Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Picnic at William Whitley's

Mr. Whitley's steps. I am wearing my old plain cotton dress,
as better for a rainy picnic than the
new white voile wrapfront
Laezter Tag haben wir einen Ausflug gemacht nach dem Haus von 1795 nennt William Whitleys. Ich spraeche nun Deutsch weil der Tag ziemlich Deutsch war. Am erstens, Regen, mehr Regen, niedrige Wolken, Nebel, Mittagessen im Regen. Dann, ploetzlich, die Wolken haben beiseite gezogen, und wir hatten Himmelblau rechts oben, so klar wie Krystal, Sonnenschein, and weichen, duftenden Brisen von den Felder neben uns.

That is to say, yesterday we had an outing to the William Whitley house. I express this in German because the day reminded me rather of Germany. At first, rain, more rain, low clouds, mist, lunch in the rain. Then of a sudden the clouds moved aside, and we had skyblue right above us, crystal clear, sunshine, and soft fragrant breezes from the fields around us. For German speakers, please forgive me if my grammar isn't particularly correct, but I am trying and really it is the best language to capture changing skies like those painted on the ceiling of a Baroque cathedral.
Sharon with the tots.
This was the second meeting of the Bluegrass Regency Society. Originally quite a number of us planned to go, but as is the way with busy springtimes, one thing and another, not to mention the threat of icky weather, left three big people and three little people to head out anyway, singing,

Whether the weather be cold, or
whether the weather be hot,
whatever the weather,
we'll weather the weather,
whether we like it or not.

So it was that Sharon, Jenni, and the three tots sheltered under a shelter, a delightful lunch spread out, and wet hems and drenched umbrellas out of sight, and raised our glasses to the answering salute of thunder.
White-pot, the delicious dessert popular for centuries,
this one from a recipe dating to the early 1700s.
Jenni gets the honors for all the preparations, from a Regency-inspired menu to the quoits, and badminton, and ninepins and Three Graces games the weather didn't let us play on the spring grass. Sharon and I did a little cooking and bringing, but not the heavy labor. Let her tell you all about it, especially the white-pot, an ancient dessert now undeservingly forgotten. Think bread pudding, but give that dish chic, and exotic dates and dried fruit, and its own shape, and remove the teeth-grinding, gritty sweetness that Kentucky cooks so often lade it with. A dessert of a high order, and one perhaps with which Mr. Whitley, his wife Esther, and his eight girls and three boys, late of Virginia, might have been familiar.

So Sharon and Jenni and I traded anecdotes and stories, the wee bits gorged on cheese and then ran around yelling "thunder!", and we attempted a soggy photo shoot. Once the skies cleared, we toured the house, the oldest brick structure west of the Alleghany mountains, not too far, from the Cumberland gap, a late Georgian house, perfectly proportioned, a real gentleman's seat, built firmly on a rusticated stone foundation, limestone steps to the very solid door, the handsome checkerboard brick pattern spelling " W W" above that door and "E W" above the back door (now covered), and crowned with very correct dentil moldings and brackets at the roof. Below the rise and the specimen trees shading his property, known as Sportsman's Hill, and within easy view, the first circular horserace track for Mr. Whitley to enjoy a favorite sport.
The front facade of the William Whitley house.
The front and back used to match, until a back
room was added on, and a summer kitchen addition
to the right.
That thick door should give you a hint of something else, too. This house was also a castle and outpost. The American Indians, for whom this land was a hunting ground...and it's rich, rich land too, softly rolling, with excellent grass and soil and a patchwork of woods and meadows, and lots of springs and streams and rivers...weren't happy with the invaders and it was attacked more than twenty times. Mr. and Mrs. Whitley and their 11 children, and servants and guests, sometimes more than thirty people in what was then a four-room+garret dwelling, even if it was beautifully paneled and trimmed and furnished, locked themselves within, the children hiding in secret spaces between the floors, and one or more men positioned in a hidey hole in the garret,  protected by brick and beams, that's still there, where they aimed their rifles like sharpshooters out a scrap of window. Mrs. Whitley was a good shot, too, we understand, even if she called competition shooting man's work and preferred not to do it.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside, so if you'd like to see more pictures and a video of the house, visit the William Whitley House Foundation. If you can, do visit the house itself, for if you want to understand early Kentucky, you will feel right away the mix of refinement, love of sport, and hard, dangerous living that defined the region then and still does to some extent now.

Jenni, her daughter Autumn and I stand
under a lightly dripping roofline.

