March 22, 2015 Jennie Chancey

Chatsworth’s Masqued Ball (or “Down the Rabbit Hole with Alice!”)

I stepped upstairs to get a shot of The Painted Hall from above. Beautiful space for a soiree!

john-tenniel-alice-with-the-duchess-illustration-from-alice-in-wonderland-by-lewis-carrollWhen my husband first surprised me with this special trip, it was early enough that I’d have time to put together my costume for the masquerade ball at the end … but, naturally, grandiose schemes were the first to cross my mind! I could totally see making a 1780s take on the White Queen, from panniers to a towering powdered wig! Then common sense (and the deadline and my actual suitcase space) reined me in, and I decided to go for something far less ambitious but still fun. I’ve always  loved the original John Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and thought I’d make a version of Alice’s iconic blue dress with red-trimmed white apron for my costume. I’d be able to use my 1958 Party Dress Pattern for the blue dress, then draft a pinafore pattern based on the illustrations. My ten-year-old daughter also loves vintage clothing and is learning to sew by my side, so she sat daydreaming over illustrations and even images of 1950s “Alice” dolls as we came up with ideas:

Various versions of "Alice" from Madame Alexander in the 1940s an 1950s.

Various versions of “Alice” from Madame Alexander in the 1940s an 1950s.

My little helper, wearing the final test dress for the new Girls Classic 1950s Shirt Dress pattern I'm finishing off right now for press!

My little helper, wearing the final test dress for the new Girls Classic 1950s Shirt Dress pattern I’m finishing off right now for press!

We went shopping for fabric and trim together, trying to nail down just the right “Alice” blue and found both that and the gauzy organdy for the pinafore. I finally opted for red ribbon trim, since it is pictured in many of the Tenniel illustrations (though other versions show simply tucks or no trimming at all). I packed my fluffy 1950s crinoline to wear beneath the dress, then found an “Alice” wig online, along with a mask, and had those sent to Suzi’s ahead of me.

So on the Saturday afternoon, while Cathy popped out to get the sitter who would watch my baby for the evening (bless her!), I ironed my dress and fluffed out the wig. By the time Cathy got back, I was all ready to go, and she quickly got suited up as a dapper version of The Mad Hatter. We were ready for our “Wonderland” tour of Chatsworth, the three-course meal, and the musical entertainment of The Vernon Sisters! Cathy lives quite close to Chatsworth, and we enjoyed the drive over, then eagerly got out and hurried through the cold night air into the warmth and light of Chatsworth all lit up for Christmas!

"Alice" and the "Hatter" head down the rabbit hole!

“Alice” and the “Hatter” head down the rabbit hole! I’ve got my “Drink Me” bottle in my hand and a tiny white rabbit tucked into my apron pocket.

The first hall was decorated with pages from books and quotes from Alice in Wonderland.

The first hall was decorated with pages from books and quotes from Alice in Wonderland.

A miniature Alice hangs amongst the pages on the walls.

A miniature Alice hangs amongst the pages on the walls.

The first Alice prop is a tiny table with a flask and a cake standing on top. Shall I sample them? The little door finishes the scene perfectly.

The first Alice prop is a tiny table with a flask and a cake standing on top. Shall I sample them? The little door finishes the scene perfectly. (Photo by Cathy Hay.)

The Family Chapel at Chatsworth, decorated for the season.

The Family Chapel at Chatsworth, decorated for the season. (Cathy Hay)

The Caterpillar on his mushroom greets us in the next room!

The Caterpillar on his mushroom greets us in the next room! (Cathy Hay)

A Fishy Footman welcomes us to the Duchess's house. (Cathy Hay)

A Fishy Footman welcomes us to the Duchess’s house. The Duchess sits behind with her piggy baby! (Cathy Hay)

Chatsworth's Mad Hatter stands atop the tea table in the Painted Hall. (Cathy Hay)

Chatsworth’s Mad Hatter stands atop the tea table in the Painted Hall. Note all the mismatched teacups and plates. Perfect! (Cathy Hay)

The Dormouse peeps out sleepily from the giant teapot in the center of the table. (Cathy Hay)

The Dormouse peeps out sleepily from the giant teapot in the center of the table. (Cathy Hay)

The Tea Table in the Painted Hall. (Cathy Hay)

The Tea Table in the Painted Hall. (Cathy Hay)

My shot of the beautiful garland around the upper balcony of The Painted Hall.

