We always see them: the funky printed cottons in the stores. Sometimes we can’t resist, and then we wonder why the heck we bought it in the first place. Clearly, you can’t make garb out of silly prints!
Or can you?
This summer, I had a weird awakening. It’s no secret to my readers and friends that I’ve pretty much busted my rump this last year on research in Byzantine dress. From investing the money in Sartor fabrics to finding some of the best linens and trims I could to make a splash dropping my 12th Century side-eye skills, and spending 4 months on a master’s thesis where I dug into an 11th century will, I sort of put on a display this year like some swaggering Byzantine peacock (Byzancock? Argh, no, bad term, there.) It worked, and I’m exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of new exciting things out there waiting for me to sew, like my upcoming foray into Sassanian Persian for my husband and I, only because I hate money and I dropped it like it was on fire at Sartor while at Pennsic.
I am no longer in school, and working freelance back in the graphic novel industry, so yeah, I have the time to play with sewing again. Sassanian will be fun, it’s something I’ve wanted to examine for a while as a predecessor to my period’s Silk Road fashion. Plus, I think there are cool hats involved.
I digress, we came here to talk about fun garb, not Anna and Gieffrei’s soon-to-exist “you spent HOW MUCH on that silk?” Sassanian Persian with dorfy hats. Fun garb. How’s this?
Yes. I did.
Go ahead, clutch your pearls, get a shot of bourbon, whatever it takes. I made this garb. And I wore it too. At Pennsic for a party. Yep.
A lot of my friends think that I have this over-the-top obsession with flamingos. In fact, I really don’t. I just love tacky lawn flamingos. Now, Mistress Vibeke Steensdottir back in the East Kingdom? Now SHE’S the awesome flamingo maven, complete with flamingo wing heraldry. She was the first person I know to document flamingos in period, so really if anybody deserves the credit for flamingo adoration, it’s her, not me.
I own pink lawn flamingos because I bought them for holiday decorations. I got mad at my former apartment complex for having stingy rules about decor and “religious” exemptions, and went a little nuts. They also look hilarious in snowbanks.
But anyways, yes. The short story is that the flamingo fabric magically appeared in my shopping cart at Joann’s during a sale event on red tag materials and then it came home with me. My initial intent was not garb, even though I joked about it online. It was going to be curtains or a sundress, or something festive to add to my Flamingomas decor. I mean, it’s a printed cotton twill. It would make crappy garb, and probably get me some sneers if I did it anyway.
Fast forward, I graduate, I move across the country, I’m unpacking my fabric onto my shelves, and I see those flamingos staring right back up at me. And that’s when I remembered something.
Let’s take a closer look:
Two out of three women in this section are wearing gowns with some form of obvious waterfowl, probably geese or ducks, maybe even in a way for the artists to mock Theodora and her former profession, but it’s pretty clear. So yeah, waterfowl on Byzantine garb, check.
But seriously, flamingos?
Now, I’ve seen this thing in person at the Cloisters. Those birds are screaming pink. Yes, they have green ones facing them, but that pink is deliberate. Sure it says swans or herons, but you know, we all know. Who makes deliberate acid-pink birds on a chasuble and wants us to think “swan”? Okay, that’s a stretch. I know.
Want even more of a stretch? You’re probably wondering how I justified having a cotton tunic? A printed one at that. Well, recent research has let me to uncover a booming cotton industry in Anatolia, but also, that printed cotton fabrics were coming out of Persia during the Middle Ages. Like this example from the 11th Century.
I’ve also seen this one in person, and it pretty much made me squeal in the gallery. You can read more about it here: http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/448647
So basically, what I just did was stunt document a 6th Century flamingo dalmatica by using objects from the 6th, 11th, and 15th Centuries from 3 different cultures. It’s not something that will pass an A&S competition, so please don’t try this and tell your judges I said it was okay, but it was a way for me to appease my accuracy-brain for the sake of fun. We do this for fun, and it’s still okay to have fun.
Now, don’t go making yourself a closet of these things and brag that my blog told you it was okay. Make one. Wear it to a party or to a silly garb event. See if you can document some shapes and techniques and turn it into a conversation piece, which is basically what I did with mine.
“Hey, did you know that printed cotton is period? This tunic is silly, but let me tell you about this fragment I found while doing research…” Seriously, it sparked some great interest in printed textiles, which is already a growing trend in the SCA. So, why not see what direction a goofy idea can take you for your next big project?
On another note.
Speaking of authenticity brain…
The funny thing is that why I was planning the Fowl Dalmatica (yes, that’s what I call it), a bunch of friends were checking out Duchess Aikaterine’s tutorial on Youtube on how to make a Roman stola out of a sari.
I’ve had this love/hate relationship with saris being used for Roman garb for the longest time. I love it because it looks amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s exotic, it looks decadent and exactly what a Roman woman would have loved. I hated them only because they weren’t period and refused to make one for myself. Which is kind of a stupid reason, considering I made Jeff and I’s Babylonian garb out of vintage saris, so I’m really a big fat hypocrite who got stuck in the authenticity brain pool, swimming in circles, versus letting myself have fun.
…So I did it. I regret nothing and I want to make more. Plus, her draping technique for the stola is way better than my pinched in neckline, and the front/back seams versus side seams may just make more sense.
I will say that it definitely doesn’t work as well with linen unless it’s a thin, hankie weight linen. I made one of a 5oz linen and it just didn’t…manifest at the shoulders like the cotton and the 3.5oz linen did. So keep that in mind should you try this pattern. I’m going to try again with that fine pink linen I just got in from Sartor (see above) since it’s rather sheer. It would make a lovely stola, and I do need to start dressing like I’m married more often.
The only real downside to wearing the thin sari cotton is that it’s clingy, so I’m not sure how well it would do as a chiton underneath. I picked up some more vintage saris from eBay to try, as well as a couple of real silk ones at Pennsic (by the way, if you bought the 4 for $100 silk sari deal at Pennsic, better burn test a swatch, I got 2 real silk ones, a totally poly one, which I knew and bought really only for craft purposes, and a nice art silk one that melted to the plate when I burned it, so yeah. Check your purchases.) DO NOT MAKE THIS OUT OF ART SILK. Art silk is not “real” silk, it’s short for artificial silk, and is usually a poly rayon blend. You will boil alive. Granted, in real silk you’ll boil too, so, pick your poison. I’m not sure if the Romans had access to cotton, even though it was being cultivated in Egypt and Persia pretty early, but it’s a far better option than dead dinosaur.
I’m going to be making some more lightweight Roman and Byzantine (which I’m calling the Byzanlite) for regular wear here in Caid. My garb arsenal was just not originally designed for events at 110F, but hey, for when we get a cold front in February, I guess I’m set.
So, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to shake off the stuffiness once in a while, and remember we do this for fun.
…Not that I don’t think hours on International Medieval Bibliography and making interlibrary loan requests isn’t still fun, mind you.