Friday, 31 May 2013

Style Queens

Dearest Emily,

Following your birthday visit to Dimbola, and your fancy for the 'dressing up room',

it is time for your Grandmother to teach you a little about the artistry of Style-

and the difference twixt it, and what
is commonly called 'Fashion'.

Now dear Em, GiGi must tell you and tell you straight. The former is infinitly preferable to the latter term, when one is describing dress-sense! We shall use our good old mid-vics for examples...

FASHION- A popular trend, esp. in styles of dress, ornament, or behavior.

STYLE- A manner of doing something.

 In the 1860's London Fashionable Society took elaborate pains to all look the same. To a great extent the same could be said for large sections of Society today, but back then, well one simply did not strike a pose in anything other than what was considered to be the Fashion of the moment. And here we are talking crinolines. Women were boned, structured and hooped, and then upholstered in the latest fabric trend. 
 Harpers Magasine helped the dear ladies to get accquainted with what one should wear, this is 1874 'street-wear'. 
Chic Society took its style tips from the chicest, just as todays bright young thing might trawl fashion blogs for style icons as inspiration. But then, it was the norm to conform.

Just imagine then, when along comes Julia Margaret Cameron slap-bang into the centre of the new fashion of the London Salon ( copied from France, and indeed begun  by Julia's beautiful Sister Sarah Prinsep at Little Holland House. ) They invited all the crinolines, and instead of wearing the same- they dared to be DIFFERENT!
  Julia and her Pattle sisters, of Anglo-Indian, via Versailles descent came in for a lot of catty gossip. About the way they looked ( all were dark-skinned ) spoke ( a combination of English/French and Hindi ) and dressed.
The girls would all sit together in the evenings cutting up lengths of brightly coloured silks and velvets, and 'make their own clothes, and not a crinoline in sight' SHOCKING!
In a fashionable centre ( Little Holland House Salon had its own pet artist- G.F.Watts ) in Fashionable London- from our view-point today, we might think that these Ladies would be lauded for their style, splashed across Harpers Magasine ( well, a wood-engraving or two anyhow, ) and Pattle Fashion to become all the rage!?
Non, not in the 1860's. Way too modernist and avantgarde a way of thinking. They were simply gossiped about and maybe even laughed at.

Our dear Julia indeed was described as a ' bas-bleu' ( blue-stocking ) or more unkindly in a description of three of the sisters 'Beauty, Brains and Talent'. A rather stocky Julia, got the Talent award, years before she even began her photographic career.

Now then, take Julia down to the Isle of Wight, where 'boho' overode formal, invent the bright anniline dyes just for her delight, and the un-braided lady adorns her un-crinolined bright silk dresses with curtain sashes, red bonnets and openwork shawls. Slightly less attractive to her overall appearance, I rather suspect was the addition of blackened fingers from photographic chemicals. A Helena Bonham Carter-esque charm somewhat denigrated to mad-old bag-lady most probably.

But Em, I say NO! It may have taken two further generations, and into Ms Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set, but our un-sung Style Guru, certainly made it into Fashion-History in my ( as yet un-written ) book!

Virginia was greatly influenced by her Great-Aunt Julia and Anne Thackeray-Ritchie in particular. And so, begat the bohemian Bloomsbury Style.  I also believe that what she did in renovating Dimbola, heralded a new style of 'Colonial' verandah fronted houses built across the road.

Agatha Brazen has another task of investigation. 

As I trawl through her photographs, and what her own 'dressing up room must have yielded, it begins to take pre-Bloomsbury shape...

What fun, Emily, as each snippet of writing allows the imagination to construct what clothing at Dimbola on the West-Wight might have looked like in the 1860's. I'm a planning a year of work and a little exhibition.

We begin with the pretty-maids.

Julia's Maids were her Models. They were not below-stairs. Mostly, they were being photographed. Often they were not cooking, or cleaning. One was to marry a Lord, much to Julia's delight!

I came across a little snippet that they all wore 'little knitted waistcoats'. I rather think that Julia masterminded this- and if so- it is highly likely given the influence her French-born stylish Mother bequeathed, that the Empire-line would be preferred in the Court of Queen Julia.

