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Category: Isobel Carr

I’ve heard quite a few people say that patchwork quilting is an “American thing” and came out of the Civil War. I have no idea where this comes from, but I’m here to tell you that patchwork quilts were a thing in the Regency (they would probably have called them “pieced coverlets”). In fact, Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their mother made an absolutely gorgeous patchwork quilt that is on display at Chawton. It’s made in the English paper piecing method (where you sew each bit of fabric around a paper form and then join all the little bits together with whipstitches before removing the paper).

Patchwork Coverlet, made by Jane Austen and family.

Per the Jane Austen Museum, in May 1811, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra, “have you remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? — we are now at a standstill.” The quilt uses 64 different fabrics for the hundreds diamond shaped squares, and many of them are “fancy cut” to show off the design to its fullest. If you’re a quilter and feeling like a real challenge, you can get a free copy of the pattern to recreate Jane’s quilt here.

And quilting/piecing wasn’t limited to furnishings. I think most of us are familiar with matelasse quilted coverlets (whole-cloth quilts) and with the 18th century petticoats that were made in the same fashion. But there are also examples of pieced clothing. Like this absolutely amazing banyan (images are Open Access from The MET).

Man’s banyan, c. 1812-1820

I’ve been doing a little quilting lately, myself. Nothing as ambitious as Jane’s quilt, but fun and pretty. I recently finished this one in a fabric called “Whimsical Romance” for my friend Jess (the artist who does my covers, and who is busy right now getting the new covers for my Ripe series ready). The parts that look white are actually text from A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

My quilt for Jess

This past week, I witnessed an absolutely ridiculous attack on American writers (specifically) of Regency-set romances. A couple of English people declared that American writers as a whole simply didn’t know what they hell we were talking about and maybe we should visit England to gain a clue. What was their proof? Muffins. Americans keep putting MUFFINS in their books and no one in England has ever heard of a muffin, English or otherwise. These are not a thing. English people do not eat them. Never have. Never will.

When I responded that they were good enough for Jane Austen and Hannah Glasse, I got blocked.

English muffins, being cooked by me.

So, in case any of you need it, here is my Defense of Muffins in Georgian Fiction:

Firstly, here is the infamous Muffin Man himself, hawking his wears way back in the 1750s.

London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby (c. 1759)

Oh, what is this? Is this the famous author Samuel Richardson writing of an Englishman eating muffins for breakfast? Clearly this cannot be…

The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson, 1765

What do I spy with my little eye? Why it’s a record of the cries of the street vendors of London in 1777. What are they hawking? Muffins!

A Set of London Cries, 1777

Whatever can this be? Is it a political poem about Fox and Pitt involving toasted, buttered muffins? How un-English can you get!

A political ditty, 1803

Oh, look. Even that scallywag David Garrick is in on hoodwinking poor Americans into thinking muffins existed.

The Guardian by Garrick, 1805

The rhyme that you are all probably familiar with, recorded in a manuscript c. 1820.

Clearly one can not trust a book entirely devoted to the baking of bread! What rapscallion time travelled back and inserted an entire second on the anachronistic muffin?

A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread, 1821

How dare Maria Edgeworth write characters who love muffins! Surely this must be a mistranslation (from English into English!).

Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons, 1825

I don’t know who this “Lady” is, but clearly she is not to be trusted as her domestic guide includes fake things like muffins. Muffins which no Englishman has ever heard of, let alone eaten.

The New London Cookery and Complete Domestic Guide, by A Lady, 1827

I am trying to determine when the English went off the muffin, leaving themselves with only the crumpet for comfort. Oscar Wilde features them in his work. So do P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers. In fact, they appear to have been Lord Peter’s favorite food.

One of MANY mentions of muffins in the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

My food history friends blame the depredations of WWII. Rationing has much to answer for when it comes to British cookery. Whatever the reason for the disappearance of muffins in the UK (at least according to Hawt Take UK Twitter), please rest assured that they were beloved and clearly being consumed at least up until WWII.

I had a grand plan…I was going to do the cover reveal for the re-issue of my Ripe series. Alas, life got in the way for my cover designer, so we’re a tad behind. But I do have a sneak peak at part of the cover for RIPE FOR SCANDAL.

I’m seriously in love with this cover, and I can’t wait to show you the while thing next month. I’ll be doing the typography this weekend and getting all three books off to thr formatter ASAP so they can be re-re-released in April.

Beau and Garath.

