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October 2, 2009

Friday Trip to Bath – Part I

Getting settled in our coach...

Getting settled in our coach...

Friday morning we all gathered bright and early in the hotel lobby with our luggage in tow, ready to board our private coach. Unfortunately, our driver got hung up in West London traffic and didn’t make it to the hotel until nearly an hour later, so, after loading all the bags and settling in, we were already an hour and a half behind schedule. I called Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton as we drove away to let them know we’d be running late, and we bade a fond farewell to South Kensington and London. It had been a marvelous week, and we all looked forward to the delights of the English Countryside, traveling through beautiful Surrey, Hampshire, and Wiltshire on our way to Bath in Somerset.

The day was overcast and rather gloomy looking, and when we pulled into Chawton, the temperature was decidedly chilly. Most everyone pulled on sweaters and jackets, and I hoped this wasn’t a prediction of the weather for our weekend in Bath! But the grey skies couldn’t dampen our spirits, and we eagerly made our way to the lovely little cottage Jane Austen called home for eight years.

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

img_2002Since the last time my husband and I visited Chawton in 2007, some amazing improvements have been made. The museum foundation has built a beautiful new visitor’s center in the back garden, using period architecture to make it blend in to the whole. The stables have been remodeled to house the new and vastly improved gift shop, which overflows with all things Austen. And the house itself has undergone some very tasteful renovations, using period wallpapers and paint colors to brighten the rooms and make them more like they would have looked in Jane’s day. The only unfortunate “update” is the addition of several inauthentic costumes sprinkled throughout the house. Our dear Suzi walked through the house grimacing and pointing out errors — such as the Tudor lace over modern chiffon on the “1820s” ballgown reproduction you see at right. Another mannequin boasted an empire-waist “work dress” with a modern kitchen apron tied around its natural waistline, a full foot below the waist of the gown itself! Much muttering and shaking of heads…. Happily, there were several authentic pieces on display as well, plus a couple of movie costumes, which I’ll share below.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Beautiful blooms even in September!

Beautiful blooms, even in September!

Still more blooms...

Still more blooms...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

And, finally, Lindsay had to capture a shot of Cassandra across the street at the tea room named after Jane’s sister. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to eat, but they don’t do large groups (sigh), so we had to push on to Winchester…

She's right at home!

She's right at home!

Next time: Winchester Cathedral and Bath!

October 1, 2009

But why study historical costume? (Allow me to wax philosophical!)

ladyaclandWhile we were in England, I had two different people (both of whom I met while on the tour but who were not in our group) ask me why we’d bring over a group to study clothing, of all things. Weren’t there far more important things we could have devoted our time to? Clothing just seemed, well, frivolous–lacking any real depth.

Naturally, I beg to differ. And so allow me to give you the philosophical underpinnings of my lifelong passion for the study of historical fashion (particularly women’s clothing) through the centuries.

This topic actually came up the first full day of our London tour when we went through the Globe. Our guide, Kitty, gave a detailed costume demonstration and touched on many of the very things I love to discuss about clothing. But first, a little background.

These post-modern times hold out a schizophrenic approach to dress. On the one hand, we’re told that no one should judge a book by its cover and that clothing really doesn’t matter at all — if I want to wear torn jeans and a wrinkled tee-shirt with bed-head, that’s just fine, and please don’t even think about calling me a slacker. On the other hand, our checkout lanes are stuffed to overflowing with celebrity-soaked fashion magazines full of headlines screaming about the latest “must-haves” and what is “in” this season (and so yesterday from last spring)–the clear implication being that clothes make the man, and you’d better not be left out of the constantly changing parade of style. So how you dress either shouldn’t matter in the least, or it is of utmost importance and should consume your pop-culture-bound life. But what’s reality?

"I don't know, dear.... Don't you think just a few more pearls would better express my status as Marquess?"

"I don't know, dear.... Don't you think just a few more pearls would better express my status as Marquess?"

