Friday, 29 May 2015

a few projects on the go

I went back to my new striped 'en ferreau' gown on Wednesday.  When I started the damned thing, I had big plans.  I cut the lengths of cloth down to the right width, making the seams more closely resemble the seam widths on extant gowns.  I cut my linings out of plain linen from the bargain wall ($3/metre for the win!), and got started.

Then I futzed with pleating the back on to the lining for an entire day.  I just could not get the damned thing to work.

OK, so it was a bad sewing day, at 3pm, I got up from my table and went to make supper and enjoy the evening with my family.

I tend to pleat gowns flat on the table.  I don't use my manikin for this as seamstresses in the period would not have access to a manikin, they'd have the body the gown was being made for (from time to time), and the table at which they sit to sew.  My linings are fitted to the body.  The pattern I use was made at a draping workshop I held for the ladies here in my local area.  We got together with our stays and petticoats and hip supports and draped bodices on one another so that we all have custom patterns.  I know it's going to fit, especially since I use stomacher front gowns as we time travel between the wars.
I cut my linings from this pattern, using a standard 1/2" seam allowance.  I then lay the fashion fabric on the lining and pleat it to the lining in the back, following extant pleating arrangements drawn by Norah Waugh or Janet Arnold
 Norah Waugh, Cut of Women's Clothing

I ended up having three pleats from the centre back to get it to lay flat and nicely.  This drawing was just a guideline.  I also didn't want a seam right at the centre back, so I cut that. 
Wednesday when I went back to the gown after a week's hiatus, I sat down to once again try my hand at pleating, and it went together perfectly.  On the first go.  Both sides of the back of the gown are beautiful, even, and almost like I measured out every last millimetre.  I didn't though, I just used the 'mark 1 eyeball' and it was a thing of beauty.

I stitched those pleats down quickly, lest they had a change of heart and decide to spring up and be a mess again.

The stitch I use is a running stitch, with the odd back stitch from time to time to lock the seam in place.  I go through all the layers, including the lining.  Taking as small a stitch as I can, I feel for the table underneath the work with the tip of my needle before returning to the topside of the work.

*The trick to get nice small stitches is to use nice small sewing needles.  I use #10 Betweens, and waxed silk thread.  They are a pain to thread.  Put your big girl panties on and suck it up... but it is easier if you hold the top of your waxed thread between the thumb and forefinger of your 'non-dominant' hand so that you can barely see the tip of the thread, and then with your dominant hand lay the eye of the needle on the thread.  Sharp snips will help in getting a nice crisp thread tip.  Don't try to poke the thread into the needle like a dart, you'll miss 9.5 times out of 10 and you'll shred the tip of the thread in the process.
I also use a new needle every project, sometimes a few needles over the course of the project.  I also use thread lengths that are only the length of my forearm, the thread will shred at the point where it goes through the eye, as you sew.  so don't leave a long tail.  I also only use a single thread to sew, hardly ever double thread your needle.

I also use a thimble, but you guys probably knew that already.  If you don't, find one that fits, and use it.  It will be a pain to get used to sewing, kinda like having a big bandage on your finger at first, but your sewing will improve with it's use.  It should fit snugly on the "fuck you" finger of your dominant sewing hand. It should feel as comfortable as wearing a ring, so find one you like to wear, and wear it, like all the time, even when you aren't sewing.  You'll get used to it quicker that way.*

Now that my back is pleated down, I've taken another short break from the gown.  I think I want to make and set the sleeves next, before dealing with lots of skirts weight.  A friend of mine has a beautiful sleeve pattern that I want to try.  She's tracing it for me and is going to send it in the mail.  In the meantime, I've been working on other projects.  Yesterday I made a spotty new neckerchief for Pierre, red with white spots, in cotton.  I also cut some cotton lawn mitts, and have been working on them...tiny little 1/8" seams on those beautiful things, so I can't sew for too long before my hands start to hurt.  They are going to be lovely though.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Stays, almost done...

My new stays are now finished, I put in the last eyelets in the shoulder straps this morning.  So, I figured that I would take a moment to tell you how to finish your own.

