The Regency Wardrobe Collection - research - Weeping Willow
Collection: The Regency Wardrobe Garment: Woman’s parasol Materials: paper tablecloth, tissue paper, quilling paper strips, rolled paper lollipop sticks, card, embroidery thread, lacquer, coloured pencils
In the collection of Bevan and Dewar letters held at the Regency Town House, Hove, are repeated references to concerns over the health of the writer’s own person or that of a family member. To that end there is also widespread reference throughout the letters to the remedies of the time. These include arrow root, syrup of poppies and indeed bark; presumed by rah researchers to be the bark of the white willow.
“Bagll complains of much languor and [-] [barely legible text], he will improve I hope with the colder weather. The shock to him was very great. He is so thin, he is having some bark… Jas said he would sent him some port wine. I am not surprised the dear one has failed… Evd B[-] [barely legible text] wrote a few lines to Jas such a note, a heathen might have sent it, no reference to the hand which smote, or Heart which could heal - his, and [-] [barely legible text] stand alone, every other recognises the hand of God.” - rth.org
This piece is inspired by the use of willow bark during the early 1800’s for the treatment of “nerves” and different types of pain. Willow bark contains salicylic acid. A synthetic derivative of this product is the active ingredient in modern aspirin.
There is a dog rose at the center of the spoke of this parasol to represent the commonplace use of the rosehip and rose petals in scents and infusions.
Weeping Willow has been designed to reflect the play of shadow and light experienced beneath a weeping willow tree.
Freckles were quite unfashionable during the Regency, thus the importance of bonnets and the need for parasols. As I researched Regency parasols I came across ones with long narrow handles, some finely carved. Others had delicate covers, in colored silk, patterned or plain. Some were wide, others small.
Three parasols I saw during my research visit to the store at Bath Fashion Museum
I saw one with beautifully painted oriental imagery and another with a plain white fabric canopy but an ornately carved handle.
For more images of these parasols and others from this visit please see The Hidden Wardrobe
Some, including the printed one shown above, have deadly looking tips which might have made them awkward to carry upside down and yet apparently that was done: https://janeaustenslondon.com/2014/08/02/the-great-parasol-mystery-or-which-way-is-up/amp/
A fashion plate of a lady in a spencer, 1814, with a pagoda shaped parasol.
There is an informative Pinterest board showing many variations of Regency parasols here
And if you were joined by a partner who was lacking his own parasol it seems that you might have headed for a public one.
I originally thought I would tie two pieces in The Regency Wardrobe collection in with references to medicinal herbs and tinctures of the sort I found mentioned in the series of original letters held at The Regency Town House, Hove, from where I conducted much of my research. In the end that was the case but the second piece became a handkerchief called Atishoo, not the dress I planned which I describe at the end of this post.
Reading the letters I was struck in particular by the regular mention of the use and application of bark as a type of medicine. Here is part of one of the letters that mentions it:
"…Poor M[-] [barely legible text] has just been with us, she is better today but very sad when she feels that her boy is really gone. She will I fear be enabled to realise the blessedness of his present state, absent from the body, present with his Lord and Saviour. What comfort all this reassurance gives, we shall never have another occasion to care for our darling. Then take tea with us tomorrow. I am afraid dearest that there would not be much comfort in your coming over. It would be a great fatigue and excitement and would be difficult to divide the time, otherwise how delighted we should be to see you. I have asked James if I might take Rayd to Brighton with me one day before they leave, not at present, he fully consents. I have such a longing to see you dearest, but returning in the dark alone has deterred me, and I shall not go, if you would not feel equal to see me. I think Elis is rather more comfortable and I hope she has slept better since the weather has become calmer. I have had a troublesome gathering in my ear, not so bad as last winter, and I have had an inclination to others about my face. I have had from Godfreys C[-] [barely legible text] a preparation of bark, which I am taking three times a day. MA says Rayd appeared weak today and so soon fatigued and no appetite. If not better, I shall make them have Mrs Ticehurst. Pray tell about the Morton wedding. Mrs M’s silence disputing the gentleman, makes us fancy there may be something strange. I hope both Mr Bevan and yourself dearest feel better for the change. Our love to him, the ladies, and kindred love to you dear dear sister, your truly aff
Sibella C. Dewar
16 Dec 1856
16 Dec 1856
Sibella C. Dewar (her sister)
Sarah (nee Dewar, the second Mrs Richard Bevan)
Mrs Richard Bevan, Highcliff Lodge, Brighton"
In the Regency Town House glossary it says: "The use of bark for the treatment of 'nerves' and pain is widespread throughout the letters. It is likely that the bark in question is that of the willow tree. Willow bark contains salicylic acid. A synthetic derivative of this product is the active ingredient in modern aspirin."
