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!

1 comment:

  1. I only just read this (12/19/2013), but HUZZAH for you! I know SO WELL the cloak-making nightmare, er, experience. LOL
    I made one myself about a month ago, as I desperately needed it for an outdoor 18th century two-day event. My plan was to re-purpose an old wool shawl that I'd used back when I worked at Conner Prairie. Sure, it had a few moth holes, but that just adds character, yes?! And I have all the usual books (some with detailed patterns and/or instructions, others with none!), plus several online sources and examples, but I decided to follow the pattern and instructions in Beth Gilgun's "Tidings from the 18th Century." Although not complete in its directions, it seemed the easiest overall for my low-key/non-proficient hates-to-sew sewing abilities.
    HA! Or so I thought! It got to the point where I was re-reading everything multiple times and whining and begging for help from other 18th Century re-enactors on Facebook. I about had a nervous breakdown because of it! Finally, after finishing up the parts that I could easily do, I re-read some of the Facebook comments and BAM! all of a sudden, they made sense. In no time, it was done, it all worked, and, like you, I happily wore it for the initial event. And I've worn it for many others. HUZZAH!
    However, for whatever reason, I have NO gathers whatsoever on mine. None in the hood, none in the body. The hood (lined with left-over handkerchief light-weight linen) fit perfectly onto the neck opening (which I had obsessed greatly over! the knowing how much to cut, how deep, how wide, etc.), without the need for any gathers. Not sure why or even if it's "correct," but it looks OK. Or at least, I think. I did do the gathered opening at the tip of the hood, something that I re-worked twice (trying to get exactly 13 gathers...yeah, no, never!). And yet, in seeing other gals' cloaks, I've noticed few, if any, have done the same. I used red woven-wool tape to close it/hold it on. OH! And so many books say "no lining of the cloak body," but go down to Colonial Williamsburg and what do most cloaks have, particularly those that are waist-length? Yep, a lined main body. Ahh, well.... I'm guessing perhaps there was more variety than alot of people think?! Nevertheless, I LOVE my cloak! Wish I could wear it more often!