Monday, October 9, 2017

Positive Mental Attitude vs. the Authenticity Dragon

Today I got a healthy reminder of one of the reasons why I left my former time period.  You see, I was wildly enthusiastic, totally in love with the era, and utterly miserable.  I was wrestling with a dragon, and didn't need to be (see? she has that thing totally under control - "why did you stab my dragon dude? He's on a leash & everything!").  So, I left.  I found my tribe.

Paolo Uccello 1470 St. George etc.

But George does not have to fear the Authenticity Dragon!  George can make best friends with it given the right venue, support, and opportunities!  So before poking at the poor beast, hop off your horse & let's see how Dragon Obedience Class works out.  (if you want to, at worst you'll get eaten).  Sit Boy.

I'll frame this in context of historic clothing, but it can really apply to anything

*Do research your persona.  Follow the evidence and accept it, and do your best to represent that faithfully.  (This obviously only applies to persona-based aspects, not everyone has/needs a persona, and you totally don't have to pluck your forehead hair).
- Don't try to bend the evidence to fit your original idea.  Please do not be Cinderella's Ugly Step Sister hacking off her own toe to make the shoe fit.  Forget the Prince.  Get some practical shoes in your size, then go out and showcase your natural leadership and management skills.
*Do MAKE A LIST.  Seriously, write it down.  Garment name, materials, color, patterns, special details.
- Don't wing it.  This is always a bad plan, and you won't be happy with the results.  Ask me how I know...
*Do shop for the items on the list.  Stick to the list!  Dyeing stash fabric is acceptable, do it.
- Don't deviate from the list.  No improvisation. 
*Do Follow the plan.  Stick to the plan.  All the way to the end. 
- Don't Change your mind mid-cut.  You will forget, it will be a tangent, and you will not be happy with the results.  Ask me how I know... like literally this week I deviated and I'm mad about it because it's going to make the next step harder.
*Do Own it.  Own it big-time.  Own the triumph and the terrible disasters.
*Do Learn from your mistakes and move on. 
- Don't be afraid to cull horrible the things you've made.  We all make mistakes, sometimes costly ones.   
*Do better.  Always strive for better even in small ways.  This doesn't mean 100% accurate, it just means push the bar to improve each time as you need to and are able to.
*Do make sure your awesome is being shown in the right venue. 
- Don't get upset that someone doesn't appreciate your awesomeness if it doesn't fit in with their vision of what it ought to be (I know, this is hard).  I mean, yeah, you could feed them to a dragon, but honestly you're more likely to be eaten by it while tying them to the post, especially if you never completed Dragon Training 101 ("Sit Boy!  AAAHHHH).

IDK how well my analogies worked, but the whole point of this is to make life easier and have fun.  We love our hobbies, and our hobbies ought to love us back.  Seriously, if you aren't happy in a given venue, go find a place where you will be - there are a gazillion different groups all doing different and wonderful things while wearing spiffy historic fashions to lesser or greater degrees of accuracy.  I adored the 18th c., but I did not adore tourists and historic inflexibility (among other issues).  That is not the goal.

Here are just a handful of mega-awesome venues to rock your historic socks off:
SCA (yay!), Adrian Empire, Legio, Renaissance faires, pirate festivals (aarrr), fairy festivals, scads of Norse stuff, various LARP groups, English Civil War Society of America, American Colonial Militia Units, National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation, George Washington balls and colonial dance groups, Colonial frolics, Jane Austen dance groups, War of 1812, American Civil War, WW1, WW11, steampunk, and far too many others to list.  Some have loose rules, some are curated - read and follow the rules so everyone can have fun - if you don't like the rules, play elsewhere (yeah, I know).

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sew It!

One of the common questions asked by women in reenacting, living history, etc. is "how do I do my hair?" because this is so very different from post-1920 hairstyles and techniques.  A variety of hair products have been used through the ages, and you can look those up (prepare to be grossed out, but don't look at the ingredient list today either).  Without delving into chemistry and alchemy, one of the simplest things you can learn to do is sew your hair into place.  A nice blunt needle with a big eye and wool yarn that matches your hair color will be your best hairdressing friend.  I promise it doesn't take as long as you think it will once you get good at it, and it is worlds more comfortable for many of these hairstyles than bobby pins are, and looks much better than neon bands.  Sewing also works great for medium length hair that may not otherwise stay in place.  This is an excellent way to add fake hair to enhance your natural assets (I bought all my own hair with all my own money).

"But how do I get it OUT of my hair?" you may wonder.  Sometimes you will have to carefully cut some knots if it is a complex style, sometimes it's just a matter of pulling it out a little at a time.  For the simple braid tips, I pull the hair up and out of the wraps.  I do not try to save the yarn.  I will caution you against imbibing too much while wearing a complex style unless you have a sober assistant to help you out at the end of the evening, or you don't mind going to bed looking like a 14th c. effigy.

There is a great You Tube tutorial series about sewn hair and historic hairstyles by Janet Stephens, and it is well worth your time to check out her channel.

In The Beginning

The year is wrong in the first, it was 2013, one of a batch I did before I had my son. 
The latest was finished a few days ago, for a very dear friend.

