Friday, April 10, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: Finale & Project Link Up

Today is already our final day of the Literary Sewing Circle focusing on Susanna Kearsley's Bellewether! 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.

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. Here are a few general things to think about and share here as well.

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? Were you aware of the 7 Years War before reading? Did you recognize any of the personalities in the story? What did you think of the mix of narratives? Do you like a pinch of the supernatural in your stories? Are you interested in reading any of Kearsley's other books now?

Here are some of my thoughts on this novel.

I read it first in 2018, when it was published. I loved it then, and I've really enjoyed rereading it and looking at it from a new perspective, while thinking about themes and sewing projects.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, there is so much I love about this book. I like Susanna Kearsley's writing in general; her style and themes are right up my alley as a reader. I enjoy a dual narrative story, and in this one, the connection being made both through family history and through Charley's work as a museum curator appealed to me. People who spend time working with the past seem likely to feel strong connections to it! I liked Charley as a character; with all of the sadness and trouble her family has seen, her vitality is still there. She is an intelligent worker, a caring aunt and daughter, a determined business person, and a good friend to her new acquaintances. I did question her romantic judgement quite a bit -- I might have even liked to see her romantic storyline downplayed a bit in relation to the overall story. And I also enjoyed reading about Lydia. She felt like a strong and complex character, one who fully inhabited her life. Her romance also felt more organic to me, and the storyline she was living was more uncertain and held more drama, to me.

I liked the complexity of relationships in the book, too. Though it seemed like there were a lot of players, it felt rich to me; often in romantic stories the leads seem isolated or living in a vacuum of sorts. In this story, family and all of its tangles played a large part in the plot and in the way both characters navigated their lives. This feels very real and served to highlight one of Kearsley's points in this story, that we are all connected and our actions have real effects on other people, personally and in a wider sense too.

The settings were also appealing to me. I was a history nerd as a kid -- I read many books about Colonial America, about settling the Canadian West, and about Champlain and Quebec (weird, I know) and I loved novels like The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare that were set in colonial New England. So I really connected with this setting. The era of Wolfe and Montcalm is so fascinating to me, and one of my favourite university classes during my history degree was one in which I examined the writings of Francis Parkman to uncover the literary techniques he used in his 'histories' of Montreal and Quebec. So I loved the descriptions of Quebec, the officers' uniforms, the differences between Quebec born soliders and France born ones, the status of Jean-Philippe's family, the plight of the Acadians, and all of those things. The descriptions of Lydia's New York and Charley's New York sparked some ideas too!

And I like a soup├žon of the supernatural in my stories. The ghostly element in this one was very gentle and much more of a traditional ghost than in some others by Kearsley. I thought it added just that little bit of chill now and again, and the reveal at the end was charming rather than shocking. I liked the idea of a protective ghost! The way that Lydia and Jean-Philippe's legend had been passed down, like a game of telephone, was also intriguing; what does it say about history in general? What can we trust, what should we investigate further? And that applies to stories and rumours today too! So there was a lot I liked about this book, and a feel-good read that does not leave you ragged is sometimes just the thing. I hope you all found it a timely read also.

And now for my own project! I had many ideas I was mulling over, but I think I've decided on the one I'm going to make. I have a fabulous cotton with a New York themed print -- actually it's an IKEA sheet that I thrifted a while back. It's a neutral colour but has highlights of yellow on it which make me think of that splash of Lydia's yellow dress that brightened Jean-Philippe's miserable first day on his way to the Wilde farm. I am most likely going to make a shirtdress, as the fabric has a lot of body, so my inspiration is coming from the scenes in New York; the modern setting of Charley's era and the hint of Lydia coming through.

If you are currently making plans, please feel free to share them in the comments, too -- I'd love to see them. Or if you are posting about your thoughts on the book somewhere else, share that link also.

What project have you made, inspired by your reading of Bellewether? Share a link to your project post here! Links are open until May 1 so you have another 3 weeks 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 either from Closet Case Patterns or Jalie! Get your projects in!


  1. I have finished reading. And it has given me food for thought. It is so long since I studied history, and that was probably only Australian and UK, so I have never read about the 7 Years War (that I can recall). The geography of the war was also all new to me. So that was interesting.

    I was intrigued in the description of clothing, particularly that of the French officers, who obviously took a great deal of pride in their clothing and appearance. It is interesting that so often there is reference to the details of military uniform in those years, maybe because it was so flamboyant? Lydia when she first took the coats from the officers the first day she met them noted the fabric, the style, the buttons, the cuffs etc. “... A pretty thing to wear... for men who dealt in blood and fighting, musketfire and death....”.

