Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Spring is the Time of Plans and Projects..."

This last week was spring break for the school district in which I work. Breaks are always a mixed blessing for me. While I love the extra time to sew and clean, I always end up falling into schedule with my husband (who works nights) which makes adjusting when I go back to work difficult.

It also seems I'm ten times busier on break than I am during a normal work week, and this break was no different. Monday, I took a trip with my friend R into Chicago for some massive fabric shopping. I ended up coming home with 49 yards of silk taffeta (29 ivory, 20 striped), 1.5 yds black wool knit, and 7 yds dark blue cotton voile.
Left: Ivory Taffeta
 Right: Seafoamish green with coraly/cream stripes

I have plans for just about everything (the ivory taffeta I've only plans for five yards of the roll. *BUT* I figured-you never know when some ivory taffeta will come in handy, right?)

I've also been helping my friend S to get together a better documented kit for her F&I unit. I'm so excited for her and she's doing such a great job! She's been coming to my house once a month or so for what have been affectionately coined "sweatshop Saturdays."  

We've made a ton of progress, so far, so I wanted to share some of what we've done. S has done most of the actual sewing, I've just done the drafting/draping and sewn some when we've needed to be ready for the next step.
S in her new stays - almost done! I took her measure
using what I learned from my  B&T 18th c. stay making
workshop with M. Hutter and we used the stay pattern
from Costume Close Up p.63. 
We boned her stays with a combination of mostly ash splint, metal at CB and a spot or two elsewhere, and some artificial baleen. S wore her stays not only while I was draping her gown, but also while she cooked supper. She said they were very comfortable and was very happy that they gave the girls a bit of a lift. =)

Draping S's gown. Gown draping was my first B&T class
ever (almost three years ago!) I've grown so much from
their classes and I still reference my notes from Brooke's class
to help me make better historical clothing. =)

We got quite a bit done on her gown yesterday, including getting the bodice fronts ready for fitting and setting the pleats in the back. All we have left is to stitch down the back pleats, fit fronts to back, drape/set sleeves, and attach skirts. All said, not bad for a day's work. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

HSF Challenge #5: Bodice (or my first try at draping a caraco jacket)

Another unconventional challenge entry for me this go 'round. I just haven't had a lot of time for sewing for myself lately. That's okay- things come is seasons and sometimes I get to sew a lot for myself (okay, well, it has happened before at least!) and other times I do a lot of work for friends. Lately I've been putting my B&T workshops to use by draping/drafting for friends.

Anyone who knows me through living history probably knows that I'm trying to set some pretty high standards for myself. I don't always make it, but I'd really like to be the best living historian possible. That doesn't mean that expect everyone else to adopt my goals and standards. (We can still be friends if your petticoat is not 100% hand sewn.)

However, I am more than happy to help when a friend is ready to go that extra step towards authenticity and wants to make the plunge into 18th c. territory. Because of this, I was so happy to help when my friend K needed an assist draping a jacket from an original of which she had photographs. K is so well researched, and is a phenomenal mentor to others in living history and I was honored to be able to try to help out (because we all know how easy it is to drape on ourselves!) This was my first time draping to try to re-create a specific original, but it was a good experience and I hope it turns out well when we finish. =) Enjoy!

We only draped the bodice portion, even though the
has the bodice and skirt cut in one. K wasn't sure how much
fullness for the skirt of the jacket so she'll piece it in on the
muslin to test it out before cutting the final fabric in one.
P.S. please excuse the badly drawn lines on the back-
you couldn't see the pencil lines in the picture so I
had to draw them in with photoshop =P

The Challenge:  Bodice
Fabric: Old bed sheet
Pattern: None. Draping to match look of original.
Year: 1770's
Notions: NA
How historically accurate is it?  To the best of our ability, it's as accurate as we can make it. K portrays a French woman, so I'm draping more to what she wants than anything. My classes have all been centered around English fashion so the French is a little more foreign to me.
Hours to complete: 1hr?
First worn: Not yet. K is taking the shapes that I draped and going home to put them together. Then we'll set sleeves when we see each other at an early event for our unit. =)
Total cost:  $0  I will say that while I went into this just to help out a friend, said friend is a lace-maker and has hinted that some lace may be in my future. How cool!