Now that all your bone channels are stitched in, and maybe your boning material inserted tightly into those channels, you can begin to build your stays.  At this point, before sewing the pieces together, I like to work the eyelets along the centre front, centre back or both, depending on your chosen style.  My latest set has lacing up both the front and back so that I have greater control on how tight I can lace them as my weight fluctuates.  I work the eyelets at this point, because working them when the pieces have been stitched together causes you to have to contend with the big floppy mess instead of just one piece.
Eyelets should be worked evenly up either side of the opening, about an inch apart.  To keep the lacing straight when you spiral lace the stays, additional eyelets are worked between the top two eyelets on one edge, and the bottom two eyelets on the other edge.  And yes, in the 18thC you should be spiral lacing, not cross lacing like an old boot.  Trust me, it is easier and far sexier.  I work my eyelets by first making a hole with an awl, not a punch, as you'll want to move the fibres, not cut them.  Then with good strong buttonhole twist, I whip over the edge of the opening tightly.  No fancy stitches are needed, and they tend to close up the hole anyway.  So no decorative "Blanket" stitch, just a simple whip.

Yes, you'll need to work eyelets before you have a fitting, so just do them now.

Once the eyelets are worked, you can sew the stays pieces together.  Be mindful of matching up the waistline points exactly or your stays will go crooked really quickly and then you'll be uncomfortable.  The tops and bottoms of the pieces will work themselves out during the binding process if you haven't trued up your pattern.  The waist points are crucial though.  I use that same running stitch then back on itself as I did when sewing the channels.  And I make sure I'm stabbing through all the layers.  You can do this part by machine and nobody will easily tell the difference...and if they can, they're too close and should be buying you dinner first.

Now, try the beastie on.  This is when you'll want to take it in if needed, mark the neckline, the length of the shoulder straps, all that good stuff.

If you're happy, press the seams open.  I usually line my stays, but if you're not interested in this, overcast the edges of your seams.  When lining, I cut one big piece the shape of my finished stays and just lay it in place.  I then baste it to my structural layers so that it stays put while I bind the edges.  My lining is whipped to the front edge, just inside the eyelets. Same with the back edge on this set.

Binding can be different materials.  I have seen bias binding, twill, and with this set I used leather.  I like to use a contrasting colour than the body of the stays, sometimes matching the stitching thread colour.  Hey your underwear should be pretty, even if it's only you that sees it.  I also don't like to spend a lot on anything for the hobby, especially if I'm making it.  So I will hunt for scraps of silk, twill tape, what have you.  For this set, I went to the second hand shops and looked for a leather garment I could cut up.  In this case, it was an ugly shrug style leather jacket from the 80s.  It did not need to remain in its ugly state of being, and is much prettier as binding.
Binding should be narrow when you sew it on.  No more then 1/4" should show on the outside.  Not only is narrow binding easier to get around the curves of the tabs, it also more closely resembles period garments and is just plain prettier.  So for this binding, I cut 1/2" wide strips, since I didn't have to fold under the raw edge.  Half inch wide twill is the same.  Bias tape, you'll need to fold under the raw edge, as it is a bit more flimsy and needs the extra stability of a folded edge.

I finished the binding yesterday, it should take you about three days of serious work to do this job.  Again, a simple whip stitch is what is needed, again, no blanket stitches...please.

Once that was done, I tried them on one last time to be sure my strap length was good, then I made the eyelets in the straps.  I use fancy ribbon in my straps, usually once they've been tied properly once, they don't need retying, so here's where you can dig out the pretty silk ribbons.

Now that I have stays again, I can continue on with my summer projects.  New gowns for Mum and I and a new suit for Pierre.  Nothing fancy, work clothes really, all in linen.  My old stays have now gone on to a new home, where they'll be altered to fit another person, or used as a template for a pattern.

I'll post pictures when I'm feeling up for dressing properly.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Stays, the construction

I always start a project with the thing I find the most difficult to do, if possible.  It's not that sewing bone channels is hard, mentally, it's just that it's a lot of work.  They are also the first thing you need to do to begin the process of sewing your stays.
I sew mine by hand, I find hand sewing to be much more enjoyable most of the time.  I'm also really trying to have the most authentic looking kit as possible, skin out.  You can sew the channels by machine though, very quickly, and nobody will get after you for it.  Mostly because so very few people will ever see your stays, since you'll be wearing clothes over them, but also because we all have room for improvement in our kit...every last one of us.

The boning you use can range from steel corset bones, nylon zip ties, reed or bents, wool or hemp cording, or in very rare cases, baleen.  Steel boning is still used in many schools, theatre houses and by older costumers.  Reed, bents, cording and baleen are the truly authentic choices for making stays.  Nylon zip ties are what I use, mostly because they provide a look to the garment that most closely resembles baleen in my eye.  I also use a mixture of nylon and cording, depending on the stays I'm creating.  I have cut baleen myself, for a corset that I made for a museum once.  I don't recommend it, mainly because of the environmental impact of creating a whaling industry again, but also because it was probably the grossest thing I ever had to do...burning flesh anyone??? yech.  Nylon I can cut with my kitchen shears.

