Ambrotype Adventure in Sherbrooke!

Earlier this year, four members of Man the Capstan ventured across the province to Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, where tucked beside the St. Mary’s river sits a picturesque village subsisting still within the late 19th century. Interested in all things historical, especially with respect to Nova Scotian history, the Capstan Crew thoroughly enjoyed themselves and resolved to return, particularly in costume!

We prepared to depart early in the morning on October 10th, this time skipping the Guysborough detour and heading straight down to Sherbrooke from New Glasgow. It was a far quicker drive than last time, and we pulled into the parking lot at a timely 1400 hrs (or thereabouts).

Of particular interest at Sherbrooke was their reputed ambrotype studio, one of the few working studios that still use the original method employed in the 1860s. For an incredible $40.00 tourists can get dressed up in a variety of costumes and outfits and have their picture taken! Having an ambrotype picture taken is a rewarding experience; the very act itself is a historical exercise. Let me tell you, it’s not like heading to Sears and getting your family portrait taken.

Susan, our photographer this time around (different from the lady we dealt with previously) was a true professional; she explained the process and arranged us in a timely manner; for my own picture it was decided it best to sit down, holding my chapeau in my lap and sitting in such a way so as to not cut my larger frame out of the shot—you don’t have a lot of room to work with, and we’d learn fairly quickly that it’s even harder to fit two people into a frame! Our photographer told us that there are a few “tricks” they use in order to get it just right.

In the end we had two shots taken; one with myself, and the other with Johanna and Steve. We were informed the process would take about 20-30 minutes, and that in the meantime Susan could introduce us to the costumers that were responsible for helping to make all the history “come alive” at Sherbrooke. We took a walk across the street and spoke with Meg and her assistant, Andrea. The wardrobe room was filled with dresses and men’s outfits, shoes, hats, simple gowns, fancy gowns, and a workshop that exuded a creative aura; this was indeed the place that old things rose to become something new and engaging.

Andrea and Meg

Both Meg and Andrea were clearly passionate about their work (it seems that has been a trend for us; most history enthusiasts wouldn’t do what they do unless they loved it!) and we had a wonderful conversation with them. The 20-30 minutes passed quickly, and after passing a card to them, we headed back to secure our finished ambrotypes, which were spectacular!

We took the opportunity to take a few more shots within Sherbrooke, getting some splendid ones; we’ve uploaded all of them to our Flickr Photostream; check out the set here!

I’d like to return to Sherbrooke again in uniform, perhaps in a busier part of the year so as to have a bit more fun with some fellow visitors. It’s a great place in Nova Scotia, and I hope that by writing this blog it may engender some additional interest; this sort of living history is rarely seen executed so well. You can visit Sherbrooke’s website here!

Until next time!


Weighing Anchor for Sherbrooke, N.S.!

Not all Man the Capstan endeavours have been about getting dressed up in our respective uniforms and gowns. We also enjoy simply getting together and checking out a local historic site, or doing some research and posting our findings. The wonderfully evocative Sherbrooke Village in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, has always been a place we’ve been meaning to visit. As we’re located in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, however, the distance has been the chief obstacle in the past. It’s a long haul out to Guysborough. It’s certainly possible to do in a day, but it would mean a lot of driving!

Struck by a recent itch to hit the road, the crew here at Man the Capstan decided that last weekend was a great opportunity to head east and check out Sherbrooke. We also resolved to make a slight detour to check out the Prince Henry Sinclair Monument, located along Route 16 at Halfway Cove.

We were fortunate enough to bring along a new passenger for this venture! A close friend and colleague of mine, Katherine D. has been a great fan of Man the Capstan and has followed our efforts for over a year now. Having invited her along for the trip, she gladly accepted. Many of the photos linked within this post are hers, so just click to head on over to her Flickr Photostream!

