Sunday, July 26, 2015

Self-Esteem and Other Such Nonsense

I didn't start this blog with the intention of appearing so often within it. I was content for most of the first years of writing to appear here and there. It wasn't initially all that important to me to even include pictures. Eventually, I began to realize that the best way to share what I was accomplishing was to make sure I got photos of my finished work. Appearing in my garb started to be a key component of how I shared my progress. Only I was horrible in front of the camera.

My first fitted dress. I use that term loosely. So did the dress.
Much of the timidness I experienced was directly related to my size. I've been plus sized my entire adult life, but social conditioning told me that wasn't acceptable, and I felt embarrassed to put photos of myself in my garb out there. How could anybody find a fat girl who doesn't exactly know how to sew in the first place at all inspiring?

The camera angle highlights everything wrong with this dress.
To be fair, this was our first "photo shoot".
I kept at it, though, and started to take post-project photo shoots seriously. Not because I was trying to break through any body image barrier, but because what I was trying to accomplish with this blog required it. If I was going to make an impact with my readers, and keep people interested in what I had to say, I couldn't leave them hanging with no visual record of what I had been talking about, and no context for its success or failure.

One sack of potatoes, comin' right up!
After a while, taking a bit of time after completing a piece to take photos became a part of the process. I've never put on my garb, handed my husband my camera, and said "screw negative body image, I'm perfect!". In fact, my husband can attest that when I'm dressed and ready for the photos to start, I always ask "Does this look okay?" But I stopped letting that insecurity be a barrier to me sharing all the hard work I put into doing better, and walking the long road toward mastery of a craft I most certainly do not have a natural talent for.

As bad of a picture as this is in general, I do enjoy when a
genuine and hearty laugh gets caught on camera.
What I share with you here on the blog is curated. When we finish a photo session, my camera roll has 50+ new photos. We get silly. Something weird is going on behind me. My husband always does one of those stupid "Batman villain" angled shots. Mostly, I'm talking or adjusting, or squinting because I'm not wearing my glasses. Occasionally, I'm talking to a child just out of the shot. Then I spend about an hour reviewing each photo, laughing at the funny fails, and pulling out the photos I want to share.

Oh yeah. Here's the money shot.
Here's the thing, though. I don't weed out photos simply because I look bad in them. I pull them out because, at a certain point, I decided that I wanted this blog to be a source of inspiration for what's possible regardless of your size. It's incredibly important to me that plus-sized costumers who find my blog leave it feeling a little more confident in their own potential, even if only a little. In order for that to work, I include in my "project logs" images that show the garment in the best light. I want you, my readers, to see the outfit and go "that's pretty nice." Excluding less-than-pretty photos has less to do with my personal level of self-esteem, and more to do with marketing. In other words, it's part of my job to visually sell you guys on the idea of the piece in the hopes that you too will give it a try.

Photos like this are why I tell my husband to tell me to just
stop talking when we're doing this.
The fact of the matter is that, in this hobby, we all look ridiculous. It's rather silly, isn't it? It's lovely and awesome and the coolest thing ever, but it's a little weird. It's clothing, but it's costume. Garb tells a story, and builds our collective culture. Some people care about it a whole heck of a lot, other folks would be just as good without the whole garb thing. But I guarantee you that you've done your fair share of "well that looks...interesting". We've all seen people wearing something we wish they hadn't attempted. Even people who look absolutely fabulous in their garb look positively looney when you consider what it is that they probably wear to work, or to the grocery store, or walking the dog.

Now here's a lady you don't want to meet in a dark alley.
The bottom line is that we're all trying the best we can. If I don't look perfect in my clothing, that's all well and good, because at least I tried, and I'm learning in the process. I self-criticize like the best of them, and those failed photos that are particularly unattractive undoubtedly give my confidence a hit. But way more than that, I'm having fun. And I hope you're having fun too. I hope what I share with you here helps to make you happy to be a part of this silly hobby, and to know that you aren't going it alone, no matter your talent, size, or situation.

"Did we get a good one yet? No? You have got to be kidding me."
BTW, I'll be at Pennsic next week, so I won't have a post on Sunday. I plan to do another round of #whatedythwore over on Facebook, though, so make sure you're following me if you want to keep up with that. As always, if you spot me, please stop me and say "Hi". It means so much to me to know you guys out there really do exist.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Project Complete: Late 14th Century Brown Wool Surcotte


A wool surcotte suitable for the very late 14th and very early 15th centuries.


I don't have a specific source for this one, as it's mostly a conglomeration of styles. For the most part, this dress is close to the general style seen on effigies and funerary brasses on late 14th century middle class women, but I can't draw too close of a comparison there. I really just wanted a dress that I could slip on over any of my fitted dresses, and an excuse to do front buttons, and still have a dress suitable to my period.


This is another dress that uses my current symmetrical pattern. I'm still really happy with how it's working for me, especially when it comes to the pattern layout and fabric conservation. If you were following me on Facebook when I was putting this dress together, you may recall that I shared the method I use to cut gores. It's a handy trick that cuts out a lot of time. In terms of the basic construction, this dress isn't anything new. The real differences come with the finishing.