Friday, March 21, 2014

HSF '14: Challenge 4- Under it All (or how I made my friends underwear...)

This post is coming unforgivably late for this challenge, even though the items were "completed" on time. I also have regrettably few pictures. To make up for that, however, I have three items for this challenge!

First up, I finally finished a shift for one of my friend Irene that I have been working on (on and off) for some time. I'm also in the middle of completing a pair of stays for her, but (as usual) have stalled out Now that I'm to the binding. It's just not a fun part of the process. Anyhow, here's the down and dirty on the shift:

Pieces cut and ready to be sewn. I used Sharon Burnston's
article on shifts for diagram and directions.

The Challenge: Under it all
Fabric: Lightweight linen I had in the stash
Pattern: Taken from Sharon Burnston's Shift Article
Year: 1770's
Notions: Linen thread from B&T
How historically accurate is it? Full disclosure- I feel great about it's cut. I hand finished the neckline and cuffs. The hem and body seams are done on a machine. Someday I will make her one that is fully hand sewn, but right now we're still trying to get her a solid kit made up somewhat expediently.
Hours to complete: 4-5 hours? I forgot to time clock this one.
First worn: Not yet.
Total cost:  All from the stash. =D And free to my friend. 

The next "undergarments" for this challenge are a little less complete, but still worthy of posting I think. 
Some of our friends in the Illinois Brigade invited us to spend the weekend with them in a cabin. They do this annually and bring along any little projects that need done before the season starts (and because it's nice to see each other before the spring thaw!) 
Eating... which we did a lot of that weekend!
Two of my friends from the Brigade wanted stays, but didn't know where to start. I thought this would be a great way for me to put to use my (somewhat rusty) skills from my amazing B&T class with Marc Hutter on stay making to draft some stay patterns for these two ladies! I'm sold on the idea that stays are so important and well fit stays make you love your stays instead of hate them! I am definitely not as good as MH is (duh!), but he is such a great teacher and I did my best to apply what he taught us. (Shameless plug- if you ever get a chance, go to a B&T workshop. You will not be disappointed. Seriously. Do it. They have grown me so much in my living history journey!) 
Anyhow- I ordered some linen from B&T, grabbed my trusty workshop folder, notes, my copy of Costume Close Up, Corsets and Crinolines,  L'Encyclopedie Diderot et d'Alembert: Arts de l'habillement, my roll of pattern paper, and Nat's head wrap (because I accidentally left my bandeau fabric at home!) and we were off on a stay making adventure.

Taking Miss Julie's Measure. That's Irene's
shift, btw! All done but for the cuff buttonholes.

Nat showing off his project (his musket) while I work on
patterning Liz's stays.
Even though I didn't get the stays finished (or even started, for that matter) I did get through the important first step. Next will be the partial assembly to test fit before I move on to channels. It was so nice to be able to get some practice in because I don't want to lose the info and skills I've learned from class. 
The Challenge: Under it all
Fabric: Pattern paper and coarse linen.
Pattern:  Taken from Costume Close Up and Corsets and Crinolines, then adjusted to measure.
Year: 1750's/1770's
Notions: How about my notes and handouts from class? I couldn't have done this without them!
How historically accurate is it? Pretty darn accurate. I applied the techniques I learned from my workshop and referenced the original patterns in CCU and C&C and my notes/handouts from class.
Hours to complete: Taking the measure was pretty quick (maybe 5-8 minutes?). It seems to me that I remember it taking longer when we did it in class- but we were also going step by step to really understand what we were doing. In fact, I was worried I'd missed a measure or something. Adjusting the patterns to the measure was a little more time consuming. Probably about an hour or so each. Granted, we were chatting, and the second time it went a little more smoothly because I had done it once already, but overall not bad.
First worn: Not yet.
Total cost:  Just the cost of the linen ($12 yd at B&T). Granted, I have to order some of their lovely worsteds for the outer layers, now. Yum!
All in all, while I may not have finished  a lot of wearable items, I did keep the HSF momentum going and got a good start on some solid foundations for some pretty cool cats. I can be satisfied with that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"The Truth of the Story...

