CoBloWriMo 12 – Embellishments Conference, Day 2


Another fun filled day of new techniques from the past!

This morning, we started with a bobbin lace demonstration by Plimoth interpreter Kate Moore.  

She even set up a basic pattern and let us each try out a few basic stitches!  I was super psyched about this because lacemaking is the next craft on my list! And I actually really enjoyed trying it out, which was good to know.  So…new craft hopefully coming soon!  Yay!

After that, we had some time to work on our samplers before lunch.  Here’s the embroidery squad!

Bonus Dan judging us

During lunch, a lovely woman named Kim taught some of us how to do the plaited braid stitch, a super fancyface goldwork stitch that’s really common in 17th century embroidery for doing all of the beautiful scrollwork, stems, etc.  Her method of teaching it was pretty brilliant – instead of trying to get a bunch of beginners to do an intricate stitch really tiny and waste nice materials, she taught us on plastic canvas using big gold cord!  It was so much easier to see, and helped us understand how the whole stitch goes together.

I’m definitely going to have to give this stitch another shot tonight to see if I actually absorbed it!

In the afternoon we got a tour of the wardrobe department!  We saw a bunch of the embroidered pieces they have in their stock, and some other fun stuff – including a scrapbook of photos of the Plantation in the 70s!

I liked this guy because he’s fab


This hilarious electric celery doublet was apparently built for someone portraying a gentleman who went off course sailing to Virginia and ended up in Plymouth. I love the idea of a fop pilgrim.

We also got to hang out with the Plimoth Jacket some more, and get some photos up close and personal!

Our last workshop of the afternoon was making buttons with Dan Rosen.  We learned how to make one very common style of thread wrapped button with many variations, and a more decorative style of button that’s covered with a basket weave pattern.

These are Dan’s sample buttons

These are my buttons! They came out ok! Especially the woven one.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend.  I learned a bunch of new techniques, made some awesome new friends, and rekindled my love of embroidery that’s kind of fallen by the wayside while I’ve been in school.  I’m looking forward to finishing my Plimoth Jacket sampler, and I’m already thinking about my next embroidery project (and the next one…and the next one…) – I found a pattern in a 1608 book of Celtic knot work…that’s made of snakes!  I’m thinking a coif ūüôā

This week, though, I have to get my summer project started – I’m building a gown for a new Guilde of St George member who will be portraying Blanche Parry. Stay tuned!

CoBloWriMo 11 – Embellishments Conference, Day 1


Today was the first day of Plimoth Plantation’s Embellishing 17th Century Dress conference, AKA a weekend of historical embroidery! ¬†It’s always fun to sit in a room full of people just as nerdy as you are.

Our project for the weekend is a sampler of 17th century stitches in the form of common motifs taken from period sources. ¬†I’m working on a motif that was used on the “Plimoth Jacket”, a beautiful reproduction embroidered waistcoat they made at Plimoth in the late 2000s.

I ran out in the middle of an embroidery session for an interview so I didn’t actually get too much done, but it already looks a lot nicer than the last time I attempted detached buttonhole stitch!

We also had some very interesting sessions with other specialists from around the museum. ¬†First, we met with Mark the blacksmith to talk about making spangles – silver gilt metal sequins! ¬†He made the reproduction spangles for the Plimoth jacket; they’re punched out of silver wire that has been plated with gold and flattened out, and they’re less than 1/4″ across.

The little bag is holding the bits that were punched out of the holes in the spangles; they’re 1/16″ across.

After we talked to Mark, we heard from Talia the Wampanoag wardrobe specialist about Wampanoag garments.

Talia showing us a warrior headdress

Beautiful quill work

Apparently the purple colour of the wampum belts represents healing

In the evening we had a lovely cocktail hour, featuring a viewing of the Plimoth Jacket. ¬†Apparently this was the second time ever that it’s been on a person! ¬†The jacket is gorgeous, and they lit the room with candlelight in order to show off the full effect of the embroidery and spangles.

The first day of the conference was absolutely lovely. ¬†I’ve made a bunch of new friends, including fellow CoBler Carrie, who worked on the Plimoth Jacket! ¬†I’m super psyched for tomorrow – especially for the lacemaking demonstration! ¬†For this evening, though, I’ve got a date with pizza, embroidery, and the jacuzzi tub at my Airbnb. ¬†Good night for now!

CoBloWriMo 10 – Queensleeves


This summer I’m going into my third season in the cast of the New York Renaissance Faire.  I portray Frances Brooke, Baroness Cobham, Lady of the Bedchamber and Mistress of the Robes to Queen Elizabeth 1.  I was going to write this post about my own costume, but that might take some more planning and compiling.  Instead, this post is about another faire-related project that I love very much and am extremely proud of.

