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Author Archives: Sandra Schwab

Hello everybody! Despite appearances, I haven’t actually fallen off the edges of the earth (wheee!); instead, I got a new day job at the beginning of the new year, and it’s taken me a while to get used to the new rhythm of my daily life.

What’s really exciting about this life with the new day job is that for the first time in my adult life, I actually have free weekends, which leaves me with enough time for all kinds of fun things.

Like a tablet weaving workshop.


It’s a really old technique for weaving ribbons and fabric borders. The oldest archaeological finds date to 900-800 BC, but murals found in Greece suggest that tablet weaving might even be older and might have been used to create ribbons as early as 1500 BC. Iron Age Celts certainly loved it, as did Germanic tribes and the Vikings later on. In Europe the craft continued to be popular until the 15th century, when it started to slowly disappear.

A collage of three pictures: one showing the empty loom with the balls of cotton thread lying next to it. The second showing the main gate of the Saalburg, a reconstructed Roman auxiliary fort. The third showing the loom with the warp threads running through the holes in the tablets.

“Tablet” in this context refers to flat pieces of bark, bone, stone, leather, horn, wood, or (more recently) cardboard into which holes have been drilled. Through these, the warp is threaded. When you then turn the tablets, different threads are lifted, and by using various colors for the warp, patterns are created.

Traditionally, the weavers would have tied one end of the warp around their belt and the other around a piece of furniture, a pole, or perhaps their own foot, but these days, small looms are available, which make the whole process a lot more comfortable.
If you ever manage to thread them, that is.

When I attended the aforementioned workshop, the threading of the dratted loom took me half a day, and at times, I was ready to give the whole thing up, go home, and have a good cry.

But once you have managed to thread the dratted thing, it is very easy to create simple patterns – though as a beginner you will inevitably struggle with tension, knobbly edges, and, worst of all, loose threads. And if you’re really lucky, you even manage to pull some of the warp threads off the loom! Hooray!

But all the trouble is worth it at the end: Not only can you create the most intricate patterns with tablet weaving, but the resulting ribbons are also very strong and sturdy. And who knows? While you’re weaving you might even make new friends as you and your neighbor commiserate over the tribulations with the tablets.

And this, really, was one of the main reasons for me to take the workshop: I wanted to explore an old craft that would have brought women together in the past. I find it fascinating to explore explore female communities – and as all crafters know, pattern swapping is a great way to strengthen communal bonds! 🙂

“All the town’s a slide,
And all the men and women merely skaters,”

rhymes PUNCH in 1850 (with a nod towards the Bard), and indeed, 19th-century Londoners were keen skaters: when during a strong frost in January 1850 all the ornamental lakes in the parks of London froze, people turned out in their thousands to slide or skate along the ice. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS talks of 12,000 people assembling in St. James’s Park alone to enjoy the wintry spell.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was another favorite with skaters, and one of Richard Doyle’s illustration from “Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe” depicts the crush.

The Serpentyne durying a hard frosteApart from the bodies of water, the streets themselves often froze over, no doubt helped along by the many child workers out and about, who, PUNCH suggests, took joy in turning the main thoroughfares of London into giant slides:

Skating in Fleet StreetBut of course, Mr. Punch has already come up with a brilliant solution to this particular problem: “As slides in public thoroughfares, during the frost, are now ‘great facts,’ which the police officially recognise, there is only one thing to be desired, namely, that some little order should be observed on the foot-pavements, so as to make a slide a convenient  and rapid mode of transit. […] By the present system, under which slides are merely tolerated, and are only partially carried out, some of the public who are unprepared for them, keep tumbling about in a very awkward manner. A well-regulated routine of slides, under the control of the police, would be an understood accommodation for all, and order could easily be preserved by sending policemen up and down each series of slides at proper intervals.” 🙂

After all, tumbling about is not nice, as some of the PUNCH contributors know only too well: this little initial letter is “drawn from experience”:

What about your town? Has winter already come to where you live? (Frankfurt turned into a Winter Wonderland on Sunday, and we’ll probably get more snow toward the weekend.)

snippet from the main title page of the volume 7 of the Illustrated London News, showing a view of London, with the Tower in the background
Dear Reader,

I did it again. I went on Abebooks and bought another volume of the Illustrated London News I discovered another poor, abandoned volume of a nineteenth-century newspaper, sitting in a corner, crying piteously, so of course, I had to adopt it. I mean, how could I leave it there, out in the cold, with nobody to cherish it?!?! And so I… um… adopted it. 🙂

In truth, it’s a volume I’ve been trying to hunt down for quite some time. The last time it became available at a decent price, I waited too long and somebody snatched it up before me. But this time, I got lucky. And now it’s ALL MINE!!!

