30 July 2007

Mad as a...

I busted a rib last week. Bad pain. No sleep. Good drugs, though! Henceforth shall I be known as Vic Odin, private eye... okay if you've been living in my head the past week or so, that's hysterically funny. Otherwise probably not so much.

So anyway, as you've seen from the handsewing I've been doing, I've been couch-bound for the better part of a week now and still the needle keeps pulling thread. I can't really lean over to cut out new patterns much so when Kristin - my saintly wife with patience like Job - isn't home to cut things out for me, I'm stuck with either small projects or things that have already been cut out to work on. Or I can surf the internet, which I actually don't so much like doing.

Luckily for me, awhile back my wife asked our friends to donate scraps to a project she was working on and the scraps came pouring out of every costumer we knew. Calabash now has a coat that boasts a sample of just about every bodice in the faire (Woo Woo!!) and we have a big bucket o' random scrappage. Oh, what to do with these odd-size small bits of fabric? Hmmmm... What garby bit of business usually utilize small pattern pieces?

One of the first things we see, one of the prime things we complain about reenactors ignoring, hats. I love hats in general, though I've never really enjoyed making them before. Now that I'm under the influence of the hand-sewing bug and my buddy Vic, I decided what the hell. The pieces are small enough to cut out on my lap and there's plenty of oddments of wool!

Calabash is Venetian and came to Scotland (the site of our faire) by way of Paris in the retinue of Her Most Royal Majesty, Queen Mary of Scots. Yet he's never worn much in the way of garb that really told this tale. So it is with this in mind that I turned my hand to hats...

I like to think of this as my Venetian Dockworker beanie. The pattern was modified from the one at the link above. The authoress of the Renaissance Tailor website describes as a Russian hat. So if anyone quizzes me on it, I got it from one of the Muscovy Trading lads when I was in London on a mission for the queen. There's a little machine stitching holding the upturned brim to the main body of the hat, the rest was handstitched. The pin is a winged lion that I've had for quite some time, symbol of La Serenissima (Venice).

This is a sort of floppy-brimmed Italian bonnet. It's done up in scrap wool that I pieced together to make large enough pieces for the pattern. Small, delicate stitches. The crown is lined in greenish linen and cartridge-pleated into the brim. There are no machine stitches on this hat. (I'm rather proud of that). Small glass pearls are interspersed into the gathers, alternating with some stone beads and metal beads.

The two websites linked above gave me the impetus I needed to make two hats (respectively) though as ever I've worked them as variations on the theme. Their directions were so good I feel that I cannot improve on the theme in those two regards, so I encourage the millinerily-inclined rennie to head to one or the other for the tutorials.

It's fun making hats. I especially like digging through my collection of odd pins to find suitable adornment for the feathers. I've been trying to steer away from the ubiquitous pheasants and ostriches, keeping in mind that Calabash may be a member of the court but he's really not noble. He's a bounder and a bit of a cad who attached himself to Mary in Paris and has followed her since, trading on her patronage like a true Renaissance Man.

Washington Renaissance Fantasy Faire is less than a week away!
Huzzah! (ouch! Gonna go back to the couch now...)

29 July 2007

Source Materials...

A new feature...
There are numerous garby blogs out there. I am no longer singled out even by my focus on male costuming, which is a wonderful thing in my view. But I still wish to be singular and so I am growing the idea, moving into new categories, all still within my overall mission of improving the sort of historical costuming I see at ren faires and making it easier for the newbie to attire themselves appropriately the first time.

I have been whetting my arguments on fashion and attyre in the Northern Renaissance for some time in the whetstone of open debate. My opinions are fluid and my debating style tends to lean heavily to being able to back up what I say with references to primary sources, period texts and relevant paintings, manuscripts and bathroom wall graffiti if necessary. So from now on I shall begin regularly (as regularly as I post anything here) posting links to interesting period resources that many people either miss or are unaware of.

Period Fashion Critique
In particular, I love some of the period source material such as Stubbs and Holinshed where the set out the attyre of their time by complaining about it in their smug puritan manner. The following is from "Holinshed's Chronicles" which goes much farther afield than bitching about the perilous audacity of the Elizabethan tailor. He is cited by most as Shakespeare's main source of historical material for MacBeth and most of the Histories...

