The Georgian Chocolate Party

Some months ago a few friends discussed how nice it would be to assemble one afternoon to visit over cups of drinking chocolate and a few sweets.  However, when you have three ladies who love to sew, cook and dance, nothing remains simple for long. Before you know it, our little Georgian chocolate party turned into a formal costumed dinner party with dancing.

One of our number happens to have decorated her home in the Georgian style which provided the perfect backdrop for the evening. Before dinner we assembled in the parlour. We admired each other’s gowns, and made note of how dapper all of the gentlemen looked, and engaged in otherwise pleasant conversation over glasses of spiced Negus and cider.

Given that many of the guests are extremely talented seamstresses, the clothing was a feast for the eyes, and that combined with the beautiful period appropriate setting, you could almost imagine that we had actually travelled back in time as we raised our glasses and toasted the King before being called in for dinner.

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The parlour

The dining room was as beautiful as the parlour, and very much reminded me of a picture of the dining hall located in Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

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Dining Room

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Castle Howard, Yorkshire

There were two servants on hand to ensure that all ran smoothly, and due to space constraints and to ensure that everything could be served at an optimum temperature, it was decided that we would pop slightly into the 19th century to dine service à la russe.  Some weeks before the dinner, I researched period recipes to consider serving at the dinner. The recipes were split up between those of us who love to cook, and when we arrived at the party our prepared dishes were immediately taken into the kitchen for the servants to manage.  Once we were all seated the wine was poured and spectacular dinner commenced.

 

We started with a course of roasted cheese, beets, and olives. Roasted cheese was one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, and this Good Time Regency Girl could have eaten this one dish and have been content. That is until the other dishes started arriving.

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Roasted Cheese

The main meal consisted of roasted chicken, ham, roots a’la crème, green beans ragooed with potatoes, and an almond and rose water flummery.

Following the main course, the dessert course was laid out and consisted of syllabubs, mince tarts, blown almonds, shortbread, and a Georgian chocolate tart.

After dessert, the ladies lingered in the dining room while the gentlemen headed back into the parlour to rearrange the furniture to make room for us to dance. I brought along a laptop loaded with English country dance music, and called a variety of dances that worked well in a confined space. We have already discussed how lovely it would be to bring in a musician the next time we host one of these dinner parties, but the recorded music did suit our purpose for the evening. During a break in the dancing the men happened across a selection of reproduction swords and some silliness broke out shortly after.

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swordplay

 

The evening concluded with us all sitting in the parlour, agreeing that while this was the first such party it will most certainly not be the last.

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The Ladies

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The TIFF Assembly

This year Toronto TIFF films in the park ended their 2015 season with a free screening of Pride and Prejudice in David Pecaut Square. A few years ago a few of us dressed up and attended a screening of Sense and Sensibility and had a great time, so I thought why not do it again, arrive a little early, and do some dancing. I spread the word to my dance friends and we ended up a party of nine, two of us being Good Time Regency girls.

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We found a quiet corner of the park to dance in. After we started, a TIFF organizer approached us to see if we would be interested in dancing in front of the crowd that was assembling for the film.

Dancing in our quiet corner of the park

Dancing in our quiet corner of the park

Dancing in our corner of the park

Dancing in our corner of the park with Roy Thomson Hall in the background.

We decided “Why Not?” TIFF played our music through their very loud sound system, and we danced for about 30 minutes leading up to the screening of the film. At the end, we got a huge applause from a crowd of approximately 200 people.

Dancing in front of the crowd.

Dancing in front of the crowd.

Afterwards we were approached by several people who were interested in learning more about English Country Dancing, and eventually got settled into our chairs for the film. The evening was certainly not what we had expected, but it was such great fun. Three cheers for The TIFF Assembly!

Enjoying the film.

Enjoying the film.

Dancing Through The Ages

The first weekend of July swung into action with two back-to-back days of costumed dancing. On Saturday I time traveled back to the mid -19th century at Pickering Museum Village to dance Schottische’s, Quadrille’s, and of course A Grand March. Not my usual English Country Dance fare, but an interesting change with an outstanding caller, David Smuckler,  and delightful musicians. I enjoyed viewing the wide variety of costumes worn by attendees, with fashions ranging from the early to mid-19th century.

Ladies in hoops.

Ladies in hoops.

My favorite outfit of the day.

My favorite outfit of the day.

Here is a image of me participating in one of the dances. Of course I am the lady in the Regency Gown.

Here is a image of me participating in one of the dances. Of course I am the lady in the Regency Gown.