Let’s get back to our Globe tour, because history has a lot to tell us about ourselves. During Shakespeare’s time, there were “sumptuary laws” dictating exactly who could wear what type of fabric, trimming, lace, jewels, etc. To boil it down to a short synopsis, there was a runaway problem of young men spending themselves into debt to dress “above their station” — trying to imitate the fashions of the nobility whether or not they could afford the expense. And clothing was very expensive for centuries before the industrial revolution brought us giant looms and mills full of laborers (which is another subject entirely, so don’t get me on that bunny trail!). In order to rein in the excesses of expensive fashion, the Elizabethans came up with sumptuary statutes spelling out exactly who could wear what types of finery (even specifying particular colors for certain officials, royalty, etc.). We might scratch our heads at this and wonder what all the fuss was about, but here’s where I think our Elizabethan forebears showed a greater understanding of what clothing communicates than we do–even if their response to it went overboard legislatively.

Benjamin West's depiction of a scene from King Lear, in which clothing plays an important supporting role as Shakespeare explores deceit, disguise, rank, and true nobility.

Benjamin West's depiction of a scene from King Lear, in which clothing plays an important supporting role as Shakespeare explores deceit, disguise, rank, and true nobility.

Our Globe guide, Kitty, mentioned that the nobility often donated their “cast-offs” to theater companies for use as costumes so that an actor could play a proper duke or represent a particular high office realistically. But it was clearly understood that the actor was only playing a part and that what he portrayed would stay inside the theater. In fact, any actor caught wearing the apparel of a noble outside of the theater could be jailed or fined one thousand pounds! This was such a stiff penalty that no one risked it. Now do you begin to see the significance of disguise in so many of Shakespeare’s plays? To put on apparel belonging to someone of another station was essentially to deceive others about your own position in life — a highly risky thing to do in those times. It was dramatically exciting in a way that we can’t quite comprehend in our so-called egalitarian age. Our guide talked about the play we’d be seeing at the Globe, “As You Like It,” in which disguise plays such an important part. The main character, Rosalind, disguises herself as a boy when she flees from her uncle into the forest of Arden. Kitty asked if any of our ladies had ever dressed up as a boy. When one said she had done so for a play, Kitty asked, “Didn’t it make you act differently? Didn’t you immediately put on male mannerisms and try to fit the message your clothing communicated?” Our young actress nodded, acknowledging that the clothing made a huge difference.

vigee-le-brun_self_in_straw_hat

And this is the seat of reality, however we may congratulate ourselves on how “advanced” we are when it comes to not judging books by their covers. The truth is (and always will be as long as humans are humans) that clothes do communicate, and we do read (and misread) the messages they are sending. The fact that we do this comes up for comment in the New Testament, where James admonishes believers not to judge based on appearances:

For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? ~ James 2:2-4

The point is clear: Because clothes communicate something about the wearer, we do have a tendency to judge based on appearances, and we have to work to overcome a judgmental or preferential attitude. If we were angels instead of humans, we wouldn’t need the exhortation. Some take this a step too far and insist that clothing should be merely functional and not at all ornamental. If we have a tendency to judge, then we should just eliminate the possibility by having rigid rules that force everyone to dress the same — or we should create a legalistic code of dress that ensures no one will be tempted to dress to impress. But such approaches miss the mark as much as Elizabethan sumptuary laws did. Top-down approaches to uniformity will never get to the heart of the matter.

Illustration of men's and women's clothing from Greco-Roman times (NYPL Digital Library)

Illustration of men's and women's clothing from Greco-Roman times (NYPL Digital Library)

Clothing always has and always will communicate a message. For the most part, men’s clothing has told the viewer exactly what kind of occupation the wearer held. In Colonial times, if someone was called a “leather apron man,” you knew he was in a trade like soap-making, printing, iron work, or another job requiring manual labor. Occupational clothing goes all the way back to ancient times when men wore short tunics coming to the knees to keep their legs unhindered for hard manual labor in the fields or on horseback — or for fighting and marching, as soldiers did. Even today, we have terms like “blue-collar” and “white-collar” to describe the different fields of work — phrases which had their birth in clothing styles worn by men in particular trades.

