Sunday, March 22, 2015

What My Wardrobe Taught Me at War

Last week, I had the enormous pleasure of attending Gulf Wars, a multi-kingdom SCA event in Mississippi. This was the first week-long event I have been able to attend since Pennsic 32 in 2003, and my first real vacation in that same amount of time. My husband and I left our children with Grandma and ventured south for a much needed break to recharge our batteries and have an adventure.

Since the event was a full week, I knew this would be a great opportunity to put my garb collection to the test. I spend so much time sewing garment after garment, but I rarely have the chance to see how they all work together to form a functioning wardrobe. The weather reports and predictions of my friends indicated that the option to layer linen and wool was a good one to have, so I packed up every dress I have that currently fits. In addition, I packed up just about every headdress and hat I had that was remotely correct for those gowns.

View from our pavilion.
It turned out that wool was not really the ideal choice for the week. The temperatures ranged between the low 70's in the mornings to the low 80's by lunch time. And the constant threat of storms from Wednesday on mostly just manifested as humidity, especially in the early evenings. It was not the expected weather.

I did my best to mix my items in ways that worked for the weather, but also worked for my plan that day. For instance, on Wednesday morning, I taught a class on headdress, so I wore my horned veil, which I wore with the navy wool dress and orange linen underdress. On Thursday, I was teaching German Brick Stitch, so I wore my hair in braids paired with my German pleated kerchief. My ginger dress and blue day dress gave me a generic 15th century look that mostly worked with that.

I never touched the heavier wool dresses I brought, but all the linen got play, sometimes more than once. The ginger dress in particular needs more attention once it's clean. That linen has more stretch than the other pieces I've gotten from Fabrics-Store, and the higher humidity (and therefore more moisture around my body) seemed to exploit that. It needs some very careful adjustments to compensate if I'm going to get more use out of it over the summer.

My overall assessment is that I'm happy with what I was able to put together given the unexpected weather. I was able to combine pieces appropriately, and on the two days that involved wool, I felt that I'd made good choices to stay cool, both in the headdress I wore and in making sure I had a fan or stayed in the shade. I'm not disappointed in any of my pieces, even the ginger linen.

There are some things, however, that this experience has pointed out to me.

First, I need more lined linen dresses. The red rose dress, which is heavy linen lined in the bodice with linen, was more comfortable than the two single-layer middle-weight linen dresses worn layered together. I wore the red dress twice- once on Tuesday with a veil, and again for court on Thursday evening paired with my black wool open hood. If the linen was not quite as heavy, and layered throughout, I could see that very easily working as a standard summer uniform.

I don't really think there was anything wrong with my push last year to use more wool, and I'm not giving that intention up, but the hot weather last week was a reminder that the climate that we play in is not always a medieval climate. I may explore my options for silk blends or tropical-weight wool, to avoid an over-reliance on linen, but I need to be willing to compensate for the heat and humidity while still maintaining my period and persona. I have a gorgeous green linen waiting in the wings, and have every intention of using that for my next dress.

Second, I was able to determine some of the missing pieces in my wardrobe in terms of the period that my persona covers. Along with this, I can see that there's a disconnect between the headdress I tend to favor and the outfits I like to wear. These are actually two separate things, but they compound into a larger issue.

On Friday, I attended a 14th Century Deed of Arms (which was awesome to watch) and it made me realized later that I'm lacking options for portraying that last decade of the 14th century that I very specifically included in my year range when I finally settled on a persona. Since the one 1390's dress I have, the Grandes Chroniques wool dress, was too hot to wear, I wasn't able to accurately portray a 14th century look. (As a side note, it was actually completely coincidental that I was doing anything 14th century that day- I'd forgotten about the Deed.) The closest I could do was to pair my laced-front pink wool dress with my 14th century open hood. For my persona in general, this was incorrect, but more importantly, that style of hood would not have been worn with a fitted dress. They simply don't line up that way. And that means I wasn't taking my own advice by mixing the two styles. Certainly I had fair reason, but this was a great opportunity to identify a point on which I could do better.

I actively avoid falling into the "make all the things" rabbit hole that us costumers often find ourselves in, but the reality is, I need more things. They need to be right though, and not just another piece. Last week was an invaluable tool to show me why that is, and what "right" means for me and the persona I'm trying to give justice to. It's not about finding just any piece or outfit in my period and going for it. Instead, it's about assessing whether or not it's correct for me, works in conjunction with what I already have, and fits a gap. So the action item I gave myself to get started on this point is two parts. A) Separate my headdress into two categories- those I use for demonstrations and classes, and those that are actually correct for Edyth. Those that are specifically for classes can be pulled out from my "regular" wardrobe, forcing me to create new headdress that are accordingly correct instead. B) Locate at least one outfit from the 1390's that's right for my social station and can be rendered appropriately in a light-weight material.

