Blog Archives

My post Downton Abbey party report.

Loved the beginning of Downton Abbey season six. A few minor threads started and resolved and even more began!

And the party–splendid!

Laurel Wanrow in Victorian Steampunk costume.

My husband was told he looked like like Mr. Mason…but who was I? I’m claiming I’m Violet in her younger, Victorian years. LOL. I love Maggie Smith’s Dowager character!

fitting into the show

We had a show of hats, including a Lady Astor felt hat.

Lady Astor felt hat

Dressing for dinner, complete with long gloves.

Dressed for dinner

As for my English dish…I would do things a little differently next time. A few shots of the process…

Sausages for Braised Bangers

Adding the cider to Braised Bangers

I cut my sausages because I wanted smaller servings for the party. However, this meant some apple chunks inside escaped during the extended braising, and burnt. In the future I would cut the sausages after cooking.

Cider and Honey Braised Bangers

Despite the unappetizing-looking charred bits, the flavor was good, if a little sweet, due to the mild sausage I used.

So what did other folks bring?

Downton Abbey party

We had sausage pockets,

sausage pockets

pork and mushroom pasties (my favorite!)

Pork & mushroom pasties

and Shepard’s Pie.

Shepard's Pie

One of the sides was presented on a turn of the century plate.

Turn-of-the-century dish

And for dessert, a traditional Victorian sponge,

Victorian sponge cake

and a beautiful vanilla cake with Elderberry liqueur in the icing.

vanilla cake

A splendid time was had by all!

Watching Downto Abbey


And here’s my Victorian costume put together!


photo by Kimberly Shorter, BBF photographer

Laurel Wanrow, photo by Kimberly Shorter, BBF photographer

I think my outfit came together pretty well. The most fun I had was watching my fellow writers do double-takes upon realizing who I was. Replacing my regular glasses, with their square purple frames, sure made a difference, not to mention just dressing up for a change.

Laurel Wanrow at Maryland Romance Writers BBF tentI could not keep my short hair pinned, and when I mentioned this (the Victorian fax-paux of having my hair loose!) on Facebook, fellow author Rowan Worth who does Civil War reenacting suggested a snood, and thankfully included this Victorian hair snood link! Basically, it’s a hair net, and Mrs. Button’s Vintage Corner did this accessory justice in her article ‘In the mood for a snood.

I hosted at the information table for the Maryland Romance Writers’ tent, but also listened to several panel discussions.

Maryland Romance Writers stage at BBF

And also had a fun day hanging out with author friends, including fellow indy-publishers Rebecca Rivard and Leslye Penelope.

Rebecca Rivard, Laurel Wanrow and Leslye Penelope

The event continues through Sunday, Sept 27, and Maryland Romance Writers is hosting a full schedule from 11 am to 7 pm each day.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 1.29.52 PM

Another highlight for me, as a self-published author whose books are POD rather than available in bookstores, was seeing my print copies shelved with others in the book sales area.

The Unraveling shelved by Ukazoo Books

More photos are at the Maryland Romance Writers Facebook Album Baltimore Book Festival 2015.  Thanks for sharing my costume crafting journey!

Dressing up like a Victorian lady, Part 4: Reticules and other ways to carry things

Let’s face it, we are a society that totes things. To attend the Baltimore Book Festival dressed like a Victorian lady, and still have all my ‘necessities,’ I needed a reticule. In other words, an era-appropriate purse.

My research led me to a timeline of purses titled Please Don’t Ridicule my Reticule! by Joan Kiplinger on a fabric website. (I’m seeing a trend here linking sewing and costume-making!) The descriptions and many illustrations led me to pulling out an unused crocheted doily belonging to my grandmother. I began fashioning a velvet interior, thinking I’d close it with ribbons and decorate the edges with beading…

However, I am wearing a riding skirt and hat. Plus, between the two choices of boots I showed in my ‘Part 1’ post, I have preferred the brown ones. They may look more like work boots, but that fits the riding skirt and image of landowner Mistress Constance Gere. And they bring together the brown belt, accessories and leather gloves I have gathered. I began scanning through images of reticules and came across this fashion plate, again from the Kate Tattersall website. You go, R. S. Fleming!


