Tuesday 17 May 2022

Dressing One's Character


Solid historical interpretation is far more than putting on funny clothes and talking about the famous events that happened in famous people’s lives. History is made by everyday people going about their everyday lives. The public wants to connect with people they can relate to…so you will get questions like ‘Who are you?’ ‘What is the job you are doing?’ ‘Why are you here?’ I would like you to consider, if Samuel Champlain was putting his team together, think of it as a Zombie Apocalypse Team, what would your roll on it be? Think about your own character and the role you would play on that team. Now, build your character and your interpretation around that person. Don’t think about trying to portray a famous person, build your character around what you, yourself could bring to the table. It will be far more believable if you can weave your own self into the historical character you develop.

When developing your characters, consider the site and its history, but also what your own natural personality will bring to the site. It’s far more than simple class distinctions or famous people. What is your own natural being? Are you naturally a type that likes to get your hands dirty? Should you be a labourer rather than a nobleman? If so, what sort of accessories should you have with you apart from your standard issued costume? Where would these items come from, self made or purchased, where? What sort of pocket trash would you have? Think about the items you use daily in your regular life; what would those items look like in the period you are interpreting?

You can teach the facts while engaging with the other sensory interpretations at the site. If you are cooking, what smells can you use to draw people in, what sounds do people hear while you work? What does the site look like around you? What can the visitor touch to understand their new environment better? If you are gardening, you can ask the visitors to help out, teaching them about 17th century foodstuffs brought here by the explorers. If you are tending to animals, you can weave the story of how Port Mouton got its name, or how woolen cloth is produced and traded. Working in the Trade storeroom, you can talk about hunting practices, trade with indigenous peoples, you can even bring in thoughts on how we saw each other differently and why. These are all things that the visitor can relate to, as they themselves cook food, tend their summer gardens, may have pets, and also notice how we treat each other in the modern era and may be wondering why this is so. They can relate to shared common history because they can put themselves in their ancestors shoes.

Here is where I am going to get into the nitty gritty of getting the visual narrative correct. When you approach the visitor in historical clothing, THAT ALONE is your first impression. You must go into every visitor experience with the understanding that they may know more about the clothes you are wearing, or the history you are talking about than you do. Please take the time to fully understand what you are wearing, why, and how to wear it correctly for the 17thC. If you begin learning how to wear your new clothes as they were meant to be worn, they will feel less like a costume, and you will have a better understanding of how your historical counterparts moved through their lives. The architecture of the site will start to make more sense to you as you learn to feel like a 17th century person.

Often, people would like to take the easy route and think that modern people don’t really know what historical people looked like. I challenge this idea and think that with enough exposure to art and media that modern people do know what historical people looked like, at the very least, they know when something looks wrong. They will notice the smallest details, like wearing skinny jeans underneath your petticoats, or white modern tube socks underneath the cuff of your trousers. And yes, they notice when your shirt is untucked, or you look like you haven’t taken the time to dress in a historical fashion.

So what will you be wearing?

Laura Ripley and I at an SCA event, Both in early 17thC clothes.

Thursday 3 March 2022

What's Up Buttercup?

It has been a while. What happened to this year? Well, in July, we moved back east to Nova Scotia. Bought the Farm, so to speak. On the Annapolis River, 1.25 acres, with a small barn and some big plans. We have a couple of housemates who we are helping to land on their feet. One short term, and the other until she gets tired of us (she owns the animals who live in the barn and give us more purpose to life). 

It's been a year of adjustments as Pierre also saw the writing on the wall and retired from the Navy after 39.5 years of service. I jumped back into the job market. I also submitted my final draft of the dissertation to committee for defense, which should happen later in April. My good friend in the HUMA program defended last week, so she is now Dr. Bowie. I think I have a solid document and body of work, so I am sure I will follow suit shortly. 

Right now, I'm getting caught up on folks tailoring projects. I am putting stuff up over on my YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRwUQnCNuZJDvGy54BJOQJA is the link to find some decent stuff. We learn more with every video, so ask questions, get me to go over things that are confusing, or just give me hell if you like. I will try to keep everything spinning going forward. My Instagram and Facebook pages get updated the most because they are so easy to snap a photo and post. Needless to say, I've been feeling a bit...narcissistic? Is that the correct word? I'm promoting myself, such as it is, the best way I can during covid. Events are starting to be planned for this upcoming season here in Nova Scotia, and hopeful we will feel comfortable enough to travel again before the big 250th events begin to happen in the US. We will see what happens as it happens...

Wednesday 19 May 2021

First Draft Done

I just finished my first draft of the dissertation and have sent it off to my committee. Just wanted y'all to know.