For centuries upon centuries, women’s clothing has said, “I am feminine. I am different.” Seeing how this plays out (and how fashion repeats itself over and over again) is utterly fascinating. I love to study timelines of fashion from ancient days forward and across cultural lines (for a good starter timeline, click here — for more, go to this link). You think the bikini was new and shocking in 1946? Think again. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Bikinis show up in Greco-Roman frescos dating back to 1400 B.C. What has been will be again, and understanding what our clothing says about us is important if we desire to communicate a clear message in confused times.

bustledressNo one who has visited my website can doubt that I am a huge fan of femininity and feminine dress. I think it is a tremendous privilege to be female, and I love to dress the part. I love studying how our foremothers clothed themselves in distinctly feminine ways. Yes, there have been excesses and ridiculous turns for the worse in fashion — as much as I may love to look at them, I’m glad I don’t have to live in those over-the-top bustle dresses of the 1880s. ;) But I do love the unabashed celebration of femininity that has persisted down through the centuries, even with all the foibles and fripperies thrown into the mix. How dull would fashion history be if our foremothers had all slopped around in sweats and shapeless tee-shirts? The past century has represented a dramatic and unprecedented shift in the way women clothe themselves. And I’ll be frank here: I don’t think the change has been for the better. You can gripe ’til you’re blue in the face about the “restrictive” corsets and beruffled skirts of the Victorian Era, but you can’t convince me that a woman sweating on an elliptical trainer to be a size two isn’t just as restricted, despite her “freeing” Lycra workout suit. We’re trying way too hard to convince ourselves that we’ve outgrown our ancestors, only to come back around full circle and let pop culture dictate the shape of our bodies and the drape of our clothes.

The study of clothing isn’t therefore just a frivolous hobby for me or something I do for the sheer fun of it. It is fun, but I take it as seriously as I take the study of any other facet of history or literature. Clothing has told a story from the Garden of Eden onward, and to ignore the story or pretend it doesn’t matter is to become bound up in our own age as the be-all and end-all of civilization–which it most certainly is not. When I study portraits of my foremothers, I see character leap from the canvas. I gain a better understanding of biography, of place, of historical antecedents. It’s why I’m so grateful I have photographs of my ancestors dating back to the 1840s. It’s why I absolutely love the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman is represented as clothed with feminine dignity:

She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come. (verses 22, 24-25)

I believe this is our heritage as women–our birthright, so to speak. Femininity is an amazing privilege, and to see it shrugged off as insignificant or unimportant just strikes me as oddly ironic in this age of “equality.” Why does menswear get the upper hand? Why is it the default when it comes to casual Friday or slouching around the house? Do we not see the inheritance we’ve sold for a mess of unisex “style” in our day? Call me old-fashioned, but I think we could learn an awful lot from the unabashedly feminine women who have gone before us. We can glean from what they did right and thoughtfully archive what they did wrong. The key lies in searching out and preserving the timeless feminine style that transcends.

vigee-lebrunmariachristinaportraitSo I design historical patterns. And I take women to museums and art galleries to ponder the fashions of ages past. And I teach my girls to climb trees and swing from branches in sturdy pantaloons and girly dresses because it is absolutely delightful to glory in and enjoy our feminine heritage in a modern context. Restrictive? Far from it. Feminine adornment is freeing. It says I am proud to be a woman; that I tip my hat to my foremothers; that I embrace my place in history without pushing aside its feminine context. Study historical costume? You betcha. Thanks for coming along for the ride with me — and for letting me wax philosophical today. ;)

September 29, 2009

To tide you over…

I know, I know, I promised to post the rest of the pictures in the middle of last week. :P But events conspired to prevent me from going through Lindsay’s stash until yesterday, and now she has 90 photos to put into JPEG format for me. So you’ll just have to be patient a little longer!

In the meantime, I’ve got links to blogs and photo albums from several of the other ladies on our tour. They all took a wide variety of wonderful photos, so ENJOY!

Three Things Very Dull Indeed - The Riggenbach ladies’ fun blog (with a great sense of humor!)

In the Garden in a White Dress - Celeste’s lovely spot on the web, where she’s posting pictures she and her daughter took.