Arrangements were made to wake at 0530 and depart for 0700. It was an early morning! Much to our delight Katherine had elected to do some late-night baking the evening before, toiling to produce a batch of cinnamon buns for the day’s driving that was ahead of us. Let me tell you, the cinnamon buns were delicious (completely made from scratch), also making it possible to keep going without too many stops (save to grab a coffee at Tim Hortons, of course—that’s non-negotiable).

Our detour to Guysborough added a good hour or so to the drive. The route was as follows:

We were on the road at just after 0700, and arrived at Sherbrooke at around 1300 or so. Stops included fuelling at Truro, a stop to check out the township of Guysborough and the excursion along route 16 to Halfway Cove.

The town of Guysborough was really quite beautiful. Tucked within Chedabucto Bay, she’s a small community but bright and cheerful. We stopped at the Days Gone By, a charming bakery, restaurant and antiques shoppe right on the main drag. Thoroughly and gratefully satiated with Katherine’s cinnamon buns, however, we didn’t really need to grab a bite to eat. We strolled down to a small marina brimming with boats, some of them yachts like the timeless MacGregor. Steve & Johanna used to own a MacGregor 26X, and whenever we spy one it conjures up lovely memories. Lots of great shots to be had there, and Katherine even snapped a rogue jellyfish just off the pier!

We quickly made our way to the Prince Henry Sinclair monument. It was a quick jaunt up route 16, tucked away at place named Halfway Cove. The monument, erected by the Prince Henry Sinclair Society of North America, commemorates the theory that Prince Henry Sinclair and a fleet of 12 Templar ships landed on the shores of the Chedabucto in 1398, predating the arrival of Columbus. The theory has been questioned by modern academics for decades, but the descendants of Henry Sinclair, and a few notable believers within the academic community have continued to argue the possibility. The discourse on this alleged arrival by medieval knights is both Romantic and evocative; it’s hard to say exactly what happened, and if perhaps there is truth to both sides. We here at Man the Capstan aren’t about to come to any conclusion, but it is worth mentioning that the early viking explorers at L’anse aux Meadows were also considered mythic, but now have become entrenched in modern, accepted history. Time will reveal all.

After the monument we piled into the car and headed west to Sherbrooke. It took us over an hour to make our way there, but an hour past lunch we rolled into the parking lot outside the site and made our preparations. We spent the next four to five hours plying the roads of the village, taking in the lovely sights and learning a great deal from the incredibly hospitable staff!

We dined at the Sherbrooke Hotel, breaking our fast on sandwiches, soup and coffee. We took in a live demonstration at the blacksmith’s by a reenactor who wrought a steel hanger for us, explaining the process and even spending a moment to explain to Steve how older iron nails were fashioned. From there we made the circuit around the village, stopping in at the Post Office, Printing Press, and Drug Store. Each member of the Sherbrooke Staff took the time to explain their surroundings, offer tidbits and misconceptions on history, and explain (or demonstrate) the tools of the trade they represented. One special moment was at Cumminger’s store, where on the second floor there lies an ambrotype studio. The woman there was incredibly helpful and friendly! She immediately engaged us and explained the entire process, demonstrating the differences in colour and shade that would result from having an ambrotype photo taken; for example, a bright yellow lemon, taken next to a deep dark red apple, would both end up the same dark hue. This makes it difficult to determine the colours of garments or adornments from original photographs, and can make for some interesting science when trying to get just the right picture! The studio charges $40.00 for a shooting, fitting a maximum of three people. The Crew will most certainly return to Sherbrooke to get a picture, a la ambrotype!

The Courthouse was a wonderful building with fantastic acoustics. While within we belted out half a verse of Minstrel Boy, a song we’ve been working on and may, in the future, record at some point. It sounded gorgeous, and it was no surprise that the Courthouse is still used for musical “animations” by the Sherbrooke staff.