Many stories start with "in the beginning" or "once upon a time" or "a long time ago in a land far far away."  It doesn't much matter what the story is about because that introduction sets the scene for something ordinary that becomes something great.  If we were telling an epic tale about art or craft, it would probably begin with a small child living in a humble cottage, standing at the knee of a master craftsman, and then growing in beauty and skill over the years.  Some of us were that child, learning our art from the time we could walk.  Some of us come to art later in life.  No matter the year of life, there is always that point where you decide to begin.

A long time ago, before we came to the world of the SCA, I was a decent artist.  I practiced a lot, dedicated myself to pencil and paint, learned, taught others, and did a fair job of living the life of a young working artist.  Things happened; adventures can be dark and life changing, and I turned away from that for many years - living as a seamstress in a time not so long ago.  More adventures and sadness, and life circled around again, and I found myself sitting at a table with paper under one hand and a brush in another.  It had been a long, long time.  I made blanks for a while, just painting the borders for others to fill in.  Somewhere in that second beginning, I became very, very ill and my recovery took a while - and is ongoing in many ways.

Trying new things became an important part of healing.  Calligraphy had always terrified me.  Not only did I not understand the pen/nib/hand relationship, but it was too much like math.  I had neat handwriting, but the idea of magically transforming that into art was hugely intimidating.  Through a trick of bad weather, I still have my first calligraphy attempt for the SCA.  I like the piece, and like a first yarn, or a first weaving, I have kept it as a reminder of where I began.  I can see the road stretching before me, but not where it leads or if it ends.  Right now it is the journey that matters most.  I have good and bad hand days, and there will always be more to learn.

While that is a very short and highly edited version of my story, the moral is this: to be great at something eventually, you must begin.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Spinster, Shepard, Sheep

I don't have a spindle problem...

Pole distaff
I don't use this one much anymore, I've switched to the tiki-torch version as it holds the fiber better.  It is incredibly easy to make.  Get a dowel and one of those little decorative toy finials from the hardware store, drill a hole in the dowel, glue the finial in and tie a ribbon around the end.  Then you can dress the distaff, etc.  If I were to do this type again, I'd add a toy wheel down the shaft to help hold the fiber. 

For the tiki torch cage distaff (thank Lois Swales, go check out her You Tube channel Missing Spindle), get a package of tiki torches, remove the canister, soak the end in a bucket, bend it out around a ring (usually comes on the torch itself), secure it, and then bend the ends in, and secure those.  Methods of securing will vary, I used floral wire and cotton string.  Neither of these are historically accurate, but they are fast and they work.  My next distaff will be proper and have a stand. 

Pre-1600 sheep breeds that may be appropriate for spinners and weavers trying to recreate extant textiles as closely as possible.  I cut off at 1600, though I did try to list the early date in the other column.  Columns are read vertically as mostly separate elements, with a few exceptions.  Be aware that this is a work in progress and not very well done.  It is also imperfect by nature of both the author and the sheep.  The breed characteristics may have migrated over the years as the purpose of the sheep have changed.  Crossbreeding also impacts wool quality, as does climate and feed.  This is only intended as a starting point to guide in wool selection when presented with heaping piles of delicious roving and fleece.  On a personal note, I LOVE spinning carpet wool.  I adore it.  I need to learn to make carpets. 

On a side note, I have seen mentions of angora rabbits being in England in the 1500's, but no solid references regarding this.  I would love to know if they are SCA period - I vaguely recall a night of insomnia reading about QEI and banning the export of the live rabbits, which would rock my fuzzy fingerless gloves off, but I have not been able to find it again.  The most solid reference in Europe is from the mid-1700's in France. 

Parchment, maybe?

This was a multi-year project, and ongoing as the one hide has yielded quite a few scrolls so far.  I may finish it off with the peerage scroll coming up.  I have had a great deal of help from other SCAdians across the country in parchment-making theory and techniques now, and hopefully after the next 2 major projects I will be making new, fresh parchment with new, fresh deer hides.  I'm determined that my ducks will be in a row for the next round, and it won't be such a comedy of errors. 
Original parchment maker or leatherworker scudding hides.

Yeah, that got left a bit too long... smells kinda bad... but it's fine!  It's fine.  This is fine... until it broke the poorly constructed frame and I gave up for a few years.
But needs must, and never fear dear reader, the deer did not die only to be consigned to the gut pile (poor sheep hide, RIP).

While mistakes were made, it is usable, and I've been delighted to use it.  You can read more about the misadventures of the 1st Not-quite-maybe Parchment here.  While we didn't manage the highest quality product, it is lovely and nicer to work on than perg or hot press in many ways. 

If you ever have the chance to work on parchment or vellum, I highly recommend trying it... making it is for the few, the brave, the ones who don't mind smelly dirty icky mucky hard work.  It is an animal product, so be conscious of your recipient's sensibilities, but for the historian who appreciates accuracy in materials, this is a good way to go; even if you just purchase a small amount to experiment with.  Try it with a feather quill, you won't regret it. 

I get the biggest kick out of the thorns in this hide.  Couldn't have been terribly comfortable for the deer, but the history geek in me is utterly delighted at the botanical, biological and artistic aspects, and how that information is still preserved in manuscripts of the past. Genetic tests have revealed calf, goat, sheep, several kinds of deer, and I'm dancing in impatience to know if the finer vellum was shaved down or if it was something like rabbit.  It appears, like today, nothing was wasted.