Costume College 2019

So now that things have settled down a bit, I wanted to do a post about Costume College this year! As you may recall, I had a great time last year, so I’ve been excited to go back! You’ve already seen the making-of posts for the costumes I wore, and my favorite shots of the beetlewing gown, but here’s a summary of the rest of the weekend!

Before even arriving at the conference hotel, we stopped by the Fashion District to shop– and when I say “stopped by,” I mean “shopped for five hours straight.” I ended up with 17 yards of fabric, plus assorted other items, that (with luck) will be showing up in future posts!

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Review: Jane Austen Weekend at The Governor’s Mansion in Hyde Park, VT

So I waffled over posting this review of my recent Jane Austen-themed weekend at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, because while the event was disappointing overall it did have some good parts. It may just be that I’m a particularly picky customer, but in the end I decided that a thorough and accurate review couldn’t cause any undue harm, so here we go:

The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont (a small inn) hosts Jane Austen-themed weekends throughout the year. Some are themed around a particular book (like the one I attended), and one is an “in-character” weekend where guests are expected to adopt a particular character and stick to it as much as possible. When a friend and I heard about an upcoming Sense and Sensibility weekend in February, we thought it would be fun to check out.

The website promised a dessert gathering on Friday night with a talk on Regency life, breakfast on Saturday, Regency card games, a sleigh ride, afternoon tea, plus dinner and dancing on Saturday night and a Sunday breakfast to finish things off. The site also generally talked about various other activities available to guests, including horseback riding, archery, cooking lessons, fishing, and crafts. We did notice that these claims were more specifically repeated in the context of the in-character weekend, but we hoped that there would be similarly-interesting activities available indoors for our event. In retrospect this was probably where we went wrong.

We arrived Friday night with high hopes– the building was lovely inside and out, our rooms were cozy, and there was a huge collection of movies (with multiple versions of all the Jane Austen television and movie adaptations) available for viewing. We changed into Regency gowns and headed down to the library for dessert and our first activity– a talk about various aspects of Regency life.

None of the other guests chose to wear Regency garb for this one– not the three who were staying at the inn, nor the other three ladies who had apparently driven up just for the dessert and lecture. That was too bad, but not the fault of our hostess. We were somewhat disappointed by the food on offer– small squares of plain gingerbread cake with apple cider, plus a cheese plate: not a bad snack but not really enough to warrant being a featured “dessert” in my opinion– and even more disappointed by the lecture (it was definitely a lecture, not a discussion). While our hostess was clearly knowledgeable on the topics at hand she mostly read from her notes, jumping from subject to random subject and at times spending an inordinately long time on seemingly obscure issues. I think we spent a good 15 minutes hearing about the different types of carriages people used back then, and far more time than necessary reiterating how many pennies made a shilling and how many shillings a pound. To be fair, the other guests seemed to be enjoying the lecture, but even our relatively rudimentary knowledge of Regency life was enough to make us bored.

Saturday morning we had a nice breakfast (again, no one else dressed up) and were hoping to participate in some fun daytime activities. Sadly, the only two activities on offer were 1) writing with a goose-quill pen and 2) playing whist. Our hostess gave basic instructions on how to use the pens, pointed out the decks of cards and directions for whist, and left us on our own for the next several hours. The writing part was fun but could only take up so much time, and since there weren’t enough players to make up more than one whist table there wasn’t much to do after that besides take photos around the inn– nothing we couldn’t have done in any historic inn on any other weekend. The promised sleigh ride unfortunately was cancelled because it was too cold for the horses, and there was apparently nothing planned to take its place.

Our next activity was afternoon tea (more Victorian than Regency style, but that was intentional), which was more enjoyable than the dessert lecture since 1) the food was excellent, varied, and plentiful, and 2) the lecture was significantly shorter and was about the importation and use of tea, which I found more interesting than carriages. However, afterwards we were on our own again until dinner.

Dinner itself was excellent– everyone dressed up, making for a better atmosphere, and we had a spread of homemade, period-appropriate foods to enjoy. Afterwards we were joined by a group of English country dancers who did an admirable job teaching dances to our group for two hours. They were fantastic and a good time was had by all. It was really the high point of the weekend.

Sunday morning we were (again) left to our own devices for the most part– brunch was served at 10:30, we had a written quiz on Sense and Sensibility while we ate, and once we’d finished eating the weekend was basically over.

All in all, I got the feeling that the event was geared less towards Regency buffs and more towards people who might have read a few of Jane Austen’s books and decided on a whim to try a themed weekend. Even so, I thought that additional activities would’ve gone a long way towards making the weekend more immersive and interesting for everyone– as it was, we were alone for the majority of the weekend with not much to do. (I will note that use of smartphones was highly discouraged in the common areas, which I thought was unnecessary given the lack of a “period” atmosphere generally and the lack of much else to occupy our time.)

If I’d been visiting the inn for a normal weekend, planning to visit local attractions or go skiing, I would have been extremely satisfied with it– the rooms were nice*, the food was freshly homemade and mostly excellent, and the hostess was welcoming. However, as far as themed weekends go this one was severely lacking, and I can’t really recommend it to anyone looking for an immersive experience. I’ve heard that the in-character weekends are much better (which would make sense since the activities on offer are apparently more varied), but given my experience with this one I don’t see myself making the effort to try again in the future.

