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From Head to Toe

From Head to Toe - cover illustration © Francis BlakeFrom Head to Toe, a book about why we wear what we wear, by Janice Weaver with illustrations by Francis Blake, was named as a Notable Book in the International Reading Association's Children's Book Awards.

Author Janice Weaver concluded her Acknowledgements with the words:

Last but far from least, I must thank Francis Blake. I had a picture of this book in my head, and when I first saw samples of Francis's artwork, I knew he was the man for the job. Despite challenges of both time and distance, he came through with illustrations that add so much to the overall look and humor of the book. If I had to be upstaged, I'm glad he was the one to do it.
Below are some extracts from the book.


Bathing Beauties

The typical Victorian Beach scene was certainly nothing like what you would see today, however. People went to great lengths to protect their skin from the sun - not out of fear of UV rays, like modern sun worshippers, but because tanned skin told the world that you worked outdoors and thus were of a lower class. Women and men bathed separately, and it was common for women to use bathing machines, which were like little portable cabanas. These would be wheeled by horses into the water, where the truly daring could venture out to splash around without fear of being spotted by lustful men. Any who did get a peek would have been thoroughly disappointed - the typical lady's bathing costume of the early 1800s included long sleeves, a smock that reached to the ankles, and often a bonnet and a shawl.

Bathing Beauties - an illustration from From Head to Toe, © Francis Blake

By the 1860s, the influence of Amelia Bloomer was beginning to be felt even on the beaches. Women started to wear bloomer pants - of flannel or wool! - as part of their swimming costume. These were topped with knee-length dresses and finished off with fashionable black wool stockings, bathing slippers, and ruffled caps. All this heavy fabric made it virtually impossible for women to do much more than splash about briefly in the water and return to the privacy of their bathing machines. They didn't take up swimming as an actual sport until the first decades of the twentieth century.


Hair today, gone tomorrow Hair today, gone tomorrow - an illustration from From Head to Toe, © Francis Blake

Our obsession with our hair goes back to prehistoric times. Primitive men liked to smear their locks with mud or clay and tie on small trophies for added effect. For many ancient people, whose style of dress tended to be simple and unadorned, hair provided an important opportunity to display status and individuality. Hairpins, wigs, extensions, bleaches, waxes, and oils were all used to accentuate the positive and mask the negative.


Skin Deep

We know the Scots were still painting their bodies right into the 1200s. The great Scottish hero William Wallace (think Braveheart) commanded his followers to dye their skin blue with woad. Wallace understood that the ritual of painting themselves made his men feel more a part of the group, and therefore more likely to fight hard and even die for their cause; the severe blue warpaint had the added bonus of giving them a terrible, intimidating appearance. Today we still practice a version of this warlike custom when we decorate our bodies and faces to urge on our favorite hockey or football team at the local arena.

A follower of William Wallace - an illustration from From Top to Toe © Francis Blake

Eventually, people began painting their bodies for purely aesthetic reasons. Patterns were striking and elaborate, and emphasized the natural strength and beauty of the human body. Even today, this is still the case. The Nuba of Sudan, for example, paint themselves with designs that, while beautiful, are not pictorial and don't necessarily relate to coming-of-age ceremonies or any other cultural rituals.

Of course, it isn't only tribal peoples who continue to practice the ancient art of body-painting. Even in the big cities of the Western world, we are really doing just that every time we put on lipstick or add a little color to our cheeks with blush.


From Head to Toe - cover illustration © Francis BlakeFrom Head to Toe by Janice Weaver,
illustrated by Francis Blake
ISBN: 0887766544
Publication date: September 2003

Published by Tundra Books



The A to Z of Everyday Things

And now, the sequel:

The A to Z of Everyday Things by Janice Weaver,
illustrated by Francis Blake
ISBN: 0887766714
Publication date: November 2004

Published by Tundra Books


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All images © Francis Blake.


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Last updated 9th March 2005