Monday, 29 August 2016

AFTER A FASHION: THE MIDDLE AGES

Reader Jess, a history and fashion fan, launches the first in a series of posts about women's fashion through the ages... starting with medieval times! Would YOU have worn a wimple and plucked your hairline? Yikes! Read on!

Jess says:
Have you ever wondered what you would be wearing if you'd lived in the UK almost a thousand  years ago? No more summery playsuits or flowery dresses, no more jeggings or fluffy onesies. You'd have been wearing a simple shift by way of underwear and a tunic or 'kirtle' on top, long and loose, fastened at the shoulders with brooches. That was it, apart from some form of stockings if it was cold, fur in winter and a scarf to cover the hair if you were married. Fabric was mainly wool and had to be spun, dyed and woven before being stitched into a garment, so clothes were expensive and the same items would be worn over and over. For rich women, clothing was a status symbol and the well off had access to finer fabrics such as linen and silk, as well as more costly dyes.


As the middle ages went on, fashion grew ever more elaborate. The waistline was emphasized and sleeves and necklines decorated with embroidery. The richest women wore elaborate head dresses, like the one above worn by Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward IV, which consists of an embroidered hood to cover the hair and a huge net or lace construction set on wire to 'float' above and around this. You may also notice her hairline, which looks as though her hair is thinning; wealthy women at this time would pluck their hairline to draw attention to their foreheads, as a sign of beauty and intelligence. Er... I don't think this would catch on today! In the second picture, from a French painting, you can see even more complicated head-dresses and veils and more evidence of hair-plucking, and the use of fur to trim the 'surcotes' or over-dresses. This tells us that the ladies in the picture were wealthy.

Most women would have worn simpler styles, similar to the image on the right. Laws were brought in to actually stop the ordinary people from dressing in a fashionable way - expensive veils, silver trimmed belts and the colours purple and gold we forbidden. Anyone disobeying the law was punished severely. One thing was certain, life was very hard indeed for women in the middle ages. Very few women were allowed to own land, and most were under the control of their parents and would be married off to a suitor of their father's choice. Even wealthy young women were traded into 'good marriages' as if they were possessions. Women worked very hard, in the fields, looking after animals, cooking, cleaning and weaving as well as many other tasks. 
Because bathrooms and plumbing were not yet a thing, the streets ran with filth (often human waste) and even the nobility wore wooden clogs or shoes called pattens which lifted them up above the mess and kept their good shoes clean and dry. So... fashion in mediveal times was not all flowing velvet gowns and garlands of flowers, Maid Marion style, and life was very different to the way it is today. I would not like to be a teenager in the middle ages (I like my shower, soap and modern comforts!) but I would happily go back in time to see those amazing styles worn in real life.
To get a flavour of medieval fashions described above, check out the DVD of the BBC TV series THE WHITE QUEEN, based on the books by Philippa Gregory, which charts the rise to power of Elizabeth Woodville, the lady at the top of the page! She was a commoner who rose to be queen of England, and her story is amazing for any history fans. Plus... the clothes!!! It's a dramatic and visually brilliant series.

Cathy says:
Wow... I love the history of costume and this is so interesting! Would YOU have coped with medieval fashion... or life as a girl in medieval times, for that matter? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

BODY LANGUAGE... WHAT DOES YOURS SAY ABOUT YOU?

Reader Claire looks at the study of body language and how our gestures and posture can give away how we're feeling inside... fascinating stuff!

Claire says:
I have been doing some research on body language and the findings are amazing! Did you know that your body can tell a very different story to the words you may be speaking? And it's your body that is most likely to be telling the truth, as physical habits are often unconscious. Certain gestures can signal that we are uncomfortable, uneasy, afraid, angry, unhappy or mistrustful... and others will pick up on those signals, even though they may be quite unaware they are doing so.

So... take a look at the illustration to the left. The girl in the picture does not look happy or at ease. How do we know this? Her arms are crossed across her body as if to protect herself, and her legs look awkward, as if she is shifting uneasily from one foot to the next. Her expression is anxious, her lips turned down and her eyebrows slanted in worry. Her eyes slide away from our gaze. If I saw her at a party, I would guess that she was upset or uncomfortable, and I'd go and talk to her to try to make her feel better, although I would be wary in case she didn't want to talk - she is giving very strong stay-away vibes!

