Annual academy offers hands-on lessons

Published 12:11 am Sunday, March 16, 2008

NATCHEZ — With the ladies in period costume, embroidery needles flying upward and a cool breeze blowing through the open widows, it’s hard to remember that this is the 21st century.

The 11th annual Ladies Academy is this weekend and the 28 ladies donned homemade dresses to learn embroidery, how to make hat pins and more at the Historic Jefferson College.

This year’s hostess is Vicky Ratliff and it’s her first year to host, although she’s been attending the academy for eight years.

Email newsletter signup

She’s been planning and preparing for this weekend’s event for the past year.

“I didn’t want to get into crunch time,” she said.

Planning is an arduous process, collecting the $35 fee per lady to buy supplies for making hit pins and embroideries.

Each woman receives a bag with all of the supplies they need for the two-day event.

Ratliff said she enjoys the academy more than she does the re-enactments.

This is because of the friendships formed during the academy.

“You make a bond, lasting fellowship and friendship,” she said.

She also said most re-enactments involve men and they’re the main characters.

“This is strictly about us,” she said.

Ratliff is the only Natchez resident attending the academy this year, and it’s been that way for four years.

She supposed it was all the effort it goes into truly acting in the period.

“It’s a lot of work, our attire, proper etiquette,” she said. “I’m no where near perfect, it’s a lot of learning.”

Patricia Roark, from Chickamagua, Ga., said learning new things is exactly what she enjoys.

“You learn something new,” she said.

She’s teaching croquet this year and is able to bring great expertise to teaching.

She’s been croqueting her whole life.

“My grandmother taught me,” she said.

Her first piece was done when she was 4- or 5-year-old, she said.

Saturday she acquired embroidery and hat pin making skills. She made her own clothes, top to bottom.

“Everything I have on, I made it,” she said. “I have a lot of dresses but I make all mine.”

Debbie Manning from Jefferson, La., made her own dress too, something she was proud of, as she’s only been sewing for a year and a half.

There are several stipulations to what you have to wear, she said. The material must be 100 percent cotton and be an appropriate material, nothing modern.

Another skill she’s acquired through her two years of Ladies Academy is how to fix hair, that it’s not as simple as it looks.

Her brother-in-law got her into re-enactments and now many of her family members participate.

“We have a little clan,” she said.

She said she’s become quite the history buff when it comes to the Civil War.

Patricia Salassi, from Jackson, is the co-host this year and has been an attendee for six years.

She said she enjoys the ability to gather with the ladies and enjoy each other’s company.

“This is our special weekend,” she said.

Today the ladies will have a paisley class and a church service.