Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gestational Stays: The Research

You would think, what with women spending so much of their time pregnant and with stays being such commonly preserved extant items (compared to, say, non-quilted petticoats), that finding images and extants would be, if not easy, not exactly difficult.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot out there to go on when it comes to researching how to make gestational stays.  There is, however, ample enough evidence to show that they existed.

First--there's really no good way you can wear clothes like this unless you're wearing some type of stays:

"The Man of Business" from the Lewis Walpole Library.  More on this print here.

The, ahem, busy gentleman on the left is of less interest here than the bevy of pregnant ladies on the right, all of whom are wearing gowns.  Aside from protruding bellies, the gowns have the characteristic 18th century shape--meaning the women must have been stayed to wear them.  Plus, to make your pre-pregnancy gown wearable, you need the back and sides to fit--which means wearing it over stays.  There were other options (see this fun article from Historical Williamsburg) but from what I've seen and what common sense tells me, continuing to wear stays for all or most of pregnancy was probably the norm.  The other options--for instance, quilted support garments--are interesting, but even less prevalent than gestational stays among images, written snippets, and extants for me to assume that they were common.

Then there are a few examples living out there of gestational stays.  First, the Kyoto museum used to have a great example of stays with side-lacing up, but it's since disappeared--and of course before I managed to swipe an image for my research file.  Second, there's a great image and breakdown of an extant garment in Jill Salen's Corsets.  I've been unable to find digital images to link to, but it's a pretty widely available book via library loan (and is also relatively inexpensive, and has tons of other great corsets to study/swoon over).  Basically--it's a c.1780 pair with some fun vertical and horizontal boning detail that has an additional set of lacing at either side.

Finally, there's the famous image from Diderot:
Figure Three shows "Bodies for pregnant women laced by the two sides at A"
So it's almost impossible to see in the dainty little illustration, but the stays are pretty much identical to Diderot's two other pages of stays variations, except that they have an additional lacing along the side.

What did all these examples have in common?  They seemed to take the predominant shape of the era they were made in (Salen's example is later than the Diderot) and split them at the sides with an additional set of lacing.  After much deliberation--do I try to model my stays after a particular example?--I decided to use my own pattern, but split them at a point that made sense.  This was, after all, pretty much what all the original examples seemed to do.

Let's also kick a misconception to the curb real quickly, too--despite medical doctors at the end of the 18th century decrying how awful stays were to a developing fetus, there is no reason to assume that most women were tight-lacing over pregnant bellies and putting their health and their babies at risk.  In fact, the way gestational stays are constructed makes them no more constricting than modern maternity jeans if worn correctly, and the support granted to the lower back is probably an advantage.  So why did doctors bring it up?  In my opinion they were either arguing against tight-lacing in general, or jumping on the "no stays is healthier" bandwagon that changed right along with fashion (and, ahem, didn't really change before...).

Next time: my gestational stays and how they're put together.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Trianon Ballroom

I apologize for geeking out on the prose thing yesterday. Clearly, too much time on my hands. But today--another tidbit of 1940s December research. Much of this info is from a Chicago historical website devoted to the places and people of Jazz Age Chicago--much more great info there, check it out!

Dancing was a major social activity from the 1920s through the early 1950s, and Chicago supported its fair share of ballrooms. One that makes an appearance in December is the Trianon, a huge, state-of-the-art, beautifully appointed ballroom built in the 1920s on the south side of Chicago. The ballroom was designed to be stunning and elegant, with Louis XVI styled decor in the Grand Salon and a dance floor that could accomodate 3,000 dancers. It appealed to the rising middle class, who appreciated the sophisticated sensibilities and an admission charge they could afford. It drew its patrons from the burgeoning south side, but also from around Chicago with its placement near the L.

The urbane facade was maintained partially through exclusivity and imposement of upper-class ideals on the patrons. Though the motto of the Trianon was democracy--anyone who could pay could enjoy the ballroom--they actually had a whites-only policy and turned African-Americans away. The possibility of interracial dance partners would have, apparently, disrupted the elegant atmosphere. Only white bands were hired by the management. Additionally, the demure environment was enforced by "hosts and hostesses" who monitored the dance floor for "petting and spooning." Dancers were expected to refrain from the "hot" jitterbug styles of dance and to stick with more formal ballroom styles. Perhaps the most interesting rule involved smoking--men were permitted to smoke at the Trianon, but ladies were not. In keeping with traditional gender norms, this would have been considered crude for women.