Finally, Amanda Beth has posted all of the following fantastic photo albums:

And please honor Amanda’s request: “You can download any or all of them to print for your own personal use – or for sharing on your blog or Facebook. I just ask that you send me your link so I can see it and/or link back to my blog – http://amandabethonline.blogspot.com . Thanks! :)”

I’ll post more links as other ladies share them. It’s so much fun to see what everyone captured for their memory books!

And, not to totally embarrass Molly, but one of my readers asked to see her lovely dress in full, and Amanda gave me permission to share some of the pictures she took. So here is Molly in the costume she wore in Greenwich:

IMG_1962

With a little friend who was hanging around the Fan Museum Orangerie...

With a little friend who was hanging around the Fan Museum Orangerie...

She got several nicknames on this trip--mostly for her resemblance to actress Amy Adams of "Enchanted." But she also got tagged with "Alice" for her very Wonderland-esque dress!

She got several nicknames on this trip--mostly for her resemblance to actress Amy Adams of "Enchanted." But she also got tagged with "Alice" for her very Wonderland-esque dress!

September 25, 2009

Wednesday in Greenwich

Our entire group got up early to head to beautiful Greenwich for our day there. Most of us wore full Regency ensembles and took pictures against various period backdrops, including the famous Colonnade at the Royal Naval College (used in numerous costume dramas, including the recent “Little Dorrit,” where it served as the “Cirumlocution Office”).

Fan Museum entrance

Fan Museum entrance

Our chief goal this day was to visit the Fan Museum, splitting up into two smaller groups to fit into the two connected Georgian houses that contain the collection.The museum is privately owned and includes fans of all kinds, including ones of carved ivory that defy belief (the detailing is so fine, they look like lace). The history of fan making is clearly illustrated throughout the exhibits, and there is even a fan on display that contains a painted image of a fan “factory” with various workstations showing the steps that went into making a hand-painted silk fan. There were artists’ guilds (begun in Paris) that were dedicated solely to fans. In fact, artists who painted fans were forbidden to paint other works of art for sale or display! To get around this, many would paint a fan-shaped work of art, then fill in the details in the corners so that the painting was technically fan artwork but never cut or folded into an actual fan. There are a few of these framed and on display in the museum. Themes included not only the usual cherubs and classical Greco-Roman scenes but also historical events like royal weddings. One fan in the collection has over 1,500 tiny diamonds set into the ivory guard (the outermost layer of the fan that you see when the fan is folded)! All in all, the amount of work that went into these creations was astonishing. What’s even more amazing is how beautifully they have survived the years of handling (though many were never used but kept as mementos).

Flowers in the front courtyard of the Fan Museum

Flowers in the front courtyard of the Fan Museum.

COMING SOON: Shots of some of the amazing fans in the museum’s display cases (just waiting on Lindsay to get me the pix in proper format!)

While the morning group was touring the museum, the rest of us visited the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College (where Lord Nelson was laid out in state after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar). Lindsay took this shot of me in the upper part of the hall:

img_1503Here’s a shot of a bunch of us gathered in the Colonnade near the chapel (you see the matching Colonnade of the Painted Hall in the background):

Left to right: Amy, Katrina, Me, Wendy, Cassie, Courtney, Catherine, Abigail, and Ana.

Left to right: Amy, Katrina, Me, Wendy, Cassie, Courtney, Catherine, Abigail, and Ana.

It was a little blustery, so we needed our shawls and Spencers, even though the sun was bright and beautiful. You wouldn’t believe how many times we were stopped by people wanting to know if a film was being shot that day! One large group of Italian tourists exclaimed over our group and asked their guide if we were movie stars. The guide (who alone spoke English out of the group) passed their inquiry along, and when one of our ladies told her we were just shooting pictures in period dress, she responded, “Well, I am going to tell them you are movie stars anyway; it will make them very happy!” We all got a chuckle out of that!

I am sitting in the Colonnade with the Painted Hall visible in the background.

I am sitting in the Colonnade with the Painted Hall visible in the background.

The Queen's House is in the background at the end of the Colonnade.

The Queen's House is in the background at the end of the Colonnade.

