Thursday, January 28, 2010


By Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I hear on the news all the time recalls for such baby items as cribs, car seats, highchairs and infant seats. We’re so cautious and careful with our babies these days, and rightfully so. Babies are precious and a mother can’t be too careful. But all of today’s care and concern led me to wonder about the pioneer day baby and how the mother’s of that time cared for their young. While writing my first historical, THE GOLDEN LADY, I had the opportunity to do research on the Apache people and their custom’s. I was particularly interested in the cradleboard, the baby carrier an Apache mother used.
This is what further research led me to discover:

Made of wood, hide, lichens, decorated with beads, tightly swaddled infants were carried around for up to a year in cradleboards. The cradleboard provided a secure and safe environment for the small baby. The baby was kept in the cradleboard at all times. This helped to keep the child's backbone and legs straight, further strengthen the neck muscles, and provide an opportunity for the infant to be visually and emotionally stimulated by his environment and family. The child was able to be carried on his mother's back using a strap attached to the back of the cradleboard. This way, the mother could be free to work with her hands. Using the strap, they sometimes hung or propped the basket up, so that the mother could also be within the child's view and communicate with the child. When tired, the infant could be rocked to sleep. Then the child could be laid down without disturbing its body or sleep.

Since willows could only be collected in the winter months, it was necessary for the basket maker to plan ahead. Once spring arrived, the willows would have too much water in them and could easily break. River willow was used for the boat cradleboard, which was prepared after the child was born. It was an open-twined weave forming an elliptical head guard for the infant. A rabbit-skin lining was placed inside to cushion the baby's head and body and buckskin laces were used to tie the baby in. Wild dogwood or rosewood willows were used to make the frames for the hoop cradleboard. Once gathered, the larger willows were scraped for the cradleboard frame and backing. The smaller willows would be used for the shade. The other willows would be split, simultaneously, in three parts to be used for weft thread. The same process was used for making other baskets. Using a warming method, the hoop frame was formed by tying the top and bottom frames together. After forming the frame, it was tied down to a flat-surface for a couple of weeks, to prevent it from twisting or bending out of shape. Willows were cut to fit the frame, a horizontal willow backing was used. The willows were fastened together by one or two vertical willows, using buckskin strips. Once the frame was ready, the ends of the willow backing was fit against the frame and attached the willows to the frame by wrapping the willow-backing with buckskin strips. The frame would then be covered with buckskin.The frame was placed on the buckskin. The buckskin was fitted around the frame by pulling it snugly towards the center. The center, top and bottom seam was marked. Then the buckskin was cut and sewn with their specialized bone needles and sinew-thread. The outside strings and loops were then added to the front flaps, using a bone awl to make holes and rabbit-skin batting was placed inside for a cushion.

A willow shade was added to the basket. The willow shade was made using river willows. It was woven in an open-twined weave fashion, using a decreasing procedure while weaving. First, the pattern at the top was made, using a naturally-dyed willow weft. The pattern depended on the gender of the baby. A diamond was used for a girl's shade and diagonal lines were used for a boy's shade. This shade not only provided a shade from the sun, but provided protection for the child's face and head if the cradle was knocked over and with a cover, it kept the wind out. The shade was attached to the outside of the basket. It was threaded through two holes and tied onto the backside.

The cradleboard was decorated by adding fringes to the sides and back. A strap was attached to the back of the cradleboard for carrying. A separate buckskin piece was attached to the bottom, so that it could be removed if soiled.

Today, the cradleboard is still being used. Many families have other tribal members or relatives make the cradle for them since many families have not kept up the tradition of making the cradle. Modern changes have been made in the construction of the cradleboard. Many are covered with a canvas-like material, allowing for a cooler, washable and more available cover for the cradle. Yarn is now used on the shade for the patterns and cloth around the edging, adding more color.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making a Dress the Nez Perce Way

My current WIP is set among the Nez Perce Indians and I've been reading a lot about them.

For a woman to make a dress she had to first tan two deer hides. That meant soaking the hides in water, then scraping the meat and fat from one side and the hair from the other with sharp stones. They were stretched then she worked the brain of the deer into the hide making it a soft leather.