I liked this little gem so much, and appreciated what it revealed about expectations of gendered behavoir, that it made it into a scene:

"Miss.” One of the tuxedoed hosts hovered next to their table. He stared at
Gloria, but she didn’t see him as she leaned in to hear a salacious joke of
“Miss.” Repeated, louder, it caught her attention.
“Yes?” Gloria turned and gave him one of her coyest smiles.
“I am sorry, but ladies are not permitted to smoke in the Trianon.”
“Oh, but I’ve just started this one. I can finish, can’t I? Then I promise to be a good girl.” She giggled, but her joking didn’t work on the man, certainly a seasoned veteran of flippant women.
“Please put it out immediately, or I will have to ask you to leave.” His voice was gentle as honey, but Emily could see iron control in his face.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous. The men can smoke all they like, who cares if
the ladies do, too?”
“The establishment. And our patrons prefer a finer atmosphere in which ladies refrain from vulgar behaviors.” As though to emphasize his point, he shifted to reveal a “No Jitterbugging” sign posted near the dance floor.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Important PSA from WWII

I realized I have a ton of gems from researching December. So, for the next few weeks, until you're tired of it or I am, I'll be spicing up the blog with 1940s/World War II tidbits.

Like this one. It's been a favorite of mine since I first stumbled across it years ago--and it found its way into a conversation in December that one of my dear beta readers said had her laughing out loud.

Well, there is that, isn't there

Once we're done laughing...VD was a legitimate problem for the Armed Forces during WWII--and pretty much during every war prior to that, too. But WWII saw an aggressive campaign against the spread of venereal disease, first by trying to convince the fighting forces not to fraternize with the locals, and when that proved, unsurprisingly, futile, providing other preventative measures via prophylactic stations.

It's perhaps not surprising that the messages aimed at men put the blame on women--notice that the poster essentially says "women spread VD" which is, we all know, only half the truth. Another pamphlet from the time puts it even more bluntly, ironically after stating that "sex is important--it's what makes you a man." A bit of a catch-22--how to be a man when those dirty women will give you VD?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Which I Reflect a Bit on Reading

I don't often do memes, but I've been picking up more reading lately, and Corra's post inspired me to answer these questions for myself.

1. Favorite childhood book?

One? One favorite? Oh, dear. I loved The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynn Reid Banks in second grade—that probably holds the title for most beloved book at a particular point in my life. But I also had a dearly loved, gorgeously illustrated copy of Sleeping Beauty (that part where the bad fairy disguised as an old woman tricks the princess into jabbing her finger on the spindle? My dad did the best toothless old lady bit during that part). And the Chronicles of Narnia will always be favorites of mine.

2. What are you reading right now?

The Pillars of the Earth, at the suggestion of my friend June.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

I wish I had Sahib: The Story of the British Soldier in India 1750-1914 on request. But you can’t request it if someone above you in the university library pecking order has it out—SERIOUSLY. You know who you are, person who isn’t likely to be reading this blog. But if you are—return it, please. Or give it to me for, say, a week.

4. Bad book habit?

I start too many books. And I borrow books from friends and take forever to read them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Do you want the whole list? It’s long...they’re all research books that relate to the current WIP. Masters of the Air (about the Eighth Air Force in WWII), Goodbye, Piccadilly (about British War Brides), On the Farm Front (about the American Women’s Land Army in WWII), several others. All piled ingloriously on my armchair.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No...I’d use one if I had one. Mostly for historical documents and manuscripts. I have a feeling I’ll have one after my birthday, though...

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I don’t know that it’s a preference...more of an addiction. I can’t help but have several going at the same time. This is partly because I always have research books and novels going--they just aren't replacement for one another :)

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Not terribly—but I do tend to take note of things I’d mention in a review more since posting reviews of books I’ve read.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

Hmmm...I will say I was most disappointed in The Postmistress and leave it at that. Not necessarily least favorite, but biggest discrepancy between expectation and result.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

One favorite? Eeeep. I suppose Suite Francaise is my favorite from this year. Delicious. But hit up the Historical Fiction label on the side for the rest of the ones I loved.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Not very often—though I was just saying I should try some science fiction sometime because I know there’s good stuff out there and I’ve never even sampled.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Historical fiction, historical nonfiction, literary fiction (to a point), classics. Poetry. The Bible.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Sometimes I feel like I might yack if I read on anything moving.

14. Favorite place to read?

On the back porch, on a cool evening. Insects whirring and hopefully some nearby tree is blooming, so any breeze wafts a faint fragrance over my pages. Perfect.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I’m fine with lending “normal” books to people I trust—but my antiques aren’t going anywhere but from my shelf to my bedside table. I’m selfish like that.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

No, I have a little collection of bookmarks.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

No—feels wrong, like marking up a friend with a pen.