Now, for fabrics.  Sometimes you might have to back your fashion fabric with a cotton calico for stability.  You can use 'wonder under' to fuse the calico to the back of the fashion fabric quite easily.  If your fabric is quite fine, or loosely woven at all, but you have your heart set on it, do this...OR, use two layers of canvas in this next step.

When I sew my boning channels in, I use the fashion fabric and the canvas as a sandwich (the bread), with the boning (the contents) in the middle.  I start by scribing a line to guide my stitching on the wrong side of the sandwich.  I don't personally like using a running back stitch to sew my channels in, as I don't care for the long carrying stitch on the back side of the work.  I use a running stitch, with stitches that are about 1/8" long.  Then when that first seam is done, I do another line of running stitches, same size, directly on top of the first line, to fill in the gaps and lock the original stitching line in place. 
After I've made that first, beautiful line, I cut a bone to length, rounding the corners, and stick the bone in between the layers of fabric right up next to the stitching line as tightly as possible.  Then I stitch that bone in place, using the same running stitch and going back on itself.  I stitch every bone in place using this method. * This creates a nice tight boning channel which is key to the success of your stays. *  If your method of boning has room to move in the channels, they will twist and bend in the channel and will make for an uncomfortable corset.

If you are wanting to do this step by machine, the half width of your presser foot should be wide enough for the bone channel, do some samples up first.  You want a nice, tight channel.  If sewing by machine, I will sew all my channels first, then insert my boning material.  If you want to do it one bone at a time, a close sewing zipper foot will be your friend.  My machine's zipper foot is a waste of time...

When using cording of any kind, I will also stitch all my channels first, then pull the cording through.  That way I can control the amount of cord I pack into the channel, and I don't end up sewing through the cord.

Boning a set of stays by hand will take you about a month of serious work.  By machine, you could get it done in a day of hard labour, a weekend at most.  Things to consider when you're getting ready for your first encampment of the season.

Just like when you are tiling a floor, don't back yourself into a corner when sewing your bone channels in.  Some boning will have to be inserted before you start the next row of boning, or you won't ever be able to slide it into place.  You may also need to fully bone your corset before sewing the seams together.  Figure out what is best for your set of stays and do what they tell you to do.

Have fun with this step.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Re-enacting inexpensively - Stays

I'm going to start writing about the most important garment a woman in the hobby will own, her stays.  I am in the process of replacing my own stays at the moment, and thought I'd share with you my thoughts on the subject.

First of all, they are not life threateningly painful as media and folktales would have you believe.  They are constricting, and they aren't comphy like your pajamas, but they serve a purpose, and without them, you may find yourself more uncomfortable than if you just suck it up and get yourself into a set.
In the 18th Century, stays are shaped like a big V.  The point of the V being just below your waist, usually hitting just above the pelvic bone.  They are meant to give you a smaller waist, but not as small as in later periods.  My stays will tighten up to about a 34 waist, where naturally I'm about a 38/40.  This may vary, depending on how squishy you are, and how much distance there is between your bottom rib and your hip bone.  I am squishy, but there's only about a 1" gap between the bottom rib and the hip, so I can only squish so much before my ribs would complain.  Also in this period, we see finger like tabs the splay out over the hips, greatly contributing to the comfort level of the wearer.

I drafted my own original set of stays, using my own body block as a starting point.  Several friends use the method of trying a bunch of people's stays on a new person until they get a close fit and work from there.  There are commercial historical patterns, and even Simplicity also had a fairly reasonable stays pattern recently, but it has since been discontinued, the shame.  You can also find custom corset generators on the web, or draft a pair roughly looking at style lines and go from there.  There are many ways to get yourself a good workable stays pattern.  For my new set, I already had a good fitting set, I just wanted a new pair as the old set were falling apart too badly to repair any further.  Following this cutting diagram
Free 18th Century Corset Pattern and ReviewI laid my old set out on paper, traced around the outside edge, and then marked in my cutting or style lines.  Then, cutting out the paper pieces, I marked the grain lines and boning channel lines.  There are many examples of extant stays on Pinterest, I have quite a few pinned on my 18thC stuff board, here

Now, I was also making these on the cheap.  I am still a student after all, and I have never believed in spending vast amounts of money on anything for the hobby, save our canvas.  I'm also a fan of using what you have close at hand.  It makes for a more inexpensive garment if you can buy at your local fabric and supply shops instead of ordering in.  So for this new set, my fabrics were 1m(one metre) of straight woven cotton canvas, 1m(one metre) of twill woven linen fashion fabric, both found at the local Fabricville and 1m(one metre) of straight woven linen for the lining, also bought at the local Fabricville on the bargain wall a few years ago.  I used Gutermann buttonhole twist for sewing and making eyelets.  The boning for this project was 1/4" wide nylon zip ties from Lee Valley, a bundle will run you about 35$ and make several sets of stays. And I bound the stays in leather repurposed from an ugly 1980s shrug style leather jacket.  All told, I think this project ran about 40$ in supplies, and then my time.

