Welcome to another of our Conference Spotlights from the DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER conference.
Bronwyn Parry writes gritty romantic suspense inspired by the dramatic landscapes and resilient people of rural and outback Australia. Bronwyn grew up surrounded by books, with a fascination for places, people and their stories, and she’s now an occasional academic, passionate about the richness, diversity, and value of popular fiction. Despite writing about murder and crime and putting her characters through daunting experiences, she lives peacefully on 100 acres of beautiful bushland with her husband and two energetic border collies and loves to travel in Australia’s wild places.
At Diamonds Are Forever, Bronwyn is presenting a workshop aimed at ALL writers called THE MOST PERFECT CLOTH: DRESS FABRICS FOR GEORGIAN & REGENCY CHARACTERS.
On the eve of the Industrial Revolution and colonial expansion, wools, linens, and cottons had their place with silks as highly desirable fabrics, many of them still made entirely by hand, and finer than the fabrics we know today. We’ll discuss some of the lesser-known fabrics – including dress fabrics, linen, bed-hangings and other everyday and decorative textiles. Bronwyn will bring a few small samples, and photographs. We’ll also discuss women’s roles in the production of textiles, including a demonstration of spindle-spinning.
Tell us about yourself in 10 words or less.
Romance writer, textile crafter, social historian, occasional (eclectic!) academic.
What prompted you to put together this workshop for “Diamonds are Forever”?
Museums and galleries have fine collections of beautiful evening dresses and fashionable gowns of the aristocracy, but less decorative costumes and textiles aren’t as highly valued and have usually not survived. Yet you can be sure that Mrs Darcy didn’t wander the draughty halls of Pemberley in winter in a delicate muslin gown!
I’m a historian by training, with a particular interest in everyday people and experiences, and in 2000-2001 I wrote my Honours thesis on late 18th century British worsted textiles, having spent a few weeks in British archives offices and museums discovering an impressive but forgotten range of beautiful and practical textiles. However, all that research and knowledge has been sitting doing nothing since then – calamanco and kersey rarely coming up in conversation! As many of our members write historical romances, and I read a lot of them, I figured my esoteric knowledge about an incredible period of British textile production might be useful… so, after thinking about it for a couple of years, I finally submitted a workshop proposal.
What will participants take away from this session?
Participants will take away a more detailed understanding of the types of everyday textiles available for clothing and household fabrics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century such as callamancos, kerseys, shalloons, lastings, amens – beautiful handspun, woven and dyed fabrics that simply have no modern equivalents, and which couldn’t be replicated by the machines of the Industrial Revolution. Many of these textiles survive only as small samples in Clothiers’ Sample Books in British archives offices, the garments originally made from them not as highly valued as formal silk dresses, and therefore rarely kept.
We’ll also talk a little about the role of women in textile production during the period prior to extensive industrialization in the first decades of the nineteenth century – especially relevant for heroines down on their luck! I’ll show a video of spinning on a Great Wheel, a ubiquitous item in rural cottages, and demonstrate spinning on a spindle, a skill most working class women would have learned as a child.
Do you use examples (from your own books, other books, movies etc)?
I will be passing around photographs and also some small samples of recreated textiles for participants to examine and feel, and will also provide some examples from account books and other historical sources regarding prices, dress orders and fabric usage to provide some context for the imagining of romance characters’ costume and furnishings and how they acquired them.
Which members will benefit most from this session?
Members who write historical romance set in Georgian or Regency times, particularly in the British Isles. Even aristocratic people weren’t always at balls or paying social calls in their silk or muslin finery, and their wardrobes and households included a large range of textiles.
Any advice for conference first-timers?
Conference is a great experience, and everyone is friendly and supportive. Don’t be a wallflower – meet and talk with people. If you’re shy – and I was at my first conference – then the easiest way to strike up a conversation is to introduce yourself and ask, ‘What do you write?’
What is your latest/current/upcoming book release and where can members find out more about you?
My latest book release has nothing to do with historic textiles! My third contemporary romantic suspense novel, Dead Heat, is an April release. It’s set in a rugged national park in north-west NSW, where ranger Jo Lockwood discovers a body in a camping ground one morning. Nick Matheson, the detective who’s called in to investigate the brutal murder, is new to the area, and trying to adjust to normal life after years of undercover work. Instead of quiet rural policing, he’s suddenly right in the middle of violent crime again, with aspects of his past invading and complicating his investigation, and a woman to protect who is rapidly cracking through his emotional armour. Readers can find out more, and read the first chapter, at my website: bronwynparry.com
Thank you, Bronwyn.
Our next Conference Spotlight is with Kylie Griffin on 12th March.