Outside we further checked out the elegant Greenwood Cottage, the Masonic Hall (No. 34 “Queen’s Lodge”), and the Doctor’s Office. The cottage was a great contrast to the rest of the town; housing the richest family during the height of the Sherbrooke gold rush, Greenwood Cottage displays the elegance found within the community. The same gentlemen who owned Cumminger’s Store also owned Greenwood Cottage (one brother stayed in Sherbrooke to handle the affairs within the village, while the other plied the seas looking for goods and trade to bring back to a booming Sherbrooke).

Our visit finally ended with the Temperance Hall, a sizeable building with a cavernous ceiling, used presently to display craftwork, predominately rug-hooking. The bottom floor of the Hall is home to a Royal Canadian Legion meeting place, perhaps one of the only dry RCL meeting places in Canada (according to our hostess).

With the tolling of the bell at 1700 we made our way to our vehicle, and began the long drive home (stopping shortly at Antigonish for a meal and a drink). Overall our trip to Sherbrooke was a huge success, and a lot of fun! Katherine added a wonderful dynamic to the Capstan Crew, constantly pointing out interesting facts and tidbits on subjects from foliage (yes, I did call that a maple) and entomology, to fantastic and old antiques and historical practices. While no surprise, Katherine also displayed an excellent taste in music; having brought her iPod along, we were exposed to some great Canadiana, from Portico to Alberta’s own Corb Lund and his “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier”.

A great trip which made for quite the long write-up! That’s all for now, until next time.

“Ahoy there!” Tall Ships 2009, Part II

Two days ago I posted the first part of this two-part post, “Ahoy there!” Tall Ships 2009, which chronicled the first day of our Tall Ships 2009 experience. Tall Ships, a maritime festival that occurs every two years at Halifax, was the culminating event for our reproductions. It allowed us to gather in uniform and dress, and enjoy the festivities on the piers and under the sun for a weekend.

Unfortunately the first day was rain-filled and dreary (as one will learn by reading the first part), but the second day was remarkable. The amount of fun we had on Sunday more than made up for the disappointments of Saturday. Our only regret was that the ladies could not get dressed up. Unfortunately the uniforms stole the show—next time I think we won’t so carelessly tread into rainy weather, given our Tall Ships experience.

We began the day with a hearty meal at the Waverley (which consisted of pretty much any breakfast food you could dream of). It was a good idea, because we wouldn’t get another bite to eat until later on in the day. The women dressed in casual clothing and took charge of our immediate superior officer, Little William (dubbed the Admiral as our respective OIC). My father Steve donned his bright red major’s uniform, trimmed in bright silver lace, while my brother-in-law Tim and I dressed in our British Royal Navy captain’s uniforms, arming ourselves with our gold-buckled belts, swords and laced hats. Having taken a few shots on the steps of the Waverley (which so happens to be a favourite picture of ours), the three of us began our trek to the waterfront. Johanna snapped an incredible photo, pictured to the left, which hearkened to an earlier day in Halifax where the rhythmic  stomp and cry of British officers was considered normal.

It was a bit disorientating as we made our way to the waterfront. This was the first time we really got dressed up and displayed our creations in public. What were we supposed to do, exactly? Roam the piers? Stage some historical conversation? Break into a spontaneous duel that would certainly satisfy someone’s wounded pride (and undoubtedly bring down the combined-might of the HRP and the RCMP)?

We unanimously decided on the first option, and began roaming the piers. The three of us in uniform stayed together, while the women trailed behind with the camera. Chance would have it that the first ship we encountered was the beautiful Unicorn, a tall-ship exclusively staffed by females. The Unicorn, paired with Sisters Under Sail, offers a leadership program for teenage girls interested in the art of sailing; like most tall ships, it is staffed by the youth of our generation, offering great opportunities to learn and grow on board a sailing ship from a bygone era. Even without our Tall Ships passes (we hadn’t gotten them yet at the time!) the women of the Unicorn intercepted us at the pier, and immediately offered us a tour of the ship. Very nice crew, and a beautiful ship.