I have to run now, but I'll be back later with how I put them together.

Thursday, 21 May 2015


Recently, a friend of mine posted on facebook her wonderings of when in the week it would be a good time to wash her very long hair.  You see, Eliza was going to be attending an event at her local Fort that weekend, and wanted sufficient dirt in her hair to be able to style it properly, but also to give the right, not modern clean.
This is something that not many of us consider when we are getting ready for an event.  We get up in the morning of our travel day, have a shower, shave, go through our usual routines for getting ready for our modern lives.  This may include washing hair, putting on aftershave, using our regular, modern, scented soaps and lotions.
Then there's our clothing.  Yesterday, my local Fort hosted WWI commemorations.  Their interpreters were featured on the news.  They were all turned out in WWI uniforms, and even had a nursing sister along.  What I first noticed, before anything was said, was that none of them were "Well" turned out...they all had closet wrinkles, the nursing sister's apron had been obviously living on a metal hanger for some time and featured the tell tale signs of not being pressed before she got dressed.  The boys all could have used an iron as well.  They were clean, polished, but that one little thing jarred my eye.  They could have used an iron.  The same goes for our clothing in the 18thC.  Have your own clothes been hanging out in the closet for the season?  Do they have the same tell tale signs of metal coat hangers?  This is an issue when you consider that clothing would have been stored neatly in a trunk or a press.

Ok, so dirt...

Early on in my life I developed a bit of a skin condition that prevents me from using commercially scented soaps and such.  I will also develop a migraine faster than fast if I am around perfume of most sorts.  With that in mind, I will notice your axe body spray.  I will notice when you use the exact same, obscure aftershave that my brother uses (a very light, but distinctive scent), I notice when you are wearing my favourite perfume, another obscure scent that not many people even know about, let alone wear.  Another thing I also noticed early on, when people wore scents in the field, they were often chased by mosquitoes, horse flies, and wasps...seems bugs like perfume too.

Having worn my hair long for much of my life, I know that it is much easier to dress hair with about two days 'dirt'.  The grease levels in your hair will even out if you start to wash your hair more infrequently, it will start to shine more, frizz less, and your skin will start to appreciate not being stripped every day of all its moisture.  Another friend, who is also a re-enactor, started using an 18thC method of 'cleaning' her hair one year at Louisbourg.
There are new pomades and powders being developed by the likes of
who are spending a lot of time also teaching how to use these products.
Evelyn had great success keeping her hair clean at Louisbourg for over a week using this method. Not clean as we would think modernly, but clean none the less.  Dressing it every day and putting on her linen cap helped a great deal.

I personally only wash my own hair 2-3 times a week, that third time dependent on how much I am sweating.  When it's short, I rinse it in the morning under the shower, mostly to get rid of the very bad bed head I develop.  When it's long, I can often get away with just a good brushing out.


I'm one of those horrible water wasters on the planet, as I normally have a shower in the morning, and another one in the evening before bed.  In the modern world, yes, this wastes water, as the human body doesn't need to be that clean.  I use the water as a calming mechanism so that I can sleep at night.  Now, for intimate details here, I don't use soap every shower.  That can really dry your skin out, and you don't really need it.  My soap is also old school, hand made, no perfumes, no modern chemicals, you could probably eat it if it weren't for the lye.
When I'm in the field, I can't shower every day, hell, some spots don't even have showers, so it's an entire length of stay that I can't be in water.  I have a routine though.  It involves a wash basin and a face cloth.  Yes, the bird bath.  If it's cold, as it often can be here in Nova Scotia, I will even forgo the bird bath and just change my shift for a clean and dry one.
You see, when you are in the field, it's usually just a change of undergarments and socks that are all you really need.  Maybe a wash of the face and a brush of the teeth to make you feel human again.  Then a brush out of the hair, getting that back up again, and putting on my linen cap and I feel "clean enough".  Where's the coffee?


