Wednesday, 16 January 2019

what I do when there's a lack of extant evidence in a particular small period of costume history: new sacque construction.

I am not alone, researchers have found a distinct lack of extant garments from the 'French Canadian' period of the eighteenth-century. First of all, I have always had an issue with calling it the 'French Period', that term always made me think that the French were only here for a certain period of time, then after the French and Indian war, just disappeared. The French are still here in North America, and if you live in Quebec for any length of time, you also realize that some are still fighting that war...but I digress.

The French were here, and still are here, and have been here for a very long time.

Ok, so what are we looking at when we look for French Canadien dress from the mid-eighteenth century? There's not a lot of evidence in portraiture or extant garments, but the French in Canada were amazing records keepers. So there's a lot of written documentation of trade, wills, probate, contracts, all kinds of things. We also know the class level of most people in the French colonies. Armed with this information, and looking at art from France and North America in the surrounding decades, I can put together an idea of what my impersonation should look like.

And there will not be a French bodice, unkempt hair under a mob-ish cap, and exposed shift sleeves anywhere!

You see, I will be portraying a lower sorts woman. Probably from farm stock, hardworking, not a lot of money for personal material culture. I might be poor, but I am not trash. There's the thing, as I sit here, listening to the old-timers tell tourists that followers of the army were all prostitutes. I might be poor, but I'm not a fallen woman in need of clothing! (cue mental images of all kinds that I will never portray)
Look at this lovely painting by Chardin (1699-1779) of a kitchen maid. Now, this painting was done in France, of a French woman, and is from the first half of the century instead of mid century, but she is fully dressed! A kitchen maid! Then, if you look at the image I posted yesterday or the French Canadien couple from the first quarter of the nineteenth-century and see that they are also both fully dressed, you might get an idea of how very wrong going about in shift sleeves and slovenly looking is to my eye. Clothing is such an important marker of class and culture, just look at how scandalous the bikini was when it first came out! The designer had to hire prostitutes to model it, American women who wore it to the beach were arrested for indecency in the early days of it's existence. I have to think that decency played a role in how people dressed in the eighteenth-century as well, and if everyone around you, in the decades before and after the 'French Period', and the cultures around the French colonies, are fully dressed, maybe the French Canadiens were fully dressed too.

Ok, so there's my reasoning behind what I am up to with my new clothes. This painting by Chardin is actually the look I am after with my new clothes. The gown rebuild means there's not enough cloth for a full length gown, and Chardin depicts many women with this shorter length of gown. I also am not entirely convinced that what we are looking at is an unstructured manteau, but an actual gown. Check out those sleeves. That is a big marker in my books. Now, I may, or may not wear stays underneath my clothes, I haven't decided. I may go for a slightly less structured waistcoat, but it will be worn as underwear, not my outer garments. For now, I am building the gown to be worn over stays.

Ok, so construction photos...
This is the other panel of skirt from mum's old gown. I cut it lengthwise so that I would have two front panels, roughly 45" wide (I just cut it, I haven't actually measured, so roughly). The gown's skirts are shorter, because mum was shorter than me, so I knew I would have to do some piecing. I also want to do a 'grown on' robing, not a separate piece, as I am making a sacque from an earlier decade, and there were still elements left over from a fully draped garment such as the Mantua.
So, I added the shoulder strap to the bodice lining, and a big chunk of wool pieced to the top of that front panel so I could fold back the robing.

Next, I carefully folded and pressed the robings in place. Because there is a slight curve to the shoulder strap, I made sure I also curved the robings with the steam iron. Yes, there is a slight chunk missing from the top of the shoulder strap, it's above the seam line though, so I will have no problem stitching the wool in place and not having a chunk missing from the shoulder of the finished garment. I cut the excess off the end of the robing later, just before I stitched it to the back shoulder.

Then, I folded the robing back, so that my seam allowance was underneath, and then basted the robing along that V fold. You can see my little blue stitches in the second photo.

