Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Inner Monologue 3

I volunteer at the county penitentiary once a week to co-run creative writing workshops with the 18-24 year old men in the "boot camp" program.  Tonight our workshop focused on the importance of building a sense of place through details using A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf.  I was so impressed by the discussion and writing that occurred, and I left feeling so much better than I have been lately with all the stress of having to graduate.

Anyways, I thought in honor of that I would share a very silly moment from a couple of nights ago.  I often study in a tiara when I need extra motivation, and for some reason the combination of pearls, pajamas, and sparkle is pretty hilarious.  Although Antonia has already beat me to the blog (so to speak) on this one, here I am making the most of my college education.

Monday, February 27, 2012


This summer I spent a lot of time watching period dramas based on Russian novels with a friend, and as a result developed an unhealthy affinity for fur (of the synthetic variety).  There's something about white fur that really appeals to me, and I found several examples of white capes that I really love...so I decided to make my own!
It's a full circle cape with white fur on one side and white wool on the other, pearl buttons, and it's entirely reversible.  I am so in love with it, and it's super cuddly--no matter which side is out.

Unfortunately, August is a really terrible time to try and wear fur.  In fact, given the strange weather this winter has brought and the lack of formal events in season (well, besides the holidays, but it never worked with any of my outfits), I hadn't worn it out once until last week.  Finally though, last Monday my Mom came to visit and took me to see Verdi's Aida at Lincoln Center.
What better time to wear fur than to the opera?

I am so pleased to have finally worn this to something, and to be able to share it! Hopefully I'll have another fur opportunity event soon!

And just for fun, here's a clip from the Metropolitan Opera's production in 2009:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Popping Off to 1812

So, I went to a ball this weekend, and it was lovely!  The fabulous Antonia precepted, and I not only learned some really cute dances, did a dance or two I had done before, but also learned regency 'rights and lefts,' which is a figure I am familiar with in later 19th century dancing as well as in SCD, but never in its earlier regency form.  I also wore the white dress I worked on over winter holidays, and it was nice to have something pretty and period to wear...however it still needs a bit of adjusting, as well as closures (I had to be sewn in again...oops!), but I think I may just make a new dress this summer rather than adjust this one.  The main reason for that, because I really do like this dress (and it's practical, as it's cotton-yay breathable fabric for sweaty dancing!), but as you'll see below the delicate embroidery doesn't really show up super well.  I'm reading through Gail Marsh's 19th Century Embroidery Techniques to learn some new stitches and then I will make a NEW SUPER IMPROVED ballgown with an embroidered hem.
Anyways, I had so much fun dancing at the ball that I didn't take any pictures! Luckily, I went on a 1812 road trip with some friends from college to drive from New York to Salem for the day, and the lovely Hailey documented the endeavor with a much better camera than mine.
Thanks, Hailey!
So as I've already written more than I planned on, I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for me.

the obligatory blog 'front and back of dress' pictures

getting sewn in (again) before the ball
the first waltz

giggling instead of posing--oops!

gossiping with a friend--check out the pearls in my hair! I was pleased with those

our merry party from NY! (with A) not a great picture of me, but oh well
Unfortunately, I can't locate the picture of my shoes with the rosettes and ribbons added, but they were lovely...until the ribbons fell off.  The rosettes worked well though! It was quite a lovely evening and I'm so glad I was able to go.  Counting down until Returning Heroes in March...

Friday, February 17, 2012

More pre-ball countdown

In addition to a couple of real posts, a ton of homework, and a bundle of sewing and cooking to do before tomorrow, I'm still making time for some silly videos in honor of the upcoming adventure to the 1812 Ball tomorrow in Salem!

I can barely contain my excitement.

I was looking for something totally unrelated this morning, and I found this well-cut and funny video about some lovely regency boys...and as a friend told me recently while doing costume research that "google says the only man to exist during the Regency was Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy," I thought it was worth taking a look at some...other examples of masculinity.