After touring around the Naval College, we made our way over to the Maritime Museum and Queen’s House, which are basically across the street and through a large park. The layout of the Naval College was designed by Sir Christopher Wren to perfectly frame the Queen’s House and create a  symmetrical view with the river unobstructed from the Queen’s House. You can best appreciate this when you stand in the middle of the grounds between the Painted Hall and the Royal Naval College Chapel and look toward the Queen’s House. A colonnade runs between the Queen’s House and the Maritime Museum, and exactly centered between the two is the Royal Naval Observatory, up on the hill beyond. It’s really striking. In this picture, you see some of our ladies preparing for portraits against the idyllic backdrop of the Royal Naval Observatory and park under the Queen’s House Colonnade. We had gusts of wind to deal with, but the portraits Lindsay took really turned out beautifully. Below is yet another gratuitous pregnancy shot of yours truly taken in the colonnade!

img_1743And here are ladies waiting patiently for their turn to be photographed:

Left to right: Courtney, Molly, Cassie

Left to right: Courtney, Molly, Cassie

And here’s Catherine in her stunning ensemble (I had a real case of Spencer envy when I saw the deep midnight blue velvet!):

102_1246At the very end of our little photo session, one of the guards from the Queen’s House came to shoo us off, insisting that it was illegal to photograph at this location without prior written permission from the royal household! He said that all locations belonging to the queen are copyrighted and cannot be used in photographs. We explained that we weren’t taking pictures for publication–only for personal use–and he replied that it didn’t matter in the least. We were not allowed to stand in the colonnade and shoot pictures. If we wanted to step out into the grass, we could use it as a backdrop, but we couldn’t physically stand upon it and take pictures! This sounded highly illogical to me, and when I later repeated this story to a native, I was told it was a bunch of poppycock and that no locations “belong to the queen” or are forbidden to photographers. Tourists shoot the Queen’s House every day, just as they do Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace. She said that perhaps the guard thought we were shooting a commercial or something for publication, in which case we would need permission — but we were definitely within our rights as tourists! We’d already finished at any rate, so we took ourselves off while the guard clucked and tsked. ;)

102_1251After a quick lunch, we swapped places with the morning group and toured the Fan Museum. Afterwards, the entire group reconvened in the museum’s beautiful Orangerie, which opens onto a fan-shaped garden to the rear. It was heavenly! At right you see a photo of the room all laid out for us, including beautiful dried rose centerpieces, pink and white linens, and fabulously painted walls and ceilings. It really is an outstanding location. We were joined by Suzi once again, and then our surprise guest, Jema Hewitt of Bridal Originals, shared her amazing portfolio of original creations with us. Jema specializes in bespoke wedding garments for men and women with no two designs alike. Her clients have had everything from medieval to Regency weddings and just about anything in between. Jema designed and made the outfit she wore to our tea as well, including a stunning gold dupioni silk Spencer jacket with Swarovski crystal buttons! The gown beneath was made of a royal blue Indian sari with gold trim.

Enjoying a scrumptious tea...

Enjoying a scrumptious tea...

Sarah looks like she's enjoying her tea!

Sarah looks like she's having a lovely time!

Cari clowns with the table centerpiece... She kept us in stitches the entire tour!

Cari clowns with the table centerpiece... She kept us in stitches the entire tour!

Admiring Jema's work as her portfolio pages go 'round the room...

Admiring Jema's work as her portfolio pages go 'round the room...

Catherine studies a photo...

Elegant Catherine studies a photo...

Becca demonstrates her expertise with a fan...

Becca demonstrates her expertise with a fan...

I'm looking at one of Jema's creations; Karen listens intently...

I'm looking at one of Jema's creations; Karen listens intently...

After an absolutely delicious tea (in which the treats just kept coming until we could hold no more), we all gathered in the garden courtyard for a group photo:

Front row: Lily, Catherine, Jema, Becca, Aylwen, Bethany, Ana, Sarah, Me, Suzette, Ashley, Katrina. Back row: Wendy, Amanda, Cari, Celeste, Kristin, Courtney, Molly, Elizabeth, Cassie, Abbe, Amy, Karen.