Quick note, I finish the edges of my linings before stitching them in place, so turning up the bottom edge, pressing all my seam allowances properly, all that stuff. It really does make a difference to the overall finished product. The steam iron is your most important tool in the shop, use it. Ok, these photos show the lining pinned in place along that basting line, and then stitched down along the front edge. My stitching goes through to the right side of the bodice along that basting line for the robing. You won't see it when I am wearing the garment though, because it's under the robing, but the extra line of stitching gives support to that front edge. It's firmly nailed down.
The finished front edge.

Just before I finished for the day I stitched the back shoulder seam, and side seams. I then slashed into the waistline and put it on the dolly to drape the side pleats and see how things were progressing. 

This is where she will sit for a few days. I now have to switch gears and prepare for a weekend of Burn's Night activities at the Mess. Yes, we will be there both evenings, so I need to dig out all my tartan clothes and get them ready for wearing. There will be alterations, since I haven't had them on in well over 15 years...

It's a good thing I know how to sew!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Stepping back in time this year.

If we are going to play with Ticonderoga this year, we will have to step back in time a bit, as the site will be working on interpretation of the French and Indian war period. We will also shift our culture slightly, from my family's history to Pierre's, as we go from being loyalists to portraying a French soldier and his wife. Kit that we wear for Revolutionary period events just won't be appropriate, given that it is almost 25 years later, and a different culture. So this winter, I am building some new pieces of kit, pulling out old kit that we used to wear to Louisbourg, and seeing what pieces are needed to fill out our interpretation.

Truth be told, I have not been impressed with the clothing worn by many people portraying French Canadiens or Acadiens in Canada. I have grown weary of unbuttoned waistcoats, shift and shirt sleeves exposed, sloppy stockings, and messy, unkempt, and uncovered hair. I refuse to believe that Pierre's ancestors were as slovenly as modern day interpreters make them out to be, especially given how 'fashionable' modern French Canadians tend to be! The above image may be late in the 18th-century, but it shows impeccably groomed people, even if they are also the typical farming class that is widespread in French speaking Canada. The modern interpreter looks nothing like this! I won't post a photo, because I don't want to embarrass anyone personally, just do a quick google search and you will understand, if you haven't already had first hand experience. Let's just say, I am going back to basics and doing my own research. Fort Ticonderoga requires a fair degree of accuracy in kit, so I know my research won't be wasted time.

Pierre's kit will be fairly straight forward, build 'this' particular uniform, and be the same as all the other soldiers at the fort. I have to purchase the materials to make the uniform from specific retailers and build it according to extensive guidelines laid out by the fort. For me, an easy task, since I really do enjoy extensive guidelines and understanding what is expected. Even better in my books would be the ability of purchasing a kit to make the uniform, so that I know I have exactly the same fabrics as the other soldiers. Fingers crossed that this is an option.

In the meantime, I am working on some new pieces for myself. I hauled out my 'old brown sacque' from storage, and am still happy with it. Being a linsey, it will be great for summertime wear. It's now gotten some really great heritage too, since it was my only gown for a good number of years. To round out that outfit, I will make a couple of new caps, possibly a new pinner apron (I'd love one in blue), and I have to re-thread my cross on a length of black silk ribbon. For winter or shoulder season though, I need some warm clothes. Since it is always cold in Louisbourg, this will not be a waste of my time, as these pieces will get wear in the future too. I am taking this opportunity to rebuild a gown of my mum's into something that will fit me. Taking it apart, and re-cutting pieces to build into something appropriate for me and the historical period I am wanting to recreate. 