Monday 1 March 2021

new mitts for a common woman

 When moving recently, a friend cleaned out her yarn stash and sent me a couple skeins of sport weight Briggs and Little. She didn't really like knitting with it and knew it was my very favourite yarn to work with.

I got a brown skein and a grey skein, and knew right away that the brown skein would be knit up into new mitts for myself. The first mitts I knit up for myself were worked in a leftover bit of hand spun merino that I loved, but there just wasn't enough yarn to give me the length I wanted. They worked for a while, but this working class chick wanted longer mitts, ones that I could tuck up under the cuffs of my wool gown and wear all day in January and not mind the cold. These new mitts will be long!

Basing my knitting pattern loosely on stocking patterns, I also took the plunge (with a gentle push from Colleen Humphries) and did a backwards loop cast on and a wrap and turn process to knitting the cuff. Now that I have finally jumped in with both feet, I won't go back...so much quicker and easier than purling alternate rows!

My pattern:

Cast on 85 stitches over three needles (25, 25, and 35 on the third needle which will work the seam) (2.25 dpn) using a backwards loop cast. Knit the first row back on itself and join. Knit the second row, wrap and turn. Knit. Wrap and turn. Continue until you have a cuff of 6-8 rows or about a fat half inch.

Knit in the round, in the centre of the last needle, work the 'seam' by alternating rows of plain knit with a "purl, knit, purl" row to form a fancy twisted stitch that appears in extant stockings as a 'seam'.

After about a half inch or so of knitting in the pattern, decrease. On the last needle (the one with the 'seam') knit to three stitches of the seam, knit 2tgthr, knit one, 'seam', knit one, knit 2tgthr through back loops. Knit in pattern for three rows. Decrease four times, then knit in pattern for three inches.

Begin decrease again using same method. Work in this fashion until wrist measurement is achieved.

To increase for the hand, on either side of the seam line pick up to stiches through back loops as often as as every purl row. Once the full hand circumference is achieved, opposite the seam line, set 16 stitches aside on a giant safety pin or stitch keeper to pick up later for the thumb. Once the stitches have been set aside, continue knitting in the round. Continue to knit in pattern until the desired hand length is achieved.

On the needle that is between the seam line and the thumb stitches, work back and forth to create the point, leaving the remaining stitches on the other needles. Once the point is created, pick up stitches along the sides of the point to begin knitting the final cuff. 

Knit one full round, wrap and turn. Knit one full round going in the reverse direction, wrap and turn. Continue this for 6-8 rows as per the starting cuff. Bind off.

Pick up stitches for thumb and knit in the round for desired length. Bind off.

*You can add purl stitches to the back of the hand for decoration or leave plain. You could also add stitches later in a contrasting colour that mimics the knit stitches.

new mitts in a good brown yarn

mitts from the Colonial Williamsburg collection, OBJECT NUMBER2018-255,1&2

Wednesday 24 February 2021

In Search of Online Content: Using social media to keep your site in the public thought

Let's face it, for many of us in the heritage sector, gainful UNemployment is likely to be our future. Many of us are seeking out new ways to engage with history, but also keep abreast of life in the heritage sector. We are embracing social media like never before. Personally, I have an instagram account, this blog, a discord, twitch, youtube, linkedin, and two facebook accounts (personal and professional pages). There could be more I could jump on to, but this is what I am feeling comfortable keeping updated on a regular basis. 
That's important, keeping things updated. 
You need to be putting content on your pages. You need to stay in the public eye. Don't be worrying if it's perfect, just do the best you can right now with what you have at hand...which is likely a phone and your knowledge. Sites could be doing this sort of thing as well, with very little staffing resources. If a few or even just one person knows that it's their job to keep the social media updated, that could be their job going forward. A photo and brief blurb of an artifact, an upcoming lecture on Zoom, a pre-recorded bit of interpretation will all do wonders keeping your site in the public's minds so that when things DO reopen, people will want to come spend money at your site and visit you in person. It doesn't take much, but that presence should be on a regular basis. 
Since we have gone into lockdown, I have attended lectures, workshops, conferences. I have watched living history demonstrations, and folks in their own homes showing me how they do things. These, coupled with photographic updates of artifacts and new art projects have given me a community of people to follow and want to contact in person once Covid is through. As a few of my social media friends have mentioned in the past few days, it's important to get out and be seen, to strike new paths for heritage, arts, and the humanities going forward. Join us! Just do it!

Saturday 30 January 2021

Curtching Experiment

 Well, I took the plunge and made an attempt at the curtch!

