Thursday, 7 December 2017

Who Am I? Persona development and research in Living History

I have always thought this was an important and very loaded question. Important, because it shapes who we portray when 'in the field' at events. Loaded, because we can address tricky aspects of our shared history, or, make such a mess of them that we can be thought of as racist.

Ask yourself who are you.

If you're a soldier, that's easy, you wear what you are told to wear by your unit, you do what you're told to do...

Easy, right? If you answered yes, then this article may not be for you at this juncture in your living history career. Tuck it away for another date.

For the rest of us, being told what to do and how to dress just isn't an option. If our bodies prevent us from being a line soldier, either through extreme gender shapes, or any other reasons, we might have to look at other options. If we live nowhere near a military installation or unit, being a soldier might not be an option. If we are getting a bit too old for that sort of profession, it may be a good time to look at other options.
So who are you?

I've often said that the easiest personas to portray are ones that are close to our own modern lives.  When you break down who we are to the basic ideas, we are business people, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children, our ethnicity comes into play in a huge way for most of us. Are we religious? If so, what sort? Are we alone, raising a family through death or divorce?

These are all easy questions to answer and give a good groundwork for persona development.

So I will give you my persona as a case study so that you may use it as a guide to help you in yours. First off, my body is overtly feminine, so I dress as a woman. I would look like a very silly shaped man, and I am really femme, so this wasn't something that entered into my thought process. I am feminine. I am also a wife, a mother whose children are grown. I am a military wife too. This all speaks to my social standing in the world, how much money or class level I'd be in, what social roles I portray. I am an artist and craftsman, I am intellectual and work with my hands. I also come from a very Catholic upbringing, and still hold to many of the tenants of that religion. I come from the Gaelic culture.

Ok, if you know me, you can picture me in your mind's eye.

Now picture me in eighteenth-century clothes.

I am a soldiers (sailor's) wife of a certain age. I dress in middling class clothing, wool, linen. I wear many petticoats, stays, a gown, maybe a shortgown (jacket), and I dress modestly. I make clothing for people, and am often seen making or repairing the clothing of the clothes of the people in my group, or military units near me. My clothes may be old, but are in good repair.
And something you might not know about the Gaelic culture if you didn't grow up in it, we all tend to appear stand-offish, but love to be around people. We don't make eye contact, or like to be touched, but love to let loose with our friends with music and good cheer.

So who is my persona? I've just told you. I may change it up a tiny bit, to accommodate the event we are attending. At Louisbourg, I am fresh off the boat, waiting on a land grant so that I can set up house before the next sailing season, I might run a tavern to make a little bit extra money. At Ticonderoga, I am a Loyalist woman, walking to Canada, depending on the event...if the Americans are in power at the Fort, I am a spy, down from Canada with my Mohawk husband. If in later years of the war, we may be straight up Americans looking to supply the Fort with provisions. If I am in Annapolis Royal, I am a Loyalist again, travelling with the military from New York or Charlestown, waiting on a land grant in the Valley, I hear there's good farmland to be had.
I am always a Gaelic woman of a certain age, with a husband who may have seen military service. I am middle class, no higher. My clothes may get dirty, but will always be in decent repair.

Now that I have given you my case study, my persona, ask those questions of yourself. And then start doing some research. What would you wear, what would you own. Create a research binder to help you keep track of all these ideas in your head. Please don't fall into the trap of copying another, fellow re-enactor. Doing that results in a badly played game of telephone, and causes 'fashion trends' in the profession that may not have actually been fashionable in the period.

Look at a lot of art! If you are lower or middling sorts, look at Hogarth, Sandby, avoid oil paintings featuring ladies and gents in fancy silks or velvets unless you are of the upper sorts. Hogarth and Sandby tend to be genre painters, every day folk in morality lessons. Portraiture holds a whole other layer of semiotics that you have to be aware of. It's a good place to start developing your eye though, telling your mind what you should look like...that can be vastly different from what your modern eye thinks you should look like.
Read books, not just the history of the period, but also the material culture and clothes. Read newspapers of the period, what was available at the shops? What were the runaways wearing and stole?

It tends to be far less expensive and much less frustrating, if we all start with who we are and work from there. Then we can make or buy only what we need, and not make costly and frustrating mistakes along the way...I'm not the only one with a closet full of silk gowns I'll never wear again in their current state. They will eventually get repurposed into modern garments, because I get dressed up for the Mess once a month, something my 18thC persona would never do. That's a lot of $40/metre silk I really didn't need to buy.  It's pretty, but really...

