When You Need Bifocals… by Alyssa Alexander

Alyssa Alexander here today! I had the absolute pleasure of visiting London and Paris in the spring of 2016. It was amazing and terrifying all once—amazing, because I was able to see all the places I’ve studied and written about. Terrifying because I was all alone. In Europe. Where I knew no one.

It turned out wonderful, and I’m thinking my next trip might be to Italy. Because pasta and wine, naturally.

In the interim, though, I thought I would share some historical gems I found. First, I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to visit their historical fashion display. In Paris, my visit coincided with a fashion exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which is right next to the Louvre.

Now, my fascination with these pieces is less about history and more about…well, my sudden need for bifocals. Yes, I wear glasses. Usually, you’ll see me with contacts, but I do occasionally run around in my glasses.

Here I am, all bespectacled.


For the last few years I tend to wear my glasses when I write, just because they are easier on my tired eyes. Lately, however, I’ve been noticing when I look at something about 1-2 feet from my face, I can’t focus on it. Such as a menu at a restaurant, a friend’s baby in my arms. My contacts on my finger. Ha. It got me thinking about people who work on intricate details for a living–I mean, I can’t even see my own contacts properly. After a few more leaps, zigs, and zags in my thought processes, I remembered some amazingly detailed items from my trip.

How’s that for random connections.

First up:












Yep. That bit that’s cut off says “embroidery.”

Like, someone with really, really good eyes–and probably a magnifying glass–embroidered those flowers on. Can you imagine a lady, bent over a shoe, slipping a needle in and out of satin to create such a lovely design? Not only must her stitching be amazing, but she must be accomplished at creating designs with thread. Me? I can only do counted cross-stitch. Even then, I tend to count wrong!

Next up, peekabo mittens:
















Now these mittens aren’t much use against the cold, but I love the fact that a lady can wear them and the flowers will just peep out. It’s a little secret–like Mammy’s red petticoat in Gone With The Wind.

At first I thought they were embroidered as well, but the note says the lining is dyed. Don’t ask me how they did that. I haven’t researched it!

Last, the items that really stunned me were painted fans:













Can you even imagine? No way my bifocal eyes could paint little pictures on a paper fan.The first fan is from London, the rest from Paris.

I’ve enlarged one of the photos below so you can see how detailed they are.

Pretty sure my eyes would cross if I had to paint this! Also, I cannot even draw stick figures properly.


Yet despite the absolute gorgeousness of historical fashion, often we don’t add as many details to our scenes as we could. Sometimes we only hint at clothing, or point out a few details to set the stage. If we described every detail the reader–and author–might become bored. But even a few details can provide the picture. At least, I hope so!

Follow Alyssa Alexander:

Despite being a native Michigander, Alyssa Alexander is pretty certain she belongs somewhere sunny. And tropical. Where drinks are served with little paper umbrellas. But until she moves to those white sandy beaches, she survives the cold Michigan winters by penning romance novels that always include a bit of adventure. She lives with her own set of heroes, aka an ever-patient husband who doesn’t mind using a laundry basket for a closet, and a small boy who wears a knight in a shining armor costume for such tasks as scrubbing potatoes. Alyssa’s debut release, THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, was awarded 4.5 Stars and Top Pick, nominated for 2014 Best First Historical by the Romantic Times and Best First Book in the Romance Writers of America RITA contest. Her second book, IN BED WITH A SPY, released in December 2014 from Berkley, and received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly and 4.5 Stars and Top Pick from Romantic times. She has been called a “talented newcomer” and “a rising star you won’t want to miss.” You can find Alyssa at all the usual places! Please stop by and say hello! And you can always reach her by email at alyssa@alyssa-alexander.com.

6 Responses

  1. Patricia Kiyono

    There’s a difficult balance between giving enough detail so that the reader can imagine the scene and giving so much that the action is lost. But I’m sure that seeing these actual items helps you create word pictures we’ll love. Welcome to the bifocal club!

  2. Melissa Terry

    Lovely detail in all of these items. I couldn’t do it because my eyes aren’t that hot either.