The Regency Wardrobe collection - research - Atishoo
Atishoo was one of the pieces that grew out of the extended time period I had available to me to work on The Regency Wardrobe as our society closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In May 2020 every conversation seemed to be about what medicine and medical interventions we, today, had at our disposal to fight this new disease. At that point I had already been researching all things Regency for over two years, thus I couldn't help but think again about what medicine our ancestors had had available to them in1820. I say again because I had already taken my first few steps on this path by then. I'd already come across willow bark as a medical remedy, for it is mentioned several times in letters in The Regency Town House's Bevan and Dewar collection and those references had inspired Weeping Willow (link to come), one of the parasols in The Regency Wardrobe collection. But now I was hearing comparisons with the Great Plague of1666 and the Spanish Flu pandemic of1918. It seemed like mentions of history and disease and medicine were everywhere.
- For a light hearted take on how much better off we are than those in the Regency , in terms of health care, I'd recommend: https://drunkausten.com/2015/01/15/turn-your-head-cough-and-be-glad-you-dont-live-in-the-regency-era/
From before this period in my life I believed I'd heard something about a link between the nursery rhyme ring-a-ring-a-roses and the Black Death, I knew that herbs were of paramount importance in response to ill health in the past, and I knew something of nose-gays and the use of dried flowers in warding off disease that was believed to be airborne; but these references all needed fleshing out if I was to make anything of them and turn them into something beautiful. And whilst death and destruction was being wrought on our shores by an invisible foe all I could do was make something beautiful.
For a look at how viruses have been considered, including in the Regency, please see:
But what piece of clothing or fashion accessory would best relate to our new reality whilst linking also to the idea of ill health in the early 1800's? Surely the answer was obvious, and only became more so as I began reading, it had to be a handkerchief.
When you do a web search for historic handkerchiefs you get kerchief's coming up also and, for myself, I had to clarify both the difference and the connections between these two pieces of fabric.
Noun (old-fashioned) - a piece of cloth used to cover the head. "And mamma in her ' kerchief , and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap..."
- 1823: Clement Clark Moore - The Night Before Christmas
Derived terms: handkerchief: headkerchief, kerchiefed, neckerchief
Alternative forms: handkercher (obsolete)
Noun - a piece of cloth, usually square and often fine and elegant, carried for wiping the face, eyes, nose or hands; a piece of cloth shaped like a handkerchief to be worn about the neck; a neckerchief or neckcloth.
Synonyms: hanky, pocket handkerchief
Really i was looking for images of Regency handkerchiefs but this wasn't proving easy.
I found a printed cotton example from 1800: https://collections.mfa.org/objects/48185 and thought it interesting to compare the use of printing (therefore early mass production) and the subject matter of the imagery used in this context with that which I'd seen on printed fans from the same period.
In the end most of the examples I found of handkerchiefs from the late 1700's-early 1800's were quite minimally decorated.
- The same was true of kerchiefs, such as this one, but that is an aside: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/120949?enlarge=true
This example uses whitework embroidery, so popular during The Regency. I found several examples with flowers embroidered near the centre.
In comparison when I looked at Victorian examples I found wide lacy boarders; to the extent that on some there seemed to barely be enough plain fabric included to actually blow your nose. A good example is this one from the collection at The Met
I wanted my handkerchief to be a combination of these two styles, and therefore eras. That is, to reflect the floral centre piece of a typical embroidered Georgian handkerchief whilst allowing me to have the fun of creating a lace edge. I wasn't sure at first how wide I would go with my own lacy boarder but of course as I worked it grew more lavish than I might at first have expected, and I didn't resist.