Have I told you before how much I love going to the Jane Austen Festival? It is not so much that it is about Jane Austen or even that it is set in the Regency period. It is not about a fantasy for Mr Darcy either.
For me it is about having an opportunity to dress in historical costume. And it is about learning new things about history, like the dress, the events, the accessories, and the entertainments of the time period. And – of course – I do love dancing and spending time catching up with the friends I’ve made at these events. In addition, there is not a whole lot of opportunities in my area to participate in period costume events, which makes the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra all the more alluring.
This year’s festival was aimed at celebrating the 200th anniversary of The Battle of Waterloo and the fall of Napoleon in 1815.
Our festival weekend began with participation in a wide variety of workshops, from dancing to sewing and historical talks on the era. The sewing options ranged from making an 1820’s pelerine to making a 1806 bonnet, and there were other demonstrations like how to tie a cravat and discussions on putting the finishing touches on your costume.
The history symposium focused on “Austen’s Men”, with presenters not only talking about the men depicted in Austen’s novels, but also the men she interacted with daily, her brothers.
I taught a workshop on making a fichu in the morning, and then spent the afternoon learning to dance some large dances involving 12 to 16 people. Next on the dancing menu was the minuet and the “knotty allemande”, which was mentioned in the 2000 movie, Sense and Sensibility. Interestingly, Emma Thompson (as Elinor Dashwood) dances one of the elements of an allemande (that “peeking-in-the-window” move) in this scene with Robert Ferrars.
After spending an hour in the evening doing my hair in an 18th century style (luckily it didn’t fall out!), we arrived at the Georgian Pleasure Evening on Friday night. I wore my caraco jacket and petticoat with the matching embroidered stomacher I made a few years ago. It was a lovely evening intermixed with dancing, singing, Neoclassical ballet performances, card playing and baroque display dances.
The second day of the festival involved another comprehensive day of workshops and talks, with the history symposium focusing of The Battle of Waterloo. The sewing workshops included – among other things – making a knitted miser’s purse, how to scale patterns, and a very popular Period Pattern Review discussion that explored a great number of period patterns and their strengths and weaknesses.
I spent the morning again teaching a workshop, this time on whitework embroidery, including both pulled work stitches and normal embroidery stitches.
I then had the opportunity to learn English paper-piecing, which is a patchwork technique used by Jane and Cassandra Austen to make their quilt, currently on display at Chawton Cottage.
The presenter, Marilyn Steven, brought along her reproduction of the Austen quilt and shared her journey on how she made it, which was fascinating to hear. Since arriving home I have made some great progress on a table runner using hexagons with the paper-piecing technique.
I had my Regency silhouette taken by an extremely talented young lady who could cut a silhouette from black cardboard in 3 minutes! I was quite pleased with the result. “Now all it needs is a suitable frame.” Perhaps Mr Elton would be so kind…
The remainder of my afternoon was spent dancing; the Mescolanze, the Mazurka, the Waltz and the Polonaise. One particular favourite was learning to dance the Lendler, most popularly seen in the movie Sound of Music, though our version differed a bit from the movie version shown here.
I found the Lendler particularly tricky at about the part where she (Julie Andrews) started blushing. It was quite easy to get yourself and your partner all tangled in knots! The picture to the left is of my daughter dancing the Lendler with the dance instructor, John Gardiner-Garden.
On Saturday evening, we attended The Battle of Waterloo Ball. I was suitably attired in my 1813 reproduction of a fashion plate, so I didn’t feel TOO behind the times for an 1815 ball. Though, would you believe, I am STILL embroidering dots on the netting two years after finishing the dress! Maybe by next year… I think I have 120 dots to go…
We had the pleasure of welcoming the Belgium ambassador for the evening, who talked briefly about the impact that the Battle of Waterloo had on Belgium. When he is not living in Canberra, Australia, he lives at Waterloo, which is located in the middle of Belgium. He related how the Belgian people fought on both sides of the conflict and how important it was that Napoleon be defeated.
One of the highlights of the evening was the first-ever dance through of “The Battle of Waterloo Dance”, cleverly depicting ranks of soldiers coming forward to engage in battle. With 96 dancers on the floor in one large set, it was quite a feat – not incomparable to the battle itself!
The morning was spent at a local theatre seeing a production of “Mr Bennet’s Bride”, a prequel to Pride and Prejudice, which explored how Mr Bennet came to choose Mrs Bennet as his wife. It was a superbly performed period theatre experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t get many opportunities to visit the theatre, so it was a real treat.
Afterwards one of the directors came over to me and congratulated me on my costume. He said that the Costume Director had been looking at all the audience members’ costumes and thought that mine was especially worthy of comment. I thought that was a lovely compliment!
The afternoon weather was perfect for the promenade from Albert Hall to the Lennox Gardens in Canberra. A leisurely parasol-filled picnic and carriage ride followed.
The festival concluded with the late afternoon Cotillion Ball, where I managed to dance my favourite dance, The Downfall of Paris, before leaving for the long drive home.
This event has become an annual tradition for me, (its just my cup of tea really!) and I am hoping to take some more of my children next year. Stay tuned for some forthcoming posts on costumes for children in the coming year!
We are also planning some Regency events for next year in Melbourne, Australia. You can check out The Melbourne Regency Picnic on Facebook for our up-and-coming event on March 6th, 2016 at Elsternwick.
My Regency Journey: The Destination – Jane Austen Festival 2012
Sources and Relevant Links
Jane Austen Festival Australia – website
Jane Austen’s quilt – The Jane Austen Centre
How to do English paper-piecing – by Craftsy
“Mr Bennet’s Bride goes on tour” – by Herald Sun