As I begin to develop my own research binder to present for my comprehensive exam in research/creation, I hope you'll all start one too.

Start by asking the question, who am I?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Maker vs. Craftsman: Why the Material in Materiality Should Matter

I'm not sure why, exactly, the tech industry has co-opted the term 'maker'. Maybe it's because they are finally realizing that Western society is growing weary of the unsustainable, throw-away culture of the late 80s through 2000s. Maybe they realize they can't easily pawn the newest IPhone scam so readily...
Those long line-up days are dwindling.
I'm still not entirely sure tech understands craftsmanship though, given a few conversations I've listened in on the past few weeks. Sure they understand making, but not the heartbreak that comes with honing one's craft, for years at a time, making mistakes, understanding the benefits of quality materials that can make a quality end product.

If it doesn't work, they'll fix 'it' in the next update.

And that has me wondering if many regular folk understand the need for quality materials.

Two summers ago, I embroidered a stomacher for a friend's wedding. A stomacher is the triangular shaped part of the bodice of an 18thC gown that covers the breast and belly. Her gown was silk, it called for an embroidered stomacher, and she was feeling in over her head.

She sent me the kit she bought...

When I sat down to begin, I read over the instructions to see if there were any differences between them and what I had planned to do. Ok, there were a few, but nothing major. But when I pulled out the thread to begin stitching, I realized that what had been enclosed with the kit was nothing like what the instructions called for. I'm pretty sure my friend bought the kit as a whole, threads included, as she is not an embroiderer, and would have asked me what I wanted to stitch with. When I looked at the kit again, I was glad she didn't attempt it, as she would have been spectacularly frustrated. The kit instructions called for stranded floss, what was included was silk sewing thread.

Now, I know what I'm doing with embroidery and could make it work. The stomacher was embroidered, built, and sent down to her with enough tome for it to sit with her gown for a couple of weeks before the wedding. I'm happy with it, I think I did a good job.

But not having stranded floss meant that there's not a lot of shading to the flowers. Sewing thread cannot be divided into smaller strands, to be blended with other colours like stranded floss can. So the flowers are a bit blocky.
Am I making sense?
My current embroidery project is entirely my own devising. I'm using linen as the ground, and silk floss for the embroidery. I designed the pattern based on extant pieces. The embroidery itself has shading, because of the stranded floss I have. I'm really enjoying the project and can't wait to see it finished, I'm really proud of it, and will include the process in my studio exam coming up in the Spring.

Currently my reading has been about how we can use the creation process in our research. It's a bit like preaching to the choir, as that is how I work out how things were made in history, by making them. But it's really nice to see philosophy to back up what I have done my whole career. Making samples, full sized projects, writing about what I've done, looking at how my reproduction differs from the extant, make another, test the theory, and then watch the thing as someone wears or uses it.
A Forbes article from last year describes this process as 'Learning through doing', "this learning technique was used heavily by craftsmen to train their apprentices. It was a perfect fusion of do-it-yourself wherewithal and immersion learning"(Craig, 2015). The author laments that this form of education has been transitioned into a method that is more formalized in the way we learn in mainstream academia. I'm wondering if the tech world is simply laying out their trial and error process, with the culture of updates and patches to fix the tech they sell, for all to see. Something that craftsmen of the past kept hidden from the public through the apprenticeship process.

And maybe that's really a good thing.

Why yes, I can roughly draft out garment shaped directly to cloth, it comes from my years of training. I know the shape of the pieces almost by heart, I know where the measurements need to be laid out. I'm sure that many of your grandmothers could do this too, having had a similar experience of time, and learning from mistakes that you never saw. This does not mean that what I do it 'easy' or less valuable. There are things that you do that I struggle, tech.

So maybe what I'm really getting around to is, try that thing that you want to make, but don't expect it to be perfect that first try. And maybe, just maybe, think about how much your time is worth before trying to undersell that craftsman you want to buy that product from. Could you really afford to spend your time perfecting that craft enough to make that beautiful thing?

Think about the actual time spent in learning that skill.

We all deserve to live comfortable lives, to be able to pay our bills, to buy groceries. Everyone's craftsmanship has time behind it.