We carried on in a north-westerly direction, quickly discovering that our progress was snail-paced (to put it lightly); we were stopped, it seemed, every ten metres by visitors and tourists looking to snap a few photos of the three British officers seemingly patrolling the piers of Halifax. It was a indescribable experience, actually; we felt like celebrities. We adapted quickly, however, and began putting on the smiles that the dozens upon dozens of pictures demanded of us. Steve warmed to it very quickly, having some experience in gallivanting about in a bright uniform. Tim and I found ourselves following his example.

One charming moment was when we found ourselves heading towards a small group of Mounties in full-dress. They were marching down the pier as well, probably experiencing the same fanfare we were. We smiled and nodded as we passed, but it was not meant to be: someone from the crowd shouted “Oh! We simply must have a picture of the two of you!” We quickly formed a group and found ourselves stuck in that position for a solid five minutes or so. It was a really classic photo opportunity!

Throughout the experience we met a handful of others in costume, but nothing quite like our three uniforms. Many reenactors and costume designers create reproductions that replicated day-to-day dress; many uniforms were styled in the undress fashion, that is without the 10-15 metres of lace that adorned our own uniforms. It meant that in that bright Sunday sunshine, we were a veritable beacon so close to the water. It wasn’t difficult to see us coming. As we passed by one actor (employed by the Tall Ships event itself) in a British R.N. captain’s uniform, we received a somewhat cold reception: we had happened across his photo booth, and very quickly were attracting more cameras and interest. Feeling a tad awkward and certainly not wishing to infringe on a fellow reenactor’s turf, we made an expedient retreat.

Hours later we finally made it to the most north-westerly point of the piers you could manage on foot (that featured any festivities, anyway). We were getting hungry, and decided to grab a bite to eat somewhere. We fixed eyes on a place called Stayner’s Wharf Pub & Grill, and made the decision to get in line. Yes, there was a line (a rather long one, too). So there we were, three men in full-dress uniform ca. 1805, and two women with a young child. The sun was hot, and Little William needed to get into the shade for a rest and something to eat. It wasn’t too long before we secured a table and readied ourselves for a meal.

It was a really awesome place to eat. The food was great, the staff was very helpful and at the top of their game that day; it was their Boxing Day, I’m sure (were they a retail outlet), and they shone. We were incredibly thirsty at this point (layered wool uniforms and July weather did not mix well), and were a bit surprised that we had managed to take care of several pitchers of beer over the course of a brief meal. At the end of the meal we had a nice conversation with one of the hosts, who indicated that there was a family from Britain that were visiting Canada that had been impressed with our uniforms; the host suggested we pay them a visit. So Steve, Tim and I gathered our uniform coats, hats and swords, and headed towards the table to say hello. It was a great experience; we learned where they were visiting from, we passed them one of our business cards, and wished them well when their food arrived. Having had a great experience at Stayner’s, we paid and took our leave.

We decided to take an alternative route back to the Waverley, travelling along the adjacent Upper Water Street. It was much easier passage, with fewer stops along the way for pictures. We passed by a Canada Forces recruitment bus with some naval personnel in uniform milling about, and couldn’t help but get a few pictures. Tim had the bright idea to wander over to one of the tables staffed by CF personnel and demand two-hundred years of back-pay (they were not as impressed as we thought they’d be). One of the naval officers there stopped us before we left, however, and asked if we could stick around for a few minutes—he had sent one of his men to grab a camera, as he wanted to have a picture taken with his naval colleagues along with the Capstan Crew. We of course couldn’t decline: they happily offered us a few bottles of water from their stock and we were allowed to tour their recruitment bus. Nice lads, all of them, and the resulting picture was just fantastic.

After the Canadian Forces encounter we made quick progress back to the Waverley, and from there began to pack to head home. It had been a really successful day, but we were all utterly exhausted. Dinner was pizza and beer graciously offered by Shara and Tim. After a quick review of the day’s pictures we headed home to the Annapolis Valley, where I immediately began writing up the posts that would chronicle the day’s activities.

Okay, that last part was a big giant lie, but hey! I wrote it eventually, right?

Keep in mind all of these photos and more can be viewed at our Flickr photostream! We update it more frequently than the blog, sometimes.

Until next time guys!

“Ahoy there!” Tall Ships 2009

Up Aloft Among the Rigging!

Long overdue, I know!

Our blog has accrued a few regular subscribers in the past two years we’ve been operational. They keep tabs on the blog updates as they roll through, and monitor our activities and progress with our reproductions. Those of you who are regular subscribers will know that the Capstan Crew’s culminating project was the display of our creations at Halifax’s Tall Ships, in particular the 2009 festival. That occurred just over 10 months ago, and was a spectacular success.

It’s a terrible tragedy that I hadn’t written anything about it afterwards, but we updated our Flickr account pretty quickly thereafter, and each picture is titled with an accurate description. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so here (they are organized into sets)!

Sea Chest

Tall Ships is usually spread over several days, beginning with the slow but steady arrival of wooden and steel ships of sail from all over the world. Due to work commitments, we couldn’t be there for the entire festival (and surely that would have been utterly exhausting). We made plans to arrive early Saturday morning, and depart Sunday afternoon. That would give us two full days in the sun, touring the ships and wearing-in the reproductions.

There would be six of us, all family members and founding members of Man the Capstan. My father, Steve, wore his early 19th century Marine uniform, styling himself a major. My mother, Johanna, planned to wear an ivory regency gown that would be appropriate for the era; similarly, my sister, Shara, wore a darker regency gown from the same time period. My brother-in-law, Tim, was garbed in a British Royal Navy, ca. 1805 captain’s uniform. I was dressed in the same.

The sixth was our newest member, Little William! He was dressed in an absolutely adorable sailor’s costume. The star of the show, he was!

Mom and Dad and I met at Shara and Tim’s (who lived near the city at the time) to get ready. We were in breeches and waistcoat, just needed the final touches, so we were on the road and rolling for the waterfront fairly quickly.

For the overnighter, we made reservations at the beautiful historic Waverley Inn. Folks, if you ever get an opportunity to stay at this lovely place, do so! The rooms are phenomenal, and of particular note (to me, anyway) the breakfast was stellar. The Waverley was located near the waterfront (a few blocks), so it was perfect. We had to book months in advance in order to secure lodgings. It was packed full.

The first day of our Tall Ships trip, however, was not very successful. For most of that day, July 18th, there was rainfall. Torrential rain is not a kind thing to woolen uniforms trimmed with gold, bias-and-stand lace. It is even unkinder to the regency gowns worn by our ladies. As soon as we arrived at the Waverley it was coming down hard; we stayed at the inn for a couple hours, hoping for it to let up.


It didn’t, naturally. Stubbornly, we dressed, grabbed some umbrellas, and made the best of it. We made a successful full circuit of the docks; it was raining so bad, though, that we didn’t really stop at any of the ships. We couldn’t really take pictures (and people couldn’t really enjoy our uniforms either, though a handful did take an opportunity to snap a few shots of us). Worst of all, it was terrible conditions for Little William.

We headed back to the Waverley, but not before we stopped in at Henry’s Pub. Steve and Johanna had scouted out the pub months before during an anniversary lunch, and it was a perfect place to detour for a warm meal. It is one of the oldest buildings in Halifax, and offers the rain-weary visitor a warm place to eat and refill his or her spirits; ours was in sore need of refilling, let me tell you.

Most of us had classic fish & chips; I had the cornish pastie, and let me tell you, it was delicious.

We quickly headed back to the Waverley, then, to dry our clothing, crack open the Pusser’s we had purchased, and make plans for the next day. Unfortunately, the lady’s gowns did not hold up as well as the men’s. The rain had made them unwearable, and they needed some TLC that Johanna couldn’t provide within the Waverley—for Sunday, the last day, it was decided that the men would get dressed up again (with some minor adjustments), and the women would dress incognito. The next day was bright and sunny, so there were no problems. The success of the second day more than made up for the misadventure on the 18th.

Stay tuned for a narrative on day two. July 19th!

Man the Capstan!


Aboard a man-of-war, the cry “Up or Down!” was not an uncommon one to hear in the morning hours—it signaled the beginning of the naval day, as the watch below in their hammocks, resting precariously close to one another, would have to rise to meet the tasks and challenges set before them by the ship’s warrant officers. Up or down indeed; either rise with the cry from your betters, or be “relieved” of your resting place with a quick cut of your hammock strings! I’m sure it wouldn’t take too many tumbles to condition instant readiness!

The anecdote is meaningful—it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog update, and I mean to correct that negligent behaviour. Life has a way of intervening, and a busy schedule often affects the priority we place on Capstan updates. That doesn’t make it right, certainly, but it does present itself as a reasonable explanation!

We’ve a few updates to convey. Firstly, I will be working on a decent summation of our Tall Ships experience in 2009. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the event, and while we’ve posted a boatload of pictures (found here), I haven’t yet written a detailed narrative of the experience (which still strikes me as one of the most evocative and wonderful trips yet). It’s on the way!

This post, however, will focus chiefly on some recent work Man the Capstan has accepted (referenced with our lovely header and the title of this post). We don’t usually perform work outside of our own interests, but have always pondered on the opportunity to offer our services to others in the community (both geographically and online). Our tailor, Johanna, is a very resourceful woman and extremely talented with a sewing needle (as evidenced by our growing collection of reproductions). With history as our guide and inspiration, she has been able to craft some very elegant and accurate replicas.

It turns out that a chance encounter in a grocery store led our official town crier, Lloyd Smith, to inquire about our services; it seems he had a uniform that was quite well-worn that needed some restorative work. Johanna’s experience  with tailoring has always been from the ground-up (creating a uniform or dress from scratch, using her own patterns and materials), so we approached the job tentatively but with enthusiasm! After having viewed the uniform in question, it seemed like a possible endeavour and certainly seemed like an exciting task! We offered a quote for our services, and having obtained approval Johanna set to work.

Before we get into the details of the restorative work, I did want to comment a bit on our very personable town crier. Mr. Lloyd Smith is a talented appointed official with the Town of Windsor, but also serves as town crier for many municipalities in the region including West Hants, Kings County, Wolfville, New Minas, Kentville, Kingston and Greenwood. Mr. Smith attends many events within Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in his official capacity, invoking the historical charm of the region with his theatrical talent and presence—to be a town crier, I’ve learned, is not a simple matter; it is a skill and talent that takes training, experience, and perhaps most importantly, personality! Lloyd Smith is the most dedicated and senior of town criers in all of North America, having served his communities loyally for over thirty-one (31) years!

In his capacity as crier, Mr. Smith has a couple of uniforms in his possession; the one that Man the Capstan was to restore would be his bright red, circa 1760, 45th Regiment of Foot uniform, a highly accurate garb that had seen better days. The uniform is comprised of soldier-red breeches, waistcoat, coat and cloak; the coat and waistcoat is lined in silver bias-and-stand military lace. The buttons along the coat and waistcoat are silver as well. The breeches and coat had several areas of wear, leaving parts of the cloth threadbare (in some areas, especially where Mr. Smith would tuck his bell under his arm, holes had begun to manifest).

The silver bias-and-stand lace had become tattered, worn and had most certainly lost its shine and lustre. Man the Capstan recommended that all of the military lace be replaced. The buttons had to be restored or replaced, and the holes on the arms and breeches would have to be patched. Thankfully, the breeches were easily corrected with a patch that fit neatly along the seam of the seat. For the arms Johanna had to be creative; after conferring with Lloyd they agreed that a contrasting colour and material could be used to create a “protective” patch—a soldier’s brown in suede that, when completed, looked fairly charming! Though perhaps not quite accurate for a soldier in the 45h Regiment, it was perfect for a town crier who would tuck a bell ‘neath his arm. It made the uniform particular to his vocation!

