Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making a Decision

After I completed my charcoal gray fitted dress, it was time to begin work on the pieces of my Garb Quest, but something was holding me back.  It took me several weeks, but eventually I realized that my delay in beginning the first dress of the quest, my pink wool cote, was primarily caused by a doubt that the from-scratch fitting technique I'd just used on the charcoal gray dress was appropriate for my middle class, early 15th-century persona. I questioned if the time and labor intensive process of creating a kirtle from 4 panels directly fitted on the body was truly a method available to my class.

Through this doubt, I then began to question the Garb Quest itself. I've stated it before- I do not consider myself a seamstress. I sew my own garb out of necessity, not because I'm particularly good at sewing. My primary interest is the research portion of creating my garb and developing my persona. Originally, my garb quest was designed to facilitate better craftsmanship and to help me to be a better seamstress. At the time, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal, and if you've read along with me for a while, you probably remember that I went through an incredibly frustrating period when I realized that my sewing skills and craftsmanship didn't match the visual I imagined through my research.  It seemed perfectly reasonable to force the issue with a quest that focused on the skills I lacked.

There is nothing wrong, however, with lacking skills that are not necessary for understanding and enjoying what I prefer to do.  I don't need to even own a sewing needle to do research and study 15th century women's clothing and headdress (though I will concede that it does indeed help.)

I think I just got myself into an inspirational death-spiral.  Many of the blogs I read on a regular basis by other costumers (not all medieval) create the most gorgeous items with absolute impeccability.  Pleating is perfectly even, buttonhole stitches are precise and clean, fabric buttons are tiny, cute and perfectly round balls.  And it's easy, among that sort of company, to look at my own work under the wrong light.  There's a quote that I think applies:

"Comparison is the thief of joy."
Theodore Roosevelt

My Garb Quest shouldn't really be about making myself a better seamstress.  Though I would love to be, and that remains a general life goal I maintain, I don't usually get a high on being able to sew.  I get a high on figuring something out, on drawing a connection, on making speculations and proving them right or wrong (and I do actually like being proven wrong when it comes to medieval costuming research!). I like experimenting, and goofing off with ideas, and imagining a reality that could have been!

So, and I promise this is the last time, my Garb Quest is changing once again.  I have separated the two elements of the original quest into a research paper and a complete outfit.

The paper will be submitted for A&S judging in January.  For the moment, the topic is a bit overwhelming, but it will somehow focus on the wardrobe of a bourgeois housewife of the early 15th century and will also look at the influence of bourgeois women on the display of fashion in contemporary artwork.

The outfit will no longer be entered into A&S for reasons beyond that listed above.  I have put a huge amount of time an effort into researching what's appropriate for the outfit, and if I complete it for judging, I'd put a large amount of time and effort into its construction.  First, I don't have that sort of time on my hands. Second, I'm not really interested in having my craftsmanship possibly overshadow the hard work I'd put into the outfit's research. The A&S Faire system is fine for some people on this type of scale, but I don't think I'm one of them. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

The outfit will still be completed, but I will use the sewing machine for the primary construction on the dresses, then finish them by hand. The smaller items that I have not yet started, will still be entirely hand sewn.

And I will complete it purely for the opportunity the wear it- no A&S strings attached. And I can't tell you how honestly relieved I am to make that decision!


  1. It seems to me that you've made a perfectly wonderful decision. One that will allow you to pursue your joy and, ultimately, isn't that what this is all about?

    I can't wait to see the finished paper and your gown. I hope you'll share the results of your research with all of us! I think it will be fantastic!

  2. I totally get you here. Embrace what you love, and let the rest happen as it will. Your skills will improve with every piece you make, just because of the nature of practice and learning, but that certainly doesn't have to be a focus for you at all. I've never entered a Kingdom level A&S - it's not for everyone. I'm in awe at how you're diving into the research and really thinking things through. Very admirable.