Monday, February 18, 2013

Packing Vintage

When packing for reenactorfest a few weekends ago I filled up most of my suitcase with my 16th century stuff, then covered that with my dirndl, the medieval medical tools, and stuffed my Mrs. Shapiro clothes around the edges. I really wanted one more outfit…

I have a fear, not unfounded, that we’ll fly out to Chicago but my luggage won’t make it and I’ll be stuck with no historical clothing. So I always try to stick a little something in my carry-on. This year I was bringing a leather satchel instead of my normal purse since it fit with my 1919 stuff, but it is not large enough to carry an entire outfit.

So I packed a separate carry-on: a little wicker suitcase that I’d picked up at a medieval market (of all places!) that turned out to be the perfect size for my 1940s stuff. It held my little linen pajamas that I think of as my vintage PJs; my undies, slips, and shoes (with the socks rolled up in them) went on the bottom layer, then the dress I found at LL Bean that was pretty darn close to 1940s style, plus a sweater and knitted snood. I tucked my photos of Stephen is his uniform into the lid of the case, and closed it up!

I felt very pretty good walking through the airport on my way out, but even better on the way back when I was actually wearing the outfit, so I had my red and white spectators, my little dress, I even got to keep my hair up going through security.

I really enjoy it when I am not just wearing the clothes, but have all the right accessories and daily items too. I try to match my storage devices to the time periods they contain, and the little wicker suitcase felt just right for early 20th Century.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Red Riding Cloak

Actually, it is just a 1770s cloak, made out of red wool, but since I’ve always wanted a red riding hood, I’m gonna call it that anyways!

There are definite advantages to reenacting the Revolutionary war in a geographic location where it happened. It means there are a lot of people in the area who share the interest, and often there are people willing to share. I am not massively into Eighteenth Century reenacting, mostly because I am pulled in too many different directions, but it is a real pleasure to approach the winter months with a break from my timepriod-du-jour to settle into a local favorite. This is helped a lot by a group called The Hive. A bunch of different reenactors, professionals and dedicated amateurs, get together all winter in Concord, MA to share research, talk random 18th C. topics, and give workshops to those who might benefit from their wisdom. I was clued in to the group three years ago, and am only sporadic in my attendance, but I appreciate what they do and try to get out at least twice a winter.

This year before the lectures even started, but the workshops had, and I attended a fantastic one in January. It was a cloak making workshop for both men and women, using patterns made from extant cloaks. The workshop took place in one of the historic houses in Minute Man National Historic Park, right across from the visitor center so there was plenty of parking. There was a gown making workshop downstairs, and us cloak makers met upstairs. I was really not sure what to expect before getting there, but I read all the emails sent by the instructor and picked up 3 yards of a delicious red wool (definitely more red than scarlet) that just happened to be at a fabric store only 20 minutes away from my house. The email said we could bring a sewing machine if we had to, but recommended hand sewing. I found a 100% cotton thread, got out my beeswax, and packed a sewing kit.

There were 6 participants for the workshop, including the lovely Elizabeth who got me started at the hive three years ago. There were two males, and four females, though we all paid close attention to both the men’s cloak and the women’s cloak. There was a finished reproduction of each, plus the instructor had brought along an original garment, a men’s cloak from around 1800 in a lovely purple wool with a green lining. He had patterned a number of original cloaks, and had copies of those patterns for us: two different women’s cloaks and two men’s. The patterns were exact, including the positions and depth of the gathers, any fabric piecing the original might have contained, spots for trim, it was all there. The two patterns for our gender were ours to keep as part of the workshop. Once we all decided which cloak we wanted to make we were let free to work at our own pace, though the instructor was always around to help.

One of the participants brought a sewing machine, and she flew through the straight seams, but took a lot longer pinning and pressing. One participant basted all her seams, but she waited to start until she saw how the rest of us were doing, so though she was stitching faster, she got a late start. Elizabeth made hers cape length, so she did not have as many seams to sew. I started by hand sewing one of the long body seams and got it done, but I realized I was not going to be able to get the fiddly parts of cloak done if I worked on all the straight seams first. So I pinned the other long seam but left it unstitched. 

The hood on the women's cloak was definitely the most fiddly bit. It has a lot of pattern pieces, and a lovely round gather in the back to finish it off. I cheated a bit, there was a pattern piece that I felt was pieced because of fabric scarcity instead of pattern necessity, so I taped the pieces together and cut them out of one piece of cloth. Even with that shortcut the hood was still composed of 6 pieces. Elizabeth got us all moving in the right direction by laying out her pieces and the pattern pieces so we could all tell which pieces to stitch together first.