Yesterday, I pulled out my gown pattern, a paper pattern traced from a bodice draping my friend Jenny did for me back in September. A bodice is a fairly straight forward pattern throughout the eighteenth-century. With minor alterations, it can take you from an early sacque, to a late period round gown.
I started with the back lining sections. Instead of seaming the centre back seam straight down to the waist, I added on a facing which was turned back into a double fold from the shoulder blade line downwards. This was hemmed in place with a slip stitch. I also boned each side of the opening with 1/4" nylon zip strap boning backstitched into place. Then I worked the eyelets that will tighten the sacque bodice to my body. Once this was finished, I laid the back lining wrong side up on my work table, and pleated the fashion fabric to the bodice. 
I followed an extant gown pattern from a reputable published book (you know the drill, Sharon Burnston, Linda Baumgarten, Janet Arnold are all reputable resources). I had to alter the pleating pattern slightly to accommodate the amount of fabric I have, I am rebuilding one of mum's gowns after all...that fabric is close to 30 years's all I have. I made sure that my pleats were even and square with the bodice lining, and marked how far down I wanted them stitched. Then, with a running back stitch, 1/8" in from the edge of the fold, I stitched the pleats to the bodice lining. I do this flat on my work table so that the weight of the cloth is supported...that, and for a long period of time, I did not have a dress dolly, and I suspect many sempsters also lack a dress form, so I also teach this way.
The single thing that many people miss when making a sacque is the line of basting that runs underneath the pleats to hold the fabric to the lining all the way down to the waist. If you miss this important line of stitching, you will look like you are wearing a sack instead of a sacque, the bodice will not hug your body, and the pleats will not spring forth from the shoulders. To do this, once the tops of the pleats were stitched, I moved the bottom of the pleats to the side, and ran a running back stitch following the line of pins.
Voila! The finished back panel, pleats stitched down, excess cut away (but saved for later piecing), and a good steam press to the top of the pleats. Today, I will tackle the fronts of the bodice. 

Friday, 14 December 2018


view of Halifax, Dominic Serres, 1765, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Logistics: As a military spouse, it is often up to me to make sure the family home runs smoothly so that Pierre can go and do his job. When he is deployed, it means looking after everything, not just what I'm expected to do in my traditional role as wife. Sometimes, this has also meant moving house mostly on my own. Over the years, we have gotten really good at communicating what needs to happen, when, by whom, and what we need to be wearing/bringing/doing. We run like a finely tuned machine most times. There is comfort in the logistics.

And it's much easier now that there is just two of us working in this machine.

We used to joke that by adding one person to a living history event, we ended up packing twice as much kit. And this was true. Not just kit, but also emotional kit. We were so used to working as a team, that together we act like one person, but add another person to that mix, we needed to consider that person. No matter how close they were to us, they were still a separate person. With their own needs, desires, expectations.

Now think of adding a couple hundred people to your mix. This is what running a living history event is like. You can't simply go about your day, situation normal. You can't get up with your own schedule, pour your own coffee, and go do your job for the day. You have to take into consideration all the people who are coming out for your event.

It's really important for the people attending your event to know the history behind the scenario you are trying to interpret for the day, but it is also important for people to understand the logistics. This really hit home a couple of times this year when attending events for the first time, in places I had never been before, with people I had never met. Because the majority of the event attendees had done these events multiple times before, they knew what to expect. I didn't even know what kinds of questions to ask, since there was so much I didn't know, I didn't know where to start to ask.

When we moved here to Montreal. I knew a few things about military moves. Now that I have done one, I know more, so the next time should run a bit more can hope. The same applies to living history events. With the move, there are logistics that I will expect and ask for. Timelines I will know to also expect. We should be asking ourselves these types of questions about the living history events we plan as well...especially when we know the event better than anyone else.

