Showing posts with label antique textiles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antique textiles. Show all posts

The Posy Ring: Coming Soon.

The Posy Ring, the first novel in a planned series called The Annals of Flowerfield, is due for publication by Saraband on 12th April. 

Here's what it's all about! 

When antiques seller Daisy Graham inherits an ancient house called Auchenblae, or Flowerfield, on the Hebridean island of Garve, she's daunted by its size and isolation. But the building, its jumble of contents, its wilderness of a garden and the island itself prove themselves so fascinating that she's soon captivated. She's also attracted to Cal Galbraith, who is showing an evident interest in the house and its new owner, yet she's suspicious of his motives – with good reason, it seems.

In parallel with their story runs that of sixteenth-century cousins Mateo and Francisco, survivors from the ill-fated Spanish Armada who find safe passage to the island.

There, one of them falls in love with the laird's daughter, Lilias. The precious gold posy (poesy) ring he gives her is found centuries later. Are its haunting engraved mottoes, un temps viendra and vous et nul autre, somehow significant now for Daisy and Cal?

Well, are they? You'll have to read the book to find out. And if I can get my head down and get out of my usual winter malaise, there will be another one in due course.

I've been dealing in antique and vintage textiles for some years now. It's my other day job alongside the writing. I've always collected textiles, always loved finding out their various histories, and they often find their way into my fiction. But when I realised that my collection was getting a bit too large for comfort, I started dealing in them as well. I've done antique markets and boot sales as a buyer and as a seller, and still go along to browse and buy.  As soon as online selling became possible, I set up a dedicated eBay shop, specialising in textiles with the occasional foray into vintage clothes, teddy bears and costume jewellery, although I'm about to transfer my 'niche' shop to another site called Love Antiques. 

The fictional Isle of Garve
I've known for some time that I wanted to write a novel about this world, and I've always thought how wonderful it might be to find a house full of 'stuff'. but I've also known how horribly challenging it would be. How on earth to sort out the rubbish from the treasures? It's difficult enough when you buy a large quantity of boxes of old linens and lace at auction. I've hauled things about, (textiles are incredibly heavy especially when linen is involved!) and spent hours deciding what to keep, what to sell, and what to recycle back into the saleroom or charity shop. I've observed too - I am a writer, first and foremost - watching the hierarchies in the salerooms and among the dealers, watching the quirks of various auctioneers, watching how the whole business works. 

I've also lived in a two hundred year old house for almost forty years, so I know all about the challenges of old buildings as well. Taking on an old house when you're rich is still, I think, challenging. (Not that I've ever been rich enough to experience it.) Doing it without enough money to tackle it properly can be an ongoing nightmare. 

But this isn't all that the book is about. Because in parallel with the modern day story, there's the story of the house and the island at other times, layers of events, people, relationships, like the layers built up in the agates I sometimes find on our nearby beaches. Nobody goes back in time in the Posy Ring. It isn't that sort of novel. But the past always, in some sense, influences the present, and various artefacts discovered in the present day still have something of their past clinging inexorably to them. 

As nice Paul in the BBC antiques programme called Flog It is so fond of saying - 'That's what it's all about.'

Meanwhile, I've never yet found a posy - or 'poesy' - ring. But I sure wish I could! 

Young Woman in Yellow - my inspiration for Lilias.

Remembering My Mum - Vintage Dresses, Embroidery and Other Nice Things.

Detail from embroidered dress.
Like most  people, I miss my late mum and dad at Christmas almost more than any other time of year. And I've been thinking about my mum a lot recently because I've just dedicated my new novel to her. The Posy Ring is due to be published in April, by Saraband.

It is the first in a series of novels about an old house called Auchenblae on a fictional Scottish island called Garve and it is, among many other things, about the joys and tribulations of dealing in antiques and collectables. My mother was the person who introduced me to jumble sales and salerooms and I still find myself missing our trips to antique markets, salerooms and charity shops.