What about the illustration on the right? The same girl, yet she looks so different. Her expression is open, happy and friendly, and she is looking towards the person next to her in a direct way. She appears confident and relaxed and at ease... her arms are at her side, signalling that she does not feel threatened, and her stance is strong and yet casual, with one leg bent in a careless, easy manner. I'd definitely talk to her at a party because she looks fun and friendly and interesting, as well as interested in others. I'd also prefer to look like the girl in the second picture, if I was out at a party... and even though I often feel shy and awkward at social gatherings I now try hard not to let my body language betray any discomfort. Looking confident can help you to feel confident!

The next time you meet a new person and find you don't feel too sure of them, check their body language and see if you are reacting to that... defensive gestures, wandering eye movements or an impatiently kicking foot can make us feel that our companion is bored, disinterested or just plain anxious. Remember that body language is not the whole story - but it's certainly a large part of why we react to others the way we do!

Illustrations by Cathy Cassidy

Cathy says:
Fascinating stuff indeed! Does YOUR body language give a cool, confident impression to others, or does your body give away your uncertainty? Are YOU aware of picking up on these types of non verbal signals? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

TEEN STARS: ELIZABETH TAYLOR

The first in a series looking at teens who made it big... we look at the early years of mega Hollywood movie star Elizabeth Taylor!

Elizabeth Taylor was born in London in 1932 to a wealthy American family; her father was an art dealer and her mother a retired actress. The family moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1939, having been warned about the imminent war in Europe. Elizabeth was strikingly good looking even as a child, with startling and unusual violet coloured eyes. Soon, she was being offered auditions for Hollywood film studios, and was given a movie contract by Universal Pictures in 1941. She was given a small film role soon after, but the contract then lapsed - rumour had it that the casting director at Universal did not like her. Elizabeth was then signed up by MGM and cast in the film LASSIE COME HOME, which required an actress with an English accent.

Shortly afterwards, at the age of twelve, she was given a major role in the film NATIONAL VELVET, where she played a fictional teenager who disguised herself as a boy and raced to victory in the British horse race The Grand National. Again, the role required an actress with an English accent, and the studio also had two of her baby teeth removed and required her to wear a brace to correct her teeth. They also wanted to dye her hair, pluck her eyebrows and change her name, but Elizabeth's parents refused to allow this. During filming, Elizabeth fractured her spine, and though this was not detected for several years it caused her ongoing back pain. The film proved to be her breakthrough role; NATIONAL VELVET was a huge box office hit in 1944 and critics praised Elizabeth's beauty, acting skills and fresh, unspoilt manner.

Elizabeth went on to become one of Hollywood's most popular teen stars, but the price of fame was high. Elizabeth later said that the studio was a 'big, extended factory' and that she had no real childhood after entering the movie business. Her days were a strict regime of lessons and filming, with the studio controlling her days and making her decisions. Her fame grew, and cut-out paper dolls and colouring books were made of her. By the time she was fifteen, MGM were arranging regular photo shoots... parties and dates were set up and presented to the press and little privacy was possible. Some of Elizabeth's teen movies included more Lassie films and the role of Amy in LITTLE WOMEN. That same year, she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and MGM began lining her up for more adult roles. Unlike many child and teen actresses, Elizabeth transitioned with ease to adult roles and became one of the most acclaimed and popular actresses of her generation. Her personal life was not always happy, and her eight marriages drew media disapproval. She struggled with health issues which included alcohol dependence and addiction to prescription drugs, and died in 2011 of congestive heart failure. Elizabeth Taylor paid the price of early success in a business that was harsh and controlling, but she nonetheless enjoyed great success, inspired many and remains one of the best-loved and most iconic actresses of the 20th century.

Cathy says:
Have you seen any of Elizabeth Taylor's early films? How would YOU feel about losing your freedom and privacy in return for fame? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 26 August 2016

OFF THE RAILS...

