If something is tawdry it’s old and scrappy but worn as if it were elegant and beautiful – an idea I support fully! It’s the adjective use of the noun tawdry – a ‘tawdry’, until the late 17th century, was a woman’s necktie

The word has been shortened several times: St. Audrey’s lace, a ribbon or necktie sold at the annual St. Audrey’s Day fair, held in Ely on October 17th, was altered in the mid 16th century to tawdry lace (keeping the t from Saint).

St. Audrey or Etheldreda was a 7th century East Anglian princess and the Abbess of Ely (Etheldreda is a Latinised form of an Old English name that means ‘noble strength’).

St. Audrey is commemorated with a lace necktie because of the throat problems she suffered, which she believed were punishment for vanity – wearing necklaces when she was young.

St Etheldreda’s church can be found in Ely Place, London. It is the oldest Catholic church in England and one of two surviving buildings in London dating from Edward I’s reign (1272-1307).

kaleidoscope – guest post by Natasha Lester

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Kaleidoscope means, literally, ‘observer of beautiful forms’ and was named by the inventor, scientist David Brewster.

From Greek, kalos, ‘beautiful’, plus eidos ‘shape’ and skopos, scope, ‘aim, target, object of attention, to view’.

(Image: V&A Collection: detail from floor-spread, quilted cotton embroidered with silk and metal-wrapped thread, Deccan, mid 18th century)


Since the 1960s the term luddite has meant someone who refused or feared to use new technology.

200 years ago Luddites were an organised group of textile workers who, rather than fearing new technology because it was unfamiliar, worried that their wages would be diminished as mechanised looms replaced hand looms.

In the early 19th Century the industrial revolution was in full swing. The UK’s population grew dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of men employed by the military started looking for work as wars ended. Overseas labour increased and wages fell. With mill owners hiring unskilled workers and unions banned, skilled textile workers feared for their livelihoods.

Between 1812 and 1817 the Luddites destroyed mill machinery – their main target was the stocking frame, a knitting machine. Many of the Luddites were imprisoned or transported to Australia. The Destruction of Stocking Frames Act 1812 meant that judges could bring the death penalty for the destruction of machinery, which they did from 1812-13, and again in 1817.

The Luddites took their name from the fictional person they saw as their movement’s leader: King Ludd, a character possibly inspired by the folk tale of a man named Ned Ludd, a textile worker who in 1779 was believed to have broken two stocking frames.

Lord Byron, who sympathised with the movement and argued vehemently in parliament against Acts allowing capital punishment for the breaking of machinery, wrote this poem about the Luddites.

(Image: La révolte luddite photo by Martin Erpicum, used under Creative Commons License.)

garance, indigo + gaude

Garance, indigo and gaude are words which refer to the colours produced by plant dyes used in traditional fabric dying. Garance produces a red dye, indigo a blue dye and gaude a yellow dye. So yes, it’s really just red, blue and yellow in fancy outfits, in the world of pre-19th century European fabric design.

Garance refers to a red dye made from varieties of the Madder plant. Common Madder (Rubia tinctorum) was used extensively in French textile production. A common problem for French textile workers was getting the red colour developed in France to match the intense red made in India – it took 100 years and some spy work to discover the process Indian dyers used to make their special bright red.

Indigo is from the Latin indicum, in turn from the Greek indikon: ‘blue dye from India’. In the Mediterranean it was originally referred to as annil, ‘the indigo shrub’.

Gaude is an Old French word for Weld (Reseda luteola), a plant used to make a strong, yellow dye. Weld has been used for thousands of years until being superseded in the early 20th century by synthetic dyes. The Reseda plant includes the variety Mignonette (Reseda odorata), a flowering species that was a favourite amongst Victorian Londoners, who planted it in their window boxes to form a perfumed barrier between their noses and the dubious smells of 19th Century London streets.

(Image: Fabric Indiennes L’arbre de VieYellow)