18. Not even with text books?

Some textbooks. I have a very particular highlighting system that I use.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

English. But I do enjoy reading in French, too (and not just to be pretentious).

20. What makes you love a book?

Beautiful language—words that do something more than simply propel a plot or share information. I want to take in my breath with delight the same way I do when I see a lovely sunset or an incredible painting.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

Usually because I know someone very well, and I’ve read something that resonated with me and I feel it would with them, too. Somehow recommending a book feels very personal to me.

22. Favorite genre?

Historical fiction.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Science fiction. My father adores sci-fi and is always telling me about all the books he’s read and loved, but I’ve never given it a chance. I think I ought to—I’m seeing him this weekend and might ask him to bring a copy of one of his favorites for me to test drive.

24. Favorite biography?

I don’t read much biography, honestly...but I do read a ton of memoir and diaries from the periods I research and write about. I love this diary from 1945 and this memoir by George Rogers Clark.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

No—clearly I’m beyond help. Not to get too cheesy, but when I feel I need guidance, I read the Bible.
26. Favorite cookbook?

The original Fannie Farmer cookbook. Just the basics. Most of it sounds awful and uses lard but you know it's delicous.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

Anything by Irene Nemirovsky. Suite Francaise changed my (writing) life. Seriously. Took my breath away.

28. Favorite reading snack?

I rarely eat while reading! A cup of coffee, maybe. Or a glass of cold white wine on that back porch I mentioned.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

It was my own fault—The Postmistress again. I kept seeing it and I think I mostly built it up in my own head. To be fair, I still haven’t read Harry Potter because I’m worried about hype...I think I’m almost safe now.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don’t really read critics. I’m not awfully interested in their opinions when it comes to picking books, to be honest—I like what I like, and I think that’s how reading ought to be. They can be fun to read to see if what they thought matched up with your impression, but I don't take the whole thing very seriously in the book-selection process.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I like honest reviews—my own and other’s. I’m often interested in what others thought about a novel, whether I agree with it or not. And it’s impossible to have dialogue about art of any kind, literature included, without honesty. I don’t approve of reviews that are venomous, or that don’t say what they didn’t like—if a reviewer gives a rationale, I can see what he or she was reading for—and I’ll know if it’s something that would likely disappoint me, too. It becomes like a conversation. I hope my own reviews are the same.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

I do read in French sometimes—I should read more. I would love to learn Arabic. And Russian.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

Ok, starting Pillars of the Earth was hard—that book is huge! But I'm getting pulled right in and taken along with it with no problem.

And the first time I ever had to read a novel in French for a college course. Loved it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Anything Russian. Dang, those Russian novelists were long-winded! But I enjoy Russian short fiction, so I feel like I should take the plunge with Anna Karenina or one of its ilk...

35. Favorite Poet?,,, Archibald Lampman...wait, Yeats...

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

Either zero or eight. It goes in cycles.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

Not very often—I usually sit in the library browsing for long enough that I know I want to take something home, and am really excited to get it home with me!

38. Favorite fictional character?

Martha Peake and Harry, from Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath. They should have been completely unbelievable, but they captured me completely.

39. Favorite fictional villain?

Most of my favorite books don’t have villians...they might have antagonists, but not straight-up baddies. Hmmm. I have always liked The Wicked Witch of the West. Best cackle ever (my mom and I claimed waaaay before Wicked came out that those shoes really were hers by right).

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

Something lightweight that I don’t mind losing. Second-hand paperbacks, mostly.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

I didn’t read for enjoyment very much in college. I was reading enough other stuff. So perhaps a semester at a time without a book I picked for myself.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

Actually, there would be quite a few in this list, so I'll share my newfound appreciation for allowing oneself to put down a book if one isn't enjoying it instead. I've brought home a few library books, friend-lent books, and gifts, gotten fifty pages in, and thought to myself, "Self, I don't terribly much care what happens next. And the words are a dime a dozen." And then I put the book down...and after years of abiding by the "start it, finish it" policy, this is wonderfully liberating.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

Everything? I’m very easily distracted—I like to keep moving. If I'm watching a movie, I'm also sewing or knitting or cleaning something--it's hard to keep my hands still. And if the weather is nice, it’s hard to keep me inside. I want to go for a walk.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

Atonement. I loved the book, and the film really captured the essence of the story, of the themes. I’ve never seen that quite so deftly done.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

I refuse to see the Narnia movies--I'm disappointed they were even attempted. I have a great respect for CS Lewis, and he said once he never wanted these books made into movies, so I won't see the film version out of respect for him.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

