Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cloth Book for Baby

Whew it's been a while! 
I've been up to my eyebrows in motherhood and my life is boob-pee-poo-play-cry-snot-boob-look.I'm.a.bed.don't.move.or.he'll.wake.up-boob-rockabyebaby-puke-ABCDEFG-TIRED-repeat for 3 glorious months.

Happy New Year!

And without further ado, here's a cloth book I made for the kid. He likes it.
He loves the dots and tries to grab them.

He's keen on the red but only cares about the lace bit of the orange.

LOVES the yellow.

Boy likes yellow.  Ducks are yellow.. I have no idea why you keep saying "blue" Mommy.

Black textures.  The silk heart on the net is acceptable, but not the favorite.
I was not particular about my stitching lines or sizes.  Approximate was good enough, Little Dude is going to gnaw on it & probably puke on it.  Cloth books from the store are generally about $15 or so, and I needed construction to stay in the time frame of THE NAP.  All told, it was about 2 hours, so my "budget" was blown, but a lot of that was my own dithering.  The next one will be faster.

Essentially you pick a theme: colors ROY G BIV (WB) in this case, nursery rhyme, animals, an activity (playing with a ball), etc. and go with it.  Keep it simple.  Don't fret.
Kids this age just basically like colors, contrast, things to touch and most importantly, things to chew on.
As long as everything is secured and there's no choking hazards it's all good.

Each panel here is cut 7x7, different fabrics, lined with cotton for more bulk (the kid loves quilting, so that's next), then stitch right sides together with a binding strip, clip the corners, turn and topstitch.  The binding strips were sewn together in nice sloppy lines.  Pin those buggers, that much fabric likes to squish and slide.

You cannot do this wrong.  Just make it washable and it's all good. 
This is the bazillionth blog post about this, so it really is that easy.
Go for it!  The kid will love it.
Nummy book.

BTW, this is John Robert.  John Robert, this is your first blog appearance.  Congrats kid.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

One Life, One Death

WARNING: This is not going to be a normal AB&WOC post; I'm afraid I'm a bit on the emotional side, considering I'm in the 9th month of this whole Kid House thing, bare with me... it's about to get very personal.  Don't read this if you might be upset by it.

(I had to consider if I should publish this or not, and I've decided that while it's deeply personal, it might help someone else get through what we've gone through... I'll tell you that there are some situations that will never be "OK" and you don't get past them.  You go through them and you keep living.  Big difference.  But life is worth it).

Yay hormones!

I'm a bit worried about a friend of mine who has a similar history of pregnancy loss, ectopic pregnancy & general medical mess as me.  She's pregnant again & not quite as far along as is comfortable for people who have suffered multiple early losses.  Everything looks good for her so far, but it's still nerve wracking, waiting to hear and knowing exactly what she's going through.  I've tried to express that concern to a few people who promptly ignore and move the conversation to more comfortable topics. Understandable, and there's nothing they can do, not much to say, and it's so hard to relate... but it's frustrating all the same.

That her life is a scary parallel to my own, witnessing the total indifference of others is difficult. As my mother says, "nobody cares but you."