 

*Well, our rooms were nice. The other guests weren’t so lucky– apparently the water pipes leading to their bathroom would regularly stop working in particularly cold temperatures, so they had to use our shower and actually get a bucket of water to flush their toilet with!

 

Vermont Regency Weekend

So recently I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at a historic home (now an inn) in Vermont for a Sense and Sensibility-themed event. I’ll be honest, as an event it left something to be desired– there were very few activities and the scheduled sleigh ride was cancelled due to weather– but I did enjoy getting to dress up with all of my gowns and accessories and take photos with some more period-looking furniture than I can find here at home!

Here’s me channeling Mary Bennet while wearing the very first Regency gown I ever made, plus the new day cap.

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Here are the velvet capote and fur-trimmed wrap in action!

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Here’s the red pashmina dress with the ruffled chemisette:

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And just for fun, I finally got photos of my 1882 tea gown in action! (I couldn’t resist putting a painting filter over one of them, though it’s not obvious at first glance)

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I think this one below is my favorite…

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Admittedly, there are a lot of pictures of me reading books (this one is an antique edition of The Lady of the Lake and there’s a handwritten inscription on the flyleaf dated 1899), but I needed a prop so I could do something other than smile at the camera!

Mary Bennet Regency Dress, Part II: Construction

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Compared to the pashmina dress, this one was a breeze to put together– a welcome change! Things got a little fiddly when it came to piecing the bodice front– because the diagonal stripes on my fabric were not at a 45-degree angle, it was a little more complicated to mirror them at the center front. Since I had to cut the pieces on a slight bias (both of them, to get the V-shape I wanted), the edges were prone to stretching and wiggling out of place; after trying three times to get the V perfect, I declared that my result was *good enough*.

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Given the hassle in matching the V in front, I really didn’t want to have to deal with matching the stripes on multiple pieces for the back to make purely decorative curved back seams. This was particularly true since I was going to have a drawstring back that would mostly obscure those very same seams. I decided to just cut the back pieces as one so I could dispense with the piecing and just worry about matching the diagonal stripes along the center back line.

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Mary Bennet Regency Dress, Part I: Inspiration, Design, and Fabric

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This past year at Costume College 2018 I had a great time in costume, not only at the evening events but also during the day, when I wore my green 1920s dress and my pink cotton Regency dress. They were both cool and reasonably comfortable, which is definitely something I’m going for in future daytime outfits. I also had the vague idea that I’d like to start wearing more outfits that lent themselves to interesting poses or props, the better to take fun pictures with people (so many of mine are boring!). It’s no wonder, then, that in the middle of a random conversation about costumes and period-looking eyeglasses that I was struck with an inspiration for a fun daytime outfit– Mary Bennet, the third Bennet sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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Mary’s primary defining characteristics in the book are being plain (compared to her prettier sisters), moralistic, and terrible at singing/playing the piano. Her father teases her by calling her “a young lady of great reflection,” and she is described as having “a pedantic air and conceited manner.” She frequently “makes extracts” from books she has read, and tends to offer them at inopportune moments. In the movies she is often depicted as wearing spectacles and extremely drab clothing, and in fanfiction she frequently reads from Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, though in the actual text there is no mention of spectacles and Fordyce appears only once, as read by Mr. Collins.

I decided that Mary would make for a fun character to play– I’d be able to stare disapprovingly over my spectacles at people and quote ridiculous lines from Fordyce, and best of all I’d be able to wear comfortable Regency garb all day! Unfortunately, all of my Regency gowns are a bit too colorful to suit my idea of Mary, so I had to make a new one.

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Regency Chemisette

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As part of my Regency wardrobe, I wanted to make a white chemisette to fill in the necklines of some of my gowns– most notably the pashmina gown, which I specifically made for daywear.

Taking my cue from several other bloggers, I started off with the chemisette pattern A from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I. It has a mostly-plain front with some tiny tucks at the shoulder line (not pictured in the illustration but they’re there in the instructions), and a triple-layered mushroom-pleated collar.

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I did end up making a few structural edits– I widened the base width of the back, which otherwise would’ve been oddly pointy (and would not have matched the illustration at all), and did only two ruffles at the collar since my fabric was a bit heavier than what would’ve been used back then. And I didn’t bother cutting the neck band on the bias because it seemed wasteful and other chemisettes in the book had their neck bands cut on-grain, so it didn’t appear to be crucial.

Anyway, not having any graph paper on hand and not feeling inclined to figure out how to print out different sections of the original scanned pattern on different sheets of paper, I used a good old ruler and my knowledge of geometry to draw out the pattern for the chemisette. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if the pattern weren’t so simple, but at least on this occasion it worked out well.

The main body went together easily– I did a narrow double hem on the open sides and made my drawstring channels on the bottom with no problems. Then I had to figure out how to handle the neck ruffles.

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Regency Velvet Capote

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To go with my fur-trimmed wrap I needed a hat to wear outside. Unlike all of my other bonnets, however (which are made of straw), this one needed to be winter-appropriate, so I took out my extra velvet fabric and got started.

I picked up a basic cloth-covered sun-hat at Goodwill (brand new, tags still on!), mostly to use its nice, wide brim.

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I wanted the brim to frame my face without being too sunbonnet-y, and I wanted to have a nice big crown with room for a nice hairstyle that wouldn’t get squished. Something like this (apparently it’s called a capote):

I also really like the ruching on this bonnet from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice:

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