CoBloWriMo ’17 Day 2 – Current Projects

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This will be a quick post; in a shocking turn of events, I'm not actually working on very much right now! At least not in the way of sewing – my big effort this year has been learning to play the lute. Everyone who talks to me on a regular basis has heard me go on and on about it endlessly, and my poor housemates have had to deal with living with a beginning musician. I've done a lot of vocal music in my life, but never really any instrumental music, so this has been a VERY new experience for me. I'm currently learning out of a book, but I'm hoping in the next few months to find an actual human to learn from.

I chose the lute because it was a popular instrument in several of the periods that I'm interested in – my lute is a renaissance lute, good for late 16th and early 17th century music, and lute music continued to be popular through the 17th and 18th centuries as well (though the form of the lute changes a bit – more strings, weird necks, etc). I also chose it because it will be good to accompany myself singing. AND, best of all, there are lots of period images of women of all different social situations playing lutes.

(This is my lute outfit goal – totally doable with my red kirtle, I think!)

My actual current sewing project is making myself a lute strap. It's so uninteresting to look at unfinished that I won't even bother posting a picture of it (it's literally a strip of green silk that I've been hemming my hand for AGES), but what IS interesting is some of the images that I've been looking at for research. Most of them I didn't even have to find myself – someone on the internet has ALREADY put together a page of images of 17th and 18th century lute straps. Apparently there's lots of uncertainty about how some of these straps work – how long they were, how they were attached, etc. There's evidence for both a long strap worn over the shoulder like a modern guitar strap and a shorter tight strap made of stretchy animal gut (like what instrument strings were made of historically) that could be looped over a waistcoat button or pinned to the front of a lady's gown. I'm going for the former, since the materials are more easily accessible (and I like the look of the giant bows on the bottom of the lute!).


The strap I'm working on is olive green silk, so it will probably look very similar to this one.

That's what I'm working on right now! My other current project is a new smock for my Elizabethan outfit, which I'm hoping to finish in time for my trip to the New York Renaissance Faire in a few weeks.

Until next time!

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CoBloWriMo 7 – Dream Wardrobe

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Just a quick one because I again am writing late at night right before I have to go to sleep.  These are some dream projects that I would love to do once I have underwear from every time period that fits correctly and money to buy all the beautiful silks in the world.

My ultimate dream project: Deborah Kerr’s ballgown from The King and I. It’s my favourite musical of all time and it’s the movie that gave me my love of crinolines.

Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776) by Joseph Siffred Duplessis. I love Madame so very much and while pink is not usually in my personal colour palette I would wear the crap out of it in this context.

This red taffeta and black velvet suit from the 1780s; I forget who the subject is, but the portrait is by Vigee-LeBrun

This Regency open robe made of brightly coloured sari fabric of some sort. No one’s figured out what museum this is in yet; someone I talked to suggested it might be Russian.

This 1840s chick is hidden away in the depths of the American Wing period rooms at the Met. She’s fab and I want her hat.

“Girl Reading” by Alfred Emile Stevens (1856). I really want a sheer dress; they appeal to my inner Scarlett O’Hara.

This Lepape illustration called “Les Papillons” is from La Gazette du Bon Ton. I don’t usually care for the 1910s, but this is so simple and striking and gorgeous.

1855 Archery Jacket from (potentially) the Museum of London (the way it’s listed online is weird?). I just love the idea of Victorian women doing archery. I would of course pair it with a red petticoat.

Bonus: not an outfit, but how baller is this 1876 space quilt. I want to reproduce it one day just because it’s awesome.

CoBloWriMo 4: Badge!

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We are so super legit now you guys!  The lovely and talented Carrie of Mantua Maker at Midnight has made us our own very own CoBloWriMo badge!

coblowrimo-2016

Feel free to download it and put it into your blog’s sidebar, or copy and paste this code:

<a href = "http://www.facebook.com/groups/CoBloWriMo">

<img class=" size-full wp-image-644 aligncenter

" src="https://starandscissor.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/coblowrimo-2016.png"

alt="coblowrimo-2016" width="200" height="200" /></a>

Huzzah! Longer post to come hopefully tonight, I missed Friday because it got unexpectedly crazy and then yesterday was the first New York Renaissaince Faire rehearsal which of course left me with complete all consuming exhaustion but still very happy at the end of it.