When the hides were ready to make into a dress, she used a bone awl to punch holes and sinew or buckskin string to sew the skins together. The awl was used to make a hole and the end of the buckskin was moistened with saliva then rolled on their thigh to shape and tighten it. When the end dried it was then pushed through the holes made by the awl. The shoulder seams were constructed by sewing the back legs of the hide together. The sleeves were only elbow length. The tail at the neckline of the dress was folded down to form a faux yoke. The sides were sewn together and at the bottom of the dress, four half circular pieces were sewn between the neck and leg extensions of the hide to even out the hem and give more fullness for walking and riding.

The hair side of the hide was placed against the body for softness and warmth.

Fringes were added at the bottom, sleeves, and sided seams for ornamentation. The yoke and sleeves were solidly beaded. Some ceremonial dresses with all the beading could weigh up to 40 pounds. Every day dresses had minimal beading.

I didn't get a clear idea of how long this would all take, but I'm sure it would be a week or longer to make one garment. I'm pretty happy that I can purchase my fabric and use my sewing machine when I get the urge to make a garment.

Source: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990 by Caroline James

Paty Jager

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writers vs Pioneer Women

I can’t begin to remember how many years my New Year’s Resolution has been to diet and exercise. Every year, I start out gung ho. I create my weekly diet menu, I get on my exercise bicycle, and then. . .kerpoof! Life gets in the way. You know what I’m talking about. Most of us have been there—done that, and will do it again next year.

If we writers were to compare our lives to that of pioneer women, we might conclude we shared many similarities. The one difference many writers might see is weight and exercise. Pioneer women didn’t need to exercise. Hard work and a daily grind kept them lean and muscled. It’s not to say that pioneer women were buffed with sculpted bodies, but think about their lives—lonely; living miles from the nearest town, and often a day or more ride from a neighbor. The pioneer woman lacked from companionship of other women.

The pioneer woman washed clothes, baked bread, and often birthed children without the aid of a doctor, fought snakes, pest and Indians. Her biggest battle was loneliness.

Writers live lonely lives, too. Unlike the pioneer woman (who had no other choice), we writers choose to be writers, because we love what we do. We enjoy the challenge of creating a great plot, creating characters our readers will love, and we even enjoy the stomach-clenching tension of meeting deadlines. Unlike the pioneer woman, writers spend long hours—sitting. Our middles expand from lack of exercise. And while the food pioneer women ate might not have been the most nutritious with fried fatback, bread made with lard, can we writers claim to eat healthy—grabbing a slice of cold pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever else we can manage while at the computer?

So while spending hours pounding away at the keyboard may be great for our writing careers, it can be tough on our bodies. Here are a few simple stretches to get on the path to a more limber, more alert and more productive writing year. You don’t have to leave your office (or writing place) to perform these, and most can be done while sitting in your typing chair.

Standing stretch: with hands on your hips, gently turn your torso at the waist and look over your shoulder. When you feel the stretch, hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

For wrists: Place hands palm to palm in front of you. Keeping elbows even, push one hand gently to the side until you feel a mild stretch. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Neck: Sit or stand with arms hanging loosely at your sides. Then tilt your head first to one side and hold for five seconds, keeping your shoulders relaxed downward. Repeat on the other side and hold for five seconds.

Back: Sitting in your typing chair, slowly lean forward over your lap, keeping your head down and your neck relaxed. Hold for 20 seconds. Use your hands to help push yourself back to a sitting position.

Arms: (Sitting) Interlace your fingers and straighten arms above your head with palms facing upward. Breathe deeply and think of elongating your arms as you feel a stretch through your arms and the upper sides of your rib cage. Hold for 10 seconds.

Shoulders: (Standing) With right hand, gently pull your left arm down and across behind your back. Then lean your head sideways toward the right shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat stretch on opposite side.

While it may seem like an interruption at first, regular stretching will, with practice, become as much a part of your writing routine as that morning cup of coffee.

