Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Celebrating the Titanic: Weekend Highlights

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers hosted a fabulous Titanic themed weekend.

The weekend started with a Steerage Dance.  I wore a vintage blouse with a long black skirt, draped jacket, and straw hat.  The skirt had a shirred belt with a matching swag.

Steve wore a frock coat over a period shirt with garters on his sleeves, a satin vest and bowler.

We met a wonderful couple from Texas and danced the evening away.

At 71, he is as much of a hit as he was in the 60's!
One wonderful attribute of period dances is the live music.

For the Steerage Dance, Ian Whitcomb, the foremost ukelele, ragtime, and tin pan alley historian and musician entrained us with anecdotes and period music.
He played an incredible array of instruments and he was just as funny and just as versatile as hewas when he sang "You Turn Me On" in 1965. 

He and his lovely wife Regina, who joined him for a Sunday afternoon concert, was a delightful addition to the weekend.

Ian Whitcomb and his fellow musicians entertained us with wonderful music to dance to
After a dance workshop Saturday morning, we were treated to an authentic Victorian luncheon and tea.  The women wore their fanciest day dresses and fancy hats and the men were equally decked out.

In addition to fancy sandwiches and meat pasties, there were cheese spreads, fruits, savories, breads, and pastries.
Steve wore tails and his bowler.
The tea was my favorite event of the entire weekend.  The food was authentic to the period, and everyone looked exquisite.

The ambiance in the room harkened back to a much more elegant period. Voices were soft, crystal and silver gleamed, and everyone was smiling, happy, and relaxed.

It was amazing how many men attended, and all of them dressed and accessorized in keeping with the period.

One of the women regaled us with stories of how her husband usually spends Saturday afternoons: dressed in his favorite team's sweats or muscle shirt, beer in hand, shouting at the coaches and referees on TV.   She was amazed at how he had been totally transformed from a sports fanatic into a dapper, tuxedoed, aristocrat wearing gloves and sporting a top hat. 

Wandering from table to table  was like paging through a full color edition of Godey's Ladies Book. (Yes, I know, Godey's ceased publication in 1898, 14 years before this event, but you get the point.)

Many of the women had authentic period hats, purses, and jewelry that they had taken from storage for the day.   We shared notes about sources, seamstresses, and sewing patterns as we sipped a variety of herbal teas.

Some of us were risque, allowing our ankles to show. But above all, we made an elegant showing

My dress started out as a long lace skirt that I added pearl spaghetti straps to.

The overlay, which I made from a bargain aisle fabric remnant, is cinched at the waist with a belt.

The earrings were handcrafted by Diane Reilly and are an exact replica of those worn by The Mrs. Aster in her portrait.  She also crafted he triple strand pearl necklace.  The unusual gray-green pearls pick up on the green in the overlay and they are blended with with pale straw and ivory pearls and gold filigree beads.

The  purse is a Mary Frances mini bag that I acquired several years ago.  I splurged on three different purses and had not had many occasion to use them until we began period dancing.  This was the first time I'd ever carried this clutch.  Since this event, I've worn this outfit several times and the purse always attracts compliments.

The touring hat and boots are from Recollections.biz.

Steve enjoyed dressing up as much as I did.  He chose the cane from the selection at Gentleman's Emporium. His tails, vest, bow-tie and bowler are from Giblee's in Danvers, MA. Giblee's offers tails and accessories that have been used as rentals for sale at heavily discounted prices. 

The detail in the earrings and necklace are exquisite.  The Mary Frances mini bag was the perfect finishing touch.

Dressed in their finest for tea....  I loved the amazing variety of dresses and hats and could
 The weekend's crowing events took place on Saturday evening when the Colonial Hall at Rockafella's in Salem, Massachusetts was transformed into one of the Titanic's ballrooms, complete with a live orchestra, backdrop for souvenir photographs, and a fabulous dinner. 

The balconies, reminiscent of the outside decks, were set with tables where guests enjoyed cocktails and later, coffee and dessert.

Ian Whitcomb joined the period orchestra and we danced to a wonderful blend of rag time and other period music.  The one step, waltz, tango, and fox trot were featured along with some of the line dances and progression dances of the time.

Waltzing to the same music that was played on the fateful voyage. The committee researched the music and offered dance workshops so the evening would be as authentic as possible.

The weekend ended with a promenade at the Peabody Essex Museum followed by a concert featuring Ian Whitcomb.   Steve and I wore the same outfits we'd worn for tea the day before.  Museum guests were delighted when our group descended on the exhibits in our period regalia.  One woman asked if we were a part of a living exhibit.

We had a chance to walk through town, shop, and have a light lunch before the concert and we were stopped several times by other tourists and shoppers who wanted to snap photographs of us  It was a wonderful, memorable weekend that we hope it is repeated in the future. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Remembering the Titanic ~ April 14-15, 2012

When the queen of the White Star Line, the RMS Titanic, set sail from  Southampton, England on April 10, 1912  en route to Cherbourg, France, Queenstown, Ireland, and eventually on to New York in the United States, she carried with her many wealthy millionaires.   The list of illustrious passengers included  John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant bride, Madeleine (he perished, she survived), silent film star Dorothy Gibson (she survived), industrialist and mining heir Benjamin Guggenheim (who boarded in France with his mistress - he perished, she survived), and U.S. and Canadian streetcar and railway magnates George Dennick Wick, George Dunton Widener, John Thayer, and Charles Hays (all of whom perished).

Isador and Ida Straus, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Much has been portrayed about the ill-fated trip, the magnificent ship, and her illustrious passengers, but the couple whose story has touched me the most are financier and former U.S. congressman Isidor Straus and his wife, Rosalie Ida (Blun).

