Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Intensive Immersive Weekend

Back in April I participated in a fantastic event, I’m only just writing it up now because it takes time for me to mull things over, and because the museum opened this month so I’ve been getting my bearings at work. But about the event: My friend Kristina and I drove out to Indiana from New Hampshire (14 driving hours, one way) to join up with a bunch of other folks who reenact 16th Century and spend the weekend in an old fort, in character, all weekend. Woah.

So this event, called: “A Soldier’s Resolution, an Early Modern Muster of Arms” was sponsored by a 16th C reenacting group out of the Midwest, who patterned their event off of the “School for the Renaissance Soldier” a long-time event out in California. Stephen actually went out to SRS many years ago and had a great time. This time only Kristina and I out of all the members of Das Geld Fahnlein were able to attend, and it was certainly a time to remember, in a good way.

Why was this event so cool? It was an immersive event: in period in character all the time. And for the whole of Saturday it succeeded, at least for all the folks that interacted with us. We were in old Fort Wayne, a working reproduction so everything inside the fort walls looked pretty good, and was usable! We slept in soldier's bunks in an upstairs room warmed by a fireplace. When packing I stuffed one of our soldier’s pallets with wool roving and quilt batting, then packed three wool blankets (two of them handspun, including this one)  and a big wool cloak which ended up staying on my bed. I packed some stuff to make our bunk room period, a chamber pot, painting of Mary, pitcher and bowl for washing. It turned out no one else in the other bunk rooms bothered to hide their modern stuff, but our room looked great. I loved stepping out on our balcony and seeing the Polish guys going at each other with swords, and the women standing huddled in their cloaks in the kitchen door.

There were probably 40 people total, which is way more folks from the sixteenth century than I've ever seen in one place. I've been to bigger events, but they covered much larger periods of time, or they were portraying American History. Folks were portraying nationalities and ethnicities from all over Europe, but that was totally period, the armies arrayed against the Ottoman Turks in the 16th Century were made up of units from Spain, Poland, France, and all over the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, some of the folks there portraying Polish soldiers actually were from Western Europe.

Kris and I were at our Bavarian best, in our characters with our accents and willing to approach every person there. I made an effort to curtsy to everyone I knew was higher than me in station, and flirt with every soldier I might make money off of. We played our roles as Bavarian cooks, and had a lot of in with it.

We did not sped the whole time playing, we spent most of it in the kitchen making food because I was nervous going in and thought we’d be better off with something to occupy our time, so I volunteered to make lunch for everyone on Saturday and Sunday. Feeding a group of 40 with historical food was new, but my experience feeding Das Geld, and cooking at the museum paid off, we made a couple great meals and helped with the fancy Saturday dinner. It meant we had something to do where we had a small group of folks to work with, and we weren't just hanging out getting bored or tempted to slip out of character. I kind of missed that we could not watch the weapons stuff more, but having our tasks in the kitchen for the first year made the event safe and fun.

We even got to take part in a little scenario bit. A few of us women went outside of the fort to take a walk, we were "attacked" and robbed, so we had to scream and yell, run back into the fort and gather the soldiers to defend us. We screamed our heads off, ran around, and got the guys all riled up and ready to defend us. They had a mock battle, a little trial, all was forgiven, then we went back to the kitchen.

Line of women at muster. Photo by Abby Gale
The other scenarios included mustering in and presentation of arms, presentation of pay, meals, and games in the tavern in the evening. The "tavern" set-up was a bit odd, there were two females in a room across from the kitchen, which had tables, benches, and snack-type food. Although we kitchen folk sometimes interacted with the tavern folk, they were mostly separate, we worked during the day and they were busiest in the evenings.

I wish we had had more time. We got in late on Friday night and had to leave early on Sunday. It would have been even easier to have that historical feeling if I'd had a few moments to actually sit back and take look around instead of spending most of my time head down in my tasks.
Serving Lunch. Photo by Abby Gale

The weekend, for me ended up being a total ego boost. I was surrounded by people I had met once or twice, or had not met before, and they could not have known what to expect, I was told going in that the event was an immersive, in-timeperiod event, and so every single interaction I had was as close to period as I know how to get. Kris and I kept up our accents, talked about how things were in Bavaria, laughed and joked in timeless ways(women can joke about the length of men's spears in any time.) So many participants told us how impressed they were with our ability to interact "in character" all day long. I won't say it is easy, but at this point in my life I'm not sure I could be any other way. 

The weekend was totally worth the drive. It was amazing to spend time with folks who do the same century as we do. Since we don't do American history as our main, the moments when we can get together with 40 other people are so very rare. Even at the museum, I go home at the end of the day, so this was a chance to be in the awesome environment over night. I got to spend time with Kris who is an awesome individual, and I got to play in history!

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Victorian Ensemble: Corset Confection

What is the main structural element in any woman’s 1870s outfit? Yep, the corset. As a gardener I did not need a fully boned one. In fact, a corded corset probably would have been better. Heck, the museum told me to just put a few bones in the dress bodice and not wear a corset at all. But as a historical costume geek I’ve always wanted one. I could not pass up the opportunity to acquire a real one.

