Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I did on my six month vacation

I feel a little sheepish, to be honest. I didn't post about moving to London for six months on this blog, so anyone following only my costume adventures has been in the (admittedly normal lately) dark. We're wrapping up our trip here this week (ish - with a detour through Austria and Germany for a bit first), so I suppose now is as good a time as any to report on my costuming activities.

I suppose I should mention that I had two 50lb suitcases when I came out here. I borrowed a lovely Bernina from a fellow Kentwellie, Tamsen of Passamezzo for the duration of my stay. ...And I just shipped seven boxes of stuff back. That's including mugs and teapot, souvenirs, booksbooksbooks, a bunch of reenactor items I bought while here, a few costumes that I won't be using in the next few months, a box of mudlarking finds that I'll be using to teach classes. And I still have two 50lb-plus bags that I'm taking home with me.

This is what my sewing setup looked like. See that big bag under the table? That's the "sewing and reenactment bag". Also, that awful Rowenta iron made me miss my industrial iron so much.

When I packed, I thought to myself "Hmm, what sort of reenactments are there in the UK?" and packed accordingly. Along with a selection of patterns I intended to make, I brought along a huge amount of various types of historical undergarments, some half-finished Georgian stays, fabric for three or four Regency dresses, a couple of Victorian projects I'd been working on, a ruff that was taking forever to finish, and a set of Elizabethan smock, stays, madder red petticoat and jacket. And a bunch of shoes, of course.

The first thing I heard about was a 1940s event at Brooklands, which as I found out, is a huge transportation museum. Not "transportation" as in "to the colonies", no no, "transportation" as in "a bunch of old dudes who really like tinkering with engines". There were early bicycles, motorcycles, racecars, commercial and military airplanes, just... everything. It was a bit crazy.  I managed to adapt the bodice of one of the 1940s patterns I'd brought into a blouse (though geez, remind me next time to add a shirttail!) and I found a "land girl" style skirt on Amazon, though the girdle I bought didn't arrive until several days too late. I also bought Mike some 40's style clothes when I visited the Imperial War Museum for the Fashion on the Ration exhibit. And although it hadn't occurred to me that I might want to actually buy some hot rollers or something so I could actually do something with my hair... We looked pretty good. :)

The next bit was Kentwell, which I'd intended to just visit in costume for a day or two, and then go home. Imagine my surprise when I was told that visitors were discouraged from visiting in kit!  Well, whoops. I contacted the office and was very sweetly (and entirely surprisingly) added to the roster for the Main Event during the summer. I was also told that the stuff I'd brought was too late for the 1588 year we'd be portraying, and that I'd need different kit. Hooo boy. I bought a bodiced petticoat bodice (just the bodice) from another Kentwellie and then set to work chopping it down to my size.  I brought out that madder red petticoat and hemmed it up a bit, and then pointed it to the petticoat bodice. I then shopped until I found a suitable-ish wool, and made myself a square necked half-sleeved kirtle and some half sleeves for if I needed them. Thankfully I was able to reuse most of my accessories from 1556 (2012) so I didn't have to completely refit.

There aren't many pictures, for a number of reasons. Partly, I think, because I was in the kitchen and so entirely out of my element that I hardly looked up at all from my focus and worry. And when I was outdoors, I hardly looked up at all because without a hat and without my usual sunglasses, I suffered mightily from the glare. Sean Byrne took a lovely picture of me looking... I don't know... tired and annoyed? while walking plates from an emergency rations donation back to the main kitchen. As a picture it's not wonderful, but I'm relieved that there are some pictures of me in this kit.
Proof that I can squint, balance a tray full of plates, and walk at the same time!
Finally, we also went to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival's opening weekend. I had one half-completed Regency dress in the bag, and the materials for at least two more, so I worked frantically on getting one mostly-done, and then mostly-finishing the other, alternating on handsewing and machine sewing up until the night we arrived. In the meantime, I ordered a pair of breeches and a shirt for Mike from a lovely shop on Etsy, socks and reasonably peri-oid mens modern-formal latchet shoes on Amazon, and then spent waaaay more time than I'd like to think about going back and forth to the National Theater's costume hire location to find, fit, pick up, and return a beautiful late-Regency tailcoat and waistcoat. Oh, and I found an excellent top hat for him in a little market in Shepherd's Bush. It was a lot of work, but I think he ended up looking better put-together than I did! (Anyone who says that costuming is only sewing is so wrong. :P)

I'll also cop to it that it took me until September to remember that I didn't have any way to style my hair, so rather than buying a 220v curling iron to last me a month, I bought a hairpiece and some rollers. Which actually presented their own problems, because I didn't have a wig stand or anything, sooo...
Not my most glamorous moment, I  know.
So the first dress was what I'll call the "blue sprig" dress. It's cut from a single California King sized flat sheet that I got at my favorite thrift store in Redwood City for... I think $3? Something like that. It's solid, a little stiff, and definitely opaque, but it was easy enough to work with. For the first time, I actually tried making a front-opening gown that wasn't a bib-front and... surprise! It actually worked pretty well. I also made a chemisette from some leftover linen, which turned out to be a good thing as the day of the festival was both cold and sunny by turns. I also added some lacing-loops to a pair of pointy-toed ballet flats that I'd found at one of the local London women's careerwear shops, and made an extremely quick and dirty drawstring reticule.  I started on a bonnet. I didn't finish it, but I did use some of the velvet ribbon I'd brought for it to cover the spot where my real hair didn't match the hair-fall.

I'm sure there are pictures, but the only one I have is the selfie I took of us waiting for the promenade to start.

You can sort-of see us here, but there's no good way for me to link directly to the exact photo - basically, scroll 2/3 of the way down and look for a picture of a homeless man selling newspapers, and we're near that.

The other dress I made for the ball we went to - how disappointing that was! The ball on the official programme of the Festival was both in a wretchedly utilitarian hall (complete with fluorescent lighting, aluminum truss hanging from the ceiling, and gigantic disco ball), and absolutely not the ball that all of my friends went to. Also, I failed at correctly wrapping my turban often enough that I eventually got it and took a photo, so here...

There was a quite good dinner, and some decent dancing (though we won't speak about the quality of the calling).  Sadly, I haven't seen any photos so you'll have to do with this blurry shot that I got a security guy to take as we failed to sneak into the other ball.

It's basically impossible to see here, but this gown is made from an old embroidered linen tablecloth (that I'd found full of holes, again at my favorite thrift shop), over a length of Indian cotton sari gauze, the idea being of course to look as naked as possible. I have to say, mission accomplished: it's really sheer! Even with my chemise and my petticoat under this dress, I could feel the air from my hand-fan through the gown. (Which was, come to think of it, rather nice actually.)
I wouldn't use the gauze again though - it sticks and clings to itself like mad, which is great for saris, and less good for dancing. It clung so much that I ended up adding a drawcord flounce to the bottom of the pink layer just to give it more weight, otherwise I'd feared it would keep hiking higher and higher. The turban is a pink silk damask dupatta from - again - my favorite thrift store. I also made a piped-drawstrung neckline based on some of the examples I'd seen in the V&A and the Museum of London - but those are posts for another day!

So, six months, three four costumes? I guess that's not bad. I mean, it's not the best sewing rate I've had, but if you count all the museum study I've been doing, I think it's okay!

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