Extended Regency and American Federal Sewing, Needlework, and Millinery Instructions

Title: The Lady's Stratagem

A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making,
Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette

By Frances Grimble

Ladys Stratagem cover image
The Lady’s Stratagem is a collection of early instructions on what was perceived as a female duty: To be agreeable. This required meticulous attention to appearance, manners, and management of social events. The core sources are six important French manuals, newly translated into period English. These are supplemented by excerpts from 23 rare English, French, and American publications.
Fashion & Costume. Detailed information is imparted on choosing clothing appropriate to each time of day, and to the wearer’s appearance, age, and social position. It is illustrated by 29 halftone fashion plates. Instructions are given for laundering, dyeing, and storing garments.
Sewing & Needlework. Step-by-step directions are given for making 13 styles of stays; for most kinds of women’s garments, trimmings, and accessories; and for mending and alterations. Comprehensive instructions are also given for making hats, turbans, and caps, including 52 trimmings; for knitting a wide variety of garments and accessories; and for embroidery, with 25 patterns. There is no comparable English-language needlework reference for the 1820s, period or modern.
Beauty & Hygiene. An intimate picture of daily life is drawn by 116 recipes for beauty treatments, cosmetics, and perfumes. Particulars include how women bathed, cleaned their teeth, laced their stays, walked, and gestured. Practical explanations are furnished for eight hairstyles.
Manners & Customs. Entertaining descriptions are given of the proper behavior for all social occasions, including morning visits, card parties, balls, and the art of conversation.

Table of Contents (readable with Adobe Acrobat)

Author Biography

Frances Grimble is the author of After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles, Reconstruction Era Fashions: 350 Sewing, Needlework, and Millinery Patterns 1867–1868, Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1: Undergarments, Bodices, Skirts, Overskirts, Polonaises, and Day Dresses 1877–1882, Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 2: Evening, Bridal, Sports, Outerwear, Accessories, and Dressmaking 1877–1882, Bustle Fashions 1885–1887: 41 Patterns with Fashion Plates and Suggestions for Adaptation, Directoire Revival Fashions 1888–1889: 57 Patterns with Fashion Plates and Suggestions for Adaptation, The Voice of Fashion: 79 Turn-of-the-Century Patterns with Instructions and Fashion Plates, and The Edwardian Modiste: 85 Authentic Patterns with Instructions, Fashion Plates, and Period Sewing Techniques.
Frances Grimble has substantial formal education in researching social history and in clothing design. In 1974 she began making historical reproductions for periods from the Renaissance into the 1920s; she tries to schedule regular sewing time in addition to that required by her writing projects. Since 1972, she has collected vintage clothing and accessories from the late 18th century into the mid 20th.

Publication Data

8 1/2” x 11” quality paperback
755 pages
98 line drawings, 36 halftones
Glossary, bibliography, and index
ISBN: 978-0-9636517-7-8
LCCN: 2008920010
Cover price: $75