I got through half of the hood seams, peeking at the other ladies to see their progress, then with the last two seams I just basted them so I would not be too far behind. When I switched to basting it actually made me first through those seams, and the first to look at the circle of pleats in the back of the reproduction, all arranged in a lovely circle, and try to duplicate it. It took me several times, plenty of help from the instructor and watching the other folks catch up and try it with their own hoods. It was amazing how different all the pleats on the different hoods looked just because everyone was sewing with a wool of a slightly different weight. I am still not entirely satisfied with the circle of pleats at the back of my hood, but I got them close enough to where I was fine with it, and then moved on to attaching the collar band.

The workshop actually flew by. I did not take an exact lunch break, I ate my two little sandwiches and my snacks at intervals while stitching away. Once we had our pieces cut out all us participants sat in the same room at the front of the house, full of sunlight reflecting off the masses of snow outside the windows. Most participants packed up starting at about 3:15. Those that had to drive far or had kids at home left first. Two of us stayed until 4:15 when the light was getting dimmer, all the folks from the gown workshop downstairs had left, and the instructor and park ranger were packing up. I was definitely not done, but the hood was together, and the cloak mostly together, so I packed up and took it home. I kept hand stitching on the couch Saturday night and Sunday, stitched up my basted hood seams, finished the pinned cloak seam, ironed the heck out of both halves and fitted them together. 

Then I was faced with a few decisions: lining material, closing fasteners, and trim. One thing the instructor did not tell us in his emails before the workshop was that even the thick wool cloaks would need a little bit of lining for the hood. I had not brought any lining fabric with me, but since I ran out of time I would not have been able to sew it in as part of the workshop. When all the seams were done I put it on and discovered that the hood went all pinhead around my face, shaped like a hershey kiss with all the extra around the collar weighing the rest of the hood down. So instead of going with the lining patterned on the original, I spent the week after the workshop putting band of stiff cotton around the hood opening to give it some structure.

The weekend after the workshop was the 12th Night Ball that the Sudbury Minute and Militia put on, and though the cloak was not trimmed, the hood was not completely lined, and I had to pin it closed, I wore it with pride. Now I need some more 18th C. events to wear it to!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Making New Friends

At the end of October I had a pretty horrid day at the museum. Many of the houses were covered in plastic Halloween decorations, but there were still school groups on field trips trying to learn history. I was supposed to be roleplaying in the Colonial Tavern, but in order to do so I would have had to take down a room full of fake cobwebs and plastic skeleton parts. I decided to spend my day in one of the gardens instead. It may not have been the most historical garden, but it was a heck of a lot better than being surrounded by light-up ghosts and big rubber rats. And it was, until the helicopter looking for a missing girl hovered over the museum for almost 45 minutes. It was so low I had to raise my voice to be heard. Really hard to do first-person interpretation with a helicopter hovering directly overhead.

I limped my way through the day, until mid-afternoon when a little girl came to visit me. Her family are members of the museum, and she visits all the time to say hello to her friends Mrs. Shapiro and Mrs. Aldrich. She was happy to make my acquaintance, and walk around the garden with me. We picked mint sprigs and talked about making tea. We rubbed our hands over the rosemary plant, smelled the strong scent of wormwood, and petted the lamb's ears. She admired my stitching, I admired her dress, and we had a pleasant chat until her folks said it was time to move on. The interaction totally saved my final day of roleplaying in the regular season.

On the last day of the Christmas Stroll program Kristina and I were admiring a lovely blue coat on a little girl, when she came right up to me and told me she had a gift for me. It was my little visitor from the last day of October! She and her mother had made cookies, and she had drawn a picture of the two of us in the garden on the label. I almost cried. I did give her a big hug, and thanked her before she had to go.

I have tons of cool moments as a role-player, but some of them stand out. You can't hope to have special moments every day, certainly not ones that are as memorable as the above. But one or two per season help me to be sure that costumed roleplaying is the coolest job ever.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

All The Links

I did my first solo presentation at Military History Fest (aka Reenactorfest) this year. Called "Beyond the Dress Diary: A Lady’s Guide to Social Media" I figured I'm qualified to give this talk because I spend so much time using social media to connect with others doing Living History, and I've never seen an option quite like that on the MHF/RF program. Since a program on social media must include links, and a paper handout of links seems very silly (paper and links??) I'm putting them up here. That way the folks leaving my talk only had to remember one link, my blog.

For the rest of my readers, you might find the links interesting too. I did not have notes for my talk since the whole thing was based on the screen shots I had taken, so this post may not be that interesting to read. And this is by no means an extensive list, more a couple of illustrations of the sort of thing out there in the world. I hope someone finds it enjoyable.


 • The Dress Diary

• The Sew-Along
  - The Clover Sew-Along

• Crazy Costume ladies = crazy cat ladies
    - Nekkulakko
    - Rococo Atelier

• European Bloggers

• Event Recaps
  - Reenactor Post
   - Kitty Calash

• Museums (and food blogs)

• Other various types of history blogs
  - Authors 
  - Vintage 

• Folks who attend Military History Fest

• Online businesses
   - Accessories 
   - Etsy 

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