I was too intimidated to make one myself. I knew enough about corsetry to know that I did not know enough to attempt it. At first I looked into purchasing one, but to get a real one would break my paycheck. Luckily I have an amazing friend who is a professor of theater and historical costuming, who does not mind working on her weekends off.  She even already had all the supplies. So one weekend in April I grabbed some pink fabric for the top layer of my corset and made my way across Massachusetts to spend the weekend with Brittney.

She bought a lovely bungalow a few years ago and it is absolutely darling. She and her boyfriend had waffles waiting for me when I arrived. After breakfast we went to her costume shop at the college where she teaches. She had a few previously made corsets for me to try on so we could see if we could use an existing pattern, or if we would have to start from scratch. The second one I tried on fit almost perfectly. I was amazed to learn it was based on a Simplicity pattern, but Brittney vouched for it and that was good enough for me. My goal was to make a corset that would give me the correct shape, but not necessarily a smaller waist. Not long before attempting my own I read this lovely blog post by Lauren from Wearing History and I fell in love with the idea of adding padding at the bust and hips while leaving me able to breathe in the thing.  Brittney was able to adjust the gusset pattern pieces in the bust and waist accordingly, and we were ready to cut.

Corsets are lined with special corset fabric called coutil. It is bizarre stiff, very flexible, but stiff at the same time. It is soft, but hell to push pins and needles through. We basted the whole thing in pieces before doing any sewing in order to make sure it laid in curves around me with no wrinkles and no pulling. We basted the gusset pieces together, we basted one layer of coutil to the outer pieces, inserted the gussets, then basted the 2nd piece of coutil on the inside of all that. It took all Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with us both basting like crazy to get all the layers basted, then all the pieces basted, then the edges and on and on. I admit I was not the biggest help, but I basted like anything and I hope I sped up the project at least a little.

By the time we got to Sunday afternoon I was pretty much useless but I tried to keep on gamely as Brittney started in sewing the boning chanels, the busks, and all the fiddly bits. I cut boning, but then was not able to get the metal caps on the ends, I was able to make grommet holes and pound grommets! Brittney just took off and even squeezed in enough time to add the white binding ribbon to the top and bottom before I had to hit the road and head back home. It is an amazing pink confection.

iPhone photo, but I got both the back and the front!
I’ve had a few weeks at the museum now, and I’ve worn the corset while gardening 7 days now. It is remarkably comfortable, even when gardening. I still need to add the flossing to the boning channels, but it is good enough to wear under my outfit.

Now if only I could actually finish said outfit…

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Friday, May 17, 2013

I'm a Time Traveler!

Yesterday I had an awkward encounter when I was playing Susan Dewey in the Goodwin Garden (year 1870.) This is my newest role so there are bound to be some bumpy bits while I get everything figured out, but I feel like I should have seen this one coming.

I was chatting to some visitors about the lilacs, one gentleman mentioned he was travelling and was worried he would miss his at home. I asked him where he lived, he replied that he lived in Ontario; so I said that his were probably a bit behind ours, and he should be able to make it home in time to see them as long as he returned soon. His companion mentioned the fountain so I told them that all the factories that produced munitions during the war were now making cast iron fountains, garden benches, and other pieces of furniture. They both nodded and the first one said, “I guess I hadn’t thought about it that there would be new uses for factories after the war, just like sheet metal after World War II.”

If it had ended there I would not have made a big deal about it, I am pretty good at playing temporarily deaf when visitors remark about things beyond my time. But the guy then had to get embarrassed and turn to me and say: “But you wouldn’t know about that yet.” I was still trying to get the conversation back on track but it was the end of the day and I was tired. I took a second too long to answer so the second guy took up the topic and said, “ya, we’re time travelers.”

I just looked at him. I could not think of any way to follow up on that. I tried to look all sarcastic and disbelieving but the only thing I could think of to say was, “oh really.” Not my wittiest moment. Which gave the first one the chance to jump back in.

“If you’d like any stock tips?” finally an opening! I launched in to my bit about my father’s investments and how his railroad and shipping investments had done quite well, and that mother’s garden plot had been purchased from a neighbor based on the profits from one of my father's ventures, but that my husband was a naval captain…

Ugh. There are so many ways that could have gone better, and I really should not have been floored by the “We’re time travelers” line, I get it all the time whether I’m Hanne von Reischach at the Renaissance Faire, or Mrs. Shapiro in her kitchen.

So now I’ve determined to come up with a way for each of my characters to show disbelief but still have an enlightening conversation. What would Mrs. Dewey say if talking to someone about the future? I think Mrs. Shapiro would laugh and ask if they flew to her house (there are airplanes in 1919 but they are not available for every day travel) or she might ask them when the messiah will come, if the conversation had touched on Judaism. Hanne could ask if there would ever be an end to wars or how big is the Holy Roman Empire where they come from (then be entirely disbelieving that there is not a Roman empire of any type.)

In a time of great changes like 1870 where there is now indoor plumbing, train travel, factories, telegraph, and photography I don’t know what would seem miraculous but almost just around the corner, or what Susan Dewey would see as completely outlandish and beyond possibility. I guess I don’t know her and her time period well enough yet. I better get back to my research.

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