The plate illustrates the author’s Victorian Fashion Terms: Reticule. It’s captioned: “Stunning white riding habit with a cutaway jacket and leather reticule 1863.”

Exactly what I needed!

I did quite a bit of leather work in high school and have sewn since, so it was easy for me to make a paper pattern and dive into a box of materials my mother saved and gave me to use with my kids. I liked the shape of the reticule in the fashion plate, so copied it best I could. Here is the process.

After tracing pattern on underside of leather and cutting with an exacto knife (We don’t seem to have the leather scissors anymore), I punched holes along the edge and began lacing the pieces together with a flat leather needle.

Lacing a leather reticule 1Constructing a leather reticule 1

The front and back are matching shapes sewn to 5 cm wide strip. Note You need to make it longer than the actual side length to give the corners room to turn. If I have made a simple U shape, i wouldn’t have needed the extra holes. Luckily, I had room to add them as I sewed.

Lacing a leather reticule 2

The reticule is designed to hang from a belt. Before lacing one the flap to close the top opening, I made two strips the right length, and laced a loop at the top of each. They were then sewn into the back through two sets of holes.

Leather reticule belt straps

My worst dilemma was finding a closure. Some options were sewing on two wooden buttons to lace a piece of cord around, or creating a peg in a leather loop fastener. I wanted something more personal…and it had to be done quickly because I am running out of time before the BBF event tomorrow. I looked around the house…and found one of my stone Zuni carvings had a pinched belly, perfect for looping several rounds of waxed string with beads and a piece of leather lacing.

closure of leather reticule

I added a piece of leather on the back of the flap where I threaded the lacing to hold on the carving, so its weight will not pull at the single leather.

Back of closure on leather reticule

I made a simple loop strung through two bottom holes to secure the stone animal. I would like to braid a more substantial piece and also trim the flap edge with a line of lacing, but I have no more time to punch holes or figure out circular braiding–which I hope I can purchase!

My reticule will work well for my smaller items, such as my keeping my real glasses handy.

leather reticule

But it’s always handy to have other containers for things, ones that are still Victorian-era appropriate–meaning natural materials and handmade. I grabbed a small crocheted bag made by a friend to hold my cash.

crocheted bag

My brass compass already lives in a leather pouch, easily found if you visit out west. I added the gears (actually a button) for a more steampunk look.

leather pouch

For larger items, I’m taking a basket that looks old because of its rustic construction.

basket with embroidered cloth

I’ve lined it with an embroidered table cloth I never have out, but will be nice to see for a few hours. it was made by my great-grandmother, and will hide my water bottle and a few snacks.

Lastly, I believe I will take along a small purse my grandmother gave me that was her mother’s. I believe that puts it in the 1880-1890s.claw pouch










I’m not sure if it’s alligator or crocodile, but that coin purse has some wicked claws on it! And now, I believe my Victorian costume is complete. Here is the Maryland Romance Writers stage schedule at the Baltimore Book Festival. Hope you can join us this weekend.

I didn’t notice until I hit publish, but this is my 200th post for my website! Thanks for joining me.

Dressing up like a Victorian lady, Part 3: Jewelry and such

Now we arrive at the minor accessories for trying to present a historical look. Isn’t it the details that make an image?

I feel one of the most noticeable details some of us need to grapple with is eye wear. Unfortunately, it’s also an expensive one. I cannot see without glasses, and my current ones are purple–not a Victorian look.  Serious reenactors have their prescriptions put in the correct frames, from companies like the Historic Eye Wear Company.

Eye Wear Frames from the Historical Eye Wear Company

Eye Wear Frames from the Historical Eye Wear Company

Thankfully, I saved  my old metal rims which are close enough.