Chachra, Debbie. 2015. "Why I am Not a Maker: When Tech culture only celebrates creation, it risks ignoring those who teach, criticize, and take care of others." The Atlantic, January 23: 6.

Craig, William. 2015. "What is 'Maker Culture,' And How Can You Put It To Work?" Forbes: Entrepreneurs, February 27: 4.

Friday, 13 October 2017

the material culture of pickled beets

The last couple of years, I have been canning in a bigger way than much of my adult life.  A lot of this is due to me not having a full time job. When I was working, this would be a very busy time for me, as I took in all the historical costumes that had been issued out for the year. I would be basting kilts, mending dresses, more laundry than I could shake a stick at.

I'd come home in the evenings exhausted.

When I was working full time, we ate a lot of quickly cooked meals, usually while snarfing a loaf of bread due to our 'very busy lives' and not eating well during the day. I've noticed that since I've been home, more or less full time, between classes and such, we've begun to eat far more healthily. And I've begun to can my own preserves.
This was something my mum taught me how to do when I was a kid. It was always cheaper to buy things in bulk and make our own, and we grew up poor. Our freezer and can cupboard got a work out. Spaghetti sauce, chili, this thing with ground beef, tomatoes, spices and rice, and canned goods were mostly of the fruit and vegetable kind. As I got older, and we were able to visit the farmer's market, I just made more and more. Moving here, with the market less than a kilometre's walk, I can a lot.

I understand how privileged I am to live in a place where the hundred mile diet is a reality, and it's actually far cheaper to can my own stuff than to buy from the grocery store. There's no such thing as a food desert in the Montreal region.

Today, as I processed 15lbs of beets for the winter, I was thinking about how privileged I am to be able to can goods in this century as opposed to the eighteenth century. Things that I take for granted today are many. So I thought I'd write about my morning, and compare it to the daily chores of my eighteenth-century counterpart.
I started the laundry, in a machine, where I could control the heat of the water, and whether is was given an extra wash cycle or not. I could also just pour in the detergent, not having to make my own. I buy that in bulk too, and thanks to very modern ideas on skin sensitivities, that detergent is dye, scent, and many 'p' words free. I sorted the darks first, because Pierre is getting short on undershorts. These happily went on their washing way while I went back upstairs. My work on that task done for the moment.
I then set my beets on to boil. There was no drawing of water from the well, I simply poured water in from the tap to cover. I'm also on 'city water' so there's no worry about my well running dry at the moment. There was also no lighting a fire under the pot either, I simply turned a knob to the desired temperature. While the beets boiled, and the laundry churned, I drank coffee and knit, and listened to a podcast of a lecture from Yale university.

Think about that for a moment...

My coffee came from a machine that automatically turns itself on in the morning, and makes the exact same pot of coffee every morning. In the Montreal region, I was able to listen to a lecture on the American Revolution from Yale University, several hundred kilometres away. I was able to sit and knit while all of this was going on around me. Chores that each would have taken days to do by hand.

Then as I was processing my beets, I realized that a simple thing like the jars and snap lids I use are different from those used in the eighteenth century. Snap Lids! That one invention alone has made home canning so much safer than even 150 years ago! Probably even just 75 years ago. My grandmother still would fill the top half inch of her jars with wax before sealing with the lid, and there was no boiling the product after it was canned to further seal it in the pressure canner. It was more like do the best you can, and then hope for the best. In the eighteenth century, things were processed differently, and a pickle, like my beets would have been stored in a crock with a wax seal. But more to the point, most of my processing work is peeling the little beets. I don't have to make the sugar, I don't even have to scrape it from a cone. I pour it from a bag into the saucepan. I pour my vinegar from a big jug I also bought at the store. No making my own vinegar or verjuice either.
In between, I wipe down the kitchen periodically with clean, white paper towel to keep the dust and condensation down. I change the laundry over to the dryer, start a new load. And I continue to listen to the next lecture from Yale in the que on my iPad.

All in all, I've had a busy day. But my morning's work would have taken a week to do in the eighteenth century. I also can because we like the taste and texture of my beets over those bought in the grocery. It's cheaper, tastier, and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I'm not canning to preserve the harvest, worrying about whether we will have enough to eat in March and April...though it is a running joke in our house whether we will run out before next fall and have to resort to eating store bought.
And I can look in the cupboard and think that if we are posted and move before the end of the winter, I can take everything with me. Unlike many Loyalist women, I don't have to leave my hard work to someone else to find.