While the pioneer woman fought Indians, snakes and braved in climate weather, now, you the writer, can doe the same—except it’ll be with your imagination and a happier, healthy body.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Flying Horses

Leland Stanford (1824-1893), who wore such hats as California governor, railroad baron, university founder and race horse owner, sought to settle one of the hottest debates of the 1870’s: Is there a moment in a horse’s gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once?

Legend says he bet $25,000 that it was true. Common opinion at the time nixed the idea. After all, if God wanted horses to “fly”, He would have given the creature wings. But determined to settle the question, Stanford hired celebrity photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to prove it.

One of San Francisco’s most celebrated landscape photographers, Muybridge took more than 2,000 photographs with 20x24 inch negatives. His 1867 photographs of Yosemite Valley brought the valley…and himself…almost mythic status.

Accepting Stanford’s challenge in 1877, Muybridge captured Stanford’s horse, Occident, silhouetted against white sheets with all four feet off the ground. He used 12 to 24 cameras and a self-designed shutter that gave an exposure of 2/1,000 of a second. Although these original pictures didn’t survive, Muybridge continued to work with Stanford to develop techniques in the “science of animal motion.”

In 1878, he succeeded in photographing a sequence of frames produced on wet plate with 12 cameras that proved the “flying horse.” The slow wet plate collodion process produced images that were mostly silhouettes, but they showed something never before seen by the human eye.

Scientific American and other prominent publications featured articles on Muybridge’s accomplishment. However, Stanford invited his close friend, horseman and medical physician Dr. J.D.D. Stillman to produce a book analyzing the horse-in-motion. Stillman used Muybridge’s photography without crediting the photographer. Interestingly, when Muybridge sued Stanford and Stillman for copyright infringement, he lost his suit.

Eadweard Muybridge migrated to the University of Pennsylvania after that. His invention of the zoopraxiscope earned him the title of the father of the motion picture. To illustrate his lectures, he developed the scope; its lantern projected images in rapid succession onto a screen. The images came from his photographs, printed on a glass disc. From the rotating disc came the illusion of moving pictures.

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope display, an important predecessor of the modern cinema, was a sensation at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. His works are still in demand by art students.

--Tanya Hanson
Marrying Minda, available now
Marrying Mattie, tba 2010
Lawmen and Outlaws Christmas Anthology 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Invention of Toilet Paper

Have you ever wondered what people used before the invention of toilet paper? I have. The ones in the picture above are pretty well-known, especially the catalogue, usually the Sears and Roebuck fondly tagged "Rears and Sorebutt." My grandparent's farm had an outhouse and as a child I couldn't believe they used pages from the catalogue for toilet paper. According to The Virtual Toilet Paper Museum - Toilet Paper in the News, the Farmer's Almanac had a hole in the corner so it could be hung on a hook. Per this article, other items used were stones, pieces of clay, sponges on a stick kept in a clay pot full of salt water, and the left hand which is still supposedly considered unclean in the Arabian region.

The first actual toilet paper dates back to the late 14th Century in China. Emperors ordered it in 2 foot by 3 foot sheets. The first packaged toilet paperin the United States was produced in New York by Joseph  C. Gayetty. Pre-moistened sheets were medicated with aloe and named Gayetty's Medicated Paper. Rolled and perforated toilet paper arrived around 1880. One source, the Scott Paper Company wouldn't put their name on the product as it was a sensitive subject in Victorian times. They customized it for their customers. The Waldorf Hotel was a big name in toilet paper. In 1942, a mill in England produced the first two-ply paper and the first toilet paper shortage occured in 1973.  I didn't have time to research the reason for the shortage, so if anyone knows why there was one, please share it with us.

One of the things my heroine in My Heart Will Find Yours missed most from the future was indoor plumbing and toilet paper. Well, actually, she missed a lot of things but not enough to go back to the future and leave Marshal Royce Dyson.

You can read chapter one of My Heart Will Find Yours and of my other novels on my website.

