Okay, what was THAT at Birka? My “Romanov Romanova” makes her one and only SCA appearance.

Probably the crappiest attempt at 17th C. Imperial Russian you’ll ever see, but it was coated in bling so it doesn’t matter.

This story begins, as so many do, with the quintessential opening of, “So no sh*t, there I was…” It was February of 2016. I was at a tiny pop culture convention at UConn with some friends who I’ve known in the comic artist circuit for no less than googlety years.

…Yes, I draw, by the way. My first degree is in art, and I’ve been working on and off in the pop culture industry now since 2002. The latest thing I churned out was this Master Chief for my brother-in law. This is not relevant to my post. I just wanted to show it off because I slayed that bristol board.

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Image is watermarked. Please don’t steal art, it’s not nice.

Long story short, I had secured badges for San Diego Comic-Con International, yes, the big one, and I was chatting it up with a friend in our hotel room on a freezing cold night in Storrs, CT. She randomly suggested something along the lines of, “You should totally do a historically accurate Black Widow.” And I only half heard it. So while she was talking about art, I heard “costume for Comic-Con”, and the rest was history.

The kicker was getting in a position to make it before the con. Our move from New Hampshire to California had already been scheduled, and I was in the middle of writing and sewing my thesis. So what it came down to was waiting until I actually lived in San Diego to get started. This would not have been so bad, if we didn’t wait a month for our household goods to come in. When all was said and done, I had 3 weeks to pull it together. I began ordering supplies before I had a sewing machine in my house, and basically launched this project on a Hail Mary.

Since I made this for convention cosplay, versus SCA wear, I decided to focus on the look of the costumes from the 1903 Ball at the Winter Palace, in which the theme was to wear 17th Century court dress. So it was already going to be anachronistic in addition to costumey. I chose the look of the coat of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, sister of Czar Nicholas II, and the kokoshnik from another noblewoman.

 


I shorted the hem of the layers to make sure I wouldn’t trip and fall in a convention center. I used every machine trick I had to save time, and collected plastic beads, rhinestones, vintage beaded trims, buttons with black widow spiders on them, and embroidered patches churned out on a friend’s embroidery machine. In the end, most of the handwork involved was just on the kokoshnik. I threw lace on the forehead instead of beads, because I don’t know how to do that type of beading and there was like zero time to try to learn. The patterns are overly simplified to facilitate speed. I’m pretty sure Russian coats were not made like t-tunics.

I was sewing up to the night I wore it, but it paid off in the end: I was awarded a hall costume blue ribbon from the Hollywood Costumer’s Guild, and got to meet Terry Dresbach, the former costume designer from “Outlander”, who immediately recognized my attempt at a historical version of Black Widow. I didn’t get my picture with her, but I did with others from their group.

Here is a full gallery of the construction and wearing of the costume at SDCC. Note the crazy nuances like my makeup, and nose ring. This was never intended for SCA wear, it’s more like a Las Vegas Imperial Russian.

 

And then the costume got put away in my closet, and came out again for Costume College in 2017, but I didn’t wear it.

And then the 2019 Birka Garb Challenge was announced as “Marvel and DC Superheroes and Villains”, and I was like, “Well, okay. I’m skipping this one. Unfair.” And then I got talked back into it. Originally, I was going to enter as Thanos in full crazy 12th Century Byzantine complete with chased and repoussed “armor” as a loros, and then decided I didn’t want to do that much work. So, I backed out again, in prep of doing the medieval persona hike here in Trimaris in February at Corsair’s Heart, which I figured would give me a better avenue for re-wearable garb.

…And then I got asked to trot this haute mess back out. Since nobody back in the East Kingdom actually saw it in person, I had a few people who really wanted me to bring it. I had even more people who didn’t remember, or know, that I did this, so when I posted a few pics to social media that one was coming out of the vaults, I think it really intimidated a lot of other participants. For their benefit, and my own, I decided I wouldn’t enter the fashion show, and opted in to judging it instead, which, honestly, was so much fun, I would totally do it again. I loved sitting on the panel and admiring all of the entries with the other judges, TRM East, Her Highness East, and Her Highness Atlantia. We had an absolute blast.

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So yeah, if you saw this, and wondered what the frack it was, this is what it was. The ribbon hangs in my studio, underneath a ribbon I won at Arisia 2009 for my first ever Byzantine ensemble. They’re a nice reminder to stay humble. 😉

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A quick favor to ask…

So I’m currently in the lead over at Fabrics-store.com’s Reenactment and Costume Contest, which is sort of funny, because I had to get my arm twisted to enter anyway. It’s even funnier than it’s our Norman garb, but I digress, I could use some votes to stay on top!

