Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of reading an early copy of Piper Huguley’s latest novel By Her Own Design. Piper Huguley writes historical fiction featuring African American characters and in this new story she brings us the remarkable life of Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, who rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy.
The novel begins in 1953 when designer Ann Lowe discovers that a pipe has burst in her sewing studio and ruined Jacqueline Bouvier’s – soon to be Kennedy – wedding dress along with the dresses of the bridesmaids. With one week left before the wedding, Ann, her sister Sallie, and a group of talented seamstresses set to work to overcome this disaster.
This moment, this catastrophe, represented the ruination of my life.Ann Lowe in By Her Own Design
Piper then takes us back in time to Ann’s early childhood when she learned to sew from her mother and grandmother, a former slave. Sewing is in the family DNA and early on, Ann experiments by making flowers out of fabric to attach to the dresses her mother and grandmother make. These fabric flowers set Ann apart and help to launch her career.
My grandma, Georgia Cole, told me the key to surviving in the world is to get you some good white people.
Through Ann and her family, we are immersed in the lives of poor Black Americans during the early to mid 20th century, the restrictions imposed on them, the salvation of family ties, the small glimmers of hope, and the darkness of hopes dashed.
When I tell you these things, it’s for your own safety. We don’t wear no red in white people’s homes. Put on the navy blue like I told you.
By Her Own Design is the triumph of a woman whose talent and determination challenged a system that was intended to keep Black Americans in their place. Piper Huguley’s characters are beautifully rendered, the dialogue sparkles, the pacing is superb as is the weaving together of the different timelines in Ann Lowe’s life. You will truly be transported in time and place.
And what about Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress? Well, you’ll have to read By Her Own Design to learn what happens. Trust me, it’s a wonderful read!
By Her Own Design is available for pre-order and will release on June 7th.
You can read an interview with Piper Huguley here.
DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.