Monday, October 8, 2012


With a lot of care & work & changes
you might be able to make the McCall's into something worth the material going into it.
But probably not...

Yesterday at the Hartstone gathering (SCA) Vicki P. used a great word in reference to my "stickler for historic accuracy in all things clothing" - Purist.
I love it.
I admit, I'm not a Pure Purist.  I'm totally OK with machine sewing, modern interfacing for buttonholes, synthetic trim (when necessary) and even poly/cotton thread if Needs Must... Sometimes the design of the fabric is so very perfect, but the fiber content is a bit off, and that's OK as long as fire hazards aren't a concern.  Zip-ties for boning are A-OK with me, though I do prefer cane or reed or metal.

What I'm thinking about this morning is my personal approach when asked about historic clothes.  There, I'm a purist.
I will not give you an "incorrect" answer.  I will answer you to the best of my knowledge based on historic fact, my most current research & my best educated guess backed by that information.  I will also tell you which is guess & which is fact.
In form, function & outfit; the shape must be right, the layers must be correct and the fabric must have the proper weight & drape for the garment.

You must tell me specifics of where your persona is from.  I cannot help you if the answer is "in period" and "they traveled around."  It just doesn't work for me.  No offense to you, but you just fried my neural pathways & I have no direction to go in at all.  Tell me "French, merchant class, early 1600's" and I'm on it.  I'll give you the name of their tailor & let you know what kind of sheep they used to spin the cloth from, but don't try throwing Italy at me in the same breath.  If you want a versatile garment, tell me that.  Say "I want a generic Western European gown for the 1500's" and I can toss out a few that will work.

If the pattern is not available from a very reputable source,  backed up by historic information (archeology, museum pieces, literary sources, etc), it has to be a very educated guess, following the proper form, for me to say "yes, go for it."  Please, present your research to me.
I won't just say "yes."  I'm not a Yes Girl.
Please, do not hand me Simplicity or McCalls, though they can be decent when cross-referenced with real research. I know a lady who makes patterns for McCalls & she is Spot On... but she's one lady who occasionally makes patterns for that company, and they hire a lot of people who are not as careful.
When you ask me, you are going to get Janet Arnold, Norah Waugh, Linda Baumgartner, and a host of other serious scholars who have backed up their patterns/research with original garments & primary sources.  You'll also get Diderot, Gersault & Le Art du Tailor.
From there we can talk about adjusting to fit an individual portrayal; within your budget - but that's where I start.  Accurate.

Good questions to ask are:
- What garments do I need to make for this portrayal?
- Will I be comfortable in this outfit?
- What weather will this outfit/garment be suitable for?
- Can/must I combine it with other garments? (Is it versatile?  Is it a one-trick pony?)
- Would my persona have worn this or am I just making it because it's nifty?  (it is totally OK to build a persona off of a costume vs. making costumes to fit a persona; however you want to do it is fine).

Fibers & Materials:
I truly believe that using natural fibers - linen, wool, silk, cotton or a combination thereof - is the best course of action.  Care is straightforward, the garment will last for years, fire hazards are reduced to a minimum, natural fibers are more comfortable, and above all it's correct.  You can wear natural fibers to any event without worrying about looking out of place.  You don't have to gaze longingly at your pretty polyester petticoat & sigh because you can't wear it to this Uber-Accurate Event that it would otherwise be lovely for.  When it gets stained you can just throw it in the dye pot & it will take the dye evenly unlike synthetic or synthetic blends.  You can even dye it with natural dyes!
Using the appropriate weight fabric is also very important.  If you can watch t-v through it, chances are it won't make a good winter coat - but it might be perfect for a gauzy cuff or floaty dress.  Cheap cotton is just not going to cut it for a structured gown, where a nice linen, wool or silk would be perfect... even a heavier weight cotton can be lovely.

Good questions to ask & answer are:
- What fabric(s) was the original garment made from and why?
- Did it have structure built inside, or is it a soft garment?
- Was it made to go over a structured garment, or is it supposed to be worn on a natural form?
- What materials/accessories am I going to need to make this garment & how many yds. will it take?

Yes, fabric costs money.  Period.
It will cost a lot more money if you just throw "whatever" together & have to do it again later if you decide that you really do care & want to stay in the hobby.
It will cost a lot more money if you try to make the wrong fabric work by plastering $200 in trim over it when you could have just spent $40 more on the right stuff.
It will cost a boatload more if you use a crappy synthetic that shreds & blows out the first time you wash it, or a $1/yd cotton for an outer garment that should be relegated to flat-lining for quilts or making muslin mock-ups.
Personally, I think it's best to care to begin with... that way even if you decide that you don't want to continue in the hobby, you can turn a few dollars on your old garb vs. having to toss it in the Halloween Donation bin at the local Good Will - though that's not a bad idea... better than handing it off to some poor newbie when you know for a fact it's totally incorrect.

Good questions to ask are:
What is my budget for this outfit?
Where can I obtain the correct fabrics for this outfit?
What can/can't I skimp on?
What is necessary & what can be left off until later?
How will this fabric preform? (Will it be hot/cold/damp/comfortable etc.?  Will it shrink in the wash?  Will the combination of fabrics play well together?)

So basically, when you ask a clothing history geek "What should I wear?" don't be surprised if we won't compromise on honesty.
When you ask a Purist "can I use this (ghastly) polyester (modern) print?" and we say "um, no." don't get upset.
By all means, make costumes.  Costumes are cool.
Us Stitch Counters/Purists understand that not everybody cares about what we care about.  But if you ask us for help, and then say "well, I wanna do this totally farby thing anyway" don't take the ))Face/Palm(( wrong - you just asked, we just told you... we can't make you be accurate... but if you weren't planning on it, why did you ask in the first place?  Though we do want you to ask... please ask!
Just like we are going to ask about those fantastic apple tarts...

We aren't Perfect Purists, we know that.  Research continues, improvement is the goal... And I can almost guarantee we've got Pop-Tarts in our food box...


Cassidy said...

I'm very similar! Like you it's not about judging other people, it's just that I'm always going to try to do the best I can, whether for myself or to help someone else.

Jaquelinne said...

Hear, hear! Love the WTF image at the top. It took me a while to learn that authenticity is FUN. Mind you, I wasn't a costumer at first either. I played in the SCA simply to hang out with friends and camp. My foray into costuming was a struggle of self-taught muddling. But it always pays off when you don something beautiful and accurate - it feels like more of an accomplishment to make an historical dress than a costume. When you feel the difference, you know you've crossed into the realm of the purist.