Finally, there are some pieces that I've known I needed, but continued to put them off because they didn't seem necessary in the context of just going to day events. Specifically, I need to reassess my supportive layers. Currently, I use my linen short cote as a supportive piece under those items that aren't all that supportive on their own. The only real exception is my red rose dress. Unfortunately, I only have one short cote. It did a lot of airing out last week. The other issue was that the short cote still has no sleeves. I'd planned on attaching white linen sleeves before we left, but I'd put it off. On Thursday, having white sleeves showing on my arms would have been more appropriate than my bare forearms. These types of "back end logistics" seem so trivial in between weekend events, but they really can make or break your efforts toward a more correct look. At least one new supportive cote with sleeves is most definitely in order.

Gulf Wars helped me see the gap between what I know to be correct and what I have. It's not a huge gap, thankfully, but as I move forward in my personal challenge to focus on what's accurate on a more specific level, it's a gap that can and should be closed. In the coming weeks, I'll share more about the pieces I now feel I need.

In case you missed it, I shared my daily outfits on Facebook last week. I really enjoyed showing you my outfits each day, and I hope that those of you that followed along found it fun and inspiring.

I also want to thank those of you that stopped me to say hi (even briefly) or attended one of my classes. It means so much to me to know you're out there, watching me take this journey, and I can't thank you enough for the support you give me just by reading.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Project Complete: Early 15th Century Townswoman Outfit

A layered outfit in the style of early 15th century French townswomen.

Throughout the dozens of French manuscripts produced in the first few decades of the 15th century, a particularly typical clothing silhouette can be seen on what I would describe as urban townswomen. Broadly, these women were non-nobles, most often among the lower or working classes (though not exclusively or necessarily "peasants"). It appears in the available imagery, primarily looking at manuscripts, that these townswomen relied on a pretty straight-forward formula to create outfits that typified their class ideals of what was fashionable and appropriate. I have way too many favorites to show them all here, but here's a selection:

From The Comedies of Terence (BnF MS Latin 7907A), Publius Terencius, circa 1400-1407, fol. 81v.
Sostrata, a widow, with her servant, Canthara (in the purple "townswoman" outfit), and slave Geta.
Adelphoe (The Brothers).
From The Decameron (Arsenal MS 5070, reserve), Giovanni Boccaccio, 1432, fol. 337r.
A man and his wife offer room and board to 2 traveling men. Tale 6 from Day 9.
From De mulieribus claris (BnF MS French 598), Giovanni Boccaccio, circa 1403, fol. 100v.
Marcia, a roman sculptor and painter.
The outfit, on the basic level, is made up of two dress layers and an open hood. The lower layer could plausibly be a supportive dress with a front or side lacing. The top layer is a body-skimming fitted gown devoid of visible lacing or buttons.

Taking the whole selection of images I have of this type of outfit together, I believe that both dresses are long-sleeved. When the top layer's sleeve is worn down, I can find very little evidence that supports buttons in use in the manuscript depictions. In many images, however, the top layer's sleeves are rolled or pushed up, and in some cases, either buttons or the indication that the sleeve was opened at the wrist are present. 

From Saint John Altarpiece, by Rogier van der Weyden, circa 1455.
Wearing the sleeves in this "pushed up" manner is seen later in the century on a servant woman in the Saint John Altarpiece, by Rogier van der Weyden. In that case, though a bit later than the years I'm looking at, the outer dress sleeves appear to be looser, allowing them to simply be push up. The lower sleeve is clearly buttoned. Since this type of buttoned sleeve was developed in the 14th century, and still appears to have been in use by at least some women by the middle of the century, I think it's likely that one or both of the dress sleeves in the 1420's townswoman's outfit would or at least could have been buttoned.

Both dresses conform to the fitted ideals established at the end of the 14th century. This type of fitted gown had already been abandoned by noble women around the start of the 1420's, but certainly enjoyed a second life as the favored style among the lower ranks of society. Sleeve style is really the only true difference between what peasant/working women were wearing as compared to the bourgeois/middle class were wearing. For wealthier women, a flap-style, tippet-like sleeve was considered more stylish.

