Friday, September 19, 2014

Freeform Friday: a visit to Downton

Warning: this post may have you craving scones and high tea. You may have a compulsion to dress for dinner. However, for the rare few who have NOT watched PBS's Downton Abbey, there may be a few small spoilers. Beware. 

This is how the day began: tea with the Aunties. My friend Angela had made me an honorary aunt to her daughters Jordan and Ellie ( my students of 10 years...).  It was a sumptuous spread, only missing the Devon clotted cream*, sadly. 
Winterthur - HF Dupont's home from his birth in 1880 to his death in 1969. 
We headed off to Winterthur, historical house/museum in Wilmington DE. This house was the duPont family estate, founded in 1837 and made public by H.F. duPont in the 1950's. Tours are available of the house, still furnished in the duPont's style, and the museum hosts a large collection of decorative arts, dating from 1640-1860. The garden's  are also a showpiece, and seasonal tours are a must. 

Winterthur is currently hosting an exhibit of the costumes from PBS's Downton Abbey. The exhibit drew parallels between the two countries/lifestyles/families very well. A lovely thoughtful synthesis of history and pop culture. 

But really - its all about the dresses... I was excited to see things up close, and reading some of the details - so impressive. The costume department had 7 weeks to create all the fashions for a season. In many cases a dress was inspired by a piece of period accurate lace/beading/fabric and replicated to match from there. (So while this post isn't "art jewelry" per se - its personal adornment, bead embroidery, and so much inspiration!) Without further ado... 

Cora's dress - hard to imaging wearing it - it was SO ethereal. Amazing beaded front panel. 
Cora again. This long velvet duster was a dark olive and truly the thing I coveted most in the entire exhibit.  The center panel on the skirt is off center because they only had so much antique beaded motif to work with, so they designed it in regardless. 
Wearing this to dinner? I can see the need for a Lady's maid to do touch ups and mend loose beads. 
Just beadwork. Because it was so stunning. The black/white/silver piece on the left made me gasp out loud. No exaggeration. The top right dress was worn by Cousin Rose - flapper style sheet covered in bugle beads. The bottom purple number was worm by Matthew's mother if I remember correctly. 
Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess. Need I say more? 
Mary and Matthew's  attire from the fateful night - of their proposal. So bittersweet.  This dress was oddly unembellished, just multicolored seed beads at the ruffles edges and a pendant piece stitched on as a focal in the front.
Edith. Poor Edith. Details from her wedding gown. 
Sibyl, ever the fashion forward sister stunned the room when she appeared in this for dinner. It was pants! Harem pants of silk... but this embroidered bodice was more stunning to me. 
Lady Sibyl again - an embroidered velvet number styled after Parisian trends  of the 20's. 
If you are near Wilmington DE between now and January - I highly recommend this exhibit. It was a lovely fan moment to see the costumes yet it successfully transported me back in time. There were pieces on display from the employees as well, but as I was focused on embellishments... "Service" was accurately represented, in all their contrast. 

My mother taught my sisters and me to embroider in different decorative stitches when we were quite young. Its a skill we have all retained to varying degrees. That combined with my new love of seed beads... hmm. Ideas are brewing. I'll let them steep a while... ( puns intended)

*Cream tea:  The Devonshire (or Devon) method is to split the scone in two, cover each half with clotted cream, and then add strawberry jam on top. Traditionally it is important that the scones be warm (ideally, freshly baked), and that clotted (rather than whipped) cream and strawberry jam, rather than any other variety, are used. Butter is generally not included, and the tea should be served with milk.

Whatever your plans for the "weekend" - have a good one!

*Cream tea: There are regional variations as to how a cream tea should preferably be eaten. The Devonshire (or Devon) method is to split the scone in two, cover each half with clotted cream, and then add strawberry jam on top. Traditionally it is important that the scones be warm (ideally, freshly baked), and that clotted (rather than whipped) cream and strawberry jam, rather than any other variety, are used. Butter is generally not included, and the tea should be served with milk.


  1. The biggest thing I missed after our visit to the UK was clotted cream and realising if I don't ever go back I won't ever have it again. I hunted high and low to see if I could get it here in Australia, but no. It's cream, but is the consistency of butter.
    We also had a funny incident in the UK when we went to a little cafe where we were ordering a "cream tea" which in Australia is called a Devonshire Tea (a pot of tea with two scones and jam cream) and my partner kept insisting and then getting angry because when the waitress was saying "cream tea" he thought they were going to put cream in his tea, instead of milk, which is yuck because I've tried it. I had to calm him down and explain a "cream tea" is a Devonshire tea and they're not going to put cream in your tea, they'll put milk, so it's all good. It's one of the few times I've ever seen him blush, he was so embarrassed, the waitress thought he was a loon.
    We stopped one day at a beautiful home called Waddesdon, a French chateau home in Somerset, I think, and there was a film crew there, which I was really annoyed about at the time, but then months later I found out they were filming Downton Abbey. It was the bit in the first season when Mary was going to marry the newspaper man and he took her to see the house he wanted to buy for them to live in. I was so chuffed when I found that out, although it would have been amazing to see Lady Mary. I was still annoyed they left their trucks right in front of the home so we couldn't get a good photo, lol, but anyway....

  2. Wonderful post, Jenny. I can't decide which is yummier, the dresses or the cream tea. Proper tea with scones and clotted cream is one of the pleasures I miss most about living in Britain. Devon cream is occasionally found here but it's not the same.Thanks for all the scrumptious eye candy.

  3. They are so gorgeous the clothes from Downton and of course the new season starts Sunday over here, I am so looking forward to it!

  4. Hi Jenny, You made me wish I was there. Thanx for sharing these gorgeous costumes with us.

  5. Stunning fashion!!! I think my favorite is Sibyl's Harem Pants outfit, just gorgeous!! I have to be honest, I'm itching to get out my 2 part mold and take some textures lol!!

  6. I love seeing what you see! Thanks for sharing! and you would rock that olive green velvet duster!

  7. Wait!..I live in Wilmington Delaware!..I didn't know about this event! Where have I been?! This museum is truly a FABULOUS place to visit (nearly in my own backyard). I highly recommend! These dresses are gorgeous and likely spectacular in-person! Thank you for the post.

  8. I love Downton Abby and wish season 5 were starting here, soon, as it is in the UK. I wish I could see this display, but you took excellent pictures and I enjoyed it vicariously. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great post - love the clothing and the food! My family does a tea around the holidays and we have a wonderful time. In addition to Downton Abbey, if anyone is craving a period show with wonderful clothing and jewelry, check out The House of Eliott.


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