Wire rimmed glasses

We’ll see how I feel about that long-ago prescription at the end of the day!

Next on my list was jewelry. A wonderful article, Getting a Clue About Accessories from Historical, set me straight on a number of items, including earrings. During the Victorian era they hung on wires and were made of natural materials.

Wires…wires…I have mostly posts, but found a pair I haven’t seen in years.

Handmade earrings on wires

I bought these beaded porcupine quill loops from a woman who volunteered while I was a summer seasonal at Coulee Dam National Recreation Area. She was a Native American member of the Colville Reservation, and had handmade them in a traditional style…or so I was told. Can’t verify that, but I figure porcupine quills fall squarely into natural materials. Though the mammal was not native to Britain, the ‘colonies’ had them.  Wouldn’t people have been fascinated enough by the quills to import and use them in jewelry? In more recent times, the 1970s, a few porcupines did escape museums in Britain and establish themselves.

Among ideas on Historical Emporium, I learned that a cameo would be appropriate. I went searching my jewelry chest for a cameo my aunt brought back from Italy for me. I found it–on the left–and a second, larger one.


My husband’s grandmother bought it for herself sometime between 1910-1915 (kept a reminder note with it). That struck me as probably the oldest piece I would find…and then I found a locket I had forgotten about, one that had belonged to my husband’s mother.

Victorian locket

The accompanying note gives the history: “This Locket was given to Jean when she graduated from Ferry Hall (a girls boarding school) by her Godmother, Hazel Oswalt. it was purchased at the Caledon Market, London. Made in Victorian England c 1880.”

All right!

Two other small items I’ll carry were purchased from a steampunk vendor at Balticon for my steampunk costume–which, I forgot to mention during part 1, is an astronomer costume. They are appropriate for the times and things a landowner like Mistress Gere would have and use.

brass compass

A brass compass

spy glass

A spy glass that fits in one’s hand. I fashioned a belt holder for it when I put together the astronomer costume.

spy glass in a holder

Showing this leather work leads into a hint of what I’ll present tomorrow–hopefully

leather lacing

I have some work to do to complete it…and only two days until the Baltimore Book Festival!


Dressing up like a Victorian lady, Part 2: Acccessories

Dressing properly isn’t just the clothes; the accessories must be right to make a correct historical presence. I have a few more things to prepare for my Victorian costume to be ready for the Baltimore Book Festival.

Anyone and everyone going out of the house in Victorian times wore a hat. During the time The Unraveling is set, men wore top hats, boys and working people might wear caps. Women had more choices in head wear, from ruffle-, ribbon- and bead-decorated silk, cotton or felt, to plain straw and cloth bonnets. I took a few liberties with hats in my more casual hidden realm, but decided my costume would be incomplete without a hat. Along with my blouse and split riding skirt, I bought my hat from Historical Emporium. A riding hat.

Riding hat

I figured that fit, but I’m worried how that trailing veil will hold up.

No properly-dressed Victorian adult went out without gloves. Again, because my characters live and work on a farm, I took liberties and forgo gloves except when they are in the Derby. However, like the hat, I decided I needed them…unfortunately after I had placed my order. It’s darned hard to find plain leather dress gloves these days. I considered using my lace fingerless gloves from my steampunk costume.

FIngerless lace gloves

I could wear a ring with these, but frankly, they don’t look right. Another option is cutting down a thin pair I found in the Halloween section, or wear a fleece lined pigskin pair I have from long ago.

Pigskin gloves

Not quite the right color since most of my outfit is black. Tomorrow I’m calling around to try to borrow a pair.