CoBloWriMo 2: Happy Things (We Should Send Into Space)

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Oh boy I do love to slip Bob’s Burgers references into unrelated things!

Anyway, today’s CoBloWriMo prompt is “Write about five things that make you happy”.  One particular thing that makes me very happy is research.  I’m a rapturous researcher – I love getting sucked into the black hole of any obscure topic that comes my way for hours and hours and hours, and then bouncing around to another topic as soon as it catches my fancy.  I’ve been in graduate school for Costume Studies for two years, which has let me research many of the topics that I’m very interested in, but it has also made me tone down my rapturous research tendencies in order to focus enough to write papers and such (which has been VERY CHALLENGING for me).  So now that school is over, I’m going to indulge my little researcher heart and write about five of my favorite random research topics!

1.  Fancy Dress Costumes

Versaille Topiary Costume designed by Poiret. 1913 (La Gazette du Bon Ton, illustration by Georges Lepape)


I LOVE fancy dress costumes.  They are invariably hilarious and adorable.  They’re basically bad puns manifested as costumes from a time when puns were the highest form of humor.  Fancy dress costumes could range in theme from famous people to literary characters to inanimate objects to vague concepts to basically anything you could think of – rainbows, mailboxes, literally anything.  You could dress up as another time period by putting a perfectly good period costume over your contemporary undergarments for an interesting silhouette disconnect.  There was even an infamous Hell costume, designed in the 1860s by the house of Worth.  Fancy dress costumes are endlessly fascinating – they give us interesting insights into the more playful side of the 19th century, which is generally (pretty much erroneously) considered to be a very repressed time period.  They show interest in progress, with all sorts of costumes embodying different fields of science and new technology – a famous Electric Light costume (that was also designed by Worth!) was worn by Mrs Vanderbilt at the Vanderbilt ball in 1883.  There’s also an interesting aspect of gender play involved, with popular gender-role-bending costumes for women ranging from subtle ones like “Lady Brigand” and “Female Graduate” to actual cross dressed characters like Viola from Twelfth Night.  Fancy dress parties were popular entertainments in general, but they were especially held at the very highest levels of society – Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugénie of France were well known for hosting lavish fancy dress balls.  Later, the tradition would carry on with events like the Shakespeare Ball of 1911, a massive London society event used to raise funds to build the national theatre, and Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night parties.

2. School Uniforms and Academic Regalia

Hilariously adorable Eton tradition – the boys wear these giant flower hats during the Parade of Boats on the Fourth of June. They row into the middle of the river, stand up, shake the hats on one side of the boat and then the other, (attempt to) sit down without falling out of the boat, and row on.

As part of the Harry Potter generation, I grew up with a fascination with British boarding school culture that I continue to cultivate today.  I love to watch documentaries about Eton and Harrow, especially because I love the idea of preteen and teen boys walking around in tails suits all the time (which sounds like a TERRIBLE plan).  I love that there’s a school out there whose uniforms haven’t changed in 400 years and their students voted recently to continue to keep it (the school is called Christ’s Hospital and they wear yellow stockings because supposedly in the 16th century they thought the color would keep away rats).  One of my favorite movies called Another Country is set at a school that they don’t say is Eton but is clearly supposed to be Eton and a major plot point is that the prefects and other older boys called the “house gods” get to wear waistcoats made of elaborate materials while the other boys wear plain uniform waistcoats (this actually apparently is a real thing at real Eton as well).  The whole badges-blazers-and-boaters thing is an interesting microcosm of the extremely stratified British class system that Americans find really fascinating.

This is what happens when you let teen boys run around in tails suits for centuries (well the equivalent anyway). Also this was the best parody of Gangam Style.