While I'd like to be able to state that the two styles of dress (long-sleeve and flap-sleeve) could have been interchangeable (meaning that they are simply two different takes on the same dress), there isn't much evidence for that. The secular imagery available in the contemporary manuscripts show that seemingly minute style differences occurred between the clothing of different classes, ranks and occupations of women. That's not to say that a slightly wealthier woman with her foot in the middle class (such as my persona) would not have owned and worn this particular "townswoman" outfit, but rather that it would not have likely been her preferred outfit for social appearances, as it would have conveyed her station to be somewhat lower than her actual affluence allowed.

So this outfit, with two long-sleeve fitted dresses worn with an open hood, is in my eye the very specific uniform of a woman engaged in some for of working or laboring activity from the era between 1400 and about 1450. Whether the woman falls into the category of free citizen or indentured servant doesn't make a big difference here- we're looking at a woman who had either an occupation or was required to perform some variety of physical task.

I'm not going to go into too much depth on how I put these together, since I already outlined a bunch. I shared the hood last week. The lower dress is made from a ginger-colored linen. I experimented with a symmetrical pattern for that. The outer dress is made from a navy wool I held on to for way too long. I used the same symmetrical pattern for that. I also used my prototype sleeve drafting method for the wool. I ran into significant difficulty, however, when I discovered that the wool was extremely elastic on the bias. The fault wasn't in my sleeve draft, just in the nature of the wool on the curved armscye. I ended up removing about 3" from the shoulder seams and another 2" from the side seams to account for the stretch. After that, the sleeves fit perfectly.

I used a set of faux-brass buttons (they're actually plastic) for the sleeves on the ginger cote, and stitched the button holes with 100% silk embroidery thread. I literally just happened to have the matching color. I used the buttonhole sewing tutorial at La Cotte Simple, and I'm truly better for it. My previous buttonhole are not even remotely as pretty. The wool dress buttons are fabric using my tutorial, and again, 100% silk thread for the buttonholes.

At the last minute, I decided that I did not want the front lacing on my linen dress. I have several reasons for this (one, admittedly, being that I didn't have a lot of time to do eyelets), but I'm really happy that I made that decision. I have been increasingly frustrated with the performance of lacing on many of my dresses (too much gaping). My bottom-most layer is a laced supportive piece which is doing an excellent job. On top of that, non-laced dresses are really working well for me. I know this isn't supported in the period evidence, or a viable option for most people, but it gets me where I want to go better than any other options I've used.

Not sure what's going on with the color here. It's not really this gray.
The linen dress is entirely handsewn. I had less time for the wool, so the construction seams are machine sewn on that. The finishing on both the linen and wool dress are felled, using overcast (or hem) stitch to tack the seams down. I really prefer the look of that over using running stitch which can snag or break more easily. I hand stitched the skirt hem on the linen as well, but the wool hem is machine sewn (again, a time issue). The necklines on both dresses are finished with a strip of their respective materials and running stitch. The ginger linen neckline is a bit more decorated with three rows, versus the single row on the wool.

Both of these dresses had issues during their construction. On the linen dress, when I decided to skip the lacing, I left the twill tape intact. This was probably not the best move, but so far I'm not irritated with it enough to do anything about it. I also showed the seam finishing on the sleeve seams in two different directions (one going into the sleeve, one going onto the shoulder.) I've decided that I'm just going to consider that an inside joke. With the linen dress, the reality is that the body portion of the dress was never meant to be seen. In the future, I may snap a few photos of it to share with you, but it really isn't anything special or different from what I've shown in the past. I do feel sort of guilty not showing the dress on it's own, but I'm so much more excited about the outfit as a whole, I hope you're willing to forgive me.

The wool dress took an incredible amount of time out of my life. I didn't want to make any more compromises with it than what made sense, so the finishing was a very long process I hadn't really planned for. It was all worth it, though, since the seams look great, and the whole dress is solidly built. As they always say, good things take time.

I didn't line either of these dresses in order to give myself the opportunity to wear them into the spring as long as possible and to have them available to wear earlier in the autumn. If I was favoring authenticity over the practical needs of my personal comfort, I would have lined them both.

Bottom line is that, with everything else ever, there's room for more improvement. But I'm still going to pat myself on the back here. These dresses have taken me further into the realm of accuracy and skill than I've previously gone.

