Monday, February 8, 2016

A Woman's Place

Gender and reenacting.

Well, that's done.

I recently read a trio of well-written pieces on this issue.  Discussing the upcoming Boston Massacre event, Our Girl History unpacked some of the problems of accurate portrayal of women (and lack of appropriate roles).  Kitty Calash posted a response, and pointed out our inherent bias in gravitating toward male-dominated historical events to begin with and the need for more focus on people in the margins.  Fife4Life posted an articulate response from a male perspective asking how we balance modern expectations with historical realities.

And still the questions remain....When recreating male-dominated events, should women be present at all? In strictly document-able numbers?  In what ways? Much of the history we work within is heavily male-oriented: battles, riots, signings of important documents.  What place does a woman have?

And when she doesn't have a place in the immediate vicinity of the event itself, should she be there at all?

The anal historical part of me aims toward the nitpicky.  Not right for the period, right out.  But the educator in me starts to ask some other questions, questions about the value of all the stuff that focusing on single events and momentous days leaves *out.* Let's be honest--the draw for a re-created military engagement is greater than the draw for Random Tuesday Afternoon in 1778 when it comes to events (which I am focusing on--not sites and museums, but specific recreated events).  We have limited opportunities to engage and educate, and part of me says "if people are going to show up to watch the Gun Show, then that's where we have to hit them with the other elements, as well."  We don't want to revise history, but what about editing it?

Because we're working with edited history, no matter what we do.

Hold on, don't get crabby.

First, we're working with edited timelines and edited spaces.  The spaces and timeframes available to us are seldom in precise alignment with the spaces and timelines historically.  For most events, we're compressing something that took much longer into a shorter timeframe--the battle lasted X hours, but the machinations of getting everyone there and the retreats and the mopping up and the skirmishes on the sidelines--we pick what to focus on, and that's editing.  The space--most events have camps and have fields of battle (and have restroom facilities over the hill and a parking lot for the tourists...).  These spaces are often compressed by necessity.  Two hundred years ago, there was nothing here, but the Gundersons five miles down the road didn't want anyone pitching a tent in their begonia patch and neither did the rest of their neighbors, so the camp is going to be a lot closer to the field than historically correct.  Even when we pick a precise moment in a precise place, like the Boston Massacre event.  Even if we time the elements of the event to correspond with the best research.  We won't be showing the treating of the wounded extending into the next week, will we? Or people venturing out to discuss with their neighbors the next morning?  Also editing.

Editing isn't a bad thing by nature--editing is just clipping and cropping for necessity's sake and for impact's sake.  I'm sure any bright reader would notice quickly that of course showing Timmy Smith succumbing to his infected wounds a week post-Monmouth isn't really in keeping with the concept of highlighting an "event" in history--even though Timmy's sad demise is certainly a part of the historical event known as The Battle of Monmouth.

Thing is, if we can acknowledge that we're editing regardless of our good intentions, we can acknowledge that what we choose to present to the public is often editing out women's contributions and stories.  (See, I brought it back to gender.)  No, there were no women on the field of battle (or, rather, very few), but there were women in military camps and in adjacent towns.  When we edit the scope to "The Battle of" we edit out women's stories that were happening simultaneously.  I tend to think that there is value in these stories.  So how to focus the lens to avoid editing them out--or revising history by introducing a cast of characters in roles they should play?

So often this comes back to tired arguments--should women be allowed to dress as men? What about women on the field in other ways? I'm not talking about those right now--they've been discussed quite a bit and suffice to say, I'm not trying to suggest here that inserting women into roles they didn't play is the sole solution to this editing issue.  (And even though I'm focusing on women here, you could probably come up with a laundry list of marginalized people who are usually edited out--civilians, especially the poor, plus enslaved men and women...this conversation might start around gender but it quickly balloons.)

Maybe that space and time constraint "problem" can come back to help us.  If we have to have the camp a quarter mile from the field anyway, then the women in those camps can certainly be telling their stories and we can embrace this element of engagement as a valid mode of education.  (Yes, I am accommodating mainstream reenacting preference for a "camp" camp and not focusing solely on a more progressive mode--but even if I were, space is still an element we deal with, right?)  Historically, there was a town over there with people trying to live their lives.  No, they didn't come to watch the battle...but neither did a crowd of modern spectators.  Can they be introduced into the space in a way that permits broadening the understanding of the event and the period?  I'm a huge fan of letting living historians in marginalized roles serve as tour guides and "answer people," thereby allowing them to share their own voices.  It shows the public that you don't need a musket to be a participant in history (while acknowledging that the public wants to see things go boom.  I get it--I like seeing things go boom sometimes, too).

