One of the highlights of my Easter holidays was a trip to Canberra for this year’s Jane Austen Festival. This was my third festival and it has become a favourite event of mine. This festival was focused particularly on celebrating the novel Mansfield Park, as it is the 200th year since its publication. Since it was also in our school holiday period, I decided to take two of my children along.
The festival began with a welcome night of Regency card games and childrens’ games. My children had particular fun playing with the period set of skittles and bilbocatch. Those of us who are “more mature” could play a number of card games over tea and coffee, such as Speculation, Loo or Whist.
The first full day was filled with dancing workshops, sewing workshops and lectures given on a variety of topics. Attendees had a variety of options, from making a walking bonnet or reticule, to learning how to tie a cravat or make silk slippers.
I spent the afternoon learning how to do tambour, which is a very common form of embroidery used on Regency clothing. It originated from India, and uses a very small hook (similar to a crotchet hook but with a pointy, needle-like tip). It is basically like crocheting through the medium of the fabric or netting, and the resulting stitches look like very small chain stitches. Tambour was often used on netting to resemble lace.
I was very excited to learn how to do this, and by the end of the session I was trying my hand at doing some wavy lines. I hope to do more soon and maybe use it to decorate some future garments!
There was also talks given on the conservation and storage of extant garments and period stitching and construction techniques. For those more interested in Regency history, there was an opportunity to learn about Josephine (that famous wife of Napoleon) and how Australia became involved in the war of 1812.
On Friday night we were royally entertained by a range of acts at the Variety Night Dinner, some serious and some hilarious! My favourite was an act entitled “The Literary Monogamist”, where Lizzy Bennet and Mr Darcy become concerned over the behaviour of “Susan” from “Coles”.
“Susan” appears to be reading Pride and Prejudice yet again, and such a worrisome trend might have a bad impact on her future. In order to help her move on with her life, Lizzie and Mr Darcy decide to change the end to their story with the help of some useful ring-ins: Captain James T. Kirk, Dr Spock and Jesus. Captain Kirk comes up with a plan! Jesus should play a zombie character in this new story, and attack Mr Darcy. Lizzy, now distraught over the prostrated and bleeding body of her love, consoles herself with his dying words – that she should go to ::in a grand and awestruck voice:: University, where she could become a woman of her own means and not dependant on any man. So Miss Bennett – the decisive woman that she is – travels to the future on the starship USS Enterprise, happily living long and prospering for the remainder of her days.
And of course – Mr Darcy could not die! He came back to life as a vampire, ready to star in numerous sure-to-be-popular films of that particular genre.
Another full day followed of the same dancing, sewing and listening. We had many options – from learning about the fashions of 1814 to designing different Regency sleeves. We could make a pair of mitts or make our own silhouette. And the lecture topics included martial arts, Regency food, and the various modern adaptations of Mansfield Park.
On this day I attended a talk by Hilary Davidson, the previous curator of the Museum of London, on her replica of Jane Austen’s 1814 pelisse coat that is held in a Hampshire museum. It was a fascinating account of how the provenance of garments are researched, but also what can be told by a historic garment about it’s original owner.
The benefit of having a replica available is that people can examine it without fear of damage and it can also be tried on. The pelisse fits a fairly thin but tall woman, with narrow shoulders and a high bust. Ms Davidson used the body measurements derived from the garment to make comparisons with today’s body types, and suggested that the owner had been “model thin”. In fact, Jane Austen was often referred to as remarkably tall and thin. My nine-year-old daughter was the first to try it on, as most of the women present were not of a suitable frame.
The dressmaking skills used in this garment are quite remarkable, as the unique shape of the sleeve enables the wearer to put their arm straight up above their head and, whilst doing so, the waistline of the garment virtually stays in the same position. Ms Davidson plans to publish her pattern and construction steps at some stage in the future and I am very interested in purchasing it!
In the afternoon I went to a workshop on making a Regency day cap. It was really fun to learn some traditional stitching techniques and I have just completed it last week after returning home. I will post about it as soon as I can take some pictures of the finished product.
The Jane Austen Festival Ball was held on Saturday night and was a fantastic night of Regency fashion and fun. Beginning with the Grand March, everyone could feast their eyes on the delectable costumes while parading around in their own elegant finery. The highlight of the night for me was dancing my favourite dance, “The Downfall of Paris”! I do need to spend more time practising it, but it was fun nonetheless.
On the last day of the festival the morning was entirely devoted to a symposium on the novel Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. I must admit that Mansfield Park is not my favourite of the Austen novels, but it was great to listen to several speakers and learn more about the themes in this novel. Somehow looking at the story at a deeper level helped me gain a fuller appreciation of it.
A picnic lunch and promenade at the National Botanical Gardens was a lovely way to spend a sunny early afternoon in autumn. Suitably equipped with our parasols and shawls, we made a lovely sight for all those normally-dressed people having their Sunday lunch at the cafe.
Then it was back to the venue for an afternoon Cotillion Ball; that’s it, MORE dancing! One of the dances this year was the “Pride and Prejudice dance” which is commonly associated with Mr Darcy and Miss Bennett in the 1995 BBC version of the movie, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. In this movie they dance “Mr Beveridge’s Maggot” at the Netherfield Ball. It is really a very pretty dance but it was quite surreal to have that tune playing in my ears because it has become quite iconic to Pride and Prejudice.
Unfortunately this year I found it very difficult to take photos while managing children, so I have had to use the less-than-ideal pictures from my phone or borrow pictures from friends. Hopefully next year I will have the opportunity to take more!
My Regency Journey: The Destination! – about Jane Austen Festival Australia 2012
Sources and Relevant Links
Jane Austen Festival Australia – website
Jane Austen’s pelisse coat – Hampshire City Council
Mr Beveridge’s Maggot – Youtube clip from the movie Pride and Prejudice (1995)