Front row: Lily, Catherine, Jema, Becca, Aylwen, Bethany, Ana, Sarah, Me, Suzette, Ashley, Katrina. Back row: Wendy, Amanda, Cari, Celeste, Kristin, Courtney, Molly, Elizabeth, Cassie, Abbe, Amy, Karen.

And here’s a shot of our lovely photographer, Lindsay:

img_1926At last we persuaded Lindsay to get into a group shot with the rest of us, and my wonderful husband took pictures with multiple cameras:

Jack of all trades!

Jack of all trades!

This was an absolutely delightful end to our London tour, and we headed back to our hotel brimful of stories and pictures from the day and the week preceding. It was sad to bid farewell to seven of our group members that night, as they prepared for their early morning flight. Those of us staying on for Bath really missed them during our extension! Next time I’ll share about our trip to bath via Jane Austen’s house in Chawton!

September 21, 2009

Back in the USA!

Well, we are here in New York, a little bleary eyed, as it is 3:45 a.m. by our body clocks! We should be home tomorrow evening if all goes well. Give me a couple of days to get over jet lag and get the rest of the pictures from Lindsay, and I’ll blog about the rest of the trip. It was peachy!

The beautiful courtyard garden at the Fan Museum in Greenwich...

The beautiful courtyard garden at the Fan Museum in Greenwich...

September 20, 2009

Dress-up Day at Kensington Palace…

As I mentioned in my last post, Cathy Hay brought a surprise show-and-tell outfit with her to share with the ladies. When she opened her large suitcase and pulled it out, Cassie began fanning herself like she was about to swoon! Turns out she’d been following Cathy’s live journal of the recreation of this stunning outfit, and when Cathy asked for a volunteer model, Cassie immediately waved her hand enthusiastically. Because she was also very close to the same height and build as Cathy, it was a perfect match!

Since we weren’t in a place that had a dressing room, Cassie couldn’t put on the chemise and go quite whole hog, but you can see below that she tried everything else, much to our delight:

First, on goes the flounced petticoat (dripping with gorgeous Nottingham lace)...

First, on goes the flounced petticoat (dripping with gorgeous Nottingham lace)...

Next, the beautiful corset goes 'round the waist...

Next, the beautiful corset goes 'round the waist...

And Cathy laces it up...

And Cathy laces it up...

Then the incredible skirt with hand-applied oak leaves over Duchesse satin...

Then the incredible skirt with hand-applied oak leaves over Duchesse satin...

Closer view of the amazing skirt...

Closer view of the amazing skirt...

On with the bodice...

On with the bodice...

Closer view (you can see how pleased Cassie is!)

Closer view (you can see how pleased Cassie is!)

Cathy has fastened the intricate hooks and eyes, and Cassie dons the gloves...

Cathy has fastened the intricate hooks and eyes, and Cassie dons the gloves...

...and buttons them up.

...and buttons them up.

Now she sweeps 'round the room to give us all the complete view...

Now Cassie sweeps 'round the room to give us all the complete view...

The ladies all enjoy drooling over details...

The ladies all enjoy drooling over details...

Look at that train!

Look at that train!

Detail view of the oak leaf motifs -- and, yes, Cathy hand-applied all 420!

Detail view of the oak leaf motifs -- and, yes, Cathy hand-applied all 420!

We turn up the hem to see the first layer with pleated ruffle beneath...

We turn up the hem to see the first layer with pleated ruffle beneath...

And the inner layer with oodles of flounce for fullness.

And the inner layer with oodles of flounce for fullness.

Cassie goes out into the long Orangerie hall for the runway effect. Stunning!

Cassie goes out into the long Orangerie hall for the runway effect. Stunning!

Cassie, having reluctantly returned the ensemble, thanks Cathy. Oh, what fun!

Then, having reluctantly returned the ensemble, she thanks Cathy. Oh, what fun!

Thank you, thank you to Cathy Hay for coming down all the way from Nottingham to share with our group and let us all handle her “Holy Grail outfit.” She asked how many of us have these–the one amazing costume we want to accomplish before we die. Lots of hands up around the room! And we all left inspired to tackle those dream projects.