Queen Elizabeth 1’s actual birthday is September 7.  Last year, September 7 fell on a Faire day, so we made a big deal out of the Queen’s birthday, which included an elaborate ceremony where the courtiers presented the queen with gifts.  We know from extant New Year’s gift rolls that Lady Cobham always gave the Queen clothes, so I decided to make a pair of sleeves for the Queen’s birthday.  Luckily, my director wanted new sleeves for the Queen anyway, so I didn’t have to supply any of the materials!  Which was a good thing, because I ended up bejeweling the crap out of them.  My director had a general design in mind for them, and gave me fabrics that coordinated with the Queen’s gown, and then gave me free reign to decorate them as I like.  I’ve never decorated anything to the extent that these sleeves were decorated, and I did a lot of the work by hand.  I originally didn’t love how they looked with the rest of the gown but they grew on me and now I LOVE THEM.  So enjoy!

CoBloWriMo 7 – Dream Wardrobe


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 6.1 – Big Hair Don’t Care


Hey guys!  I ended up having a VERY busy few days over the weekend and wasn’t able to blog much, so I’m going to try to catch up on the prompts that I missed this week!  (Because guess what, I picked them because they correspond to posts I want to write!  Being in charge is fun ūüėä).  This is day 3’s prompt: a new technique that I’ve experimented with recently.

This was my super historical blue hair. It was so awesome. Sigh.

So I have in the past been known to write about my attempts to dress my hair in historical styles.  More recently (back in October), I dyed my hair bright blue, for which I had to bleach my hair a lot which as you might imagine damaged it a lot, but it was worth it because it was blue, and then I had to dye it back to a natural hair color to do some museum programs in costume, at which point it was no longer a fun color so it was just sad and very over-processed.  So in order to make myself feel better about my life, I decided to experiment with the hairdressing technique to end all hairdressing techniques: 18th century pomatum and hair powder.

Now I’m not going to write too much about pomatum and powder in the 18th century because there are several scholars out there who do a much better job of it, but if you, my gentle reader, are not familiar with it, I will say this: pomatum and powder, along with false hair and various pads and other understructures, are what allowed 18th century women to do their own hair in those crazy large styles that you see in portraits and think, “Damn, that couldn’t possibly be someone’s real hair, it must be a wig!”  Most of the time it is natural hair because in the 18th century wigs were so tightly fitted to your head that you needed to keep your head shaved to wear them.  There are lots of myths about hair and hair hygiene in the 18th century that have been busted recently, so go read about that.

I got my pomatum and powder from Heirloom Haircare, the etsy shop of Abby, the apprentice milliner at Colonial Williamsburg.  She uses original 18th century recipes, including materials such as lard and powdered cuttlefish bone, and she sticks to a standard recipe that has a lovely lemon and clove scent. The other place where you can get 18th century hair products is LBCC Historical, who carries a wider variety of scents and products from different time periods as well.  I put my hair powder into a powdered sugar shaker as per Abby’s suggestion.  Here’s what my hair looked like when I started out:

It’s about mid-back length

Then I put the pomade into it.  I divided my hair into six sections to apply the pomade, it probably turned into more like eight in reality.

Here’s my hair with pomade in it; it looks damp, it’s really just kind of goopy and greasy (you are literally putting grease into your hair.)

Then I powdered the crap out of it!  I have a lot of hair, so it took a LOT of powder.  I also probably over-powdered the top because it took a while for me to realize I needed to flip my hair around a bit to get powder into all of the layers and underneath.

This is how it looked when it was first powdered.  It’s sort of that middling grey color you see in a lot of portraits, which made me pretty happy!  The powder absorbs the most of the grease in the pomade, so it doesn’t feel terribly greasy, though it is definitely a different feel.  It’s a lot thicker as well!  I threw it up into a random twist just to see how it would hold, and it maintained lots of nice volume and had great hold.  This style is held up securely with one 3″ hairpin.

This is the color it became after combing the powder through a bit more; no longer grey, but a slightly lighter, more matte version of my natural color.

I tried out a very simple 18th century style with no padding or crazy curls or anything – my hair was very cooperative and it only took me about 10 minutes.  The front pouf is pinned over just more of my own hair that I rolled up, no teasing or anything.  The side curls are kind of crappy but it was like midnight when I was doing this.  My point being, it was simple and it worked.  It’s nice when the historical techniques work like that.

I kept the pomatum and powder in for a week.  By the end of it my hair was a little bit greaser, but actually not much.  It did soften a bit through the week, and returned to my natural color as the powder got combed through more and more.  This is my hair before I washed the pomade and powder out:

And this is after.  Look how much thinner it is.
I pomaded and powdered again for a ball in Williamsburg in March and did essentially the same hairstyle.  It still looked pretty good after dancing for three hours!
So that was my experimenting with pomatum and powder.  I was really glad to be able to do it because it helped me stress less about my hair while it was really damaged, and I was able to wash it less because you can leave the pomatum and powder in for a week, which probably helped me not damage my hair more.  And I was able to successfully create some simple 18th century hairstyles with very little preparation, showing that the historical techniques worked, and that crazy 18th century hairdressing, while it certainly LOOKS fantastical to a modern eye, was totally actually historically feasible.  Yay!

CoBloWriMo 4: Badge!


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!


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

<a href = "">

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

" src=""

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)


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 Eug√©nie 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.


Yup.  There it is.  Right in the middle.

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