The dancing continued on Sunday, travelling even further back in time to my beloved Regency period. The Jane Austen Dancers hosted a public demonstration at The Toronto Harborfront Centre. The day included some demonstration dances plus the opportunity for spectators to step up and learn a few simple dances. Lemonade was served, free hand fans were handed out, and the public seemed to have a great time learning a little about the type of dance that Jane Austen would have participated in.  Best thing overheard was a teenage girl walking past me holding hands with her boyfriend saying “How can you not be into this Jane Austen stuff?”  I wholeheartedly agree.

Regency dancing at Harbor Front Centre.

Regency dancing at Harbor Front Centre.

Jane Austen Dance

Jane Austen Dance

Musical Pursuits

For years I have loved a song that was played on the piano in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility. It happens in the scene where Elinor is standing in a doorway crying while she listens to Marianne play the piano. When Edward approaches her she explains that the song was her Father’s favorite. So when I was in a music shop and happened across a music book called “Jane Austen’s World” I was thrilled to find an arrangement for “My Father’s Favorite”. When I got the book home and started pecking out some of the other tunes I was pleased to discover several more arrangements that I enjoy from some of the films. Learning them should keep me busy over the summer.

Book of music from Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion.

Book of music from Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion.

A New Toy

The museum I cook at got a new toy – a reflector oven. By some stroke of luck I got to be the first person to cook something using it. I have been wanting to use one of these replica ovens for years, and was thrilled to finally get the opportunity to have a go. I roasted a chicken. The bird was about 4 lbs and took 2 hours to roast, turning it every 15 minutes. I basted it in butter and a simple herb mixture containing salt, pepper and sage. There is nothing like fire roasted meat, just delicious.

New reflector oven

New reflector oven

About 40-minutes into the cook.

About 40-minutes into the cook.

Cooked to perfection and ready to come off the spit.

Cooked to perfection and ready to come off the spit.

Polonaise

My latest project was born from the necessity of wanting to wear a white gown with a train to an event that will involve walking out of doors and dancing at a ball. I knew from literary references that 19th century women also had to deal with trains. In Chapter 5 of Northanger Abbey author Jane Austen describes this very issue as she describes the closeness of friends Catherine and Isabella…

“They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set…”

Winter white gown with an 8 inch train.

Winter white gown with an 8 inch train.

I had worn this dress to a ball on a previous occasion and  like Catherine and Isabella, I tried to pin up the bottom of the train to facilitate dancing, but it looked horrible, kept falling down, and made dancing difficult if not downright dangerous.  I had to find another way to pin the train. I was discussing the issue with a friend and she suggested that I polonaise the gown.

The mistake I was making was that I was trying to pin from the bottom of the dress, when what I needed to do was gather and button the fabric higher up the back of the dress. The following pictures show how and where we pinned the train for a polonaise. It is important that as you pin the train up you make sure that the hem lines up evenly with the front of the dress.

Placement of pins for the polonaise.

Placement of pins for the polonaise.

Close up of pins.

Close up of pins.

Next I made 3 loops out of twill tape to use to button up the fabric.

Loop made  from twill tape.

Loop made from twill tape.

Finally, I sewed the buttons and loops on the gown. I made sure that the thread was an exact match to the fabric so the stitching would be virtually invisible from the outside of the gown.

3 buttons and loops sewn on inside of gown.

3 buttons and loops sewn on inside of gown.

Close up of button and loop sewn on inside of the gown.

Close up of button and loop sewn on inside of the gown.

Here is the finished project, a polonaised train. I love how the fabric hangs in soft billowy folds, it adds a note of elegance to the gown.

Train pinned up.

Train pinned up.

And here is the gown unpinned with the train hanging loose.

Unpinned train.

Unpinned train.

Now I can leave my train down if I am not available to dance, and pin it up if I want to join in a set or go for a turn about the gardens.

The 12-Dresses Ball

The Good Time Regency girls were invited to a unique party. A member of an English Country Dance group that operates out of Toronto Ontario had suggested that they do a costumed ball. Many of the members responded that they did not have anything suitable to wear, so the member who suggested it offered to sew dresses for the ladies and vests for the men. I had never heard of such an undertaking and was rightly impressed. So the event was nicknamed the “12-Dresses Ball” and the Good Time Regency Girls were all honored to receive invitations to the party.

The Good Time Regency Girls

The Good Time Regency Girls

All of the dresses and vests that were sewn by one person in order to put on this ball.

All of the dresses and vests that were sewn by one person in order to put on this ball.

Dancing at the 12-Dresses Ball

Dancing at the 12-Dresses Ball