Saturday, October 31, 2009

Laughing While Lost In Austen

I first heard about the book Lost in Austen when our very own Sara wrote a review of it back in March 2008. It sounded interesting. But I never got my hands on a copy (including hers) to read.

But this week my husband and I rented Lost in Austen, the TV mini-series by Image Entertainment. Wow! We were so pleasantly surprised with how humorous and entertaining it was.

I went into it with low expectations as I couldn't stand the photos showing Jemima Roper as Amanda with her modern hair hanging in her face. Even as a time traveling character. I understand it from a characterization point of view - to distinguish her as from another time/place - but after a few days in Rome you should be following their ways. It bothered me throughout the entire 3 hour film but the distorted story line took some of the attention away.

Amanda switches places with Lizzy Bennet from the famous Pride & Prejudice story. She then realizes that her appearance is disrupting the endeared story we all know, so her task is to make sure the proper characters meet at the designated times so they marry later. You think that Amanda will succeed until a beloved sister ends up with the greasy minister who makes us cringe.

What? How did that happen? Ok - this story just got twisted. Now that it had our attention we were trying to guess at what was to happen next. Every character you *think* you know is somehow a little bit or completely not what you think. Wickham - nope. Caroline Bingley - definitely a surprise. Mr. Bingley - yeah....

A few of the costumes were adequate (Caroline's were some of the best) while others were greatly lacking; definitely rented from the popular costume houses like Cosprop as I spotted a few from other films. Bonnets were of a wide assortment. A few decent styles while some straws screamed "costume" rather than clothing (really didn't like Jane Bennet's wide brimmed topping). Most of the menswear as well looked like Halloween ensembles instead of properly tailored coats and breeches.

So don't see it for Regency research. But DO see it for a laugh and jolly romp with some of our favorite Jane Austen characters (including Mr. Darcy in his wet shirt). Lost in Austen is a great film to put on while sewing your new 1810 picnic dress.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dressing the New Cook

To celebrate the Autumn season, my husband and I hosted an English Regency dinner party. Our guests included a Duke and Duchess, a Dowager Duchess (a widowed mother of a Duke), ladies and gentlemen down to simple country folks. My husband was the Earl of Averton, I his Countess, and we reside at Avery Hall. (I just love researching old family names to create fictional historical characters.)

The event was sponsored by our civilian reenacting group (HCA). To make the ocassion special, we hired a caterer to prepare all sorts of English treats. This new cook at the Hall just happens to be my sister-in-law, Mrs. Brown. Although she sews, part of her discounted fee was to have me take care of her clothing for this costume-required party.

Now Mrs. Brown lives a few hours away so trying to make even a simple Regency gown was going to be too much. So I went back a few years and decided on simple, late 18th C. pieces befitting a household servant. The easy garments of a petticoat, jacket and apron can be made with no fittings.

The petticoat (a skirt in 18th Century terms) is a burnt orange colored linen, two panels with a drawstring waist - the back panel tied at the front waist and the front tied at the back as petticoats of this time were made. (Thanks to Elizabeth M. for loaning it to the cause.)

The jacket is 18th C. informal wear. I used the JP Ryan Basic Wardrobe pattern to cut the gorgeous brown cotton fabric. I found the fabric at my local Beverly's and was delighted to discover the name marked on the selvage: Old Sturbridge Village. I then knew it was a perfect choice.

I used a larger size pattern for Mrs. Brown which, now that the dinner is over, I will tear apart and cut it down to fit me in my stays. It closes at the center front with straight pins so the fitting is built into the closure. She wore basic modern undergarments.

The apron was a struggle as I couldn't decide on a plain pinner apron with ties at the natural waist or a more Regency style. I studied the aprons in two Sense & Sensibility films (1995 and 2008) and also the PBS Regency House Party. I swear they used the same aprons in all three of these productions. The short bib with shoulder straps and longer skirt reflecting the contemporary fashions was a big pull for me. (Mrs. Brown is a few inches taller than me so the apron looks shorter than usual on her.)

I ended up going the in-between route. The rectangular bib was cut slightly longer with the drawstring waist edge fitting a few inches above the natural waist. The shoulder straps were pinned in place for Mrs. Brown, and I'll remark them later for me and topstitch to the back waist edge.

To finish the new cook's ensemble, a basic linen mob cap was placed over her hair. (It's the cap I made from the instructions in chapter 37 in the Modern Sewing Techniques for Historical Clothing Construction eBook.)

Mrs. Brown donned white knee socks and black flats to complete the look. I believe she fit in quite well as the new Cook at Avery Hall!