Friday, October 27, 2023

Literary Sewing Circle: Inspiration!

 Time for a little more inspiration for your Blue Castle sewing project! Today we're going to be looking at some of the locations, imagery and themes of this book to see how we might pull them out to inspire a project. 

Let's start with some of the locations. Valancy grows up in Deerwood, a small town just on the edges of the beautiful lakes of Muskoka. In fact, Deerwood stands in for Bala, the real town that Montgomery visited and which inspired this setting. 

You could try the Deerwood Dress by Pollywoggles; this is a girl's dress and Valancy might have worn a pinafore reminiscent of this shape when she was a little girl. 

Or you could choose to be inspired more by Deerwood's source and make the Bala Wrap Top, by Meg Healy for Sew Daily

Another "place" in the book is Valancy's "Blue Castle in Spain". You could use this literally and perhaps crochet a cozy afghan to cuddle up under in front of the fire, with a book and some apples, like Valancy and Barney do during winter nights - you'd have to choose this Blue Castle Throw by Lisa van Klaveren, at Ravelry, of course. 

Or if you want to try something a little different, you could tackle a cute embroidery project for your wall; stitch up this Blue Castle by DMCrossStitch on Etsy

Or you might just take the general feeling of being "up back" in Mistiwas, or even Chidley Corners, and make yourself a Hinterland Dress by Sew Liberated. If ever there was a setting for a Hinterland Who's Who, it's up back in Valancy's neighbourhood! 

Now on to some of the descriptions of clothing and outfits in the book. Valancy finally buys herself some modern and pretty clothes once she has left Elm Street. The one described most fully is her 20s shift -- the green dress with a low neck and short sleeves, with the red girdle. If you aren't completely taken with this exact dress, you could still be inspired by 20s fashion in general. What about a dress with this general silhouette in your own fave colour scheme? 

You could draft your own pattern for the One Hour 20s Dress, using the Closet Historian's tutorial

Or if you'd prefer something more ready-made for you, you can pick up this booklet full of original ideas from the 20s for making up a variety of styles for your simple frock.

Or you could just buy a pattern for a simple 20s frock from Mrs. Depew, and add a hat like Valancy's crushed green one with the crimson rose, maybe from one of the many millinery patterns also at Mrs. Depew  

There is glancing mention of Valancy's happiness at her freedom to bathe and relax up at Mistiwas. 
She got a pale green bathing-suit, too—a garment which would have given her clan their deaths if they had ever seen her in it. Barney taught her how to swim. Sometimes she put her bathing-dress on when she got up and didn’t take it off until she went to bed—running down to the water for a plunge whenever she felt like it and sprawling on the sun-warm rocks to dry. 
You could make your own bathing-suit, something with a bit of retro flair, perhaps in pale green (which seems to be Valancy's favourite colour). You could try the classic Bombshell Swimsuit by Closet Core

Or you might want to go really retro and try out this 30s inspired leotard in swim fabric, a free pattern, by SoulMatte. 

There are moments in Valancy's life that you could take on as a project prompt. At the big family dinner where she finally speaks her mind, Uncle Benjamin tries to put a damper on it: 
“Doss,” said Uncle Benjamin, thinking it might cow Valancy, “do you remember the time you stole the raspberry jam?” 
Valancy flushed scarlet—with suppressed laughter, not shame. She had been sure Uncle Benjamin would drag that jam in somehow. 
“Of course I do,” she said. “It was good jam. I’ve always been sorry I hadn’t time to eat more of it before you found me..."

Maybe as a nod to this escapade, you'll make a Raspberry Jumpsuit or Dress by CocoWawa Crafts - in red of course! 

 Or you may be inspired by Valancy's use of clover blooms as an accessory: 

It was the first time she had worn a pretty dress since the organdies of her early teens. And they had never made her look like this.

If she only had a necklace or something. She wouldn’t feel so bare then. She ran down to the garden. There were clovers there—great crimson things growing in the long grass. Valancy gathered handfuls of them and strung them on a cord. Fastened above her neck they gave her the comfortable sensation of a collar and were oddly becoming.

You could make the lovely Clover Blouse by StitchMaiden if you wanted something vintage-feeling, and maybe make it in crimson -- or organdy!

Once Valancy marries Barney, they have an idyllic life. Here's one moment of her glorious sumer:

Or they went after water-lilies. Barney knew where to find them in the creeks and bays of Mistawis. Then the Blue Castle was glorious with them, every receptacle that Valancy could contrive filled with the exquisite things. If not water lilies then cardinal flowers, fresh and vivid from the swamps of Mistawis, where they burned like ribbons of flame.