It’s simple! Just make an account (free!) and vote once every 24 hours for the next 2 days. The store doesn’t spam you with emails, and you can toggle that once you have an account. I would also appreciate a share or two on social media if you can spare the milliseconds and bandwidth.

The link is here:
http://www.fabrics-store.com/thestudio/index.php?r=photo/detailedPhoto&contest_id=10114&id=3116

And this is our hotness:

Thanks!

My Compleat Anachronist is out!

Coming soon to a mailbox near you!
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If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.

I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦

The First Round of “Ask Me Anything” Answers!

Sorry this took a bit, I was hoping to get a few more, but this is a good start.

I think I did myself, and everybody, a great disservice by saying I would help with general medieval information. I sat here and derped pretty hard, so, for future questions, please keep them limited to Roman/Byzantine only for my own sanity, and for the sake of the querents getting a decent answer. Questions can be sent to syrakousina -at- gmail.com. (remember to remove -at- and replace with @, no spaces.)

 

Libby: Do you know of a survey of band weaving finds from 13th century and earlier?

I’m afraid I do not. Since I don’t weave more than an inkle band here and there, it’s just not something I look for. If somebody else sees this, hopefully they can chime in down in the comments to get you where you need to go. You honestly will have better luck in a weaving group on Facebook than I can find you in 3 minutes of google searching.

 Nicola: I am a fan of your blog and enjoy seeing your research and the work you do for your SCA persona and the community as a whole. I’m a LARPer over in the UK and was wondering how you keep the veils and layers of headdresses in place. The persona I’m currently playing is from medieval times but practical hints and tips would be very interesting to read about, if you’re willing to write about something a little more off topic.

You need to use bands, and pin the veil to the band. This is a period method, and you can really impress your LARPer friends. I’ve used this guide now for years: http://www.virtue.to/articles/veils.html Now, I’ve made some adjustment since my hair was so short for years, but now I’m growing it out. I’ve found that in a pinch when my hair was in a pixie cut, white cotton headbands you can buy at the drugstore do the job since they really aren’t going to slide anywhere. Now that I have shoulder-length hair, I cap it up first. You can see it a bit here with my 11th Century veil. The cap beneath my veil holds back all of my hair, and then the silk veil is pinned over it, allowing my coronet to just sit on top and not have to be shoved onto my head, or cause more weight. The gentlewoman to my right in the veil is also wearing a cap beneath hers, and you can see the pins better.

 

Dyonisia: So I have been fascinated with hoods for a while now. I make them and end up giving them away. But i also want to get research information on them. My focus is from 1000-1600.  I also am looking for any embroidery that are on those hoods. Any help would be wonderful.

I am also interested in shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at what was shipped and where they were going. I am looking at 1200-1600. Any resources ect. would help.

This is a really really REALLY broad topic that I feel could benefit from narrowing down into a specific time and place so you aren’t overwhelmed. Fashion changes a lot over the span of 500 years, and since you did not give a location, I’m going to tell you what I know regarding my area of expertise. I recommend breaking down your project and focusing on one hood from one place at a time, otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and find nothing.

Disclaimer: I’m not an embroiderer, and as far as my personal scope of research goes, you won’t find much at least in the Byzantine area. They were more into woven designs that were appliqued on. As far as if this applied to hoods, I’m not sure. The Byzantines were not “hood wearers” like you see in the western part of the continent. The one hooded garment that you see commonly is called a “paenula”, a very simple hooded poncho that goes back to Roman times. After the 6th Century, you don’t see it too much outside of iconographic interpretation, which makes me think that maybe it fell out of style in the cosmopolitan areas during the early centuries, but maintained part of the traditional imagery we still have today. The climate in the Eastern Mediterranean is different than say, France, so hooded garments seemed to be pushed to the wayside for turbans, veils, and other headwear. Seeing gold work on turbans was common. The type of design is referred to as “grammata” in the original Greek, so basically golden letters, possibly pseudo-Kufic script. Of course, paenulae may have still been used in the countryside as a functional garment, but most depictions of working class Byzantines show little to no embellishment. Who the heck wants to clean mud off of expensive, time-consuming embroidery?