Lavolta Press home page


“Drawn largely from French domestic and etiquette manuals of the 1820s, The Lady’s Stratagem offers advice, diagrams, and precise instructions on fashion, needlework, millinery, health, and beauty—including how to make your own cosmetics and corsets—physical deportment, and the correct behavior to be adopted by the middle-class women and girls at whom the manuals were originally aimed. Guided by those, their aim in life was ‘to be agreeable.’
Backed up by research in similar contemporary British and American works, Frances Grimble has translated, edited, and linked different sources, rendering them in the English of their period. The result is both comprehensive and charming. Nothing is left out. Excess hair? With a warning in the original manual that the preparation is highly caustic and therefore should be applied with ‘the greatest circumspection,’ the recommendation is for oriental rusma, which is apparently ‘so much used in harems.’ Take two ounces of quicklime, half an ounce of sulphur of arsenic, and a pound of ‘sufficiently strong alkaline washing powder,’ and boil them all up together. It is ready when a feather dipped into the potion loses all of its barbs. Don’t try this at home, then.
The well-illustrated section on clothing of all kinds is wonderfully detailed. Provincial ladies should beware of the charlatans in Paris who will fool them into exchanging a good-quality cashmere shawl for a poor one. Ladies who wish to make their own stays, hats, or gowns are given detailed instructions on how to go about it. Embroidery and knitting patterns are also included, from the finest beaded purses through gentlemen’s waistcoats to knitted pantaloons. There is strongly worded advice too for the ‘lower orders,’ who should encourage their children from an early age to knit worsted stockings, both to earn some money and to stop them from being idle in the evenings. It was obviously unthinkable that the working classes should ever not be working.
Ladies socializing at assemblies, balls, and dinners are told exactly how to dress for each occasion. Ladies of a certain age are shown how to fashion a turban out of a scarf or shawl made of ‘silk, cashmere, merino, barège, muslin, gauze, &c.’ It is essential, of course, that the right side of a turban should always be higher than the left. Fichus, flounces, fringes, and the trimming of bonnets—it is all in this beautifully produced book, the index of which is complemented by a very clean and clear table of contents.
Frances Grimble writes in her introduction that The Lady’s Stratagem is aimed at researchers, history reenactors, film and theatrical costumers, and romance and historical novelists. The abundance of detail is certainly stunning and should prove hugely useful to anyone who wishes to reproduce authentic period costume. For the novelist, there is much inspiration as well as information to be found here. Take, for example, the advice that while young married ladies may run their errands and visit their friends by themselves, young unmarried ladies must have at least a maid as a chaperone when they go out. Only once she turns thirty is it proper for an unmarried woman to go out unaccompanied. Neither a married nor an unmarried lady may ‘present herself alone in a library, or a museum, unless she goes there to study or work as an artist.’ If another young woman should lose her reputation, and even if the allegations made against her are false, the advice is not to allow your heart to rule your head. If you choose to remain friendly with such an unfortunate person you risk losing your reputation too, coming down with a bad case of ‘moral contagion.’ It is easy to imagine a fiery and independent-minded heroine rebelling against these rules, deciding perhaps there must be more to life than simply being agreeable. Meticulously researched, beautifully translated and written, threaded throughout with Frances Grimble’s passion for her subject, The Lady’s Stratagem offers a treasure chest of information and a cornucopia of delights.”
—— Maggie Craig for Costume (Journal of the Costume Society, United Kingdom)
“A delightful collection of sewing and embroidery patterns, mending instructions, step-by-step knitting directions, guides to proper behavior and dress, and beauty recipes. . . . The Lady’s Stratagem is sure to please reenactors, living-history interpreters, historians, and costume designers, as well as casual readers.”
“A collection of early 19th-century instructions on appearance, manners, and social events. . . . Of most interest to costumers is the detailed information on choosing clothing that’s appropriate to each time of day and the wearer’s appearance, age, and social position, as well as step-by-step directions for making garments, trimmings, and accessories, and for mending and alterations.”
——Stage Directions
“A solid primary source, especially recommended to anyone seeking to study or depict the lives of women nearly two hundred years ago.”
——Midwest Book Review
The Lady’s Stratagem is a tome of historic proportions, not just because of its historic nature, but breadth of information.”
——Lorina Stephens, owner of Five Rivers Chapmanry
“If you’re interested in the Regency period and want to get beyond secondary retellings of the details of ladies’ lives in the era, this is a terrific book to have. The title might have been ‘The Lady’s Compendium,’ so detailed are the contents. Just about anything touching modes and manners is covered here. . . . Many of the manuals the author translated from French (in period-style language) and so will be new to the vast majority of readers: This isn’t a rehash of content we’ve seen before. . . . It reveals some of what the original publishers expected would be different practices among French, British, and American readers. . . . The text frequently talks about what is in fashion, or considered good taste, by making comparisons to fashions and practices of past years. This is valuable too, because it helps readers who are interested in early Regency styles and manners. . . . You get the delicious experience of stepping into an era long past. . . . I believe that readers wanting to understand the underpinnings of looking and acting well in Regency times will value this book as I do, and make it a close companion to their volumes of Jane Austen, their histories of life under Napoleon, or their copies of Janet Arnold’s costuming manuals.”
——Natalie Ferguson, author of Zip-Zip’s Vintage Sewing Blog
“The chapter on stay making is utterly fascinating. It has everything that I had wondered about, and lots more besides. Instructions show you step by step how to make various forms of stays, with advice on fabric, which type of boning to use, and pattern diagrams.”
——Historikal-Modiste blog
“This book is a delight to read from cover to cover. . . . Chapter XVII, The Art of Knitting . . . does include some things I had not yet seen in publications from this era such as a Beret, Pantaloons, Waistcoats, and Night Jackets, and a discussion of ‘Open-Work Knitting.’ . . . There are also instructions or patterns for knitting stockings, slippers, gloves, petticoats, mitts, and purses.”
——History Knits Blog
“It’s huge and just full of information. I still haven’t gone through it all but it’s well worth the money.” “You’ve done an outstanding job of producing this book.” “I would say good deal of what’s written, although published a decade later than 1812 and also intended for a French reader, is relevant information for 1812 re-enactors.”
—— Reader comments

