Friday, December 19, 2014

All That Glitters: A 1930s Emerald Green Evening Gown

For the Historical Fortnightly All That Glitters Challenge:

 I had originally taken a somewhat broad approach to defining "All That Glitters" by drawing glittering out into! I had planned a 1930s silk evening gown with no glittery sparkle, per se, but plenty of silky shimmer.  I have a holiday swing dance to attend, and the thought of a shiny new dress was too tempting to pass up.  Plus it was my 30th birthday this month--what better gift than a shimmering 1930s something?

Then things took a slight turn, and my dress ended up with some glittery bling after all.

What the item is: 1930s evening gown with slightly shortened hem for maximum danceability
The Challenge: All That Glitters
Fabric: Emerald green silk charmeuse

Pattern: EvaDress E30 5918 :
Year: 1931
Notions: Thread and, afterthought, a paste buckle (more on that below)
How historically accurate is it? Eh...decent? The fabric and pattern are correct, and I utilized techniques as specified by the (original) pattern instructions from cutting through seam finishing and hand-completed hems.
Hours to complete: 10 +
First worn: For a Snow Ball swing dance--tomorrow!
Total cost: Under $100--I splurged on silk and got a decent deal, but that stuff ain't cheap on a good day.

Felicity models the dress in initial completion:

So, how did it go together?  My favorite part was probably the gathered shoulder bit:

which is done pretty much first thing and gives such an exciting tease as to what the final piece will look like!  The instructions call for twisting the shoulder as well, but a) I was unclear on exactly what the instructions were saying to do and b) I really liked the soft drape of the shoulders as they stood, so I skipped this.

For the main body of the gown, the construction techniques rely on one big trick for impact--a lapped seam joining the unusually shaped bodice and skirt together.  Lapped seams are tricky, and silk charmeuse is tricky, and together they are...well, tricky.

Two rounds of basting (once to turn under the raw edge, the other to make an initial join) and veerrrrry slow and careful stitching yielded a lapped seam I was....ok with.  It's not perfect.  But it'll do.

The finish work is mainly by hand--the instructions, to my surprise, did not indicate to face the arm, neckline, or back, but to instead turn and hem, which I did.  I'm not fully convinced this was the best option, and if I every do a re-do on this pattern, I think I'll consider facing these edges, or at the least the neckline.

As to how well I like it...

I tried it on and was, well, blah about it.  It wasn't the dress--as far as it was *supposed* to look, it was near perfect.

It was me.

I am not the willowy-thin pixie of the pattern cover--and the bodice of the gown had an unfortunate tendency to just kind of hang off my bust and create a rather dumpy look on me.  I had taken in the seams from the muslin I'd made, but even when the gown fit properly, it still didn't really suit me.

I decided to play around with it a little, and attempt some waist definition.  I settled on a self-belt--I am unsure if this is correct to the period for an evening gown and this type of pattern or not, though other 1930s patterns I've made did include self-belts.

And I added a little crystal slide buckle to the belt--All That Glitters, indeed.

A note to those making this dress--the pattern as it stands will yield a dress that is short on an average-height woman.  I chose to keep the original length because I was making a dress to dance in, but if you want a traditional full-length evening gown, you will need to add a few inches to the hemline.

Dancing (and, hopefully, pictures!) tomorrow!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Up-cycled Stockings--The Kind to Hang By The Chimney With Care

Taking a short break from the historical--though not completely, since re-using old things is about as historical a practice as you can come up with--for a quick holiday craft tutorial.

I'd seen and coveted knit, especially cable-knit, stockings from various retailers but the prices were more than I wanted to pay for a holiday decoration.  Cue a trip to the thrift store, where the aisles of gently worn sweaters called my name.

Turns out, it's exceptionally easy to turn an old sweater into a nearly-new Christmas stocking.

First, the sweaters.  I selected three sweaters in cable knits I liked, all in shades of ivory.  We have a three-person family; I got three sweaters.  It's theoretically possible to get more than one stocking per sweater, especially if you can find large men's sweaters, but I didn't find any big ones in patterns and colors I liked. (Hint--if you like taupe and beige, there will be plenty of men's sweaters for you to play with.)