That indeed explains its regular use for what would we do today without aspirin or the like! These days it's even possible to find instructions as to how to make your own willow bark aspirin online: https://practicalselfreliance.com/willow-bark/
This is quite an informative site about Regency medicine that also mentions willow bark under the section considering the involvement of women in the history of medical healing "In fact, for centuries herbal knowledge had been acquired and passed on by women herbalists and healers": https://thebeaumonde.com/main/doctors-in-the-regency-by-alicia-rasley/
Other types of bark were also used in the early 1800's as you can see at the end of this post: http://www.regencyresearcher.com/pages/med1.html
As I was looking to make a female fashion accessory and the letter that had been the source of my inspiration was written by a woman to her sister then tying in with the history of herbal medicine, the Regency practitioners of which, would have included women, seemed appropriate.
So I began to move beyond the research into what this piece might be and began instead the process of looking, thinking, sketching, making required for the production of what the piece would actually be.
I quickly realised I needed a readymade parasol to look at, so treated myself to a pagoda shaped cream and black parasol/umbrella, counting and examining it's spokes and then ordering rolled paper lolly sticks that were as long as I could find. With a fine drill bit I created holes in their ends and threaded them together in such a way as that they would hinge. The handle was a thicker roll of paper, which it was surprisingly difficult to make even and for which I must thank Gilly Burton for her assistance.
To make the bulbous shapes on the end of the handle I used what I knew from quilling, having cut thicker strips of white paper than I normally use for quilling I wrapped them around and around in the usual way and then spread the bodies of the circular shapes that were created. These I lacquered and with a tassel at its very end the skeleton of the parasol was ready. It even went up and down smoothly.
Then it was time to cover that skeleton. I tried at first embroidering leaves all over a surface but as with every other piece I make there came a stage when I knew that something wasn't working. Therefore, despite having cut out all of the sections and embroidered hundreds of leaves onto them and sewn them all together and attached them to the framework, I knew I had to begin again, so set about cutting out new sections. This time I thought I might leave a ribbed type outer surface but wondered part way through if a more transparent paper type might work better to help create the effect I wanted the viewer to have from underneath, of being able to see light amidst the shapes of a myriad of leaves, just as you'd experience if sitting underneath a weeping willow tree.
The final effect was a combination of these two ideas, semi-transparency and the shapes of leaves, but I organised the leaves into lines (as is indeed more accurate to the branches of a weeping willow) and added to the effect I wanted from beneath by the use of layering and shadow.
It seemed as if the final stage would be to make paper beads and many more tassels, enough for the end of each branch, then to try holding it up to the light.
But there was another finishing touch that was missing. For it needed something at the top end of its handle and for this I was inspired by a carved Japanese Camelia, please see: https://collections.lacma.org/node/188380
It was the precision with which this flower had been crafted, its curved form, that inspired me. My flower would need to be semi-translucent of course, to match the parasol and ideally it would also be from a plant that was used in herbal medicine. I settled on the dog rose.
I made two in the end. Because it is one of my favourite wildflowers I have incorporated this flower into three pieces. It can be found dried inside Atishoo. The larger version of its 3-d rendered form now sits at the top of Weeping willow, the parasol, whilst the smaller version shown below is the rivet for the sticks of the fan Wildflowers (link to come).
I tried various ways of making these flowers but the most effective combination involved: tissue paper, cartridge paper, quilling paper strips, cut cream paper, Mizuhiki paper chord, pencil and coloured pencil.
The Woodland Trust have a post that describes some of the traditional medicinal uses for the dog rose and its accompanying hips: https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/dog-rose-meaning-myth-and-medicinal-uses/
So being beneath Weeping Willow - the parasol - was intended to be like being beneath a beautiful weeping willow tree, peaceful, light dappled, healing.
Syrup of Poppies - The not done dress
As an aside I want to return to the mention above of one of the two pieces I originally designed
to be part of The Regency Wardrobe collection but which fell away in the face of others.
The title of this one would have been Syrup of Poppies.
I started designing it because of reading extracts such as the
following from the letter collection at the Regency Town House
"The weather is now intensely hot. I was never so distressed by the heat as I was last night-
you may suppose my discomfort was greater than my cowardice for I had
my bed room door open all night which relieved me a little. Bess does not cough
at all at night, but romping or running w[hic]h we cannot always check in time always
produces it. I am more & More convinced that it is chiefly stomach
and when you take into consideration her ra[-] [barely legible entry, may
read rath or rash] as a baby & her cough without cold last summer
at Harvest hill I think you will incline to the same opinion - I now doctor
her myself & as syrup of poppies is the basis of most cough mixtures
I give her about 30 or 40 drops twice a day and the smallest dose of
Rhubarb & Magnesia every other day. When a coach passes
the door she often says “If Papa was in that coach I should be so pleased”
We all know of the possible harmful effects of the drugs that can be created
from poppies, much is known of the effects of Opium historically:
but little is spoken of about the use of syrup of poppies as a household remedy.
I found this link: http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/syrupofpoppies.htm
And then I even saw, in the Chertsey Museum collection, a pelisse with poppy head shaped shoulders