1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part I: Fabric and Design

I never intended to make an 1860s ballgown– despite my Dickens Fair adventure into the 1840s for a casual daytime dress, the ruffled berthas that appeared on virtually all of the 1860s ballgowns just didn’t appeal to my sense of aesthetics. So imagine my surprise when I came across a fabric lot on eBay and immediately thought “this would look fabulous as an 1860s ballgown.”  And then it was just a short step from “AN 1860s ballgown” to “MY 1860s ballgown.”


The fabric is ivory embroidered with blue flowers* and wheat-colored leaves (label says it’s a rayon-acetate blend). It actually came in a set of four panels, each 48″ wide and 3.5 yards long, and cost me $50 including shipping– meaning that I got 14 yards of fabric for under $3/yard! Score! Especially since the still-affixed tag had each panel priced at $80 on sale!

Interestingly, the fabric is shiny on one side and matte– almost dupioni-ish– on the other, and the embroidery is on the matte side. I didn’t realize this at first, but I think I like it this way– too much shine (however much it would’ve been loved historically) just reads as “cheap” in modern times.

The panels were originally intended to be curtains, so the embroidered design is set up to hang at the base of each curtain, making for a total of about 172″ of embroidery across the four panels (accounting for the blank borders on the edges). As soon as I saw it I could envision that embroidery around the hem of a full skirt, and I knew that the remaining length of each panel would be plenty for constructing a ballgown bodice with all the trimmings.

Continue reading


Amped-Up Butterscotch Pudding


I admit to loving the idea of portable desserts in mason jars– it’s hopelessly hipster-ish, but they’re just so darned cute! Even better if they have distinct layers so they have extra flair from the outside. So when Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a new “extra-luxe” recipe for butterscotch pudding the same week I had plans to bring dessert over to a friend’s house, it was as if the fates had spoken and decreed that I must make this pudding.

I assembled my mason jars and got to work– I ended up doubling the pudding recipe, which supposedly made six “petite” servings, and ended up with eight more generous servings, though the caramel sauce that accompanied it was enough for all eight without being doubled. The finished puddings were quite tasty– the sweet-saltiness of the caramel was a nice accent to the relatively mild butterscotch pudding (I used the recommended smaller amount of sugar you’ll see in Deb’s notes), and the texture was perfect.

Continue reading

Lemon-Blueberry Tart


I’ve been stretching the last jar of my batch of lemon curd from that tea party I mentioned before, and wondering why, since it’s so delicious, I don’t make it more often. So when an occasion came up to make a dessert for company, it’s hardly surprising that lemon curd was on my mind…

I decided to make a tart, and thought that some fresh blueberries would be a great complement to the tartness of the lemon curd. I dug out an old recipe for a brown sugar tart crust I’d previously used and loved, figuring that its sweetness and slight caramel flavor would add depth to the bright and zingy fruits in the rest of the dessert. And you know what? I was right!

The resulting tarts were beautiful to look at and delicious to eat– definitely a showstopper for company in any season (though I’m sure that the blueberries would be that much more delicious in summer).

Continue reading


Spent Grain Bread


I may not have mentioned it before, but my husband brews his own beer as a hobby. One of the byproducts of the brewing process is large quantities of spent grain– wheat, barley, or other grains that have been boiled for a while and which would otherwise be thrown away afterwards. We usually end up with several pounds of the stuff for each batch of beer, and it seems like such a waste to discard it, so I went looking for recipes to make something out of it. Bread seemed the obvious choice.


It turns out there are dozens of recipes out there for spent grain bread. My husband tried one on his own but it turned out dense and crumbly– I don’t think he kneaded it enough, or maybe he added too much flour to combat the stickiness– so I tried my own version based on a recipe online.

It turned out pretty well– the grain provided a sweet, nutty flavor and a nice texture to the finished bread, though I think I could’ve kneaded it a bit more and also baked it somewhat longer– my loaf was a little crumbly when sliced and slightly gummy when eaten. But I think that this recipe is a good starting point– I just need better bread instincts!

Continue reading


Clotted Cream


Clotted cream. Is there anything more quintessentially British-sounding than clotted cream? You never hear of it being eaten anywhere but with scones at tea time, and it sounds sinfully rich and somehow snooty at the same time. I had it for the very first time at a tea party, where it came out of a tiny jar (which did nothing to change my idea that it was a rare luxury), and blew my tastebuds away.

Seriously, this stuff is like a cross between butter and whipped cream. Rich enough that fills your mouth with decadence, but light enough that it’s not like you’re eating a mouthful of fat. You can pile it onto a scone in a way you could never do with butter, but it’s got more heft than whipped cream so it doesn’t just melt away on your tongue. It is also NOT SWEET, so anyone who claims that sweetened whipped cream is “basically the same” is lying…

I could sing its praises all day, but instead let’s make some!

Continue reading


Regency Ivory Gown, Refreshed

I recently attended a Regency ball, which is usually my excuse to make something new and pretty to wear. However, as I’d just finished cleaning out my closet I couldn’t really justify making a brand-new gown (also, no time), so I decided to freshen up an old one– my ivory sheer ballgown, originally worn under a burgundy open robe made of a vintage dupatta.

regency-open-robe-2 regency-sheer-done

I’d worn the burgundy open robe a few times already, but without it the ivory gown just seemed too plain. I dug through my stash and pulled out a vintage chiffon dupatta in forest green, leftover from when I was collecting fabric for my 1920s green evening dress.

Continue reading


Veggie Taco Stack


(I know, I know, this is not exactly a taco “stack.” It got a bit shifted when I pulled it out of the oven and became more of a landslide, but it’s still delicious, I promise.)

Anyway, I also know that I write about way too many of Smitten Kitchen’s recipes, but they always look and sound so amazing on Deb’s blog that I can’t help myself. So you’ll have to forgive me if I post about another one now– a recipe that’s going to become a weeknight staple at my house for sure. I could’ve put off posting about it until I’d had the chance to make a more photogenic version, but it’s so good I knew you’d want to try it ASAP.

Deb calls it a Taco Torte and she adapted it from the Mom 100 Cookbook, but “torte” just sounds too fancy for what is actually a very homely, comforting dish. And it doesn’t just have a bunch of vegetables in it (enabling me to call it “healthy” despite the cheese all over it)– it’s actually vegetarian and full of flavor, making it a great dish to serve to any audience!

Continue reading