Sunday, October 31, 2010

Three Little Spirits

I grew up in a home that did not celebrate Halloween. I did, once, when about ten years old, attend a Halloween party. I dressed as a gypsy in a swirly pink dress, sheer shawl and lots of bangle bracelets and jewelry. But that was it, besides the occasion when my brother and I draped ourselves in dark sheets and blankets and crept outside the house, to knock on the front door in hopes of getting some of the candy my parents inevitably bought for potential trick-or-treaters.

David, on the other hand, always celebrated Halloween. When we had children, we didn't really plan on what to do. The last five years we have done nothing. Which was fine with me. This year, though, we thought we'd try trick or treating and dressing up in costumes. If Halloween is a day set aside to honor the dead, why not choose a great person who has left a great legacy to honor? Sure, there are some horrid things people do to celebrate this day. . .but no worse than what some people do to celebrate the holidays of Christmas or Easter.

We decided to portray characters from a great book we all have enjoyed, written by a great man. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens seemed a perfect choice and a great way to kick off the coming holiday season. With a few days to throw some costumes together, I scanned the book for ideas. In the end, we dressed as (of course) Ebenezer Scrooge, Ebenezer Scrooge's one-time fiancee, and the Ghosts of Christmas.

First off, here is our Ebenezer. David wore his flannel nightshirt and wool nightcap and carried around a brass candlestick and beeswax candle. Scrooge likely would not have had a nice candle like this - knowing him, he'd have gone for Cheap - but it gave a nice appearance.

"It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing gown and nightcap. . ."

Wanting an excuse to wear my regency attire (which I rarely get a chance to wear these days) I dressed as the woman whom the young Scrooge was engaged to marry. Those who are familiar with the story will remember that this young lady released Scrooge from their engagement once she realized what the love of money was doing to him.

According to the book, she was a "fair young girl in a mourning dress: in whose eyes there were tears. . ." Since in the Victorian era purple/lavender were considered mourning colors (though I do not know if this holds true for earlier years) I wore my lavedear and gray striped regency gown. I added the circlet of flowers and the sash for a more festive look.

Now, we have our Ghost of Christmas Past. This was Malachi, who wore Judah's white linen tunic, trimmed with yellow roses and with a red taffeta sash with the ends trimmed with gold tassels.

"It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh holly in its hand; and, in singular contrast of that wintery emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers."

Next is the Ghost of Christmas Present. This outfit was the really the only one requiring much effort since I didn't have anything else that could be used. David got the position for the reason his hair is the darkest of the three children and the Ghost of Christmas Present is described as having "dark curls".

"It was clothed in one simple, deep green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. . .and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreathe, set here and there with shining icicles. . . .girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it." Having to use what was in my stash, I chose a dark green/blue brocade. I made a simple T-tunic garment and trimmed the sleeves and neck with fake white fur cut down from an old Christmas stocking. The wreathe was some wire bent to shape and covered with wound bias tape; I attached a holly flower and some white clear beaded fringe as icicles. He wore a leather belt and an empty knife sheath as his scabbard.

Last is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which was portrayed by Judah. I also had to make this costume but it was very easy - a big rectangle with rounded corners with a hole cut in the middle for his head. I used a dark gray sheet, and the pillow case that matched was used for a hood, which I sewed into the head opening.

"It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand."

We went trick-or-treating up and down one dead end street in town last night. This evening we took them to a mall where we walked to the different stores. David carried his candle-stick and smiled and greeted passersby with a heartfelt "Merry Christmas!" :P

Suprisingly, many people knew who we were portraying. Last night we even found out that news of our portrayals had preceded us in the neighborhood we visited! The boys got too much candy but with it rationed out to a few pieces per day, it will last a very long time.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mens Medieval Undies

David and I finished up his medieval undergarments this week. I measured, cut and sewed and he suffered through measurement and fitting sessions and kept me company while I worked on finishing seams.

