28 February 2012

Designing a Basic Kit for Reenactors

I've been sick, and as we all know, sickness leads to sewing.

I'm currently working out a set of easy instructions for basic start-up kit that would get a male actor from zero to fully costumed for as little money as possible. The kit would center around a simple outfit of shirt, jerkin, Venetians or galligaskins, and shoes. 

Conversations with potential actors, often center around two issues:
  1. Start-up costs: All of the things a beginning actor needs seems daunting when you are starting from zero. Along with this post about "feast gear" and this one about modifying shoes, this set of simple patterns will complete the kit for any newbie.
  2. "I'm not going to wear that." (Usually said while pointing to someone in short-short paned trunkhose displaying a lot of leg.)  The culture shock is sometimes too much for guys who grew up in the jeans & tee shirt era.  Because Venetians come down below the knee, they are the least threatening of the period-appropriate garb available to us; the least likely to scare off the potential actor who recoils at the thought of putting on a pair of tights or even thigh-high hosen.

If we get someone involved in this pastime with the minimum headache, they almost inevitably begin upgrading their kit. From these simple beginnings, most can be expected to begin to branch out into more intricate costumes as their characters progress. 

The goals for this project are:
  1. Get new actors into a period-appropriate (1560-1580) costume for as little money as possible.
  2. To teach some basic pattern-drafting and further my goal of getting more men to sew.
  3. To get actors to shift more of their initial expenditure into period-appropriate fabrics.
  4. To further the ideal that we are making clothes, not costumes*.

All of this will become a kit that I dispense to my new guildmembers, as well as a class I will teach for the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire (because they've asked me to) and anyone else who wants to pay me to come speak to their group.  My rates will be very reasonable... I don't know what that means yet, but whatever they turn out to be, they will be very reasonable, I assure you.

One of the laudable aspects of Venetians (from the standpoint of a new reenactor) is that
they have what we now consider a standard trouser fly. No codpiece necessary.
Because I wanted to illustrate some simple ways to dress-up a simple pattern (and because
I just can't leave anything alone,) I added some very basic chainstitch embroidery to the legs.

This blog will play host to those patterns and yes, they will be available as a free download. I will probably even get my wife to videotape the class so that I can send it to people and post it here.

See you soon with more pictures and information...


Yes, I am aware that "costume" is the accurate and appropriate nomenclature for the clothing worn by a specific culture at a specific time. I further know that "garb" makes some people's teeth itch. I use it anyway. One of my missions is to make this pastime accessible to all, and we are combating an entrenched cultural connotation of the word "costume" with the word "Halloween". The word "Garb" is not only a period-appropriate word (Shakespeare uses it) it also specifically connotes period clothing, especially in reenactor circles. There are those whose mission it is to erase "garb" from the reenactor's lexicon, mostly because the academic community gets sniffy if they catch you using the term. Good for them. I, however, could not possibly care less what the academic community thinks of me. Academic accolades are not my goal here. 

20 February 2012

Green Jerkin at the Met

Recently, someone brought to my attention this wonderful green velvet jerkin with gold embroidery in the textiles collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

If you click the small image at left, you can go to the Met site and view and download some beautiful high-rez images of the garment for your study.

If you haven't already done so, you really should peruse this collection for ideas. The clothing, embroidery, and accoutrement in their collection is impressive. Even more impressive is their web site and its offering of high-resolution images for historical costume study.
Note that the doublet isn't a solid green velvet, but rather a multicolor fabric that reads as green from a distance. It's a weaving style we see in carpets and upholstery fabrics every day. I can't say for certain how much of that is due to age and the color-fastness of the composite threads, but considering the overall preservation of the fabric, it's hard not to take this as intentional.

There are four very small things on this jerkin that I might've missed had I not been able to handle the garment proper or zoom in as much as they allow on the Met website.  All four are immediately relevant to what we've been discussing lately regarding thread-covered buttons and button holes.

One: Note that the wrap of the complete button at the top of the image is not secured along the sides. It is a wood core, wrapped latitudinally and then gone over longitudinally with more threads that are secured at the pole by a bit of gold purl

Two: Note how open the buttonhole stitches are and how they are rounded at the ends rather than squared off as I did in the demo a few weeks back.

Three: Here you can actually see the wood core of the button exposed as well as the method of attaching the button to the doublet: a loop at the base of the button rather than sewing the button directly to the doublet using the threads that wrapped it as some advise. You can also make out the thin strip of gold leaf that wrapped the threads unraveling and coming away from the inner core.

Four: Where he buttonhole stitches are coming undone from the velvet, you can see the double-row of grey (probably linen) stay stitches that still hold the buttonhole secure from raveling.