As always, it’s an utter delight to leaf through the volume. There are so many things to discover! The ads alone are extremely intriguing. (At this point in time – 1845 – ads were still text based, rather than illustrated, because of the tax on ads. I talked about this in my last post here.)

Advertisement for Dietic Pale AleDietetic pale ale? Who would have thought this was a thing!

And remember when I talked about Victorian street food? Well, it would appear that the West India pineapples that were sold in London’s streets in 1845 weren’t such a big hit…

an illustration showing a street vendor with his cart, surrounded by customers, including a few childrenIn the illustration you can see the kind of handcart from which street vendors would sell their wares. This pineapple seller has a very simple cart; those who sold soup or coffee would have had much more sophisticated carts, with heaters to keep their wares warm.

From time to time, nineteenth-century periodicals would also include sheet music – the kind of song that would have been suitable for a young woman to perform at an evening entertainment in order to show off her singing voice and her skills on the piano. These songs were often quite sentimental like this example from the issue of 25 October 1845. It’s called “My Writing Desk” – which is the place where people would have kept letters they received from family and dear friends. And this is exactly what this song is about.

a few lines of music with an illustration of a man sitting at a desk, his head on his hand, while he contemplates old letters

The first stanza reads:

My writing desk is the home of my treasure,
My desk is the shrine of my care;
Oh! all I have loved beyond measure
Have left me some dear relics there,
Have left me some dear relics there.
The dry leaves of long perish’d flowers,
Whose perfume has lingered behind,
Have made them as sweet as the hours
Those dear relics bring to my mind.


This volume is the second bi-annual volume of 1845, meaning it will most likely include a Christmas special. I haven’t yet looked because I’m kind of keeping the December issues as a special pre-holiday treat.

Punch wrapperWhen you look at surviving copies of 19th-century periodicals (typically bound in volumes) today, you will perhaps notice a distinct lack of advertisements. Ads were printed on the wrapper (the cover) of single issues as well as on additional pages, and when periodicals were privately bound into volumes, the wrappers and the pages with ads were typically thrown away. Some magazines, like PUNCH, released annual or bi-annual volumes of their publication as special keepsakes – and these didn’t contain any ads either.

So imagine my delight when earlier today I stumbled across a volume of PUNCH on Google Books that not only consists of individual issues bound together, but has also retained most of the wrappers with ads.


The issues are all from 1874, which means that thanks to changes in taxation and technological improvements, the ads all look very different from what you would have found in periodicals in the early decades of the century. By 1874, many ads came with pictures or with interesting typography.

Ads in PUNCH, the Victorian magazineThere wasn’t any particular order to them, so Howard’s Parquet Flooring stood side by side with anchovy preparations, the latest novels (such as TAKEN AT THE FLOOD by Mary Elizabeth Braddon), or Thomson’s Unbreakable Corset Busk.

More ads from PUNCHIn the early decades of the 19th century, by contrasts, ads tended to be text only, and they were very short and to the point. The reason for this was the tax on paper and the tax on ads. The latter was a reaction to social unrest: the government believed that there was a connection between ads and politics. On the other hand, most periodicals couldn’t survive without the income from ads. Indeed, it is thought that the majority of radical publications folded due to a lack of advertisers.

As the political climate changed, the tax on ads was first reduced in 1833 and was finally abolished in 1853. The tax on paper, however, remained in place until 1861, keeping paper expensive and forcing publishers and advertisers to be economical with the space on paper. Hence, illustrated ads as seen in the examples here in this post, only started to appear with regularity after the repeal of the paper tax, and the following decades are often referred to as the Golden Age of advertising.

Ads in Punch

The Fairy Ring title pageMy new book Yuletide Truce, which comes out next week, starts with dueling reviews of a collection of fairy tales: The Fairy Ring, published on 9 December 1845 (though the title page gives the year of publication as 1846), in time for the Christmas season. It contains fairy tales from the collection of the Brothers Grimm, translated by John Edward Taylor.