"An Englishman, endeavouring sometime to write of our attire, made sundry platforms for his purpose, supposing by some of them to find out one steadfast ground whereon to build the sum of his discourse. But in the end (like an orator long without exercise), when he saw what a difficult piece of work he had taken in hand, he gave over his travel, and only drew the picture of a naked man. Unto whom he gave a pair of shears in the one hand and a piece of cloth in the other, to the end he should shape his apparel after such fashion as himself liked, sith he could find no kind of garment that could please him any while together; and this he called an Englishman. Certes this writer (otherwise being a lewd popish hypocrite and ungracious priest) shewed himself herein not to be altogether void of judgment, sith the phantastical folly of our nation (even from the courtier to the carter) is such that no form of apparel liketh us longer than the first garment is in the wearing, if it continue so long, and be not laid aside to receive some other trinket newly devised by the fickle-headed tailors, who covet to have several tricks in cutting, thereby to draw fond customers to more expense of money."
Full E-text of this invaluable resource is available from www.gutenberg.org
Stubbes' harangues on Elizabethan fashion can be found in a well-organized format at www.elizabethancostume.net

27 July 2007

Buttoning Up - Part One

There are three methods of making your own period buttons that I am going to discuss.
  1. Soft Buttons made from fabric scraps
  2. Thread-covered buttons with a wooden core
  3. Buttons fashioned from beads
I rather like the idea of making soft buttons. As I mentioned previously, Alcega and other renaissance tailor's books go to some length to show you how to lay out your pattern to utilize as much of the yardage as possible. Some of these layouts have pieces lying with, across and diagonal to the grain of the fabric. While I cannot imagine going to quite that great a length, in threads that unraveled from the edges of the cloth! On this project I have taken every opportunity to reduce waste, reuse scraps, and recycle even the little end bits of thread left over from hemming and gathering. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle... a very sixteenth century idea wedged into a twenty-first century framework.

Of all the buttons I've experimented with, this is by far the easiest to master and the quickest to make. All it takes is a little practice (which is a lie, I fooled around with this for quite awhile before I consistently got spheres) some basic stitches and scraps of your "fashion" fabric!

Please note: There are many places to learn to do this. Tudor Tailor has some instructions, as does the fantastic Renaissance Tailor website. Both are illustrated and both contributed in some fashion to me learning how to do this prior to posting this tutorial here. I'm putting this up not because it's never been done elsewhere, but because no one I've found has done this with actual step-by-step photos and even though illustrations are helpful, I've always found it more comforting undertaking something new to see it laid out in actual pictures. Keep in mind that I'm a trained illustrator when you read that. So here we go...


If you're using a light fabric such as the linen I used on this doublet or even a light woolen, cut the fabric into squares approximately one inch wide. The Tudor Tailor advises using the bottom of a thread spool as a guide, but considering that there no longer seems to be a standard size for this, I came up with the dimension of one inch as making a finished size and firmness that I'm happy with.

NOTE: when using a heavier fabric, such as canvas or even a wool flannel for this, you might want to nip off the edges and make a circle as shown below or it'll be too bulky later when the time comes to stuff it.

Using a piece of thread roughly a foot long (you want a little extra) run a circle of stitches around the center of the square as shown above. Keep the stitches as even as possible and keep in mind that you're going to be using these to gather the fabric into a ball, so don't make them too tight or they'll do you little good when the time comes.

ThreeDraw up the gathering stitches until the square looks like a little bag. Don't pull it tight, though until you...

...stuff the corners and edges inside. Then draw it as tight as you can without tearing or distorting the fabric. (I imagine great care would be needed if working with silk) Take the remaining tail of thread and sew some stay stitches into the resulting ball to keep it in a ball shape.

Working from the bottom (the wrinkly bit) sew back and forth across the axis of the ball three times, leaving the stitches loose, forming a loop which will be used to secure the button to your garment. Gather the three into a single strand and go over them using a button hole stitch as shown below.

Repeat as often as necessary and sew them on...

26 July 2007

Hold the Mustard!

Changing course now, just a little bit. My apologies for the lengthy delay in getting back on course. I you are still with me after all this time, I give you thanks. If you are new, having found me by way of my presence on Tribe.net or elsewhere, then welcome and well met! You come at the turning of the tide.

Note the divot I carved into the tip of my wooden thimble in the picture above.
It's especially useful when sewing through canvas or leather. Since I
made that adjustment, I've reduced considerably the number of
slipped-needle injuries I sustain in a project like this.