I needed stockings to wear with my boots. But what kind? A search of Victorian stockings turned up Kate Tattersall‘s (Victorian Adventuress Extraordinaire!) fabulous website. In addition to Kate’s adventures (due out in January 2016), author R.S. Fleming has posted many well-researched articles, including on silk hose, colourful stockings & socks. From this essay, I learned stockings are the longer ones–up to the thighs–and socks the shorter. I decided knee length would be appropriate, a knit style in wool. I was dreading spending too much more money at REI, where I know knee high wool socks are plentiful, but Target is closer and I found both thin and thick versions for half the price.

Wool stockings

I’m leaning more toward wearing the brown boots, but need to have a trial period of walking around the house now that I have the socks!

Dressing up like a Victorian lady

When I first decided to attend the Baltimore Book Festival, I also decided to dress Victorian, the era my series The Luminated Threads is set. I already knew it’d be fun because I put together a steampunk costume for a RWA conference a few years ago.

Dressed as a Steampunk Astronomer

But that was fantasy and easy–I could collect up and wear anything I liked, which I did and won second place in our fantasy chapter’s annual contest. Putting together a Victorian look involves more preparation than going to your local retailer or party supply store, and this time I wanted to be a bit more correct…but not completely correct. I only had the funds to dedicate to what people would see, not the underthings. If you want an entirely correct version of dressing Victorian, please see Victoriana Magazine’s How to Dress 1860s.

Also, I wanted to dress like a character from my 1868 series, but not the heroine. Annmar enters the story wearing a mourning outfit, and one more formal because she works with business clients, drawing advertisements for their steam machines. Because I’m more of a jeans and t-shirt wearer, I chose to dress like the owner of the farm Annmar goes to work for, Mistress Constance Gere:

A woman strode along an avenue created by rows of fruit trees. She was tall, her lean figure dressed in the style Mrs. Rennet wore, a ruffled blouse topped by a suit vest styled for a lady. But unlike Mrs. Rennet, this lady had on a split skirt, the kind worn by women who rode horseback. She would most certainly be holding a sword when she rode—

I’d seen this split skirt online in Historical Emporium. I’ve trolled their site along with other research sites, and they seem the most reasonable and easily accessible, unless you go to a con or DIY. Also because of finances and figuring out what I want to do in the future, I decided to reuse my vest-style corset. The black Brush Twill Riding Pants would work perfectly. Unfortunately, even though I carefully took measurements, the size was too big, so a replacement is on the way. They seemed sturdy and not too long, which was a concern because I am only 5′ 4″.

Historial Emporium Brush Twill Riding pants.The blouse was a simple decision: The Victorian Ladies Blouse in white.

Victorian ladies blouse with stand up collar

The collar is the correct stand up one, the sleeves are nice and full. I like the fabric and the fit.

Boots…my old ones looked and felt great, but the sole cracked after only a half-dozen wearings. I ordered the Victorian Ankle Boot, tried them on–they fit fine–and my husband said, “What are you thinking? You’re going to sprain your ankle. Again.” Uh, right. I do have a issue with weak ankles and lengthy sprain recovery. And getting around any festival or conference is no walk in the park.

Victorian ankle boot

But they’re so cute. sigh.

With a week to go, I was running out of time. I scoured the internet for likely substitutes with Victorian low heel boot and found Payless had something that would do, and in stock locally! I ran over and voila:

Black low heel lace up bootsBrown low heel lace up boots








Now I have a decision to make. The black boots will likely go unnoticed under the black riding pants. However, Mistress Gere is a farm owner and likely to be wearing rougher work boots, the kind Annmar sees the other farmworkers wearing:

“May I borrow a pair of those boots in the back hall?”

“The Wellies?” Mary Clare frowned. “They’d be huge on you. Try my work boots.” In a thrice, she had them off.

Annmar laced the leather boots and stood. These fit better than the ones last night. And walking— “Much less sloppy,” she told a grinning Mary Clare. Her sore feet and the rough ground slipped from Annmar’s mind a few steps into the orchard.

I also envision Mistress Gere needing to carry a few items out to the fields, which would be much easier if she wore a belt and hung things from it…clearly I have more work to do this weekend!

%d bloggers like this: