A Victorian Social at the Randall House Museum in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

IMG_7885-001Recently, Man The Capstan attended a Victorian garden social event at the Randall House Museum in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This was held in conjunction with their summer exhibit called “Dear Dottie”. Costumes were encouraged by the museum, and this happily offered us an opportunity to get into our Victorian duds and do some strollin’. It was a particularly special event for us because a number of the members of the Man Capstan Crew are descended from Dottie and her family.

SLR_4_6252-004In 2005 a collection of approximately 500 letters addressed to Dottie Stewart, were discovered in an old trunk in the attic of a Heritage home that had once belonged to the Stewart family of Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. The sheer amount of these letters reveal a wonderfully detailed picture of what life was like for the Stewart family, their friends and their relatives, in this rural farming community during the late 1800s. Spanning a period of almost 15 years of Dottie’s life prior to her marriage, they are indeed a special find, not only for her descendants, but for the entire community.

The Stewarts were predominantly farmers and orchardists, a fact that is often mentioned in the letters sent to Dottie. Among other things, they grew and harvested apples, as did many farmers living in the Annapolis Valley during that time period, and, as many still do to this day. The ancestors and descendants of this family farmed the same lands for a period of almost 250 years, and even today members of the family can be found in the area.SLR_4_5960-002

The letters have been transcribed by volunteers from the Wolfville Historical Society, and were used as a primary source for “Dear Dottie”. This exhibit focuses not only on the Dottie letters and her family, but also on the history and goings’ on of the community during that time. It sheds light upon their joys and  sorrows, their struggles, hardships and good times. It also divulges some of the very personal experiences of those who corresponded with Dottie.  You can view this exhibit until the 15th of September, at which time the Randall House Museum closes down for the season.

Recently the Dottie Letters have also been used as a resource for seven short educational videos called Discovering Voices, by the NS Dept of Education. Some of these episodes were filmed at the Randall House.scan0003-008

The Randall House is a lovely old house and well worth a visit if you are in town. It is owned and operated by the Wolfville Historical Society and curated and managed by Alexandra Hernould. The following is a brief history of the house that I have taken from the
Wolfville Historical Society Website.

“This property, like all the other land in Horton Township, was granted to the New England settlers known as Planters, who arrived from Connecticut in the 1760s after the expulsion of the Acadians.  A house on the property  is mentioned in the deeds as early as 1769 but it is likely that the large and imposing eight room residence with full attic and cellar was built at least a generation later by more established settlers.  Aaron Cleveland, a cooper, lived here with his family from 1809 to 1812, during which time he took out a large mortgage, and it is possible that he was the builder.  The house, which overlooked the harbour, the wharves and the bustling commercial centre of Upper Horton or Mud Creek, was strategically situated to be at the hub of village life.SLR_4_6267-002

The term “the Randall House” was first used  in 1812 when Charles Randall, carpenter,  coachmaker and member of another Connecticut Planter family, purchased it from Cleveland.  His wife Sarah Denison died shortly after the birth of their only child, Charles Denison Randall, and for a time father and son lived here alone.  They later moved to a smaller house on the property and rented the Randall House.  Among their tenants was the Rev. John Pryor, principal of Horton Academy and one of the founders of Acadia University, who is described as “a cultivated, courtly man”.  He and his family lived in the house and may also have used it as temporary classroom space for the Academy.  From 1835 to 1845 Mrs. Henry Best, widow of a Halifax naval officer, operated a seminary for young ladies in the building.

IMG_7896-001Charles D. Randall bought the house from his father in 1844, and moved there following his marriage to Nancy Bill, the daughter of a prosperous farmer and  member of the Legislative Assembly.  Members of the Randall family continued to live in the family home until 1927 when Eardley and Anna left the Randall House for the last time.  Eardley’s initials can still  be seen carved into the wall of the attic staircase.

The Charles Patriquin family purchased the house in 1927, restored it and installed its first bathroom.  The Patriquins are still remembered for their warm-hearted interest in young people:  there was a dress-up box for local children from which they could create Hallowe’en costumes, while Charles taught them how to care for wounded birds and animals.  He also looked after the ducks who spent the summer in the Duck Pond (the old harbour) and grew a productive garden nearby.  It was the Patriquins who expressed the wish that the house should remain unchanged in the community as a reminder of past times.

IMG_7890-001Photographs of the Society’s original museum, the T.A.S. DeWolf house, now hang in the front hall with a framed square of the pictorial wallpaper-all that remains of Prince Edward’s gift.  The Randall House is arranged and furnished as an early Wolfville residence and most of the furniture and artifacts have been donated by local people.  A temporary exhibit room in the back parlour features changing displays which relate to the town and surrounding communities.”

The Wolfville Historical Society is always looking for new members and volunteers.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see their full sizes.267352_620477654640513_1444852717_n-001


Red and Black Victorian Walking Gown – Ensemble


I made this striking gown to sell in my Etsy shop, but as soon as my daughter Shara saw it,  it became hers. I would say it has “attitude”.  She looked so stunning in it that I had to give it to her, and in retrospect, perhaps I made it for her without realizing that I was doing so!  Shara and her husband like to do a little Steam Punk once in a while and this gown lends itself  to that, as well as to a strictly Victorian look. Shara therefore considers it a pretty versatile addition to have in her historical wardrobe.SLR_2_5600-2 It did look wonderfully festive when it was worn to the Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum.

For accessories, I bought a plain black, buckled, ladies felted top hat to go with it. I decorated it with red lace, black french netting, a few cocky feathers, a black net train and a big red rose. It also has a black parasol and matching reticule. Shara also wears netted black crocheted gloves, and a black beaded choker. Black brocade Victorian style booties complete this ensemble.

IMG_0014-002This Victorian walking gown consists of a polonaise and a walking skirt. I find it has a French feeling to it and  I also like it as a riding habit. The skirt, which is made from a black embroidered taffeta, has one large ruffle and is trimmed in black and red venise laces and satin ribbon. It is slightly trained at the back.

SLR_2_5437-002The polonaise, is made in a rich blood red and black shot striped taffeta and is fully lined and boned. It incorporates both the bodice and the over-skirt and has a nice large bustle, as well as a pleated basque at the back.  It is trimmed with matching black venise lace, tulle lace at the neckline and sleeves, and  ruched black satin ribbon. I had about a half yard of a very long, red, 8 inch venise lace, which matched the red of the taffeta exactly, so I added that to the front of the polonaise as well. I find it really stands out against the black of the skirt. This bodice closes at the front with black satin fabric self made buttons.

I’m planning to make a variation of this ensemble again as it is so striking. I have more of the striped taffeta, not only in the red but in a blue as well.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to get the full size and effect!SLR_4_2486-002

The Waverley Inn, Halifax, Nova Scotia

SLR_8460-003While attending the Festival of Tall Ships, Man The Capstan, had the opportunity to stay at The Waverley Inn in Halifax. This Inn is tucked away at 1266 Barrington Street, and is a reasonable walk to the waterfront. There are many other Hotels and Inns in this downtown core, but none offers quite the same experience and ambiance of this unique three story bed and breakfast.

waverly1-001Once an elite Victorian private residence, the Waverley Inn is definitely pretty special, especially if you’re like me and prefer smaller and more intimate places to stay, and particularly if they are historical houses.

Lobby-I-001This house was built in 1865-66 by a wealthy merchant named Edward W. Chipman and his wife Mahala Jane Northup. Interestingly both these last names are listed in the family trees of certain Man The Capstan Crew members. Could there be a family relationship there? Perhaps!

The Chipman home was purported to be one of the most expensive and extravagant homes in the city of Halifax. Mrs. Chipman was a very fashionable lady, who was well known in Halifax society and she immediately began to host many dances and social events. These were attended by not only the local society, but also by the officers who were stationed at the Garrison. Hence, it seemed just the place for a group of Royal Navy Re-enactors like us, to spend a night or two.Roman-Sisters-II-001

Unfortunately, Mr. Chipman’s dry goods business failed and in just a short while (1870), the family could no longer afford this home. It must have been heartbreaking to see their lovely home turned over to the Sherriff of Halifax. Much of the furnishings were seized, and the house was sold at auction where it was bought by a real estate speculator named Patrick Costin.SLR_8285-001

He sold the house to two spinsters named Sarah and Jane Romans, who had been operating their father’s business, The Waverley Hotel. They added a new wing to the rear of the house and in October of 1876 they moved into their new location. Since then the Waverley has functioned as an Inn, owned by a variety of different owners. In 1960 the Sterling Hotel Company purchased it and did extensive restorations.

SLR_8270-001Today this house still operates as a lovely historical Inn, and Man The Capstan certainly enjoyed their stay there. We stayed in the Vanderbilt room, and the twin room right across from it, and were indeed very comfortable. The house is filled with antiques and period furniture, and beautifully decorated with the opulence of the Victorian period.  The breakfast room downstairs offers a healthful and generous breakfast with lots of variety. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the rooms are beautiful and very clean. I would definitely stay there again, and would recommend it as a place to stay if ever you are visiting Halifax , Nova Scotia.

Don’t for get to click on the pictures to get their full size and effect!waverly4-001

A Victorian Ball Gown

SLR_3_7331-002I am very fortunate to have two very beautiful young women to model the historical gowns I make! The next two posts concerning gowns, will feature two crew members, my daughter Shara, and my feels like a daughter, friend Katherine, wearing Victorian ensembles.

2012_04_051-007This Victorian Gown was made for a client in Japan who is planning to wear it as her wedding gown. Once again our lovely Katherine is modeling this.

This is a circa 1875 – 1878 Ball gown which sports a full bustled over skirt, a double tiered ruffled underskirt, and an off the shoulder basque back style bodice with pouf sleeves. The patterns that were used came from Truly Victorian. They are TV324, which is the Long Draped Overskirt, and TV416 which is the Ball Gown Basque Bodice. The underskirt is of my own design.

2012_04_051-005I used a Seafoam green faux silk which is embroidered with ivory, gold, tan and turquoise florals and leaves, for both the overskirt, and the main part of the bodice. The pouf sleeves and the underskirt are made of a 100% pure golden dupioni silk. The bodice is fully lined and boned for added shape and structure, and buttons at the front with self covered golden dupioni fabric buttons. This bodice also has a lovely pleated basque back.The draped overskirt is fully lined and was lengthened at the back by several feet to incorporate a long and elegant train for the evening.2012_04_051-004

To trim this gown, I used golden pearl teardrop beading around the sleeves, around the bottom and extending around the basque back of the bodice. I also used this beading on the draped front of the overskirt. I used golden swagged and scalloped rayon venise laces, which were hand-dyed using potassium permanganate. This method of dyeing gives lace a rich golden colour, and perfectly matches the silk dupioni. The result lends a very antique quality to the gown.SLR_3_8484-003

Katherine is also carrying an authentic Victorian lace fan made of bone and wearing a pair of beige, non-shiny, elbow length gloves. She is wearing a single strand of golden pearls around her neck and wrist, and golden crystal drop earrings. Simple but very effective accessories.

Something I really enjoy doing is creating matching foot wear for these gowns. For the Victorian gowns I purchase vintage lace booties, which I then dye and decorate with left over scraps of the lace and trimmings used in the creation of the gown. For this dress, I tea dyed a pair of lace boots and decorated them with the left over golden lace. I also re-laced them with a matching satin ribbon. The effect is very lovely when worn with the dress.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see the full size and effect!SLR_3_8470-002

A Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum

SLR_2_5614-003The O’Dell House Museum is situated at 136 – George Street, in the beautiful and historic town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. This very interesting Victorian house Museum, circa 1869, is now owned and operated by the Annapolis Heritage Society. Graced with beautiful period furnishings, art, photographs, and history, as well as a Genealogy Centre and Archives, this is a pretty special place.4460170492_4bb3e7fd52_z-001

Each year, “A Victorian Christmas” is hosted here, an event that is held over a period of two weekends in late November and/or early December. Two Christmases ago, Man The Capstan decided to attend. (yes I know this blog was a long time in coming, but better late then never), and did we ever enjoy it! For this outing, we donned…what else…but our Victorian bustle gowns! Our Royal Navy Captain and Marine Major, altered slightly, the way they wore their uniforms. The beauty of them is that they can be worn in several differing ways, which really helps when using them for different time periods.

SLR_2_5637-001The ambience, warmth, and beautiful period Christmas decor of the O’ Dell house, make this event well worth attending. The heritage society does a wonderful job of it, spending days collecting Christmas greenery from the surrounding woods, and then countless hours more in decorating the house with these natural treasures.

photo_1272856_resize-001Boughs, wreaths and bouquets of evergreen, holly, boxwood, moss and pine cones fill the house, adorning each doorway, staircase and mantle. Delightful touches such fruit pyramids on the dining table and sideboard, and dried floral bouquets brighten each corner of the house. An old fashioned Christmas tree with homemade and antique ornaments graces the lovely parlour. The golden flicker of candlelight, the fragrance of evergreen, and scents of baking and apple cider assail your senses as you enter. There is much laughter and conversation, and singing of the  traditional carols. You really feel as though you have stepped back in time! What a treat! The crew of Man The Capstan truly appreciated the efforts made and were definitely in our element.SLR_2_5624-001

Once a thriving Tavern and Inn, the O’Dell House was owned and built by Corey O’Dell in the 1860s. Corey who was born in St. John, New Brunswick on June 27, 1827, arrived in Nova Scotia in about 1849. He was a Pony Express Driver for the Kentville-Victoria Beach part of the Halifax-Victoria Beach run. This service was short lived and he returned to New Brunswick the following year.

He came back to Nova Scotia in the late 1850s with his wife and family to live in Annapolis Royal. There he purchased the property where the O’Dell house now stands. The house has fourteen rooms, including the tavern, which later became a grocery store, six bedrooms, dining room, front parlour and kitchen. It is situated near the waterfront, a short distance from the wharves in an ideal location for trade. Corey died March 14, 1887, a wealthy man.

SLR_2_5650-001The O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are open year round.

The open hours for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are:

Summer (from late May to early September):
Every day – 9 am to 5 pm
Monday to Saturday – 1 pm to 4 pm
(weather permitting; a call ahead is advised). Closed Sundays.

Admission for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre is by donation; the suggested amount is $3.00.

The Bustle Dress at Sherbrooke Village

During the late 1860s, the hoop skirt  gave way to the bustle. Huge skirts advanced into a more slim line with the fabric concentrated and pulled to the back of the dress. The first of these new fashions still had some fullness at the front but the most of it was now centered and pouffed at the back. The 1870s were a transitional period for women and their fashions. Perhaps because of these changes, the era was full of creativity and intriguing ideas; the bustle came back into fashion, albeit much different than it’s predecessor. Trains reappeared and fabric was used in huge quantities, trims too were used to the extreme; a woman could never add too much trim to her gown.

Much of the overindulgence in ladies’ fashions was due to that new fangled invention and the wide spread use of the contraption known as the sewing machine. All those trims, tucks, and pleats that once had to be sewn by hand could now be done by machine. Not too many of us have a very good idea of how slow hand sewing was/is – can you imagine sewing the long and endless seams of the skirts and gowns of that time? We would also likely chuckle at the slowness of middle nineteenth century sewing machines compared with what is available to a seamstress today. I own such a peddle machine, (although I don’t sew on it) it is powered by ones feet, no motors, electricity or computers. I learned to sew on just such a one when I was in my early teens and my mother still has it at home. The early sewing machines sewed over one thousand stitches per minute, and this was at least sixty times faster than hand sewing. The result of this was that what once was very expensive to produce was now much more affordable. What previously only the wealthy could wear, now the middle class could create themselves.

In addition to the laces and trims that were made at home or in a dressmaker’s shop, many trims could be purchased and were produced en mass. Everything from pleated yardage, to flounces, to tucked materials, to bindings and elaborate cut-work could be bought at the general store. Women rushed to take advantage of these advances and even the simplest house dresses were trimmed, frilled and required large amounts of fabric. It must have been so exciting for them!

I have always loved the bustle gown. The distinguished lady with her ruffled or pleated, laced and bustled skirts, the feathered hats tilted smartly to the front or the side of the head, the beautiful laces and trims and the rows of buttons embellishing the bodices, which in contrast to the skirts were fitted snugly. They made a woman look beautiful, feminine and curvaceous. Padding was used in the bodices at the bust and under the arms area giving a woman a soft rounded look; and the seams for the sleeves were set in just slightly off the shoulder.

For the first bustle gown I decided to sew, I secured a Truly Victorian pattern for the polonaise. A piece that became very popular in about 1873 and was styled in many different ways. It was actually a combination bodice and over-skirt, saving the woman of wearing these pieces separately. The fitting process for these patterns is done a little differently then the usual way; (Victorian tailoring methods are used), but once you get the hang of it, it’s not really that hard and it does give one a very good fit. The skirt I designed and drafted myself using fashion plates of the period for my inspiration. I left it untrained as I wanted a walking skirt.

The entire ensemble was sewn using a beautiful green shot taffeta. I trimmed the polonaise with various venise laces – a beautiful four inch floral for around the sleeves and the bottom front, and I edged the entire front with a lovely one inch swagged lace which I also added to the basque back. I found the prettiest gold and black store bought daisy buttons for closures and also pleated black satin ribbon which I added to the bustle at the bottom edge at the back of the polonaise. The skirt was over-layered with a black floral lace to just below where the polonaise ended in the front, and I pleated and added about a 12 inch length of taffeta around the bottom of the skirt; which I trimmed with thick black braided trim. I always add my trims by hand as I find that a sewing machine is just to rough on these beautiful additions, plus I find it a pleasant task to sit in the evening and sew. It also gives my hands something to do as I find it difficult to sit and do nothing.

For matching accessories I bought a smart, green, plain wool hat and trimmed it with gathered and somewhat pleated taffeta to the brim, black embroidered lace over the crown, and satin ribbon left both plain and ruched around the crown. The outside of the brim was also decorated with black braid. I finished by making a matching reticule with a bit of the left over taffeta, braid and beaded trim. Such things as matching hats and reticules are a great way of using up leftover trims and fabrics.

