Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Varying Degrees of Accuracy

I have this argument with other folks about the degrees of "accuracy" and "authenticity" in historic clothing reproductions.  It happens quite frequently, so I want to capture my way of thinking of it.
There is a broad continuum of how period or how authentic a repro is, and you could go on and on down the rabbit hole in the argument, to the point where you'd be trying to make a garment that was molecularly identical to the original garment at the time it was constructed.  You can roughly group the aspects of this continuum into four or five degrees. 

First, you can make something that invokes the cultural idea of a costume.  This is where the dreaded bag costumes of places like the Halloween Superstore and Leg Avenue live, and this is how the whole idea of a French Maid went from this:
Courtesy of Project Gutenberg

To this:
Seriously, you don't wanna see the site this came from.

At the second degree, you can make something that's shaped vaguely correctly, but that might actually use modern cuts, textiles, and techniques to get the job done. People who are not engaged in historic pursuits usually chill here, because there's no reason to go further.  Witness The Infamous Butterick Bustle:
From Butterick, but I believe it's out of print.
Third degree is using similar materials, or materials that can be passed off as period (no polyester Renaissance costumes, for example). That gets you a lot further, from this:
"Queen of Scots" dress by Museum Replicas

 To something more like this:
A fabulous gown from Festive Attyre.
 Fourth, you get into using only authentic patterns and techniques from the period in question. This also means sorting out which embellishments belong in which eras - like giant leg o mutton sleeves being period for 1980s, 1890s (EDIT: wow that was an embarrassing typo), 1830s, and (arguably) 1660s. This means not putting pleated lace fabric on a Renaissance gown, and not putting tiered circle skirts in your 1940s outfits.
I also fudge this stage to include patterns redrawn from period sources, though the veracity of these reproductions varies.  However, consider that in some patterns the popular and fashionable shape at the time of the redrawing influences the garment shape, just as much as if not more so than the use of modern construction techniques.  Witness the lovely 1940's line on our dearest Scarlett O'Hara
And the hilariously dropped-waist of this 1920's take on an 18th century costume:

Most people hang out in the early stages of the third degree, though you could also argue that the third and fourth are parallel and can be taken separately - only together lending a real period look.  However, it's in the third and fourth that things can also go a bit crazy.

Hear me out: if they used cotton fabric, how do we know that the cotton varieties are the same now as then?  Is the fiber the same length? How does the difference in hand or mechanical processing affect the output? What about local changes in soil quality or global changes in climate? What types of dyes did they use then? How were these dyes extracted? Does local dye production differ from imported dyes? If the pattern of the textile was printed, was it done by carved block, etched plate, or roller, and how does this differ from the modern printing processes used today?  And then how are the fabrics finished? Is the finish on an 18th century chintz cotton really anything like the glop on modern drapery chintz? How does this change how the fabric drapes, wears, looks, and feels against the skin?

This ends up being a "you can never step in the same river twice" argument.

And *then* you have the modes of production argument - the techniques of hand sewing vary with things like the size and construction of the needle, the twist and material of the thread, and the availability of both. Similarly, if you're sewing something on a home sewing machine from 1950, the techniques you're going to use vary wildly from those of ladies working in factories in 1870, and as a thorough archaeologist it behooves you to at least touch on how those things affect production. What do you do when your machine doesn't have a reverse stitch?  What about when there's no buttonholer?  No zigzag?  And conversely, how does it affect production when you have another lady two rows of machines back from you who spends all day quickly box pleating trim onto the hems of garments you're working on?  At least with these material culture questions you could *possibly* reproduce some factory setting, though you could also go down the path of asking how the worker's wages, food source, and education (or complete lack of all three things) affected the steadiness and quality of the work.  Because how do you think the garment produced here:
Via the Tenement Museum
varies from the ones produced here?
Via Christchurch City Libraries
 Or here?
Via the Smithsonian Museum of American History

 Or while we're at it, here?
Via the Santiago Service Learning blog

 Ironically, this post began as me trying to explain why I also enjoy taking apart vintage sewing machines (more on that in another post, later), and blossomed into the manifesto you now see.  In general, I strive for the best I can, but as my late friend Kayta used to say, I'm not about to raise my own sheep to make sure my wool looks right.  Furthermore, different costumed occasions call for different degrees of accuracy.  Out drinking on Halloween? Most people go with the first degree.  Producing a play or an opera that will be seen, at best, from 30 feet away? Second degree works great.  But if you're doing up close and personal costumed reenactment, in a venue where your goal is to teach as accurately as you can, you should probably invest a bit more time and research into the latter two degrees - to a point.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I received my copy of the bandana I mentioned in the post below.  It's quite something, and while chatting with others, I've been asked for references.