I have a monthly drawing on my blog Linda LaRoque's Musings and give away an ebook -- the winner's choice. All you have to do is leave a comment.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, Flames on the Sky, Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart, When the Ocotillo Bloom

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Victorians

I recently had the delightful opportunity to visit London with my critique partner and friend. Since we both write historical romance, we chose a hotel in Kensington with the idea that it was close to so many things we love - Portabello Road Flea Market, the West End Theatre District and... The Victoria and Albert Museum.

I confuse many people when I talk about writing stories set in the Victorian time period, because they usually say, "you write Westerns". That's true, but the years between 1837 and 1901 are officially the reign of Queen Victoria of England and what we now refer to as, the Victorian era.

As we wandered through the amazing collection of artifacts from the apartments of the Queen and her Consort, examples of work from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and clothing from that era, I started to consider what makes this time period so appealing to those of us who choose to write stories set then?

For me, there are so many things, including the new up and coming middle class developed from the Industrial Revolution, (no need to write about royalty and wealthy aristocrats), the fashions which were elegant, somewhat fussy and quite beautiful, and the social manners and mores.

Everyone has heard about the staid and straight-laced Victorians, who covered piano legs with long fringe shawls and called their underclothes "unmentionables". I have fun discovering the patterns of social interaction and then of course distrupting them in the course of my story in order to create conflict.

In one of my searches through the library catalog, I came across a jewel of a book, Never Give a Lady a Restive Horse: A 19th Century Handbook of Etiquette which are selections from the pages of Professor Thomas E. Hill's famous volumes on etiquette. (I didn't know he was famous but the forward pages tell me he was, so I accept it.)

This book includes chapters on the Laws of Etiquette, The Science of Beautiful Dress, The Language and Sentiment of Flowers and even samples of Tombstone Inscriptions, (in the event that you can't think what to put on a dearly departed ones stone.)

One of my favorite articles is about the Etiquette of Conversation, How, When and Where to Speak. My coworkers and I decided that we would probably be the very undesirable "coarse and boisterous" visitors rather than the "cultured and refined" guests. After all, one of the guidelines is not to talk about private, personal or family matters. In this day and age, we all do that, some people even post their inner- most thoughts on webpages, blogs and Facebook. What would the very private Victorians think of our digital world where privacy has gone to the dogs? I suspect they'd be horrified.

I'm afraid I broke several very important rules of appropriate behavior when my hero, Sam, first meets my heroine, Amanda, in my upcoming release, Promise Me.

You can judge for yourself.

"My mother had a cure for insomnia. Perhaps you'd allow me to fix you a hot toddy. I guarantee it will make you sleep soundly as a baby."

The sultry tone of his voice mesmerized her.

All the deportment lessons she'd suffered since childhood came back to her in a flash. She should keep going back to her room, but his dark and hypnotic voice promised secret delights, and she didn't want to leave. She wanted to sit down and continue to banter with this mysterious man. If he thought her a brazen hussy, so much the better. For a few moments tonight, she'd be that other woman, the one who didn't care what others thought of her.

Swallowing her apprehension, she tossed her braid over one shoulder and crossed the small kitchen to take a chair at the table. She settled her candle next to the oil lamp and gave him an inviting smile.

"A hot toddy sounds perfectly wonderful. Are you sure it won't be too much trouble?"

The man leaned forward. The corners of his lovely mouth lifted slightly. "It would be my pleasure to assist an angel to bed."

She warmed from her cheeks down to her bosom. She had never in her life done anything as brash as this. What would Father Mikelson say? She didn't want to think about the penance she'd do when she confessed. Flirting wasn't the same as adultery, was it? Could she still be an adulteress if her husband was dead? Good Lord, why was she even thinking about such a thing?

When he turned his back to her, she knew what fueled her illicit thoughts. As he poured a concoction into a cup, Amanda forgot to breathe as she stared at the thick, dark hair curling at the edge of his collar, his lean torso and long legs.

"It's you," she whispered.

Are there any Victorian rules of etiquette you'd enjoy playing with in real life? Or do you dream of donning a gorgeous silk gown with pantalettes, hoop skirts, and a corset?

Deborah Schneider - 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year

Promise Me - January 22, 2010