And as for timelines, if we have to accelerate (or, more rarely, slow down) a single event for educational consumption (sorry, Timmy), we may create opportunities for precursor and reactionary events that happened earlier or later.  Perhaps I, as a lady of some quality, should quit the area before the riot breaks out.  That doesn't mean I can't be talking about it with spectators five minutes later down the road (even if I wouldn't be in that space and time historically--to be honest, neither would they).  Part of our work with the public is discussing and digesting, not just presenting.  There is room here for introducing elements that have traditionally been edited out.

Sometimes the time crunches and space constraints that seem at first glace to be obnoxious anachronisms are in fact opportunities.  As long as everyone is on the same page and clear with the public about changes made to accommodate a re-creation (which will *always* be made to some degree, however accurate we wish to be), we can broaden, in a sense, by accepting and working with the narrowing.  Even when it's imperfect, I do believe that the presence of women in many historical events is important for telling a story that *did* exist, even if it existed a mile or so over thataway.  We just have to be intelligent and honest about it, and consider how to do so respectfully.  

My view? Don't revise history, but work within the constraints to provide education and voices that would otherwise be edited out by space and time constraints.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Wintertime, and the Sewing is Easy: 1920s-1930s Tap Pants and Slip

Even though my "procrastination" project was a shift, the truth is, I've been procrastinating sewing a lot lately.  Which is sad--I enjoy sewing, from the process of choosing projects and fabrics to having a wearable finished garment.  So I decided to do some just-for-fun sewing--no event that demanded an outfit, no reenacting requirements or needs.

At the risk of overshare....I made undies.

Cute, 1920s/1930s tap pants and a slip (a step-in remains cut and ready to sew on my machine).

I used the Folkwear "Intimacies" patterns (purchased at Amazon Dry Goods)

This is the only picture of humans wearing the garments in this post, FYI.

I started with three yards of lovely blush pink charmeuse, and cut tap pants, a slip, and a step-in/teddy.  I started sewing with the tap pants.

Now, the tap pants are historically styled in the pattern and instructions with a side snap placket.  I made them up intending this, tried them on, and found the fit and feel...well, appropriately historical. Since I plan to use these for summertime jammies, I decided to remove the snap placket, open the side seams, and add in a knit panel so they're a little loungier.

So comfortable! If you want to make a similar adjustment, just leave both sides of the pants open to about halfway down the leg, and then cut a triangle of stretchy knit fabric and topstitch it in:

Then the slip!

The only fiddly bit on the pattern is that, like a lot of 1920s and 1930s pieces, if you've done others, there are lapped seams on the bust.  Not overly tricky, but definitely press your fabric, pin carefully, and sew slowly as these are very visible in the final piece.

Speaking of visible...since my hem and topstitching would be visible, I decided to make them pretty.  I used white cotton thread and picked a fancy vining stitch on my fancy computerized sewing machine (which I did not and would never have chosen for myself, but having this option was fun!)

A few more shots of the slip on my favorite model, Felicity the Dress Form:

I cheaped out and did machine overcast edges instead of French seams.

It felt really great to be sewing for fun again! And I have to say--both options are very comfortable and I can see myself wearing them often once spring warms things up around here (it's still flannel jammie season around here).  Looking forward to making the step-in...and to trying this in white cotton, too!

Friday, January 29, 2016

HSM #1: The Procrastinated Shift

I've never liked making shifts. I mean, I love shifts--they're an awesome utilitarian garment and they're not hard to make and they're perfectly functional and it's just so cool how everyone started with the same basic garment but they vary in fabric niceness and so it's this odd democratic yet socially revealing awesomeness and see? I love shifts.  But boring.  So boring to make.  I've needed a new one for ages given that I only had one that was correct, the other having some reenactorisms I wanted to exorcise from my wardrobe, and when it finally blew out completely this summer, I knew it was my sign.  Time to make a shift.

What does it take to do a project you really don't want to do?

First, suggest "procrastination" as a monthly theme for the Historical Sew Monthly.