This photo, famously featuring Eddie Redmayne (front and centre) and Prince William (top right), shows the fancy waistcoat thing is stiill going strong.

I started researching academic regalia because I got bored at someone’s graduation one time, and that has also turned into a Harry Potter-related research topic.  Academic regalia is probably the closest contemporary muggle equivalent to what we should be imagining wizard robes look like, which are described very little but I assume are based on medieval academic and clerical garments.  It also means I never get bored at graduations anymore – once you learn a little bit about hood colors and sleeve shapes you can spend any academic ceremony guessing the degrees of the faculty members in regalia (which I suppose is only fun when you’re really nerdy, but I am really nerdy, so).  They’re also probably the closest Americans will ever come to British ceremonial dress, which we also find endlessly fascinating.

This is a Doctor of Music gown from Cambridge. More magical than your graduation gown, I would wager. Certainly more magical than mine, thanks Rutgers.

3.  Bookbinding

One of the Colonial Williamsburg bookbinders doing some blind tooling.

I’ve been dabbling in bookbinding as a craft for several years – I learned enough very basic techniques to teach a “Make your own sketchbook!” Unit during art week at a Girl Scout camp I worked at in the summer of 2012.  Since then I’ve done a few more projects, and read a bit more, and somehow I find this fairly mundane craft really fascinating?  To the point that I actually did end up writing a paper about medieval bookbinding for a history of textiles class.  A lot of the hobby bookbinding books that you find in the craft section of Barnes & Noble focus more on contemporary techniques that are kind of craftsy and good for making “art books”, but as a true nerdy historian I find myself more interested in the traditional side of the craft.  When I used to work at Colonial Williamsburg I would often go stand in the back of the bookbinders’ shop and just listen to them interpret for way longer than necessary, and I still sometimes fantasize about becoming a historical bookbinder (if they’re ever looking for a new apprentice bookbinder at CW I will definitely be jumping  on that!). I don’t really know why it fascinates me so much, but I do love books, and as a person who sews (and sews historically) I guess I’m interested in applications of sewing outside of the realm of clothing.  (Also, MINIATURE BOOKS ARE ADORABLE – my current favorite bookbinding book is More Making Books By Hand by Peter and Donna Thomas.). It’s a difficult craft to practice at home without some serious consideration, though – to really do it “right” the process is fairly equipment-heavy, but with some research you can usually find simpler, more small-space-friendly techniques.

An embroidered book cover famously made by Queen Elizabeth 1 for her stepmother Katherine Parr


4. Corset-Induced Smushy Face (and other non-conventionally-attractive women in art)

Detail of Tissot’s “Hide and Seek”

You know when you’re wearing a corset and you sit down on a couch or a contemporary chair that doesn’t have a very straight back and you attempt to recline but it just pushes your boobs up toward your face and your chin down toward your chest in a probably fairly unflattering way?  It turns out this has always been a problem!  I love seeing corset-induced smushy face in art.  It’s one of those things that really makes me as a historical costumer feel a strong connection across time to those women I am seeking to emulate with my work and research.  My boy Tissot has a couple of ladies in various paintings with corset-induced smushy face for sure, and if you look carefully you can see it around in the background of plenty of domestic and pastoral scenes all over 19th century art.

Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776) by Joseph Duplessis. My ultimate evolution.

I also just generally love seeing women who don’t look perfectly thin and angelic in western art – and this ranges from Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776), who’s fat and SUPER fashionable (I will do a reproduction of her outfit one day!  Should have had that on goals yesterday) to all the weird-looking barmaids and jolly washerwomen and plump servant girls who fell asleep in the kitchen and let the cat steal the meat again in 17th century Dutch genre paintings.  I love them all.  Those are the images I really identify with, because guess what, different body types existed in the past also.

