Sunday, May 21, 2017

Taking a Walk Into the Weeds

"Into the weeds" might be one of my favorite phrases in addition to being one of my favorite things to do on topics I'm passionate about. The idea of getting really deep into a subject, far beyond what's necessary for understanding the subject, is thrilling to a specialist like me. It's the whole reason I settled on a specific time and place for my persona, and why I love the research I do in that period. I know plenty of folks that do a bit of this and that, and many of them are quite good at all the things they put their varied efforts into. For me, though, being in the weeds is where the fun is.


Last year, I started getting into the weeds when I did a study of over 560 images of women from French manuscripts produced within the first 40 years of the 15th century. This gave me a huge amount of data that helped me understand what women wore in this period, where class divisions fell in terms of clothing, what styles and colors were popular, and more. It was because I had this information that I felt a few weeks back that I could challenge myself to use these images (and others that fit the criteria) as a basis for every outfit I wear to events until the end of the year. I'm calling in my Period Doppelganger Challenge, and you can read about it here, then follow along on Facebook or Instagram (or both!). 


In order to get this challenge to work for me, I realized pretty quickly that I was going to need to get even more into the weeds with the data. I have a select number of dresses. Eventually to keep up with this challenge, I'll need to make more (which is mostly the point of the challenge), but for now, I have to make do with what I have on hand. In general, most of my clothing falls into the lower middle or upper lower classes- fitted dresses and open hoods being the primary makeup of my wardrobe. This isn't really a problem for me, since it's what I've been trying to do- this is the class I chose, after all. The problems started, though, when I tried to start lining images up for the next few events.

To get things as close as possible to the images, a few things need to fall into place. First and foremost, I need to have the right colors. This was clear right away when I realized that the one green dress I have is darker than all the greens that show up in the entire collection of images I have. I would be mostly okay with that, since I didn't want to get myself too hung up on exact color matching, but then the dress highlighted my problems. Several of my dresses can only be worn either as an under dress or as an overdress. I have very few that are interchangeable. That green dress? My brown belt stained the back of the dress with red dye after a particularly sweaty event, and it's pretty unsightly. If I wear it as an overdress, those stains can't be concealed. I have other dresses, such as my newest blue wool dress, that would be too heavy or hot to layer more dresses over. I have linen dresses that I'd prefer not to use as over dresses. I have dresses that are really just not made all that well or don't quite fit anymore. You get the idea, I'm sure. Very little of what I have is right for my current need.

At this point, it would have been really easy for me to get overwhelmed (and maybe I did a little), but I saw this as an opportunity to go even more into the weeds. I knew two basic things. First, my current garb is that of the typical free craftswoman I already identified in my research. Second, what I already had wasn't that far off, so some of it would certainly be able to get me by. With that in mind, I looked at my image collection (literally a binder of women), located 70 images of women wearing any combination of fitted dress and hood, and started sorting them.


I started by looking at color combinations. It's the easiest thing to look for, and since my challenge relies on color matching, it made sense to start there. I wasn't shocked by what I found, but I was surprised to find that some colors appeared in combination considerably more than others. Blue and pink, it seems, were the choicest colors. Even more interesting is that while some colors appeared often as an outer layer (green, for example), it appeared less often as the under layer. Certain colors were combined with more frequency than others. Blue was paired with pink quite a lot, while green was paired with several other colors instead of just one or two. All of these also had the additional consideration of the color of the hood. While red dresses weren't common (understandably considering the cost of good red cloth), red hoods were extremely common. 

This information was really helpful to learn, and while it did feel like I was maybe splitting hairs to find it, it was worth it. With this information I was able to say with confidence that I do really need to replace my green dress, since it's more important for me to have a green dress I can wear as a top layer than as a bottom one. I was also able to say that I need a new red hood if I'm going to make it through the summer with this challenge, since my only red hood at the moment is a heavier wool affair that I can't wear when it's warm. I could see that I need a blue hood too, as well as a layerable blue dress.

Suddenly, among the weeds, I could see the road. Funny how that happens.

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Photo by Master Phillip from Red Dragon, 2016.
I went even further with these 70 images, because why stop there? I looked at the way the dresses were worn. At events, I normally roll my sleeves up and will girdle my skirt fairly regularly (like above). It's my uniform, if you will. I was interested to see if doing this was in line with the women in these images, or if I was doing it with more regularity than perhaps I should. The resulting numbers indicated that to be the case. More women are shown with their sleeves down (not rolled up) and their skirts down (either completely down or simple lifted up to reveal the dress beneath), than with their sleeves and skirts up.

While at first that information didn't appear to be of much value in terms of planning for new things to make, it did actually impact it. I will sometimes wear a dress girdled because it doesn't look as good down, mostly because I didn't get the gore in the right place when I made it. Moving forward with new dresses with this information, I know that making my dresses so that they look just as good down as they do up is important.

For the moment, I'm in planning mode. I'm searching for fabric in the right colors and weights. I'm outlining for myself the needs of my dresses moving forward, creating a blueprint of sorts for their requirements. I've pulled out the leftover wool from my red cotte to make a new, lighter weight hood. Though all this, I'm now no longer feeling overwhelmed, because I took the time to look deeper at what the period was showing me. (I will be sharing all this data at some point as well, once I have it in a format that makes some sense to people other than me.)

There's gold in them there weeds.

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