Mum loved jumble sales and salerooms.
My first clear memory of this is when we spent a year in London, when I was just coming up to ten years old. Mum was a 'Leeds Irish' lass, and Leeds was also where I spent the first years of my life, but Dad was working at a research institute in Mill Hill, and we moved there, temporarily. Posh Mill Hill was awash with church jumble sales. It was like something from a Barbara Pym novel. Mum loved them and I went along too. I still have one or two of the things she acquired there, none of them very valuable, but interesting all the same. (She never, however, acquired the cloche hat that our London landlady insisted she should wear!)

Midi Dress, Vogue Paris Original,1970

When I was twelve we moved from Leeds to Scotland, and mum discovered salerooms. There were two of them in our town at that time, and mum and her new friend, Ellie Hamilton, went into one or other of them just about every week. Lots of the furniture that we still possess came from those salerooms, as did lots of china. Mum was a sucker for a fine piece of porcelain and there are still three or four pretty Victorian tea services lurking in my cupboards.

My lifelong obsession with antique textiles.
When I grew older, I would occasionally bid for mum, if there was something she particularly wanted and couldn't be there. I also started bidding on my own behalf from time to time. I loved - and have never stopped loving - antique and vintage textiles of all kinds. It was the start of a lifelong obsession, and when online selling became possible, I began to deal in them as well. I never stopped writing. That will always be my main occupation. But as most writers know, it never quite makes enough to keep the wolf from the door, so has to be supplemented in some way.

Jean Muir, Vogue Couturier Dress
Gorgeous Vogue Patterns 
Mum didn't collect textiles, but she made them. Her sisters had worked in tailoring factories and although mum didn't, she learned a lot from her siblings. She was a fine seamstress, a fine embroiderer, good at knitting and crochet. If it could be made, she could do it. In primary school, I remember a felt skirt she made for me with an appliqued toy train around the bottom and a gingham print dress with a cloth doll, with yellow plaits, that sat in the pocket. I loved fashion and later my mum made Vogue Paris Original and Couturier patterns: the exquisite Jean Muir dress, the embroidered Mexican smock, the crocheted smock, the amazing midi dress with the weighted hem, when, as a student, I couldn't possibly have afforded such a thing. I have many of them still, although I can't get into most of the dresses these days. But I can't bear to let them go either. They remind me too much of my mum. She stitched her love into them, as women so often do. I wish I still had the Doctor Zhivago maxi coat with fur around neck and hem that she made for me when everyone wanted to look like Lara.

I also wish I still had the heavily embroidered linen smock with a design that ran over the yoke and right down the sleeves. It was even more beautiful and intricate than the dress below, also made by my mum. I still regret giving that one away, many years ago, even though it went to a friend, and I still wonder if it is floating around somewhere online. If you see or posses such a thing - do let me know! I would dearly love to have it back again.

Me and my mum

Precious Vintage
By the way - if you too think you might like to make a bit - or a lot - of extra income from dealing in antiques and collectables, I wrote a small eBook about it some time ago: Precious Vintage. It's very personal, and it doesn't pretend to be a definitive guide. But it does contain a number of useful hints and tips for anyone wanting to dip a toe in these fascinating waters!

Linens and Lace and Other Inspirations

The occasional old shawl like this gorgeous Cantonese shawl
For some years now, I’ve been running another business on the side, supplementing my writing income by buying and selling antique and vintage textiles of all kinds. Textiles have been pretty much a lifelong passion with me. It all started when I was a child and used to go with my mum to the saleroom – she would always be looking at pottery and porcelain while I would be gazing at linens, lace, embroideries and the occasional old shawl that was always thrown in the corner of the saleroom, because nobody bothered much about old clothes back then. Or, come to think of it, old teddies. How time have changed!