People try to be comforting and they say hurtful things without thinking.
"I'd stop trying after an ectopic!"
No.  No you wouldn't.  If you want a child and it's safe to keep trying, you keep trying.  It's as simple as that.
Ectopic pregnancies suck.  They suck so much I can't even begin to say how much they suck.  Not only is there absolutely no hope of survival for your might-have-been-child, it could easily kill you too.  And the solution to the problem (while not as horrible as it was decades ago) also sucks.  You are sick for weeks (maybe); it HURTS... it hurts more than a broken bone, more than being hit by lightening (trust me, I know).  It hurts emotionally because it's all so utterly hopeless.  And they don't tell you about the possible side effects of the medication because it's listed as "generally well tolerated."  Well, lemme tell ya, as a person who does not generally tolerate medications well, that was one heck of a roller coaster.  While I can't say for certain it's what caused my stroke last year (too many factors there), it was a contender, especially when you consider that I got the worst possible advice on what painkiller to take with it.
The one blessing in all of that is that I didn't have to make a conscious decision to end the pregnancy, I was spared that by fate & doctors playing "pass the bombshell" long enough that I miscarried naturally, but had complications that required treatment.  The ectopic was confirmed during surgery, but the whole communications mess that just made it worse. 
Now take those losses, the doctor-induced PTSD, a mini-stroke and months of recovery time... and after all that, no, you don't stop trying; not when both tubes are fine & you are medically cleared.
"Why don't you just adopt / take in foster kids?"
Well... lemme tell ya...
First, there are certain (very strict) qualifications a couple has to meet in order to adopt in the USA. 
Let's not even discuss going out of country.One is an income requirement, which my husband & I do not meet.   Basically you can work your tail off & meet the income requirements and not the time requirements, or you can luck into a job that pays enough & offers enough free time that an adoption agency will feel comfortable handing you responsibility for another human being.
The next is a house with so many square feet & room requirements for said human.
Health insurance to cover the above-mentioned human.
The list goes on & on & on & on.  It's extensive, but not impossible.
When we were doing the "full work-up" (that's what genetic screening & a bunch of tests to find out why we couldn't grow a kid past 12 weeks is called) we talked about this.  If we couldn't have natural children, we would have worked to become adoption eligible.
Second, and perhaps the most important aspect in all of this (that many people miss) is that I want my child.  Some people can adopt without batting an eye.  Others can't.  It really takes a special person to adopt a child, and I don't think I'm that person.  Maybe I don't give myself enough credit, but I want to see my grandfather's smile on my child's face.  I want to see hints of my mother peaking out in his eyes.  I want to see how much he looks like my husband's family, if he'll giggle like mine or chuckle like his.  I grow my own food, make my own clothes, own my own business.  Why would I do it any other way with my family?
As to the foster kid thing... I still might consider it.  Again, there are criteria that must be met that we do not currently meet, and it's a tough gig.  Those kids often come in with broken hearts.  100% understandable, but I'd have to be very confident in my ability to take care of them and be prepared to lose them on a moment's notice, not to death but to bureaucracy or paperwork or justice, or even back to their own parents (which is the outcome you hope for there).  That's hard.  Love is not so easily thrown away for me... after losing so many of my own, could I let go of a child I loved & see them go to someone else and not know if they are going to be OK?  Am I willing to put myself in a situation where I know my heart will be broken?
"What's wrong with you?"This may seem like a logical question, and when asked with sensitivity it is reasonable. 
But like many couples who either suffer early losses or infertility, the medical answer is "we don't know."  Amazingly, 50% of couples in our situation do not get a definite medical diagnosis.  The good thing is that there's always a chance in the "WDK" category that you can have a healthy, living child.  The bad thing is that you have no logical answers & the human brain craves those.
Small blessings that I ended up with a surgery that fixed whatever the problem was due to a misdiagnosis (All Better! as evidenced by my rather kicky kid) .  So, problem fixed, but lab tests were still inconclusive as to what that problem was.  This leaves us with uncertainty for the future.  We're good at getting pregnant, but once we have a living child, do we risk future pregnancies and possible losses?  How do you tell your son that mommy was going to give them a little brother or sister but now that's not going to happen because they died before they were born?  Moreover, how do you tell your son that he is your ninth child when he's the only one standing here?
"I don't understand why you keep trying.  I'd stop after X miscarriages."
Oddly enough, it's because we want a living child.
You see... there's this state called Parenthood that some people just want to enter into. 
Some don't & that's fine. 
But when you want it, no force on earth can stop that craving but to attain it.
For most couples (and singles), it's easy: want a child, have a child.
Not so easy for some unlucky people.  It becomes all-consuming.  It's your joy, your hope & your grief.  It's faith in the future.  It's love.
What deeper love can there be than what's between parents & their children?
What greater act of love can there be than to create a life through the physical expression of it?
When you have lost... You see, when you bring a life into this world, you've also brought a death into it.  One life, one death.  The only variables are how & when and what you do with the time in between.  My little ones who came before this healthy boy I'm about to birth... I loved them so fiercely.  Even knowing they would never live to draw breath, I loved them.  I begged God to let them stay with me, to grow, to live; and through the tears & the blood I loved them.  Even knowing the grief and the pain about to take us both, I loved them; at that point love was all I could give them, so I flooded them with love.  That painful grief is itself an expression of deep love.  Love is worth risking pain.
So no... you don't stop trying after some arbitrary set number.  You try until you can't try anymore either through emotional exhaustion or physical inability.  And then you may just try once more out of a last desperate hope.
Because that love is worth it.
Today the ones who came before are in my thoughts.  Some had names, some didn't.  Some spoke, some didn't (yes, some pregnancies aren't just weird food cravings & puke, they come with a voice too... it's a bit creepy to start, but it's a reality that science is slowly catching onto).  I wonder if he's one of them come back to me?  It's always possible.  While the body genetics wouldn't be identical, the spirit might be the same. 
I know he's not Brian... lord was that a bad match!  I wish that little soul luck in finding the right parents because we sure weren't it!  Anyone in California near a good surfing spot looking for a totally rad son? 
He's not Her... she was so afraid of life, so afraid of being hurt, so afraid of coming into the world.  I promised I'd love her, that we'd love her and that the world was safer than she thought, that it was beautiful... but she didn't want any of it.  I fought to keep her for a while, then realized that the least I could do was give her the choice out of love, and she fled moments after I told her she could stay or go, that living was her choice. 
The others didn't want to go any more than I wanted to let them go.  Some hovered for a while, not understanding that life wasn't going to happen. Others left when life faded, and perhaps before.  On average women will carry about a week after fetal death, sometimes as much as two.
I buried them all in the same place, a favorite childhood spot.  You see, when you have early losses, depending on your state laws they are not considered human, they are medical waste.  And so with all that love and grief, I should then give my children over to strangers hands in a cold lab to be analyzed & incinerated with the other trash?  No.  I'd rather go without answers and know I buried my babies with dignity.  Understand that is a very personal decision.  One not easily made because the quest for answers is compelling.  So while this was the right decision for me, others may handle this differently.
As of Sunday, my son will be term.  As far as we can tell he's a healthy, fat little baby boy in a good head-down position and moving downward as I type.  He likes music and dislikes gunfire (if you think a 36 week kid can't ninja to the other side of your uterus like an 18 week fetus, just go to a reenactment & stand next to the guns; he about knocked me over).  At least we know he can hear.  He thinks my walk time is his romper time (ya know that myth about "they sleep when you walk"?  Yeah, right).  He wakes up when his daddy comes home & loves to hear him talk, but won't move when someone touches my stomach.  He loves eggs & hates fish.  He's snuck soda by me multiple times (I can no longer count the glasses I've realized I'm drinking on the last swallow), but he's also a fruit eater like me.
We are both healthy.  This pregnancy hasn't always been a picnic, and I was terrified I'd lose him... and I think I would have if we hadn't gotten some really good advice from a retired midwife.  We put me on light duty & bedrest until I could move without pain.  I won't breathe easy until he's out & breathing on his own -  and that's not just because he's kicking me in the diaphragm.   Losses are a blessing and a curse.  You don't rest easy, you don't enjoy the pregnancy, when I bled a while back my heart was ready to break... it turned out to be no big thing, but I was terrified until he moved.  The blessing is that you know exactly how much this little person means to you.  You are keenly aware of their mortality, and of your own.