In many ways, I tend to gloss over finishing details on my dresses. I think this is a throwback to when craftsmanship wasn't on my radar, and it's a bad habit I would really like to break. So for this dress, I looked for ways to include finishing details I don't normally do. The buttons were a major part of that, since I usually only do a few buttons on the forearms, if I bother to do them at all. By forcing myself to put a row of them front and center (literally), I had no choice but to pay attention to finishing and do them right.

I used a strip of linen as a facing on each side of the front opening. You can see this type of treatment on some of the London finds (Dame Helen explains a bit about these in her post here.) I also stab stitched the very edges here. Not only does it offer a nice detail, it adds a bit more strength to these edges. I haven't seen that on anything in particular- I just liked the idea.

I didn't have any silk that was remotely the right color, so I mined my pearl cotton stash and found a brown that works. It's not an exact match, but I like that about it.

I used my own method for the buttons, again using pearl cotton since it's stronger than the sewing thread I was using. I used more thin strips of linen to face the neckline and sleeve hems. The seams are flat felled.


This was one of those projects that fell out of nowhere. When I purchased the wool 2 years ago or so, I didn't have a plan for it, but I don't think this would have been the dress I made if I'd had a plan. This dress happened because I wanted something nice, that looked pretty and could fall into my "formal wear" category when I needed it to. I also liked the idea of going into my apprenticeship ceremony in neutral colors- just a hint of symbolism that meant something to me if to no one else. 
Photo by Lady Marrissa von Atzinger:

This dress feels very luxurious to me, despite the blandness of the color. I think it fits well, though slightly more loose than I had intended, and the short, straight sleeves are very comfortable. In the end, I don't think there's anything I would have done differently. Always a plus.

See more photos of this dress over in the Flickr album or on Facebook!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Preparing for Pennsic

I'm incredibly thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Pennsic this year, for the first time in 11 years. Things aligned just right, and while my husband will be unable to accompany me, I'm relieved to have the break. My life has been on high-octane for a bit too long, so bumming out with a few thousand of my friends for a week sounds absolutely lovely.

If you follow me on Facebook, you can expect another round of #whatedythwore throughout war week. That was really fun to do at Gulf Wars back in March, and I really enjoy having that visual record of the outfits I pulled together each day. The difference this time is that it will be hotter, and I've decided to devote more of my traveling space to my pavilion and less on my garb. It's a challenge I've considered since first thinking about attending Pennsic this year.

If you've been a reader for more than a year, you may have realized that I tend to create pieces rather than outfits. I look at the relative pros and cons of each new garment I make in terms of whether a) I really need it, b) it works with my overall persona/period goals and boundaries, and c) it works within the larger picture of my entire wardrobe. As much as possible, I work toward more pros for each of these considerations than cons, but there are certainly pieces that don't meet all these requirements.

All of this works toward one end goal: a wardrobe with flexibility. Since each piece I create bears some kind of relation to every other piece (for the most part), I'm able to grab out select pieces and combine them in ample variety. If, instead, every garment I create was designed specifically to fit into a specific outfit, the mixing possibilities would be limited. Color combinations would fail, details would clash, cats and dogs living together. You get the idea.

So I looked at what I had available (which is a pretty good amount thanks to an overly-productive winter and spring), and I've decided to see what I can do with just 4 pieces for the week. Here are the pieces I picked:

Red Rose Dress

This is a heavy-weight linen dress with a linen lining in the bodice. It's one of my favorites, though it could use some adjustments at the bust for more long-term support, so I typically wear it with my supportive short cotte. With long sleeves that don't roll up, it only works either under something or by itself- but it looks pretty awesome by itself.

Green Linen Cotte

My newest supportive dress, this one is two layers of linen. It fits great, with great support, so I don't need to wear my supportive short cotte underneath it for extra support. I'm really not overly concerned about wearing it directly against my body, though I know that might bother some people. This dress also has long sleeves that do not open, so other than color it's practically the same as the red one, just a different style.

Blue Wool Middle Layer

The single-layer wool dress I completed this past winter is pretty flexible. Since the sleeves are buttoned, I can wear them down or up, and I can wear this dress in a few different ways (and layer positions). It's also a nice medium weight, and though it's not wonderful in the heat, it's not the worst thing ever, and my body acclimates to it well enough.

Brown Wool Gown

With short, roomy sleeves this single-layer wool gown is incredibly comfortable. It will also only work as a surcotte. Like the blue wool the material isn't heavy, so it's not likely to overly stifle me when Pennsic hits the 90+ temps. Since it's the neutralest of neutral colors, it works with all three of my other picks, so if things get a bit chilly, two layers of wool would be possible with this one in my limited wardrobe. (I also realize that I still owe you a full post on this one.)

I will, of course, not slack on the under-items I need to pull these four dresses into a week's worth of outfits, but there will be a lot of airing out between wearings, and possibly a hand-washing of my supportive short cotte at a certain point in the week. And just to be on the safe side, my single-layer orange linen supportive dress may also make the trip on the chance that I need a lighter option.

You can be sure my entire hat box will also be joining me.

What about you? If you're going to Pennsic, would you accept the challenge of limiting your week's garb to just 4 pieces... or even fewer?