I once got into a heated discussion with a fellow re-enactor over laundering our clothes.  She would go home every night, wash everything, including her silk gowns, and shower every day and put on clean clothes from the skin out.  You could tell.  Her gowns lost the lustre that silk has, because all of the oils and natural stiffeners has been washed out.  You could smell her coming, with all the perfume she was wearing, layered from her soaps to her creams and hair spray.
People are often shocked when I tell them that the only things in my historical clothes that I wash are shifts, drawers and socks.  That's it.  And they are all hung to dry.  I only own two gowns from any period I re-enact, not a weeks worth, two.  Every morning I will put on new body linens and socks and wear the exact same gown I had on yesterday.  At night, the gown gets hung on the hook at the side of my bed, or I'll drape it over my side of the bed for extra warmth.
At the end of the event, if it's nice, I will hang all of our clothes out on the line for a day to dry and freshen up, I only wash the body linens and socks.  Then it all is stored back in the trunks for the next event.  I carefully fold and store the garments so that the aprons are folded nicely and will develop those nice linen press folds.  Gowns and jackets and such are all folded as carefully as possible so to limit the wrinkling.

When we're suffering from being house bound in the winter, we'll often open the trunks and take a good sniff, yes, our clothes will still smell of wood smoke.

In all my years of re-enacting, I have not ever laundered any of my existing gowns.  They don't smell.  This is due in large part because I use natural fibres in everything, but also because I wear my body linens and wash those.  You see, it's the polyester in modern clothing that makes us stink.  The poly fibres hold on to the sweat we accumulate and keep it, while it rots.  Linen and wool both wick body moisture away from the body and then allow it to evaporate into the air, not holding on to anything.  As long as both are dry, you will stay dry and clean.

but what about mud?

The last couple of years at Louisbourg, we've had pretty bad rain.  I will try to keep my skirts out of the wet, but mud happens.  What do I do then?  Well, when I can get my gowns dry again, I give them a good wacking with a broom handle.  It really does work.  They are not pristine, but then I don't want them to be.  They are "clean enough" though, really clean fact they usually end up just looking slightly dingy, and one of my gowns is quite a few years old now.
I sent one gown to be dry cleaned once.  Someone had spilled fish sauce on me and I felt I had no choice.  Well, that will never happen again, as the gown came back so shrunken that I couldn't wear it again...I ended up having to rip it apart and reusing the fabric for something else.  I was so disappointed.  The lesson I learned there was to really look at the 'hand washing' cycles on my next washing machine, and washing things at home, if needed.

So what am I getting at here?  We are just too clean in the modern world.  Really think about that before you get ready for the next event.  What do your clothes really look like, do they have closet and metal hanger wrinkles?  How do you smell?  Sometimes it's the minutiae that will push your impression over the top and allow you to really be in the period.

And leave the AXE body spray at home, please...

from the Material Culture Centre

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

yesterday was good, today is "hopefully" better.

So you've gone to a few events and the bug has bitten you hard.  Welcome to the crazy hobby of re-enacting, where you'll spend thousands of dollars to look like a poverty stricken refugee living in a tent...

No, wait, you don't have to.

Well, you might.

So you have your basic kit.  You might have bought it, or made it when you first started out, and you were learning to sew.  It's now the winter, and you yearn for the smell of wood smoke and gun powder.  Now is the time to dig out your kit and see what needs improving.  Many times this job is done right now, in the mid spring, just before the season begins...or has already begun.  ACK!
Look at your gear, try it on, what is working, what isn't? Does it 'fit', or does it really need to be taken in?

One of the biggest mistakes that new re-enactors make is wearing clothing that is miles too large.  Others have chosen cotton over linen or wool because it's cheaper, some still, have used poly cotton, or straight up polyester fabrics because they didn't know any better.  Did you?  Here's a great article on just that very thing, common mistakes.

I'll let you go and read that one, then I might add to it so that you have better kit for this upcoming season.

Ok, so my biggest thing is fit.  So many times I have seen people try really hard with fabric choices and hand stitching their garments beautifully only to fall flat in the fitting department.  We are so used to wearing clothing that gives and flexes with our bodies (knitwear), that when we put on a garment made from straight woven fabrics, they feel too tight and constrictive.

We need to collectively put our big girl and boy undershorts on and suck it, really, just suck it up.  Your clothes are not going to feel as comfortable as your pajamas, like ever, but you will get used to the fit.  You will get used to your historical clothing and it will begin to feel weird when you are at an event and aren't dressed properly.