So here we are Em, Blue-Peter stylee once again-

One I felted earlier. Little knitted waistcoat, as I see it. Later to be embroidered just a bit ( not too much as it would not have been 'fitting'. )

In the style of one of her photographs.

What do you think Em?

Happy second birthday, my precious girl!

Lots of love from GiGi xx



Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Tracage des Chales.

Dearest Emily,

For today's post- we are all about Fashion and style. I know, Uncle Joe said I had swapped Fashion for Alice, but hey- old habits die hard- and after all Em, it was Julia's shawls that first gave me my Through the Looking Glass and the Freshwater Circle clue! So, in the style of a children's programme that GiGi used to watch- Blue Peter- 'here's one I made earlier!'

So- Shawls, Emily. 
Our Julia loved a shawl or two- and one of the strands of research ( other than becoming a Dodgson nerd ) that has me all a flutter, is a notion that is becoming increasingly evident to me. This is all about the peculiar style that Julia Margaret Cameron adopted, one that was most probably quite misunderstood by her mid-Victorian conformist contemporaries. But- Em, I rather think that it begat more inspiration to the Bloomsbury set than we have previously acknowledged.
This will unravel over time in my research, so for now let us start with the history of the humble shawl and how it travelled with Julia from Calcutta, to Paris, London, and then Freshwater Bay.( Oh, and lest we forget, onto the Red and White Queens in 'Through the Looking Glass'! )
Here is Wikipedia's Shawl descriptive ( abridged; ) 

shawl (Persianشال‎, Shāl, from Sanskrit: शाटी śāṭī is a simple item of clothing, loosely worn over the shoulders, upper body and arms, and sometimes also over the head. It is usually a rectangular or square piece of cloth, that is often folded to make a triangle but can also be triangular in shape. Other shapes includeoblong shawls.

History Kashmir, a state in India, part of which is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, was a pivotal point through which the wealth, knowledge, and products of ancient India passed to the world. Perhaps the most widely known woven textiles are the famed Kashmir shawls. The Kanikar, for instance, has intricately woven designs that are formalized imitations of Nature. The Chenar leaf (plane tree leaf), apple and cherry blossoms, the rose and tulip, the almond and pear, the nightingale—these are done in deep mellow tones of maroon, dark red, gold yellow and browns. Yet another type of Kashmir shawl is the Jamiavr, which is a brocaded woolen fabric sometimes in pure wool and sometimes with a little cotton added.
The most expensive shawls, called Shatoosh, are made from the beard hairs of the wild ibex and are so fine that a whole shawl can be pulled through a small finger ring.
The paisley motif is so ubiquitous to Indian fabrics that it is hard to realize that it is only about 250 years old. It evolved from 1600's. Early designs depicted single plants with large flowers and thin wavy stems, small leaves and roots. As the designs became denser over time, more flowers and leaves were compacted within the shape of the tree, or issuing from vases or a pair of leaves. By the late 1700s, the archetypal curved point at the top of an elliptical outline had evolved. The elaborate paisley created on Kashmir shawls became the vogue in Europe for over a century, and it was imitations of these shawls woven in factories at Paisley, Scotland, that gave it the name paisley . In the late 1700s and 1800s, the paisley became an important motif in a wide range of Indian textiles, perhaps because it was associated with theMughal court. The naksha, a Persian device like the Jacquard loom invented centuries later, enabled Indian weavers to create sinuous floral patterns and creeper designs in brocade to rival any painted by a brush. The Kashmir shawl that evolved from this expertise in its heyday had greater fame than any other Indian textile. Always a luxury commodity, the intricate, tapestry-woven, fine wool shawl had become a fashionable wrap for the ladies of the English and French elite by the 1700s. The supply fell short of demand and manufacturers pressed to produce more, created convincing embroidered versions of the woven shawls that could be produced in half the time. As early as 1803, Kashmiri needlework production was established to increase and hasten output of these shawls, which had been imitated in England since 1784 and even in France. By 1870, the advent of the Jacquard loom in Europe destroyed the exclusivity of the original Kashmir shawl, which began to be produced in Paisley, Scotland. Even the characteristic Kashmiri motif, the mango-shape, began to be known simply as the paisley.
Kashmiri shawls were high-fashion garments in Western Europe in the early- to mid-1800s. Imitation Kashmiri shawls woven in Paisley, Renfrewshire are the origin of the name of the traditional paisley pattern
Uses Shawls are used in order to keep warm, to complement a costume, and for symbolic reasons. Today, shawls are worn for added warmth (and fashion) at outdoor or indoor evening affairs, where the temperature is warm enough for men in suits but not for women in dresses and where a jacket might be inappropriate.

