HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! How did you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Do you want to know how Dearly Beloved and I did it? Okay, I’ll tell you.
We did exactly the same thing we do most winter nights: we had cocktails by candlelight. You see, this is one of our rituals. At the end of the day we make a point of leaving behind whatever frustrations and issues we have been dealing with, we light candles, we put on music, and we sit together in our living room. We don’t save it for special occasions. We do it on week nights and on weekends. We do it on birthdays, holidays, and Tuesdays. It is a part of our life together. In the summer we do the same thing, except outside on our deck, overlooking the garden. Growing up, our children knew that they were always welcome to join us, but that they were expected to behave like civilized people and engage in thoughtful conversation. If they preferred to do something else, that was perfectly fine with us – but we were going to spend an hour reconnecting and recharging.
So that’s just what we did on New Year’s Eve. We had cocktails by candlelight, we ate dinner, and afterward we went to bed. No party for us that night!
Embed from Getty Images
Instead, we saved our partying for January 2, when our local public television station hosted a preview of the new season of Downton Abbey. It was held at a beautiful, recently-renovated, historic theatre:
Altria Theatre, Richmond VA
Attendees were encouraged to come in Downton Abbey-inspired costumes.
Now I know – I just know – I am meant to be at Downton Abbey. I can see myself there. Can’t you?
Look – they’ve saved me a seat, right back there next to dear Cousin Cora!
And there again – next to dear Mrs. Levinson! (Why would they save those empty seats if they weren’t expecting me to join them?)
Look! SEE THERE? That could totally be the back of MY head, right there at the dinner table with everyone!
Oh, they’ll all come out to welcome me home. I just know they will. I’m very certain I have blue Crawley blood running through my veins. Probably a rather high proportion. It’s just I haven’t quite had time yet to complete the geneology chart.
So anyway, even though the current season is set in 1924, I was more inspired by the costumes from the first season, which was set in 1914, and decided to base my gown on that period. The thing is, gowns from that period were almost always exquisitely beaded.
And exquisitely beaded fabric is EXPENSIVE. And while I do enjoy hand-beading, I didn’t leave myself a lot of time to make this dress. So what was a girl to do? I decided to improvise. . . .
I had had a scrap of black beaded lace in my stash for years. This became the inspiration for the rest of the gown. I found a rather pretty piece of iridescent silk at Joann. It wasn’t an especially high-quality silk, but then again, it wasn’t an especially expensive one either, and it would do nicely for a costume party (I’m sure the professional costumers will provide much nicer things when I actually get to Downton Abbey!). Backed with the silk, the lace became the bodice of the gown.
The sleeves and overskirt needed to be a soft, drapey sheer fabric. In 1914 it would certainly have been a silk chiffon or tulle. Joann (my only resource at the late date when I began the gown) has a vast selection of sheer fabrics, but I despaired of finding one that looked right for the period. Most of what Joanne had were organzas – much too stiff. The tulles were nylon – also much too stiff, and dreadfully cheap-looking. There were a few chiffons – better, but all of them polyester, which is still nowhere near as soft and drapey as silk, and also not nearly sheer enough. At last, buried in among the novelty fabics, I found a tulle that had the right hand, but had a shiny coating on it – also not at all period. But – eureka! – the reverse was completely matte! I snapped it up and raced to the cutting counter before anyone else could discover it (because everyone knows about the huge demand for drapey matte tulle among today’s modern sewers!)
Now for the improvisation – I needed the tulle to be beaded. I wanted the effect of heavier beading at the hemline, fading gradually to none at the top. So here’s what I did:
I stitched some lace trim to the hemlines of the sleeves and overskirt. And since I didn’t have time to properly bead it by hand, I used glue. Here are the tools I used:
Aleene’s Super Fabric Adhesive is very thick and sticky. I squeezed a blob of it out on the waxed side of a scrap of freezer paper. Then, I used tweezers to pick up a bead, dipped it in the glue:
And placed it on the lace:
Because the glue is so thick and sticky, it held the beads on the delicate fabric beautifully, but after each bead I needed to dip the tweezers in some mineral spirits (yeah, I know the picture is blurry – but you get the idea):
And wipe them with a paper towel:
It sounds like this process would be tedious and time-consuming, but I listened to an NPR podcast and got into the zen of it, and it actually went surprisingly quickly.
Here’s what one of the sleeves looked like when it was done (I have no idea why the pictures are sideways — they are right-side-up in my computer!)
I did two layers of lace trim on the overskirt.
And here’s what the gown looked like when it was finished. Ta-da! All ready for the Downton Abbey soiree here in Richmond, and for my Downton Abbey premier! (Julian Fellowes, are you looking?)
And remember what I said earlier about the dinner scene? Look at the beautiful updo my friend Sabrina Shell did for me!
I told you it really COULD be me at the dinner table with the rest of my Crawley relatives!
Ta-ta darlings — until next time!