For future living history events, I would like to see a brief synapsis of the event itself. I don't really need to be writing a 30 page academic paper on it, so a brief overview of the history is really all I need. I need to know what event staff want from me. Am I Loyalist? Patriot? Undecided? Who am I working for? What jobs do I need to be doing during the interpretation? What material culture do I need to bring with me? Am I expected to be doing full-on interpretation? Or am I also expected to do security and crowd control? Will I be indoors, or outside most of the day? Walking long distances? I wear high heels most of the time, so this is important. What time am I expected to be on site, ready for business, and when am I expecting to be able to leave and go home? If everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing before they arrive on-site, then the interpretation runs much more smoothly overall, and there's less frantic, last minute rushing around, trying to make things work.

There are other things that are important to know. Is this event just a single day, or is it only part of a day? We went to an event this year, driving five hours, to find out that the interpretation was only an hour. We were lost for the rest of the weekend, not knowing what to do with ourselves, and to be honest, disappointed. We should be telling our interpreters this. But also, what sort of sleeping accommodation is available, and what sort of meal arrangements are available. We don't always need to be putting on big, catered spreads of food, like Parks Canada has done in the past, but knowing that the site restaurant will be open later or earlier so we can eat is fantastic information. I honestly don't mind paying for my meals, but I need to know where I can get them. I also need to know where the closest hotels are, if I need some sort of modern sleeping accommodation at the last minute (post tropical storm hypothermia, anyone?). Knowing there aren't any hotels nearby, is also helpful.

You may not think that a little tid-bit of information is all that important, but it could be important to someone. Together, let's plan events a bit better. Let's be sharing information a bit more widely. And not expecting because we have always done it this way, that everyone knows what 'that way' is.

Monday, 10 December 2018

the social life of things: a year in the life of an object and a living historian

I have to admit, the type of interpretation programming that really rocks my socks is the year in the life type of interpretation programing. Situations like Tales from the Green Valley or Victorian Farm, where the gang gets together and 'lives' as they would for a full calendar year.

This year I got to come about as close as I currently can to feeling all the seasonal feels. We spent three weekends at Ticonderoga this year, in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. We would have rounded out the winter with another weekend this coming weekend, if it weren't for coming down with strep throat this week. Each of those weekends we worked on similar interpretation, but with a varying climate and happenings of history going on. For this weekend, I was working through Christmas season thoughts on what they would have had during the Christmas of 1776. How I could reproduce the creature comforts for officers to eat while having a limited cooking set up, in the frontier of New York state. I was enjoying other historic sites setting up their own Christmas programs and the photos that they were sharing. I may not have been able to produce all the fancy things the finer house museums would have had, but I think I would have been able to make a fine Christmas out of not much. Items like a Christmas stolen and a fine fruit pudding would have made use of dried fruits and could be made in a bake kettle or a soup kettle over the fire. Pies of custard, pork (tortiere), or mince could also be made along a similar fashion. My planned menu was all of items that I could have made in the few days prior to Christmas day, and kept with very little problem.
I was also thinking of our clothing, what we would wear, what we would need. What would we look like, two servants to the officers, within their space, but not of it. Pierre was going to wear his black wool suit, nice enough to serve in; black, and would hide any dirt from cooking. I have a serviceable blue wool gown under construction; again, nice enough to serve in, dark enough to disguise any dirt.

Through this year, I have been producing all the clothing items that we would need to live our lives as eighteenth-century people. There's very little left now that I think we would need. The final items are things I will need to buy to round out our impressions of working class people. Shoes are next on the list, as I really miss being on heels when we've been in the eighteenth-century, my work shoes are flats and quite honestly, fugly. I live in heels in my modern life. Women in the era lived in high heels too. The extant women's shoes are predominantly heeled, not flats.
The other items are for serving, so platters, another big cooking kettle, and I'm still on the hunt for a couple of table spoons.

Someday, I might get to actually run a year of interpretation programming somewhere, or maybe multiple years... Then I can truly get my nerd on and study the wear patterns of our clothing more fully, and get further into character than I have ever had the chance to before.