An old fabric doll, fully dressed in Polonaise style
For me, there seemed to be something quite magical about them. When I went to university in Edinburgh, I was fascinated by the emerging vintage clothes shops there, even though ‘vintage’ had not yet become a mainstream interest. My mum was a very good seamstress and she made me a long Dr Zhivago coat (well – Lara coat, really) in black wool with fur around the hem and neck. There was a maxi dress too, from one of those Vogue Paris Original patterns, a beautiful thing with a weighted hem. I still have that, along with a long white lacy skirt, originally a petticoat, very ornate and detailed, bought from a little shop down in Stockbridge with carefully saved cash. Old army greatcoats were in fashion for the boys, long skirts, Indian cotton dresses for the girls. I remember going to one party in a nightdress from Marks and Spencer, a long candy-striped garment with a high waist, straight out of Jane Austen.

'Do you know,’ said the shocked wife of one of our lecturers, ‘that some students wear nightdresses to parties?’ I’m still not 100% certain whether she guessed what I was wearing or not ...

Nowadays, with a lot of writing to do, I spend less time on the textiles, but I still browse boot sales and the local saleroom, still splash out on a box of old linen and lace and sell most of it on to other textile nuts. But all this has certainly helped to enlighten me about costume in my historical fiction. Finding out what somebody would have worn, the how and the why of it is a vital part of the research for me. And also you’ll spot the howlers, like the mediaeval underpants mentioned in a recent post about anachronisms in historical fiction by Mari Biella. 

A lady's bonnet, rather than a baby bonnet - from France.

A few years ago, a curator of textiles gave a small group of Society of Authors in Scotland members a private viewing of a few of the textiles in storage in one of the big Scottish museums and since they were for study purposes, we were even allowed to handle some of them. It was enlightening, not least because certain items were beautiful to look at but very badly stitched ‘behind the scenes’ as it were. Clearly some dresses were like theatrical costumes - the illusion was everything. She also told us that although the really poor would obviously have great trouble keeping clean, for many ordinary eighteenth and nineteenth century people - tradespeople or tenant farmers, for instance - keeping their linens clean would have been important. 

Essentially, they would not be as smelly as we think. 

Looking at inventories of possessions, you can see that people of even limited means would have several shirts, shifts, etc so that the items worn closest to their bodies would be reasonably clean. Which makes sense when you think about how uncomfortable it would be to play host to fleas and lice, the inevitable result of filth. And for country people, a great deal of linen was spun and woven at home. Elsewhere it could be bought by the yard. Pretty printed cottons were also becoming fashionable through the eighteenth century and ease of laundering was an important factor in their popularity.

If you think about how seldom even today we dry clean a winter coat, for instance – perhaps only once a year, unless we’ve been out in the mud – you can see how little we've changed in this respect although I don't think a daily bath was an option or even thought desirable. But then nor was it the norm back in the fifties, and I don't remember that the world felt particularly grubby, even then.  

The embroidery that inspired The Physic Garden
This interest in clothes has been very important to me in several of my novels. In The Curiosity Cabinet, not only is an embroidery central to the plot, but the clothes of a dead woman, gifted to another woman in desperate straits, provide a turning point in the story. In my nineteenth century Polish historical epic, The Amber Heart  what the heroine wears became a sort of indicator of her character, all the way through - and certainly it mattered to me in terms of how I perceived her relationship with the hero (or possibly anti-hero) of the novel. And in The Physic Garden, an authentic embroidered garment looms very large in the story. 

Perhaps most of all, though, it has been important to my work in progress, the Jewel, about Robert Burns’s wife Jean Armour. The daughter of a master stonemason, she was not hugely wealthy but still cared very much about her appearance as a young woman of some consequence in the small town of Mauchline. This perception of her ran contrary to many subsequent accounts of her as a plain countrywoman, not quite 'worthy' of her famous husband. I never really believed that. The six ‘Mauchline Belles’ of which Jean was one - I always see them as eighteenth century cheerleaders - are described by Rab as being keen on fashion too. ‘Their carriage and dress, a stranger would guess, In London or Paris, they'd gotten it a'.’ So even in Mauchline in 18th century Ayrshire, the lassies were happy to imitate London or Paris fashions if they could. 

