Friday, March 1, 2019

Literary Sewing Circle: Finale & Project Roundup!

Today is already our final day of the Literary Sewing Circle focusing on The Painted Girls! I hope you've had the chance to read the book, and both the first and second inspiration posts, and are getting lots of ideas for a project of your own.

The project linkup will be added to the bottom of this post: as soon as you are done your project, just pop a link to your post into the linkup and we will all be able to visit your blog/instagram etc. and explore your creation -- remember, it can be sewn, or knitted, crocheted, embroidered... any textile art that you practice.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
Today's post also gives us the chance to talk about our reading experience a little more. If you haven't yet had a chance, check out our first discussion post for some specific questions and feedback from readers -- also take a look at the interview with Cathy Marie Buchanan and see if it raises any questions for you.

Did you enjoy this novel? Did you have a favourite character? Was there a theme which particularly resonated? What part of it stood out for you as your inspiration for your project? Was there anything you didn't like about this novel? Had you heard of it prior to this readalong? Did you recognize any of the character quirks in the story? What did you think of the mix of real people/history and fiction? Do you think that the role of art in any form was clearly defined in this story?

Photo by Héctor J. Rivas on Unsplash

Here are some of my thoughts on this novel.

I read it first some years ago, and enjoyed my second read. I have a soft spot for stories featuring three sisters, especially when the middle sister has a starring role! (can you tell I'm a middle sister?)

But seriously. I appreciated the way that the author fleshes out all the sisters in this story, and delineates their relationships. Each sister has a distinct personality, and a different essential driving purpose. It's the sisters who keep each other going, since their mother has her own issues to manage.

There is a lot to consider in this novel, from the power of art, to the effect of critics (thanks to Sara for pointing this out in the last book discussion post), to relationships whether sibling or so-called romantic ones, to discussions of what the right thing is in a fraught moral situation. Is gaining an abonné in the ballet any different from working in a fancy brothel, or does it just depend on your options? What opportunities did women have in this era? I think the sisters show a wide range of life choices, both workwise and romantically. And there are men as side characters who are important mostly for their role in Antoinette or Marie's lives -- I appreciated how the story focuses on the women and their inner lives, their relationships, but also investigates their place in the wider world, ie: how they will make their livings.

I'm not generally a huge fan of real people as fictional characters but I thought that Buchanan was able to take what was known about these characters and spin it into a respectful and well-considered fiction. She didn't attribute unfounded or horrible character traits to any of the real people, which is something I have seen in other historical novels and found uncomfortable. Rather she makes a compassionate, probable guess at them and so the characters are sympathetic and complex at the same time.

I also liked the focus on art via Degas -- painting studios, casting bronzes etc, all the discussion of the actual process of art -- and the focus on ballet as a discipline. The scenes in the studio show the work and the ambition driving the performers, and the joy of performance also comes across when Marie or Charlotte get to take the stage. I feel the same of joy in process and routine when I'm stitching or garment sewing, and can only hope to reach that joyful state of flow now and again.

As to my project inspiration...I had many ideas as I was going through the book. The setting really spoke to me, and the idea of clothing fostering movement and lightness took hold. But as I read over the final few pages again while pondering my responses to this book, I was struck by this image of sisterly connection between Marie's daughters:

We take a moment -- Antoinette and I -- standing side by side, shoulders touching, and peering through the window in to the rue de Douai. Matilde holds a feather, rose-colored and magnificent with long strands of the vane wafting in the breeze.... She stops, abrupt, a few steps short of Geneviève and holds out her find. She gives it the little nudge that makes Geneviève understand, and she reaches for the feather, those wispy tendrils of love offered by her sister as a gift. 

Thus, my ideas are now floating toward a feathery dress, and I know the perfect one: the Plume (Feather) Dress by Louis Antoinette (there's even a nod to Antoinette there). I'll be looking through my stash to see if I have appropriate fabric there, and will share my full plans once they are set. Although, in our last Literary Sewing Circle round, I did change my project completely between plans and project so who knows! If you are making plans, please share them in the comments, I'd love to see them.

Photo by Esther Ní Dhonnacha on Unsplash

What project have you made, inspired by your reading of The Painted Girls? Share a link to your project post here! Links are open until MARCH 31 so you have lots of sewing time to finish and share.

Don't forget that any finished project shared by the deadline will be eligible for a draw for a free pattern code from one of our sponsors, Orageuse or Louis Antoinette. Get your projects in!


  1. Late to the party as ever, I only got my book this week, and started reading it last night and this morning. I'm hooked! Ideas are developing, but I'll be way too late to really take part [again]. Maybe next time, although I will definitely be making something inspired by this lovely novel. Off to look at more Degas...

    1. If you do finish a project, even if it's past the March 31 deadline I hope you'll share it here :) So glad you are liking the read!