There are a few days or weeks before our lives change in the biggest way they will perhaps ever change.  All 8 lbs of it.  I know it's not going to be sunshine & rainbows - it's going to be poo & tears & puke & sleepless nights & silly shooshing noises until we hyperventilate... followed by "OMG where's my toddler?!?" standing in the road/up a tree/under a cow...and coming home from school upset about something, and (eek!) romance, and then god only knows what.  I know we'll screw him up somehow, every parent does.
But we'll also have sweet baby-kisses, chubby hands learning to pet a cat, those moments that are the Best Ever, and god only knows what after that, with love.
So, when someone asks "why keep trying?"  This is why.  A chance at life and the deepest love there is.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kid House

Yup, I'm a kid-house.
As many of you probably know by now from reading my FB page, my husband & I are expecting our first child in about a month.  I say "about" because the little darlings never show up when they say they are going to.

While this pregnancy hasn't been a piece of cake, it hasn't been totally horrible either.  At this point we have a very reasonable expectation of a living child.

I spent most of the first trimester on partial bedrest.  We were so afraid of losing another one, it was worth tracing the tiny cracks in the plaster of my bedroom ceiling over & over & over & over & over again. 
The second trimester was like "wee!  energy!" tempered with "Don't Lift THAT!!!"  I was able to go for walks, sew a little bit and regained a touch of normal life. 
Third trimester has been up & down.  Bed rest again for a bit, followed by some minor prego issues & borderline test results.  Nothing to indicate an unhealthy pregnancy, but things that do need to be managed.  When I push myself is when I get into trouble.  So no pushing.  I've been assured that we really are healthy, but I won't downplay the paranoia.

Mommy Brain is absolutely horrid.  I couldn't sew if I wanted to... it's as bad as being drunk, though not quite as bad as it was after the mini-stroke of last year.  The boy will be getting a lot of reenacting clothes with crooked seams & bad hems.    Somehow I doubt he'll notice or care.  I've sewn the wrong things together, linings to outsides, squiggly seams, cut original patterns vs. tracing over & making new ones, misaligned things, and a whole host of other bone-headed mistakes.  I'm told this will pass rather quickly & I'll look back on it with humor.  I certainly hope so.  I swear they steal a bit of our brains to make their own.

Upcoming Projects

All of this means that the business is closed for the next few months.  Tentatively we will re-open in February or March depending on how things go.  Once I can wrestle dummies around & take pictures of all the "new" stock that I never uploaded onto the old website, we'll have the new website up and running.  Though we haven't been taking custom orders for a while, when the new website goes up it will be purely off-the-rack.

Please feel free to call or e-mail and ask about what we do have in stock, but don't ask me to sew anything!  We'll both regret it!

Tentative plans are to attend Ft. Frederick in the spring, either as a vendor or as a camper.  This will entirely depend on how the boy & I are doing and if I have an assistant, and if they let me in after I skipped out on them this year (see First Trimester Coma).

Between now & then, I'm focusing on research (ha!  try that with Mommy Brain!) via photocopies, highlighters & notes in the margins.  Once I have my head on straight will any of it make sense?

- The main project is a timeline of patterns with research summary going from 1000 to 1500 for men & women in S/M/L.  These are outfits, not just one-off garments, and they all require fittings.  I will post the research & some pictures either here make a new blog specifically for this project and link to it.  It's an SCA thing and I have no intention of publishing or marketing the patterns.  Right now I have 4 outfits done, 6 to go.  I won't do much until I can actually sew things together to check how the patterns work, but I'm not in a rush to finish it.

- Spinning has been a wonderful no-impact past time.  I've slowly managed to make a few more skeins of yarn and I'm not unhappy with the results. 

- Moving the store out to the stone building (which is still dirt floors & broken windows) is on the back burner.  It must be done because the child will need his own room soonish, but there is a lot of heavy lifting involved that I'm simply unable to do right now.  I would like to have the floor poured before it gets cold, we'll see if that's possible or not.

- Diapers & Kidlet Clothes.  Yes, I've been making those silly cloth diapers that so many people love.  We managed to score some pre-mades which will fill out about 1/2 of what we need, and the rest I can do as he grows.  Reenacting clothes for the boy; trying to keep it fun, simple & functional.  Using quite a bit of scrap fabric.

