Friday, January 1, 2010

The Day of the Christmas Ball


Months of learning to sew finally culminated in an evening of color, light, music, movement, laughter, and beautiful memories.

I had some last minute scalloping of my skirt to do that day so, early in the morning, I propped it up, hoops and all, on some bar stools in the kitchen.

And took some strips of ribbon to pin loops up. I had hoped to fasten some decorative bits of somethings over the pins, but didn't get to it. The basic skirts are meant to be changeable. The masses of women during the civil war era did not have money to buy new gowns every time there was a ball. So they were very resourceful when it came to reinventing their gowns for every occasion.

Leah graciously came by here later in the morning to do our hair together. She said she knew how to make curls last by using a straightening iron, and boy, was she right! The hair project took a couple of hours, but we emerged with ringlets set in stone.

I did get a floor-length cape made for myself. A project which took 2 and a half days and of which I forgot to take pictures, I was so busy figuring it out. I also made a frock coat for Michael, which took 2 days. There should be a photo of those coming, later. It was to be cold and snowing as we were outside, so we really had to come up with something, or not participate in some of the activities.

We stopped to drop off cookies and cups at the gym, where many were working to decorate. Those who had completed their gowns, anyhow. However, I did see several sitting on benches doing last minute sewing.

This was all such a great adventure for all of us. The excitement of anticipation, the working together, the learning of new things and working right up to the last minute, all added up to great memories and fun.

Being a woman without a licensed escort, I have experienced all three less-than-perfect versions of getting to the ball in her own pumpkin. Arriving and getting dressed there - awkward. Driving with gown on - awkard and bulky. Driving with gown AND HOOPS on - super-in-the-way-you-will-never understand-unless-you-experience-it-awkward.

So I was greatly relieved to have been offered a licensed escort to drive my car with me and another belle in it, to the ball.

I was also concerned about poor Michael. You never know how deeply you can damage the psyche of a young boy by asking him to lace up yet another corset, so the plan was for a couple of us single ladies to meet the rest at their home for help in dressing, and for being escorted to town.

Dressing took a couple of hours, what with last minute alterations.

The guys waited til the last minute to dress, playing games in the back bedroom while we all took up the main areas of the house. Michael managed to be the very last to dress.

Here is a cape Leah made out of velvet. Beautiful!

So, each car being driven by a dapper gentleman, filled with hoops and frock coats, we caravanned into town to the beautiful old Inn for caroling.

It was a very large room, dimly lit with candles and high chandeliers, so getting good photos was very challenging. Most of the shots were either washed out with flash, missing the entire beauty of the scenes, or they were too dark and blurry. But I'll try to pick out some better ones.

Here is Michael in the frock coat I pulled together last minute. Notice he still has hair at this time. He was to lose it the next evening.

As we were joined by others from our society, we created quite a stir with our period attire. It was quite fun!

This was the same Inn at which we attended the wedding reception last month. Quite elegant.

Still not too filled up yet. By the time our caroling was over, the entire Inn was standing room only.

I had so much trouble with that bodice. All it wanted to do was ride up the whole night. I suppose that was better than coming down, but I was forever trying to pull it down. It was a little on the large side and didn't fit really well, but I thought I did pretty well for a first time sewer.

Waiting to begin caroling as the rest of our society gradually arrived.

Warming up the grand piano.

And then the caroling began and I was no longer taking photos. We probably had about 30 people all together and we had such a wonderful time. The ambiance was incredible and I think it was really appreciated by the townsfolk as they wandered in from the street festivities to enjoy hot cocoa and cider, warming themselves by the fireplace.

We did have an intermission of sorts during which we walked up a block to the county courthouse where the town Christmas tree was to be lit. We arrived, escorted by our gentlemen, and candles were being passed around. We declined them, as we are still in the practicing phase of learning to maneuver while wearing truck loads of clothing. The mayor said some very Christmassy things, which we could not hear. Then song sheets were joyfully passed about, indicating two carols we would all sing together while holding our candles as occassional snowflakes gently fell.

The man who led the singing was in full form. We all started off beautifully unified, and then we noticed he was getting louder and louder, as well as increasing the tempo with each measure. It took quite a bit of work to keep up with him! We really appreciated his earnestness concerning singing songs of joy about our Savior.

Then was the lighting of the tree. Poorly timed, though, I must say. We were still finishing up the last song when a carriage with a team of horses pulled up to the courthouse and a man with a lavelier mic on his fur-lined collar began shouting something that was barely intelligable.