His underwear are a bit more involved than mine. Not only a shirt, but braies as well. These are made from a square and rectangle method and are extremely basic. Still, I did make a mistake with his braies and they ended up way too huge at first. I had to shorten them by a good six inches and take in 8 inches in girth before David was happy with them. But, at last, they are done. Both shirt and braies are made from 5.3 oz bleached, softened linen from David reports that this linen is quite comfortable. It is a pain to iron though, so, I just won't iron it. :P Rumply linen will be just fine.

The shirt is exactly like my smock except the neck is not so wide and there are no gores for extra width at the hem. It ends about mid-thigh on David and the sleeves are more loose than mine are. The braies were a bit more difficult to figure out because it seems there are at least several ways to make them that I have so far come across. Some seem more authentic than others but in the end, I went with what David was most comfortable with. These braies are similar in shape and fit to the boxer shorts he wears as loungewear at home so he said he will wear them. Several other styles we discussed he said he just would not wear! They are insanely simple and consist of rectangles for the legs and a square gusset for the crutch area. The gusset has some elasticity so when David put the braies on he can roll the casing a few times to get the characteristic padded look, and the gusset stretches to support, well, the stuff that guys need support for. Quite nifty. The top has a casing for a drawstring and slits over each hip where he can attach the ties that will hold up his hose. The instructions I based these off of had a rope used for a drawstring but David thought that would be uncomfortable so I made a flat, wide drawstring from a finished strip of blue linen for the belt. It is about 1" wide. Some sources that depict 14th century braies have colored belts, so I thought the blue linen would not be too far out of the ballpark.

Here are some of the sites that were instructional, inspiring and helpful!

Chausses and Braies (I used this method for making Davids braies)

Men's 14th Century Clothing (pattern here for braies similar to the ones I made)

Recreating 14th Century Braies (some cool ideas for two different styles of braies for transitional clothing)


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Mock Up

There is not very much to report on since last week. The children were all stricken with an illness (runny nose, cough, etc.) over the weekend so I did not get any sewing done. We stayed home since we thought the boys would get worse if we camped in the windy chill at the last Civil War reenactment of the season. We had pizza, watched all three Lord of the Rings movies, had lots of tea with honey and on Sunday celebrated little David's 4th birthday with an outing to the park, traipsing the wooded trails (we did 3 miles!) and a big white birthday-cake with white frosting and 4 slim candles. Malachi walked almost half the trail and when he got too tired, I carried him on my back in the sling I made for him as an infant. A versatile, long-use and very cheap piece of baby equipment!

Yesterday I did get a little sewing done. Or, rather, fitting. I decided I didn't like all the wrinkles in my last bodice mock up so I pinned out most of the wrinkles as excess length and lengthened the bodice more to fit the length of the torso better. (That makes sense, right? Shortening the bodice and then lengthening it?)

I cut the new mock up from the brown linen I will use to line the bodice of the kirtle. The result? Quite smooth. The linen has the perfect amount of give and I am very happy with the fit now. There is a slight wrinkle over my right hip but I think that is because that hip is a little higher than the other. It is quite slight, so I can live with it. Plus, once the gores are put in at the sides I think the winkle may go away entirely. I did cut the neckline a bit wider since taking this photo, to get a more boat-shape to the neck.

I will use this as the actual lining and now am ready to cut the wool. I want to wait til I get the right thread though, so today will work on finishing David's underclothes - his shirt and braies. If the boy-O's cooperate! Lately I have been able to sew very little since it seems they KNOW when I'm not actively overseeing their pursuits and so they use the time I am occupied to wreak havoc in the house. I have decided that keeping them out of mischief is more beneficial to my sanity than sewing anything. ;P

It is a beautiful, COLD autumn day! Have a blessed week dear friends!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Medieval Lady's Smock

I put in the last stitches for my 14th century underwear today. The smock took only a few days to make and now that it is finished, I can fine tune the kirtle mock up fitted overtop of it and start the gown at last.
And there ya have it, folks. The underwear of a 14th century lady. As Edgar Allan Poe so poignantly put it (although in reference to a tapping), only this and nothing more.