Until then, I will live vicariously through social media and photographs, and maybe make a syllabub and some custard tarts for Pierre and I to indulge in this weekend, while we sit home and recover from the dreaded pox of the throat.
waiting to serve, Saturday July 21st 2018, Ticonderoga 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

wishing for something to exist in the historical record: an exercise in frustration, if you let it...

After seeing Nick Spadone's shag bed rug that he had woven for use at Ticonderoga earlier this year, and then seeing them weaving one at Colonial Williamsburg in March, I admit, I had serious bedrug lust. I have the technology, the wool, I wanted one!

Then in a conversation with Shaun Pekar, he got me thinking about how prevalent they were in the historical record. Shaun mentioned that the ones that he was noticing most often were not shag, but looped, pulled with a hook through an already finished sheet of coarse woven cloth. The shag ones were woven as shag, with throws of twill weave between the rows of knotted shag all worked on the loom.

So I started looking, and thinking seriously about what I would have had for a bed rug. Maybe these shag rugs were an anomaly, or maybe they were only in a few collections in the Virginia area. I also wanted to know what sort of bed coverings were in the Nova Scotia record.

Looking on Novamuse, the search engine for artifacts in the Nova Scotia Museum collection, the only mentions of blankets or coverlets are woven, but without shag. They are bird's eye twills, overshot, but nothing like the style of bedrug that either Spadone's or Pekar's would be like. The coverlet artifacts aren't labelled well on the Novamuse site, so I'm not even sure of firm artifact dating.

I am I will keep looking, and will put off the bedrug project until I know more about the Nova Scotia situation. Yes, I know they had the technology in the period, but is it historically accurate for me to own one? These are important questions you need to ask yourself if you are wanting to do quality living history. I'm not saying the gent's bedrug styles didn't exist, more that they don't exist for "me". Wishing a historical record into being just doesn't happen. When we look for documentation, we need to look for commonalities, not anomalies, or we run the risk of starting a fashion trend within the profession.

I won't put forward the notion "if they had it, they would have used it", or any other similar argument for documentation...I won't be starting a fashion trend.
Image of unknown origin, but common weave pattern and colourway for early overshot patterns. But when did this form of weaving come into existence in Nova Scotia?

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Way Back When: Getting your interpreters on board with more accurate historical dress.

Getting your older, full time interpretive staff to wear new, and possibly more accurate historical costume while at work is the bane of every historical costumer. We all come up against those who are perfectly happy, and *comfortable*, wearing the stuff they have worn since they started in their interpreter's position. It often doesn't matter to them that these clothing items might be wrong, it's what they've always worn.
The problem is, that since I've graduated alone, the progress made in the research of historic dress has made epic leaps and bounds. What is being shared today, was simply a pipe dream of those of us who started our careers back in the late 80s. The internet has helped, because we have access to information that would have required extensive research road trips even ten years ago. And this is a good thing. Social medial has also become a valuable tool for helping us all better our impressions. Sites are sharing how they are tackling the situation of 'Best Practices' standards, photographs of other living historians are being shared so that we can prove that improvement is a good thing, and can be done, no matter what the excuse might be.

So why do we still have hold outs?

We have hold-outs because we allow them to come out. Sites are sometimes relaxed because they don't realize that things can be done better. They aren't seeing that better impression. Other living historians are just too nice, in allowing the inaccuracies to pop up at events, too nice to police their fellow interpreter. And as site costumers, we allow folks to hold on to those old, badly constructed clothing items instead of issuing new kit.

How can we fight this?

