The dress I made for the cover for OF NOBLE FAMILY

Those of you following me on Instagram or Twitter have seen me posting process shots of the dress I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. This will be on the cover for Of Noble Family, which is the fifth book in The Glamourist Histories. What? The 5th book? How is that possible. Book four, Valour and Vanity, doesn’t hit the stores until the end of the month.

And yet, Larry Rostant is photographing the cover for book 5 in London this week. It gives you an idea of how far ahead these things happen since Of Noble Family won’t be out until 2015, but… I thought you’d like to see what I was making.

It began life as a wedding sari. I based the design on a dress from 1818, when the book is set.

So how did I wind up making this dress?

I asked if I could. My editor and Tor’s art director have both seen me, in person, in my Regency gowns so knew I was a little obsessed  devoted to authenticity.  Irene pitched the idea to Larry Rostant and he agreed so– I got to make a pretty, pretty dress. Now, the model is smaller than I am, so the back of the dress is unfinished. It has to be pinned shut. One of the things I love about Larry’s covers is that he has the models face the camera. None of this backside nonsense. Oh– and look! They all have heads!

He also, and I adore him for this, gets dresses that are close to what I actually describe in the books.  So we figured, why not have me make the dress I describe.


Edited to add: Some folks have asked over on FB if I will be wearing the dress on the cover. No. The character who wears the dress in the book is a woman of colour and they have a wonderful model to represent her on the cover. But for that… you’ll have to wait.

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23 Responses

  1. Eliza

    I noticed a lot of hand sewing on instagram yesterday. Did you sew the whole thing by hand, or only the tricky parts? I know that silk can be finicky with the sewing machine (or at all). I ask because I saw you sewing a french seam by hand, and I’m so not dedicated enough to sew a french seam by hand without a good reason. >.>

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      The lining was machine stitched because time.

      Everything else was hand-stitched because it looks better for the period. Also, I have more control and this silk was so sheer that I was terrified of introducing it to the machine. Buying more wasn’t an option if I screwed it up.

      French seams aren’t so bad. It’s faster than flat felling and I have to finish the seam somehow or mad unravelling will happen.

      1. thehunbun

        Wow! That’s a lot of dedication! I’ll admit to not having much experience with hand sewing outside of hems/buttons/etc. But I sew mostly contemporary clothes, so there’s that. If you had finished the back, I assume it would have buttons and buttonholes. I’m pondering sewing buttonholes by hand (which I’ve never done), and I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard; mostly time consuming and requiring close attention to the measurements. Especially with the number of buttons required to close a dress.

        And I definitely agree that seams should be finished. For my own work, I kind of think a garment should look as good on the inside as it does on the outside or it’s not really worth putting the time into making it myself. Part of the joy of sewing for myself is that I can afford the kind of quality in garments that I can’t afford in stores.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

          The back would probably have been laced, for a dress like this, but it’s possible that it might have buttoned. Buttonholes aren’t that difficult, just a little time consuming. Largely it’s that I didn’t want to poke holes in the fabric in the wrong places for the dress to fit me. La!

  2. disperser

    Well, I can’t say I’m interested in sartorial matters, but I can appreciate the breadth of talent and the passion for the peripheral aspects of publishing books.

    . . . hmm . . . I wonder if they’ll let me build the lethal weapons in my stories?

    I suppose I should get published first.

  3. Ian Miller

    That is fantastic! It is my understanding that this kind of author input into the cover is highly unusual – is that correct? Is it because you’ve been writing this series for five volumes that you are able to provide this kind of input, or is it editor-specific?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      It is EXTREMELY unusual. Five books in, they know that I’m not going to get in the way of the process. It helps that Irene and Liz know I used to be an art director so I have an understanding of roles.

      Let me write up a post explaining how the cover for Valour and Vanity worked, because that’s a little more usual. Although, even there, I’m getting more input than usual.

  4. Katharine

    That is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a long time… I can’t wait to see the final cover!

    And I would also love to hear more about how you manage input on those sorts of marketing decisions – it’s something I think more authors should be able to be involved with!

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      I think there are things authors can do to make the process smoother, but generally speaking I’d rather not be involved much in the process. The function of the cover is to sell the book. As an author it’s too easy to get caught up in the wrong things so I try to stay out of the way of the professionals.

  5. Amanda Jensen

    Oh, I adore the way the hem goes around and around!
    But the line “stiffened with fabric from my wedding veil” gives me chills. I don’t even have a nice veil, but I couldn’t imagine-
    Well. Anyway. Some people go swimming in their dresses, so this is at least useful?