The Kashmir Shawls

Kashmir is India's northernmost state and was the point through which ancient India passed to the world. The Kashmir shawl that evolved from a local expertise had greater fame than any other Indian textile.
Pashmina or Amlikar
The majority of the woollen fabrics of Kashmir, and particularly the best quality shawls, were and are still made of Pashm or Pashmina, which is the wool of Capra hircus, a species of the wild Asian mountain goat. Hence the shawls came to be called Pashmina. The fine fleece used for the shawls is that which grows under the rough, woolly, outer coat of the animal; that from the under-belly, which is shed on the approach of hot weather. The best fleece wool is soft, silky and warm is of the wild goats, and painstakingly gathered from shrubs and rough rocks against which the animals rub off their fleece on the approach of summer. This was undoubtedly the soft fleece wool from which were made the famous and much coveted 'ring shawls' in Mughal times. Unfortunately very inferior and second rate wool taken from domesticated sheep and goats provide most of the wool used today on the looms of Kashmir.
The needle-worked Amlikar or Amli, made from Pashmina wool is a shawl embroidered almost all over with the needle on a plain woven ground. The colours most commonly seen on pashmina shawls are yellow, white, black, blue, green, purple, crimson and scarlet. The design motifs are usually formalised imitations of nature like the leaf, flower and tree designs mentioned above; they are always done in rich colours.
The outlines of the design are further touched up and emphasized with silk or woollen thread of different colours run round the finer details; the stitch used for this is at an angle overlapping darn stitch, all the stitches used are so minute and fine that individually they can be seen with the unaided eye with difficulty. When Pashmina wool is used for the embroidery work, it blends so intimately with the texture of the basic shawl material that it would be difficult to insert even a fine needle between the embroidery stitches and the basic fabric.
So, now you know all about Shawls Emily. Julia is frequently referred to as being swathed in shawls, trailing her shawls, wrapping her invalid husband up in shawls, and giving away her shawls as presents should anyone compliment one she was wearing. Marianne North  visiting Julia in 1877 happened to admire one that Julia had on- so she tore it in half and gave half to Marianne, carrying on wearing the remaining half herself.

It is understandable that Julia would adopt a liking for Kashmiri shawls, having been brought up in India, furthermore, her Aristocratic French ancestry and time at Versailles, would have further elevated the shawl as an object that adorned ladies of Society. Here's an image of fashionable Regency Shawl-garb;

Julia's Mother,  Adeline Pattle ( nee L'etang ) who was brought up in Versaiiles, may have been a fashionable influence on all her daughters, as we shall discover in the next post.

But for now Em, I'm back to Wonderland. Julia's 'White Queen' Shawl ( above ) was inspired by descriptions of Julia's 'openwork' shawls and in particular- a red one. Which I have yet to finish before part two of our Exhibition here at Dimbola.

So- back to work...

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi xxx 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Agatha Brazen and the Curious Legacies...part one, t.b.c

Dearest Em,

As you know seeing as we had breakfast together yesterday, it has been a busy week. GiGi's brain is still doing back-flips over Dimbola's award, and trying to fit in all my meetings AND see my favourite Grand-daughter meant a bit of a whirl was the week.

So, I sat down tonight for a bit of decompression time, and was just mulling over the amazing Dodgson stuff I've been given to research further. There is 'Tweedle-tons' Em, and I hardly dare start- but I can see quite easily where it is all going. This is what it'll be...