When we went to Sherbrooke Village I also carried a black parasol, wore black elbow length non-shiny gloves and black shoes. Underneath the dress I wore a small bustle, bloomers and cabled stockings. Because it was a 3.5 hour drive to Sherbrooke and I did not have help to lace it up, I did not wear a corset, although I do own one and the dress does have an even better shape when it is worn with it.

I am very happy with this gown! I feel good in it and it’s really pretty comfortable to wear.

A Marriage Made…In Silver

This is a different sort of blog post for Man The Capstan, but still one that I think applies well enough, I mean a good captain during the Napoleonic era would have had plenty of silver on board ship, and silver was widely used in most upper class households. By the Victorian period, with the advent of silver-plating,  it had become very popular and affordable and was used extensively by the middle class as well.

I love antique silver and silver plate. Today I’m excited because I just received, (in the mail), the goblet which completes a set that I have been trying to complete for a number of years. A marriage, in the world of collectors, is a set of items, be they silver, linens, china or glass and etc, that are similar but not the exact pattern or form as others in the grouping. I have several completed and ongoing collections such as this one. I know that what is called a marriage is not nearly worth as much as an original intact set; but still, they are a fine option for those of us who appreciate the beauty of these things but can’t always afford the other. It’s also fun to do the search and when these things are purchased for your own enjoyment the monetary value of them is not really all that important.

This is my Tipping or Tilting insulated Water Pitcher set. I love these, they are so beautiful.  This one dates to about 1860 or 70 and would have been used before the time of in house running water. In Victorian times these fancy sets were brought out to supply drinking water to guests on special occasions. The quadruple silver plated double walled and insulated pitcher helped to keep the water cold but was also quite heavy to handle, (which might explain why so many are dented) thus, they were often designed with and placed on a tilting stand for ease of pouring. Many stands had a place for and a matching goblet or two, as well.

It started out about three or four years ago with a Meriden stand that I had acquired. I did have another pitcher from the Southington Silver Company for it at the time, but it was quite badly damaged. The finial was broken off, the lid had a large dent and most of the silver plate had worn; this left the much darker Britannia metal exposed and basically it was pretty ugly. I wanted to find another pitcher in good condition, it didn’t have to be perfect (antiques seldom are) but at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing. It also needed the drip tray and a goblet. I began the process for trying to find the other pieces and I have to admit that after an initial disappointing search I felt it was pretty hopeless.

First of all, I was looking for silver-plated pieces in good condition that were about 150 years old. Pretty rare I’d say and a daunting task. I did pass on several pieces that did not muster up and often wondered in the ensuing years if I should have purchased these, when others were not transpiring. It was not important to me that they all come from the same maker since I knew how difficult that would be, and I didn’t want to make it even harder for myself then it already was; plus, I knew that most of these tilting pitchers were a pretty standard size. Granted there were small differences in the makes, but basically they were all pretty much the same.

About a year after I started I came across a small round drip tray made by Community, that after careful measuring seemed to be the exact size I was looking for. Unfortunately, although it was a vintage piece from about the 1950s, it was not nearly of the same time period as the stand was. After thinking it over I decided to purchase this. If I ever happen across a drip tray that is more to the period I will of course snap it up, but until now the only others I have seen are already part of a complete set. In the meantime this one does quite nicely as it is well silvered and gleaming.

Trying to find a pitcher that was appropriate for the stand was another thing. I combed Ebay, Etsy, as well as antique dealers both locally and on the internet. You can certainly find water pitchers of that time period, however, the ones that have the proper extensions to sit on a tilting stand are much more difficult to find; and the almost impossible is to find one that is in good condition. Finally, about a year ago I happened upon one on Ebay from the Webster Silver Company. I purchased this and it fit perfectly on the Meriden stand.

Most difficult of all was locating a proper goblet. The ones that were made to go with these sets are quite small so not just any goblet can be used, most stand only about four inches tall, while the average goblet is between 5 and 7 inches in height. The base of these goblets also often run smaller and therefore a regular goblet does not fit on the stand. The third issue is that they often have a lot of wear and are in pretty rough shape, something that is to be expected since of course the goblet would’ve been handled far more than the rest of the pieces. About two weeks ago, I finally found one in New York,  also made by the Webster Silver Company. This is was in fairly good condition, and was available for a price that I  found affordable. It arrived today, very tarnished, but it polished up pretty nicely and looks great with the rest of the set.

I have displayed this on the Victorian sideboard in my dining room and it looks quite splendid, just there!