Jean's silk shawl? Maybe. But not from Rab!
Later on, it becomes obvious that Rab liked his wife to dress as well as possible on their limited budget. He spent money on the finest ‘lutestring silk’ for her gowns, and the latest fashion in printed shawls. His own stylish mode of dressing was one of the things that her family so disapproved of during their courtship– and also one of the things that made Jean fall for him. She continued to appreciate nice things and pretty clothes throughout her long life.

Finally, the single sexiest garment the textile curator showed us on that museum visit, was a linen shirt. I’ve found these kind of things in boxes of old linen, but never something just as wonderful, as old, as well preserved, as that late eighteenth or early nineteenth century linen shirt, a man’s garment, with flowing sleeves, lots of fabric and a smooth, cool texture under the hand: a bit like the ones you see Ross Poldark or the musketeers wearing on the recent television dramas. 

But the really interesting thing is that such shirts were deemed to be very intimate. They were undergarments. So if a young lady actually saw a man in his shirt, like Mr Darcy on that TV adaptation, it would have been very shocking indeed, even for somebody as forthright and brave as Lizzie Bennet! 

I'm hoping that the new novel will be published in 2016. Meanwhile, if you're another textile nut (or even if you're not) you could check out The Curiosity Cabinet in particular. I only wish I possessed an embroidered cabinet like the box of the title - but unfortunately, I don't.

Precious Vintage - Another Potential Income Source in a Precarious World.

For many years now, I've been supplementing my writing income by dealing in antique and vintage items, mostly on a part time basis, although occasionally, when the income from writing has been particularly abysmal, I've devoted a lot more time to this 'second string' to my bow. I used to write for BBC Radio 4 which was a good way of earning a day to day living, but when commissions pretty much dried up about ten or fifteen years ago, I had to find another income source.

It wasn't that I stopped writing drama, just that the BBC, for reasons they have never divulged, stopped wanting what I wrote. I went from being an experienced radio writer with more than 100 hours of well reviewed and varied radio drama under my belt, to being the kiss of death on any submission, almost overnight. There had been no falling out, nothing that I could ever put my finger on. And I still had producers queuing up to work with me. It's just that almost nothing we proposed was ever accepted.  I write this not so much to complain - well, it's a bit of a complaint, or I wouldn't be human! - but really to point out the tenuous nature even of a career that appears to be quite successful.

In reality, it was a blessing in disguise, like so many of these unpleasant crises can be, because it forced me to take stock and make other plans.

With hindsight, and although I had loved radio and had thoroughly enjoyed most of what I had written for this most imaginative of media, I should have quit well before I was pushed. We are much too inclined to stay with what we know. We are also - of course - reluctant to abandon something that pays the bills. But even so, any career that relies on submission and commission from an organisation as capricious as Aunty, is skating on very thin ice indeed. It's one of the reasons why I keep banging on about the need for writers, like all creatives, to be well aware of business realities. You need to think of yourself as a sole trader rather than a humble supplicant, and act accordingly! Most of us learn this quite late in the day.

My husband and I are both freelances, so times were hard for a while. But two things came to my rescue. I had been collecting antique and vintage textiles in particular since I was very young and first went to the saleroom with my mum, who loved pottery and porcelain. Over the years, I had amassed not just the textiles, but a certain amount of knowledge about them. Meanwhile, fiction writing had really taken over from drama for me (although I would never say never if the opportunity to work on a new stage play came along) and my love of antiques in general and textiles in particular began to find its way into my novels and stories, especially my historical fiction. The Curiosity Cabinet and The Physic Garden both involve embroidery and textiles, albeit as only one among many themes in both novels. Some of my short stories involve antiques too - including a few ghost stories.