Highland Wedding at Blair Athol, 1780 by David Allen

This was the painting I settled on to really study. It's a detail from Highland Wedding by David Allen, but other genre paintings from around the same timeframe feature a similar way of wearing the curtch, namely David Wilkie's Penny Wedding of 1818. This one worked for me though, so I worked from it.

I think her curtch is three layers. I say think, because there's no extant evidence available online anywhere...trust me, I have looked. I am working from the thought of wearing multiple layers of cap when I do 17thC living history stuff, but also veil wearing in the late medieval period, and also what/how modern veil wearing folks do. It's a best guess at this point, but it's my working theory and I wanted to see how well it would work.

I began with a forehead cloth found in the Manchester City Galleries collection Accession #2003.100/2. This one is from the mid 17thC, and the latest extant artifact of it's type I could find.

This is a tidy bit of using up linen pieces, and really could be from the scrap bin. For mine, I cut a rectangle from an old shift that I have been repurposing, and cotton 1/4" tailor's tape. In about an hour, I had a forehead cloth. I kept mine plain, without lace. The other pieces I used for my layering were my lappet cap and a square of hemmed, lightweight linen to use as the actual curtch.

I started by putting my hair up in a secure fashion to support my layers.

My bun has a cheap, dollar store hair support in it, I don't make thick enough hair on my own.

The next step was to add the forehead cloth...

I crossed the ties at the nape of my neck, then up around my bun and tied on top. Not pretty, might need a bit more fussing at this stage, I am not sure.

Then came my lappet cap, anyone who has done any late eighteenth-century living history likely has, or has seen one of these, they are ubiquitous...

So, I donned my cotton neckerchief from Burnley and Trowbridge, a gift from Laura and Angela that was perfect for this impression, don't you think? And added the final layer, the curtch itself. A large square of hemmed linen, folded into a triangle. I pulled folds from the ears and pinned with a small ring brooch at my chin, that's it, that's all for pins. Pierre played with folding my front points back over my shoulders to give two different looks. I am wearing my blue wool gown, surprised that everything still fit after a year of Covid and not being dressed.

So the verdict is, this works! It gave me the same look as the lady in the painting above, and in other genre paintings I have seen. It Did Not Move! The entire night of me moving around, cooking, doing dishes, eating, and all that. I say the experiment was a raging success!

Now to write a paragraph for the dissertation...

Sunday 27 December 2020

to Curtch, or not to Curtch?

 last night I was watching a little YouTube video* from the Highland Village in Iona Cape Breton. I won't go into how seriously wrong the costuming is, but one of the characters wearing the iconic curtch got me thinking...

Most people who study Scottish dress at all know about the curtch, and the portrait of an early eighteenth-century henwife at Castle Grant by Waitt, dated 1706.

Let's dismantle her clothing, shall we? Her bodice and sleeves are very much in keeping with seventeenth century clothing than anything that may have been worn by early nineteenth century colonial people in Cape Breton. Also, her curtch is multi layered and probably several types of caps, coifs and the final curtch. Her neckwear is also in keeping with earlier seventeenth-century styles.

When I started building the wardrobe for Mrs. McQueen, who was likely a highland woman who immigrated to North America in the last quarter of the eighteenth century with her soldier husband, I knew that this portrait would be too far out of date to be even remotely considered when reproducing the clothing items I needed. I have also been referencing another inventory of lost items claimed by another woman attached to a highland regiment to see if there were any other items that these women would have had access to while following their husbands all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

No Curtches listed.

Yes, I know about the Highland Wedding painting by David Allen c.1780, and have used this as reference too.

We can see a lady in the back wearing a curtch headdress, but again, it's a series of caps, coifs and the curtch. There is a certain way of arranging and pinning the curtch in place as well, it's not simply a triangle of linen tied at the base of the neck like a 1960s bandana. The other women in this painting are wearing caps, ribbons, and one has her shawl or airsaid up over her head. Just one (maybe) woman out of possibly five wearing a curtch at this point, late in the eighteenth century.

There are other issues with nineteenth century descriptions of women's clothing from the eighteenth century. They tend to be far too simplistic in nature, add in the notion of a 'mob cap', and we have the potential for a hot mess of costuming to occur.

I am going to play about with a version of a curtch that I might be happy to wear, that more closely resembles the art of the period than what modern people are calling a curtch. I think it will be layers of the thinnest linen that I can possibly find. Not a single big triangle of heavy linen tied at the base of my neck over a messy bun or pony tail.

and maybe later, I'll go in depth over why the 'french' and 'english' bodice should die a horrible dumpster-fire death finally...

*if you really want to watch this video..it's here

Grant, I.F. (1989), Highland Folk Ways, Routledge: London