The benefit to cloth diapers is both economic & environmental.  Also, much, much cuter than the plastic things.  And no chance of latex, perfumes, dyes or mystery chemicals.  I always wondered why I choked up around Huggies, and IDK if you know this, but they contain latex!  Uurgh!  So great, I need an eppi pen to change my kid's poo sack.  No thank you.  Cloth it is!
I got better at making them as time went on... this one - not so good.  It'll catch poo, but it's kinda ugly.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Real Models

Sometimes in costume design you have to sketch things out for a client or yourself before beginning a project.  The typical fashion design template is going to be something along these lines: http://defnotez.deviantart.com/art/Design-Template-female-166911755, which is fine if you are actually working in the fashion industry or marketing your designs to a corporation or manufacturer.

Unlike mainstream clothing design, historic costuming is a whole other ballgame.  First, no human being in the world has legs that are 6 heads long.  Most women range from 5-8 heads tall total, not 9 or 10 (or 12) like the Barbie-esque fashion industry would have us believe.  The average woman, American or not, has a much higher BMI than these ultra-thin sketches would have us believe; so to get a realistic idea of what my clients are going to look like in a given outfit, I go straight for the camera & photo editing programs, print the master copy out & go to town designing over their "real" bodies. 

The first set is from my own wedding dress designs using various patterns & fashion plates that I stretched to fit my own body in MS Paint.  I think these were from 2006 and it was the first time I used this technique.  Since it was my wedding, not a reenactment, I mixed a lot of time period elements.

First I start with the body blanks (now I take front/side/back)
Take the photos from the mid-level of the body to avoid foreshortening.
Edit out the background for a clean white copy.  
I also trim off things like t-shirt sleeves & other clothing bits that hang out beyond the form.  Skirts usually aren't an issue for me but if they don't fit your design have your model wear pants so you can see their legs.

This is the design I ended up going with.  The patterns were purchased from Truly Victorian with a few minor modifications.

BTW, Heather's patterns are awesome.

I fiddled with a few other cuts & time frames, but really liked the Monet's Picnic theme, so we stuck with the 1860's fantasy dresses.

You get the idea... same commercial sketches, slight variations in how I stretched the images to make them fit my own body.  It let me see what a 150" hoop looked like vs. a 100" hoop.  I also got to play with colors, though I knew I was going with red after having weeks of White Dress Nightmares.
We made a trial dress to get the idea of the shape (bodice not fitted here) and then went on to make the final outfit. 

I changed a few things as we went, rounding out the hoop, shortening the skirt, the neckline & waistline shapes changed a bit. 

If I had it to do over again (please, no more weddings), I would pick a different cut for the neckline & take more care in fitting the shoulders, but these are the things we learn in time.

Today I prefer to use a print-out master copy of the front/side/back photo & draw the designs with colored pencil.  This is especially helpful when a customer doesn't know quite what they want.

Below are recent sketches for Vicki's gowns from various time periods & locations across Europe.
This lets me plan an outfit from the skin out, listing the necessary garments & any important facts that go with them.
Hand drawn is faster than digital and I can easily explore slight design changes without cursing my mouse.

1430's Vander Weyden dress

1500 Italy, St. Catherine of Alexandria dress

1530's Anne Stafford dress

1580 Ball of Henry III dress

Let's face it; we like to look good & know what we are going to look like from behind.  "Does this dress make my butt look big?" can be a loaded question when asked by a reenactor.  Should it make your butt look big?  Does it look big in a good way?  This technique, while not fool-proof, will help you & your customer make good design choices from the beginning.

Monday, May 20, 2013

1860's Bonnet Construction

I have searched in vain to find a "how to" on putting together an 1860's bonnet, so here is a very brief "how I did this" picture tutorial. 

WARNING: I may not have done this correctly and I am not a professional milliner in any way.  I also highly recommend spending the money to buy this item from a professional.  Very much worth it.  Every penny.

Note: this is not my pattern.  Anna Bauersmith traced it off for me & sent me directions for a drawn bonnet (which I did not do due to a lack of fabric - not kidding, I had exactly enough silk to do what you see here).  You can see her blog here:  http://annaworden.wordpress.com/
And her Etsy store here:  http://www.etsy.com/people/AnnaWordenBauersmith?ref=si_pr  go buy something from her, she's fabulous.

1860 is not exactly a decade I visit very often, but there are many Civil War events that I want to walk into & visit this summer, so it required a new CW era day dress & some kind of head covering.  I'll get dressed up and have my dear mother take photos of my nifty Plain Jane Day Dress at some point.

I'm going to assume that you are starting off with a finished buckram or straw base, which you can buy from several companies, or make with a pattern, (though if you bought the pattern it probably came with directions for covering the hat & you won't need this).

All silk is flat-lined with cotton muslin to give it more body & make it easier to handle.  Flat-lining also provides a stay stitching line so the silk doesn't fray all over the place while you are working.

I highly recommend obtaining a curved sewing needle.  It will make your life soooo much easier.  Barring that, a very long milliner's needle will work well.  No teeny-tiny short things, OK?

 Start with the back/crown/tip of the bonnet & cut a circle slightly larger than the finished shape.  I used a 6" circle.  Whip stitch it in place.  You may have to ease things in to keep the silk flat.

Next, I pinned in the tip/crown/back lining.  (I think I did this backwards & it should be done last, but I wanted the stitching line for the crown to show me where to put the brim covering).  Make it look like a coffee filter.   Leave a lot of excess (this will be cut off shortly).
 Stitch to the tip/back/crown (optional) for a tip lining that stays in place.  Anna says that the lining is optional, but I wanted to make sure everything was covered and that I had something to stitch to when I put the brim lining in.
Stitch above the mid-wire line to secure the tip lining.
Leave the back neckline open for now with room to turn under.
Trim the excess off of, leaving a bit of a seam allowance so it doesn't pull out.