Since we began this journey, the book Tudor Tailor was released. For those who have not yet read it, the book goes a long way toward pulling back the curtain on certain salient aspects of all we strive for, sort of a user's guide to Patterns of Fashion in a very real way. But I came here not to sell you books, I came hence to tell you that the book changed my mind in a couple of ways on the final outcome I hope to achieve with this garment and certain long-held beliefs on the construction of period-seeming garments for the reenactment set.

And so I resolve to complete the journey, a journey now refined by the passage of time and the introspection brought on by long hours wreathed in plaster dust as we continue to remodel our home, by the rumination over illness and injury, and by the letter R.

I have long thought that handsewing was just a pain in the @$ and little more good could be said of it. I was wrong. My wife tried to tell me that it had its place, and I thought she meant in areas were a machine could not go. What she really meant was that there were marked differences in the results achieved by the slow & steady approach versus sticking layers of fabric under the frantic needle of the Hotrod. I stand corrected.

As such have just completed the garment I began here this long while ago. When last we met, I was using plum-coloured canvas to draft a new pattern for a mustard-colored middle class doublet. A close-fitting affair with set-in sleeves and a grown-in collar.

  1. I set aside the grown-in collar after the difficulties I experienced with the rust-colored jerkin. I never completely resolved the pucker at the back and muslin after muslin repeated the problem, so for now I have set aside the notion entirely.
  2. I came into a stash of 100% linen in natural and a pale green. I have traded in the mustard-coloured brushed cotton for the natural linen as an outer material and the pale green as lining.
  3. I have - for this project as an experiment - set aside my usual Pellon fusible interfacing that I have hitherto used in lieu of canvas interlining and subsituted it with canvas 'Duck' since I couldn't find anyone selling proper fustian (a heavy cotton/linen blend).
  4. I will be making cloth buttons out of scrap linen instead of using the wooden bead buttons I used on the rust-colored jerkin and was intending to use again on the doublet.
The pattern piecing was very similar to what I have shown before. Using a combination of the machine and hand-stitching, I laid out the pattern I drafted and cut interlining, lining and outer fabric. Making a sandwich of the three, I sewed and turned them so that the interlining is caught between, providing structure to the doublet.

(Note: I will be making a new jerkin of green wool soon using this same method and will go in-depth on that, perhaps sometime this fall)

The more seams you have, the small pieces you piece from,
the more points of adjustment you have to work with, and the
better fit you can manage in your clothing.

The piecing of doublets is a subject I have been thinking on a great deal this past year. I have studied every painting from the period I could get my hands on, perused a borrowed copy of Alcega, read Tudor Tailor and internally worked the seams in my head during the quiet moments of the morning when the novel wasn't singing to me and sleep was elusive.

Doublets of our period seem to have been made from many small pieces, some smaller than others. Leather doublets seemed to be even more prone to this almost quilt-like piecing strategy. It's all about making as many clothes from one ell of cloth as possible, you see, The smaller the pieces, the more you can fit them on the cloth ere you cut, like the pieces of a puzzle. The period tailor books were full of illustrations of how best to eke the most out of a single length of fabric. And so shall it be with me...

Note the unaligned seams where the sleeve meets the doublet body.
These became rarer as more and more machines replaced tailors.

During the industrial revolution, patterning of clothing changed to accomodate the machines being used to manufacture them. Seams such as these would slow production, so they were aligned so as to be sewn in a single pass, or as few passes as possible. So it is that machine sewing of Renaissance clothing seems so awkward, the machines constrained.

When easing curved seams I use as few pins as possible, giving me
as much play as I can to stretch and turn the fabric as I sew. This
allows better alignment of layers, I think, and a nicer finished look
to the final garment.

I am not so reduced that I will set aside my hotrod entirely, but it will definitely be utilized in the main for sewing long straight seams, or pieces that will be turned and the machine sewing hidden. As I went along in this project, I was surprised to find that I did more and more by hand as I developed a feel for it, and acquired a rhythm for the movement of the needle, thread, and beeswax.

I must cogitate some more, and I've buttons to make and buttonholes to sew as well. I'll be back soon with more pictures and more in-depth maundering of the like you're used to on the myriad subjects that spring to mind as I stitch...

Next: Making Buttons!!