Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Looking for Toriana

Last week I attended my favorite county quilt show, which was two days of complete delight while hanging with my quilter pals, seeing hundreds of amazing quilts and thousands of fabrics, notions, widgets and just about everything a needlewoman drools over in her dreams. If you've never been to a quilt show it can be a fascinating experience, and the vendors as well as the folks who run the show are friendly, helpful and chock full of advice and ideas.

In years past I've always gone to this show to see friends, be inspired, stock up on hard-to-find items and just generally have a good time. This time I went with a slightly different goal: to look for world-building ideas. Unlike most of the goods in our world, everything in the Toriana universe is handmade, from clothing to blankets to accessories to decorative items. Among the common people, who generally don't have the funds to buy premade items or new materials, reusing and recycling is especially important. I've already created a number of items unique to my universe but I have an ongoing list of things I need to invent or makeover, and I was hoping I'd see designs or techniques that would point me in the right direction. Which I did, as follows:

At the gild boutique I found this wonderful patchwork pear made of multicolored bits of wool and backed with tweed. I could envision a Toriana woman raiding her scrap bag to make something like this; she might not have enough good pieces of one color to make the pear so she'd piece together what she could in crazy-quilt fashion. The bold design and simple embroidery gives the piece a terrific graphic punch, and might be something she'd make to hang in her kitchen or her child's room.

Not having enough fabric wouldn't stop the women of Toriana from making their own, either. The make-do designs of this pretty little bag made from ribbons sewn together and these strip-pieced and crazy-quilted bags had me thinking of what happens to all the Torian clothing and gown sashes and hat bands and hair ribbons once they've become torn or soiled or otherwise unusable for their original purpose. A clever needlewoman might trim off the damage bits and sew them together to make a larger piece of fabric that could be fashioned into a reticule, shopping bag, fichu or shawl.

At one booth I noticed a group of woman hand-dyeing their own silk scarfs, and while I've only done some very limited experiments in dyeing fabrics it looked so easy I had to give it a try. Thanks to the instant, wet-set dyes and the friendly instructor my scarf came out beautiful, and I had a bit of an epiphany as to how Toriana women on a limited income might liven up their wardrobes by hand-dyeing their muslin, cotton and broadcloth fabrics. Stretching homemade dyes by diluting them or over-dyeing fabrics might create some lovely watercolor-like fabric patterns similar to the scarf I made (and I have a lot more research to do in this department, as my knowledge of 19th century hand-dyeing methods is miniscule, but now I have a better idea of what to look for to suit Toriana.)

One aspect of my universe that I've been waffling on with is precisely how Torians deal with the color black. It didn't come up as an issue in the first two stories, but mourning practices are very present in the novel I'm working on now. As it stands Torians have disliked wearing black ever since Queen Victoria II's first act after assuming the throne was to issue a compulsory public mourning decree for the entire empire that lasted three years (a historical parallel to how her mother mourned Prince Albert's death in our universe.) Initially Torians were suspected of being behind the royal family assassinations, and in retaliation the Queen had every known rebel and rebel sympathizer rounded up and questioned. Unfortunately things got out of hand and hundreds of Torians died while in custody. Once it was discovered that the assassins were Talians the Crown released the Torians who survived, but from that time on black became a symbol of persecution for Torians.

Instead of trying to remove the color from their culture, I thought the Torians would do some secret, subversive thing with the color black. I found the perfect inspiration as to what when I saw these two blocks with gorgeous applique work on black backgrounds. Flowers, which to me have always been the symbols of love and hope, were already part of my world-building, and seeing them against the black background gave me a Eureka moment. Torians use flowers in symbolic ways to remember those who died during the lost war of independence, such as displaying forty-seven roses on the day when the last forty-seven soldiers fighting the war chose suicide over surrender.

Thanks to the blocks I've decided Torians will never wear plain black. Instead, they'll trim it with bright floral colors or embroidery. The number of flowers displayed on their black garments will equal how many family members and friends they lost during the persecution.

Now onto the giveaway I promised:

As you can see I've stocked Her Ladyship's Hat Box with the latest issue of Quilting Arts magazine, one of the quilted bags that inspired me, and some other neat swag from the show. If you've like to win the lot in comments to this post name something you think the ladies of Toriana might regularly reuse (or if you can't think of anything, just toss your name in the hat box) by midnight EST on Friday, March 15th, 2013. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the magazine, the bag and the other goodies. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so please join in.


  1. Paper, it is fairly easy to make coarse paper sheets that could be pierced to make, oh, window covers or lampshades or fans and I'd imagine if rich people had elaborate filials or centerpieces of metal or ceramic the poorer people might make items in similar shapes out of paper mache. -- liv

  2. I have a small obsession with buttons. Therefore I imagine Toriana women using mis-matched buttons on a variety of things - clothing, bags, jewellery, even in games that need counters! Perhaps even those poorer individuals would search the streets for mislaid buttons from those richer folk?

    Loving the additional blog - provides an excellent insight into world-building and how to creatively approach it!

    Take Care,

    PS: Not sure if this comment is going through - I've had lots of problems trying to comment here previously: there doesn't appear to be any verification if comments are being submitted! So sorry if this message comes through a few times!