 Stitch the brim cover just over the back/tip/crown stitching line, turning under as far as necessary to make it a smooth fit.  I had some puckering at the top, which made me make a face.
(This is a movable line depending on how you want the hat to look.  Some are well onto the brim, others are actually gathered in on the tip itself.  Just depends on the style you want).
Pull the silk smooth & pin to the inside front brim, pin in place & stitch around all edges.  You may have to tuck/cut around the curves to get it to stay flat on the outside.  Fray-check optional at certain points.

Pin the back curtain or bavolet in place, arranging carefully so it doesn't go all wonky.  Make sure the tip lining is out of the way.
(Right now I'll tell you that this bonnet is too long for me on the tabs & bavolet, I have a short neck & it scrunches up... so you may want to make sure yours actually fits before you get to this point).
Stitch the bavolet on.
I left the tabs loose for now, you may want to stitch them on here.

 Pin the tip lining over the raw edge of the bavolet & stitch that.

 Here it is at this point.  Outside...
 OK, Everything look good?
Fix anything that isn't.

Stitch the brim lining onto the outer brim (it doesn't take much seam allowance & you may have to trim a bit here & there anyway).  There are 2 different ways to do this.  You can cut a lining to shape, or you can cut a rectangle the same length as the outer edge & then pleat/fold it into shape towards the smaller inside.  I've found examples of both techniques in the MET.
The brim lining can be raw if you are going to bind the edge with a finishing strip, or fold it over for a finished edge (that's what I did & it may change because it's uneven in places - see the right side of the pic?)

Stitch the brim lining to the tip lining wherever you can catch something without going through to the outside.

Feel free to decorate it however.  Most of the ribbons come right off the cheek tabs, but I've seen a few that angle to the back neckline/cheek tab curve.  Both inner brims & outsides were decorated in various ways: ribbons, silk flowers, netting, etc.  If you want to stick with historic accuracy, find a fashion plate or museum piece to inspire you.  If not, have at it.

Anna suggests adding a velvet ribbon to the inside brim where it sits on your head to help it "stick" in place.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Academics, Archeologists, Professionals & Weekend Researchers

Is it strange that most of my rant-posts come from Things People Have Said in online forums/groups?

Today got me thinking about Who The Experts Are, and who they aren't in terms of studying history, recreating it, etc.  I got thinking about what "qualifications" are.

I'll include college professors, published historians, museum specialists & those who both study and publish their findings in journals, books, etc.
Obviously published academics in any given field fall into the Expert category, though many are specialists vs. generalists, which is good!  They have a remarkable ability to shed light on a few aspects of life at a certain time & place, and while other aspects may escape them, their work in that area is invaluable especially for the generalist. 

On the down-side (also an up-side), just about anyone can publish today, and unless there is a period of peer review pre-publication, the work may have areas that are highly suspect.  One example of this is using Victorian Era sources as major references.  While many are excellent, there was a general trend at the time to "fill in" missing information with speculation, opinions & outright fabrications to bulk out the book - ur, umm, I mean "findings."  That work will also be colored by the author's academic environment (ie. politics), which is something to read with caution.  Humm... sounds familiar...  BUT, the moral of the story is, we have to be careful what we take as truth from literary sources & what we take as opinion or fabrication.
The best academics look at primary sources.  Actual literature of the time, first hand accounts, etc. 
Note: I just finished reading an excellent translation of an old manuscript where the translators took literally half the book to apologize for the original author's attitude toward women.  After reading the actual translation, I found the author to be a totally normal man of his time and while he might have made a modern woman a little flustered, it certainly wasn't cause for actual hurling of knives or general verbal evisceration. 

Which brings me to...
Archeologists!  (and pathologists, biologists, & whatever other "ologist" you can think of)
I do love archeologists.  Wonderful people who have the Best Time Ever digging in the mud with garden trowels & paint brushes and then sifting literally tons of dirt for some speck of metal/wood/fabric/glass/bone that Means Something.  Most excellent people!  (oh, and their slaves too- I mean Interns! Yes Interns... that's the right word...)
Definitely experts, though you'll probably go home with a stomach ache from laughing so hard after you talk to them.  They certainly have their own sense of humor (which is often edited out in their final publications).

The downside of archeological publications is that archeologists, like other people, come in different flavors.  - You have the minimalists, who write like a police report.  Just the facts, ma'am.  (I actually like them quite a bit).
- You have the moderates, who give facts, a bit of context & maybe some speculation as to use, etc. around the object being discussed; they might link said item to similar items found Here.  (I also greatly appreciate them).
- Then you have the dreamers, who give the facts, but then completely overshadow them in speculation, assumptions & embroidered stories about who/what/when/where/why/how and what they were thinking.  (While fun to read, I cringe at this Victorian-ish writing style because it leaves so much room for error... much like the Always/Never folks).  This is not to say that Dreamers aren't good archeologists, they just aren't very good writers... or rather they ARE very good writers, but they like stories a bit too much for my taste. 

These first two categories are Experts, no matter if you agree with their conclusions/findings or not.  These are the people from whom all others derive their knowledge.  They are the base of the pyramid of history, so to speak.

