Category Archives: Research

My post Downton Abbey party report.

Loved the beginning of Downton Abbey season six. A few minor threads started and resolved and even more began!

And the party–splendid!

Laurel Wanrow in Victorian Steampunk costume.

My husband was told he looked like like Mr. Mason…but who was I? I’m claiming I’m Violet in her younger, Victorian years. LOL. I love Maggie Smith’s Dowager character!

fitting into the show

We had a show of hats, including a Lady Astor felt hat.

Lady Astor felt hat

Dressing for dinner, complete with long gloves.

Dressed for dinner

As for my English dish…I would do things a little differently next time. A few shots of the process…

Sausages for Braised Bangers

Adding the cider to Braised Bangers

I cut my sausages because I wanted smaller servings for the party. However, this meant some apple chunks inside escaped during the extended braising, and burnt. In the future I would cut the sausages after cooking.

Cider and Honey Braised Bangers

Despite the unappetizing-looking charred bits, the flavor was good, if a little sweet, due to the mild sausage I used.

So what did other folks bring?

Downton Abbey party

We had sausage pockets,

sausage pockets

pork and mushroom pasties (my favorite!)

Pork & mushroom pasties

and Shepard’s Pie.

Shepard's Pie

One of the sides was presented on a turn of the century plate.

Turn-of-the-century dish

And for dessert, a traditional Victorian sponge,

Victorian sponge cake

and a beautiful vanilla cake with Elderberry liqueur in the icing.

vanilla cake

A splendid time was had by all!

Watching Downto Abbey


Dressing up like a Victorian lady, Part 4: Reticules and other ways to carry things

Let’s face it, we are a society that totes things. To attend the Baltimore Book Festival dressed like a Victorian lady, and still have all my ‘necessities,’ I needed a reticule. In other words, an era-appropriate purse.

My research led me to a timeline of purses titled Please Don’t Ridicule my Reticule! by Joan Kiplinger on a fabric website. (I’m seeing a trend here linking sewing and costume-making!) The descriptions and many illustrations led me to pulling out an unused crocheted doily belonging to my grandmother. I began fashioning a velvet interior, thinking I’d close it with ribbons and decorate the edges with beading…

However, I am wearing a riding skirt and hat. Plus, between the two choices of boots I showed in my ‘Part 1’ post, I have preferred the brown ones. They may look more like work boots, but that fits the riding skirt and image of landowner Mistress Constance Gere. And they bring together the brown belt, accessories and leather gloves I have gathered. I began scanning through images of reticules and came across this fashion plate, again from the Kate Tattersall website. You go, R. S. Fleming!


The plate illustrates the author’s Victorian Fashion Terms: Reticule. It’s captioned: “Stunning white riding habit with a cutaway jacket and leather reticule 1863.”

Exactly what I needed!

I did quite a bit of leather work in high school and have sewn since, so it was easy for me to make a paper pattern and dive into a box of materials my mother saved and gave me to use with my kids. I liked the shape of the reticule in the fashion plate, so copied it best I could. Here is the process.

After tracing pattern on underside of leather and cutting with an exacto knife (We don’t seem to have the leather scissors anymore), I punched holes along the edge and began lacing the pieces together with a flat leather needle.

Lacing a leather reticule 1Constructing a leather reticule 1

The front and back are matching shapes sewn to 5 cm wide strip. Note You need to make it longer than the actual side length to give the corners room to turn. If I have made a simple U shape, i wouldn’t have needed the extra holes. Luckily, I had room to add them as I sewed.

Lacing a leather reticule 2

The reticule is designed to hang from a belt. Before lacing one the flap to close the top opening, I made two strips the right length, and laced a loop at the top of each. They were then sewn into the back through two sets of holes.

Leather reticule belt straps

My worst dilemma was finding a closure. Some options were sewing on two wooden buttons to lace a piece of cord around, or creating a peg in a leather loop fastener. I wanted something more personal…and it had to be done quickly because I am running out of time before the BBF event tomorrow. I looked around the house…and found one of my stone Zuni carvings had a pinched belly, perfect for looping several rounds of waxed string with beads and a piece of leather lacing.

closure of leather reticule

I added a piece of leather on the back of the flap where I threaded the lacing to hold on the carving, so its weight will not pull at the single leather.

Back of closure on leather reticule

I made a simple loop strung through two bottom holes to secure the stone animal. I would like to braid a more substantial piece and also trim the flap edge with a line of lacing, but I have no more time to punch holes or figure out circular braiding–which I hope I can purchase!

My reticule will work well for my smaller items, such as my keeping my real glasses handy.

leather reticule

But it’s always handy to have other containers for things, ones that are still Victorian-era appropriate–meaning natural materials and handmade. I grabbed a small crocheted bag made by a friend to hold my cash.

crocheted bag

My brass compass already lives in a leather pouch, easily found if you visit out west. I added the gears (actually a button) for a more steampunk look.

leather pouch

For larger items, I’m taking a basket that looks old because of its rustic construction.

basket with embroidered cloth

I’ve lined it with an embroidered table cloth I never have out, but will be nice to see for a few hours. it was made by my great-grandmother, and will hide my water bottle and a few snacks.

Lastly, I believe I will take along a small purse my grandmother gave me that was her mother’s. I believe that puts it in the 1880-1890s.claw pouch










I’m not sure if it’s alligator or crocodile, but that coin purse has some wicked claws on it! And now, I believe my Victorian costume is complete. Here is the Maryland Romance Writers stage schedule at the Baltimore Book Festival. Hope you can join us this weekend.

I didn’t notice until I hit publish, but this is my 200th post for my website! Thanks for joining me.

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