Yale lectures on the American Revolution: 'Who were the Loyalists

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

striving for the common, Authenticity? or Historical Accuracy? Which term is best used?

I have done my time making pretty dresses to wear to make me feel pretty. I think many young women go through that phase. I have a closet full of silk gowns that I will never wear again, that will become evening wear eventually, to be worn at the mess. Right now, I'm far more focused on the common woman, what she wore, how she worked.

Why? Mostly because standing around looking pretty in a silk gown bores the life out of me. At an event, even more so. I can't even knit in a silk gown. Standing around looking pretty is all you can do, and that smacks of patriarchy to me.

Our historical personas achieve far more accuracy when we don't fall far from our actual lives. The white lie we tell while in historic dress is far more easy to keep track of when it's our actual life, but in a historical setting. My persona is a loyalist woman, married to a man who may have once been in the military, he certainly has that aire about him, he may have been a sailor at one's best not to ask him, just let him sit by the fire and make coffee. After a drink or two at the evening tavern, he may open up a bit more about his past. Me? I watch people and knit socks, or repair clothing items brought to me. I dress in fairly common clothing, I'm not afraid to get them dirty. I sit on the ground, or a tree stump, or a box. I drink beer.

This is my actual life, as well as my historical life. Not that difficult to keep track of.

In my modern life, I am watching how people move about their days because I was taught to be a people watcher. I'm also writing a PhD in the humanities, which is a department that is all watching how people interact, with society and with each other. My focus is on the living history community, on living history programs at museums and historic sites, and the clothes we wear while performing those programs. I enjoy looking at the why behind the clothes we wear, who we are and what our influences are play a large role in what we wear.

So where am I going with this?

Well, there's also a huge debate over how problematic the term 'authenticity' is, especially with regards to how it is used in regard to living history. I struggle with it, because we are not, could never be 'authentic' eighteenth-century people, we live in the post-post-modern age. We are influenced by things that were unheard of in the eighteenth century, and we cannot possibly know what it would feel like to be those people, as we have not lived those experiences. Even the current refuges crossing the border into Canada at the same point as their eighteenth-century counterparts have had different experiences. They drive to the point of crossing, they carry tiny computers in their pockets that allow them to stay in contact with the world, and there's nobody currently shooting at them, or hunting them through the 'frontier' of New York state. Once they arrive here, they are treated with a semblance of respect as they are 'processed'. A far bit different than the eighteenth-century loyalist following the same route. I can study the two situations, using one to help me to better understand the other. But that's as far as it can go, really. Hoping for a better understanding.

And it's that hope for a better understanding that sets many 'progressive' living historians apart from the run of the mill re-enactor. Artur Hazelius (1833-1901), who founded one of the very first living history programs in the world, Skansen open air museum, Sweden, "believed that material culture could be understood only in terms of its cultural environment" (Anderson, 1986, p19). As progressive living historians, we strive for better understanding through the use of material culture within the context of it's cultural environment. We aren't in search of simple 'fun', rather, we find the fun in understanding our forebears more through the making and use of that material culture in those environments. We are passionate about it. Recently, on a Facebook conversation, it was noted, "if any event deserves to be portrayed with respect shown to historical accuracy, with participants showing up dressed and equipped correctly and no liberties taken, surely this should be one of them" (name withheld to protect the conversation participants*). I believe that each and every event held at a museum or historic site deserves this level of attention. Our understanding of the lives lived, and possibly lost, deserves that kind of respect.

To think otherwise, shows a complete lack of respect, honestly. If ignorance of the law is frowned upon in modern society, ignorance of history within the living history community should be frowned upon as well, especially if you are invited to attend a living history event by a museum or historic site. Don't get me wrong, an event announcement 'is' an invitation to participate, and so, should be considered with respect. When you walk on site, you represent the museum or historic site, and so should strive to put your best foot forward with regards to the material culture you wear and bring with you. Everything. If it is not historically accurate, to the very best of your ability, leave it at home, or maybe find a private event to bring it to.

We have collectively learned so much about historical material culture in the past 30 years, there really is no excuse.