It occurred to me that one way of filling the income gap left by radio might be to try dealing in antique and vintage collectables. With the wealth of television programmes and magazine articles as well as the general interest in 'vintage', which I had loved well before it became fashionable, this seemed like an idea whose time had come. But my current home area was not the ideal place to take on shop premises and besides, I didn't want that kind of commitment. I had too much writing to do.

It didn't matter. The relative ease of selling online meant that I could work from home. One of the most appealing aspects though was the idea of being in charge, taking control. It's hard to explain to somebody who hasn't been involved with the submission/rejection process central to the 'creative industries'  how difficult it can be. We're not talking about the necessary learning process here. We're talking about a giant game of snakes and ladders during which you can be an experienced professional, climbing the ladders (not making any fortunes, but surviving) but can suddenly and without warning, find yourself sliding all the way down to the bottom of the board within a matter of weeks. In these circumstances, my love of vintage became very precious indeed.

I've been dealing in Scottish and Irish antiques, mainly textiles, but really, whatever takes my fancy, for more than ten years now, and have learned a lot along the way. I've also found my research invaluable in providing inspiration for so much of my fiction. The other factor that helped immeasurably was the ease with which it is now possible to publish, and republish work in eBook form, the possibility of being a 'hybrid' writer, of working with a publisher on certain projects, self publishing others. It makes for a complicated but undeniably interesting working life.

I notice that an increasing number of my friends and colleagues are willing to try their hand at antique and collectable dealing, either online, or at antique markets, or with a combination of both. Often it's because they could do with some money to supplement the family finances but need something that can be part time and flexible. It also occurred to me that some of them were very knowledgeable about their favourite area of collecting, more knowledgeable than some of the dealers I had met, but a little bit nervous of dipping a toe into the waters of selling.

That was when I thought about writing a short guide - by no means a definitive 'how to'  - but something that summarised all the hints and tips I had learnt over ten years or more of trading. Precious Vintage is the result. I should caution that this is in no way a 'get rich quick' scheme. However you decide to do this, hard work and good customer service are the key to making some kind of income. As with writing, other people's experience will be different from yours, and that's fine. But if you've been clearing out your granny's attic and wondering if you might have a go at some trading, then this little eBook guide might be a helpful preliminary read.

You can download it on Amazon UK here. 
The guide is written from a UK perspective, but since so much buying and selling is conducted worldwide, readers elsewhere may find it helpful. You can download it on here.

Something Magical About My Kindle

These guys think so too.

Right from the start, let me say that I love paper books. Always have, always will. We have books in every room in the house. Too many, really. Periodically, I'll have a clear out and send a few boxes off to my charity shop of choice, but they creep back in again, especially non fiction books that I come across and know I'll need for reference: illustrated books about textiles and Scottish history and folklore and cookery and gardening books and lots more.

I'm currently reading a big, brand new hardback book. It's an extremely good book, but I'm not going to name it here, because that doesn't matter. It could be the best book in the whole wide world and I would still feel the same about it. How I feel about it is this.

The very peculiar smell of time.
It's a really beautiful, well produced artefact. Contrary to popular myth, it doesn't actually smell of anything at all, other than a faint odour of new paper, (but then so does bog roll). Actually, I think old books smell lovely, but then I think antique paisley shawls smell lovely too, have been known to bury my face in these gorgeous old textiles and breathe deeply - the slightly stale and very peculiar smell of time and use and dust and old scent and ... well, you know. Not everyone feels the same, but I don't care.

Back to books. This book in particular. It is driving me nuts. Not the content, which is excellent, but the delivery system. I keep wishing it was on my Kindle or at least as a nice, soft, bendy paperback. It may be beautiful, it IS beautiful, but it's also big, heavy, unwieldy, spiky at the corners and difficult to handle. The book itself keeps getting in the way of my undoubted pleasure in the contents. I read a lot in bed, but to cope with this one, I have to prop it on a pillow in front of me, and even then it keeps sliding about. The weight of it sets off my carpel tunnel syndrome and I get pins and needles and have to hang my hands over the edge of the bed to recover.