John Edward Taylor was the cousin of Edgar Tylor, the man who in 1823 had produced the very first English translation of a selection of the Grimms’ fairy tales. He published them as German Popular Stories, with a second volume following three years later.

While Germany had seen a renewed interest in fairy tales since the late 18th century, it were the Taylors’ translations of the Grimms’ stories and, later on, Mary Howitt’s translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales that led to a similar fashion in Britain, where it would eventually produce a new genre, fantasy fiction, in the second half of the 19th century.

The publication history of the Grimms’ fairy tales at home and abroad is in many ways a peculiar one. When the first edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen was published in 1812/15, it bore evidence of the conflicting aims the Grimms pursued. One the one hand, the collection was meant to be a scholarly project documenting a specific form of German “folk literature,” hence the extensive notes that accompanied the collection. There, the Grimms tried to establish the history of individual tales as well as document connections to the folk literature of other nations. On the other hand, the Grimms built up a fictional version of how they had obtained the tales to establish them more firmly as authentic folk tales. Which is why even today, there’s the persistent myth that Grimms marched from village to village, knocking on people’s doors and asking to be fairy tales, when they received the majority of their tales from acquaintances, in particular middle-class women.

The first edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen received mixed reviews, and many felt that, despite the “children” in the title, the tales weren’t really suitable for a young audience, not the least because many of them contained very clear sexual allusions. In subsequent editions, the existing tales were edited (mainly by Wilhelm) to bring them more in line with patriarchal, middle-class values and more tales were added to the collection.

Thus, the text of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen was constantly in flux, and as a consequence there is little conformity among the English translations of the collection. For not only was their selected material taken from different editions of the original collection, but the translators themselves also tended to heavily edit the tales. This is already evident in the very first translation from 1823: Edgar Taylor left out references to the devil and shied away from sexual allusions, which is why his version of “The Frog King” is heavily altered.

But the most important change to the German source material was the inclusion of illustrations by George Cruikshank. This new feature proved to be so successful that it inspired the Grimms to let their brother Ludwig Emil Grimm illustrate their own Kleine Ausgabe of 1825.

Like Edgar Taylor’s German Popular Stories, his cousin’s translation The Fairy Ring was also illustrated — and by one of the most popular artists of the 1840s: Richard Doyle.

The Fairy Ring: illustration for "The Two Brothers" with floppy-eared dragonChristoper Foreman, one of my characters in Yuletide Truce, takes issue both with John Edward Taylor’s text and Doyle’s illustrations, which allowed me to write a snarky Victorian style book review. 🙂

This is what Kit Foreman has to say about the illustrations:

“The illustrations of The Fairy Ring were done by Richard Doyle, whose illustrations in Punch regularly delight that magazine’s readership. It is, however, debatable whether his whimsical style is quite suitable to adequately depict fearsome dragons, malicious dwarves, and giants, no matter into what raptures of praise the pictures have thrown our colleague at Munro’s. Are we really to believe in the fearsomeness of a dragon whose heads resemble those of sad puppy dogs?”

Oh dear! Poor Dicky Doyle! (And poor Aigee, whose review Kit trashes so mercilessly!)

If you’d like to get a longer sneak peek at Yuletide Truce (and Kit’s review!), check out the excerpt on my website!

cover Yuletide Truce

Yuletide Truce

London, 1845

It’s December, Alan “Aigee” Garmond’s favorite time of the year, when the window display of the small bookshop where he works fills up with crimson Christmas books and sprays of holly. Everything could be perfect — if it weren’t for handsome Christopher Foreman, the brilliant writer for the fashionable magazine About Town, who has taken an inexplicable and public dislike to Aigee’s book reviews.

But why would a man such as Foreman choose to target reviews published in a small bookshop’s magazine? Aigee is determined to find out. And not, he tells himself, just because he finds Foreman so intriguing.

Aigee’s quest leads him from smoke-filled ale-houses into the dark, dingy alleys of one of London’s most notorious rookeries. And then, finally, to Foreman. Will Aigee be able to wrangle a Yuletide truce from his nemesis?

WARNING: Contains a very grumpy writer, snarky Victorian book reviews, a scandalous song, two men snogging, and fan-girling over Punch.

Now available for pre-order: Amazon US | Nook | ibooks | Kobo

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