On the subject of your interest in shipping, again, you need to narrow this down. You have a 400-year timespan, and no specific culture or ports in mind. From 1200-1400, the crusades dominated the Eastern Mediterranean as well, with the Fourth Crusade wrecking the commerce of the Byzantine Empire for the remainder of its existence.

I do love your enthusiasm, but let me give you some helpful research tips to make your massive interests work a bit smoother in your favor. I feel like you really don’t know where to start, which is why you’ve asked me such broad questions, and that’s okay, we all have humble beginnings.

 A good rule of thumb is: if your Google search isn’t coming back with anything, narrow it down until it does. “Medieval hoods 1000-1600” is going to probably give you a Pinterest, while “extant medieval hood” is going to give you images of stuff that is still around from museum databases. “Hoods worn in medieval France” is going to give you better answers. Head right to the Met or British Museum websites and look up their collections, they’re here to help! Same with your interest in shipping. This is where getting into the fun journal databases will be a huge advantage. You can even pop over to JSTOR and put in some search terms. I found this article first shot just typing in “medieval Mediterranean shipping”: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1kgqt6m Chances are, you have friends with JSTOR or library access that can help you get the material. If this is something you really want to focus on, it may be worthwhile to invest in an account. Who knows, you could end up getting enough material to write your own Compleat Anachronist! Good luck!

Marc: I found your blog via a search on Byzantine costuming – and noted that you’re up to answering questions about same.

Well, I have a perhaps atypical one: I’m finishing in the details of a story set in early 14th Century Trebizond, and I haven’t been able to put together visually a wedding dress for one of the legendary Trapezuntine princesses. I have some vague piecemeal ideas, shoulder panels covered with pearls, etc. and I can draw a little from Pisanello’s St. George and the Princess of Trebizond, but I really can’t imagine what a wedding gown at that level of Byzantine society would look like – particularly the colors.

 You’re actually in luck, because Maria Parani has written a great article on this, and it’s available for free on Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/578063/_Byzantine_Bridal_Costume_in_%CE%94%CF%8E%CF%81%CE%B7%CE%BC%CE%B1._A_Tribute_to_the_A._G._Leventis_Foundation_on_the_Occasion_of_Its_20th_Anniversary_Nicosia_2000_185-216  

Hopefully this gives you the answer you’re looking for. I could cite it, but having the whole article in your face is probably better than whatever I could blab. Good luck with your novel!

Ask me anything!

So, while I’m taking a short break from heavy SCA sewing and research, I want everybody to help me keep my brain ticking.

Every week, or however often I get questions, I’m going to have a question/answer column here on my blog. Feel free to ask me anything about Roman and Byzantine history, textiles, clothing, etc, and I’ll give you a complete answer, or as complete as I can, with citations to send you on your way. General ancient and medieval history  questions can also be fielded if you’re looking for something more broad.

If this gets busy, I don’t know how many questions I’ll be able to answer, but I’ll do my best to make sure that everybody is covered.

Got a question for me?

Hit me up at syrakousina at gmail.com.

Yes, it is OK to have fun with garb!

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.

 

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Ah, me precious….
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I shall hug it and squeeze it and call it George!

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?

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Anna, that doesn’t look so bad, what’s the big deal?
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Wait…THOSE ARE FLAMINGOS!

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.

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Something tells me my yard won’t look like this in Caid.

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.

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Good ol’ Theodora and her ladies.

Let’s take a closer look:

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I see some fowl dresses in there!

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?

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Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image links to museum listing.

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.

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Taken by me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2016.

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.

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It looks pretty cute on its own, but sari cotton is super sheer.
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This is me being serious at Leodamas of Thebes here in Calafia. As you can see, I stitched some dolphin bezants on the straps for my own personal touch. I really liked this color combo.

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.

 

Hello, Caid.

I have successfully transferred my domicile from the East Kingdom and the balmy tropics of New England, to the sunny and never-changing perfection that is Southern California.

I do have updates I need to get done, but I’m also planning for San Diego Comic-Con, and Pennsic AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, that’s right, I’m flying to Pennsic, which should be an interesting experience because I’m a lunatic and think this is  good idea. I will also be teaching ONE class, due to streamlining my packing. (Help!)

That one class is entitled, “An 11th Century Byzantine Noblewoman’s Closet.” It’s a snippet of my research for my master’s thesis, and I look forward to sharing my knowledge. It is currently scheduled for August 6th at 1pm in A&S 8. I plan to have the handout posted within the next couple of weeks.

I hope everybody has a great war season, and I look forward to seeing many faces at Pennsic War. 🙂