders with trays  cause droppage .Ground feeding produces even more cereal or fat food on the ground.This will disappear in part or completely overnight ,what has eaten it? ,,occasionally hedgehogs will eat the fallen suet or fat from feeders but its pretty safe bet that it was rats or mice or both .If your feeding birds your almost certainly going to attract vermin ,the reason your not chasing them out of your house or seeing them in any large numbers is because your local cats will be out hunting and killing them.

The sole wildlife depletion I would concur is partly aided by cats is the small mammal population ,voles and shrews ,I was sad to see a couple of our cats bring shrews  back from time to time .Again though I would suggest more are killed by ourselves than by cats.

The evidence

People have always owned cats and in the past in many more numbers than they do at present ,I can remember when I was young it was much more common for people to have cats than not have them,farms have always had cats ,there have always been feral cats True numbers may have risen in the past few years but numbers had dropped significantly prior to that ,most people neuter their cats now ,in the past that wasnt the case and now there are more checks on their numbers and on the number out regularly ,many more cats are killed on roads than in the past ,many more cats are house cats and many more do have collars and bells and a lot more are kept in at night ,there’s also a lot more fat cats .

Yet bird numbers have declined ,I can remember in the cat infested days of my childhood house sparrow were so common as to almost be a pest,now they are a major concern ,song birds have declined in recent years ,.,but they declined most rapidly during the time there was a lull in cat numbers in the mid years of the last century ,,which coincided with our increased use of pesticides ,the building boom the changing or farming practices ,the loss of trees ,the increase in the use of slug pellets and pesticides in the garden.

Likewise the biggest declines are in areas were cats are not a significant influence ,pastureland,woodland,sea coasts .

The evidence from other endangered species

It’s telling that butterflies and bees are also almost universally declining ,cats cannot be claimed to be responsible ,none of our cats has ever caught a butterfly (in fact the only pet ever to catch one was our young spaniel ).We are responsible ,our paving over of gardens and lawns ,our use of pesticides in the garden and fertilisers,chopping down trees ,destroying hedges and our choice of showy sterile trees ,shrubs and flowers.Sterile flowers dont feed bees or butterflies and down feed birds.Blackbirds cant forage on decking or paved driveways.

Bird casualities are our fault.

The majority of cat kills are also our fault ,I used to feed birds before we got our bird hunting cat,I stoped ,the bird killing stopped .We once kept chickens ,at night we kept them safely locked away in a hen coop which we maintained carefuly ,they were never killed by foxes ,other people have had their hen coops raided and all their hens killed foxes dont do this from cruelty they would probably return to take and bury the killed hens for later food sources).However if our hens had been killed it would have been our fault ,the fox is doing what its been geneticaly programmed to do ,its killing because killing is how it survives,,we also kill to survive but the killings done for us far away so we dont tend to think about the slaughted animals we consume ,we also throw away almost as much meat as we eat ,yet we have no excuse.

If we are going to feed birds in opur garden then we need to take the trouble to keep them safe ,dont put bird tables near shrubs or trees ,dont ground feed if you have a lot of visiting cats ,dont place nest boxes where cats can get to them .We have a responsibilty to the birds we feed to keep them safe,,from  predators and from disease ,not keeping bird feeders clean can spread diseases that decimate whole populations of birds.

sick finch

Poor feeding such as giving white bread can cause tiny birds to die of hyperthermia in winter ,filled up by the nutritionally poor bread they don’t eat enough to survive the harsh winter weather ,or long-term feeding of white bread produces malnutrition such as angle wing.

Providing sunflower hearts ,fat blocks ,Nyger seed etc is a much better option.

finc and sparrow at feeder garden


Personal experience

Our cats ,only two of our cats has shown any interest in birds ,one would often climb trees after them but the birds didn’t seem to care as they had learned that she had no chance of catching them ,they would stay put on the ends of fragile little branches and fly away if she started out along them,,this usually resulted in her falling out of the tree .I see the odd local cat climbing trees after birds ,none has ever got anywhere close to catching one .Our one bird killing cat was a rescue cat ,he probably killed around half a dozen during his lifetime ,,enough for us to decide to bell him ,,the bell had no significant effect on his kill rate ,but one day I heard a horrible noise and found him dangling from a tree strangling ,luckily I managed to rescue him ,,but other cat  owners have lost cats in this manner ,we dont refuse to bell our pets from indifference but because we know that it can be a danger and also because it will often make no difference.He suddenly stopped hunting birds ,I stopped feeding them and as he got older I imagine was too difficult ,bird killing cats need to be young agile and fast ,most of our cat population is middle-aged or old ,a significant proportion is overweight or has no regular exercise or don’t go out or doesn’t have access to trees.

Some cats just dont care ,our large cat is actualy scared of the magpies

izzy magpie

Likewise we are encouraged to keep our cats in at night ,we usually let ours out as we have first a farm cat ,then two rescue cats all of which would start to tear the house apart if we tried to keep them in.We once had a cat go missing and tried very hard to keep our other cat in at night totally ineffectively ,she would sneak out or go mad trying to claw her way out .Our current cats are kittens from our last cat (we had numerous rescue cats but neither ourselves or neighbours were eligible for a rehomed cat as despite backing onto countryside we had the main road through the village at the front of the house so we allowed our cat to have one litter ,,all of which we rehomed or kept) and these kittens ,now cats have been raised to stay in at night yet one still does its utmost to escape .

Cat owners are almost all animal lovers ,they are high in the numbers of people feeding birds ,they are also high in the numbers of people who garden responsibly ,,admittedly most of these wont use slug pellets and are careful with other toxins such as antifreeze because they want to safeguard their pets ,but this also saves the lives of wildlife ,in addition our cats keep your homes for the most part free of vermin and so reduce the amount of rat poison used .Overall cats do much more harm than good ,we just see the photos of the little bird in the cat’s mouth and assume its the only killer of bird life ,yet the photo in that magazine or newspaper is probably responsible for more bird deaths ,the chopping down orf trees ,toxins released from printing ,the landfill contamination ,the animals killed by cars and lorries,,lorries are significant wildlife killers as most deaths occur in the early hours ,when there’s few regular motorists .Therefore rather than blaming cats we should ask ourselves what we have done in our gardens to help ,do we have decking ,paved gardens ,sterile shrubs ,in our sheds do we have things that can be a danger to birds and get rid of the creasot ,slug pellets, rat poison ,any poison and fertilizers and pesticides and stock up on good quality bird food and safe feeders.

bullfinch pair and siskins


Posted in gardens and gardening | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Crocus a £1.00 wildlife gem

Another short post on how to help wildlife cheaply ,quickly and easily.

The most underrated plant for wildlife is probably the crocus ,It can be bought as bulbs or as plants and is seen for sale everywhere ,supermarkets, bargin stores,pound stores ,markets ,garden centres and online.Most plants  or bags of bulbs cost around £1.00.They come in a variety of colours so theres is usualy something that will go with your planting scheme.

crocuses-2x photo credit

They can be planted in lawns and die away long before your going to be using the lawn regularly and spread quickly while not becoming a problem.

The first emerging butterflies and bees will find a pathc of crocus literarly  a lifesaver ,providing easy access food when there are very few other flowers open.

Posted in gardens and gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment