Guest Blog from Virginia Farmer

Today my guest blogger is Virginia Farmer. Virginia also writes time travel romances and loves historicals, which is probably why our virtual paths crossed out there in the wilds of the internet. Please welcome Virginia to Alive & Knitting!

Thanks so much Claire for inviting me to your blog.  This is my first foray into the blogosphere.   When Claire invited me, I wondered what I could contribute to a knitting blog.  You see, I’m not a knitter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried.  I could increase and decrease with the best of them, I just didn’t have any control over when it would happen. I started a scarf that was 12 inches wide and it ended 12 inches wide. But what happened between the beginning and the end, was just plain ugly.

No, I’m not a knitter, but I am a stitcher of another kind.  I love to sew.  I started sewing at the age of 11 and from the first stitch I was hooked, (yeah I tried crocheting too and realized I can’t count).  I’d watched my mother sew for as long as I could remember.  I surprised both of us with the things I picked up just watching her make dresses for my sister and me.

From stitching dresses, pants, blouses, suits, and wedding gowns, I moved to drapes, bedspreads and pillows.   They are so much easier to fit than dresses, pants, blouses, suits and wedding gowns!  They don’t fidget, complain, or scream ‘ouch’ when stuck with a pin!

And then I discovered writing.  Who knew my love of sewing would actually help me in my writing?   I realize the two are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but let me explain how I brought my love of writing and sewing together.

You see, I write time travel romances.  The thought of experiencing life way back when, intrigued me.  All those castles, beautiful gowns, romance, chivalry, and knights on white horses—sigh—my imagination went into hyper-drive.  Then I did my research and realized that maybe it would be better to experience history through my fictional characters.

So I poured myself into my heroines, coming to know their thoughts and ideas; their hopes and dreams.  I knew how they lived, the foods they ate, and the social structure of their time.

But something I didn’t know, and it drove me nuts, was what it felt like to wear their clothing.  How would a modern-day woman feel wearing clothing from another era? How did it fit?  Was it comfortable?

Where was I to find the answers to my burning questions?  A friend who’d listened to me moan and complain about the lack of information and resources, pointed me in the direction of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  I got in touch with one of the members and met up with her.  If memory serves, her name was Athena Jordan.  She was a treasure trove of information.

I knew I’d hit the jackpot when she showed me her Elizabethan gowns.  Holy smokes, Batman.  They were awesome.  The detail was astounding and her knowledge of the period was no less impressive.  She recommended a book,  The Evolution of Fashion, Pattern and Cut from 1060 – 1930, by Margot Hamilton Hill and Peter A. Bucknell.  (The book is out of print now, but copies can be found at

The book is geared for theater costuming.  But for a writer, it was everything I could have asked for.  Within the pages of the book, I found everything from suggested fabric and colors to the fit and movement listed on the facing page of the drawings of the costumes.  Each picture is of the male and female styles of the period.  Details about the under garments, shoes, headdress, jewels, hairstyles and accessories are noted.  Turning the page, you’ll find mock up patterns for the costumes.

I love this book!  I could sit and look at it all day and never get bored!

I realized that if I wanted to know, first hand, what it would feel like to wear a period gown, I’d need to make one.  But looking at the picture of the little pattern pieces the book provided, I couldn’t figure out the construction of it.

In order to make sense of it, and since I’ve a visual person, I traced the pattern pieces in the book and stitched up the wee little gown.  Odd thing, it pretty much fit a Barbie doll!  So armed with a familiarity of the pattern, I started working on my own gown.

Here’s the result, a fifteenth century English Houppelande.  Not an exact replica, but as close as I could come.  The weight of the lined cotton velveteen pulls on the shoulders, but once the girdle, (belt), is in place, it’s not bad.  The headpiece is enough to give anyone a headache, but I think that’s more because we’re not accustomed to wearing something like this.

The next gown I made was a nineteenth century English tea gown.  I made it to wear at a writer’s conference for the ‘Tea” they hosted.

Something I realized about this gown and the women who wore them—there is no way to slouch.  The stays see to that.  Your posture has to be perfect or you end up getting gouged in the ribs and the waist.

This is the gown.

The last one I made was an eighteenth century gown, the one my heroine made in my second book, Spenceworth Bride.  Geez, stays again?  Not only that, but the bustline was fitted quite tight.  Not very comfortable at all.

I’m working, on my fourth, a sideless gown from the fourteenth century.  Work on it is going a bit slower since I’m enmeshed in my writing.  I will get it done, just not as quickly as I did the others.  I’ve gotten the undertunic cut out and stitched, but it needs some serious fitting—so not my favorite thing to do, (remember all those pins, yikes!).

So while this blog is focused mainly on knitting, I think I can justify my contribution by saying this: Creating things from yarn and needles is much like creating things from fabric and thread.  Knitting and sewing are both done, one stitch at a time .

Keep yourself in stitches!!


Virginia Farmer has published three time travel romances. Her first, Sixpence Bride, a Golden Heart winner, was first published in 2000.  An updated and corrected ebook version is available now.  The sequel, Spenceworth Bride, originally published in 2003, will be available in ebook format February 14, 2012. Her third book, A Blast to the Past, released in 2004, will be available in ebook soon.  You can find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter at VirginiaFarmer1, or visit her website at

13 thoughts on “Guest Blog from Virginia Farmer

  1. Those are gorgeous gowns, Virginia! I gave up sewing about the time Deb/Claire conned me into knitting/crocheting again, mostly because it’s very difficult to fit a pattern on yourself without help.

    Isn’t historical clothing fascinating? I’m continually amazed at how many layers were involved in getting dressed and long it must have taken. Not to mention how HOT you must have gotten in the summer. But I bet they appreciated those layers in the drafty castles in the winter.

    Thanks for stopping by Deb’s blog. What fun it was to read about your costuming adventures!


  2. Wonderful and fun information! And such beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing. I’m the same as you, I’ve tried to knit, tried to crochet. Made some really ugly baby blankets. Luckily babies only care if the blankies are warm!


  3. Beautiful gowns but I want to see the 14th Century one. Now you’re talking my time period. Unfortunately my mother stopped sewing just when I was gettting interested in it so anything beyond a straight seam is beyond me.

    Luckily, I happen to know your writing talent is equal to your sewing talent. 🙂


  4. Virginia, lovely first blog! I enjoyed hearing about your sewing efforts, and the dresses look authentic to me. I always thought the loose medieval gowns looked the most comfortable. Let us know when you make one of those. By the way, I love your books and am so glad they’ll all be available soon!


  5. I’m impressed. Since I can’t sew a stitch, I’m in awe. What wonderful garments, and what a great way to get into your characters’ heads and into the time period. Nice blog, Ginni.


  6. Ginni–

    Love these gowns…and moreso how they feel! What a wonderful blog. I really want to see the medieval one!

    What a gift. My mom sews, but I’m more of a straight line girl like Lauren. You’ve inspired me!

    Hugs, and thanks for sharing!



  7. Thanks so much everyone for visiting the blog.

    Pam, did you know that in the Middle Ages there was a mini Ice Age? Considering the castles were built of either stone, which leans toward the cool side, or wood, which is seriously drafty, the weight of the clothing and the layering was a necessity.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Pam.


  8. Candis, we’re two peas in a pod! It takes so long for me to knit or crochet anything because it’s a constant learning experience.

    It takes a special talent to knit or crochet. I’m in awe of anyone who can do it.


  9. Carole, I’ve got so many books on the subject, if anyone needs info, no doubt I’ve got a book that covers it!

    Laurin, I’ll keep you informed on the progress of the gown. It’s a sideless gown with a tunic beneath. Thanks for the compliment, but I happen to know you’re a wonderful writer too. I just finished The Devil of Kilmartin and loved it!

    Eilis, if the belt is removed from the Houppelande, it is a loose gown. But the weight of the fabric is hard on the shoulders. The belt, (girdle), relieves the discomfort. Maybe I should bring it to one of PRW’s meeting. You could try it on and see what it feels like!!

    Thanks Polly. I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog!

    Robin, the Houpelande was the easiest to make. The scissors back then were difficult to use so there wasn’t a lot of cutting going on!

    Beverly, oh you should make a Regency gown! The fit is much easier for that period. Send me a picture when you get it done.

    Awww, thanks Debbie. {blush, blush}


  10. These dresses are beautiful. I am overwhlemed by your talents in so many areas. What I found most interesting was that you found these dresses to be uncomfortable–fashion won out over comfort. Thank you for sharing all this.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s