...lies in the details." ~ Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

There has been some discussion happening lately in the social media sphere regarding what it means to do living history. Specifically, what is the purpose of living history and why is it so important to pay attention to the details. I'd like to engage on this topic because it is something very meaningful to me, and honestly I fear what this has the potential to do to the living history community as a whole if we stay this course.

In the Midwest, at least, the living history community sometimes hardly feels like a community at all; We are divided. We reinforce these divisions amongst ourselves, using terms like stitch counter, history nazi, farb, rennie, vouzer, and the list goes on-which only further alienates us from each other. This begs the question: Why?

It seems that a large number of us have somehow stumbled upon the idea that to be engaging we must sacrifice authenticity, (or worse-that if we are accurate we do not need to be or are by default not engaging.) The fun vs the accurate. The Farb vs the Thread Counter. The machined vs the hand sewn. The lowly vouz-er vs the elitest snob. It boils down to two core values of living history: engaging and educating.

Sadly, we see these values as two opposing "sides" of living history, where one invalidates the significance of the other. Some think that to engage the public, or new members to the community, we must sacrifice accuracy. Others feel that accuracy trumps all. When in truth, they are both equally valuable parts of a whole. One part alone cannot accomplish the purpose of living history. For those of us in living history to be successful, both parts must be equally present, and I don't just mean some people who are engaging and some people who are accurate. I mean we need to have engaging interpretations based on solid research.

Living history is a way for a community of people to share history with others in a more meaningful, personal, and engaging way than any textbook could accomplish. While we may not be presenting scholarly research to the public, in order to have meaningful, informed, and authentic interpretations we must personally engage in research at a scholarly level. Research makes it possible for us to craft informed interpretations that relay meaningful information. Without this, we run the risk of misrepresenting history and living "something kind of like or loosely based on history", instead.

While we are weaving narrative, it is a historical narrative. Historical fiction author Sara Sheridan says this of writing historical fiction:
"Historical fiction of course is particularly research-heavy. The details of everyday life are there to trip you up. Things that we take for granted, indeed, hardly think about, can lead to tremendous mistakes....You've got to make an effort to get the details right, because even though ... they know it's not real, if you make a small mistake they will cease to imaginatively engage with the story."
In some ways, is living history not similar to historical fiction? Some of us portray composite characters based on a research of a particular class/profession/region. We sometimes make educated decisions when filling in narrative gaps. The key is that those gaps and material which fills them are based on a sound understanding of the given body of research available to us.

I personally take pleasure in the details and the research- not at the expense of my interpretation, but rather to the enrichment of it. Whether we are military or civilian, we are sharing with the public a little piece of what life was like in whichever time period/context we portray. The details are important. The facts are important. The ability to engage is important. The things we wear, use, and display cannot be mere props to set a stage. If we are indeed living history (like we live our modern lives) these things must be seen as authentic pieces of who we are. Just as my couch in my living room is not a prop, but a part of my home, so must the chair in which I sit at historical events not be a prop but a possession of my persona.

Believe me, the facts do not have to get in the way of a good story. In truth, they are the foundation of the best stories. Our interpretation of these facts/details brings history to life in a way that no other medium could. We are able to infuse those dates, events, or items with spices like emotion, connection, and meaning. Without these facts and details, our interpretations would be hollow and inauthentic. Without interpretative abilities, the same could be said for those dates, events, and items. Without the ability to make the facts meaningful, they will be forgotten.

Are we going to get all of the details 100% right? Probably not. Are we going to be 100% engaging in our narratives to 100% of our audience all of the time? Probably not. Should we ever sacrifice one of these parts for the sake of other? Definitely not.

Should we come together as a community to build into each other, and to positively invest in each other  rather than continue to divide, deride, and dishearten? If we want living history to survive and thrive in the coming years, I believe the answer must be yes. An overwhelming, resounding yes.

All in favor?
All opposed?