My shot of the beautiful garland around the upper balcony of The Painted Hall.

 The Vernon Sisters began their evening's singing entertainment in The Painted Hall, wearing retro 1930s outfits.

The Vernon Sisters began their evening’s singing entertainment in The Painted Hall, wearing retro 1930s outfits.

Yours Truly and The Mad Hatter!

Yours Truly and The Mad Hatter!

I stepped upstairs to get a shot of The Painted Hall from above. Beautiful space for a soiree!

I stepped upstairs to get a shot of The Painted Hall from above. Beautiful space for a soiree!

Very "Alice"-themed treats were carried round by the servers. Note the "Eat Me" theme and the clocks! (Cathy Hay)

Very “Alice”-themed treats were carried round by the servers. Note the “Eat Me” theme, the jam tarts, checkerboard cakes,  and the clocks! (Cathy Hay)

Another shot of the goody tray. Such fun!

Another shot of the goody tray. Such fun!

After the welcoming treats in The Painted Hall, we made our way upstairs and found flamingos circling above us! (Cathy Hay)

After the welcoming treats in The Painted Hall, we made our way upstairs and found flamingos circling above us! (Cathy Hay)

The Cheshire Cat smiles from the grand piano in the hall.

The Cheshire Cat smiles from the grand piano in the hall.

A glimpse into Chatsworth's gorgeous library (Cathy Hay)

A glimpse into Chatsworth’s gorgeous library (Cathy Hay)

Here we are just outside the library (alas, no one was allowed in....).

Here we are just outside the library (alas, no one was allowed in….).

I'm sure no one recognizes THIS famous veiled lady statue!

I’m sure no one recognizes THIS famous veiled lady statue!

One of Chatsworth's State Rooms. I caught Cathy snapping a photo of the Christmas tree (I lost count at 42 trees -- simply boggling!).

One of Chatsworth’s State Rooms. I caught Cathy snapping a photo of the Christmas tree (I lost count at 42 trees — simply boggling!).

The Queen of Hearts lords it over all the hapless cards playing wickets at croquet. (Cathy Hay)

The Queen of Hearts lords it over all the hapless cards playing wickets at croquet. (Cathy Hay)

The only other "Alice" at this event was one of the staff members. Can you believe it? I thought we'd be swimming in "Alices!" (Cathy Hay)

The only other “Alice” at this event was one of the staff members. Can you believe it? I thought we’d be swimming in “Alices!” (Cathy Hay)

Yet another tongue-in-cheek "Alice" garland. This one sports tarts and tart tins!

Yet another tongue-in-cheek “Alice” garland. This one sports tarts and tart tins!

We reach the end of the tour and take a turn "enthroned" for our portrait.

We reach the end of the tour and take a turn “enthroned” for our portrait. (And, yes, that’s another picture-taker’s hand at the right — oh, well, this was the only way to get our portrait!)

Into the Carriage House to find our table and be seated for dinner. Beautiful! (Cathy Hay)

Into the Carriage House to find our table and be seated for dinner. Beautiful! (Cathy Hay)

Our table with all the trimmings. (Cathy Hay)

Our table with all the trimmings. (Cathy Hay)

The Vernon Sisters, back again in 1950s costumes. These ladies can SING!

The Vernon Sisters, back again in 1950s costumes. These ladies can SING!

We enjoyed a thoroughly delicious meal and the great music, then slipped away before we turned into pumpkins at midnight. It was a lovely evening and especially fun in costume. Both Cathy and I were surprised there weren’t more people dressed for the theme (lots of tuxes and evening gowns in evidence). Can’t you just imagine a big group of historical costume enthusiasts dressed in (ahem) proper full fancy dress? Well, we have dreams for a future trip with like-minded friends along! Want to join us? 😉

Farewell, Chatsworth!

Farewell, Chatsworth!

I still had one day left before my evening flight, so I’ll post one more time with the delights of Kedleston Hall, the costume collection at Snibston, and a real, Dickensian Christmas dinner!

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About the Author

Jennie Chancey

I launched Sense & Sensibility Patterns in 1998 with my original Regency Gown pattern. I never dreamed I’d one day have over two dozen patterns on the market and would be leading tours yearly in the UK! Enjoy my blog, and let me know if you’d like to travel with us!