Happy day before the Ball!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some Pre-Ball Fun

The 1812 Ball is in two days, and I can barely contain my excitement! Honestly, it really couldn't come at a better time as I've been having a hellish week.
As a cross between ball excitement and my dance literature project I've been looking at a lot of clips from movies set in the period lately.  This morning I was on a quest for anything related to the Duchess of Richmond's ball, which was help in 1815 the night before the Battle of Waterloo, and for this reason (the British troops were in attendance) it is an extremely famous occasion.  I spent yesterday afternoon reading a book written about it, and while it was full of guest lists, political intrigue, and war tension, it did not mention a single dance by name except the waltz.  How frustrating!

However, was one regiment at the ball that was quite exciting to read about: the Gordon Highlanders.  This Scottish regiment were fierce in battle, and just as 'fierce' on the ballroom floor!  I know from the literature that they danced 'Scotch Reels', and that bagpipes were involved...but that could mean many different things.  However, since I love SCD and highland dancing almost as much as a I love vintage, the chance to combine the two (even academically) is too much to pass up.  With that in mind, off I went questing!
Scouring youtube, I found a 1970 movie called Waterloo which is about the battle and features the ball rather heavily.  I haven't watched the whole thing yet, although I will, but here is a rather hilarious clip of the Gordon Highlanders dancing a version of the Sword Dance:

Here's what that usually looks like (it's actually a favorite of mine):

Finally, here's the trailer for the movie.  It looks so intensely silly I really must watch it!

Isn't that fantastic? To set the scene a bit more...here are two dresses said to have been worn at the ball, now in the Museum of Costume, Bath:

image from here
and finally, a few fashion plates and period illustrations to get an idea of what the guests would look like.

war veterans photographed in their old uniforms from the Napoleonic Wars, Brown University

Charles Gordon Lennox, Duke of Richmond (and host)
Some of the Russian guests (because Hussar uniforms are awesome):

In closing, the ball itself, as painted by Robert Hillingford:

Stay tuned for pictures from my ball adventure, c. 1812, this weekend!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Practicing for the Titanic

This April marks the 100th anniversary of both the Titanic's maiden voyage and tragic destruction.  I think this particular disaster in our social memory is especially interesting because it marked the "beginning of the end", so to speak: after what had been an upward slope of industry, wealth (for some), and engineering during the close of the last century, the sinking of the Titanic was followed by WWI and a complete change in the cultural mindset.  No longer did we doubt our immortality after brutal trench warfare, the way we had when building an 'unsinkable' ship.
Anyways, the point of that diversion is that I think the Titanic centennial is worth remembering, and that honoring both what the ship meant in our culture's recent history as well as the lives lost in the crash is a good thing to do this April.  To that end, if I can possibly swing it I plan to pop over to Titanic Weekend in Salem, MA with the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.  I've also been re-watching season one of Downton Abbey recently with a friend who missed it the first time 'round, and lusting after Lady Mary's hair.  Both of these things inspired me last night to give some early twentieth century hair a go.
Here was the result:
from the back: the overall shape is right but the poof above all the curls needs to be more even

side view: needs poofier sides and I need to be careful to hide the pins!