Talking over with my 'Mystery Guest' as I shall call him for now- I see quite clearly that my Big Person's Book ( not your little picture-book Em, that's yours, this one is mine, ) will be about Dodgson's benevolence overall. I have been struck by this more and more, and can see how I can begin with him as a lad at Rugby, and with the Genesis of Jabberwocky my favourite poem, take us right through to the 'Hunting of the Snark' and Sandown here on the Isle of Wight.

So, that's as far as my thoughts went- and I looked around my Scullery Studio- and even I have to agree with Grumpa- it's a MESS! Normally, I ignore his calls for a scullery-cull but I do think it is time to clear my desk up- a little bit anyhow.

I've suspended the clearing up process Em, most of my desk is now on the floor, tell you why in a minute.

Going back to 'The Hunting of the Snark' and Sandown. 'Jabberwocky's muse' genuflects towards the Snark, of which a part of the genesis began in Surrey in July 1874, whilst Dodgson was nursing his sick Godson Charles Hazzard Wilcox.

Later in 1875, we can read on Wikipedia an account of another young muse, Gertrude Chataway-this time for 'The Hunting of the Snark':-

Carroll first became friends with Gertrude in 1875, when she was aged nine, while on holiday at the English seaside resort of Sandown. He made a number of pen and ink sketches of Gertrude as a young girl. He continued to correspond with her, and to spend numerous seaside holidays with her, including several when she was in her late twenties.

Dans my clearing up task, there's a wrapper from a stick of rock, that's sitting alone in a bag which contained a manuscript given to me by a local Author and treasure, who would like it reprinted under Dimbola Books imprint. She's given me this little wrapper because she knows I have a nice little print of Plumbly's Hotel circa 1865, and she thought I might like it.

Look at it Em- 'Gerty's Gob-stoppers with a scene from Plumbley's Hotel, with the company 'Chataway Chews and Sweets ltd'.

The wrapper only looks about twenty years old.

Anyhow, it's a good enough reason to leave all my papers on the floor ( at least my desk is now clear ) enrage Grumpa ( not difficult ) and go off at another curiosity tangent!

Hurrah for Gertie's Gobstoppers, night night,

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx

Monday, 13 May 2013

Everything stops for Tea...

Dearest Emily,

We're all about Tea and Cakes here at Dimbola right now, so I thought a post about cake and yummy stuff might grab your attention as we do the countdown to your second birthday- for which I shall ask our lovely Gaye to make you a special Victoria Sponge.

Yesterday, we had a lovely Tea-party. This was the first in a planned series of 'Tea-time Talks', and we were very lucky to have kicked off with the fabulous Lynne Truss- famously the author of 'Eats Shoots and Leaves' amongst others including 'Tennysons Gift' that she wrote and set right here. GiGi had deliberately not read this, as I'd been told it dealt with Dodgson and an Alice reference or two- so I didn't want any sub-conscious influencing going on whilst scribing your little tome. ( I did fess this up to Ms Truss and we are happily still talking. )

Anyhow, Lynne was entertaining, and very, very funny Em. We were all in fits of giggles. This, interspersed with my neighbour, who knew I hadn't read it- but had also read your book- turning to me across the room at every relevant reference and winking at me!

All in all, a good afternoon. Earlier that day, I had come in to check that all was set up- and chatting away with two of our peeps at the front desk- one remarked- " It's a day where you feel as though time is standing still. " You know Em, that sort of day where the weather I suppose creates a sort of 'lull' in the air- and it was that sort of atmosphere- helped I guess by it being a Sunday.

Got me thinking about some stuff I had just read in a very interesting and insightfully good alarm-bell ringing book about Dodgson. I swapped this for a yachting book when I did a house clearance a few weeks ago. A L Taylor's 'The White Knight', published in 1952 is a goodie.

Regarding time and the 'Mad Tea Party', he adds credible insight. The Hatter says that his watch is 'Two days wrong'.

There were, even then two ways of calculating the date- one by the calendar, and one by the moon. This Em, must have been an uppermost question of interest in a landscape where the time over the Country itself was being slowly sorted out so that trains came and left with understandable gaps in between...