Then, the crafting begins!

I used a stocking I already had and liked the shape of to cut my sweaters.  Simple--I just laid the stocking over the sweater (just the sweater, as it was, no cutting, turning, or manipulation required) and cut around it, giving myself about a 3/4 inch seam allowance.

You get two pieces, like this:

I just pinned right sides together and stitched it up on the machine.

Turned right side out, it's a stocking!  I trimmed corners and any edges that looked bulky, but for the most part I left a very large seam allowance.  Knits tend to ravel and I didn't want to deal with a hole in my Christmas sock.

I finished the top of this simple stocking with a basic hem:

You can also make a simple cuff.  I left one stocking extra long, sewed it up as normal, then cut the excess from the top:

Pinned it inside and stitched:


Then folded it over the main part of the stocking:

One of my sweaters was a mock turtleneck, so I left the ribbed neck in place when I cut out the stocking:

And just folded it over to make a cuff.

All three stockings, ready for hanging!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Planning a Foray to the 1930s

Despite my usual historical focus firmly rooted in the late 18th century, I do enjoy a bit of time traveling now and again.

I've planned a couple of fancy holiday shindigs this year, and decided I'd very much like a new gown.  And there really isn't any point in ever making anything modern when one can dash off to another time there?

There probably is.

At any rate, I finally settled on this 1931 pattern from EvaDress:

And took a bit of a risk on this very green silk:

Depending on which monitor, it varies from deep emerald to bright emerald green.  I'm hoping it's on the deeper side in person, but I'm all right with it either way.  I wanted a saturated jewel tone--though many 1930s evening gowns employ pastels and shades of white, they also can veer a touch toward the look of lingerie.  To modern eyes, bright or deep tones can counteract that effect.  In short, since I'm wearing this around modern people, not necessarily at historical events, I want to make sure the look says "eveningwear" not "nightgown."  

If all goes well, this will be my final entry into the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 and will be worn for a "Snow Ball" in December and a New Year's Eve fete at our house.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The AccountabilliBuddy Post: Winter Projects

Ah, that time of year when the leaves turn and the brisk fall breezes whip through the air...or it drops to single digits and dumps snow on you.


In either case, it's time to start thinking about winter projects.  If I wait until winter truly sets in, I get behind, waiting on supplies to arrive, or dip into Frosty Ennui in the wake of post-Christmas let-down.

So--the things I need to do and want to do:

1) Fix the sky blue gown.  I finally got the bodice fitted properly (which was a deceptively easy fix), but the hem is still my slapdash, make-it-work machined job and it's too long.  Re-hemming is on the docket.

2) Toddler dress.  I have the Larkin and Smith pattern and a stash of linen in various colors, and I'm looking forward to making something miniature.

3) I want to make a 1920s or 1930s evening gown because I very much want to host a Jazz Age Shindig at our house.  We'll see if either one happens.

4) And of course, all the Christmas crafts.  Don't be alarmed if this space is overtaken by Pinterest-inspired Christmas crap in the next few weeks.

5) In my dream world, I'd start on a riding habit.  We'll see, friends.  We'll see.

Ask me sometime around January how all this is going, mkay? 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Misogyny and Reenacting

Part of the Progressive Movement Discussion Broohahaha (spurred by this post, responded to in several venues including this one from Historically Speaking and this one from Kabinettskriege) has been the question of whether progressive reenactors and the progressive movement as a whole is sexist.  Some claim misogyny at the hands of progressive reenactors; others claim that progressives hold no more chauvinists in their ranks than any cross-section of the hobby and are in fact welcoming of female reenactors.

