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PCM patrons get history lesson

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kandie Carle (right) tells Anna Katherine Yerian she could have worn similar undergarments to make her sit up straight during the Victorian Era. Carle takes audiences on a journey of discovery using Victorian clothing and accessories. She was at the Putnam County Museum Saturday morning.
More than 40 women enjoyed a performance of Kandie Carle "The Victorian Lady" Saturday morning at the Putnam County Museum.

Carle took the room on a tour of one of the most magnificent eras in history using Victorian era clothing.

She dressed in layer upon layer of the clothing from the late 1800s to the turn of the 20th century. As she added each piece of clothing, she explained its use and shared the history of the item as well as the lifestyle and manners of the time.

She explained to her audience that she first became interested in history at the age of 12 when her grandmother, a Czechoslovakian immigrant showed her some family pictures.

"My grandmother began telling me the story about the people in the photographs and why they were dressed the way they were. They were immigrants who came through Ellis Island and headed for Kansas," she said.

Later, she laughingly admits to "falling in love with all things older than me."

Her love of history, years of research and experience as an actress culminated in the development of three one-women shows featuring the history and clothing of the Victorian era from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

"Like all decades, these were very different from one another. The Civil War era of the 1860s was very different from the 1890s, known as the Gilded Age. And those were different from the Edwardian Era that began in 1902 a year after Queen Victoria died," explained Carle.

Queen Victoria of England ascended to the throne in 1837 and ruled her kingdom for 64 years. These years are, of course, considered the Victorian Era.

Her son Edward, known as Bertie, began his rule upon Victoria's death, but died after nine years. This near decade is known as the Edwardian time period.

Carle has worked as an actress, dancer and singer throughout the United States and abroad since 1980. She began touring with her show in 1996.

She has a vast collection of authentic Victorian and Edwardian clothing and accessories. She has also recreated many pieces of clothing from actual designs and patterns from the Civil War, Victorian and Edwardian periods.

She began her presentation by encouraging people to record their family stories and histories.

Her first prop is an original curling iron used by women to create ringlets, fringes and bangs. She also produces a mustache comb for men and entertainingly tells how everyone used "lard."

"Let's face it ladies, humans have been using animal fat for a long time. Lanolin is just a pretty word for sheep grease," she laughs.

Next she shows off her drawers, literally. Ladies undergarmets were made up of two "drawers with no seam and tied around the waist." Carle explains drawers are literally very different from bloomers that were created for sporting women.

"Bloomers originally came from Turkish trousers that gathered at the ankle. Victorian women wore them to ride sidesaddle and for other sporting events," she said.

Next came the chemise, a three-fourth-length shift that comes to just below the knees. This is followed by silk and wool stockings, complete with garters made from the "garter" stitch known in knitting circles.

"This was the stretchiest stitch there was and it was used to make garters to hold up your stockings," explained Carle.

At this point, she solved the mystery around women not showing their ankles by putting on her boots with 3-4 inch points at the toe.

"Women didn't show their ankles because they were modest. They didn't have washing machines. They had to wash them on a board and run them through a wringer. They didn't want to get them dirty," she exclaimed.

Carle holds up an iron at this point.

"This iron is made of iron. Those washboards and wringers made wrinkles. They had to iron with iron. There wasn't any electricity. These things were heavy," she said.

One of the most entertaining moments came with the lacing of her corset. After pulling Hope Sutherlin from the audience to help and explaining to pull tight, Sutherlin had to ask her mother to help.

The two women were struggling to get the laces tight enough and told Carle, who was teasing them, she needed a bedpost to hang onto. At that point, Bonnie Yarhaus hopped up to offer herself as a bedpost.

"It's never taken three helpers to get me laced into this before," gasped Carle laughing.

She added that corsets were worn by men, women and children and used as support as well as to make children sit and stand straight.

In Worchester, Mass. in 1890, there were 1,200 people employed at the Royal Corset Company, she told the audience.

Next came the corset cover, a petticoat, a shirtwaist, skirt, sash, jewelry, purse, gloves and hat.

All these items came with explanations of why they were worn or used.

Another myth was dispelled at this point. Men and women carried smelling salts, not because women were fainting constantly but to clear the nostrils for people with colds and allergies.

And fainting couches were not sold as "fainting" couches.

"Somebody somewhere show me where any company sold these chaises as fainting couches. They were made as day beds and sofas and that's how they were used," she explained.

Carle also spent some time explaining the art of using a fan in flirting as well as communicating with flowers.

"Entire communications could be made with flowers in the Victorian Era. Yellow roses meant jealousy; you didn't want to get those," she said.

"At a dance, a woman could communicate with a man across the room by flicking her fan open wide. That meant wait for me. Tucked under the chin was a signal to kiss me," she added.

The event wound up with a good old-fashioned Victorian tea complete with sandwiches, cookies and, of course, tea.

The program was sponsored for the Putnam County Museum by Almost Home, Brad Tucker State Farm Insurance and The Waters of Greencastle.

Carle is the Artistic Director of the East Haddam Stage Company that offers among other projects a living history performance called "They Call Me Lizzy ... from Slavery to the White House." Written and directed by Carle, this is a one-woman history program on the life of Elizabeth Keckly who was dressmaker and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln.

Anyone interested in contacting Carle can reach her by e-mail at kandie@kandiecarle.com or call 860-873-9509. Her Web site is www.kandiecarle.com

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This show sounds so interesting to me, didn't know it was happening, if it comes to Greencastle again, I hope it is advertised, I feel a lot more people would love to have seen it. I feel quite sure there are a lot of ladies who would enjoy seeing it. Who ever is in charge of it, please have this lady back again.

-- Posted by whatno_guessing on Mon, May 18, 2009, at 11:31 AM

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