To begin, the only thing that you'll be wearing that is loose is your shirt or shift, but even that shouldn't be swimming on you.  It should be long, like to your knees.  It should be relatively loose through the body, but not too big, you don't want those folds of fabric digging into your skin when you put on your more fitted over garments.  The shirt sleeves should reach all the way to your wrists, maybe with a little play, your cuffs should button nicely.  Your shirt collar should also button up nicely, if it doesn't then you'll have issues with tying your neck stock properly.  You should be wearing a neck stock, tied over your shirt collar, nice and snug.  Not all loosey goosey like on some recently released movies and TV series.  If you are wearing a lady's shift, the sleeves should be elbow length and in most of the 18thC have fitted 'cuffs'.  The neckline should be cut in line with the neck edge of your stays or gown and be finished nice and smoothly...if it has a ruffle, this should be small, of finer fabric and be whip gathered on to the flat edge of the neckline...not a draw string, bulky, ugly thing like on some commercially available shifts.
The only place that you want to have this garment really big is through the knees, so you can have lots of room to move your knees.  Your legs will appreciate you for that.

Breeches, oh, my pet peeve, breeches.  Not because I hate making them, in fact I love making them, but because so many people hate to make them and so make them badly, instead of taking the time to learn how to construct them properly, and have them fit properly.  Wow, run-on sentence there, sorry.  To make breeches, you need to construct the fall front first.  I have also found that this job is really done best by hand.  Trust me, I have tried by machine, with not the greatest results, and I've been doing this a while.  Take an afternoon and do this step by hand.  Make a beautiful fall.  Then, don't mess with it!  When you are constructing breeches, the fit is all undertaken through the inseam and the back.  I make up the fronts completely, then I make the waistbands to fit the individual, then I stitch the fronts to the waistbands.  Then I make the backs and sew to the side seams and waistband, gathering in the back waist as needed to fit into the waistband.  Then I get the new owner to put on this crazy looking skirt and I fit the breeches snugly through the inseam.  You are going to have to get over all the weird and uncomfortable feelings of being that close to his inseam.  He's going to have to get over it too.  You are his tailor, and these need to be tailored to fit.
Once this is fitted, then I mark where the knee bands need to be and finish off the legs.  The knee bands should fit right below the kneecap, not half way down the guy's calf...that drives me right around the bend.  They should be snug through the leg and over the knee, and fit nicely, cupping the knee when he bends his leg.  No 'gathered' kneeband, no 'plus-fours' in this period.  Sexy fitted legs are sexy, do it!

For women, it's wearing the proper number of petticoats and wearing skirt supports.  Also, a pet peeve of mine.  I wear three petticoats at minimum, sometimes four.  I wear one under my skirt supports, it comes to mid calf.  It is sometimes flannel, sometimes linen, depending on how hot it is.  In Nova Scotia, I'm more likely to wear flannel because it doesn't get too warm here, except in August.  But even when I went to Pennsic (a SCA war in Pennsylvania in August every year), I found I was much more comfortable wearing my wool petticoats than when I didn't.  Moisture absorbing, insulating from the heat, all sorts of good things.
I will always have some form of skirt support, even in Regency period there was this little bum roll to support the back skirts.  The skirt supports will take you from looking like a modern person playing 'dress-up' to looking like you've stepped out of a painting.  Even when I am portraying a really lower sort, I use one of my petticoats hitched up through my pocket slits to support the skirts and make it look like the period I am portraying.  If you are a bigger woman, like myself, I have found that using a bigger skirt support than your modern brain thinks is good looking, will in fact, make you look smaller through the body.  So if you are big, go big with the supports.  Don't bother with the itty bitty bum rolls, they just end up looking dumb.
Over my skirt supports I'll wear two more petticoats.  Yes, TWO! any less, and you've got far too much blowing around trying to be Marilyn Monroe, which really isn't cool when you are doing a period where your legs are only supposed to show if you're in a Punch and Judy cartoon.  I also don't skimp on the weight of the fabrics, if my top most petticoat is a fine silk, the second one will be much heavier.  This is to keep the blowing around at a minimum, but also to prevent people from seeing my skirt supports through my petticoats.  You're supposed to know they are there, but not ever see them.

