Regency Intensive Dance Weekend 2014 Wrap Up

As promised last post, here are a few pictures from the two balls at April’s Regency Intensive Dance Weekend. Hopefully, you remember my descriptions of this weekend as being full of amazing learning opportunities and lovely memories with amiable people. Indeed, both balls left me with a feeling, expressed by Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, of being at a very pleasant house party or private ball, though indeed these events are open to the public.

Dancers displaying their waltz at Saturday’s informal ball.

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. — I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well. — That reply will do for the present. — Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. — But now we may be silent.”

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, in Chapter Eighteen.

Looking into Sunday evening’s formal reception, which included a balcony for the musicians (see them in the mirror?).
The formal ball included lavish and delicious refreshments.
Taking a break from dancing to munch on some super yummy syllabub.

Indeed, we were dancing so often at the formal ball that we really didn’t get many pictures of the dancing in action, so you’ll just have to believe me when I express the elegance of the dancing and the ballroom scene.

You can read more about Sunday afternoon’s imaginary visit to Mansfield Park in this post and more about the new ball gown that I made for the Sunday evening ball in this post. You can read more about the entire weekend here, at Plaid Petticoats blog post about the weekend.

A Dress Suited For Eve

I know I promised pictures of the two balls at the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend in my last post, and I still promise that those are coming, but we’re going to take a quick detour before we get to ball pictures, to look at…

“A Dress Suited For Eve” (Elusive blue ball gown, 1811)
When dressed for the evening the girls nowadays
Scarce an atom of dress on them leave;
Nor blame them; for what is an evening dress
But a dress that is suited for Eve?
Quoted from page 42 of C. Willett Cunnington’s Fashion and Women’s Attitudes in the Nineteenth Century.

I came across this quote as I was either planning or starting this dress and I so enjoyed the curmudgeonly generation-gap thoughts expressed in it that it has stuck in my head as a sort of motto. I should explain that this quote occurs as Cunnington is discussing the new Classical style of gowns between the years 1800-1820. These dresses are usually not quite as scandalous to our modern sensibilities as they would have been to people at the time, especially those of older generations. Interestingly, this quote is from 1818 although in my opinion the often sheer muslin dresses from 1800-1810 are generally more revealing than those from 1810-1815, and especially more revealing than those from 1815-1820. Regardless, the idea of these dresses being so revealing that one is dressed as Eve would have been (i.e., wearing nothing!) is amusing to me.

This new gown is actually two separate gowns: a dark blue sleeveless underdress and a lightweight sleeved overdress in a color I call “elusive blue.” Both dresses are a mixture of hand and machine sewing, though all the finishing was done by hand on both pieces.

The underdress is simple and without a waist seam: it is gathered to a yoke in the back and gathered by a drawstring in front. The waist is created by tying the overdress. The overdress, however, is more complicated. The skirt is a simple rectangle with rounded front corners (two widths of fabric wide: there’s a seam at center back), but the bodice has front pieces, shoulder straps, and an interestingly gathered back piece, as well as sleeves. In addition to having more pieces, the overdress is edged all around with lace and faux pearls, as well as having puffs edged with lace and trim sewn on to the sleeves.

Back view (you can see the gathers on the back bodice piece).

I did indeed sew all the pearls on by hand, individually, and good thing, too! You see, if each pearl is sewn on individually then if the thread breaks you might loose a few pearls, but you won’t have your entire pearl job go spilling all over the dance floor (that could be catastrophic for the dancing and your hard work!). I did wear this to the Grand Ball on the Sunday evening of the Regency Dance Weekend, and by the end of the night I had lost a very small section of pearls along the back hem of my dress. Thanks to all my fastidious pearl sewing, that was all I lost and there were no comical/catastrophic scenes with pearls spilling on to the dance floor! If you look closely at the wavy lines you can see that they get a little wobbly at times, but I did do my best to be symmetrical despite the wobbles. I also did my best to estimate the wavelength of the pearls and replicate it as best I could while eyeballing as I went along. (In fact, I think my wavy lines of pearls are actually more regular than those on my inspiration dress.)

My dress is a direct interpretation of the ball gown at the Met from 1811 (pictured below). The most obvious difference is the colors I chose to use (partly because I found the fabulous elusive blue overdress fabric in the perfect light weight fabric for $1/yard!). I’m sure there are other small differences, too, but I did my best to follow the construction methods I gleaned from the zoom feature when making my dress. (The zoom feature on most of the Met’s pictures is so amazing! I love it.)

Ball gown, 1811, the Met.

As is usual with the first wearing of a new garment, there are things I am unsatisfied with and want to change. There are also things that didn’t quite get completed and need to be addressed.