Costume Notes


Early Regency gowns often went over shortish stays, and at that period, one of the ways to solve the issue of the gap between the bottom of the stays and the beginning of the petticoat, was to add buttons to the stays and to affix the petticoat to the buttons. Jenni and I are not sure if petticoats were supplied with loops to slip over the buttons, but since Janet Arnold shows a button-and-loop treatment for pulling back a dress bodice, we felt this was at least appropriate technology. So here below in two poor image are the Dorset buttons, fixed midway down the stays, about at dress waistline, and the loops on the petticoat.

There are seven buttons and loops: three at back, one on each side, and one on each front edge of the stays.

Stays note: this pair of shortish, gussetted, strapped stays was made and embroidered by Sarah Jane Meister of Romantic History for herself, and which I bought later when she sold them. They fit perfectly at first but I've lost so much weight that the spring is a little narrow in front. They still are remarkably comfortable, like a combination sports bra and back brace, and if they did not alter my silhouette so much, I'd be tempted to wear them for everyday; they are perfect for standing for long periods. The cut is still a transition cut, with little individual bust definition.

Oh, chemise. The ancient-of-days S&S one that I made during pregnanct. Extra large, too large now, but a superb nightgown. Trimmed with very plain, narrow cotton Valenciennes lace around the neck, which yes, could be done on occasion; I need to provide you with a citation.

The Dress and Accessories

Each time I don Regency-era clothes, I attempt to learn a bit more about appropriate and fitting accessories and how to wear them. The same applied for this day.

Originally I'd planned on the new white voile dress, but knew that Kentucky mud would play havoc with it, so chose a more picnicky dress, a plain printed cotton in tan and white tiny print, the print as close as a roller print as I could come for $2.00 a yard. It's the first dress I ever hand-sewed top to bottom, and my first in Regency style, and is made from the S and S Elegant Ladies' Closet pattern, with some changes due to handsewing. See several posts about the process. It has a minute train; longer would have been better but I did not understand that even a plain, untrimmed dress would have been trained at least a few inches, and made quite long by the ultra-fashionable. It ties in back with a self-fabric thin tie.

For this wearing I discovered that to look best the gathers should concentrate evenly towards the front of the dress. Pulled evenly all around the result is awkward. Consult any portrait and you will see.
Also without the neckerchief, the neckline is actually quite low and reveals cleavage, due to the action of the stays in raising the chestline. Neckerchiefs could be worn in numerous ways. I chose the simplest fashion of covering up without covering the entire neck, by holding the vee-shaped neckerchief (a style sometimes used) along my back, rather like a stole, sliding both front ends over the edge of my shoulders, and then carefully folding and tucking the outside edges into the neckline and arranging things such that the whitework and picot edging showed to advantage. In back, due to the low neckline, Jenni pinned the kerchief inconspicuously so that it didn't ride up. After some hours, the front would gap between neckline and kerchief. Might I pin it there, too?

Sadly, the neckerchief shows poorly in these photos, but you can see the pattern of small dots and repeating small leaf patterns, in my banner image at the top of the blog. The pattern is almost identical to whitework patterns of the period. The neckerchief is, as many garments were then, upcycled. It was once the hem of a child's cotton lawn or batiste dress, beautifully constructed but unsalvageable as a dress or display piece due to many large and unmendable scorches and holes throughout.

The necklace is a stopgap, but, composed of light blue beads knotted on silk and tied with a silk bow, reflects the taste for remarkably large beads that dots the fashion pages at the end of the century.

The earrings I made from sterling wire, on each of which is strung a pear-shaped freshwater pearl and a smaller round freshwater pearl above, then a tiny double loop to provide shine and space before the loop is attached to the lever backs. Lever backs did exist and mine are as close as I can come within my wee budget. Next round I want to add a tiny space between both pearls, but need to locate some more photos of originals. The overall style was very popular. Again, consult portrait miniatures and fashion plates to find them, and see Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion.

The headress is in two parts, hat and turban. The turban is made of my last year's dress sash, of lovely orange and rose shot Indian cotton mixed with metallic gold thread. It's wound once around the head, tied in a half knot at the front to hold it, then passed around again and the ends draped.

Under it, the hair, all of it, it lightly wound in a mid-height twist in the back, the ends held upwards in the hand, and a wide black metal wire comb thrust through it to hold it and the ends allowed to fall back over it. Then bits of hair are pulled out around the head and neck to curl.