Have you ever lost the plot and gone right off the rails? Readers share their out-of-control moments!

Steph says:
My most recent off-the-rails moment was when depression hit me hard and I decided to run away from home. I had been arguing with my mum and just couldn't cope, and running away seemed like a solution. I told Mum I was getting out of the house and she told me it wouldn't help. but I wasn't in a mood to listen and I went anyway. For four days I was switching between my friend's house and my boyfriend's house, but in the end I calmed down, came home and apologised. Sometimes I just go off on one and have to get out...

Cara says:
I am not what the teachers call a 'problem pupil' in fact I am fairly quiet and get good grades in most of my subjects. When you're quiet, you go under the radar a bit, and people really get a shock when you have a blow up. Well, I may be quiet but I do have a limit as to how far I can be pushed and recently a boy in my class had been niggling at me with nasty comments, making fun of my haircut, my skin which happens to be a bit spotty (not unusual for a teenager) and my shoes of all things, which he said were 'boy's shoes'. I normally let this sort of thing wash over me, but I was upset that day because my mum was in hospital and things at home were very stressful. The boy said something nasty in the lunch hall and I threw the contents of my can of Fanta at him and swept his dinner tray off the table. I got into massive trouble but so did he when the bullying came out, so it was almost worth it.

Sandie says:
I went through a very moody phase when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen. I think looking back I put it down to hormones as once puberty settled down a bit I was a lot less likely to go off on one. My little brother took a lot of the flak - to be fair, he asked for it, he was always winding me up. I remember one dinner time he thought it was funny to take a packet of sanitary towels out of my room and hold them up at the table and say that it was no wonder I was so moody. I was mortified and so angry, and we had a full-on fight and I made his nose bleed. I got grounded for a month. Now he's doing the moody teenager thing... I don't bother to wind him up, I'm past that now.

Jen says:
The worst thing I have ever done was in a big row with my mum about whether I could go to a party or not. She had more or less said it would be fine and then at the last minute changed her mind which I felt was very unfair. We both got angry and she was accusing me of being lazy and messy and not pulling my weight, and although I knew she was partly right I swore at her quite badly and told her I hated her. I didn't get to go to the party, but that was nothing - I felt awful. Very angry, but also angry with myself. We didn't speak for eight days... it was like the arctic in our house. In the end, I wrote her a letter that explained how I was feeling and that I felt nobody cared about me or understood me. She came to talk to me and and talked for hours, and put things right. We still have our ups and downs but we try to talk about our problems now. A massive row like that just makes YOU feel rubbish, as well as everyone else around you.

Thank you to SARAH for the fabulous artwork... perfect!

Cathy says:
I think all of us have our see-red moments. Have YOU ever lost your cool like this? What happened? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

INTRODUCING ARIANNA...

Say hello to new DREAMCATCHER columnist Arianna... she'll be blogging about all kinds of things over the coming months and giving us a Stateside viewpoint!


Arianna says:
You may not know me... in fact, I am 100% sure you don't! My name is Arianna, I am fourteen years old and my friends call me Anna so I guess you can too! I picked up my first CC book, DRIFTWOOD, just after my ninth birthday, when my dad was stationed in England. I was completely immersed in the story, hardly able to put the book down. Next I discovered SUNDAE GIRL, INDIGO BLUE, GINGERSNAPS, ANGEL CAKE, SCARLETT, THE CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series and much more. CC books opened my eyes to the fact that someone would always be prettier or smarter or have more/less problems than I do... but that it doesn't matter, as being myself is what really counts. And luckily, I love being me!

I mentioned my dad being stationed in England... well, I've spent about half my life in Europe and the other half in my native USA, so there have been quite a few times when I've felt uprooted! I currently live in Virginia, USA, and will stay here until I graduate from school in two and a bit years. I love creative writing, reading, photography and fashion, and I wanted to write a column because I love writing and because I know a thing or two about the stuff we go through growing up! You name it, crushes, first day of school, dances, best friends, frenemies, arch enemies, family, moving... well, I've been there! If there is anything particular you'd me to write about, just let me know... I'm hoping Cathy will let me write a regular column!

