Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Which A Countess Is Born

I don't think it's any secret that I do a lot of organizing of reenacting events. A WHOLE lot. I don't really mind; I think that if you want something you have to work for it, so I'm more than willing to put in my fair share of work. Organizing things seems to be a talent of mine anyway. However, it's been a very full year and I found myself a little tired. Needing a break - or better, needing a shot of adrenaline.

That's when I got invited to the Twelfth Night Ball.

Our local chapter of the Victorian Society holds a giant Twelfth Night ball every winter, complete with dancing, games, a dinner, fortune telling, and general reveling. I usually work. However, my good friend Kit decided this year he wanted a break, and wanted to re-energize after planning so many events in a row, and he asked me if I'd like to come along.

What started out as simply going to the ball turned into a huge day of funtivities. Kit kept the preparations a total secret, only telling me the barest of details so that I wouldn't have an anxiety attack (I discovered in all this that I do not really enjoy secrets and surprises, or rather, I dislike the anticipation of secrets and surprises). I got dressed up in my gray wool - it seems like I hardly wear anything else these days but I guess since it's wintertime that's not such an oddity - and the bonnet and got prepared for anything.

Kit picked me up at my house and we met a couple friends at a nice restaurant. We had a four-course lunch. During the lunch, the other lady in the group and I received posies - mine was full of beautiful yellow, blue and red flowers. Kit chose them using the language of flowers, but I'm too ladylike to divulge the meanings!

After stuffing ourselves, we went to the Como Conservatory to enjoy the warmth inside the greenhouses and take some pictures. People were extremely interested in what we were doing there (I really can't blame them) and I'm not ashamed to admit that I pretended to be in the Crystal Palace or the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Next we went to the Saint Paul Hotel. We got a table near the fire and enjoyed a cheese tray with the yummiest brie I've ever had, plus some lovely herbal tea. We finished off with a glass of champagne and toasted an incredibly enjoyable afternoon together

After that, we finally made our way to the ball. I must say, it was my first experience ever simply showing up for a ball. I usually help with set-up in some form, and I'm not complaining (see above "must work for fun time" philosophy) but it was really very refreshing to simply show up and make myself pretty. Because Kit is an awesome friend, he made me a sash with an Order of the Garter decoration on it, and brought a crown. We went as the Earl and Countess of Devonshire.Now, I'm not a high-maintenance girl. I'm not much into jewelry. I don't even want to wear a tiara at my own wedding. But there was something about seeing myself all dressed up as a pretty princess that gave me the giggles.

We talked, we laughed, we danced, we ate more food which I wouldn't have thought possible). We got to sit at the head table for dinner, and I had my fortune told. In the end, the last dance was waltzed, we said goodnight, went out for a nightcap at WA Frost, and then went home.

It was truly the most magical evening I have ever spent anywhere. It's been a while since I got that afterglow feeling after an event, wondering if it had all been a dream, laughing to myself remembering the special moments, calling up all my friends to gush about what an amazing time I had. It was exactly what we had intended - a shot of adrenaline, a breath of fresh air.

However, it is definitely a long, hard fall from Countess of Devonshire to Betsy. It took a full day at work for me to get back in the swing of things. Having experienced The Countess, I'm keeping her in reserve for when students need a supercilious look, or when I need to feel extra graceful.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Years Resolutions

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions. I tend to think that if you notice something you want to change in your life, or think of a goal you'd like to set, you should set it and get started on it immediately, or as convenient, depending on the goal. However, the beginning of the year is as good a time as any to look back on one's accomplishments, and consider where one wants to go.

In the last year, I did the following:
  • Sewed a new set of undergarments, which I consider to be the best set I ever sewed, having worked out all the kinks (a pinchy waistband, not enough fullness, not long enough, etc.)
  • Finished the gray wool governess dress.
  • Created a headdress to go with my ballgown, which I consider a feat as it was the first time I ever took something from an illustration, with no pattern.
  • Started and finished the gray calico dress.
  • Missed out on almost every event this summer due to surgery.
  • Threw the party of the year and raised a lot of money for a worthy cause.
  • Learned a LOT about sanitary fairs and society in St. Paul in the 1860s
  • Learned more about parlor games and held a workshop.
  • Got my first commission for a smoking cap.
  • Constructed my first bonnet.
In 2011, I hope to accomplish:
  • Create two new sets of undergarments, including at least one over-the-hoop petticoat.
  • Sew a new purple sheer dress.
  • Sew a new wrapper.
  • Reconstruct my work dress (reset skirt, take in sides of bodice)
  • Finish the smoking cap.
  • The bonnet has brought about a couple of possible commissions; hopefully those will pan out!
  • Potentially, a paletote (depending on job/financial situation this fall)
  • Hopefully a cage crinoline (my old hoop has seen better days!)
  • Some potential knitting commissions for sontags.
  • Outside of clothing, I want to work more on my etiquette. I know the rules and how they work, but I have a hard time putting them into practice. I am afraid I'm too much of a goofball, and would never be considered "ladylike" in the 1860s. I need to work on putting that into practice.
  • I'd also like to learn a bit more about period cooking, and have a couple signature dishes that I can create.
  • Stay healthy enough to attend all the events I can this summer.
I feel like I have come a long way this year. One of the most exciting things is all the praise I'm getting for a few of the things I make. As mentioned above, people really like my bonnet. I'm always amazed when people like the things I do, because I think creating them is such a selfish act - they're always for me to consume/wear. However, knowing that other people like my stuff, enough to pay me to make it for them, is exciting. Creating a side career out of what I really love to do (researching and creating period clothing) is an exciting possibility.

Here's wishing a happy, healthy, and productive new year to all of you!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I am in love

Remember in my past post how much I talked about the Christmas presents that need to get done? I'm still working on them. I have one last present to finish (sorry Dad! I left my needles at your house, slippers will be coming forthwith!). Most of them got done on time, and looked fabulous.

That's with no thanks to my current distraction. For you see, I've fallen in love. With millinery.
I really bought a bonnet kit (okay, asked for it for my birthday) because I couldn't afford a new bonnet. I desperately needed a new one. My only fashion bonnet has been working overtime for 8 years, and it's starting to show - it's a bit dented, and just getting slightly droopy. So rather than shell out the big bucks for a professionally made one, I decided with some trepidation to try my hand at millinery. I figured I'd create something that looked average-to-middling, lose my mind in the process, and swear off bonnet making for the rest of eternity.

It was an AWESOME decision. I REALLY enjoyed it. Everything was just the right level of fussy, but not too fussy. I think I forgot just how much fun it is to see a pile of supplies/material come together into a work of art. Having sewn three dresses in two years meant the process had become a bit of a yawn for me. Trying something totally new and different had woken me up again.
I'm super proud of my finished product. Millinery may just be a new obsession for me. A girl can never have too many hats, right?