First, there is the issue of women feeling welcome to participate.  This has come under disagreement and discussion over the question of women-in-the-ranks.  There are those progressive groups that discourage women from dressing and acting as soldiers.  They would argue that this comes down to presentation, not chauvinism--that many women cannot effectively disguise themselves as men therefore cannot present an accurate portrayal.  After all, even the documented women who DID disguise themselves as men and soldier were able to do so because *no one figured out they were women.*  So the point is fair one--women who can't "hide" in men's clothes should, perhaps, not soldier.  However--are we going to turn away anyone with a physical appearance that didn't exist in a particular regiment for the purpose of authenticity?  Unless we're willing to refuse participation to those of Asian or African or American Indian descent who weren't present in certain units, or older individuals beyond the age range of the average soldier, I think we have a difficult question regarding women and correct visual impression on our hands.

In fact, many progressive women will set that limit for themselves--knowing that they can't effectively disguise themselves as men, whether due to body type or facial structure or what have you, they choose to avoid that particular avenue of participation.  That's, to me, progressive mindset and inclusiveness of women in action together--choosing the persona you can best achieve and pursuing it.

That said, refusal to permit women to "galtroop" is not a requisite of the progressive movement.  There are some progressives who are against it; others are fine provided that the woman hold herself to the same standards of accuracy and presentation as the men.  Excluding women from the ranks is not something the progressive movement as a whole agrees on, only some individuals with strong opinion.  And there are some mainstream individuals who discourage the practice, too.

What about the alternative--the choice most Revolutionary War female reenactors make, to portray the women involved in and affected by the conflict?  Seems to me that well-researched and well-portrayed female impressions are just as appreciated by the progressive community as the male.  Yes, I admit to seeing some "boys club" mentality from male progressives--but it's rarely "you're excluded" as much as it is "my area of study and interest doesn't really include women" and, well, once you get a nerd going on their area of interest, all else is forgotten.  Perhaps progressives would be wise to keep this unintended consequence in mind when discussing priorities and the big picture of our hobby--but women can also keep in mind that it's often unintentional and we should jump into the conversation and broaden it.

In fact, I have yet to see a progressive argue that women portraying women should not be included and encouraged, despite the fact that our numbers in camp are often ludicrously over-representative of historical norms.

I come back, ultimately, to the point that there are always a few jerks present in any sub-group, and reenacting is no different.  There are progressive reenactors who are jerks, and a few who are misogynist jerks.  Same with mainstream reenacting.  The truly insidious thing about reenactors perpetuating misogyny, however, is that when it happens, it's often under the guise of "historical accuracy."  And this may be why progressives are bearing the brunt of the misogyny accusations, whether fairly or not--the misogyny some women have experienced was in the guise of behaving "historically" and so it becomes tied to progressive reenacting.

I have watched men berate and belittle women at events, during and after public hours, claiming it was their "persona" and "part of the experience."  Now, if the women in question are fine with this kind of banter and play-acting, fine.  But BOTH PARTIES need to be in agreement that this is make-believe, and the women need to be respected as members of their unit beyond their (self-chosen) role as whipping girl.  Clear "enough is enough" rules should be in effect, and anyone should feel free to walk away from the game at any time.  There are times when this has not been the case.  I've been openly brushed off or ignored in situations where a man had decided that, since we would not have had an open conversation in the 18th century, he wouldn't have one with me.  (Never mind the fact that the reason for my approaching one such man involved official event business with which I had been tasked...)

Ultimately, there are certain men who do assert this version of "historical accuracy" whether others around them are interested in playing that version of accuracy out.  The version itself is honestly debatable given the many instructions on "courtesy" that include gentility toward women, but that's a different topic altogether and likely far more complicated than "this is right in all circumstances."  Individuals perpetuating this kind of behavior could be progressives researching and documenting their actions, or they could be repeating straight reenactorisms.

Even if we can prove beyond a doubt that men would have verbally abused women publicly at a given place and time, there are some things that we should consider carefully if we want to incorporate or not.  It may be "all pretend" but it's very easy for "pretend" words to start to carry a sharp edge.  It can begin to sow actual hierarchy and disrespect within a group if those participating are not very careful.  Again, it must be agreed upon by both parties, not imposed on anyone, and must have an "off switch." As a corollary, we know that corporal punishment for children was far more prevalent in the 18th century than today; we don't need to demand that parents adopt these modes of discipline with their children while at reenactment events.  Neither do we need to promote verbal abuse.  There are plenty of ways to display the social norms of the time that don't include that particular facet.