After our delicious lunch at the Orangerie, we headed out into the pouring rain for the Museum of London, where we were able to spend an hour at a private study table with costume curator Hilary Davidson, seeing extant garments up close. Unfortunately, only private study photographs were allowed — nothing I am permitted to post! Only wish you could have been there to see the 1780s gown of hand-embroidered and tamboured India muslin, the 1820 pelisse, a doll’s Regency stays, a to-die-for Edwardian tea gown, and more!

Next time I’ll share about our Wednesday in Greenwich!

September 19, 2009

Tuesday Morning at Kensington Palace

All right, I am going to try to play catch-up now! We woke up to a very rainy, soggy day in London town on Tuesday. Fortunately, our plans were all indoors with Kensington Palace and the Museum of London, so the ladies grabbed their umbrellas and headed out. I’d walked so much the day before that I stayed in for the morning. All these lovely photos are from Lindsay.

Late 18-teens portrait in the entrance room of Kensington Palace

Late 18-teens portrait in the entrance room of Kensington Palace

This is a dress from "The Last Debutantes" exhibit, which showcases gowns, shoes, gloves, and more donated by the last debutantes to be presented to the queen in the 1950s.

This is a dress from "The Last Debutantes" exhibit, which showcases gowns, shoes, gloves, and more donated by the last debutantes to be presented to the queen in the 1950s.

Another lovely gown from The Last Debutantes. This exhibit had film exhibits showing how to make a proper courtesy to a sovereign, how to dance (including steps marked on the floor), and how a proper royal table would have been set.

Another lovely gown from The Last Debutantes. This exhibit had film exhibits showing how to make a proper courtesy to a sovereign, how to dance (including steps marked on the floor), and how a proper royal table would have been set.

Ceiling of the great reception room.

Ceiling of the great reception room.

Cradle used by Princess Victoria (who grew up in Kensington Palace).

Cradle used by Princess Victoria (who grew up in Kensington Palace).

Princess Victoria's bedroom...

Princess Victoria's bedroom...

The Red Room (it's actually just a hallway to another room!)

The King's Gallery, which is hung with royal portraits.

Court dress worn by a gentleman in the 18th or early 19th century. (Court dress stayed the same for a looooong time -- very formal.)

Court dress worn by a gentleman in the 18th or early 19th century. (Court dress stayed the same for a looooong time -- very formal.)

Close-up of pocket to show the embroidery detail...

Close-up of pocket to show the embroidery detail...

Breathtaking court gown shot with silver threads...

Breathtaking court gown shot with silver threads...

And the back view...

And the back view...

Close-up of the stomacher

Close-up of the stomacher

Sleeve front detail

Sleeve front detail

Detail of back of sleeve...

Detail of back of sleeve...

The ladies all had a fantastic time going through the palace with Suzi. In the meantime, I had arrived at Kensington’s Orangery to greet our surprise luncheon guest, the talented Cathy Hay of Your Wardrobe Unlock’d! Cathy brought along an amazing goody to share with us that involved another dress-up model demonstration, but I will share that in the next post, as I have SO many photos! You can see my pictures of the Orangery in an earlier post, but here are a couple more of our group gathering for a delicious lunch:

Rebecca, Bethany, Suzette, and Ashley...

Rebecca, Bethany, Suzette, and Ashley...

Me talking with Jema and Suzi

Me talking with Cathy and Suzi

And a photo of our first course:

Smoked salmon with cabbage and mandarin oranges -- delicious!

Smoked salmon with cabbage and mandarin oranges -- delicious!

Well, next time I’ll share the beautiful dress-up photos from Kensington and tell you about our time in the Museum of London’s fashion collection. For now, I must retire so I’ll be ready to head out to church in Bradford-upon-Avon in the morning!

September 18, 2009

What the well-dressed matron will be wearing in Bath tomorrow…

We had a lovely journey from London to Bath, although our coach driver encountered more than the usual traffic, putting us here about two hours late. That’s okay — we’re in one piece, and we’ve all been fed and are checked into our darling guest house! I promise to post pictures of the rest of our time in London soon. Unfortunately, I seem to have left my jump drive back in our London hotel, so Lindsay is having to put everything onto another drive for me! :-P

To tide you over, here are photos of my completed costume for Bath (minus hat):

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Bodice front close-up

Bodice front close-up

Full back view...