*There have been quite a few Facebook conversations over the past week with regards to levels of historical accuracy of kit being seen at living history events this year. Each and every event deserves the same level of accuracy as the one considered with this quote. The person speaking, summed up my thoughts on all the conversations I was privy to. It's been a frustrating week in my head, as I formulate my thoughts into a cohesive argument. We will never be authentic eighteenth century people, but we can, and should, strive for historical accuracy so that we can better understand those people who came before us.


Anderson, Jay; Time Machines: The World of Living History; American Association for State and Local History, Nashville 1986

Monday, 2 October 2017

Not simply going for a walk

This summer, I have been desperate to get on with some living history.  Pierre and I day tripped over to Prescott Ontario for the event there, and met some great folks, but it wasn’t enough. I’ve had too much thinking going on in my head and needed to make some sense of it. Back in August, I thought about making a trek, from Saint Jean to Fort Chambly. I mentioned it to Pierre and then started planning.

The route we would take followed the mighty Richelieu River, the same path that the Loyalists would take during the American Revolution. This, coincidently, is a similar path taken today, by displaced Haitians coming into Canada looking for safety from the current administration in the US. All of these folks are coming up the Champlain valley to the Richelieu. In 1777, those Loyalist refugees were then marched up to Sorel on the Saint Lawrence, and then shipped east and west and out of Quebec.

We are being much nicer to the current refugees.

Pierre talked us out of doing a full 20kms walk, and instead we began our trek at the north end of Ilse Fryer, where there is a lock bridge on the canal. Friends from Nova Scotia and Ontario joined us in our little excursion, Joy and Ted McSwain, and Lynn Griffiths, respectively. We all spent the month and a bit thinking about what we, as Loyalists fleeing from the lower colonies, would bring with us. I set up a Facebook group to plot our thoughts and to include those who couldn’t join us in the endeavour. With friend Kate Waller joining us in the research from her library in New Brunswick, we spent a lot of time thinking about the material culture brought to Canada by Loyalist settlers. As we would be walking, without a cart or wagon, we needed to determine what we could carry on our backs.
The day of the trek got closer, and my main concerns were shoes, and the heat, as we were in the midst of a late summer heat wave. But I was excited.
Our friends arrived on Friday afternoon and we started packing our gear. In total, it took us about an hour to find things we wanted to take with us from various hiding holes around the house, and pack it up for the journey the next day. It was important for me to time this part of the exercise as well, as many people in the period, left their homes in a hurry, some with only the clothes on their backs, others with a bit more warning. Pierre and I each carried a blanket, rolled up like a soldier would carry. Then, in our pack basket and snap sack, we packed my china tea set, two changes of body linens and socks, my sewing kit, my knitting bag, two small copper boilers which held our redware mugs, food and water. My plan to use the wooden cask didn’t work because it didn’t swell enough to be water tight. Instead, I filled a plastic water bottle and we packed it in the snap sack surrounded by Pierre’s extra shirts so you couldn’t see the outline. Pierre carried the basket, which weighed 28lbs, I carried the snap sack which weighed 12lbs. With gear on though, he weighed close to 38lbs and I tucked in just shy of 30lbs extra from our modern clothing. Lynn carried a similar weight to Pierre, she had with her a set of pewter spoons, her most valuable possession. Joy and Ted had smaller bundles tied up in market wallets and their bed rolls. Ted carried a non-functioning musket, borrowed for the day from a gentleman in New Brunswick, to represent the type of weapon he would have carried in the era. Pierre’s weapons of choice were his sailor’s walking stick, boarding axe, and a knife.
starting off, 20kms/hour, HA!

We set off, following the canal path about 10am. I was trying to regulate my breathing, as I was tightly laced in my stays. Joy wore her lightly boned jumps, which are similar to her stays, but with very little boning. Lynn wore stays as well, but was a ‘loose woman’, meaning, she didn’t lace them very tightly at all. My gown won’t fit me unless I am tightly laced. Joy’s gown has a bit more flexibility. Lynn wore a bedgown, which is a very loose garment, cut in a T shape and worn as ‘undress’ for working in, similar to our modern sweats. Pierre and Ted both wore breeches, waistcoats, and work jackets. Pierre had on his 18thC shoes and stockings, Ted wore modern boots with knee high gaiters to disguise them, as his historical shoes are really painful to wear. Joy and Lynn both had on their historical 1.5” heeled shoes, where-as mine were common flat shoes of the period with just a half inch heel.
We were all able to keep up a good pace of walking. Here are Pierre’s stats for the day:
Total distance walked 9.71km.
Walking time, excluding breaks 2h 23min.
Total time 3h 35min.
Average speed 4km/hour.
The last kilometre was the toughest, as I had developed blisters on the balls of my feet, and Joy was having issues keeping her ankles straight as she was getting tired. Pierre and Lynn walked on ahead so that they could then drive back and get our other vehicle at the starting point. Ted stayed with us as we made our way slowly into Fort Chambly.