Then, get involved in organizing a sewing workshop centered on that item in which you're a co-coordinator and teacher so have to be there.

Then, convince a friend to go with you.

Then do the project.

It was actually a really fun weekend.  We gathered at a forest preserve in the Middle of Nowhere with a group of Rev War living history folks, ranging from very new to very experienced seamstresses, and talked documentation, extants, and how-to before cutting, fitting, and sewing-sewing-sewing.  First lesson--it is MUCH more enjoyable tackling a chore with a group.  Which I knew (a friend and I used to peer-pressure each other into cutting out fabric for projects), but this was an excellent reminder.  Second lesson? When you take the time to dig into the techniques you're using and kind of appreciate them and focus on improving your hand, a boring project takes on a new dimension.

The Challenge: January - Procrastination

Material: Plain ol' white linen. Mid-weight.

Pattern: None--we used cutting diagrams and extant dimensions.  And math. (But a similar pattern can be found in Fitting and Proper or Costume Close-Up, if you want to check out a diagram.  This is also similar to the Kannik's Korner pattern, though there are some differences.)

Year: 1770-1780

Notions: Linen thread and thread buttons made from heavier-weight linen thread

How historically accurate is it? About as accurate as we can make it!  Based on originals and tuned to individual size, utilizing linen and linen notions, entirely hand-sewn with period technique.  Boring item, exciting in the historical details.

Hours to complete: Probably about eight? We sewed on this most of the weekend, but I was helping other folks with their work and taking breaks, so counting time is a bit difficult.  I finished the project at home.

First worn: Not yet, aside from fitting.

Total cost: I have a bolt of linen (yeah....) so I'm not sure, but this would run about $8 a yard with roughly three yards used, and $3 for my spool of linen thread.  I believe my total cost was about $20.

A few photos:

Shift lounging on couch, waiting to be finished.

Detail of side gores (which are cut from the shoulder--it's neat.) The seams are flat felled.

Detail of underarm gusset, which allows some extra freedom of movement. Same here--felled seams.  I backstitched this area because it will be under more strain than the other seams.

Detail of cuff.  We tried for stroke gathers, but realized that most of our sleeves were cut too slim for really impressive stroke gather finishes.  However, we did employ the technique, so when I make something that will actually look cool (like a man's sleeve cuff, for instance), I'll be ready!

Not shown--thread buttons and buttonholes.  (Forgot to take final pictures, so you just get "in progress" ones!)

And that's it! A procrastinated project, finally finished and ready to be worn.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Year in Review

I usually take a minute to talk end-of-year nostalgia in terms of what I made this year.

This year I didn't make a whole lot of anything.

I made two things.

Exactly two.

One was the Cream Puff Silk Hat, which I lurve for being huge and awesome and not subtle, so very in-your-face-18th-century-aesthetic:

The other is a bedgown.  I failed to blog about making the bedgown; it's a simple linen piece made with the Larkin and Smith pattern, so there's not much to talk about there as their research and instructions speak for themselves, but as I'm taking a second to talk sewing, it's worth mentioning how this one happened.

The beginning of this year was hot.  Stupid hot.  I don't know what happened, but every darn event in the early season was sweltering.  So two friends and I decided--we need bedgowns.  Lightweight linen, no nonsense, no stays needed bedgowns for the times when it is too ding dang hot to get dressed properly without risking heat stroke.

So we got together one Saturday and cut and sewed and got mostly finished on our projects, then finished up the hems and cuffs and whatnot at home.  


It's great for mornings, before I've had time to get laced into stays, and it's great for evenings when I want to undress a little.  And for hot days--and days when one wakes up with a migraine (yes, that happened in camp and no, it's not fun)--it's unbeatable.  

E and I on Bedgown Sunday:

And since I didn't get much made this year, a quick review of some of my favorite moments instead--because, really, I make this stuff to get out and enjoy living history in:

E and her bestie hitch a ride from me.  This wagon was the best distraction during long event days!

Blowing bubbles in the shade!

I just love this shot, taken at Historic Locust Grove by the lovely photographer behind Asha Ananda Photography.  I'm taking a peek in on the kitchen with my husband behind me.  There are most likely shenanigans brewing in the kitchen, for what it's worth.

