Friday, January 28, 2011

16th Century Backpacks

I’ve been thinking a lot about period storage techniques. Last fall when we went to pack up camp, we had piles and piles of stuff that somehow Stephen managed to cram into our trailer and the back of the pickup truck. It was tight to say the least. We not only haul around our stuff, but we’ve got most of the guild owned items, a few tents belonging to other people, and a human sized, Medieval Dunk Tank belonging to the Sheriff Bracken Show. As I sat there on top of the piles of stuff in the back of the truck trying to attach the tie downs to keep it all in place I thought about how it was a good thing that all of our bedding  was in garbage bags because it was easy to squish, but that it was definitely ugly.

In the weeks after our final 2010 pack-up we talked about the spring Connecticut Renaissance Faire show and the fact that we would probably be participating for only one weekend, the one that includes school day. One of the issues with doing only one weekend is: school-day weekend is in the middle of their run. We would not have a dress-rehearsal weekend during which we could set up. Worse, the school day is the Friday that starts the weekend, so if we wanted to set up ahead of time we’d have to take two days off the work week that week. Unless we set up while the faire was open. Well, we’re a traveling military unit, of course we’d show up in town and need to set up camp. We don’t have a wooden cart, and quite a few of our items are transported in big plastic tubs, but if we could get the tubs out of sight before the gate opened in the morning, then came in just after opening carrying as much as we possibly could, we can certainly set up all the tents, furniture, and cookfire in period-correct methods. In fact, it kind of sounds like fun!

This past weekend we had our guild winter meeting to discuss how things went last year, and what we want to do for next year. We did not get an entirely enthusiastic response to the plan of marching in and setting up camp in-period, but enough people thought it sounded good that it seems we’ll try it in May.

With that in mind, one of the tasks that I’ve set for myself for over the winter is building some more period-correct bags for all of our bedding. I really want to get rid of the garbage bags. Most of the Kampfrau woodcuts show women on the march with big cloth bundles on their backs, which would mean that we could still squish our bedding into the small spaces when they are in the back of the truck but they could sit around camp looking period, or even better, enter camp on the backs of one of our guild members. I’m going to try to make them out of a coated (waterproof) canvas; it might not be period, but I am willing to compromise in order to have dry bedding. I have been studying woodcuts since the fall specifically looking for the ways those backpack/bundles are put together. So far I have found a few examples that look like fairly contained bundles, that are all strapped together:

These images come from The Curious Frau website. There is an interesting woodcut on the Brown University website. You'll have to go there to see it though.

Anyone want to help me figure out how to make a bundle that would look like the woodcuts? Read this entry on entry page

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When is a cabbage not a cabbage?

Not too long ago Deirdre Larkin of the Cloisters Museum (part of the Metropolitain Museum of Art) wrote an article on the cloisters blog, The Medieval Garden Enclosed, about Medieval colewort and kales which are part of the cabbage family. Since the Germans are well known cabbage lovers, and I spend a lot of my time reenacting Renaissance German I was delighted with the article, and intrigued with this part:

"Vegetables have changed far more since the Middle Ages than the medicinal plants or wildflowers grown here at The Cloisters, and it is more difficult for us to represent them accurately. The brassicas have changed the most. Our large, tight-heading cabbages do not much resemble the small loose-leaved medieval colewort." 

But today I was reading  Food in Medieval Times  by Melitta Weiss Adamson. Adamson had this to say about cabbage:

“Of European ancestry, cabbages were originally headless, and were eaten by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Not until the first century B.C. do we hear of headed cabbages that may have been cultivated in northern Europe first. In the Middle Ages the headless kale, or colewort, was a staple food of the Scots, while headed cabbage was favored by the Dutch and Germans. Other varieties belonging to the cabbage family that were cultivated in medieval Europe, especially in Italy, were cauliflower and broccoli. Headed cabbage was usually boiled or made into sauerkraut, as it still is today. The fact that in Bavaria cabbage was eaten three to four times a day, as one sixteenth-century physician tells us, illustrates how important a foodstuff cabbage was for the common people. In the upper-class cookbooks, however, cabbage is rarely mentioned. Not only did it lack exclusivity, it was also thought to generate melancholy and cause nightmares. Its one redeeming feature was that it was considered an antidote to drunkenness. Cabbage juice with honey was recommended for people who had lost their voice, and cabbage leaves were used to dress wounds."

Now I’m confused. One is saying that in Medieval Europe the cabbage head as we know it had not yet been developed, the other is saying that certain cultures did have cabbage in head form. Although Food in Medieval Times was printed before the Cloisters article (2004) all of the sources listed on the article are much older (the newest is 1999.)