  2. I have been thinking about the Degas exhibition.
    The fact that Degas sketched the two criminals, Abadie and Knobloch, is not that out of the question as he studies real people in real situations, and is known for his skill of observation. And both of these men had stand out features which would be an artists dream to sketch. But was it actually his choice to present the pastel sketch so close to the statuette of Marie? Usually exhibitions are curated, and the exhibitor does not have the total say on how things are presented. Was it any different then?
    Marie saw her statuette in a glass vitrine and immediately believes it looks like a specimen, something for scientists. It is Marie who claims that she sees 'the promise of every vice in the pastel sketch (of the two criminals)..' and further states she has seen this before reflected back to her - presumably when looking in the mirror.
    So my comments are, there is also a thread of a young girl who is so conscious of her looks and this is exaggerated in her mind - very much like happens in the world today. This thread of self loathing of appearance by Marie is throughout the whole book. Have we judged too quickly that Degas truly intended to be so thoughtless (or negatively thoughtful) in the placement of his artworks?
    Marie may be seeing more into the placement of the pastel sketch next to her statuette than was really intended.
    Or, was the placement of the sketch made with vicious intent by (men) curators who have guilt over their lust for the young, ballet girls, but who pretend otherwise in the more public arena, particularly for their wives and to save their 'good' image, and therefore go out of their way to behave so viciously by pretending virtue. And of course the women of 'those' men would support this, as they would not want to think men are so interested in the young female ballet dancers, although they would also know what is happening.
    Also, the newspaper articles were presumably written by men. Were the articles so vicious for the same reason as I stated above?
    I just wonder if more is being assumed than what is on the face of it. I would like to know if anybody has any comment on this.

    Finally, I have stuck with making the Purl Soho apron. I like that it signifies work, as it is real, and life cannot happen without work to make it so. It was a fabulous design, which I have made with a caramel coloured cotton, indigo dyed with streaks of blue. I love it!

    1. Very good points. Marie is fairly self-loathing in many ways throughout the story. She always thinks of Charlotte as more lovely and charming, and of Antoinette as prettier and more vivacious. So perhaps it's a lot of her own projection about the ugliness of the statue as it relates to her self image.

      And of course the male gaze when it comes to curators and newspapers -- very true. They could definitely be vicious because of the reasons you share, or just because they can be -- male privilege and the joys of misogyny and all that. This is a really interesting thought, and I think it sounds very likely indeed.

      I am glad though, that you have decided on your project and have had time to make it up!! So exciting. Can't wait to see it.

  3. Everyone should feel free to roll their eyes when they see what I sewed 'inspired by' this book. Lol. There were so many options for garments that were more interesting and better-connected to the themes of the book. But, le sigh, I haven't had enough time at my sewing machine lately.

    This book has left me thinking a lot about it well after I finished it. The author's notes at the end were almost more interesting to me than the book -- it really opened my eyes to just how cleverly Buchanan imagined the relationships between all of these real-life characters. So many layers to think about -- the cycles of poverty and addiction...the powerlessness of women (particularly women living in poverty) and the entitlement of men over them...what, if anything, an artist 'owes' to their subject...what's the difference between pleasing an abonnee and being a courtesan...and the whole biological determinism aspect that affects Marie's self-esteem so much.
    I thought the two sisters were great. Antoinette's transformation in prison -- deciding never to tell a lie again, except the one that will save her sister's life -- seemed at first too easy but it demonstrates how much she loves her sister and how seriously she takes her own role as the family protector (even if she almost abandoned them for Emile at one point). I love the title, which takes on so many meanings after reading the book: the girls who are being painted by artists (or pretend artists), girls who are 'painted' with make-up as courtesans, and girls who are are being painted by the brush of assumptions based on appearance and life circumstance by so many 'important' figures of the time (Degas, Zola, etc.). The more I think about it, the more masterful the book seems.

    1. So many great points here! I like the variations on "painted girls" that you bring up at the end -- it's so true that there are multiple meanings and shadings for so many elements of this book. Only a few of the characters seem one-note, like Emile, ick. The others have such a range of individuality -- I also think the author did a very good job at portraying a very nuanced situation.

  4. Oh! And I forgot to say that I blogged about the book and my make here:

  5. I like the discussion regarding the title. I think I see the wording of 'painted girl's as viewing the multiple images of how you see the girls, like peeling away the layers. What is the 'real' girl? We are all somebody different to the various people we interact with. We behave differently in different groups, even if the differences are subtle. And the characters in the book are no different, except it is more noticeable. Humans are complex beings.

    Even in the scene in the laundry when Antoinette commented on her mother's behaviour, patiently explaining to her when she started working there. It could almost be said the mother painted a different image of herself to co-workers as opposed to how she presents in the home. That was well done with all the characters, the more I think about it.

  6. And Lori .... I love your batwing top!! I have never seen bamboo terry fabric, but I do know I need to sew more everyday clothes that are comfortable and this looks very comfortable.

    1. Thank you, Sara! Note that I cannot be held responsible for the addiction that may ensue once you've tried your first bamboo french terry. ;)

  7. Thanks to all of you for sewing along and making this round of the Literary Sewing Circle so much fun! I've just run the Random Number Generator & Lori Bee has won a pattern from Louis Antoinette, and Alissa @atoptomiste has won a pattern from Orageuse. The next round of the Literary Sewing Circle will run later this year so keep your eye on it for next time!


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!