Unexpected Embroidery Content

There are times as a reader when you pick up a book and you think you know exactly what you’re getting: this is an historical romance; this is a novel about a family. And you’re right, but you also discover that it is deeply about something else. That was my experience with the two novels below, novels which contained a surprising-to-me amount of high quality embroidery content.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (historical romance)
In the early 1800s Lucy, a scientist and an astronomer, has spent her youth helping her father with his work and publishing work under his name. After his death, she travels to London to apply to the Polite Science Society, a premier scientific organization of the day, and to try her hand at translating a French astronomy text. Turned away by the Society because she’s a woman, Lucy finds refuge with Catherine, a society widow who spent years supporting her explorer husband and is now interested in being Lucy’s patron. There is a lot here about the science of the era and the way it existed as a kind of gentleman’s pursuit; the roles available to women; and, for sure, the love that grows between Lucy and Catherine (this is a romance novel, so expect some steamy sex scenes). But I devoured it because of the detail lavished on Catherine’s hobby: embroidery. She embroiders maps, and botanical motifs, and the night sky on a finely woven scarf! The description of Catherine’s work made me hungry to see the way embroiderers blend colors, how elements of the natural world can be depicted, how craft becomes art. Continue reading “Unexpected Embroidery Content”