Now, for waistcoats, frock coats, gowns, and jackets.  For either man or woman, these should fit through the body nice and close to the body.  The armholes should be nice and close to your actual armhole, not all big and 1980s.  Even if you are a person of size, the armhole should be as snug as you can make it.  This is for one reason, and one reason only.  Remember that silly tug that Jean-Luc Picard had to do every time he stood up from the captain's chair?  That tug was from his armhole being too big and the body garment moving around far too much.  Bad tailoring.  If the garment fits through the upper body and the armhole is nice and snug, then it doesn't matter how much you move, the garment will stay put.  No tugging, no futzing. Period.
Another thing that bothers me is knowing where your actual waist is compared to your fashionable waist.  Especially prevalent among people who wear hip hugger jeans, or their jeans down below their enormous bellies (guys, I'm looking at you, but also those muffin topped too).  Your waist line is usually around where your elbows hit your sides.  Around.  Mine hit exactly.  Sometimes you can tie a snugly fitted piece of elastic around your waist and it will find your waistline.  You really should find it.  Now, in the Revolutionary period, and to some extent the Seven Years War period, the waistline for guys is below the actual waistline, to show off your proud bellies, you wealthy men you.  For women, it is all about that waist, making it appear nice and small, so it behooves you to find out where it is.  Fit your garments for the waist, not too long, not too big, and you'll feel much more put together.
Sleeves are another thing that should fit well, especially through the upper arm.  You should also know where your shoulder point is, and the sleeve should fall from that point, or slightly higher.  Feel the top of your shoulder for a bone that sticks out just a little bit, right where your arm hangs.  That's your shoulder point.  I set my sleeves just shy of that point, in favour of the neck, to give a nice rounding of the shoulder.  Round, sloped shoulders are the key to getting this period right.  There were no shoulder pads, no big 1940s, or worse 1980s shoulders here, for men or women.  My husband has quite the shoulder line, nice and square, and I still manage to round them out in his period suits.  The shoulder seam should be nice and snug to the body, and the sleeve should have minimal ease along this top shoulder.  Scoot the ease to the back of the armhole.  The shoulder seam should angle towards the back as well, not sit on top of the shoulder.  This helps in getting a close fit, but also fools the eye into not seeing the shoulder at all.

So, in short, read that article I posted above, and then look at getting the proper fit for your clothing.  Even stuff that you've made already can be unpicked and fitted again and re-stitched.  Go do it.  make your 'costumes' into 'clothes' and have a great season.

Tomorrow I might talk about dirt...yeah, I love some good heritage.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

I graduated Friday, and am shifting gears, back to the 18thC

Re-enacting Inexpensively

Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it?  I hope to get back to this blog more often in the future.  I’ll be starting a PhD in the Fall, studying the 18thC again.  I'll be spending the summer getting back into that mindset and with that, some blog entries on re-enacting and life in the 18thC.


Last evening, we had a pretty good conversation about re-enacting, and getting started.  I have never felt that this hobby need be expensive.  Your largest purchase should be your tent, your home away from home.  But even that doesn’t have to be expensive, if you choose wisely and make timely decisions.

Ok, so where does a person start?  I have long though that the personal kit and clothing should come first.  What are the basics?  Well, looking at the 18thC, you’ll need a shift/shirt, petticoats or breeches, some kind of sleeved garment, and a hat.  Oh, and shoes, but I’ll chat about that later.  This basic kit would also work in other time periods, just figure out what the basics of dress are for the group you want to play with and go from there.

That’s an important note; find out what the standards are for the group you want to play with.  Get to know people in that group as they will be an invaluable resource.

OK, so your first step is going to be learning how to sew.  Trust me, this will make your entrance into the hobby so much cheaper and better for all around.  If you could poke your siblings with your fingers repeatedly growing up, you can learn to sew.  It’s basically poking fabric with a needle.  Just as easy as your brother’s arm, and people will like you better for trying.  Not everyone knows how to make patterns from scratch.  Even I will use commercial patterns from time to time to shorten my workload.  There are some really great ones out there and some really horrible ones.  Find out from your group which ones they like to use, they may even have lending copies that you can use.

Each group has some form of “good, better, best” dress regulations.  I am going to lay out what I think are my “good” standards.  Start off with civilian kit.  Even the military units had people who started out in civilian dress.  You can do all the drill, have all the fun and become part of your group much quicker if you start out with basic civilian kit.  And you’ll feel more confident, because it’s yours.  Start out by asking around if people close to you, ie, Mum, has any left over, natural fibre fabrics from other projects.  Do some research to see what would be appropriate for your character.  If in doubt, stick to solid colours, colours found in nature.  If nobody close has any left over bits, head to the fabric store.  Ask the ladies at the store where the bargain fabrics are kept.  Ask for help.  Tell them you need natural fibres if at all possible.  Really, trust me, it’s not just a “period, or not” issue, but also a safety issue and a comfort issue. 

Here are the rough estimates you’ll need for each garment:
1. Shirt/Shift – 3metres of White, or very pale Natural Linen, or cotton/linen blend. This garment covers most of your core body, and below your bottom.