    Added to that, in that era there would not have been a great deal of clothing, so people would look after their clothes and no doubt there would have been many alteration to make clothing last and they would not have been washed often. I was interested in the description of how Lydia did wash the army coat, before the dance, '...she'd beaten it and brushed it, using fuller's earth and vinegar and lemon juice to sponge away the stains... until the coat was left as white and clean as when it had been made..”. Sometimes it is the ordinary details entwined in a novel that I find most extraordinary.

    The uniform the French officers wore warranted some research for me, which has shown there is a great deal of information still about the uniforms and what the various parts of the garment represent.

    Oddly enough I would describe the book as a comfortable read, but it did not excite me, and I was not waiting to be able to read more each time I had to put it down. I think the relationships were all too predictable, and a bit unlikely, particularly in Charlie's case. Which made that a little boring for me.

    But I did love the bits about Lydia, the complexities of her character, and how her family lived, thought and planned. A rural family, with so much interest in the world, and all of them always looking to do more, whether it be a cider press, build boats, go into business, all in addition to surviving. It is a step back in time that always interests me – how on earth did they manage? And keep such civil and correct behaviours (generally).

    I think I will look into more of Susanna Kearsley book's. She definitely does her research about periods in time, to give some authenticity. I was very interested in her bio, and have in my life, read many books by authors who she states she loves to read.

    And now to my garment …

    Lydia was very taken with the cuffs of the French officer's coats, and so using a play on words, I made The Assembly Line Cuff Top as my garment. Absolutely unlike the cuffs of the French officers, these cuffs are simple in appearance, but the technique for attaching this elastic to a cuff was new to me. It is a pattern for a woven top, boat neck, dolman sleeves, seamed in the front and back, although I am not sure why. I purchased the fabric (and pattern) at Miss Maude's Fabric and Sewing Supplies in New Zealand. Beautiful cotton fabric, a lovely feel. It suited the pattern. I have looked at reviews of different makes of this pattern and have decided I would make the Cuff Top again, although I find the excess fabric in dolman style upper body a little disconcerting. I think I would go with a smaller size next time, even though mine ended up having the design ease intended. At first I was making numerous alterations/hacks to the pattern and then realised that either I try a different style and make the pattern as is or I just make my normal round neck woven cotton top, which is where I was heading with the alterations. I finished with very much the original pattern, only a couple of small alterations. (Photos to follow).

    Thank you Melanie for another great read!

    1. Sara, you took the words right out of my mouth about the details about how Lydia cleaned the army coat. That really stood out to me, too, and it made me realize that I appreciate an author who is has a background in museum curation, because I feel that only someone who has spent time researching the history of 'ordinary' objects would put that level of detail into their book. Loved that moment.

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed, and I hope you're able to find more Susanna Kearsley reads. She really does do historical settings so well.

    I love your description of your inspiration for your make! Can't wait to see the photos. The elements of daily life are so good, I agree -- one of the images that stuck with me was the cider press, I actually considered that as one of my ideas but ended up going with something else.

    Thanks for your enthusiastic participation!

  3. I enjoyed reading this book and appreciated the love stor(ies) and happy ending(s) as there is a decided lack of good news in the world. I was glad that Charley ditched the sleek salesman and went for the good guy and that Lydia found lasting love after so much loss in her young adulthood. (Hoping that most people are finished reading- sorry for the spoilers!)

    My accompanying project didn't go quite as I had planned. I found myself drawn to the colors and fabric types Kearsley described both in the colonial and modern storylines and settled on the lilac linen pant suit that Charley's grandmother wears to Charely's important fundraising presentation as my inspiration for my project. I wasn't exactly sure what color lilac was so I googled it, and found it to be a light purplish color. I had the perfect matching fabric in my stash and decided that I would base my project on the color of the grandmother's suit. Next, I needed my pattern. Since the summer is rapidly approaching in North Carolina, where I live, I wanted a light and airy dress that would work with the lilac fabric I had. I wasn't sure of the fabric content because it came in a huge estate haul last year, but the fabric was rather stiff and not very drapey. I didn't have any airy dress patterns 1) I wanted to wear 2) would work well in the fabric I had, so I decided to try to hack a pattern. I combined the Peppermint Peplum by the designer of Inthefolds and the Maya top by Marilla Walker. And it did not go well. I made a muslin, thought I made good adjustments, but when I made my final version for the challenge, I did not like my dress at all. Darts in the wrong place, pulling at the armscye, and just generally uncomfortable. So, I had to start again and unfortunately I no longer had a copy of Bellewether because I had been reading on my kindle and my loan had expired.