Just look at the wings on the hood!
This project really just proves to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Back at the start of 2011, I developed a complete outfit that was meant to eventually be an A&S entry. I called it my "Garb Quest", and the image above was the original idea I had for what the outfit should be. I stalled out on this project (an unexpected pregnancy derailed me as a start), and eventually realized that the goals of the quest were no longer in alignment with my personal goals. So two years ago, I officially purged it from the project pile.

The thing was, I still had all these materials. And while I still had a ton of research and learning ahead of me, I already had mostly the right idea with my original drawing. So I'm really not surprised that when I put everything on when this outfit was done, it all looked familiar. So I'm going to call it- Garb Quest is DONE.

I'm incredibly happy with this outfit, which I'm sure is not news to you. It's comfortable, and despite the single layers pieces, was warm enough when we stepped out into the snow for these photos. The wool is soft and it's a great deep color. I think it will work very well as the middle layer I need for the outfit I'm assembling for the Manuscript Challenge.

 As always, you can see more photos either on Flickr or over at Facebook!

On to the next!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Project Complete: Red Wool Open Hood

This project has been on my "want" list for a very long time. Like 7 years a long time. I came close with my linen hood, but that one definitely falls flat, both figuratively and literally. But this one? I have a hard time believing that I'll ever need to make another open hood again.

So let me backtrack just a bit by reminding you of this post a few months back. The cliff notes version, in case you haven't read it, is that open hoods are not a style of hat that remained a static constant. The open hood was present for the entire duration of the 15th century, but just like fitted supportive dresses, it evolved as styles and ideals evolved. The open hood of 1410 would have been quite different from the open hood of 1480, even if they were both made from identical pieces of wool.

Ever since that post, I knew that I needed to create a new hood that better matched my findings. While I love my other two hoods, and will continue to wear them, I realized that they were anachronistic when compared to the shapes of hoods worn in the 1400's. They almost didn't match any of the hoods worn at the time. I did find a few examples, but I couldn't take them seriously as "fashionable" in their context.

I started the new hood with a simple goal- get the wings shaped correctly. I was willing to overlook the size and shape of the collar and the width and length of the liripipe because what I'd already come up with was really good, and felt right to me. I didn't want to try changing too many things and end up with a new hood that I hated. So I focused on the brim.

I began by tracing my black hood out on a piece of paper then redrawing the brim. I brought it upward very slightly (and I probably could have gone further upward, but I was being cautious.) Then I jutted the point way out. Around 2" further out than my previous brim. The imagery doesn't indicate that the top would have been that wide, so I eased the line back to my original brim depth at the top.

From that new pattern, I cut out the hood body, the gores, and the liripipe. The hood and gores were cut out at a 4-layer thickness, with the fold at the top. So what you see in the picture is actually two hoods folded in half. I followed my original pattern for the gores and their corresponding slits.

After getting the 4 gores sewn in and the liripipe sewn on to the outside layer, I just tacked all the seam allowances down to keep them flat and to keep the seams looking nice on the right sides. All that sewing was done by hand.

I knew that I needed stability in the brim if I wanted the wings to hold their shape and go where they needed to, so I dug through my stash and found an old piece a felted wool. This particular wool was once part of my very first kirtle, the one that bit the dust when I tried to refit it a few years back.

I married the two layers together, added on the reinforced panel, and used the sewing machine to sew all the way around. I left just the opening of the liripipe unsewn.

Then I clipped the corners and curves. I wanted the cleanest edge I could get, so I was pretty liberal with the clipping.

I turned the body of the hood right-side-out, then stab stitched the entire perimeter. I also finished the edges of the liripipe, which was still a flat piece at this point. The entire thing was still in that manta ray shape, with the back seam unsewn.

To finish the back, I traded the red silk for my heavy duty cotton thread. Since I had four layers of wool to go through, I didn't want to risk breaking the thread simply in the act of sewing. The gray thread is invisible from the outside. I used an overcast stitch down the entire length of the back (right to the tip of the liripipe). And with that the hood was complete.

The brim is thick, which will take some getting used to, but it's incredibly sturdy. It wants to stick out to the side, which is exactly what I want it to do.

I get a great bonnet shape with no effort when I unfold the brim. Since it was snowing when I stepped outside to take these photos, I was really happy with that particular performance.

The liripipe could probably use a bit of ironing.

Let's ignore the slightly crocked cap, shall we?

Overall, I'm incredibly satisfied with the way this hood turned out. I know there's still some adjustments I could have made, but I'm very happy with how much better this new shape meets the shape of hoods from the period between 1415 and 1440. I might look like I'm about to take flight, but I'm okay with that. And I'm really happy to finally cross this one off the list.