Full back view...

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

And the back view...

And the back view...

Tomorrow is the Grand Costumed Promenade to kick off the Jane Austen Festival. We are praying for the rain to hold off, as it was overcast all day today. I’ll be sitting in my booth in Queen’s Square while everyone else does the mile-long parade. ;) On tap for the rest of the day is the Fashion Museum of Bath (which is housed in the Assembly Rooms). Our ladies also have vouchers for “Tea with Mr. Darcy” at the Jane Austen Centre and a tour of the Centre’s museum. Lots of fun!!!

September 17, 2009

What I love about "hidden" London…

Lindsay is still formatting photos for me (bless her!), so I’m going to share some snaps I took today in the High Street Kensington area. I absolutely love to get off the main thoroughfares and just “poke” around to see what I can find. There’s a tiny alleyway called Kensington Church Walk that you’d miss if you sneezed, but it is well worth finding. It’s right off the main High Street and meanders back in such a way that all the busy hustle and bustle of the busy street is completely hushed. Around the first corner you find this beautiful church:

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There is a beautiful gated garden all around this church with a quiet, shaded courtyard filled with roses. I didn’t manage to snap that, as there was a police van temporarily parked in front of the gate–rats. So I wended my way around the church and up a tiny alley filled with shops. At the end was this adorable house, the upper balcony just packed with flowers:

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I turned to the left and followed the street down to the next alleyway, where I discovered a hidden garden (public access, but you’d never know it was there unless you stumbled upon it like I did!):

This spot was so quiet you'd never believe you were in the middle of a metropolis.

This spot was so quiet you'd never believe you were in the middle of a metropolis.

I finally turned down a “Mews” (which is where stables of horses and carriages were kept in prior centuries):

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It really was a delightful way to eat up an hour’s time before lunch today. I had hoped to stumble into an antique bookstore that used to be here, but I never found it. I lunched on caprese salad and mushroom soup instead, then headed back to our hotel. Lovely!

September 17, 2009

A peek at Tuesday…

Well, our day in Greenwich yesterday was so full that we just came back and collapsed, sleeping in this morning. So I obviously didn’t do any blogging. I did manage to go through photos with Lindsay, but she hasn’t had a chance to convert them from “raw” format to JPEG, so you’ll just have to wait to see all the yummy pictures from Kensington Palace and the Museum of London!

However, I did snap a few things with my own little camera, so here is a taste just to hold you over:

The famous sunken garden behind Kensington Palace (you see the palace in the background)

The famous sunken garden behind Kensington Palace (you see the palace in the background)

Another view of the garden, which was dormant when I was here in March...

Another view of the garden, which was dormant when I was here in March...

Some of our ladies seated for luncheon in the palace Orangery -- a beautiful, window-filled hall with high ceilings.

Some of our ladies seated for luncheon in the palace Orangery -- a beautiful, window-filled hall with high ceilings.

This is the sculpture in the center of our private end room, which was circular and let us all see each other during lunch.

This is the sculpture in the center of our private end room, which was circular and let us all see each other during lunch.

Finally, here’s a little peek into what we did yesterday in Greenwich. This is a group of us in the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College:

Snapping pictures of one another in full costume!

Snapping pictures of one another in full costume!

Yes, the majority of us spent the entire day in full costume (mostly Regency with a couple of Romantic and Edwardian thrown in for good measure!). We used the Royal Naval College as our backdrop for some stunning portraits Lindsay took of the ladies. When I share some pictures later, you should recognize the colonnade and chapel of the RNC, as they have been used in a large number of BBC costume dramas (including the recent “Little Dorrit”).

I promise to do my best to get pictures up tonight! I’m spending the morning relaxing while my husband and son go to the British Museum and Parliament. Several other ladies have popped off to the Tower. We bade farewell to seven of our ladies last night, and my husband saw them off this morning at 5:30 a.m., bless him! The rest of us will miss them when we head on to Bath tomorrow!

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