walking into Chambly

Things that we learned along the way…
We could, and will do this again, possibly next year. The Loyalists would have probably also walked about 10kms a day as well, as gleaned from various snippets of sources, though if pressed, they would have walked longer. They were in a ‘walk or die’ situation at times, we were not. They may have been hunted by rebel gangs, indigenous warriors, and quite possibly militia groups as well, as the corridor along the Champlain valley was hotly contested during the war. Those Loyalists would have had a further 5-6 days walk on to Sorel, after a more than 10 day walk from their original starting point.
We stopped for breaks, but not long. We sipped water, but didn’t drink the whole 4 litres I brought, possibly only about a litre between the five of us. We only ate an apple each, and didn’t touch any of the food we brought until we got home afterwards. That’s what we had for supper that night.

a quick break

a quick rest

We were tired and sore, but not overwhelmingly so. This surprised me, given the age of our group. I was the youngest at 46, Joy, Ted, and Lynn are all old enough to be my parents. I’ve also been sitting in a chair for the last two years, and not exercising much at all.
The snap sack was great for carrying the water jug, but through my body out of alignment, so my hips have been sore. I doubt I would have felt the weight, had I been carrying it on my back in a pack basket instead of on my side. We will be looking at different ways of carrying water over the next few months, and switching out to more period appropriate water containers to each carry, instead of one person carrying all the water. What we had worked in a pinch though, and we didn’t have to remove the jug from the sack to pour water, so that didn’t ruin the vibe.
Pierre and Ted will be getting new shoes soon. Pierre was walking on the ends of his heel nails by the mid-point of the day. We discovered that he’s worn off one complete layer of the heel. He was surprised his feet didn’t hurt more though, as he was without his modern orthotic insoles as well. Joy may look into a shoe with a wider heel. She was wearing American Duchess shoes, and was doing quite well, but more stability is required.
I need to properly dress my hair to give my silk bonnet something to purchase on. My hair was fairly flat to my head, and the bonnet slipped forward a lot of the day and was annoying. I’d also like to line my bedgown in cotton or linen, so that I can wear it as an extra layer for warmth. I had it with me, but didn’t use it. Lynn brought her short cloak, but was trying to figure out how she could wear it with her pack basket and still have it as a usable garment. She decided to pack it as well, and went without. It was only about 15C during our trek, and a bit chilly when we stopped moving. I ended up putting on and taking off my knitted mitts several times through the day.
So, for winter projects, we will be looking into shoes, finishing off some unfinished kit, like my bedgown, Pierre’s new frock coat, building water containers. We will also be getting Pierre’s new prescription put into his glasses, so that he can wear them for a full day without giving himself a migraine. I’m also interested in buying my own copper kettle, as the ones we brought with us were borrowed from our friends Jenny and Jayar Milligan. I will also be thinking about weaving proper, historically accurate wool blankets, and building a second pack basket, possibly from the grape vines in the back yard.

And getting into shape for next year, where-ever that may be.
South bound view of North bound Pierre and Kelly

Pierre sticking a bundled up sock under the strap of our snap sack

Kelly, Lynn, Joy, and Ted

The view we had of Pierre most of the day

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Are you a Maker?

Ah, material culture, isn't it wonderful? Look around your chair right now and examine how much material culture really clutters up our lives. I'm currently sitting at my computer in my office, the piles of material culture, books about material culture, samples of material culture, ugh, it overwhelms!
Now, look around yourself and think about how much of that material culture you have made, yourself. Me? There are four knitting samples, that's it. Sitting in my office, facing my computer, I can see just four little knitting samples that I have made myself. Behind me there's more, in the closet, but of ALL the material culture sitting in front of me, my hand has made just four little samples.

