The Joys of Research – added value!

23 Feb

Oh, the things you can learn! Some really esoteric bits of information that you’ll uncover may never again cross your path – even in ten lifetimes. But that’s the fun of digging around in the past – or speculating on the future.

I suppose one can’t really research the future, but your imagination might, if you turn it loose. I prefer to let my imagination out to play in the past. I’m currently trying to figure out how looms made knitted fabric for underclothing, etc., in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It’s certainly not vitally important, but since the heroine in my current WIP (work in progress) unearthed a collection of clothing from two hundred years ago, I’m compelled to know what these things looked like, and what they were made of. And it’s entirely possible that once I achieve this goal, that information may never get into the book!

Of course, I have always been a ‘fabric-holic’ to begin with. My grandmother taught me to sew at the age of three  (really!) by giving me a needle and thread to work on the ever-present quilt in her farm kitchen. There was always a quilt in the process, and I presume I expressed curiosity, so there I was. I still have the quilt, which is unfortunately, a bit the worse for the 50+ years of travel and rough-housing that entered its life after Grandma gave me the quilt for a wedding present.

Since that time, I’ve made every type of garment possible for any age or gender, including costuming for various theaters.  I still cannot resist ‘touching’ a fabric to see what it feels like: silky, rough, thick, thin, sturdy, delicate – whatever. However, while I drive my friends nuts by this habit, I do not approach people I don’t know for this purpose!

But that said—and clothing is very important to most stories—there are many other important facts to uncover as well.  Yes, facts, even in fiction!  You really do not want to display your ignorance by utilizing something that hadn’t yet been invented at the time your story is set. And if you’re going to incorporate real people (that is, people known to history for their accomplishments, such as artist or musician) be sure they were alive during that time, and doing whatever it was they became famous for doing.

I promise that if you start delving into historical matters, you will be absolutely amazed! Folks of many centuries ago were truly clever and creative, making use of what was known in their world, and adapting themselves to their climate and habitat. For instance, think of all the musical instruments mentioned in the Bible. Many of them have been refined during the intervening years, but the same systems are still employed. Music can be made by plucking and/or bowing a stringed instrument, thumping on a drum, or blowing into something, such as a horn or reed. Of course, in today’s electrical world, there are many other ways, but all the instruments in today’s orchestra are derived from those three original major categories.

Think about kitchen gadgets. Writing implements. Glasses for improved vision. For instance, did you know that Richard III (who died at Bosworth in 1485) wore glasses? True. You can look it up. Quills (from goose or swan) were the major writing instrument for centuries. Just think – Shakespeare wrote 37 full-length plays and goodness only knows how many sonnets and poems – with a feather!  Well, probably more than one feather, but still . . .   Although metal nibs (points) that fit on the end of the quill only began to be manufactured in Britain in 1822, there are indications that metal pens were actually used, even if  rarely, in Pompei, before it was buried by the volcano in 79.

It was with a quill pen that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution of the US, and the original signers did so with quill pens. That was 1787. And guess what? The Supreme Court of the United States still–to this day–issues quill pens to those attorneys who practice before it. Even today! You can look it up! Here’s a hint:

Who says research is no fun, or dull. Not me! Never! Try it! You might like it.


2 Responses to “The Joys of Research – added value!”

  1. Kay Blevins February 28, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    Sometimes the search seems to overwhelm the abilities to just begin to know where to search! Guess you must just jump in somewhere and start swimming.

    • bookmechanic February 28, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      You got it! That’s exactly what you do! Happy landings!


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