The Winter Dress was inspired by a real shipwreck discovered by a group of amateur divers off the coast of Texel in 2014. Although the divers had known about the wreck for years, accessibility was limited until a big storm blew through the harbour, stripping off the layers of sand and mud. Visibility was so poor they had no idea what they'd found was so valuable until they surfaced. Amongst the many treasures the divers recovered was a silver goblet similar to those crafted by Nuremberg silversmiths in the 1600s and a remarkably preserved silk dress. The dress was quickly identified by the director of the local museum as a particularly unique find since complete historical textiles are rarely, if ever, retrieved from shipwrecks. Seabed conditions are anathema to old and delicate fabric and even very decayed fragments like thick woollen socks or sleeves are rare finds. The dress was displayed for a few weeks on Texel before being moved to an archaeological facility on the mainland for conservation and research. The dress is expected to be placed on permanent display in 2022. Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600 - 1914, Aileen Ribeiro
The Winter Dress is a novel about the sacrifices women have always made in order to achieve their ambitions. Although I've chosen to fictionalise aspects of the story (including the identity of the divers and researchers), the island of Texel is an extraordinary character in its own right. I was lucky to visit Texel in May 2019 and I'm very grateful to the local divers and historians for allowing me to interview them. The highlight of the trip was viewing the silk dress at the archaeological facility Huis van Hilde in Castricum, a small town on the Dutch mainland. The Palmwood Wreck is truly a unique discovery, one worthy of every bit of international attention it has received. I recommend reading this article written by Jessamyn Hartcher and published by The New Yorker in 2017 which includes a lot of fascinating detail about Texel including its history as an anchorage and its beach-combing culture. Jessamyn's article really captured my imagination when I first read it a few years after the Palmwood wreck was found and it was the catalyst which set me on the path to researching and writing a novel inspired by the dress's owner. For more information about the initial discovery and theories (now disproven) about who might have worn the dress, check out this article which was published in The Guardian in 2016.