Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some Projects That Pennsic Added to my Pile

I like long events. Having now attended two in one year after an 11-year drought, I've decided that week-long events are the way the SCA should be experienced, at least once. I'm sure some folks disagree, and there are certainly pros and cons, but I learn more, enjoy more, and connect more when I'm immersed long enough for the cares of the mundane world to fade into the background. And I don't walk away from that experience unchanged and unchallenged.

I like having the opportunity to put my kit through its paces, and identify the areas in which I can do better, or add something. I'm happy to report that I haven't had anything fail on me, so repairs aren't on my list. For the most part, I'm seeing gaps that need to be filled, or things that are working just fine, but could be replaced or supplemented. As we move into the autumn event season, now is a great time to add these things to my project pile. Here are just some of the things I have in mind to work on:

It gets cold at night.

The numero uno thing on my list after Pennsic is better sleeping garb. I typically think of the whole pajama thing way at the end of planning, and end up tossing in a weird collection of yoga pants and t-shirts and a few random linen shifts that have been floating around for way too many years. It works, mostly, until the temperature drops below 50F. Then I'm freezing, wondering which dresses I can throw on quickly, and wondering why I didn't pack that second bag of blankets. I was cold at night way too often, and it really was the worst part of the whole week. Granted, another body in bed helps, so camping alone is partially to blame here, but it would be kind of awkward to knock on the neighboring tent at 1:00 in the morning and request some body-warming snuggles. At least, I don't think my camp mates would appreciate that sort of thing....

So on the last night in camp, I identified that I had two issues that can easily be remedied with, I hope, the same solutions. First, I'd like to have plausibly accurate garb that functions as pajamas so that I'm not randomly grabbing mundane or ill-fitting stuff. Second, I'd like said pajamas to offer me warmth options to better handle the variable temperatures of the night.

Over on the Age of the Cotehardie Facebook group, I asked if anyone had researched pajama solutions in keeping with the 14th or 15th centuries, and the TL:DR answer was "not really". At this time, most women depicted in bed (which is actually a pretty rare image from what I've seen) are visible only from the neck up. When they are out of bed but undressed, they wear a smock- a white, short, long-sleeved garment equivalent to a man's shirt- and a cap (or even their full fashionable headdress, because why not?). The idea tossed out in that Facebook discussion, to which I agree, was that women at that time didn't generally hang about before getting dressed or after undressing, so intermediate layering options like a dressing gown or robe were not necessary. In fact, a man seeing a woman not in a gown was pretty uncool. So much so that in the image below from De casibus (BNF Fr. 226, fol. 98v), the women are humiliated by being ordered to show their smocks.

I think a simple wool smock is a great solution here. In fact, I think layering a linen smock under a wool smock, and adding warm hose and a cap is an especially ideal solution. If I'm feeling particularly spunky, I could also add a pair of braies (which wouldn't be exactly correct for me as a woman, but no one need know, and my easily-cold butt would thank me.) In this scenario, I'd have the ability to add a layer over the linen if it's cold, or remove the wool layer if I warm up in the middle of the night. The bonus either way is that when I exit my pavilion in the morning, or to shower, or in the middle of the night when nature calls, I'm "dressed" and not ruining the atmosphere with mundania.

This doesn't at all discount the probable need for more (or heavier) blankets, but I'm willing to bet that having warmer, better pajamas ends up being a bit psychosomatic, and I get a better night's sleep even if I'm still a bit cold. Currently, I have this wool in mind.

Only having one option gets boring.

I use my linen canvas pilgrim bag every time I'm at an event, and so at War, I used in daily. It's a signature piece for me, really, and it's been well-used in the relatively short amount of time I've had it. I love it, and while it could use some interior pockets, I'm really thankful to have it. It functions as a walking day camp, and at large events when it could be hours before I return to my encampment, having everything I might need for the day right there at my hip is really convenient.

But I got bored with it. It may be that it's a creamy white, and so it stands out. It might be that I put just a few too many things it in on occasion. It's probably most likely that I'm not really keen on becoming a one-trick pony. I don't want a single piece to become so ubiquitous in my recreation that it becomes comically predictable. I know that I like having a bag, so it really comes down to having more options.

Detail from folio 25r of Heures de Marguerite d'Orléans (BNF Latin 1156B)
It didn't take me long to decide on the type of bag to make (two examples in the image above). What took the longest was choosing a color. I gravitate naturally toward blues, but I was worried that a blue bag would be boring in a different way; in that "of course Edyth is wearing a blue bag" way. Friends on Facebook offered suggestions, and I was encouraged to match the source image I found. Eventually, I settled on a crimson red wool, which is pretty close to the source on the woman above, but suitable to my personal tastes. And not blue.

I'll save more details on this project for when I actually start it, but having a second option for a shoulder bag is one of those small improvements that seem to matter a whole lot. Besides, it gives me a chance to improve upon my last bag, and improvement is always a good thing.

I came home with a much longer list that two two things, and some are easier to remedy than others, but these two feel the most important to me right now. They'll need to wait for a bit while I clear my work table of some time-sensitive projects for friends.

What about you? Have you discovered anything lately you could improve or replace in your kit?


  1. (I'm a reader but never commented before :P)

    Never experienced long events before last month. I'm not into SCA (I'm an italian re-enactress), so they aren't quite popular there, but I went to Azincourt for the centenary of the battle and 5 days of camp (and rain, and wind, and 51-53F - about 30F colder than our events in summer!) taught me a lot of things... and ways to improve my outfit and equipment. Now I know that I need wood pattens, a couple of layer of wood (maybe an outer garb and a sleeveless-something), and a hat. Because if you need to stay 3 hours under the rain, in the battlefield, taking photos of your fighting fellows... your camera will be so glad to shelter itself under the brim of a pointy hat :(

    1. I love experiences like that after the fact because of how much they test us. A lot of folks throw in the towel under conditions like that, so anyone that gets through it and says "what did I learn?" is a rockstar in my book! Does your re-enactment group have a website? I'd love to see pictures.

    2. I'm something like a freelance, in re-enactment, because I'm not into any group but usually join other groups of friends or I'm invited from event's organizers :)
      Azincourt was great also because we are a few italians between a lot of french, english, sweden, polish, and I-don't-know-where-you-come-from people, so it was possible to see historical fashion quite different from our!
      You can find my photos on facebook (my page's name is Impressum, click on Celia-Impressum on the signature of this comment) or on flickr ( There are a bunch of album about Azincourt, but - due to the awful wheater - I took pictures especially of the battle. If you're interested more in camp-life (and beautiful ladies and vain lords in shiny outfit), look for old album like "Trecentesca" :)

    3. Wow! I love your photos. I particularly like the shots you took of the soldiers receiving help to get into armor. I find myself in such a "helper" position as an artisan among fighters, and there's a unique, unspoken bond of friendship in those moments that makes this hobby feel more personal and real. Those moments are often missed by photographers because they are not particularly photogenic. I would like to share your work with my Facebook followers. Is that alright?

    4. Thankyou!! Squires, camp-women, artisans & co often are friends of mine, so I'd love to take pictures of all of them. We are all passionate about history and we put a lot of effort in our work, but the audience always notice only the fighters, so... I try to portray the non-fighters, too :)
      And... of course you can share the pictures! It's a great honour!!