    1. No worries, Cat, it came through -- and sorry about the problems with Blogger.

  3. The women could make fabric cards with the extra material that they have from various purposes.

  4. Using old newspapers in may ways, such as covering books, gift wrap, lining shoes, and as a decorative item.

  5. I think they would use their worn petticoats for other purposes: bandages, wash clothes, baby clothes, etc.

  6. Our pioneer ancestors used flour and feed sacks for any number of things: clothing, quilts, curtains. And what about recycling lace from worn petticoats to reuse as trim on a multitude of things, especially after dying it.

  7. I have this image of cotton sheets being dyed and re-sewn to form handkerchiefs, table runners, and serviettes. I love the scarf you dyed, it turned out extremely well.

  8. As a spinner and knitter, I imagine they'd reuse wool yarn. A garment that has been outgrown or has a small stain can be pulled apart and the yarn re-knit into something else. Felted wool is another great reuse. If nothing else, it can be used as the batting in quilts.
    Loving this new universe. :)

  9. I keep thinking about Scarlett O'Hara and the curtain dress. Or even better, Carol Burnett and the curtain dress. Hahaha! I would think there would be a place in that culture for rag-pickers and people who sell castoffs from the upper classes for repurposing for the common folk. We had a rag-picker street character at our local ren faire and she was a lot of fun to interact with.

  10. I love this topic!

    She might save boning from old dress bodices and old straw hats that could be redecorated. Or felt hats, for that matter.

    Thinking on Emily's comment, before modern "all new all the time" attitudes, there was a thriving industry in old clothes being cleaned and resold. A dress or shirt might be unstitched, turned inside out, and resewn. Ratty seams might be taken in to hide the frayed bits, and would then fit a smaller person.

  11. Lovely topic. Wow, what wheels you've got spinning in my mind.

    If the flour and such is delivered in sacks, oh what they could do with those and dye and a bit of reworking.

    So many items to be remade that my mind boggles with the choices.

  12. Early corsets were made from whalebone. I can see enterprising women shaping and then engraving designs on them to use for hair pins, hat pins, recycling as jewelry (not baleen though, that's too pliable) but if they were good enough, selling them might be in order. The higher the class, the more elaborate the corset so the brocade could be remade into...I can't remember what they're called but they used to pin small purses under their skirts to carry precious things (and not necessarily money) but the brocade from a loved one's corset would make a great memory purse. The eyelets for the lacing can be cut off and reused on something else...

    Sorry to go on. For some reason, I have corsets on the brain.

    And that scarf you died is just beautiful.

  13. Wow such good ideas! I think they would use pieces of favorite dresses and shirts to make quilt blocks. Or tear them into strips to make rag rugs. Fun!

  14. I'm drawing a blank, but maybe ribbons.

  15. Reuse the wood from damaged or old furniture pieces.

  16. A few ideas I had have already been mentioned (flour sacks into aprons, for one) ... so I'll just throw my hat in the ring. So delighted at this new world by one of my favorite authors, as well as to read the way you world-build. Fascinating!

    - Bonz

  17. I love the way you've connected quilting with your writing. I wonder how many other writers also do this.


  18. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how flour use to come in cotton sacks of various prints and how she would always be so excited when they needed more flour because she couldn't wait to see what prints were available. They'd use the sacks to make clothing. I know that was Depression era, but I am sure the Torians find uses for containers of anything they'd have to buy from the store.

  19. I see them sending the children out into the yard to collect dandelions, using the young leaves for salad, making wine with the flowers and feeding the older leaves to a hutch of rabbits. As a resourceful people I'm sure the Torian women would have come up with a way to collect the rabbit fur to make angora yarn that was less painful for the rabbits than the French method of pulling it out.

  20. They might remake one of their worn gowns into a gown or other clothing for a child (their own or a relative or friend). Bits of clothing too small for any other purpose can be appliqued as decorative/colorful patches over a tear in otherwise-good clothing.

    They could, depending on their wealth and class, of course, save the trimmings from vegetables to make dye and walnut or other shells to make ink. Cornhusks become mattress or cushion stuffing. Scraps of wood become blocks in interesting shapes and sizes for toddlers.

    Bits of paper (newspaper, perhaps?) can become papier-mache crafts. Scraps of paper can be pieced together like a mosaic for art.

    The limits are only their necessity, I think....

  21. Pieces of cloth, ribbon, buttons and antique papers.
    Thanks for the great giveaway.

  22. A bit morbid, but when a family member dies, they might refashion all of their clothes into new outfits for the other members of the family - maybe making specific things such as the flowers on their outfits from scraps of their old clothes. Gives them even more meaning.

  23. Following on the mourning comment, they might follow the original Victorians and make hair jewelry from their deceased loved one's hair. Fine lingerie that is worn can be reused to make beautiful baby clothes. Men's suits are easily cut down for younger boys. Even worn blankets and quilts can be upcycled in lieu of batts for the next round of quilts. Flower gardens are the perfect source for natural dyes; beauty in the moment and lasting beauty when harvested for dye.

  24. I would think that things such as ribbons, buttons, lace, etc. When making clothing, scraps of materials can be used to make quilts, as can old clothing that have damage/stains. Out of date clothing can be refashioned.

  25. One reusable that ties in with the fabric dyeing:
    Common leftovers from cooking, like onion skins and walnut hulls (the outer green husk, not the shell) when used with another ingredient common in kitchens that preserves pickles (alum) become wonderful dyes. If you would like, I can send you a short bibliography on old fashioned dyeing, it has been a hobby for many years and I have a pretty decent collection of books on the subject.
    Dyeing wool and silk is a different process than dyeing cotton, protein-based fabrics are much easier to dye. Linen falls in with cotton and hemp.