History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 October 2008

SHADOW RIDER: Out Next Week!

My next release, SHADOW RIDER, hits the stores next week. Now I’ve had a jpeg of the cover for sometime now, wondering, as I did for my first book, DARK RIDER (Kensington, 2007), how I might explain that my books are historical romances set in the 13th century. Look closely at the cover jacket of SHADOW RIDER and you will see the reason for my quandary —the “knight” on the cover is wearing blue jeans! Yep, denim blue jeans. Again. The knight on the cover of DARK RIDER did, too, and he even had buttons on his shirt and a collar (GASP).

I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before—most authors have no real control over their covers. I certainly don’t. But despite the anachronistic attire, I do like the covers, especially SHADOW RIDER’s.

Could it be possible, I wondered, for a knight in 1276 to actually wear the fabric that we’ve come to know as denim?

Much to my surprise if I’d just set my stories a couple of hundred years later—the answer is yes. He could have if he’d been a knight in the 1600’s.

The info I researched below can be attributed to the Levi Strauss Historian, Lynn Downy. I paraphrase what she writes (see http://www.levistrauss.com/Downloads/History-Denim.pdftext for the complete text):

“In 1969 a writer for American Fabrics magazine declared, “Denim is one of the world’s oldest fabrics, yet it remains eternally young.” From the 17th century to the present, denim has been woven, used and discarded; made into upholstery, pants and awnings; found in museums, attics, antique stores and archaeological digs; worn as the fabric of hard honest work, and as the expression of angry rebellion; used for the sails of Columbus’ ships in legend; and worn by American cowboys in fact.”

Legend and fact are also interwoven when scholars discuss the origin of the name denim itself. Most reference books say that denim is an English corruption of the French “serge de Nimes;” a serge fabric from the town of Nimes in France that was in production as early as the 1400s (my fact-finding here). However, some scholars have begun to question this tradition. A fabric called “serge de Nimes,” was known in France prior to the 17th century. At the same time, there was also a fabric known in France as “nim.” Both fabrics were composed partly of wool and exported to England. “Denim” made in France tended to ad a certain cachet that translated to higher sales. But the English recognized a fashion trend. “Serge de Nimes” purchased in England was very likely to have actually made in England, and not in Nimes, France.

There still remains the question of how the word “denim” is popularly thought to be descended from the word “serge de Nimes.” Serge de Nimes was made of silk and wool, but denim has always been made of cotton. What we have here again, I think, is a relation between fabrics that is in name only, though both fabrics are a twill weave. Is the real origin of the word denim “serge de nim,” meaning a fabric that resembled the part-wool fabric called nim? Was serge de Nimes more well-known, and was this word mis-translated when it crossed the English Channel? Or, did British merchants decide to give a zippy French name to an English fabric to give it marketing boost? It’s likely we will never really know.

What we do know is that denim’s popularity grew worldwide. President George Washington toured a Massachusetts mill in 1789 and was shown the machinery which wove fabric.”

So there you have it. My 13th century knights on the cover of SHADOW RIDER and on the cover of DARK RIDER would not have worn denim--quite yet.

Obviously, they were men ahead of their time. ;-)

Sign me,
Kathrynn Dennis, Author-of-the-Blue-Jean-Medieval
4 Stars! Romantic Times Reviews
TOP PICK, ParanormalRomanceReviews.org

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Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Author of the blue jean medieval - I like it! And as I LOVED Dark Rider I know I will love Shadow Rider! Can't wait!

6:44 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks, Louisa. And next book up, I'm going to ask for another knight-in-jeans on the cover...;-)

9:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It's a beautiful cover, Kathrynn! And thanks for the history of denim. I knew it was an old fabric but not that it went back to the 16th century. One of the things I love about research is finding out the history of things we think of as very modern--whether it's words, fabric, or ideas.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Great cover, Kathrynn! And I love the "blue jean medieval" moniker.

I, too, recently discovered that the serge de Nimes might not be the origin of denim. Maybe England (did they get the cotton from the American colonies or was it grown in England?) did decide to do their version of it and name the cotton version after the French. Nowadays there's all sorts of stretchy textiles worked into denim and we're still calling the fabric "denim."

It reminds me of cashmere/Kashmir. Not all cashmere comes from Kashmir anymore (or, in some cases, ever did), but we still use a version of the original name.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Kathrynn--I sympathize about the cover anachronism... but they ARE
lovely covers. And lovely guys.

One of my westerns had a bicycle on the cover (a la Sundance Kid) but there was no such thing in my story. I'm known as "the lady with the bicycle on the cover."

Even bad publicity is helpful?

8:31 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I love the very romantic blue and gold, Kathrynn.

On the wonky side, like Amanda I would guess that the historical "thread" to follow must be where and when cotton was grown and to whom it was available. Empire. Trade. Slavery.

As for more immediate concerns -- I'm pretty much a fan of the stretchy stuff they've been putting in denim these days. Though now that I've lost some weight, maybe I can wear Levi 501s again. Do they still make them, I wonder?

10:31 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks, Tracy and Lynna. Yeah, I kinda think there is no such thing as bad publicity. ;-)

4:41 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Amanda, I think the original demim was a blend of hemp and wool...uh, itch. ;-)

4:41 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Pam, can you imagine wearing wool and hemp jeans? LOL! I, too, love those one-size fits two sizes strechy jeans. And it's so weird! I got a treadmill and have lost some weight recently...just today I was thinking about wearing my old 501's again. Sooooo comfy. ;-)

4:44 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Denim was originally a blend of hemp and wool, Pam? Yikes. Itchy is right! Sounds like a herringbone blazer I saw at the GAP yesterday. I felt the fabric and decided that even though it was mostly lined, it would still itch like crazy and strafe my skin.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats on the new book!

7:23 AM  

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