A Prof. L.J.Russell, of Birmingham University, kindly took the trouble to consult an Almanac to look at this for 1862 ( as most likely did our Dodgson, ) and on Alice's actual brthday that year- the 4th of May, there was exactly two days difference between the calendar way of recording, and the lunar one.

This was at the time what was called the "Hemispherical Problem" and was to all effects, the day that dissappeared.

There was a suggestion, which was finally rejected, that people might be able to choose for themselves, which day it was. ( Our Dodgson wrote an Essay on it. )

In 'Alice' Dodgson, substituted the Day, for the Hour, and the Hatter, and March Hare had to choose which hour it was-
So, they chose 'Tea-Time' ( as the Liddell's were rather fond of the racy new novelty of High Tea, and undoubtedly this would have been what they would have liked! )

So, that's why time stood still and it was 'always tea-time'!

As Dodgson himself wrote to a friend in America;

'Words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means'

'In Veritus Dodgsonius' Em, I rather think he pulled that off!

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi xxxx

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Victorian Paparazzi?

Dearest Emily,

Thought I had a busy morning, just getting your book finally off to the printers- and then, guess what?
Good old Dodgson has raised another question for me that may shed some light on Julia Margaret Cameron actually being an active Photographer even before she admitted to it in 1864.
It happened like this...

One day over the Easter holidays, a rather striking looking Lady walked into Dimbola asking about a photograph that she had lent to the Museum for display a year earlier. I knew the picture well, as it is one of my favourites. The original is of course locked away- but we got thinking about planning ahead with the Collections Committee- blah, blah..

Anyhow, I was quite struck by this lovely lady's beautiful eyes, and asked her all about the picture. She is a descendent of Tennyson- and I can now see the similarity in her appearance- there was a trace of Emily Tennyson's eyes and she had a beautiful bone structure. We got chatting, and I promised to find out more about the picture and keep in touch, and let her know when we planned to give it an airing. So we swapped numbers and have spoken since.

However, do you remember when I told you, that Dodgson got 'sent home for dinner' by Julia, and how unusual I found this, because Julia had no 'Class Issues' as such- she married Maids with Lords and photographed all together on a daily basis. And it didn't quite stand up for me that Dodgson's possibly irritating manner kept him from table either. Julia regularly argued with people and still entertained them time and again.

BUT, Emily- if possibly she had 'paid' Dodgson to teach her photography- then she might just see him as  'tradesman' which would have excluded him from table- he could appear before or after but not 'at'.

My hypothesis of course, and that is all. But- curiouser and curiouser, something else has come to light, which may shed some light on what Colin Ford said to me as we left the P.R.B Show last October. He said that if I could find some more evidence of her photographing earlier than the accepted given date by herself- then we're onto something.

Well Em, we might have done! This photograph that was lent by our lovely lady.

I was at the Bookroom yesterday- and had nothing to read. Yes, I know Em, that is silly- but it was because the book I was reading I had left at home, and couldn't get interested in anything else.

So, eventually I picked up a random book on Queen Victoria's relationship with Tennyson. I'm not hugely into the Royals, but thought I'd give it a whirl. Well Em, inside this book was the photograph that was lent to Dimbola, very similar to the Reijlander famous family shot, BUT something was different...

Firstly, it had been attributed to Julia Margaret Cameron ( possibly a mistake I thought ) but then the attributor was a Tennyson (! )

Then I looked closer- it was different- it was out of focus, and from a different angle. I phoned my new Tennyson friend this morning- yes, that is the shot she lent...

Ok, Granny's a nerd- but Em, this photo could not have been taken by the same camera- there wasn't time with the set-up that presented. Plus, it is taken from a different angle! And, significantly, Julia did rather go in for the 'out of focus' vibe. Oerr Em, maybe she did start photographing earlier than we all thought previously. Mr Ford could help here, will find out and tell you.

Maybe, JMC set up an early Victorian paparazzi style shoot- she was rather persuasive. Reijlander we know was there, and maybe our Jules. I wonder if any other pioneering photographers were there too Em?

Oh, it is fun investigating dead people...

Reijlander's is on the right- and the one on the left attributed to JMC, in 1863. See what I mean?

