Sunday, August 26, 2012

Medieval Dress For Renaissance Faire 2012

I finally finished the dress, which by the way is called a Bliaut.  I made tons of mistakes along the way but I’m very proud of my work.  My efforts were concentrated on historical accuracy and ensuring that I, in fact, made a dress and Not a costume.  Costumes are flimsy things that are constructed of poor materials and are not made to last.  Clothing is made to be used and of better quality fabric and I kept this in mind while I worked on the Bliaut.  Of course, the first mistake I made was purchasing a Brocade fabric when Bliauts are made out of Silk.  Well, now I know better for next time.

Actually, I finished the dress around 2:00 am this morning just in time to go to the Renaissance Faire today!  I did a lot of walking and I’m exhausted!

First I’ll show you some progress pictures and then I’ll follow it up with a picture of me wearing the dress.

I forgot to take a picture of the fabric before I began to work.  Here, I have the beginning of a dress that is mostly pinned and baste-stitched.  The sleeves you see here were not quite right, so I redid them.

Continuing my research, I learned that during the Medieval period grommets had not been invented yet.  All lacing was done using hand made eyelets.  I lost count at 40.  My hands hurt - a lot!

Another thing I learned is that lacing was done is a spiral motion instead of the criss-cross motion we use when we tie a corset or shoe laces. Here, I'm testing out the eyelets and practicing the spiral motion (the dress is inside out).  My hands, kept out of habit, trying to criss-cross the cord.  Also, the Bliaut is laced all the way up the upper sleeve.

There are many variations on the sleeves that were fashionable during that period.  I decided to scale down the bell sleeves this year because last year I had a difficult time managing my sleeves.  They trailed the floor and extended beyond my wrist.  The simplest things weren't simple and things became especially challenging when it came time to eat.  I can't help but think that perhaps I scaled them down too much.

Also, purses as we know them today were not used.  Instead, a simple pouch looped through a belt was the way that people carried their valuables.  Originally, I constructed it with a belt and loop design.  After testing it with my wallet, cell phone, keys and camera, I discovered that the belt and loop weren't strong enough to keep it secure.

So, I removed the loop and added a clasp.  I instantly preferred this method not only because it was more secure but because it gave it that Medieval touch to finish it off.

Because the Brocade fabric I chose was so detailed, it was very difficult to find trim that wouldn't clash with it.  So, I improvised and purchased plain ribbon, some simple trim - sewed the trim onto the ribbon and used this to create the belt (girdle) and to trim the collar and sleeves.

Here I am in my front garden just before I left for the Renaissance Faire.

I'm at the Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, New York.  The sleeve of my chemise is peeking from under the bell sleeves.

Although I wore a circlet, I wasn't historically accurate in that area. During the Medieval period people were ruled my modesty and religious piety - especially women.  

A woman's beautiful and classically long hair (reaching and sometimes extending beyond the hips) would've been an allure and temptation to the men and therefore a sin.  

You might see young girls and the occasional maiden on her wedding day sporting uncovered hair.  Married women always kept their hair covered.

To ensure historical accuracy, today I should have worn a wimple, a veil, and the appropriate head dress on top of that like a Torque (a type of pill box hat).  I did a quick search on Google and found the image below of a woman wearing a Torque with the attached veil and wimple.  This is what I should have looked like today.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Terror In The Mansion

I had a dream that was so vivid, its lingering essence stayed with me for a while after I awoke.  

It was night time – not too late – perhaps seven or eight o’clock.  The night sky was clear, the moon large and beautiful and the wind calm.  Nothing so far gave any inkling of what was to come next.  I approached the Estate; it wasn’t a mansion in the modern sense but a Georgian Manor.  It had an air of Old Money – made of stone, grand in size and class.  I found myself inside where the décor was purely Victorian as if the house inside was different from what the exterior implied it to be.  

Immediately, I felt the change.  Where a moment ago I was calm, now I felt apprehensive but didn’t know why my instincts felt this way.  The environment was formal, ultra posh, stiff, to say conservative is an understatement.  The chandeliers glittered, the wood gleamed as if oiled daily and the diffused lighting was comfortable to my eyes but also lent itself to darkness.

The servants because I had the sense that’s what they were, that they weren’t treated as employed staff but people who were beneath the elite’s station.  The servants’ were dressed in formal Victorian uniforms.  The man with stiff shoulders and scrutinizing stare that bore into you as if he could read your thoughts was, without a doubt, the butler and his demeanor was beyond reproach.  The maids with their impassive faces moved stealthily about the house and would appear as if from nowhere.  Their eyes, like the butler’s, were disapproving as if they had taken the measure of me and found me lacking.  I feared them, I feared them realizing that I didn’t belong there.  That I was an imposter and shouldn’t be served at the table along with my betters and should instead be relegated to eat on the kitchen floor like a common mouse.  The problem was that I didn’t belong in the kitchen because I didn’t belong with the servants either.  It was unexplainable how all these feelings kept projecting into me; some from glances or from tea service being served in restrained politeness. The type of politeness that lets you know without a doubt that you’re not welcomed here.  