Well, it's the end of the season. The winter season often means having make and make-do weekends, where new kit can be made. If we started off the winter season by fixing the old kit, then many of us would start next season off on the right foot with very little cash layout. Start by removing buttons and replacing with proper ones. Altering gear to better fit on the body...most folks are wearing clothing that is miles too large. If gear is too small, pass those items down to young people who might be smaller than you. We all have gear we no longer wear. Fix it and pass it on.
Historic site wardrobes often have a month or so of returns of kit where we launder and return to stores for the winter. This is a perfect time to get rid of the stuff that is just too bad to be repaired or altered. If the kit isn't there, then it can't be issued out in the spring again. Take the stuff apart, use the fabrics for other things. Make it so those old items just aren't around anymore. Back when I was working as a head of wardrobe, my own infectious passion for wearing proper clothing rubbed off on the interpreters. I started off with the young people, who might have been starting out as a summer hire. I taught them how to properly dress and wear their clothes. And I spoke to them about their 'clothes', never referring to the items as costumes, so that they would never compare them to stuff worn for fun at Halloween. Once the young people were dressed properly, the older staff wanted to look just as good, so it was an easier way to coerce them over to my way of thinking. Making the older staff new clothes, that suited their bodies and work lives helped them to better do the jobs they had done for so long. Reminding them that they looked good while properly dressed helped too. It's nice to go and visit site websites and see things that I made still being worn, and properly worn, 20 and 30 years later. These items are cared for, because I took the time to care about the interpreters wearing them. That care and passion is then passed down to the next generation.

Everyone should be using the winter months as opportunity to read those best practices standards and getting on board with the way things are being done at sites across North America. If you need help, ask. There are tonnes of people in just about every community ready to help out their fellow interpreter to get a leg up.

If there is one thing I can take away from the Saratoga project, it is that it doesn't have to cost the interpreter or site an arm and a leg to get geared up. I managed to outfit two people for next to nothing in a very short time frame. Working together really helps. It also builds camaraderie between living historians. That passion can be infectious, spread that stuff everywhere!

That, and those 'best practices' guidelines can also save you money, if you read them and follow along. They help to guide you towards better kit right from the get go, so you don't make costly mistakes, buying the wrong things.

ok, back to the studio I go. Have a great winter season everyone!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Saratoga Project

First one up, as always, Saratoga Historic Park, 2018. Photo by Jennifer Bolton.

Back in the Spring, an announcement was made about an event that would happen at Saratoga Historic Park in the Fall. This event, while a new concept for the park, was not new to the progressive living history community, it would be a vetted event. This meant that guidelines were posted, and folks wanting to attend would send in photos of themselves in kit to a committee that would then provide feedback to participants for improving their kit before attending the event. In recent years, the best practices standards have been making the rounds of the community, and most events adhere to these concepts. This event would seek to push that envelop even further by also including a ‘not acceptable’ category. There would be no ‘making do’, all in attendance would be striving for accuracy in everything they did throughout the weekend.

This was a justifiable response to events where participants sneak in modernity everywhere they can, and make quite ridiculous excuses for why they cannot improve. My response has long been, just don’t bring it! Just don’t buy it in the first place. Save yourself some money, and everyone else the headache of trying to police your gear all weekend.

Following these guidelines was fairly straight forward. I have always been trying to improve my own kit, and looked at this as an opportunity for constructive critique from knowledgeable living historians. I’ve been seeking out these opportunities to keep my thoughts on track, much the way a regular academic would seek out the critique and guidance of their professors. My dissertation committee is great for the theory behind what I am doing, but as far as my art practice is concerned, we need this valuable resource to supplement what the committee can help me with. I sent photos of Pierre and I in, and received thumbs up. We were good to go. But I wanted to bring a couple of new people to the event, this would be their very first event. I was told that they would be provisionally accepted, because I would be building their kit and clothing. I was excited at the challenge.

Building new kit and clothing, starting a couple off on the right track from the get go was a fun challenge for me. The project allowed me to think through the theory I have been reading all Spring, why material culture research is important. It also helped me to outline sections of the future dissertation through my instructing of the creation of smaller items by themselves. Because these two new folks were also academics, one of them in a very similar field, they were able to provide me with valuable feedback in how I was teaching them about their new hobby. It was a fantastic mental exercise as well as an art practice.