First, the sleeves. My sleeves didn’t quite turn out like the ones in the inspiration photo, but they also didn’t get completed before I wore the dress (if you look closely, you’ll see that my sleeves are just raw edges on the bottom!). I ran out of time, but I also wasn’t sure that I would like how my sleeve puffs look and I didn’t want to spend time completing the sleeves if I was going to wind up disliking them in the end. Each puff is edged in the narrow bit I cut off of the wide edging lace and then also edged in a bit of trim that perfectly matches the elusive blue fabric (and that I purchased for about $2!). I don’t think my puffs look quite as elegant as the original, but they were a lot of work and I don’t have any more of that elusive blue trim to change things up. Also, if you look closely at the sleeves of the dress on the Met you’ll see that they are not displayed in the same way. I prefer the sleeve that is more puffed up (on the right), but I examined the pictures really closely and I think that it is just caught up on the mannequin and is intended to look like the other sleeve (on the left). So I have to decide, and that will help me determine how to finish the bottom of my sleeves.

Other things that bothered me were the length of my underdress (seems to have a similar length ratio to the inspiration, but I think I want my underdress to be about 2″ longer), the fact that I realized after sewing on all the lace that I had put in on with the wrong side facing out (oops! but I am absolutely not changing that!), and the fact that the blue underdress is a super bag without the overdress holding it in (I think part of the problem is my skirt shaping–I tried something new and it did not work–but the skirt kept wanting to poof out from between the fronts of the overdress, which I didn’t like). I’d like to address the underdress problems, but I’m not going to bother with that lace problem!

The lighting in this photo captures the colors of the dress much better than in the other photos.

I tried a new thing with my hair for this event which I think was quite successful. The poof is normal, but in front of it and my pearl hair “tiara” (it’s really a necklace!) are two narrow braids, one coming from each side of my head. I managed to hide the ends under the braids and my natural highlights allowed the braids to stand out from my front hair, in the right light (as with the picture, above). The only odd thing was covering up the points where the braids started. I liked it and I think I’ll try it again sometime. I also was able to wear some new earrings: green gems with little fake diamonds set around the edge of the teardrop shape. Despite not matching exactly, I think they suited the dress.

Ok, now the next post in this series really will be about the balls themselves!

Imagine An Afternoon At Mansfield Park

This April, I was again blessed to be able to take a weekend and step out of my modern, incredibly busy life to join other like-minded individuals for a Regency Intensive Dance Weekend hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. Here is the link to all of last year’s posts, which describe a weekend just as wonderful as this year’s turned out to be.

Saturday consisted of lots of dance class, followed in the evening by an informal ball. Sunday’s schedule had a little bit of dance class in the morning followed by a low-key afternoon of Regency non-dance activities and finished up with a reception and grand ball in the evening.

We took fewer pictures this year than last year, but we still captured the amazing essence of this wonderful event: Saturday’s ball really felt like an immersion into an intimate house party rather than a public ball, Sunday’s afternoon events were wonderfully relaxed and felt like an afternoon one might have while visiting Mansfield Park, and Sunday’s grand ball was amazing to behold and be a part of in terms of exquisite refreshments, companionable company, and excellent dancing.

Having so few pictures of the Saturday evening informal ball, I’ve decided to just include them in a second post which will have pictures from both balls. So then this post will be about Sunday afternoon’s event. Activities included sword demonstrations, playing various period card games, participating in or watching a “theatrical,” listening to a short and impromptu piano interlude, and delighting in the delicious refreshments and tea. Of course, there was also lively conversation, as you would expect! (We had hoped to have some outdoor actives, too, such as playing graces in the park and taking a walk, but unfortunately it was raining all morning and things were wet, so we decided to stay inside. In the end, it turned out to be just fine and we still had a lovely time!) 

Cards and counting chips laid out and ready to participate in a game.

The “theatrical” was staged for us by a group of interested and theatrically inclined ladies. They only had perhaps a portion of an hour to prepare a few scenes from The Rivals for us (a play first performed in 1775 and written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan). It was highly enjoyable and, we, the audience laughed a lot! Indeed, The Rivals is one of the plays that is dismissed by the party in Mansfield Park when they are thinking of putting on a play (hence why I’ve specifically mentioned that the afternoon felt like visiting Mansfield Park!). In the book, they decide on another play in the end (Lovers’ Vows, from 1798), but it was neat to see scenes from one of the plays mentioned in the book!

“All the best plays were run over in vain. Neither Hamlet, nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presented anything that could satisfy even the tragedians; and The Rivals, The School for Scandal, Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, were successively dismissed with yet warmer objections.” From Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, in Chapter Fourteen.

Small props had been thought of ahead of time and provided extra amusement: the hat, cravat, and beard were a few of these amusing things!
Really, the scenes were amusing and acted with conviction.
Delicious refreshments (we had a variety of scones, cookies, and cucumber sandwiches). Tea is being poured out in the background.
A portion of the party enjoying card games, conversation, and refreshments.

Our venue was built around 1816-1817 and provides a wonderful environment for Regency activities especially: beautiful windows, high ceilings, a lovely dance floor that lends itself to Regency style dancing, etc. I also like the creamy butter yellow walls with lovely white trim.

I wore my tree gown. I’m attempting to look pensively out the window hoping that Mr. Darcy will come by…
I’ve seen him! Be still my heart!

Yes, I know I’m mixing my books here. Perhaps I should have thought of myself as Fanny Price waiting to see a glimpse of Edmund Bertram out the window. Ah, but I don’t identify with Fanny so much as Elizabeth Bennet, so you’ll have to cope with my mixing of books!