    But as good fiction often reminds us, all was not lost. I thought about the book and my pattern collection and what could be combined to make a better project. In the book, horses are frequently mentioned in the colonial timeline. Horses are used for travel, Lydia has a unique bond with a mare, and the first time Jean Phillipe sees Lydia, he is on a horse. So, horses became my connecting element and I decided to make the Pony Tank Dress by Chalk and Notch and--success. I love my dress and will get constant wear out of it this summer.

    This is my second literary sewing circle participation and I have thoroughly enjoyed both experiences! I love the creative process of getting sewing inspiration from a book and mulling over ideas as I read. So much fun!
    Thank you!

    Here's my link for my finished dress

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the read -- I also felt that the happy endings and comfort read feel of the story was timely, as an antidote to the stress of life right now.

      I like your description of your original project -- good idea to take an actual piece of clothing as inspiration. But even more, I admire your perseverance in trying another project when that one didn't work out. It can be so disheartening and frustrating when we have a sewing fail.

      But your new idea and your new Pony Tank dress is fantastic! I really love the connection with horses in the story. I'm happy to hear that you've enjoyed the process of reading and pulling out some inspiration for sewing -- I find that part very satisfying too, and sometimes the idea just hits you as you're reading, which is fun.

    2. I never would have found this book by myself so thank you for introducing it! I really enjoyed the historical details woven into the story, it was just the right amount of information to find out about this time period whilst still being focused on the characters.
      There were lots of references to choose from when deciding what to make. I loved the imagery of Lydia's yellow dress but it's not a colour I often wear, so my next idea was to take my time to make a coat to mirror the care taken over the soldiers coats in the story. Unfortunately the hardware I needed to finish it was not going to arrive in time so I changed ideas again and settled on Charley's power outfit. I deviated slightly from the description by making a dress, but I thought I would get more wear out of that than just a skirt. I really like it and can't wait for some warmer weather to wear it. I channeled some Lydia into it too by hand sewing the hem in a chair by the window.

      Thank you for running this challenge, I now have a new outfit and I've read a great new novel!

    3. I'm always so happy to hear when someone has picked up a book they might not have otherwise, and enjoyed it :) I'm glad you found inspiration for an outfit that could be made from what you had at home (another Lydia link??) I love your version of Charley's power outfit -- perfect match to the inspiration! So glad you've enjoyed participating.

  4. This is the first book for me as part of this literary sewing circle . A new author for me too, and I enjoyed reading this book. Most of the historical fiction that I have read has been either Tudor England - Alison Weir, or WW II - Kate Quinn, or Outlander series by Gabaldon. This author was new to me and I enjoyed the book. I also like to read books with references to Canada and learn more how history has influenced Canada's development and the differences and similarities between Canada and the USA.
    In terms of making, I have to say I didn't know what to make but since this is very loose in interpretation, thank you Melanie; I will say that I finished wearable muslin testing of Montauk trousers pattern by Liesl and Co. This is a new pattern, casual styling with large front pockets, back welt pockets, elasticised waist with a bit of a paper bag look, very neat though. My pants turned out well, I will wear them in the summer as they are in a light weight cotton print. I am not great with doing photo's and my biggest regret is that I cut the pants about an inch too short so they really need to be worn with sandals or flip flops. Other than that detail, they turned out well and I will make them again in a light linen that I have in my stash. The linen is actually a natural linen sheet that hubby finds too rough so I am claiming it for my sewing. I think that it will sew up beautifully for these trousers. I think that these Montauk trousers qualify, just barely, as a make inspired by the book because Montauk is a village at the east end of the Long Island peninsula with a 1796 lighthouse. So links to the sea in the name of the pattern at least. Anyway this literary sewing circle is a lovely find for me in these strange times of quarantine. I am looking forward to the next read...

    1. I'm so glad that you discovered the Literary Sewing Circle and that you enjoyed this read. I am a fan of Kearsley's writing and am happy to hear that it has resonated with so many other readers too.

      I think your connection to Long Island with the name of your pattern is a good one! I saw the announcement of the pattern and wondered how these pants would make up. I'm also eyeing the Belgravia Dress and wondering if I should try it...

      I hope you'll be able to share pictures of your trousers sometime, and share a link if you can post anywhere online. Glad to hear that you have a sheet ready for your next make - I love sewing with sheets! Keep an eye out for the next round of the LSC, probably coming in Sept.

  5. Thank you all for reading and sewing along for this round of the Literary Sewing Circle. The random number generator has been run and the winners are #3 & #5. Clare wins the Closet Case gift certificate and Jan wins the Jalie pattern. Congrats! Thanks to our sponsors for this round. Keep your eye out for the next round of the Literary Sewing Circle coming in September.

  6. Congrats to Clare and Jan! I’m already looking forward to the next round.


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