Think on that for a bit, go grab a coffee if you need to. Contemplate your coffee mug, where the beans came from to make your coffee.


I'm asking you these things because within the profession of Living History, there is an overwhelming feeling that we must make every piece of material culture we use. Every. Last Piece. And in the 'progressive' side of things, for many, we feel that every piece we make must be as perfect as we know how to make.

To this, I say hogwash!

I've been faced with overwhelming feelings of not being good enough of late. For various stupid reasons, I'm sure. I don't think I am alone in these feelings though, as I see random snippets of inadequacy (feelings, not founded in any factual thing) from time to time in my friends feeds on the book of faces. I'm writing this post to remind myself, but also to let you all know that you are not alone.

I have a theory that this 'can do EVERYTHING' attitude comes out of the whole 'homespun' propaganda put out during the American War for Independence, and then the early 19th century. I'm reading a book on the history of Pictou County Nova Scotia at the moment, written in the 19th century. In this book, the author goes on at length about how the Scots who settled there were completely self reliant, making all their own clothes from flax and wool produced on the farm. He informs us that most folk went without shoes, going barefoot in summer months and wearing moccasin-type footwear in winter months. Since the author hasn't cited any sources at all, it is an interesting read, but I have to wonder how much is being made up, 'tradition', if you will? How much of this narrative is actual fact? I have read enough newspaper ads from the period to know that in many small ports and communities in Nova Scotia, many types of goods and material culture were available for purchase, including cloth and shoes.
There are interesting snippets in this book though, worth following up through primary sources. And maybe, people were self reliant in some things. In the meantime though, I'm going to pish-noosh that little devil from my shoulder that's telling me that I have to make every last item of material culture I own, and that those items all need to be absolutely perfect. I'm going to drink my store-bought coffee from the mug that my friend Hugo made, that I paid for by making him a pair of breeches. I look forward to the flame-stitch piece from my friend Laura that I will stitch into a wallet for myself, knowing full well that I absolutely suck at counted work embroidery. I will probably make Laura a pair of stockings in return. I sold a pair of shoes to another friend, which the proceeds were then turned around to buy another pair of shoes from Burnley and Trowbridge. And while I am a weaver, I'm looking forward to buying the linen cloth to make Pierre a new shirt.
Even in the 18th century there was an economy of goods being traded and purchased. To think otherwise is foolhardy and crazy-making.

a snippet to follow up on...
January 1775 at Pictou
population: 23 men, 14 women, 21 boys, 20 girls (78 total)
produce raised: 269 bushels wheat, 13 rye, 56 peas, 36 barley, 100 oats, and 840lbs of flax
livestock: 13 oxen, 13 cows, 15 young neat cattle, 25 sheep, and 1 swine
manufactured: 17,000 feet of boards
Not all of that was to be used within the county, much of that lumber was for export. One wonders what sorts of goods the people of Pictou county imported?


"History of the County of Pictou, N.S.";

Sunday, 30 July 2017

an emersion day

We are planning a trek, from Fort Saint John at Saint-Jean sur Richelieu to Fort Chambly, about 20kms north on the river. We will be wearing our eighteenth-century clothes and packing what a Loyalist would have packed on a trip north to the Canadas.

Currently I am preparing my kit for the trip. This was something I had started doing for the possibility of going to Williamsburg this summer, but now with a focus of walking instead of town living. My shoes have been a long standing issue for me. Firstly, I want something that is historically correct. I wore ladies military oxfords for years, mostly because that was all you could get. I then bought Fugawees, and hated them, not for their look, but for the way they made my feet and legs hurt so much. That's the second issue I have been having with shoes, pain. I've now gone through two pair of Fugawee shoes, different styles, and can't say I've liked either pair. I won't be throwing more good money down that drain.

A couple of years ago I bought a pair from Loyalist Arms that have been great shoes. No pain at all really, and they are lovely to look at too. Unfortunately, my feet have spread again, and they've become too tight. Getting older sucks, but the alternative sucks more, so I will deal with the arthritis that comes with aging. It doesn't help much that I wear high heels almost exclusively.

So I'm now again on the hunt for shoes. Yesterday, we met a local shoemaker that could make me a pair of shoes in time for our hike at the end of September. We are going to drive up to his studio in a couple of weeks to meet him again, have him measure my foot, and pick out some leather for new shoes.

I'm excited!