Writer’s Digest – June 30, 2021

As I write this, following a couple of positive cases, we’re in lockdown here in South-East Queensland. Sydney is a few days into a two-week lockdown and both Western Australia and the Northern Territory are also locked down. This pandemic does keep giving.

While the city of Brisbane has been subject to a couple of snap circuit-breaker lockdowns, up here on the Sunshine Coast we’ve led relatively normal mostly mask-free lives for much of the past twelve months, so even though this lockdown is (at this point) for just three days, it’s come as a shock to us.

Having said that, we also realise how lucky we are. Melbourne and the state of Victoria spent most of 2020 shut away and have also endured additional lockdowns in 2021. We’ve been fortunate indeed.

Anyhow, while it means that my husband is now home for the next three days, and our holiday scheduled for Sunday is in doubt, I’ll be working as per normal. Hey ho.

Okay, so my research this week has led me to Victorian skirt-lifters – and there’s absolutely nothing lurid in that. I saw one of these come up for auction on an episode of Antiques Roadtrip and had to learn more. Aside from being a lovely little decorative piece that I could absolutely see Philly Barker stocking in The Barn, they had a real practical use. 

During the Victorian era, women’s skirts – especially those of wealthy or titled women – weighed in at over six kilos. Yep, that’s not a typo. Over six kilos. And I complain about putting a bra on for a zoom call. (Too much information?) In any case, women had a struggle simply walking down the street. As for being able to do anything more active? Forget it. And that’s before you even consider having to wash all the skirts. When you think about it, it really was a form of oppression. 

Much of the extra weight was minimised by the introduction of the crinoline – a beehive frame that supported the skirt from underneath and made the multiple petticoats redundant. 

There was, however, still the issue of dirt and, given the amount of rain England gets and the state of the streets (what with mud and horses and stuff), a lady did need to keep her skirts clean: 

Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room.  Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no stile [sic], no taste, no beauty.  Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added, “She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker.  I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa.  I could hardly keep my countenance.  Very nonsensical to come at all!  Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold?  Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” said Bingley; “but . . . I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well. . .  Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”

“You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley; “and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.”

“Certainly not.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Enter the skirt lifter – a small clamp that was attached mid-way up the skirt, or even at the hem of the skirt, and then tied to the waist via a cord, chain or ribbon. Decorative as well as practical, they were typically brass or silver plated, and had a catch to lock the grips in place. The catches were decorated with motifs and even sometimes encrusted with little gemstones. Women would pull on the chain to lift up the skirt to keep it clean – hands-free.

It also freed women to do other activities – such as dancing, riding, playing tennis, croquet, and even cycling – all without their skirts getting in the way. Cool, hey, and actually quite liberating in its way.

As for Alice? I hit a block over the weekend and realised it was because I wasn’t clear in myself what her primary motivation was. So I did what I usually do in those circumstances and drew her an astro chart. I wrote a little about that a while back.

Alice is a Leo sun and she has elements of both the sun and shade of that sign (as we all do). She has a mane of curly red hair and is generally comfortable in her own skin. She’s generous and she’s proud of who she is and what she does. Respect – both self-respect and respect of others – is a deal-breaker for her, and she’s courageous and full of heart. Behind the mask, there’s fear though – and it’s that which gives me what I need to give her texture. More on that, however, next time. In any case, it’s helped me write another few scenes so I suspect I’m through the worst of the middle muddy bit.

This week’s vintage china is this piece by Royal Winton Grimwades in Blue Anemone. From the mark on the base, it dates back to 1938. I have four of these little tea plates and I actually do use them. It never ceases to amaze me that something almost 100 years old still looks lovely with Scottish tablet on top.

Okay, that’s it for this week… until next time.