The Pros:
The next level of historic research is the Professionals.  This includes Experimental Archeologists, Craftsmen, Artisans, independent researchers (who can be just as good if not better than academics) and people who do Talks/Demonstrations.

There is a wide variety of competence in this category: you have everything from "The Guy At The Country Village Who Bangs Out Horseshoes Once A Month" to "Scott the Gunsmith who makes hand-forged barrels, locks & stocks based on decades of research, different forging techniques & skill... and sells them for more money than I want to contemplate anyone ever spending on a firearm, but will teach a weekend history class that's worth more than a college education."  (Can you tell that I like Scott?).

The long & short of it is that professionals make their living from selling their products, often based on years of research and skill development.  While not all professionals are experts, many are, and what they have to say about their area of expertise should not be discounted.  If you see someone who makes magnificent reproductions, don't hesitate to talk to them - they are a treasure trove of knowledge.  Let the junk dealers sort themselves out (they have their place & they do fine in it).

Weekend Researchers / Amateur Historians:
This category has the widest range of competence in it.  Many people will focus in on one area of history (like fashion or wars or one battle in a war), and stay there.  They become experts in that one thing and that's good enough.  Others are generalists & want to see the flow and context of societies.  They tend to get the gist of history, and are no less expert in that capacity than the others.
Some people will claim expert status based on having read one history book after college, or having joined some history club or other.  Others won't ever share their interests but have more knowledge in the library of their skulls than Alexandria ever thought of containing.

Perhaps the point in this bit of a ramble is that you never know who will fall into the Expert category and who won't based on an online profile, academic title or what history club someone belongs to.  The chick you just cut down for not being a Laurel in the SCA is one of the premier silver smiths at Colonial Williamsburg.  Just because you don't know her & she doesn't hold a familiar title doesn't mean she doesn't know what she's talking about.  Insulting someone who doesn't have a PhD, but has dedicated their life to experimental archeology - planting, growing, harvesting, processing, spinning & weaving flax into linen just to do it, one thing among the 1,000 things they've done... well, they deserve respect for doing it, and you may want to listen to them relay their real-world experiences. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Problem of Racism in Reenacting

Someone's feelings will get hurt. 
Someone will be insulted. 
Someone will take offense.
You'd better because it's cause for hurt, insult and offense.

1821  Public House in London, Crookshanks

I got suddenly & quite surprisingly upset this morning about an article on hidden racism in Goth circles, which you can read here (it's quite good).  I didn't get upset because of the Goths, I got upset because in my own dear social circle racism is positively rampant (let's not even broach the issue of sexuality, they aren't ready for the science).  Sometimes it's hidden, sometimes it's all out in the open for the world to see... probably depends on the weather & how much is left in the flask.

You see, Reenacting has a Racism Problem.

I know, News Flash, right?
But to me, it was a surprise.  I just (innocently & obliviously) figured that black people just didn't want to reenact a painful and difficult time in American history and so naturally gravitated to earlier or later time frames, like the SCA or Civil War era.  In part, this may have some truth to it, but there were truly shining moments for black Americans in the 1600's-1800's and we lose something beyond measure by ignoring that history.  We lose an entire cross-section of our society.

Then in 2011 my eyes and ears got opened.  Not pretty.  What I had taken as bad jokes in poor taste -for years- turned out to be comments & commentary that were said in all seriousness.

"Come over here and sit with the White Folks where you belong."
"I hate the N----s."
"It were the Africans & Hitler what spread AIDS"

countless others...

Then, in 2011 the call went up.

"White Power!"

It traveled from the man in front of me, down the roadway, skipping tents here & there but always carried on; some voices I knew and some I didn't until it'd gone from one end to the other like a shock-wave through camp, so many I lost count and for days I could hear that echo.

My heart broke that day.

You see, there are hundreds of good, honest, loving, accepting people in reenacting.  Many of them are very dear friends who would welcome anyone with a genuine interest in the hobby.
And then there are These Guys.
You want to come play with them?  No?  Neither do I.

Really, it only takes one or two turds to empty a pool.  We've got a mess of diarrhea floating in the shallow end.

I thought the sexism was bad, but quite frankly, having grown up in this hobby, wading through the opinions of Misogynistic Mountain Men is a minor annoyance; and they all know I'll gut them in a heartbeat if they put a hand in the wrong place... but somehow being threatened on a generic gender level with a bit of sexual harassment isn't nearly as shocking as realizing that these people, many of whom I truly like, could and would actually hurt someone for the color of their skin.  They actually, actively Hate people based on skin pigment.

Why am I so surprised?  I grew up hearing the n-word... though as it fell out of use my memory faded...

Because somewhere along the line, I got the idea that people were better than this today; that society's heart had changed, become kinder.  I found a nice pair of rose colored glasses & slipped them on without noticing.

Well, a couple years ago the glasses got cracked.  The Headphones of Happiness got removed & I hear you now.

So, when my friends ask me "what camps are you coming to? we miss you," I have to think long & hard about where I'm going and who I'll visit with.  I'll always wonder if your voice was one that was raised in that horrible call.  I can't see you through the veil of history anymore; I'll always wonder if you carry your modern (if outdated) ideals, prejudices & attitudes with you into this pretend past.  I'll always wonder if you hate me because I have the brown eyes and black hair of my possibly less than Lilly-White ancestors. 