Less justifiable and, frankly, creepy have been sexual advances wrapped in the guise of "historical" conversation and not ended when the women in question politely requested that it stop, again under the excuse of "behaving" like a historical alpha male who would have, presumably, kept pressing.  Not acceptable.  At all.  We are a community here in the reenacting world, even if we have our neighborhoods of progressive, mainstream, somewhere in the middle.  Everyone should feel safe in our community.  Unwanted advances and unasked for verbal abuse, whether historically documentable or not, are unacceptable.

In the end, I've experienced far more camaraderie than misogyny, and neither progressive nor mainstream wings of the hobby is entirely guilty or entirely absolved.  It is a spot that either side could take the opportunity to "clean house" over--when you see something happening, address the issue.  Don't let the jerks speak for the hobby as a whole.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The More I Wear This Caraco...

...the more I love it.

Easy to wear, comfortable (really!) and such a happy pink.  Have I mentioned that I'm quite pleased that I chose Borderline Obnoxious Pink for this ensemble?  I am.

Photo taken by Earle Davidson at the Historic Locust Grove Market Fair last weekend.  We had a beautiful time--perfect weather, a wonderful meal on Saturday night, and evenings spent in the firelit kitchen and breezy front porch of the house.  Who could ask for anything more?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's All This Hullabaloo About Progressive Reenacting?

The interwebs of reenactors veritably exploded in the past couple of days over this blog post about progressive reenacting.  Frankly, I'm unsurprised at the post itself or the reaction to it--trouble has, to my view, been brewing for quite some time and boils over on occasion over the divide, real or implied, between "progressives" and "mainstream" reenactors.  So I'm going to ramble about it.

For the uninitiated or blissfully unaware, progressive reenactors define themselves as engaging in a continual attempt to improve their impressions and, in some cases, the hobby as a whole, moving as close to 100% authenticity as humanly possible.  Mainstream reenactors are typically defined in contrast to progressives.

So what's the trouble?  In short--the two groups participate in the same hobby, go to the same events, and have the capacity to get in one another's hair.  Progressives are accused by mainstream reenactors of holding everyone to unattainable standards; mainstreams are accused by progressives of doing disrespect to the history they portray through shoddy impressions.  Both sides accuse the other of bullying.

And that's where the blog post cited above kicks off--the bullying.  I have to admit, I believe the author does ignore the bullying that comes from mainstream reenactors ("stitch-counting Nazi" is a term I've seen bandied about and it's not very nice, is it?), but he is correct that there is rudeness, bullying, and general negativity coming out of the progressive movement.  Further, I agree that, with some of the harsh words I've personally seen, it makes it hard for someone unfamiliar with progressive reenacting to get on board.  At the same time, self-defined progressives get frustrated with repeating the same research and information--information which is, once one had familiarized oneself with the period, kind of no-duh on occasion--and with fighting the same battles when people don't want to change.

Why is this such a problem?

First and foremost--the divide is not formally defined.  Anyone could see very quickly that the definition of "progressive" I gave above is fairly open.  Am I progressive if I meticulously research all my garments but machine sew inner seams?  Am I progressive if I am slowly replacing incorrect clothing with more accurate clothing?  Am I progressive if my final product is completely handsewn and researched correctly, but I use modern cleaning techniques? Am I progressive if my kit is perfect but I change after hours? To some, no.  To others, yes. So plenty of people self-define as progressive but are scoffed at for various infractions by the most scrupulous participants.

So, we have two sides, pursuing the same goal (historical education) per their own admission, with varying interpretations of how accurate is "acceptable," falling on a spectrum of authenticity, with no clear, delineated divide.  And unfortunately, the most extreme of both ends of the spectrum are often presented as representative rather than exceptional.

Is there any wonder there's friction?