I don't think it turned out too badly.  I have one small rat pinned in (a rat is a pad under/inside the hairstyle to make it more full-looking.  They're traditionally made from shed hair caught in your hairbrush, but you can buy plenty of modern, synthetic alternatives) at the middle/back of my head, and the hair above is brought down over it and pinned below.  Everything else is just experimenting with different ways to style the bottom/sides.  My hair is naturally curly, so at the point where I couldn't do anything else interesting I just reverted to the 'shove curls to head and pin' method I usually take when doing my hair in the morning.
I looked at several video tutorials as well as this instructional article from American Duchess (which is aimed at people with shorter hair and uses a fake hair piece) and attempted several of the techniques with this...although I'm not sure all of them succeeded.  One thing I definitely need is more rats!  I think a bigger one at the back will help a lot, as well as setting it in a little higher on my head.  I would also like to include a rat above each ear, so that it looks a little fuller above my ears...a bit like Mary's.
Dressed for dinner, during the 1912 half of series 1
I probably won't go as extreme as a lot of these ladies, but I've been drawing inspiration from a variety of awesome hair c.1912.  Here are some period examples!
"Young Ladies circa 1912" --the giant hair bow on the one to the far right is may favorite
built more to the side than back, but I love the swirls/rolled look
Inscribed "Christmas 1912"--Is there a bit of braid at the back?
WHOOM. That's the sound this hair makes, I think.  If my hair gets long again I might give this a try!
I have a LOT of practicing to do before April.  Looks like I'll just have to keep taking regular trips to 1912...at least as far as my hair is concerned.  I don't think the idea of swimming in icy water actually sounds at all appealing.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Inner Monologue, part 2

My red slippers that I had sent to Edinburgh for arrived in the post yesterday, and I am so pleased with them!  They are, quite simply, kid dancing slippers but the bright red is different than any of my others and will be splendid with gold rosettes at the toes and red ribbon crosses at the ankles.  If all goes according to plan they will then match both my gold and cream embroidered regency dress and be not out of place with my new dress stewart 1860s.  I don't believe they will be as period for 1860s, but they are certainly Scottish, and that is quite enough.
Speaking of the ball, plans are almost complete for our grand adventure next weekend!  I am already counting the hours until we leave, and as we have (almost) all reserved our places in advance I can say that we shall be quite the merry party on the journey!  I am planning a picnic to feed everyone in the car so that we will not have to take the time to stop for luncheon--it is extremely important we make it in time for the workshop, as I could use a serious memory refreshment and no one else has yet learned a single step.  After the workshop there will be time for supper, hopefully with the girls from Wellesley and my darling LARPer friend who might be coming down from Worcester to meet us.  I've tried convincing him to attend the ball, but no such luck.  Ah well--I already have far too many people to organize.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sugar Therapy

I tend to bake when I'm stressed, and the combination of crunch-time on my thesis and announcements means that I've been really stressed lately.  That, combined with a failed attempt at a night out, meant that by the time I made it to brunch at Ihop with my housemates I was in a pretty miserable mood.  On top of that I was feeling quite nostalgic for my flat in Edinburgh and the mornings when we would wake up after a night out and spend the rest of the day in bed eating junk and watching period dramas.
There is a phenomenal place to pop in for cupcakes on Hanover Street called Bibi's Bakery where we used to get cupcakes on days when a little sugar boost was just the thing.  My favorite from their everyday menu was the banoffee cupcake.  For those Americans who haven't come across banoffee before (it's not as common in the states, I don't think-we stick to 'banana cream'), it is traditionally a pie made of bananas, toffee (in this case aka dulce de leche, a caramel made from boiled condensed milk), and cream.  I'm actually not a big fan of the pie, but Bibi's cupcake version is amazing.  So the combination of nostalgia and stress led to an evening of experimentation and some delicious banoffee cupcakes, recreated at home in New York.
the final product-yum!
I read through a lot of recipes before I started, and here's what I ended up with:
Banoffee Cupcakes (adapted from Gina's Banana Cupcakes)
Makes 24

2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter (unsalted)
1 cup sugar (I went a little light on the sugar because of the filling and frosting, but if you like things sweet then use the full amount!)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
4 over-ripe bananas (I only had slightly ripe ones, so they weren't mushy...it still works, but you need to mash them extensively with a fork or potato-masher before adding them to the batter)
12 chewy caramels, cut in half (the kind you buy to melt down for caramel apples, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream (I bake by hand mostly but you can also use an electric mixer) butter and sugar until fluffy, then add yogurt and vanilla.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add mashed bananas and mix until thoroughly combined before adding dry ingredients slowly.
When fully mixed, scoop about 1/4 cup into a muffin pan lined with cupcake papers.  These puff up, but you want the liners to be about 3/4 full.