I'll finish it, because it's so good, and I'll treasure it and I may even want to read it again. But as soon as it's available in paperback or as an eBook, I'll probably buy another copy. Wrestling with this object made me think again about eBooks, and the reading I do on my Kindle, made me think about the uses of books and why we might want them in a particular form. As a part time dealer in antique textiles, I'm all too horribly aware of the transience of fragile things, the need to preserve some important or beautiful objects against time and change. Similarly, some books are so crammed with wisdom that you fear for their transience and want to see them in as robust a form as possible, disseminated as widely as possible.

But as far as reading, experiencing, absorbing the contents is concerned (which is, after all, the real purpose of writing and publishing) there is undoubtedly something magical about my Kindle.

In the way that a really good radio play, well acted and produced, seems to be transferred straight from the mind of the playwright to the mind of the listener (and can therefore be uniquely disturbing, when the themes are distressing or highly emotive) - there is something incredibly immediate about the experience of reading a really good, intense, well written piece of fiction on a Kindle or other e-reader or tablet.

Over the past year or so, I've been doing more and more reading on my Kindle and have noticed that the experience can seem more intense and more immediate than anything I've experienced for a long time. Maybe I've been lucky in my choice of reading matter. But it seems to me to have something to do with the medium itself. I can only think it's because there is so little to get in the way of the words and images and ideas. I've found myself more intensely involved with fiction than ever before, even dreaming about the books I'm reading, about the events and the characters - vivid, disturbing dreams in which I'm the character in the novel, or I'm witnessing and participating in the events in the book. It reminds me a bit of the way it used to be when I was very young and stories were so fresh and new and exciting that I felt as though I were completely absorbed in this amazing new world. I love it.

I'd be really interested to know if other readers feel the same way!

An Old Scottish Fashion Doll

 I don't know what she's called and I'm not even sure how old she is. She is a little like a doll called a 'Pandora' - a precisely and beautifully clothed 'fashion doll' . You can read all about these kind of dolls in an excellent research paper called Pandora in the Box, Travelling the World in the Name of Fashion.
Fashion, dress, is certainly her purpose. I don't think she was ever played with in the conventional sense - her condition is too beautiful. I found her in a local saleroom, here in Ayrshire, many years ago. I can't remember what I paid for her, but it wasn't a huge amount of money and she seemed like a bargain. I know that her dress is a variation on the 'Polonaise' style of eighteenth century dress, but she definitely wasn't made at that time - well, I'm fairly sure she isn't as old as that! She has the face of a Lenci doll in a way, but by no means so precisely moulded or so characterful, and if she were a Lenci doll she would be a lot more valuable. She is a rag doll of sorts, made of something that looks and feels like stuffed stockinette, with a head and face of stuffed linen, gessoed, I think and then with painted features and a (slightly spooky) wig of real human hair.

 She stands about 18 inches high, and as you can see from the pictures, she is fully clothed in layers and layers of hand stitched costume. These seem so very authentic that they taught me a great deal about how this mode of dress worked! Working from the outside inwards, she had a hat in pale pink satin, trimmed with little glass beads and with a blue glass hatpin. She has a pink satin 'Polonaise' overdress, with embroidered net sleeves, and tiny frills of hand made lace edging at collar and cuffs.

 The underside of this pink satin overdress is lined with a different peachy coloured material which is hand embroidered with beautiful little flowers and leaves.
Beneath this is a deep strawberry pink underskirt, consisting of a double layer of satiny fabric, peach on the inside, deep pink on the outside, all hand quilted together and fastening at the back with a little button. She has a white linen camisole laced with pink ribbons, and under that is a deep peachy pink satin corset, neatly laced, with under that a short linen shift (the kind of 'cutty sark' that Burns wrote about in the poem Tam o' Shanter.) You can just see the bottom edge of it underneath the pink corset, as I undressed her, below.