The second challenge I set for us, was to dress these two people entirely from stash fabrics and left over cabbage so that it wouldn’t cost anyone any money. I was lucky to have friends who donated fabrics, and my mum also left me with a few fabrics that I will never use for myself. I pulled out things from my own closet that I don’t wear anymore and altered then to better fit Alison, she could also wear an older pair of my shoes. Zac could wear some of Pierre’s things, but would only need to buy shoes…a taller man often has longer feet. Mid-way through August, things were shaping up nicely, and I was posting photos for finished garments so that event organizers could see my progress. I finished Zac’s clothes just days past the deadline, and Alison was very close to being finished, and the organizers were happy.

The week before the event things began to fall apart for us. Not because of the stringent kit requirements, but because of modern lives, and the weather. Our friends from Nova Scotia couldn’t make the trip with us because they would be looking at a Fall project of ripping up their front lawn to replace sewer and water lines to the street. We were disappointed to not have a visit from friends, but completely understood. There would be other events!

Then, a giant hurricane formed off the coast of Africa.

Being Maritimers, we started watching the weather. The week prior to, I said I would call it Thursday morning whether we could go or not. Pierre told me to not be disappointed, but hypothermia is not something I ever want to deal with again…and tropical weather is the main reason I have come down with it twice in the past. I called it Sunday night. It was looking like the hurricane was going to nail Hatteras late week, and the weekend in Saratoga would be a washout.

I kept sewing. Alison’s gown was almost finished, and I had some little things cut out that I wanted to finish. Alison and Zac changed their travel plans for their honeymoon, which they’d be leaving for in the days following Saratoga. I tried really hard to not be disappointed.

Then the hurricane veered to the south. And. Slowed. Right. Down. To. A. Standstill.

Friends from Virginia decided to come up for the event after all. I texted Pierre, “blue linen suit ok?” He responded with a thumbs up. We would day trip the event, and it would be just Pierre and I.

We packed the back of the truck with a mattress and bedding so we would have somewhere to sleep, and packed a basket with a couple of food items, the can of coffee, and the coffee pot. I pulled together our clothing, and made sure everything was presentable and wearable. Our last trip home from an event was a bit of a mess, and things were not put away properly. We had just lost our dog to heart disease.

Saturday morning, before Dawn, coffee in hand, we were at the border, heading to an event. We arrived on site after the event started, and not really fully prepared, but we were there, and would make do with what we had.

The event!

We arrived, got the car unpacked, and got dressed. It would be a mile walk through the woods to get to the encampment site, but we had expected that. Anything big that we had could have been dropped off at the site before we parked, but there wasn’t anything really that we could pack in. We would be more like refugees than we had ever been at an event before. We had a snap sack, a blanket, a linen sail for shelter if we needed it, a basket with our food, cups, a spoon, a knife, and our coffee pot. Because priorities, man. Coffee.

Remember when I said we weren’t completely prepared? Well, I had the directions printed for the American camp, not the British camp. We got turned around in the woods, took the wrong path and wound up back out on the road. Oh well, it’s only a couple of miles, we can do this…

It was hot. Like beyond hot. Heat that usually make Kellys turn into three year olds. I sucked it up and kept walking. We managed to get to the site without snapping at each other. Pierre immediately got me a big glass of water with some switchel in it (I had made the syrup earlier in the summer and remembered to bring it with me) and I plunked down in the shade. Then he made coffee. It was still morning.

Boots on the ground was sparse compared to what the event organizers had originally planned, what with the hurricane, and then on the Thursday night before the event, parts of outlying Boston being blown up by over pressurized gas lines. Events have to have starting points though, and those who could make it to the event all brought their A-game. Once I acclimated to the heat, I enjoyed myself. I talked to the visitors about how what was going on today in places like Syria, and even upstate New York into Quebec was starkly similar to what happened to people in the Revolutionary period. That Loyalists were not often really the enemy that is made out to be in American history programs. They were regular people, forced to make tough decisions, often life-saving, certainly life-changing, with no time to fully think things through. It was perfectly wonderful that we all brought various weird and uncommon items with us from our homes for the event. Pierre and I had coffee and a pot, but not much else, other people had camp kettles and could cook food. We all shared, and got through. Some of us were a little hungry, but that was ok. It was only for two days.