The Eavesdropper (1620s) by Nicolaes Maes


5. Heraldry


So I belong to an organization called Markland, which is sort of the teenage son of the SCA who left home at 17 because fuck you, dad, you don’t know my life.  We do very similar stuff (wear garb, have wars, feast, sing around campfires, dance a maypole sometimes), but we’re smaller and some of our rules regarding historical documentation for certain things are less strict.  One of those things is heraldry – creating coats of arms (or “devices” to use proper SCA terminology, “coat of arms” only applies in very specific circumstances) that represent ourselves.  This is a favorite activity in my Markland group, but our number 1 heraldry guy doesn’t always make it to our meetings, so I’ve sort of been picking up the heraldry research to help out my friends as needed, and because of the way my brain is wired I’m kind of obsessed.  Heraldry comes with very specialized vocabulary to describe how it looks and how different pieces of it are positioned, and some very strict rules about what colors can and can’t go next to each other, how many of certain things you’re allowed to use, etc etc, and I LOVE THAT STUFF.  It gives me real joy to help my friends navigate these restrictions to create something that they love (and real frustration when they don’t understand that just because you CAN put a million different things on your heraldry doesn’t mean you SHOULD because that’s not how they did it “Back Then”).  My favorite heraldry moment was going through Randal Holme’s 1688 Academy of Armory and finding primary documentation for the heraldic penis.

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Yup.  There it is.  Right in the middle.

From Randal Holme’s The Academy of Armory (1688)

History Twins!  Also, so much stuff is happening!

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Ok, news first!  I’m going to be doing all sorts of cool stuff in the next few months (and never sleeping!):

  • My thesis programs are up on the Merchant’s House website!  I’ll be Bridget Murphy the kitchen maid on St Patrick’s Day, and Julia Tredwell talking about etiquette on April 23 and talking about fashion on May 21.
  • I’m also helping out with the interactive kids’ tour on February 20, which is going to  be really really fun.  If you are interested in daily life in the 19th century and have access to a child, I suggest checking it out!
  • On April 24 I will be modeling my Tissot dress in the New York Nineteenth Century Society Extravaganza fashion show at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn.  Not a lot of info on this event yet, but I’ve really enjoyed the other NYNCS events that I’ve been to.
  • I am very excited to be participating in Fashioning Weeksville, an awesome program that will involve creating a costume for a new living history presentation at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn.

Holy crap, right??  So much awesome stuff. When it rains it pours!

And now for something completely different: Remember my Ren Faire gown?  And St. Cecilia from 1568, who was wearing a very similar outfit?    

Well guess what!  I found another portrait that is even more eerily similar to my gown:

Right?  RIGHT???? This is basically exactly the same as my gown. And I’d never seen it before someone posted it as a one-off response to something on the Elizabethan Costume Facebook group maybe two weeks ago.  It’s like the time stream cracked open in a moment of perfect transference.

Or just a huge coincidence.  But hey. (Incidentally, anyone has any info about this painting please let me know – the Kunsthistoriches Museum webpage is really unhelpful).

I always love having history twin moments like this.  They provide unique insight to me as a modern person trying to recreate historical clothes in that they show that the choices I am making in color, cut, material, styling, accessorizing, etc are appropriate for someone who looked like me in period.  This is information that people were unlikely to write down, but very inportant for getting that truly authentic look.  So in this case, well done me!  I think now that I’ve found her I’m going to continue using her as inspiration – I love her hairstyle and jewelry, and the long pearl strand I wore for faire last year was really annoying.

I’ve done the history twin thing before – avid readers may remember my Tissot gown – and I’m doing it again for Bridget’s costume for my thesis: 

Painting : “The Jolly Washerwoman” (1851) by Lilly Martin Spencer, fabric is a reproduction from the collection of the Virginia Quilt Museum

 

Have you ever had a history twin?  Found your doppelgänger in a portrait or an old photograph?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Don’t let’s ask for the moon…

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We have the stars!

You may not have guessed already, but I love stars.  I am a HUGE sucker for anything with a celestial-themed design on it (the galaxy print trend has been GREAT).  I was looking through an article about this year’s Tonys gowns when I saw J-Lo’s Valentino gown and was INSPIRED.  So for your viewing pleasure here are some of my favourite things with stars on them.

(This post brought to you by me sitting at the reference desk by myself in a university library in the middle of the summer.)