At last, the day we’ve waited for finally arrived this past weekend! My history-loving girls and I headed to Louisville, Kentucky for the 5th Annual Jane Austen Festival, put together by the Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society.
It was everything we’d hoped it would be. The event is held at Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark. It consists of 55 acres of the original 694 acre farm established by William and Lucy Clark Croghan in 1790. William Croghan was the brother-in-law and surveying partner of George Rogers Clark, founder of Louisville and Revolutionary War hero. The farm and the Croghan’s played host to three U.S. Presidents-James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor-and was a stopping point for famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (brother of Lucy) upon their return from their expedition to the Pacific.
Food was not the focal point of the festival. As such, I’m going to spend one blog talking very little about food because there is much of historical significance to see and experience at the festival-and it deserves to be shared and praised! I assume most of my blog readers are history lovers-so you’ll forgive me this one little indulgence off-topic.
The festival includes a self-guided tour of the farmhouse, which was the first thing the girls and I did. The inside is gorgeous-the historians have done an impeccable restoration job (there are photos of just how much work was done to get the house into this condition inside the visitor’s center.)
Of course, I spent a little extra time in the formal dining room. The table was set for the soup course and I also managed to snap a shot of the tea cabinet. The pattern was pretty bland and not at all frilly-perhaps that tells us something of Lucy’s personality.
There were many Regency era outfits on display inside the home. They are not vintage-they were designed and sewn by Gayle Simmons.
I love the color of this outfit. The designer explained the oriental influence of the time, and the use of sari’s as shawls, drapes, or as part of the dress. The veil would be worn to keep bugs out of one’s face while riding on horseback or in an open carriage.
I loved both of these. The white and black dress is more of a ballgown and the blue and white dress would have been for a formal dinner. Feathers were a popular accessory!
Another example of a dress made of a sari. I love the poofy bonnet.
Now, the girls and I really wanted to dress Regency but, with limited time and budget, we sort of “made it up”. We got three empire-waisted dresses from Goodwill, in appropriate colors/prints for the time, added a wide ribbon sash, and pulled out our vintage jewelry and fans.
I was most proud of my work on my eldest daughter Lily’s hair. She has thick, wavy locks like Kate Winslet in “Sense and Sensibility” and that inspired her style. I braided it, worked it into a bun, and wrapped ribbon around her head, Grecian-style.
My younger daughter Ella had two braids brought together in the back, with loose curls and a ribbon.
We won’t even discuss my hair. Let’s just say, it’s not very pretty pinned up. I will be wearing a bonnet next year!!
We also attended an hour-long Regency fashion show, where we got to hear historic clothing designer Betsy Bashore describe her costumes in detail. I got a lot of ideas for next year!
The only thing that worries me about making a regency dress is the back pleats. You can see the add a lovely fullness to the train-but pleats are not always very easy to sew, if memory serves me correctly.
The festival also featured a bare-knuckle boxing match, side-saddle riding demonstration, a lecture on the illnesses of Jane Austen, a one-woman dramatic production, and a duel!
In addition there were many, many shops full of everything from clothes to wooden swords to books, fabric, vintage buttons, and tea. My girls each got a quill, ink, and inkwell and I bought two boxes of tea from Bingley’s Teas, which had a lovely setup so you could sniff each variety in their Jane Austen series. There were also two varieties available to taste test! The girls and I choose “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves”, containing chamomile, peppermint, passion flower, rosehips, and lavender, and “Treasures from the Colonel”, a spicier blend. They come in beautiful boxes designed to look like books. I also bought a cameo on a chain, although I failed to make note of the merchant.
The first thing the girls did when we got home was to write with their new quills. We set a few rules and the process is not nearly as messy as I thought it would be. Lily says you can’t have a regular electric light when using a quill-only candles will do.
We also attended a shadow puppet show, put on by Pat and Becky Richardson of Indianapolis, Indiana. It was really neat-but the stories, I should warn you, are kind of scary! Pat explained that children’s fairy tales of old are vivid stories with clear, moral lessons-like the girl who burns to ashes because she played with matches!
Finally, we attended the children’s tea in the afternoon. The service was really attentive, and the china, mixed and matched on the tables, was beautiful. Each child got to take home a teacup and saucer-both my girls really liked the souvenir!
The festival also includes a ball on Saturday night and other seminars. There is so much to do! It was a most wonderful day and we will certainly go back next year!
Now, back to the kitchen for me…