I said we're all pursuing the same goal, despite nasties spewed by both sides (Progressive: Welcome to Ye Olde Tavern--this is a historical theme party, not education! Mainstream: All they care about is themselves--they're on an ego trip and don't care about actually educating anyone!  Me: I don't actually support either statement, they're just examples!).  The trouble, as I see it, comes in over the issue of balance.  As reenactors, we need to balance authenticity with safety and with inclusiveness/participation.

Typically, the balance of safety and authenticity is easier to strike and to understand.  As many arguments inevitably descend to, no, we don't use real ammunition and we don't get smallpox to add to the effect.  In more nuance, we use flashgaurds when it wouldn't have been done historically, our artillery fires at a lower rate than historically accurate, we wrap cannon rounds in aluminum foil rather than linen, and many groups "elevate" their muskets rather than firing straight downrange.  We do inauthentic things to stay safe.  Duh.

The balance of authenticity with participation and inclusiveness is more difficult.  We can all accept that there are some things we will compromise unequivocally on--people should not be kept out of the hobby based on race or physical disability that would not have been present in the period.  No one is (I hope) turning away an Asian-American participant because "people fighting in the American Revolution didn't look like you."  No one has given my friend with a hearing disability grief for wearing modern hearing aids.

There are some lines, however, that we can't quite agree on.  Women in the ranks, for instance--if a woman wants to field as a man, is that ok?  What if she does a good job hiding her feminine features, but can't do so perfectly?  Not ok to everyone. We seem to accept and move on from the fact that many units have far more women in camp than they would have historically.  Should we pare down the number of women in camp for the sake of authenticity?  And the question of the day--how to balance inclusiveness of those with less than 100% accurate standards, and do we attempt this balance at all?

The big fight I see right now between progressives and mainstream reenactors is over this issue.  The argument that some of the demands that total authenticity puts on reenactors are unaffordable comes up often.  Most of the time, this is a crap excuse--making clothing yourself from authentic materials using authentic methods is nearly always cheaper than purchasing not-quite-right stuff.  There are times, however, when this is not true--I just read a post on my Facebook progressive forum extolling the virtues of $500 bespoke handmade shoes in contrast to ready-made $100 ones with some inaccuracies due to modern production.  Demanding that reenactors must shell out five times as much for shoes?  As dedicated as I am to my impression, $500 for shoes is too steep for me when I can have serviceable shoes for a fifth of that (and use that extra $400 to fix my water heater).

But even if it costs the same or less to be 100% right, there are those who still can't "afford" to do so--they may not have the time or know-how.  Frankly, I love handsewing clothes.  Not everyone in the hobby does--and some people have even busier lives than I do.  Do we tell them, "Sorry, get out, the fact that you didn't have time to handsew your entire kit, including seams I don't even see, because you were too busy cooking dinner for your five kids and toting them to soccer practice and earning a living means you're just not dedicated enough"?  No.  That would be stupid.  Even stupider would be to insist that the kids have perfect kits instead of jumping for joy that they're present, learning, and engaged in history (and are the future generation of the hobby, for what it's worth).  Balance--that family has worth to the hobby that can't be quantified solely by flat-felled seams.

The fact that there are people who manage perfectly turned out kits despite the crunch of time and money doesn't mean that it is moot as a point of exclusion.  We have to remember that we all enjoy different elements of this hobby--and believe it or not, some people don't really like material culture research or handsewing.  Instead of telling them they're in the wrong hobby because those are the things we enjoy, maybe we could take note of what they do love--maybe it's learning about 18th century martial tactics or hearth cooking or--woohoo!--talking to the public.  Doesn't that add something valuable?  Isn't it making kind of an exclusive value judgement to say that what they love about the hobby is "wrong" while this other version of reenacting is "right?"  Deep breath--they could say the same thing about you.

Except I don't think anyone should be making these kinds of claims.

And I come back to bullying.  Nine times out of ten, the words exchanged between reenactors are kind.  When they aren't, it often seems to come down to valuing different things about the hobby. I believe in minimum standards; I believe they should be high enough to be properly representative but lower than a progressive ideal.  Balance.

And then I believe we should stay out of one another's hair and have fun.  Remember fun?  Fun is good.