I interacted with the Lady of the House, an elegant matron whose presence commanded attention.  She was impeccable in every way.  Her manner bespoke grace and good breeding; her age did not detract from her beauty.  I was in awe and I felt small, inbred and homely in comparison.  The conversations around me were muted and I couldn’t make out what was said.  Occasionally some of the other guests at the table would speak to me, but I don’t remember what they said or what my responses were.

I was dressed in a beautiful Victorian gown of a dark color that I can’t remember the details of, my hair coifed in an elegant bun with ringlets fringing my temples and the nape of my neck.  I wore pearls at my ears and neck and they were simple but elegant, my bearing was graceful – I looked like I belonged.  The sense that this was a bygone era but the modern me was going through the motions was very strong in me as if I was reliving someone else’s life.  The setting was so upscale that I had no doubt that the crystal glass I drank from was pure crystal, the china dishes I ate from were the finest china and the silver I cut the meat with was ultra fine. 

The servants watched in silence – forgotten statues until needed for service – their eyes missed nothing; and I knew they watched me.

The dream became scarier after that and yet I still don’t fathom where the danger came from.  The house was enormous – extremely expansive, where rooms let into other rooms and I knew that there was no getting out.  I knew that I was trapped and that I was running out of time.  What I didn’t know, which added to the feeling of dread, was what would happen once I ran out of time, once they discovered I wasn’t one of them. 

I measured my words, I was aware of my movements – how I walked, not too fast a Lady doesn’t rush, even how I drank my tea, handled the silver and how I managed to extricate myself from room to room opening doors, only to find other rooms beyond.  All my movements, all my expressions and mannerisms were controlled, repressed in order to portray a persona that would fit the environment I found myself in.

The inexplicable fear kept mounting urging me to keep searching for a way out of that house.  After the first few rooms, I barely noticed the lavish décor – the paintings, sculptures, richly upholstered chaises, and tile mosaics.  I rushed from room to room, the rustle of my skirts trumpeting in my ears.  The eeriness crept up my spine and I had to remain calm, smile when someone would enter the room I just trespassed and pretend that everything was fine.  I kept constantly moving, encountering people in some rooms but not in others and trying to appear at ease while moving on.  

At the end of a corridor behind thick drapes was a window, which I opened only to discover that I was three stories up when I didn’t climb any stairs.  This went on a bit longer, perhaps another minute, but my heart thudded.  I saw my gloved hand reach for a door knob, turn it and pull the door open.  The room was no bigger than a broom closet with a ladder that led the way up, I glanced behind me to see if anyone was coming and seeing no one lifted my skirts to climb up.  

I was terrified and never got to find out why because the alarm woke me up. It’s difficult to describe the dream and convey the suspense, dread and terror that I felt.  I didn't watch it like a movie, I lived it. And there wasn't a monster or anything I could point my fear to.  But I knew in my core that there was something utterly wrong with all of those people.  

I knew I had to escape if I wanted to live.  Although there were no signs that I could see or hear, my instincts told me to get away.  My life depended on maintaining the façade that I was like them.  

As the day went on and the fear finally began to ebb away, I realized that the reason I had been so afraid was because I had been the only Human in that house.  What they were, I don’t know.  

There is something inexplicably terrifying about being in a room with people that may appear to be Human but who are not.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Too Busy Sewing To Write

I've been very busy sewing since I last blogged.  After looking at various gowns, I decided to make a Medieval gown (think Lady Guinevere) instead of a Renaissance gown.  And although I've been working without a pattern, I've made some progress. I started with the chemise first. The chemise is now finished and I can concentrate, worry and panic about sewing the over-gown (because unlike the chemise, that's what everyone is going to see).

I didn't want to make a simple chemise because what can I say? They're just too plain.  I found an image online of a noble woman's chemise and, of course, that is the one I wanted.  I printed the pictures, taped them to the wall and between scrutinizing the pictures, muttering to myself that I'm a nut job for adding more stuff to my plate, and re-watching the X-Files starting from Season One; I finally have something to show you.

Here it goes:

Luckily for me, I have a dress form that comes close to my measurements.  I picked up the fabric, pinned it to the dress form and then tried to figure out how to begin cutting it.

Here, I'm trying to give the fabric some shape as I stare and stare at the pictures taped to my wall and try to duplicate the form with the fabric.

Aha! Now we're getting somewhere.  By this point, I think I've developed a nervous tick and possibly Schizophrenia since I keep having these dialogues.  Yes, I said dialogues not monologues because I keep answering myself.  I suspect there's more than one personality inside of me.  That's alright, it'll go away once this project is finished.  At this point it's still mostly pinned and basted in some areas, but as the picture shows it's looking like a chemise - which is actually a dress used as underwear.

As you can see from the picture above, although the fabric isn't white it is quite sheer. So I will not be uploading a picture of myself wearing the chemise.  I did take a picture and once I saw it, I was like "Oh No, I'm not uploading this picture.  You can see my knickers!"

Here you can see the detail of the trim and button on the sleeves.  I like it - hope you like it too!

In the end, I wanted to show you what the garment looks like worn, but didn't want you to see my cellulite.  So I played with the camera trying different angles and finally settled on the picture below.

There I am wearing the chemise and you can see the trim at the hem.  I like the end result and am pretty proud of it.  Wish me luck with the over gown.