Wednesday, September 12, 2007

drizzling and happy writey stuff

Reading up on 18th c. German society, I discovered something that may just have to go into the Willow Knot. A pastime of wellborn ladies, called parfilage, which at first I read as persiflage, but no, less wit required.
Parfilage, or in England, drizzling (I'm not making this up) was the pastime of unravelling gold braid, lace, or trim. Yes, really. Taking ornament apart. Now, I can see not wanting to waste gold thread, and unpicking or unravelling it seems a thrifty thing to do, akin to sides-to-middling sheets, a housewifely task my own mother performed. (If you're not familiar with that, it's exactly what it sounds like.) But as a courtly hobby? As something to fill one's days, up there with tambour-work and opus anglicanum?
Must be an exaggeration, I thought, and started looking for more references. Which I found. It does seem to have begun as an economy, with old-fashioned or worn uniforms and livery being refitted--cutting the buttons off and that sort of thing, and the remainder being given to charity/the poor. The braid could be unpicked, and the gold thread sold back to the goldsmith. Simple enough.
Somehow it was taken up by the nobility, in France and Austria, then in England (England is always a late adopter). Noble ladies were never without a bag to hold the unravelled braid, scissors, and a tool for unpicking. Court business and social gossip had a continual accompaniment of tsrr...tsrr...tsrr. (History of Needlework Tools and Accessories, Sylvia Groves, 1966)
Where did they get all the braid and lace? Aha, here's the meat of it. Gentlemen friends brought them old jackets and suchlike, as gifts. But the enthusiasm outran the supply of old clothes, and pretty soon the clever goldsmiths started making little figures and ornaments of galons that a gentleman could give to a lady for brief admiration followed by careful destruction.
"Sheep, dogs, squirrels, cradles, carriages in miniature, &c. were offered, admired, and then pulled to pieces for 'parfilage'. It afforded good opportunity for innumerable gallantries. A gentleman went to a masked ball in a costume purposely composed of cloth of gold and bullion, worth two hundred pounds, which he sent next day to a lady." (Lady Sarah Davison Nicolas, 1849)
A lady sufficiently flirtatious and industrious could reportedly earn 100 Louis d'or in a year. With apparently no damage to her reputation, either for the labour or the rapacity.
I'm not at all sure what I'm going to do with this, but it fits so clearly into the braiding / untying / knotting themes of Willow Knot that it must go somewhere in the court section.

In other news, I've found another way to make things difficult for Myl. She's been aware that she's vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, or just nasty gossip, and today I figured out where that's going to happen and how. Yes. And how difficult it will be for her to confront or even track down.
A discussion on the book forum reminded me of the old belief that scratching a witch's face enough to draw blood would break her spell, and I think that's going to fit in nicely.
And last weekend, though I didn't get as much written as I'd hoped, I did figure out a way to up the drama of the scene where Alard has his last chance to catch Myl before she returns to the willow for good. Not only does he get to deal with the walking corpse of his queen (well, she's mostly dead) but Midame will be on the scene as well, and will probably try to prevent any reconciliation by whatever means she has access to.
More characters to keep track of in the room, but much better if she's there.

The awkward part is that I probably won't be home this weekend, although I have all sorts of bits to add to the story. I won't even be near an electrical outlet, most likely. The best I can do is to bring the research books I need and spend my spare time (which there will be hours of) reading what I didn't get to at Pennsic.

Presently reading: Blood and Ivory, by P.C. Hodgell, Meisha Merlin, 2002. I'm enjoying it, mostly because I like Hodgell's books, and I'm happy to read more of Jamethiel Priest's-Bane regardless. The stories so far are fairly slight, giving more depth to backstory already established in the series. It's for fans, and I'm a fan, so that works out nicely. It probably wouldn't appeal to someone who hadn't read the series, or to someone who wasn't also interested in how a writer develops a character. Jame has been with Hodgell since her teens or childhood, by the looks of it, and has gone through many settings and incarnations. I had a little thrill of confirmation to see that Tai-tastigon was intentionally a Fritz Leiber setting, because that's what I thought it was back when I first began reading.
As always, I'm vastly impressed that Jame escapes Mary Sue status. I don't quite know how, because I'm sure she'd score very high on the test. Perhaps because Hodgell is playing with the tropes, winding them until they snap?

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