So the next time a group of school kids comes through camp and asks the painfully obvious question "where are all the black people?" you'll have to ask yourself if you are going to tell them the cold, hard truth or give them a spoonful of sugar with the poisonous lie. 

It's a hard pill to choke on, Ladies & Gents.  To think that those of us who love history with such a burning passion would purposely exclude an entire race of people who contributed just as much as our own ancestors to the building of this country... A very hard pill to choke on indeed.

Note: There are a few black reenactors in the 1640-1840 scene, and I give them all the credit in the world. They are braver than I am, that's for sure... though I've never asked if they sleep with knives too.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Blogging

I know people use blogs for 10,000 different things, and that's why I adore this medium.
But I want to clear up some misconceptions about what I use this blog for.

While I have some semi-serious research on here, some crack-pot theories, some great tutorials, and some awesome "this is how I made this" garment diaries, this is not a place for uber-super-serious academic scholarship (as you can tell by my Valley Girl chirping of "uber-super-serious").  That doesn't mean that I'm not serious about my research.  It just means that chances are, you won't find the actual stuffy-academic paper here.  You're going to get the layman's version.

So that's clear, right?

The reason I'm bringing this up is that in the past 3 weeks or so, there have been several online discussions where bloggers (and some of them are indeed serious academic researchers) have self-referenced their own blog posts as serious academic sources.  These  blog posts did not, in fact, contain any historic references of any kind, no citations, no original quotes - some pictures, yes, (but they weren't even labeled with the museums or original publications)... but the words contained in the posts were those of the blog authors drawing their own conclusions about their own research.  Which is fine.  That's what research is for.  It's just not a suitable reference source.  You can't cross-check research that doesn't have references. 

So, dear blog readers; please be careful about listing your references, or please refrain from being self-referential.  You may well be "the best in the business" in your area of study, but without a bibliography post-post... it's useless to the rest of the world, and makes you look less professional than you may actually be.

Hopefully no one is mortally offended, but it's something to bare in mind.
Serious Research = Bibliography. 
No References = Just For Fun.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Skivvies Question

WARNING: this post is rather comically graphic about female anatomy & function (or malfunction), if you are shy about this topic, go read one of my pretty dress posts instead. 
If you have a giggling bladder, you may want to get a new pad before reading this.

Roman de la Rose
(Psst...the book is all about sex)
Getting lost down the rabbit hole of reenactor blogs is always fun.  Welcome to my little corner of Wonderland.

This particular burrow twisted its way to the topic of women's undies in the 14th c. or rather the lack of evidence for them (which continues right up to the 1790's when someone finally bothered to mention them, unless you are Italian, then go for it since pre-Rome).  It kept to the polite world of fashionable evidence*  and what was considered right and proper for the time and place.  All well and good, and possibly right... but I think on this topic maybe we should get a bit more personal, a bit more anatomical and a bit more honest about what girl-bits actually do. 
*or lack thereof except for the German things which may or may not have belong to a man or woman, the DNA tests were inconclusive.

I think underwear is like bras. Women with small busts will make the braless argument (14th c.), and have good physical evidence to back it up, "Look!  My A/B breasts are perfect for this time period!  I look just like the paintings." Women who are well-endowed can't imagine going without for extended periods of time - it HURTS, and there is plenty of written evidence to suggest that many people used bust support of some kind; be it camisoles, partlets, breast bags (bras), bindings, supportive shifts, etc. sometimes referenced in art, sometimes not. 

1411 Fountain of Youth
(look!  skivvies! on a person with boobs!)
Regarding underwear, drawers, trousers, leggings, etc.

The Period.
There is the old argument that says "they must have worn something at least once a month" which is valid, but can be answered with tampons* so as not to leave a red trail on the ground or stain one's shoes, clothes, furniture, etc... However, I want to take this beyond the pad/tampon sticking point and talk about the every day life facts of being the proud owner of occasionally non-cooperative and troublesome female bits - through sickness and health.
*for light flow folks who have never seen a clot in their lives...

Women who have slender thighs will say "you don't need drawers, they didn't wear them, go without," whereas women who chaff without leg protection will get a bit testy* if they are told they can't wear something to protect their upper legs from their upper legs.   Let's face it, Lady Monkey Butt may be awesome today (for 30 steps), but it sure wasn't on the market in the 1400's.

I happen to be one of these unfortunate souls - my thighs have not parted ways since I was 8 yrs. old and got run over by the puberty truck.  The last time I was able to walk around without a cotton lining between my legs I was in 2nd grade.  I hated gym class because you had to wear shorts.  Those stupid things would crawl up to my crotch within 5 steps, and here's the busty/hippy girl, trying to run around the track while simultaneously holding my boobs still, pulling out the frontal wedgie, praying I wouldn't get blisters and feeling them bloom with each step; looking like a damn fool and getting yelled at for being last because I was waddling across the finish line trying not to let my thighs move/touch/rub any more.  No, your thighs don't get used to it; they just chafe.  I tried it again a few times in college just to be interesting, and got rubbed red blisters with bloody abrasions that took weeks to heal with me walking around trying to be bowlegged.  It's funny, but I assure you, it's not fun.

A small piece of advice: don't even try to tell us girls with conjoined thighs that we should suffer for historic accuracy, or that our dusty counterparts did so either - no one is that stupid or masochistic.  I could rest my case there, but being mostly English and not at all Italian it's not a strong historic argument - though it does cover body type needs quite well; which should end the reenacting discussion for any rational, thinking, compassionate person.  For the love of all that is comfy, don't take my drawers away!