Over it for part of the day, last year's hat gypsy hat, the side edges turned down as you saw in my recent hats posting, and also documented in a precis last fall. Yes, there's cheater millinery wire holding down the sides. It's a favorite hat, vintage 1980s almost boater style, and I didn't want to steam it into shape.

Veil: in my right hand. This was to go over the hat, but in the rain was not needed. It's made of filament silk gauze, so fine that a 30" square easily goes through my wedding ring, so light that it blows like cobwebs. I rolled hemmed the perimeter, and want to spot it with embroidered spots someday.

Gloves: opera length would have been most fashionable, but I don't have any yet. These are cotton, and only the decor across the back is inappropriate. Better gloves are on the list.

Ribbon at the waist: had I a longer one, that would have been prettiest, but images show a mid-down the skirt length, and the width is right. It's light plain silk, notched at the ends.

Shawl: This marks the ensemble as belonging the the very end of the 18th century. It's wool and really is from India, as so many were, and is embroidered along the edges and in the corners with the pinecone (paisley) motif. It is not cashmere, but very welcome still on a damp day. It's worn in a common manner, passed around the back and held in the crook of both elbows, a position which immediately gives an appropriate body stance. From there it is easy to pull up around the shoulders. Jenni is wearing her Indian shawl in another popular fashion.

Reticule: of the plainest country sort, and holding my sewing things, camera, and so on. Just an even-striped linen fabric square bag shape with a channel sewn in and satin ribbon drawn through and tied. Like the dress, would not have been carried for a company occasion, but for a picnic, I thought it sensible. Still looking for exact documentation, but know that the construction, if not the fabric, was appropriate.

Stockings: white cotton, clocked, above the knee. Apt to wrinkle at the ankles, just as then. Oh, for silk...

Shoes: typical problem, shoes are. Proper 1790s pointed toes, and the tiny almost-gone heel, but the vamp too low, too wide, and rubber soled, etc.

Hope you've enjoyed the notes!


The Dreamstress said...

Lovely! And it sounds like you had a lovely time, even if only a few of you could make it.

I'm so envious that you have period buildings to go to. The earliest here in Wellington is from the 1870s :-(

ZipZip said...

Dear Leimomi,
We really did and it was so good to be elsewhere.

Funny, but we in turn envy you all. We have period buildings: check. Bluegrass and horses, check. Blugrass music and Johnny Depp. Check. Beaches? Idyllic cliffed coves? Snow-capped mountains? Rain forests with giant trees? Edoras? Amazing textile design? Um, no. New Zealand is on my short list of must-visit locations before I die, as is Hawaii.

By the way, 1870s locations are great. The First Bustle era is a perennial favorite and I loved your ensemble ( and that hat!! In fact, going to visit again now to comment while I am on a proper computer. My Blackberry device makes a hash of comment code and usually mine are wiped from your blog before they make it. Sigh.

Very best,

The BUTT'RY and BOOK'RY said...

What a great tour, and clothing lesson :-D
You look simply stunning and lovely!
I have been learning so much from visiting all of your posts. Thank you!

I worked on my dress till 2 hours before we left for the Ball! (I hope you will visit the finished product at my post) :-)
Many Blessings, Linnie

ZipZip said...

Dear Linnie,

Glad you enjoyed it! Was a very nice day. Hooray on the ball! On my way over...

Very best,

Kleidung um 1800 said...

I loved the German introduction...we've had rain for the past few days, too. Well in my part of the country it's almost always raining, thus I could connect with your lines very well;)
I am happy, you've enjoyed the picnic so much despite the rain(there's a saying over here: there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad choice of clothing).
You all looked stunning and I was very fond of your description of your (rainproof) dress and accessories. And the tasty food!
It's a pity you weren't allowed to take photos inside.
Hope next time you'll have sunshine and you can wear your new beautiful dress!

ZipZip said...

Dear Sabine,

Thank you, thank you! What a great saying, about no bad weather, only bad clothing. That's the spirit! Why be locked inside all the time?
Yes, I imagine it does rain a good deal where you are. Back in Altdorf (in Schwaebia), where I lived when small, I remember clouds most days, but learned to love them. Then too, my hometown is in one of the rainiest places in the U.S.: it gets only 60 days of sunshine each year, on average. The rest of the time it's cloudy or raining or snowing or misting, or spitting... :}
Am going to keep attempting to write in German; it's special to be able to get ideas across in a nuanced manner: German is very expressive and for me, lovely to listen to.
Very best,