I have some exciting news as well: Scribd will be releasing the series in audio, which I’m really excited about. Audio is something readers ask for all the time, and I’m so glad that they’ll finally have the chance to enjoy the books in the format they prefer.

Romancelandia thrives on strange pets, but the creatures authors give their characters are by no means stranger than those real people kept during the Georgian era. There was a large menagerie at the Tower of London, that included apes, leopards, lions, even a polar bear that was let loose (on a long chain) to hunt fish in the Thames. Many wealthy people kept private menageries, or strange pets.

The Moose
George Stubbs

William Wilberforce, the abolitionist politician, had a domesticated menagerie of foxes and hares and hedgehogs that roamed about his house. In 1824, Wilberforce founded the first animal welfare society in the world. The Duke of Richmond kept a famous collection of animals that people traveled far and wide to view. He had everything from lions and tigers to bears (too many bears!) and even a moose. One of my favorite stories about his collection is when he tried to acquire a sloth, but ended up with yet another bear (this reminds me of the people in China who keep ending up with bear cubs with they try to buy Tibetan Mastiffs).


I received your letter I am obliged to you
for it. I wish indeed it had been the sloath that
had been sent me, for that is the most curious
animal I know; butt this is nothing butt a
comon young black bear, which I do not know what
to do with, for I have five of them already. so pray
when you write to him, I beg you would tell
him not to send me any Bears, Eagles, Leopards,
or Tygers, for I am overstock’d with them already.

I am Dear Sir,
Your Faithfull
humble servant

Another pet that is dear to my heart, and that I may have to someday make use of, is Gilbert White’s tortoise, Timothy. Timothy had originally belonged to Gilbert’s Aunt Snooke. White inherited the tortoise from his aunt in 1780 and it lived with him for the rest of White’s life (Timothy outlived White as well as the aunt). Timothy was reportedly a great favorite in the village and during the summer months would range all over White’s five acre garden. Timothy hibernated during the cold English winters (and this clearly didn’t harm him as he lived a good, long life).

There are documented races in London parks between cheetahs and greyhounds. There was an emporium in the London docks that specialized in exotic animals. There was a constant influx of odd animals brought ashore by sailors and brought home by travelers. Everything from elephants to giraffes to dodo birds. To date, I’ve made do with dogs, but someday I just might have to go with something a little stranger…

A friend brought me this amazing book when she visited from Australia. The original folio is in a museum there, though all the portraits are of people from England. Some of the people were famous in their day (like street sweep, Charles McGee, of whom there are numerous portraits and period cartoons), others are obscure and only live on as “unknown Bun Man, Plymouth.” 

A Folio of Dempsey’s People: British Street Portraits, 1824-1844


I was somewhat surprised to discover that this folio was the source of the black cobbler who was circulating on Twitter awhile ago. I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting people who were captured by Dempsey. 

Black Charley, shoemaker, Norwich, 1823

This is John Hallam, of Derby. Not a rich man, he was mostly notable for having a reputation as an extremely good man who did what he could for his fellows. He had the distinction of having been granted access to several gentleman’s libraries in the district, and it was common for him to walk in, take a book, and walk out without saying a word to anyone. 

John Hallam, 1820s

Tommy Raeburn was the younger son of a local landowner. He inherited a piece of property that was completely surrounded by other holdings, and then he had a fight with the man who owned the only access road. He took the case to court and lost, whereupon he vowed to never cut his beard or hair until he received “justice”…which he never did. He was famous enough to have his own pamphlet and to have been featured in the Illustrated London News

Tommy Raeburn, the Ayrshire hermit, 1830s

A strong, stout woman in a heavy blue bathing gown, with a scarf over her head and wearing a felt hat. She has the gown her customer would have worn under one arm. 

Bathing Woman, Bridlington, 1825

One of the lowest jobs out there was match-seller. Like street-sweep and watercress-seller, this job was barely one step above vagrant. He is selling bundles of “brimstone matches”, slivers of wood dipped in sulphur, that were used to transfer flame from one source to another. 

Mark Custings, known as Blind Peter, with his boy (who would have acted as his guide), Norwich, 1823

John Rutherford was a common sailor who spent some period of time with the Maori, and returned to England with moko tattoos. For a time, he displayed himself as a member of a “caravan of wonders”, before eventually returning to the Pacific.  

John Rutherford, 1829

Crossing-sweeper, London. No name recorded. She’s tattered and patched, but maintains all the basics of respectable appearance, right down to her wide-brimmed hat and handkerchief. She stands beside the crossing she keeps clean, her palm passively out in hopes of a tip. 

Crossing-sweeper, London. 


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