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx

Friday, 3 May 2013

'Aux Contrairiwise'

Dearest Emily,

Well, GiGi had a most interesting day yesterday...

A friend and I set-off for a bit of a road-trip. We had been asked to pick up a book for the exhibition from a Lady whom I shall call 'Alice'.

Now, Emily, to be truthful I did not know quite what to expect. This lady had told me she had an 'Alice Museum' in her garden. She had been an Alice fan all her life apparently. I did not know whether I would feel like coming over all Joan Crawford to a Baby Jane if I'm honest, because although I'm curious about people, their interests and curiosities- I'm not an 'Alice' ephemerista as such- well to my mind anyhow!

Anyhow, I'll tell you how it went...

We arrived, and pulled up at the front of what must have been some kind of house- but there was no chance to take that in.

We were met, by a charming, glamorous and stylish Lady, with the most beautiful eyes that glittered with a twinkly impishness.

" Come in, come in, let me get you a drink, sit here in my 'Pimms Garden'. So, we sat and were brought lime cordial and told to 'be very careful with the glasses as she did not want them broken. "Off she went to prepare our lunch. As she reappeared, she said "Well, you fell for my first joke- the glasses are plastic- they are rather good aren't they? Now, follow me- I have six gardens. " We did, and were then bidden upstairs to go to 'Morocco'. Up we went, and into a floor that was all Yves Saint Laurent Stylee circa 1967, the beautiful blue, cushions, throws, clothing,shoes...

Ok, so 'Alice' tells us she is a Collector- and so she is- but nothing is 'hoarded', it is beautifully displayed, no dust anywhere- and her sense of colour- exquisite!

We trawl wide-eyed through various themed rooms, and I spot two rather lovely paintings. "Oh yes they are mine. They are the only ones I felt were good enough to display."

We go into the back gardens, there are mirrors everywhere, changing the space and try as I might I could get no handle on what the structure of the house was, though I love buildings- I gave up- for this was not important here.

"Go in there, that's my studio." I loved this one- her truly beautiful ( again use of colour ) paintings were stacked away, and pasted up on the ceiling in a studio I rather think Picasso would have liked to work in. I certainly wanted to stay there forever.

" Come and sit down " we were bidden again, and served a jolly good lunch. Over which our magician-like hostess held a rather enjoyable relaxed luncheon, as we all in turn told about our lives to each other and listened and spoke in equal measure. I began to feel I had lost any sense of time or urgency to return.

" Now, come and see my 'Alice Garden'." We followed, it was I think to the right hand side of the house. "Ok, now here is the Rabbit Hole- jump down it please."

We did. Next we were talked through the whole Alice story, accompanied by her own tableaux of collected items- all set out down the side of a house, where it seemed the sun shone, and it never rained, and there were no corners, or actually any indication of where we were. She finished at a door with a flourish. "Now, here is the end of the story on the back of this door, so I'm going through it!"

We stared, quite dumbstruck at each other, and I think giggled, or even laughed out loud I'm not sure. But I am sure it was with amazement.

However, no time to think- as we were summoned again- into a log-cabin- " It is Christmas here! " she said, and we sat around a round table with a fire in the middle and she turned on some fairy-lights. We sat on reindeer skins.

'Alice' told us, she had always been an Alice. She waived an arm towards a little Caravanette. I do my own thing, she said. My partner of forty years does his own thing too. I'm seventy four years old, and though I travel around by myself to see all the things I want to- one day I shan't be able to.

And then, I shall have all my 'other-worlds' here to sit in.

Well, I have known and met quite a few people one might label 'Eccentric'. That evening my friend looked up the definition of the word. One description seems the most apt.

'An organised unusual'.

This lady, this charming, glamorous, stylish twinkly eyed vibrant human being- knew herself so well, and had done all of this, not for the show-manship she shares gracefully for our enjoyment- but essentially for herself. She knew herself so well, and what she needed to ensure her own happiness, and she had created it- just for her and for those she might like to have enjoy it.

As my friend said- what a 'grounded' lady.

What a privilege Em, just wanted to share it with you!

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi xxx