"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard of a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished." From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Chapter 8.
Handbags! Where would we be without them? Recently I decided to find out more about the reticule, those bags made of net or beading or brocade that ladies carried. Being able to knit, net or crochet a purse was considered a feminine accomplishment in the late Georgian/Regency period. They were usually fastened with a drawstring, but later in the period a clasp replaced the string. The straight lines of Regency gowns did not allow for pockets and so a lady had to carry all items of importance in her reticule, or "ridicule" as it was also sometimes called. These purses were often circular or lozenge-shaped and in the same way that a handbag complements the outfit it goes with, the bag was often chosen to match a particular gown.
Here are some guidelines from the Jane Austen Centre for making your own reticule:
Materials: green silk, purple morocco [fine soft kid as from gloves] and pasteboard. Cut the bottom out of pasteboard the size you wish, and cover it with the morocco, bringing the morocco a little up the sides as a finish, the pasteboard having first been turned up for that purpose. Then sew on the four pieces of silk, and complete with a drawing string of sewing silk below to match the silk of the bag.
If we compare the contents of our handbags today with the reticules of the past, there aren't that many differences. Here is a list of the items one lady carried in her reticule:
A pocket handkerchief, a bottle of scent, a fan, a small parcel for the post, some small change, a snuffbox and powder, a mirror, smelling salts and a love letter!
In celebration of the approach of Valentine's Day I am offering visitors to my website the opportunity to win their own reticule for those all important love letters. This reticule is made of velveteen and contains a pen, pearl mirror and an advanced copy of my forthcoming Edwardian book, The Last Rake in London. To win your own reticule just log on to http://www.nicolacornick.co.uk/!