I made mine based on the square cut method. I used a big rectangle for the body, two triangles on each side for the width at the hem, two rectangles narrowed at one end for the sleeves and squares for the gussets. It actually took me longer to cut this out than to sew it together. Because this fabric does not tear, I had to pick out individual threads to mark the dimensions and cut along the line the removed thread left. Can I say tedious? But it is done now and I am happy with the result though I wish I had made the smock a bit longer. It is currently mid calf length but I think a few extra inhes would not have hurt anything. Oh well. No one will see this, anyway.

Last fitting for the kirtle tomorrow, hopefully!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Constructing The Kirtle - Step 2: The Fabric

Thanks to everyone who had advice and tips for me on my last post! I am working on getting my shift/smock complete and making a mock up of the sleeve and then will baste the sleeve in and try the mock up on one more time to make sure of the fit before I cut into my wool.

I have also decided to forego the linen kirtle, at least for now. Thank you for your advice on that as well. I think the wool will hold up much better anyway.

So, after fitting the mock up my next problem was my fabric. I had 8 yards of a beautiful wool/silk blend fabric that washed up very prettily, with a slightly fuzzy surface. The problem was the color - a light tan. Skin tight bodice + skin colored fabric = a very uncomfortable Sarah and a husband who won't let her out of the house. I spent a loonng time trying to decide if I ought to dye the wool a different color or just buy new wool. Frugality won in the end, and I decided to try to dye the wool.

My last dyeing experience was not successful at all (overdyeing an already-constructed 1860's style dress). The dye came out splotchy and uneven. It was a failure. It was hard for me to actually dye the wool when it came to the point. I didn't want to ruin it. I prayed about it and spent about an hour on Sunday night heating water, standing over a steaming washing machine and agitating the fabric in the dye for about a half hour before giving up hope and letting the cycle finish and plopping the wet fabric in the dryer. I had no idea how it would come out.

Much to my suprise and thankfulness (why I am always suprised when God answers my prayers?) the fabric came out splendidly. The dye was even and clean and the color was almost exactly the same color as the linen I had planned to get for a linen kirtle - a pretty blue-green. The wool is a few shades darker than the linen sample, but still! I'm very pleased. I used 1 box of Rit dye, dark green, and 1 box of Rit dye, royal blue. I dissolved both packets in 4 cups of hot water and agitated it in the hot-water-filled machine before adding in the wet, warm wool fabric. The color came out very soft and muted since I used the 2 packets to dye 5 yards of 60" wide wool.

Now; another question for you experts. To line or not to line? I do not really want to fully line this dress but am thinking I may need an extra layer of fabric for support in the torso area. Has anyone done this? How does it work? My wool fabric is a tad stretchier than the sheet I used for the mock up. I have some sturdy and tight woven dark brown linen I could possibly use to line the torso. From what I've read, linen was only blue, cream or white in period but this would be hidden anway and seems a better choice than cotton. What to do?


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Constructing The Kirtle - Step 1: The Mock Up

Having procrastinated too long already, I decided this morning that I needed to do something creative and start work on my 14th century things. I am starting out very simply with a linen smock, wool hose, and a kirtle. I am not yet sure what kind of overkirtle or cote (the terms are quite confusing to me still!) I will make yet. But first things first.

Having looked at quite a few different sites and read about different methods of making this basic, supporting under-dress I took bits and pieces of advice from different places and put them together to make my initial mock up. I'll share some of these great resources as I go along.

I started with a big rectangle of fabric from a sheet and cut a hole in the middle for my head. Then, keeping the center front on straight of grain, I began pulling and pinning and cutting til I had something that looked like it was starting to work. I then took the basic rought shape of those pieces (front and back) and smoothed out the lines and averaged them up. That was used to make a second mock up which fit pretty well, but still needed a bit of fine tuning. The 3rd and last mock up is pictured here.