2. Breeches/Petticoats – This garment covers from your waist down, to the appropriate length.  Breeches usually take two leg lengths, from your actual waist to below your knees.  Get someone else you measure this length.  Petticoats take three leg lengths from actual waist to ankles.  Again, ask someone else to take this measurement.  If you don’t know where your actual waist is, tie a snug elastic around your waist and see where it wants to hang out, that’s your actual waist.  Modern waistlines are way down on our hips.

3. Sleeved garments – This is without question the most hotly contested garment in the hobby.  Just take my word for it and wear one while you are in public, at all times, even when it’s hot, yes, just do it.  For men, this can be a sleeved waistcoat, that garment will take about 3metres of cloth, one for each the back and front, one metre for sleeves.  Most garments of this type would have been lined, so 3 of fashion fabric, 3m of lightweight, natural coloured linen for the lining.  For women, you can start out with a simple ‘T’ shaped bedgown, lined or unlined.  The fabric measure is roughly twice the measurement from shoulder to hip.

4. Hats and caps – Your hair needs to be kept in a period fashion and covered at all times.  Much like the debate over sleeves, just do it and don’t complain.  You will get used to having something on your head in short order and folks will appreciate your trying.  For women, little fancy linen caps can be made or bought relatively cheaply.  For men, you can start out with a simple beanie style workman’s cap until you get the funds together for a tricorn hat.  A workman’s cap can come in several patterns, the easiest I’ve found being a tube that is gathered up at one end.  The tube fits your head, and should be longer than a ball cap so that it flops over to one side.

5. Shoes (and socks) – Not everyone can afford Sarah Juniper shoes, they are the dream shoes of most re-enactors.  I started off with a simple military style, heeled, oxford shoe.  The plainer the better.  Men can get away with black dress shoes. Again, the plainer, the better.  These can come from second hand or army surplus shops.  You needn’t spend a lot of money on these, especially since you’ll be wanting proper shoes before too long. The next step up in footwear is either Fugawee or Jas. Townsend.  They will run you between $100 and $250.  They are good, basic quality footwear.  Then, you can look at more expensive, and possibly custom footwear.  That’s where Sarah’s shoes come in, at the top of the custom market.  You will get some fabulous shoes from her though, hand made in the proper technique. Socks should be either knee length or longer.  I have cut the panties out of tights, bought plain cotton knee socks, and have knit my own wool stockings.  There are many places that you can find good socks for very little money.  Get ones with really opaque coverage, and ones long enough to go over your knees so they stay tucked into your breeches cuff.

6. Eating kit – Start scouring the second hand shops.  Here you can often find wooden salad bowls that will suit the purpose for many years to come.  Many re-enactors carry a wooden bowl throughout their entire career.  Look for one that you can drink coffee from, or soup, or eat a basic meal from.  Then you’ll need a knife and a spoon.  You’ll have to do some research here, to find out what styles are suitable for the period you are doing.  Spoon shapes change over the course of a two hundred year period, as do knife styles.  Do some looking and asking around before you buy, so you don’t get left with something that doesn’t work, you aren’t happy with, and you can’t sell.

7. Sleeping kit – Again, head out to the second hand shops and the army surplus.  You’ll need to find yourself a wool blanket.  If you can find this indispensable piece of gear, you don’t need a tent right away.  You can find shelter just about anywhere in camp, or in the bush.  Most men on the march had just a wool blanket for bedding. If you are allergic to wool, line it with a plain coloured flannel sheet, white if possible.

8. Luggage – The other piece of indispensable kit, the market wallet.  Pack all your gear that you aren’t wearing on your body in this.  It is a rectangle of fabric stitched together along the long edge to form a tube.  Leave the center of this seam open, and hem, about a third.  Then place the long seam in the center of the tube and stitch the short ends shut. Roll your wool blanket up and small as possible and tie shut.  One man, one kit.  This works for woman too.

With this basic kit, you can hitch a ride to the event with just about anyone.  You’ll be fairly self sufficient with very little space being taken up.  If you stop along the way for supplies, some bread and good cheese and a bit of oatmeal will take you through most meals fairly cheaply.  Remember that most re-enacting persona, in period, would not have had much.  For the most part, they are basic soldiers or they are refugees.  Think about your kit with regards to how you would have carried it in period.  If it’s on your back, you don’t want much.  A basic civilian kit could cost you as little as $100.  Once you’ve got it down and spent a summer in the field, only then start to expand your gear.  Then you’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t, and what works for the group you’re now a member of.


Most importantly, have fun. Oh, and leave your phone and your modern wrist watch in the car, you won't need them and will enjoy the experience so much more if you really live it.  Trust me.