There is a good chance that the problem is in the huge timeframe covered by the term “Middle Ages” and in the large geography covered when one says “Europe” so they could both be right! Now I want to know: when and where is the earliest documented head of cabbage? When can we safely say that most of Europe had some form of cabbage that formed into a tight head? And which came first, cauliflower or broccoli?

Read this entry on entry page

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quilted Petticoat: Cheater Project

Yup. I totally cheated. I feel very bad about it, but I came up with tons of reasons to justify the cheat, the most important of which may have been that I've been wanting to make myself a quilted petticoat since I first learned about them in 2002, and I have not yet been able to justify the time and effort to actually make by hand an entire quilted petticoat. But I love them! I even bought a beautiful gold silk about five years ago then two years ago cut it up in order to make one, but I chickened out after the fabcric sat around for another year so I made a plain skirt and several sleeve linings out of it instead. I figured if I finally plucked up the courage I could take the skirt apart, and quilt the fabric then put it back together. This is still a possibility.

At the beginning of December I began thinking Colonial again. There is a 12th night ball that a local militia group puts on that was so much fun last year (and was the reason why I made the gold silk into a skirt last year.) The plan is to attend again this year, and possibly do some other Revolutionary War events as well. I've got most of an outfit already. Actually, I've got most of two outfits, but what I needed to complete either one was a proper set of stays, and what I wanted most was a quilted petticoat.

I consider myself an intermediate sewer, but there are some things I have not yet attempted. I've never made anything that is boned. I'm more than a little intimidated, but in order to get a pair of well fitted stays I could either have them custom made at some expense and time, or I could attempt them myself (Stephen promised to help.)

With one big new project in front of me I really did not want to attempt two big projects, and the petticoat is not totally necessary since I have other petticoats. Also, there is an easy cheat. Not a perfect one, anyone who looks closely will be able to tell. Earlier this month I went to Homegoods and bought a quilt. A white cotton quilt, probably quilted somewhere in Asia using child labor. I cut it in half, took apart the side seams and stitched it into a tube. I put a waistband on it, and I've made myself a quick quilted petticoat.

I really like it, but I have not worn it out into the LH world yet.
I'm really hoping this is not going to be one of those projects that gets me all sorts of excited, then I wear it out once and am too embarrassed to wear out again. I guess we'll see what sort of reception it gets, and what sorts of events present themselves over the course of the coming year.

Next, on to the stays!

For examples of period Quilted Petticoats, I recommend Larsdatter's Links. You can also find Stays there! Read this entry on entry page

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review: Dancing in the Streets

I first read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy a few winters ago. There was a certain something that drew me to the book, though the details slipped away. When trying to figure out why I love Living History so much, and what drew me to the renaissance faire, I’d often circle around the bookshelf, and pick up Dancing in the Streets, but could not determine what I might have read that specifically talked about living history. When I wrote up my initial bibliography of books published on the subject of Living history, I wanted to put this book on there, but could not come up with a good reason why. Serves me right for reading a book while answering the phones at a temp job I was holding at the time. This time I listened to it on unabridged audio book.

Ehrenreich wrote Dancing in the Streets after writing a book on “the dark side of human collective excitement as expressed in human sacrifice and war.” In Dancing Ehrenreich delves into the human capability for collective effervescence, and communal ecstasy. In doing so she covers a lot of history: from Ancient Greece, through Rome, early Christianity, the European Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation and Industrial Revolution, 18th and 19th Century colonialism, the invention of the modern military, African diaspora cultures, Fascist Italy and Germany, modern spectator sports and more. More importantly for me, in talking about the history of collective joy, Ehrenreich talks about singing and dancing, about rituals, and about pageants. Folks who talk about the history of historical reenactment, about Renaissance Faires, about Living History, generally have to go back to pageants.  Ehrenreich devotes several chapters in the middle of Dancing to the Medieval European carnival as a reminder of an earlier era when Europeans of all classes engaged in spiritual dances, and collective celebrations. Carnivals and pageants are fairly closely linked in Medieval Europe as forms of celebration. I have found so little written about the history of Reenactment, that a well written account of carnival pageantry is appreciated.

As a reenactor I’m often looking for convincing historical accounts of mindset and behavior in earlier periods, and Ehrenreich’s anthropological take on an ephemeral subject like expressions of collective joy really stuck with me. Ehrenreich is quick to point out the limitations of anthropology and of psychology, and ranges over a huge amount of historical ground, but does so in a manner that is easy to follow, and fun to both read and listen to.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of western thought, anyone interested in knowing how communities have come together in the past, in learning about the thoughts behind celebrations of so many different times and places. This is a cool history book. Read this entry on entry page