Now comes the tricky part.  I ran a test of 3 cupcakes before I put in a full tray, and I recommend you do the same to make sure the timing is right-everyone's oven is just a bit different.

Bake cupcakes for 8 minutes, then remove tray from oven (close the oven and do this on a counter so you don't cool the oven by holding it open!) and quickly place 1 caramel half into the center of each cupcake.  Leave a small amount sticking out of the top-they sink a bit and the cupcake will rise around the candy.  Put the cupcakes back in the oven and bake for an additional 12 minutes.

Remove from the pan as soon as they come out of the oven and let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

**The cupcakes bake for about 20 minutes total, so adjust the proportion of pre- and post-caramel addition baking times for your oven.

For the holidays one of my housemates gave me real vanilla extract from Mexico-it's so much better than the stuff I buy at the grocery store!  I used one of my favorite frosting recipes for these, because it's super simple and with good vanilla really tastes like fluffy heaven...and I'm not a frosting person.

Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Buttercream (adapted slightly from the original)
Makes enough to lightly frost 24 cupcakes (Mine are very lightly frosted, but I had a lot left over)-if you plan to pipe frosting, or frost a cake, double this

1 stick of butter (unsalted)
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more to taste if yours isn't as strong)

Beat butter, vanilla, and milk until creamy and not stick-shaped.  Add sugar 1 cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition (I don't recommend doing this by hand-I use an electric hand mixer. It's a LOT!).  When all sugar has been added and mixture is combined, set a timer and beat for an additional 5 minutes.  Frosting should become fluffy.

I will definitely be making these cupcakes again.  I finished them late last night, and out of 24 there are only 3 still left.  The only changes I would make are to use really mushy bananas and try replacing half the normal sugar with brown sugar...hmmm.
This is the thing I love most about baking, really: it's the only experiment you can eat afterwards.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

After the Ball

In light of the fact that I was up far later than I planned, and my kitchen has been monstrously messy because none of us can be bothered to load the dishwasher before we go to bed at 3am.  Anyways, I was doing some research for my final literature project (I'm not sure how to refer to it, probably just the "ball project" makes the most sense, as the title is Dance Culture in 19th Century Literature) and came across this painting:
After the Ball, Charles Chaplin
 Isn't she adorable?  I was completely amused by the whole scene: adorable bewildered maid walking into the midst of upturned objects and discarded clothing.  If my house were less of a dorm and more of a mid-19th-century-imagines-18th-century home, this is exactly the scene that greets the first housemate up the morning after a night out.
Which made me continue to dig, and I found a pair to this painting!
Before the Ball, Charles Chaplin
This is also extremely reminiscent of my house...particularly of me.  I love clothes, and I tend to dress up even for a night in, just for fun.  So I continued to look at art related to going out, and I found some lovely things.  How many of these scenes look familiar to your life?
Before the Ball, Boris Kustodiev

Before the Ball, Jan Portielje
Yay! Shoes! I love that this one is mid-action.

After the Ball, Alfred Stevens (1874)

After the Ball, Armand Doree

After the Ball, Charles Baugniet

After the Ball, Marie Girard (1869)
 This is one of my favorites! Check out her cute blue shoes and her swans down trimmed cape!  Of course, the red velvet chaise isn't bad either...
After the Ball, Julia Stewart
And of course, it isn't just the ladies who have danced themselves to exhaustion.  Here is one particularly worn out gentleman:
After the Ball, Jean Fourian
So tired he neglected to remove his shoes before lying down!  Finally, here's a last one I came across that was a different image from the morning after:
Duel After the Ball, Gerome
Maybe a disagreement over a partner? Oh dear.  Not that I haven't witnessed some duel-worthy drama at college events.  And to be fair, we do have a dueling club...

...ah, well.  Time for pancakes.  Now if I can only convince everyone in the house to go out dressed like the ladies in these paintings, we really shall be recreating art.