Let me just start by saying that Dickens Fair was tons of fun– I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve attended! As always, I think that being in costume contributes immeasurably to my enjoyment of events. Here’s me posing in a bookshop at the Fair:
I accessorized the dress with a shawl, pair of brown vintage gloves, and a bonnet (next post!).
To provide the necessary dome-shaped skirt silhouette, I wore the dress over a crinoline/hoop combination skirt from eBay— it came with three hoops and a layer of stiff nylon netting over them. While actual 1840s dresses would’ve had multiple petticoats to get the right shape, I figured that I could lighten the load by using small hoops (I tightened down the circumference of the hoops by simply pushing them in and taping the loose ends down) with the netting on top– that way I didn’t need all of the layers. I’d have made a cotton petticoat to go over it all if I’d had time, but it just didn’t happen. Besides, I think that the netting softened the outline of the hoops enough that extra petticoats weren’t really necessary.
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting holiday baking recipes– my favorites are desserts that are rich, gooey, highly decorated, or a combination of all three. However, sometimes you just want a break from the elaborate stuff and just need something deliciously simple… something you can idly nibble on between multiple courses of festive holiday food without overdoing things.
Enter the butter cookie. Basic butter cookies are amazingly versatile, and can be flavored with all sorts of things without losing their elegant simplicity. In this case I decided to go with a kick of black pepper to set them apart from the crowd. I know that black pepper isn’t exactly an original idea for holiday cookies– Swedish pepperakor are well-known– but most recipes combine pepper with other warm spices and flavors, like cinnamon and molasses. Here, the butter and vanilla background really lets the floral notes of the black pepper come through– it’s not immediately apparent, but after a moment the flavor fills your mouth and it’s nicely aromatic. The pepper flavor becomes a touch stronger as you store the cookies, so keep that in mind– I thought these were even better on the third day than when freshly baked!
After I finished the main dress, I decided to add some decorative touches in the form of an antique lace collar and cuffs. I bought mine as a set on eBay, and while they may not be strictly period-accurate– I think the set is probably from several decades after the 1840s, at the earliest– they’re lovely and work well with the dress.
One issue I had was that the lace was extremely yellowed from age– I knew I’d have to whiten it somehow. Soaking in a baking soda solution did nothing, as did Woolite, so I brought out the big guns and soaked it for an hour in an OxiClean bath. That did the trick! A quick press with a warm iron and it was ready to use.
After I finished my bodice, all that was left was the skirt! Laughing Moon 114 has a very basic skirt pattern– it’s just four panels of fabric, with a pocket option that I took full advantage of, hoping to minimize the things I’d have to carry at Dickens Fair. I drafted my own pocket pattern, though, since reviews concur that the drafted pocket is too deep to get your hands all the way into, which makes it less useful. I put it on the right front seam, which was a convenient location.
One thing I did was to cut my skirt slightly wider than the pattern– it was supposed to be three 44″ panels plus one more 13″ panel for a total of about 144″ once the seam allowances were accounted for. I thought a 13″ wide back panel sounded ridiculously narrow, but rather than risk going too wide for 1840s with four 44″ panels, I split the difference and made my fourth panel only about 30″ wide. Not sure if it really made much of a difference in fullness, but it turned out fine.
I chose to use the sleeves from View A of the Laughing Moon 114 pattern– short mancherons over tight, bias-cut long sleeves. While the pattern said that I wouldn’t need to line the mancherons, I didn’t like the look of them unlined– instead, I cut out identical pieces out of my fashion fabric and self-lined the mancherons before attaching them to the long, unlined sleeves.
I hand-basted the sleeves into the armscyes to make sure that all of the layers stayed where they were supposed to be, then machine-stitched over my basting. Then (important step) I clipped the curves on the armscye seams, allowing for more movement. The piping turned out looking great– such a nice tiny detail.
Once I finished my mockup, it was time to cut into my fabric. I made the bodice lining out of ivory cotton sateen– it’s a nice, firmly-woven fabric that’s silky-smooth on one side, so perfect for sturdy linings. I couldn’t tell from the pattern whether the center front seam was supposed to be facing the right side or wrong side, so I made it face the wrong side. In retrospect, it probably should’ve gone the other way, to make the foldover neckline easier to do on the overlay, but it was fine.
Every year for Thanksgiving, we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner– and every year, I bring some kind of baked good to share. Over the years, I’ve developed some criteria to maximize people’s enjoyment of my creation: It has to keep well at room temperature, because the fridge is full already. It has to be easy and neat to eat, so people don’t have to get out plates or forks to get a piece. And it has to be a cake or loaf of some kind (rather than individually-portioned cookies, etc.) because while people are sometimes reluctant to grab an entire cookie or cupcake between meals, they’re always happy to slice off just a teeny-weeny bit to snack on as they pass by.
This bundt cake is perfect for the occasion– it’s got a dense, fine crumb that lets it hold together well when people pick up a slice, it’s not so sweet or decadent that people feel guilty about grabbing some, and it’s appropriately festive, being chock-full of cranberries and pecans. And yes, the flavor combination may sound familiar from my Cranberry-Orange Walnut Muffin recipe, but this cake is a lot richer and denser than the light, fluffy muffins, making it just the right dessert for a family event.