My question to you ladies is; what do you think? I am not exactly sure what level of fitness I am going for. I know the bosom has to be supported but how tight does this dress need to be? Right now, it is fairly tight but does not feel confining. I am so used to wearing corsets, though, that tightness does not really bother me. It is very tight just below the bust line and for a few inches down the torso. Then just above the hips it begins to flare out. The pattern stops at hip length since from there I will just make it a rectangular shape to the floor and add gores as needed to get fullness in the hem.

There are some wrinkles under the bust and some at the waist from time to time. I have heard from other costumers that this is normal. I really don't see how I could get a supportive garment totally wrinkle free without the use of boning or cording of some kind, so are the wrinkles here okay? After all, the only thing holding me up and in is fabric! :P

How about the neckline? Is it too low? Too high? (I don't want to go any lower!) too shallow, too wide? Too scooped?

Aghh!! I'm so excited to finally be starting this dress but am so nervous I'll make a dreadful mistake which will render it unwearable.

I hope to have some progress posts in the next week or so. My next step is dyeing some wool to make this dress in. The current colour of the wool is very nearly a flesh color and I think I want something a little darker, for the sake of modesty. We'll see how the wool ones comes out, and then I will make a linen one. I got my fabric samples from and found exactly the color I wanted. :) It's a lovely pale blue-green-grey called "Meadow".

Any and all input and constructive criticism on the fit will be extremely welcomed!



Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Era for Living History

Over the past month and half or so, David and I have been slowly working our way into learning more about other reenactment organizations in our area. The 1860's is "home", to both of us, but it gets monotonous after a while. We looked for a Rev. War group, but to no avail. At last, we did find a local group that reenacts Medieval era activities and festivities - the SCA.

For me, it was like returning to my first love! Although I have never participated in the SCA before, my first introduction to living history was spectating at an SCA event which happened to be the same year I also attended my first Civil War reenactment. I was thrilled by the costumes, the accents, the gallant courtesy. The very smell of the air was different, the people seemingly busily employed in their demonstrations and persuits. The tents were festive and colorful, ladies with magnificent gows and rich trimmings stepped lightly over the grass, their trains skimming over the ground. Mysterious gentleman with sweeping cloaks and dark hoods silently glided along, magicians and story tellers entertained groups of eager listeners and fighters clad in padded doublets and chain mail prepared for the trounament while the king and queen, resplendent in their finery, looked on.

A few weeks ago we contacted the Baron of Illiton and went to our first SCA meeting. When we walked in, some people were busy making Viking style shoes. We spent a few  hours visiting and talking to people and asking hundreds of questions and we both left in a glow of satisfaction and excitement.

In the meantime I was busy researching clothing of the era. I really had very little idea of where to start, so I owe a ton of gratitude to Sarah at A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle, who answered many questions, gave me great advice and places to look for information. Now that I've spent a few hours each day the past few weeks looking into 14th century clothing, I think I am getting an idea of where to start. I have come across so many fabulous websites that I am so eager to share with you all, and hopefully will as bit by bit I begin on our clothing.

I've been working on building up my scanty stores of linen and wool, since those two fibers seem to be the best choice for working attire of the 14th century. I have ordered from Fashion Fabrics Club, and and think I have most of what I need to make things for David and the boys and I. Fashion Fabrics Club was a bit of a disappointment since the 5 yards of blue linen I ordered from them turned out to be something like aida cloth - suitable for cross-stitch embroidery but not clothing. :( I was very pleased with the linens I got from and so hope to get my kirtle linen from them. . .as soon as the samples I ordered arrive and I decide on a colour. :) Hopefully today.

The Medieval Tailors Assistant by Sarah Thursfield was recommended by Sarah of A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle and my copy finally got here yesterday. It is full of helpful information on how to select proper fabrics, hand stitches, diagrams for patterns for gowns, kirtles, tunics, doublets, undergarments, children and baby clothing and headware. I have been persuing it in my spare time and am so glad I got this very useful and informative book.

So - things may be taking on a bit of a different look in the coming weeks and months. Soon our Civil War reenacting season will be finishing up for the year so I will have more time to devote to making our 14th century clothing. I tentatively hope to have basic ensembles for us ready by Illitons 12th Night party in January. Hopefully!