Anne here. It's the 1st of April, but I doubt we're in the mood for silly jokes, but maybe I'm the April fool, because today, I was halfway through writing this blog on shawls, I went looking online for an image I knew I had buried in the old computer, but didn't want to dig out — this one, which comes from a book I own by Auguste Racinet. Pure shawl porn, don't you agree? I love all the various styles in which a shawl could be worn.
But guess where I found the image? In a blog I'd written for the Word Wenches back in 2012, on the topic of — you guessed it — shawls. Not a bad blog, if I say so myself, but it covered a lot of the territory I'd planned to cover today. Curses!
But after a bit of grumping around, I decided to soldier on and write a second blog on shawls. Not as informative as the first, which you can read here, but hopefully entertaining enough.
The shawl topic came to mind as I was sliding down a research rabbit hole and was diverted into gazing happily at some beautiful Regency-era shawls. It started with this dress, where a woman had decided to sew her own regency-style dress from some cheap pashminas. It's a gorgeous dress, don't you think? But she said the fabric was a nightmare to sew.
I very much doubt it was pashmina fabric — a genuine pashmina is never cheap. "Pashmina" has become a catch-all description for all kinds of shawls, and you can find them in any market you wander through, but a genuine pashmina is made of the wool of pashmina goats and usually comes from Kashmir.
There are, however, pashmina goats elsewhere in the world, as shown in this amusing article that hit the UK media recently. With people staying indoors because of the virus, a herd of wild pashmina goats have ventured down from the mountains and taken over the streets of the Welsh town of Llandudno.
The ancestors of these now-wild goats were apparently acquired from Kashmir in the Victorian era, when cashmere (ie Kashmir) shawls were enormous, hugely fashionable and wildly expensive.
Here's an image of Harding & Howell Drapers, 89 Pall Mall, London and would you look at all the gorgeously enticing shawls and fabric samples displayed. I think this print has been enhanced with deeper colors than the original print, but it conveys the sense of richness and lush fabrics that I want to convey, so I'm using it here. Click on the image to see a larger version.
And since I'm not going into much detail of the background or history of shawls, I will just continue to continue the shawl porn.
How's this for a dashing outfit? A moss green silk taffeta pelisse with sky blue silk lining and Point de Bruxelles lace collar, and set off with a vivid, pumpkin-colored cashmere shawl. (French or English, circa 1811.)
As I said back in that first blog, I love shawls and have far too many, but I also hardly ever wear them. They annoy me by sliding off my shoulders, by slithering into the laps— or meals — of my neighbors, by needing to be carried, and by constantly demanding attention of the hitching up, rewrapping or reflinging-around-my-neck sort. (And as I pointed out in that original blog, while a Regency or Victorian era lady might have a handsome cicisbeo standing by to shawl-wrangle (and fetch drinks and tasty snacks) they don't appear to be very numerous where I go these days.)
Nevertheless, forget about cicisbei, a gorgeous shawl will seduce me every time. And after writing and posting images of some beautiful historical shawls, I found myself humming a certain tune, Julie-Andrews-like, and I thought, why not? So . . . here are a few of my favorite shawls . . .
1) My royal blue merino and silk shawl. It's handwoven and hand-dyed and I bought it years ago in the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney.
This is one shawl that does not demand a lot of maintenance. It sits comfortably around my shoulders and almost never tries to slide off. That's because it's almost circular, and has a deep, round neckline, and isn't a large oblong, like most shawls. I only use the gold pin pictured when I wear it outside in the wind. The pin isn't real gold, but is some kind of alloy, but the design is beautiful, and reminds me of an Irish harp. I love both the shawl and the pin to bits.
2) This is probably my favorite shawl. It's very light — muslin, or some kind of fine cotton — and is perfect for when hot weather begins to cool in the evening and you want to throw it over bare arms. I love the simple bright, bold, jungly embroidered designs.
The embroidery is unlike any other embroidered shawl I've seen — it's just tacking; you can see if you click on the little closeup below — which keeps it light. If ever I decided to embroider a shawl — which I wouldn't! — I'd probably use this method. And the shawl is so light, it packs up small and neat — it fits in a ziplock sandwich bag.
3) The peacock shawl below is one I've never worn. It was a gift from a friend, and though it's beautiful, it's a slider — all those beads and sequins weigh a bit so it tends to slide off my shoulders. But I found a use for it when I attended my first big group signing. When I arrived on the set-up day I discovered all the other authors had gorgeous big banners and their tables were loaded with giveaways and chocolates and various fabulous displays — and piles of books for sale.
Me? I had a black tablecloth. And being traditionally published I didn't even have any books to sell; people had to buy them from the attending bookseller. So I went home and pulled out my peacock shawl and a tin of little pins, and grabbed a few other things so my table wouldn't look so terribly bare. So here's what I did. The peacock shawl really came into its own, don't you think?
So now, instead of trying to think up something clever to conclude this rambling wander through the aisles of shawldom, I'll leave the last word to A Famous Author, who no doubt was well acquainted with the value of shawls. I'm sure she had dozens. (Though whether she had a cicisbeo to attend her, I'm much less sure.)
"It is very pretty," said Mr. Woodhouse. "So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear. I do not know any body who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders—and it makes one think she must catch cold."
So, what about you? Do you wear shawls? Collect and neglect them, like me? Use them for un-shawl-like purposes? (Piano Shawl, anyone?) Or, in this time of self-isolation maybe you're kitting or crocheting one — there are so many gorgeous patterns on the web. Which one of the shawls pictured is your favorite? And do you know which Famous Author I've quoted above, and from which book?