I did not eat enough, and so covertly taking photos was just not happening. My hands shook so badly, the one photo I did manage to take looks like a bad impressionist painting left out in the rain. Those who know Pierre can see that it’s a quintessential shot of a south facing, north bound Pierre. But it’s not postable.

At the end of the day, Pierre asked organizers if he could bring the car up closer, to visitor parking so I wouldn’t have to walk so far. I was pretty spent, but still wanting to stay and be sociable. Given permission, he brought the car closer, and we stayed overnight. If not, we would have likely started for home again at the end of the day, stopping to sleep somewhere in the mountains. As it was, I didn’t sleep that night until Pierre got up the next morning. He got up whispering, “I’m off to make friends”, before daybreak, and I rolled over and got a couple of hours sleep. The truck is comfortable. But not enough food, no Cpap, and having no idea where I packed my meds were the triple threat to me sleeping. I was just grateful it wasn’t out on the ground, under the stars, as I would have also shivered all night, even with the heat. My body sucks like that. Instant, unpleasant three year old.

When I did get up, it was still long before the park opened at I was able to ease into my day slowly. Pierre brought me down a cup of coffee as I got dressed. We walked back up to camp together and prepared for the day.

Sunday proved to be a bit quieter, visitor wise, which was nice, since everyone was spent from the heat the day before. Slowly, throughout the day, folks made quiet goodbyes and walked away, starting their trip homeward. It was just as if they were starting their personal treks northward to safety, some ready to leave before others. It was excellent interpretation, even if very few people noticed. We left about noon. Wanting to get home in time to finish up weekend chores before Pierre headed back to work that next morning…and I really needed sleep. From what I can glean from friend’s Facebook posts, the end of day brought an almost empty camp, and event organizers could go home themselves at a decent hour. Everyone has been talking about what a wonderful experience it was.

And it was. It was quiet and low key. A far more sociable experience for me than any other event I have ever attended, as I am usually run off my feet talking to visitors. Events like this are the wave of the future though, Quality over Quantity. They have to start someplace, and small is sometimes good for a brand new experience. While it would have been lovely to see a sea of canvas tents, like Burgoyne’s camp would have been, there just isn’t the numbers yet to be able to put on a progressive event of that size. More people have to get on board with best practice standards, the days of carting all the material culture you’ve ever bought or made to an event is over. The visitor is looking for better from us. The historians and Parks staff are looking for better from us. It behooves us to try and get things right, we do a disservice to our forefathers not to. And yes, the visitor really does know better…even those who frustrate us with their history’splaining and attitude.

This whole project may seem like it failed, because Zac and Alison didn’t get to take part, because I wasn’t fully prepared, but you can learn from things that don’t go according to plan far better than things you try that work out perfectly. I know now that there are things that my body can do, and things that I really should ask it to even try. I have to figure out how to better feed myself at events where there is no place, and nothing or no time to cook with. We have to figure out a better solution to sleeping arrangements. It worked ok this time for everyone involved, but there’s room for improvement to the truck scenario, and I also thought about what-if it had started to rain in the middle of the night…what those who slept rough would have done. The rain venue for sleeping was miles away, with cars miles away in the other direction.

I have a better understanding of why smallpox ripped through the Loyalist population in the later years of the war, decimating whole communities. If one weekend was this hard on my body, I can only imagine what weeks or months of living this way would have done to it. I can do just about anything for a day or two. But it’s going to take most of the week for me to recover.

And then I will get back to the studio…I have suits to make, and new clothes to finish for other living history people. Because there will be other events.