In my opinion, however, I believe the most stunning work was the replacement of all the lace. This was an incredibly time-consuming task. All of the old lace had to be carefully removed. This included all of the waistcoat, all of trim around the pockets and cuffs and all of the lace on the cloak. Replacement lace had to be ordered from our very good friends at MilitaryHeritage, who shipped it to us in a very expedient manner (thanks again guys!) Comparing the new lace to the old, it was clear that such an addition would breathe a incredible amount of life into the uniform. The buttons were silver, but in poor condition. Using a technique we picked up from our Marine uniform reproduction, Johanna was able to apply some silver plater to the buttons (after having removed every single one, however), which gave them a new lease on life!

The uniform was dry-cleaned and pressed before work began, so after the restorative work had been complete it looked like a new uniform. Johanna was quite pleased with how everything turned out, and Mr. Smith received some very nice comments following the work. It had been Man the Capstan‘s first real official gig (that included some form of monetary reimbursement), and was quite a success. Mr. Smith and the Town of Windsor were a treat to deal with, and all of us here are very excited to see Mr. Smith in his 45th Regiment of Foot while at work!

Until next time!

Costume Update; Regency Gown #2

Regency # 2 a

Well, I’m finally done the second Regency gown and what a lovely thing it is!  It is made once again in the simple styling of the drawstring gown of the early 1800’s but with a few extravagances.

Regency gown # 2 - bI decided to do this one in an ivory silk like taffeta. The fabric has a lovely texture, just a little bit shiny and is liberally decorated with an embroidered leaves and vine pattern. I think it really has an authentic look about it.  I decorated this dress with some lovely ivory venetian style lace which I added to the sleeves and around the skirt of the gown and accented it with ivory satin rosebuds.  I made a wide belt with left over fabric and also decorated that with a length of the same lace.  There is a lace insert at the neckline of the gown and because it was improper for a lady to show her cleavage other than for evening, I also made a lace shawl collar to go with it and will wear long ivory opera length gloves to cover my arms.  This, I feel also nicely suits a middle aged lady like myself rather well. The great thing about it is that with the removal of the shawl feature the gown easily converts from a day dress to an evening gown with the right accessories.

Regency gown # 2 - cI was excited to purchase the most fabulous head gear from MsRegencys Bee In Your Bonnet at a super price. This lady creates the most delightful Regency bonnets and hats. You can visit her ebay store here if you are interested in having a look at her lovely and high quality products.  I added the ivory lace cap ruffle to the hat as most regency ladies would not have left home without this item; it was worn simply left on under the hat in much the way I am wearing it. To tie it in with my gown I added a large pearl hat pin and an ivory ostrich feather. Looks pretty snazzy I think!

For accessories, I already had my ivory parasol and fan both fully laced and decorated and I added an antique brass and carnelian cameo locket (complete with a minature of my seafaring Royal Marine husband inside), pearl earrings and a triple row of red coral beads around my neck. I also used a vintage shell cameo pin to secure the shawl.  I recently read that coral necklaces wereRegency gown # 2 - d very popular with the ladies of the regency period and since both my daughter and I each own coral necklaces I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to wear one of them. I also purchased a pair of cotton bloomers or pantaloons since my dress is quite see through and I’m wearing a nice pair of flat slipper shoes on my feet.

I really love this costume, it’s so very comfortable, easy to move in, exceptionally cool to wear and looks really lovely! Bless me, what more could a girl ask for, besides a hot cup of tea that is…?

Well…that’s about it really, I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of my story.  Now all I have to do is finish the lace on the Naval Officer’s uniforms and we’re all set for The Tall ships Festival, which by the by, is just a few scant weeks away.

Costume Update; Regency Gown #1

Shara, regency 1

The years between 1795 and 1825 were known in Britain as the Regency Period.  It was a  time characterized by war, political upheaval, revolution and immense change in Europe.  It occurred after the slower paced Georgian period where very little changed, and just prior to the fasting moving industrialization of the Victorian age.