Anyway, I just wanted to say hello... I'll be back soon with my first proper post! See you then!

Cathy says:
Let me know what YOU would like Arianna to write about... I know I'd love to hear more about life in the USA, for starters! COMMENT BELOW to pitch in your ideas and say hello to Arianna!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

ANAEL: DANCE DILEMMA

It's problem page time again on DREAMCATCHER, and reader Anael has a question for Summer Tanberry...

Anael says:
I started doing ballet at five and it's my passion, always has been and always will be. I do pretty well in my ballet exams, especially the last one, Grade Three. I'm now well into Grade Four work amd the exams are approaching fast. The trouble is, I started exam Practice lessons later than everyone else, so I don't know the exercises as well as I should. It's not just me with this problem but the exams are very close and I have three exercises that need a lot of polishing up. I've managed to catch up on the main dance, but the rest needs a lot more practice! We cannot pay for extra lessons so that's not an option... can you give me some advice?

Summer says:
It sounds as though you are a bit of a perfectionist like me... which makes this a real challenge! Although time is short, try asking your teacher if you can attend any extra classes in exchange for helping out with the younger ones or helping behind the scenes at dance shows. This has worked for me in the past, so has to be worth a shot! If not, get together with a couple of dancey pals and go through your moves... you can help each other. My dance school always gave out music CDs, downloads and tapes to help us practice at home, and that is the main thing - go through your music and your exercises over and over until you know just what you're doing and it all feels natural. If you put the work in now, those last few lessons will help hugely - it will just be a case of listening to your teacher's suggestions for polishing those moves. At the end of the day, all you can do is give it your best try. You may do better than you think, but if don't get a merit or a distinction this time, that's OK. There were reasons for it, and no ballerina gets perfect results every single exam. Learn from this and make sure that next time you are able to attend all the lessons from the start... and move on, with confidence, to the next grade! Best of luck!

Cathy says:
I remember the time and effort my daughter put into practicing for her ballet exams... it's genuinely hard work, and much dedication is needed. As Summer says, chin up and do your best! Have YOU ever had to work for a dance exam? Do YOU have advice for Anael? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 22 August 2016

SAY IT WITH CAKE!

We asked you to share your fave birthday cake makes... the results are just gorgeous!

Kathy-Anne says:
I made this cake for my daughter's fourth birthday... she is a princess-mad little girl! I made the cake by baking three separate thick vanilla sponges and sandwiching them together with buttercream and jam. I then stacked them up and cut into them, carving out a skirt shape, and using the offcuts to help create the waist. I cut a hole through the middle of the cake to sit the dolly in and then I rolled out royal icing into one big circle. This was laid over the cake skirt and arranged in folds with piped on pink icing to decorate. She loved it!

Laura says:
This is a millionaire's shortbread cake I made for my mum's birthday recently! I got the recipe from a Mary Berry cookbook (one my family have had forever, just about!). Normally you cut the cake up into little pieces, traybake style, so that it's easier to eat, but as this was going to be a birthday cake I made it in a round tin and kept it in one piece. The hardest part was making the caramel, as it burns easily, but you can cheat and buy tinned caramel which also works really well. My mum loves millionaire's shortbread, so the cake was a big success!

Holly says:
This cake was the one my mum made for my fourteenth birthday party... it caused quite a stir! Mum made two madeira cakes and covered them both in royal icing with a thick layer of orange jam to stick the icing to the cake. The hearts and butterflies were made from edible sugar paper and the feathers were stuck into a cone using icing as a kind of glue! The cone was then pushed into the top of the cake so the feathers sat on top, and the whole effect was quite amazing. I loved the black and red colour scheme too! The cake itself tasted incredible - all my friends and family loved it and for me it was the best birthday cake ever, heavenly in both looks and taste!


Cathy says:
These look gorgeous! The doll cake is every little girl's dream... and the feather cake looks amazing, so glam and professional! I think my fave might be the millionaire's shortbread cake, though... sheer wickedness in cake form! What would YOUR ideal birthday cake be like? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!