Another from Asha, and I hope my friend here forgives me, but laughing like your face might fall off is probably the best part of reenacting.  I'm fairly sure we had just coined a new euphemism for eighteenth century whores based on breakfast foods, and trust me, funnies.
Yes, that's a modern coffee cup.  Sue me.

And I leave you with my child, crawling on a cannon, holding what appears to be some kind of beer stein.  Lovely.

I hope your year held as many memories, and all the best in the New Year!

Friday, December 11, 2015

All I Want For Christmas...and a Giveaway Link!

So, there are a few things a historical clothing enthusiast always has on her Christmas list.  Books, books, fabric, books, fabric, and fabric top that list.  But I've found one more covetable--the necklaces and earrings at Dames a la Mode.

Seriously--I love that this is historical jewelry that one could wear with an 18th century ballgown or jeans and a white shirt and look equally fabulous:

 And the pearl earrings she creates remind me of these stunners:

Italian or Russian Woman, Pietro Antonio Rotari

Finally, she's doing something I've seen very little of anywhere else--millinery flowers.  You can read about uses for crafted false flowers at this post at The Sign of the Golden Scissors, but I'm really excited to see someone exploring this idea.

So, if you're like me and are salivating over these designs, enter for a chance to win a set at American Duchess.

And cross your fingers that your family listened when you told them what you wanted for Christmas!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fall Market Fair at Locust Grove--Perfectly Normal Family Fun

This year we introduced Little E to Locust Grove at the Fall Market Fair.  She's been twice before, but both times she was a wee thing and wouldn't remember:

First event at one month old

Second time at seven months old

Three-year old E quickly decided that this event was great and that this site is the happiest place on earth.

We agree fully.

Making a historically accurate doll? On the docket this winter.

I mean, that's a working kitchen chockablock full of awesome people talking, singing, sewing, knitting, chasing babies--is there anything better?

Photo from Asha Ananda Photography

And taking a peek at the action inside:

Photo from Asha Ananda Photography

Just rather happy that my hair is staying up and my false rump is doing its job:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Photos from a Fabulous Fall Event

Sometimes you have a weekend that reminds you why you love reenacting.

A group of us gathered at a huge forest preserve in a little corner of east-central Illinois a couple weeks ago, and it was just that kind of weekend. No modern intrusions, not a huge group of people but enough to get out on the field and have some fun, and beautiful fall weather.

My friend Asha captured some great images from the weekend, which I have shamelessy stolen and reposted here.  They're hers--and for more information about Ananda Asha Photograhy go to  You can see the full album on Facebook.

We had a large contingent from our unit there, along with our three-pounder, Milton.

Yes, we named our cannon.

That's me in the middle, probably checking to make sure all the right tools are in the side boxes.  My husband and I own Milton, so even though I'm not a man-at-arms, I feel a certain responsibility for him and usually involve myself in getting him ready to field in some way or another--making sure we've got rounds, checking the implements we use to clean and load him, double-checking that we've got a spare vent pick in the side box, plus ear plugs, because Milton is really loud.  He's my cast iron baby.

I attached new sleeve ruffles to this gown in the car on the way to the event...I'm not sure they're working.  In fact, I'm fairly sure they're a little too "floof" for this working gown.  I took them off and will be putting them on my silk gown instead.  On the upside, they're a gorgeous "book" muslin and were really fun to work with.  

It should be noted that by this point in the day I was quite literally falling apart--my skirts had gone all wonky in the back:

and I lost a pin:

which I didn't notice for a good hour after this picture was taken.  Well, you get a nice shot of my stays.  File under "Wardrobe Malfunction: 18th Century Edition."

Looking at prints and paintings, especially those by Sandby, it seems that wonky skirts and missing pins and other dressing imperfections weren't that uncommon in the life of everyday 18th century people.  Glad to know I'm in good historical company.

It was also E's birthday weekend--she turned three, and we celebrated with (a big modern frosting-encased) cake Saturday night. Sadly, I failed to get a picture of the cake with the only candle we had on hand--a huge beeswax thing shoved in the middle.

Asha did catch a shot of E playing with her birthday gift from her bestie (whose mom blogs over at ). Ahoy! Cake off the port bow!

And my favorite shot of the weekend: Bedgown Sunday Snuggles with E: 

(And the winter project? Correct shifts for E. I'm fairly sure she's wearing--get this--MY OLD SHIFT and though my parents didn't know any better then, there's some inaccuracies I need to fix.)