Shara, Regency 2It was a time of growth, expansion, religious revival, defining of culture and testing of diplomatic and military willpower; a time of constant conflict and the clashing of the old ways, philosophies and points of view against a new more modern way of thinking, often displayed to the bloody extreme. Leading figures of the age included political and military icons such as Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Czar Alexander I, Queen Louise of Prussia and diplomat Karl Metternich. The Regency era was also a time of great elegance and beauty. Ludwig von Beethoven composed “classical” music and Jane Austen wrote novels such as Pride & Predjudice, Sense & Sensibility and Emma. Country dances were popular, beautiful works of art were created and Greek architecture enjoyed a huge revival. This extended also to the fashion of the day. In efforts to emulate the styles and philosophies of the ancient Greeks, women’s clothing reached heights of classic simplicity it had not attained for many centuries, and so was born the Regency period gown.

Shara, Regency 3I myself have also gone through a change of heart with regards to this manner of dress. Even as little as a year ago, I would not have embraced this gown. The flimsy fabrics and often risque manner of attire did not appeal to me, but as in the Regency period itself, I found that times of change can’t be helped, but instead are reflected in one’s own attitude towards many things. It was with the coming of our little grandson that I slowly came to a change of mind.  I had fashioned the rather large gowns of the Georgian era with the boned bodices and hooped petticoats and much as I love them still, I really had to be a little more realistic about what Shara and I were actually going to wear to such an event as the Tall Ships Festival.  Although the Georgian gowns are perhaps more in keeping with the 250th anniversary of the Royal Navy Dockyards in Halifax, the time was to be July, and some the warmest weather of the year could be expected. With our entourage, we were going to have a small child and a nursing mother and I had to be honest with myself. The Georgian gowns were just not going to work for us this particular  time and occasion.

Regency modesty cover

Warily, I set my mind back to the Regency period. After-all, our men are dressing as Naval and Marine officers circa about 1805, Napoleonic Wars to the War of 1812, and really wouldn’t a regency gown seriously match the uniforms they would be wearing in a much more authentic way? So I set my mind to researching the gowns of that era. I found that fabrics such as fine muslins, lawns, silks and laces would be so much cooler for us and so much more adaptable to our requirements. I found that although clothing was simpler and more revealing, it also had an innocence, elegance and beauty that was very desirable. Fine women were still as modest and refined as ever but were granted some modicum of freedom in their dress and self expression. This led to many advances for them in lifestyle, as well as artistic and literary endeavours, to name but a few. I certainly couldn’t begrudge them that and I liked it…a lot!

Regency backThe first Regency gown I have completed, and which is modeled by my daughter Shara in this post, is very simple in it’s design.  It is based upon research I did about the drawstring gowns that were being worn at the time. They are very conducive to women of differing situations and sizes and also flattering to many figure types. I also watched Emma, Pride & Prejudice and several other Jane Austen movies. 🙂 I started with an embroidered raw silk like fabric in a cinnamon shade for the dress, a fine see through gold checked lawn and a gold venice style lace for accent.  The neckline is fairly low and the waist is high, both would normally be gathered with a simple drawstring and tied. I sacrificed a little authenticity here and used modern day elastic, simply to make the act of nursing an infant easier. I made the slightly gathered sleeves about elbow length and added a lace insert at the cleavage in order to abide somewhat to the then rules of modesty in day dress. Bare arms Regency Shara, 5and cleavage were acceptable only for evening wear. I also added a wide belt and satin ribbon to accentuate the empire waistline.  I also made a triangular lace modesty piece to wear over the shoulders and to be used as both a cover up and a warmer. I was so happy to find a plain regency reproduction straw bonnet/hat, which I decorated with scraps of fabric, lawn, ribbon and lace. Self made buttons also decorate both the hat and the dress.

So, all in all I’m pretty happy with the result ‘and Shara looks a very fine Regency lady in it. Quite lovely! Mr. Darcy would no doubt approve!