As you can see, she has a beautifully hand made petticoat under the quilted skirt. This too is in white linen and has a deep frill of scalloped cutwork embroidery, making a double layer with the plain edge of the skirt, and fluffing out the whole costume still more. 

Underneath that is a frilly peachy pink flannel petticoat (for warmth!) again buttoned, and with a little line of hand embroidery around the waist.
After that, come a pair of utterly gorgeous linen pantalettes. with tiny pintucks and tinier lace trim at the bottom, pulled together with pink ribbon.
And below that, a pair of handmade cotton stockings, with - an absolute triumph - a tiny but very handsome pair of white kid leather shoes with coloured beads trimming them.

She even has a little handmade hankie, with lace trim in her podgy fist. 

 I think she's wonderful. I keep her wrapped up in acid free tissue paper, but sometimes I take her along when I do talks about textiles, especially about Scottish whitework. I let people handle her with great care and admire the needlework. Many people see these kind of things in museums, but seldom get to handle them. I keep thinking there may be a story in her somewhere! But I'd dearly love to know more about her. I suspect she may have been a Scottish version of a fashion doll, a dressmaking project on which some seamstress demonstrated her many skills. I get the sense that she might not be that old, but the style of the work may well mean that she could be a hundred years or more. I've researched and hunted, but I have never seen anything quite like her. There are rag dolls in plenty and fashion dolls too but these are generally more lifelike and delicate with carved wood or porcelain heads. I've never seen such a marriage of a fairly crudely made doll with really exceptional needlework.

If you're reading this and you have any ideas, do comment below!

Antique Textiles and Embroideries - Stitching Fiction

I have been mad about vintage and antique textiles for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my mother - who avidly collected china and porcelain - used to haunt jumble sales. After we moved to Scotland, she would go to auction houses and she would often take me with her. Later on, when I became old enough, I would even go along and bid for her from time to time. I found it all very exciting. But the things that excited me most of all were the old textiles of all kinds - wall hangings and embroideries heaped into odd corners of the saleroom, the ancient shawl folded on the table at a boot sale or antique market, the heaps of linen, crammed into cardboard boxes and sold in bulk, just as they had been removed from drawers and chests.

It wasn't too long before I found myself buying some of these things for myself when I could afford them - and I often could afford them, because back then, nobody much wanted them. It's different now, of course, but there are still occasional bargains to be had. Then, I found myself writing about the textiles in my fiction. There was something about them that seemed to lend itself to stories, the sense perhaps that somebody, some woman somewhere, had stitched emotions, hopes, fears, into a hanging or a garment, a handkerchief or - in the case of the Curiosity Cabinet - a heavily embroidered box, a casket in which a woman had kept her most precious possessions. The Curiosity Cabinet isn't really a cabinet at all. (And yes - I know that a real curiosity cabinet used to be a case in which some collector, usually a man, kept specimens of all kinds.) But at some point, I think, I saw an embroidered 'raised work' casket in a museum with its contents displayed alongside, and it struck me that the contents were all 'women's things' - uniquely and powerfully female. And as all writers do, I started to tell myself the story behind them. A story of my own invention. 
Later on, I acquired my own fairly extensive collection of old textiles and for some years spent part of my week dealing in them. It was  - and continues to be, albeit less intensively - what allowed me to buy time to write, even when cash flow was a problem. No surprise then, that in my new historical novel, The Physic Garden, embroidery also plays its part - a key part in the story. I'm no seamstress myself. My late mother was a fine embroiderer, but I'm afraid I've never had the patience. Instead, I try to stitch words into something worth having - just as the lady who originally made the embroidered casket in The Curiosity Cabinet tried to stitch something of her own story into a small work of art, making it for herself and her own satisfaction, but also - I think - with some thoughts of other people enjoying it in the future.