Well, I know there are more of these floating around, but it's difficult to find them mentioned so prominently anywhere else than Williamsburg.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Exhibit A, Exhibit B

Printed handkerchiefs are not a new thing. They've been a clever and wearable way to express your opinions about sports, hobbies, music, politics, fraternal organization allegiance, and more.

And somehow, they are still current:

(In case my clever HTML doesn't work, you can order one here: )

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A confession

I think one of the things that is currently appealing to me about doing 1940s costuming is... That I can still buy the undergarments at the store!  Or at least online.  I just bought a lovely Rago long-line girdle for about $50. It's not *the* most supportive thing ever, but it gives the approximate shape and will anchor my garters.  (I'm actually thinking I need to sew in a waist tape, because it's rather more... tubular than is properly period.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Names

At this point I feel it's probably worth mentioning why I gave myself such a pugnacious title here. (Well, really, the URL for the blog should give it away.)

When I first started costuming, some poor long-suffering soul told me that I shouldn't worry too much about the details, and I should just trust their advice. However, I can never let someone do the learning for me, so I spent a goodly amount of time double checking their work. I was not impressed with my findings, which were to wit that (most of) the "authentic" costuming at Renaissance Faires was only a half step above the bizarre polyester confections peddled by (most of) the vendors. I then took a college level course on costume history, and got really into experimental archaeology.  So let's just say that nearly everything I see over the course of my research ends up filed away in some corner of my mind, to be trotted out later to answer a disagreement.

And then I got into making trimmings, and the whole thing went to hell.  It started out innocently enough with lucet cord, and then I took a class in Native American finger weaving.  I did blackwork and more traditional embroidery to keep myself awake during my college classes. I learned about natural dyestuffs. Then came card-weaving. And finger-loop braiding. Macrame. Lacemaking. Pinking, punching and stamping. Needle felting.  I think the only things genuinely missing from my repertoire at the moment are spinning and plying, drawn thread work, knitting, crochet, inkle weaving, and actual stand-loom weaving.

Recently, I spent a good amount of time collaborating with friends online to look at the bone eyelets in late Regency and early Romantic (c 1818 to 1835) corsets. Once we had a profile, I had a gentleman in the UK turn a bunch for me out of Corian on a weeeee lathe used for dollhouse things. I still haven't made the 1820s corset I promised myself, but a test run inserting them into the holes in some sample fabric was mightily instructive.  I'm tempted to try picking up bone carving just to see how hard the little blighted "french holes" are to make.

I used to joke with Kayta that someday I'd have a nice big estate and I'd grow my own flax, and raise my own sheep. I'd harvest, ret, comb and wash the flax into linen tow. I'd shear the sheep, wash, card, comb, and spin, and in the end make my own linsey-wooley cloth.  I sort of have an inkling that I might still end up doing this... someday.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The joys of packrattery

I'm participating in a Victorian Haunted House, as noted previously.
I've been working on the ensemble, and today I went through the costume closet for accessories. I have four pairs of black gloves. Three black fans. No mourning hankies, but I could easily change that. But when I went to grab the random black decorated wrap that I made yeeears ago out of half of a faux-woolen table skirt, the hanger was inexplicably heavy.

Possibly because the giant black taffeta reticule I made back at my very first Costume College was attached, and said item was filled with black mourning ensemble accessories. ::facepalm::
Make that five pairs of black gloves, a black veil, a glitzy Victorian cross on a chatelaine pin, and one giant black taffeta reticule.
Add to that black boots, black stockings, and a black button-down shirt with tuxedo pin-tucks and a black blazer like jacket that I got at Target yeeears ago - and um, I'm pretty much good to go. Yay!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The To Do List

I'm attempting to actually post here more, partly because LiveJournal is truly on the wane (despite what the gap between my last two posts would have you infer), and partly because I feel like I could compartmentalize more and not have to hide so much inane costume drivel from folks.