Press Release, Which You May Reprint

The Whole Art of Pleasing as Laid Down by a Frenchwoman

“The most estimable women would be vexed to be disesteemed by their husbands; therefore, they must strive to excite and nourish more pleasant sentiments. The neglect and infidelity so much deplored in husbands is often owing to wives’ neglect of themselves.”
Politically incorrect? Not in the early 19th century. The Lady’s Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette is a comprehensive guide to averting such marital disasters. Modern readers are warned not to try the recipes for homemade cosmetics (such as the Oriental Rusma depilatory, composed of quicklime, arsenic, and washing powder). However, film and theater costumers will welcome the directions and diagrams for making 13 styles of corsets; for making and trimming dresses, pelisses, riding habits, and other garments; for every kind of millinery, including 52 trimmings and both wound and mounted turbans; and unusually early directions for knitting stockings, undergarments, and accessories. There is no comparable English-language needlework reference for the 1820s—period or modern. Reenactors and living history interpreters will put to use the information on wardrobe planning; mending and alterations; the concoction of eight hairstyles; choosing perfumes; how to walk and gesture; and the etiquette for all social occasions, from morning visits to balls. Historical and romance novelists will find fascinating details in the instructions for cleaning the teeth, caring for the hair, bathing, getting dressed, putting away the toilet articles, doing the laundry, the art of conversation, writing letters, and much more.
For example, the directions for gaining weight include, “Every day, immediately before the meal, take a bath, during which you should not move about at all. After a quarter of an hour, you may comfort yourself with a consommé. Quit the bath after another quarter of an hour, arrange yourself on a sopha, and take a cup of chocolate. Then sleep until the moment you sit down at table.”
Much of this material is drawn from six important French manuals of the 1820s, five here translated into English for the first time—that is, into 1820s English, not excluding spelling and punctuation. A running commentary is provided by the “diversions,” containing information from 23 additional English, American, and French sources, furnishing an international viewpoint. And in places, one that diverges from the middle-class outlook of the core sources, such as the patterns for slaves’ clothing. The “diversions” are something Lawrence Sterne might have thought up if he had been familiar with the Internet: They are unclickable links to material ranging from one sentence to as long as 27 pages.
Editor and translator Frances Grimble is the author of six previous books: After a Fashion, Reconstruction Era Fashions, Fashions of the Gilded Age Volumes 1 and 2, The Voice of Fashion, and The Edwardian Modiste. Over 60 of her articles have appeared in national magazines, such as Threads, Sew News, and Antique Trader Weekly.
The Lady’s Stratagem can be purchased for $75 in bookstores.

The Lady’s Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette
Edited, translated, and with additional material by Frances Grimble
8 1/2” x 11” quality paperback
755 pages
98 line drawings, 36 halftones
Glossary, bibliography, and index
ISBN: 978-0-9636517-7-8
LCCN: 2008920010
Cover price: $75

Lavolta Press home page

Web page text (except for reviews by other authors) and book cover copyright © 2008–2024 by Frances Grimble