You could take your inspiration from this by making a Water Lily Tote from our sponsor, Blue Calla Patterns. It's a sturdy bag, handy for carrying all those botanical specimens home!

Or, you might decide to make the Water Lily Dress by Mood Sewciety -- a free pattern. 

Maybe you'll want something in scarlet, like the Cardinal flowers -- in that case, check out the Cardinal Blouse, also a free pattern from Mood. That ruffle looks rather ribbony, like the flower, too. 

Valancy's opinion of the seasons changes through her year in Mistiwas. Here's just one example: 

December. Early snows and Orion. The pale fires of the Milky Way. It was really winter now—wonderful, cold, starry winter. How Valancy had always hated winter!... But now she loved winter. Winter was beautiful “up back”—almost intolerably beautiful. Days of clear brilliance. Evenings that were like cups of glamour—the purest vintage of winter’s wine. Nights with their fire of stars. Cold, exquisite winter sunrises. Lovely ferns of ice all over the windows of the Blue Castle. Moonlight on birches in a silver thaw. Ragged shadows on windy evenings—torn, twisted, fantastic shadows. Great silences, austere and searching. Jewelled, barbaric hills. The sun suddenly breaking through grey clouds over long, white Mistawis. Icy-grey twilights, broken by snow-squalls, when their cosy living-room, with its goblins of firelight and inscrutable cats seemed cosier than ever.

There's so much to work with just in this paragraph! You could try out the December Dress by George & Ginger, a cozy outfit for cold nights. Make it in a wintery print with stars or birch trees or jewelled motifs and you will be channelling this description. 

Or make something inspired by starry nights, like the Stargazer Shoulder Bag by Blue Calla

Or maybe you'll make a simple Half Moon Zip by All Well to keep a few things in -- or add it to a Full Moon Bag also by All Well! (the Full Moon is a free pattern for newsletter subscribers) 

Maybe you'll get an idea from moonlight on birches, and try the Birch Vest by PatternScout.

Or maybe just something comfy to wear in front of the fire, snuggled up with cats, like this Birch Sweater by Sofiona Designs, available in child and adult sizes.

And just one more quote to work with:

The opening sentence—“Pines are the trees of myth and legend. They strike their roots deep into the traditions of an older world, but wind and star love their lofty tops. What music when old Æolus draws his bow across the branches of the pines—” She had heard Barney say that one day when they walked under them.

You could take this sentence and sew up the Aeolian Tee/Dress by PatternFantastique, or if you knit, you could try the delicate Aeolian Lace Top by Nicola Diggins, on Ravelry

Aeolian knit tee, also in dress length 

Lacy Aeolian knitted top

Or it could be that it's the Pine trees that catch your fancy. You could make the pretty Pine yoked blouse by Waffle Patterns

Or it could be the cozy Pine Cove Pyjamas by Itch to Stitch that interest you! 

You might just show your inspiration in the fabric that you choose, that relates in some way to the descriptions or the storyline. As long as you can explain why you made your choice, it fits! 

Whatever you choose to make as your project, I hope you've enjoyed the reading and are getting excited about your idea. Please do share in the comments if you have decided on yours, or if you have ideas about your own pattern pick. Is there anything in the book, whether description, name, location or mood that struck you right away for a project idea? 


  1. There are several Decades of Style patterns that might work also.

    1. Absolutely! I love Decades of Style, they do have such nice patterns.

  2. Are we discussing the book yet? Am I the only one that was completely disappointed with the main character? --LindaC

    1. Hi Linda, oh no!! Will have to hear your experience of the read! We do have the preliminary book discussion post up, and another one will appear end of next week as our final post.

  3. I've been enjoying the book so far, which I was able to get as an e-book from my library. I love stories with lots of description of places, of clothing, and of what folks are eating and cooking. I had been having quite a lot of difficulty figuring out how to connect the book to what I want to sew, until I had the idea that Valancy's (hated) nickname of "Doss" is a word that also means "to sleep or bed down" which led me to the idea of sewing a pillowcase (or cases), possibly decorated with some "north woods" imagery. I know it wouldn't be clothing, but would I think relate to the overall theme...
    - Alison aka Indigotiger

    1. I'm glad you were able to find it and are enjoying it! I also love the descriptive nature of this one. I like your project idea -- as long as you can explain your inspiration, any project counts. And you have a great reasoning process behind this idea.


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