I first read about the Strauses several years ago when I was hosting a midsummer Rosh Chodesh celebration. For the Rosh Chodesh, I asked the women who were participating to share with the group the story of an important Jewish woman who they wanted to honor. 

Honorees ranged from cherished grandmothers to Ann Frank, college advisers and mentors to Emma Lazarus.

I'd come across and saved the my late mother-in-law's handwritten teaching notes for a course she'd taught about important Jewish women.  Rosalie Ida Straus ranked high on her list and I was captivated with the story of the older gentleman in poor health who refused to leave the ship until all of the women and children had first been evacuated, and his devoted wife who likewise refused to leave his side and remained behind rather than board a life boat and leave him to die alone while she would likely be saved.

Theirs is one of the most accurate portrayals of passengers in the movie "Titanic".   Ida Straus's courage and devotion to her husbandand and her words, reported by many survivors, touched my heart. While her husband and other passengers tried to persuade her to leave for safety on Life Boat #8, Ida Straus's response recalls the wedding vows from the Book of Ruth"We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go."  

Nat and Frieda Wieder on their wedding day in 1947
After my mother-in-law's death in 2003, I added the ritual of Kos Miryam, Miriam's Cup, to our family Seder. Each year, we dedicate Miriam's Cup in honor of an important Jewish woman. 

This year, when I re-wrote our family Haggadah in preparation for Passover, I included the story of Isador and Rosalie Ida Straus.  

With the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster coming during Passover week, it seemed fitting to honor this woman who my late mother-in-law chose as one of the honorees on her list. 

Our celebration of the Titanic will continue next weekend when we attend the Titanic Vintage Dance Weekend sponsored by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Welcoming Home the Civil War Heroes

The second period dance event we attended was an 1860's era ball held at the Town Hall in Holliston, Massachusetts.  Like the Salem Town Hall, the building features a large open space suitable for a ball or other social function and the period architecture added so much to the ambiance for the evening.  

Like the Regency Ball we attended last month, it was sponsored by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, which offers dance workshops for the dances of each period.

The style of the gown worn at an 1860's era ball is much more involved and elaborate.  A full hoop skirt is worn and the circumference of the hem of my dress was just over 200 inches.  In looking at fabrics, I again hit a stumbling block. The pattern I was working from called for nearly 8 yards of fabric, plus lining, lace, and ribbon. I found the perfect fabric hanging in my favorite curtain shop, Curtains 'n More, in Amesbury, Massachusetts.

Three ribbon embroidered shower curtain panels gave me the width for the skirt, decorative floral stripes, and plenty of fabric to complete the bodice.  The extra valances were used to embellish with fabric sashes over each shoulder.

To be able to get the fullness in the skirt without bunching fifteen feet of fabric, the skirt was extensively pleated at the waist.

The bodice and skirt are made separately and are not attached.  I plan to attach them in the future as the skirt tends to slide down, making dancing in the cumbersome hoop skirt quite a challenge.

In addition to getting the pleats even, I had to calculate placement of the floral motifs.
I calculated and marked the pleats and then tacked them by hand. Then I sewed around the top to hold them in place so I could attach the waistband.  The purple marks are disappearing seamstress marking pen. And yes, they did disappear, although it took closer to two days than the 24 hours promised on the package.
I used two valance sections to make the sashes that crossed over the bodice.  Using shower curtains instead of regular curtain panels gave me three extra decorative panels with finished edges. It made crafting the gown a breeze.
The finished waist. The waistband was cut from a decorative valance.

A scene from the 1860's era "Returning Heroes Ball".

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our First Regency Ball

My husband and I have long enjoyed ballroom dancing. For the past several years, medical issues have kept me off the dance floor but recent improvements have allowed me the luxury of being able to take a turn around the parquets a time or two, as long as I pace myself and avoid too many rapid turns.

I recently wrote my very first Regency era novel and while researching dance history for a scene in the book, I came across a wonderful group of vintage dancers who provided not only a wealth of information and first hand experience, but also a new hobby that we are able to enjoy as a couple.

The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers have been dancing the dances of the Civil War, la Belle Epoque, and the Ragtime Eras for nearly 30 years.  They sponsor workshops in dance technique and costuming and hold public events where you can join them to dance back in time

After a crash course  - offered by the Vintage Dance Lyceum - in Regency dance, we attended the 1812 Ball hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.

The women's Regency silhouette features an empire waist.  The undergarments - a corset, chemise, and pantaloons - shape the body to fit the style of the period.

In creating the design for my gown, I wanted to stay as historically accurate as possible, which meant no zippers, no elastic, and all seams hand felled.  It was quite the sewing adventure.

I couldn't find a fabric that suited me and I found myself describing what I was looking for and comparing it to the embroidered sheers that had been our bedroom curtains.  Could I?   Should I?   I did!   I utilized the scalloped edge for the hem of both the gown and the sleeve ruffles.

When I wear this gown again for a future Regency event, I will remake the sash and arm bows with a stiffer fabric. Otherwise, it was pleased with the end result. 

The gown was accessorized with a hand-painted Limoges brooch, Battenburg lace fan, and satin elbow length gloves embellished with bows.

My husband, Stephen, is wearing black tails over a Marcus Regency shirt with lace edged jabot and cuffs. The cane and felt madhatter hat, also from Gentlemen's Emporium, and white gloves finish the ensemble.

The 1812 Ball was held at the Old Town Hall in Salem, Massachusetts, and we danced to music by the Vintage musical ensemble "Spare Parts" in the beautifully appointed vintage setting..