However, he seemed to be in good spirits, and the woman who was with him, made us realize that this pair were the characters of Father and Mother Christmas! I have little knowledge of these two, so I had no idea what was coming as they made their way through the crowd to the dark fir tree that slumbered not 10 feet away from us.

We stood in wonder as he began shouting something at the tree. Then he began walking around it, yelling, and pounding his cane on the ground. It all seemed rather pagan to us as we giggled and stole glances at one another. One last "Boogy-Boo!" with his fists raised at it and the poor tree was frightened into submission. All it's lights came on and the crowd cheered.

Father Christmas began throwing peppermints into the crowd.
And that's when I was tackled from behind.

When you are at an event such as this, participating in lovely ceremonies and dressed in period gowns, being tackled is the furthest thing from your mind. However, it was not entirely her fault. She was actually cruelly tripped by the brick edging along the walkway that was directly behind my escort and I.

Down she went, right into my hair with her lit candle. Had I not had the strong arm of my escort to cling to, I'd have ended up on my face with my hoops on the vertical. Not pretty!

As she apologized profusely and I soothed her fears with comfort and smiling wishes of "Merry Christmas" she went on her way, relieved, I'm sure, to be at the other side of the crowd. Friends carefully examining my southerly regions as the wafting aroma of burning hair floated about us. I'm sure it must have been the fine stonework of Leah, my hairdresser, that protected my locks from being a burnt offering to the tree.

We debated attending the next activity of caroling as the townsfolk made their way caroling over several blocks to commit the same deed to the tree at the local City Hall, but decided we'd better go to finish our caroling at the Inn before the church choir arrived for their segment of singing.

By this time we could hardly get in the door, or even OUT of the door when we were through. It took us nearly a half hour to gather everyone down the street at the childhood home of a famous president. As our party got split in many directions on our way, I ended up making my way through the town on foot, unescorted. I think this turned out to be one of the nicer times of the evening.

It's fun to cause a stir in a positive way. And I was not the only one to be the pleased recipient of stares and compliments along the way. My favorites were from the little girls. "Are you a princess?" They would gasp. One little one said, "You are SO BEAUTIFUL!" and I stopped and leaned down and said, "YOU are as beautiful as a princess too, inside AND out!" I was so tickled to see her chin drop and stare as I walked away down the street wishing her "Merry Christmas!"

To a little girl, anyone in a ball gown is a princess, no matter what they look like. LOL It was such a treat to see them filled with wonder.

I was also pleased with the comments that several of us heard on the street. How they loved the period wear so much, they wanted to find out how to be involved. So maybe we'll have an even bigger event next Christmas.

We all met at the Presidential Home Museum and were given free tours. I was suprised to be reminded that the house was not designed for the giant hoop skirts that were actually a short-lived fad during the middle 1800s, so we had quite a time maneuvering around each other in the old home. The actors who played the parts were wonderful as they told us about the activities of the day.

Then we were given free tours of the classic car museum.

Then it was off to the actual ball. We were not as excited about this particular one after our Spring ball had been held at the Country Club. We thought the gymnasium off the museum was a bit drab for what we had in mind. We'd been spoiled and we had not enough money for renting the Country Club. But we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it ended up being.

Here is the frock coat design that I really want to make for Michael. This was in the hallway of the museum that attaches to the gym.

People arriving. The dark wood floors were really beautiful.

The dance program.

When it was all done at 9:30, we were not ready to go home. We could have danced all night. So instead we decided to go walk around WalMart in our costumes. The downtown streets were empty, so no more festivities were available. Can you tell we are from a small town?

When we arrived at WalMart, we were given permission to walk around the store caroling. It was late at night, and not a lot of shoppers were there, but many stockers were out, busily working. We had a perfect amount of couples, so we were able to stroll through, about 8 pairs of us in a line, singing as we slowly walked.

Once again we were surprised at the response. In some way, the Lord used it to minister to people, touching their hearts. One woman even began crying. A couple of scrooges, hearts hardened by life's blows, were visible but, by and large, the listeners were so thankful and happy to see us. We were glad to have done it spur of the moment. You just never know what good will come of being available.

OK, I've over indulged in photos. Thanks for hanging with me through all these months of sewing and dancing. We have one more dance this evening, a New Year's barn dance. Just a casual thing amongst friends that we decided to make a costume party just for fun.

Wish us well. It is to be about 25 degrees!




  1. Loved seeing all your pictures! You all look beautiful - great work on the costumes! And I'm glad you survived the near-burning-at-the-Christmas-tree-stake! Yikes! Happy New Year!

  2. Oh Faith! What beautiful memories! Your dress is stunning, and looks fabulous on you! Michael looks so dang handsome! I love it!


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