So I need to get in the habit of using this thing instead. Right, here goes.

This summer I went to Costume College in the new location. It was fabulous and totally different from the event when it was held in Van Nuys. *So* much better. And this upcoming year's theme is "The Golden Age of Hollywood", so I'm dreaming of 1930s and 1940's gowns and trying to figure out the correct combination of girdle and undergarment and stockings. (Tricky!) I literally have a three foot stack of fabrics. It's a bit obscene. Especially since I haven't yet even got to the part where I'm ready to start - oh no - I have too many other projects in the queue at the moment.

First off, I have a quickie faux-Victorian ensemble to put together for a Victorian Haunted House I'm going to be a part of. That should be a fun event, and I can get away with (costuming) murder there because a) it'll be dark and b) I'll be dressed in mourning. Acetate taffeta? Not a problem! Anachronistic hair color? Nobody will see! Happy times.
So that piece came out of the Tub of Blackness, and it turned out that I had some huge old formal gown skirt in black taffeta that someone had ripped down a side-back seam, ostensibly to reuse the nice heavy fabric for something else. I restored the seam, slit the center of the back and added a continuous placket, then pleated it into a waistband. I need to try it on before I sew everything down, and thither did I falter. The thing is draped across my ironing board currently, looking forlorn.

Next, I owe some attention to a slew of Renaissance garments - first I need to take in the MAAS bodice, which I wore today to Casa as well. It could use a chunk taken from the back, but the front is a bit more important at this point, so I can actually get some support from the silly thing. I may do that by adding tucks astride the lacing, and then covering them with bias guarding. Still not sure.
Once I've got that sorted, I need to take the alteration to the pattern and make a very similar gown for St George. Households, you know. Plain English, but of a style that I have a bit of trouble getting behind - I realize now that there is much better research out there now, and what I see as households looks rather anachronistic. Nevermind, I'll make it and wear it and it'll be fine.

And since I mentioned Casa, I'm now jonesing for a German gown. I'm going to paw through my collection of woolens and see what I've got that's of the correct length. I've already started accessorizing the thing, inadvertently as it turns out. I bought a pair of duckbill shoes from Claudia when my old Faire maryjanes died unexpectedly at Notes at MAAS, and I now have a certain amount of golden neckbling. Hurrah!

Right, where was I again? Oh yeah, and then there's Dickens. I still need to make the butt-bow to go with the 1860's bodice for the Blues. That shouldn't take long, but it's also been sitting there staring at me for a good while and I've had too much of a case of CADD to touch it.

Oh, and Laurie was kind enough to help me fit a pattern for a medieval gown, which I have not yet made up. And I still have three different pairs of Regency stays I ought to finish, and at least enough yardage to make another three Regency sheer gowns.

And this is _on top of_ the 1930s stuff I want to make. This is going to be a long haul.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pieced Pockets

Finally, I have proof that what I visualized is actually what he meant!

It was toward evening that Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Heer Van Tassel, which he found thronged with the pride and flower of the adjacent country. Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk, withered little dames, in close-crimped caps, long-waisted short gowns, homespun petticoats, with scissors and pincushions, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, gave symptoms of city innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats, with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times, especially if they could procure an eel-skin for the purpose, it being esteemed throughout the country as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair.
---Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, 1820

And then... via Augusta Auctions:


In block, resist & cylinder cotton prints from late 18th C-1830s, each pocket lined & backed w/ home spun linen & attached w/ brown & cream calico band: 1 pocket w/ 19 different prints & 1 pocket w/ 3 prints, Wd 10.5", L 16", excellent. Montclair Historical Society

Now I don't feel like such an idiot after all!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moving in

Tonight, LiveJournal is still down after a multi-hour DDoS attack. So I've finally caved, and here I am - blogger journal #3, and hopefully this one will stick.

What do I expect to post here? Well, honestly I'm not sure. To be honest, blogging under my real, actual name for once is a wide open and scary experience, and I'm not sure how well I'm going to adjust. But I expect that there will be lots of costume, fashion, and textile ramblings.
(And by "lots" I mean "as much as I feel like". Unlike a lot of bloggers out there, I'm doing this for myself, and not for attention.)

So, hullo out there, real world. How are you today?