Personal Humidity.
Ladies with a drier personal environment may say "you don't need underwear."  Those who reside in the subtropics and employ panty liners to catch the copious amounts of mucus are not all that different from their ancestors.  Personal humidity varies throughout the month, and person to person.  Some people may never have a hint of moisture in their lives unless it's stained red... others have never seen a dry day.  If you are one of the many ladies of a more damp persuasion, underwear and liners become quite critical - especially if coupled with wedded thighs and fewer than 4 layers of cloth.

Can you imagine walking around with runny boogers hanging out your nose like that sticky toddler your used-to-be good-friend somehow spawned?  No?  Then don't expect someone to walk around with that between their legs.  Let them have their personal tissues which need something to hold them in place - like a pair of underwear, though I'm sure someone will come up with some ridiculous contraption to deny the possibility of such a simple, logical, easy (historically available) solution.

Yes, adults do it.  It's how we get the snotty-nosed toddlers referenced above.  Reproductive sex is messy.  If you are lucky, it's only temporarily messy; but alas, this is reality and like all other fluids in the pelvic region, it can surprise you with ill-timing and astonishing amounts later in the day.  Again, I reference the need for absorbent material on the outside.  Sex was considered part of basic human health, which has thankfully made a return in modern medicine (curse the Victorians).  The most common places you see women without underwear in Medieval, Renaissance & Baroque artwork?  Pornography.  Jokes.  Porny jokes.  Anywhere there is sex, there are naked bums. 

Yup, we all get them.  One kind or another, one time or another, every female on the face of the planet is going to have a bad girl-bits day.  Some are best treated with medicine, others with open air... but no matter what, medicine doesn't stay in.  It comes out eventually.  Preferably, it comes out when it's supposed to, which is in the bathroom.  Usually it's when you stand up from the dinner table... then you get that funny look on your face and your husband says "what's wrong Honey?" and you have to sorta try to smile and say "nothing Dear" but the kids all think they just did something wrong and now your husband is wondering what you aren't talking about and.... just imagine that moment on bare thighs and the uncertainty of where that precarious gob is going to land...  Draw whatever conclusions you like, but the fact is, things don't stay in.

Many women suffer from varying degrees of incontinence, which is quite natural after childbirth, as one ages, has hormonal changes, gains weight, etc.  I can't imagine visiting a friend in 16th c. England, being terrified to laugh or sneeze least my bladder let go all over their new imported oriental rug (which would probably be on the table, not the floor... but you take my meaning).  Nor can I imagine soiling every dress I owned every day at least several times a day while going about my daily tasks.  This doesn't rule that scenario out, but the fact is fabric was expensive.  Silk doesn't like urine, while linen will easily tolerate it.  A shift & petticoat are simply not enough to keep a 55 yr. old bladder's contents away from that damask when the human it resides in sneezes; but several layers of folded diaper linen, an absorbent weave often found in gong tower excavations, are.
Urine cannot be caught by tampons, the anatomy just isn't right. 

The moist squishy facts of being born with that particular body part is that it leaks.  It leaks blood, urine, mucus and various other substances as life goes on.  True then, true now.  For some women more than others.

As a reenactor, I think it has to come down to comfort and feasibility. If you are fine going without, go without. If you'll be crippled by blisters and chaffing within 8 steps or have a wet spot on your skirts 30 minutes into the morning, please ignore the skeptics and wear something.  Quite honestly, as much as I care about historic accuracy, anyone who is close enough to see that garment either needs to not care about your choice in undies or get kicked real hard with shoes that have metal bits built in.

In terms of history and evidence, if you want to find lady's underwear, look at what the sermons are preaching against and glance through the medical treatises on women's health, you'll find a lot more than what is listed in the tailor's inventories. Also look into funeral practices; personal items were routinely burned or donated to charity without being listed individually, and while we can't know exactly what was there, there is room for a reasonable assumption (with caution).

1475-1500 The World Turned Upside Down
Gender role reversals
Caution: Don't take my reasoning as proof.  There is scattered evidence, but it is not generally accepted in the academic costume community.  Take my reasoning as logic based on biology; but also remember that modern logic is not always logical in a historic context. 

I'm not using the "if they'd have had it they'd have used it" argument.  I want proof before marketing a product which is why I only carry women's drawers for post-1500 Italy and post-1800 for everyone else.  What I'm saying is, you live now, today in your body.  If it comes down to a choice between perfect scholarly accuracy and being painfully crippled for a week by chaffed thighs, the thighs should win. 

But I also think the thighs won then.  People aren't stupid, and they won't suffer needlessly or cripple themselves when there is a simple solution available.  There is absolutely no logical reason to assume that women did not wear similar styles of underwear as men did when need or want dictated... after all, it was women who made the skivvies in the first place.  It may or may not have been proper, popular or talked about in mixed company - other than in sermons where it was being preached against for hundreds of years - so why?  If it wasn't done, it wouldn't have caused the controversy.  In art, it's either satire or allegory, but that doesn't mean it didn't actually happen.  Just as today, different women may or may not have worn that garment.  Now, just as then, it's not anyone's business but your own.

(I sincerely hope that no one is deeply offended, I did warn you... But I think it's important to address more than the menstrual cycle when talking about this garment and its function in historic context for once-living women).