|Victorian Hair Craft|
Tracy L. Ward is the creator of the Peter Ainsley Mystery series, chronicling the adventures of a morgue surgeon in Victorian England. The third book in the series, The Dead Among Us, is set for release in May. Tracy joins us today to talk about how Victorian women decorated their homes. To learn more about Tracy and her books visit her website.
It’s no secret the Victorians loved their homes. An English homemaker, otherwise known as “Mistress of the House”, had no shortage of choices when it came to decorating her home. Able to draw influences from a number of eras, Victorian architecture and decorations encompassed everything from Greek Revival to English Renaissance, often including hints of Asian art and even a marked fascination with Egyptian novelties. There are a number of decorating trends that give Victorians a certain amount of distinction when it comes to the character of a home.
Never before in history had textile workers been able to create a true green hue with their fibers. Although used for centuries for its medicinal properties, arsenic was found to have the ability to generate a lush green colour in textile dyes. It was this discovery that spurred on the rapid production of green drapery, upholstery and fabric. Women began wearing green skirts, bonnets and gowns with marked fervor. In fact the presence of arsenic in so many common household items has since been connected to unintentional poisonings, especially in households that displayed green wallpaper. It was the wallpaper’s dye in connection with mold and mildew that made for a deadly combination.
Well-to-do Victorians were very “House Proud.” An urban dwelling often served a dual purpose. Firstly, as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life but more importantly, the Victorian home served as a symbol of status and wealth. From the moment a Victorian couple tied the knot, they were expected to begin the fast accumulation of things to display. The more knick-knacks on a mantel, the more side tables flanking the furniture meant the more wealth a couple possessed. Doilies, china vases, and gilded picture frames…oh my!
|Floral Wreath made from the hair of fifteen different people|
Photo Credit: Tom Cooper, more information can be found at http://www.hairworksociety.org/wreath/wreath.htm
One of the most fascinating pieces of Victorian decorating that I have come across during my research is Victorian Hair Work. Often harvesting hair from a beloved (and deceased) relative, Victorian women could fashion a broach or jewellery piece but the most common craft the hair was used for was a wall hanging in which a household could add to overtime as more and more family members passed away. The resulting artwork was a testament to painstakingly intricate work that survives to this day, often in museums and galleries all over the world. One such piece was displayed in the home where my father grew up on Bell Island, Newfoundland, garnering many spun yarns speculating as to its origins. Given the macabre nature of these crafts, many of those stories revolve around the dead and their wandering spectres.
In Modern Times
Interior decorators have been recreating the grandeur of the Victorian era in homes for the last century, drawing inspiration from antiques and other elements of the 19th century. Period inspired style experienced a strong resurgence in the 1980s and once again in modern day homes, though not as strongly evident as it was thirty years ago. Some modern homebuyers, however, are favouring the classic look of the two-story Victorian home, with front porches, gabled roofs and perhaps a small turret.
Even though the Victorians copied from a myriad of decorating styles, their unique take on old mainstays is what makes their time period so alluring, and it’s my guess as to why we enjoy the Victorian look even to this day.
Book Two of the Peter Ainsley Mystery series
Peter Ainsley's mother, Lady Charlotte Marshall, hasn't been seen or heard from in three days. Even though Inspector Simms of Scotland Yard is 'unofficially' investigating her disappearance, Ainsley and his sister, Margaret, are loathed to reveal knowledge of their mother's affair, despite it being their best lead to her whereabouts.
When Simms brings a body to St. Thomas Hospital's morgue, Ainsley is forced to admit his double life as morgue surgeon and second heir to the Montcliff earldom. With a newfound ally in the police force, Ainsley gains access to information about his mother's disappearance and a new mystery regarding a murdered woman with childhood ties to his future sister-in-law, Evelyn Weatherall.
Scandal threatening two sides of Ainsley's family, the young surgeon uncovers an intricately woven tapestry of deceit, lust and a crime that forces him to decide whether family loyalty supersedes the letter of the law.