I can remember $500 semesters in college. But for my own books, for my own enjoyment? Perhaps $25. I like to spread my buying out.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Page 99 Test, all the way. Honestly, I'll often read a borrowed copy before I buy. I'm terribly cheap.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Poor writing. Or unrealistic storylines or character development. Or abso-flippin-lutely nothing happening. Or aliens suddenly appearing and taking over the storyline.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

Yeah...they used to be organized alphabetically, but it didn’t work space-wise. Now they’re arranged by size. The DVDs are alphabetical by title, though.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

A little of both. I borrow a lot, but real favorites I’ll buy. And I’ll buy bargain table books a lot and give away the ones that I likely wouldn’t read again.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

Avoiding in the sense that other people tell me I need to read it but I just won’t? Twilight. No, friends and family, I am not interested.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

Everything else I’ve read by Ian McEwan after reading Atonement. So here I am, adoring Atonement, savouring every beautiful phrase—and everything else I read feels heavy-handed, overwrought. Uninteresting and terribly depressing. Same story for Patrick McGrath after Martha Peake.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

1984 and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Both the result of a “didn’t read this in high school and everyone else seemed to” swap with a friend. Both with very good reasons they’re on high school reading lists! Those, and The Odyssey, which I read in high school and everyone else hated but I secretly adored.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

It must sound by now that I really hate The Postmistress. I didn’t hate it that much. One more for good measure—Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet just didn’t quite deliver for me, either.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Anything! I really don’t feel guilty about any of my reading—should I?

Feel free to use and answer! Or--in the comments--what's your biggest book habit? The best book you read this year?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1945 Diary

When I was first researching the WIP I was torn on where the setting should be. My first thought was London, as the post-war time period made sense with battered London--symbolic references of the damage done by the war would be on every street corner. But it felt distant. I could't quite make it work.

So I started floating around other city ideas...New York...small town Indiana...Chicago. Huh, I thought, Chicago. Kind of the American every-city. Interesting culture and architecture, still very vibrant and evolving at the time.

Then I found this: An online diary of a high school student from 1945 and 1946. Dot, as you can come to know very well through her daily musings, was a vivacious young woman living in the suburbs of Chicago in 1945, getting into all kind of miniature adventures and romantic tangles. Her son found her diary and, decades after she passed away, posted the entries along with ephemera from the time and place--newspaper clippings, photographs.

Seeing Chicago in 1945 through Dot's eyes sealed the deal for me--this was where my characters belonged. They fit there--I could see them passing her by on the L, sitting a table away at a diner. They visit many of the haunts Dot describes in her diary--the ballrooms, the theaters, the streetcars.

Two years of diary postings are still available on the site 1945 and 1946. Daily postings continue on the world Dot lived in--making this blog well worth a drop by.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Research for New Project or, How I Love my Library

I'm one lucky skunk. Really. I live in a college town and work across the street from an eleven story bastion of books known as "The Main Library." There are dozens of other libraries scattered across campus. I can get pretty much any book I want.

It's glorious.
They have a really wonderful system that I use (abuse?) regularly, in which you can browse the online catalog and request delivery on any book in circulation. Which is great, because I can pick out a half dozen books from various libraries around campus, or even in auxillary storage, on Monday morning and pick them up Tuesday at lunch.

So I dove in on fact-checking and fleshing-out research for my latest project, tentatively titled December and set in post-WWII Chicago. I have one character who was part of the Women's Land Army, so I picked up On the Farm Front, which is really fascinating for its exploration of how different regions accepted or didn't accept female farm laborers. For instance--many places were fine with women as seasonal workers, thought not as full-time laborers, and women would sign up for two weeks picking cherries or peaches. Some recalled these temporary stints as nearly a vacation, though a hard-working vacation.

And then I encountered one of the drawbacks of not browsing the stacks myself. Another character was in the Army Air Corps, and requested Masters of the Air, which is a history of the Eighth Air Force. Eeep. It's something like 700 pages long. A tome, if you will. I was hoping for about half that. On the bright side, it's engaging writing and I love reading about this era. On the downside, finding anything is brutal, and I'm having to search subjects in the index and then look up individual pages to get a concise history of the development and use of the various elements of the Air Corps at the time. For instance, I wanted to know how fighter escorts worked, and had to read pages 44-46, then 132-22 and then 213-15 just to determine when it became standard for bombers to use fighter plane escorts. Sheesh. I'm ashamed to admit that I might resort to watching old episodes of Dogfights on Netflix to fill in the blanks...

Isn't research grand?

In the meantime, I also requested one book just for fun--The Postmistress, which I've been dying to read. Pure coincidence, of course, that it's also set in WWII! The fellow checking my books out must have thought me a bit of a nut!