Once Upon a Dream: A Foray into the 15th Century

We have an event here in Calafia called Winter Arts. Being that it’s one of the few events in the barony where you’re indoors, typically, you want some fancy duds.  Back in September, a group of us decided that we would tackle something different, and something different being Burgundian.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure 99.9% of the women and those identifying as such, who grew up with Sleeping Beauty, wanted a dress with a hennin and to be a princess and spin in circles and look pretty all the time when they were little.

…The 1% was me, who wanted to be Maleficent, but anyway, I digress. Burgundian is that clothing style that invokes the memory of a romantic High Middle Ages of pointy hatted damsels and dramatic gowns of fur and fancy fabrics. So, why the hell NOT do it?

Being that I was moving soon (note that past tense for the moment), I set limits for myself on what I could and could not use when drafting this project.

1: All fabric needed to come from my stash, or have minimal cost.
2: If I finished my gown, Gieffrei would get his, but not vice versa.
3: I would make the ridiculous hat and be fabulous.
4: I would absolutely not use that fuchsia linen and be Maleficent.

Being that my fabric is mostly Byzantine, as a result, so was my Burgundian. I had a ton of black ecclesiastical stuff I picked up at a yard sale last year, and I decided that would be my gown, because nothing says high gothic garb like being…gothic. The kirtle I would totally do the right way with front lacing and make it fitted and supportive. By myself. Okay, sure, Anna. The fur I got from a friend who has bags and bags of the stuff because she does viking living history and random people just give it to her. So, I got the real mink. I don’t mind using real fur, especially if the animals had been dead long before I was born. Or in this case, my grandmother was born. We’re talking some seriously old vintage sleeves.

For the patterns, I used a combination of Reconstructing History, and the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant. I probably didn’t NEED the paper patterns, but sometimes I need a bit more of a visual in order to grasp a new concept, after that, I usually “get” it. Kass’ patterns are usually pretty simple blocks that give me a lot of leeway for customization and fitting, anyway.

These were my stages of madness:

First garment: The front laced kirtle.
Second garment: The v-necked gown.
Third garment: Gieffrei’s houppelande.
Fourth garment: Gieffrei’s chaperon.
Fifth garment: My double hennin.
INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown.
Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle.
Finishing touches.


First garment: The front laced kirtle.

I’ve wanted to be fitted for a cotehardie for a while, now. Despite all the crap I give my friends in the 14th Century Mafia (who all rightly deserve it,) I’m intrigued at the idea of having a supportive garment that is comfortable for all-day wear at an event. The short-sleeved type I attempted is more fashionable in the 15th Century, and often seen with contrasting, decorative sleeves. Using the basic bodice block that came in the RH pattern, I extended the skirt from it, versus attaching one at the waist seam (this is also seen in some period artwork I came across.) The real bitch was fitting it. You cannot do this by yourself. It was Thanksgiving night in my house, I was upstairs getting my chest jacked up by a friend who had come over for dinner. It’s what SCAdians do on holidays.

I need tweaks, but I did end up with a supportive gown. The material is a light wool coating, and it will work great as an undergarment, or a standalone dress. I figure once I get a proper fitting and pattern made for -me-, I’ll be way more successful, but as my first attempt at any form of the Gothic Fitted Dress, I can’t complain. I am soooooo not used to the wider neckline, though. I feel like it’s staying up by some sort of magic, and I pretty much feel naked, even though that is the style. (I also look pregnant, which is also, an unfortunate piece of historical accuracy that modern sensibilities need to get over.)

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“Okay Norton, try it on.”
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They’re staying up!
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Belt helps break up my figure better.

…Then I checked the weather. San Diego wasn’t going to get cooler than the 70s-80s for the event. Wool under brocade, even indoors, could be a death sentence. Did I have time to make another fitted one from linen? No. I would have to improvise, so I set this aside for another day. It’s currently hanging up on my closet door, needing more eyelets and a hem, and body linen, because wool against the skin is awful. I will be returning to this project.


Second garment: The v-necked gown.

This was way easier than I thought it would be. Rectangular construction on the body, fitting your figure on the side seams above the gore, and inset sleeves. I finished the bulk of the gown itself in a matter of 2 hours on my machine. The hard part would be the fur, but that was being saved for later. I skipped the train, because I don’t like people stepping on my garb. Fortunately, there was plenty of fullness without it. The v-neck is simply shaped out of the front seam.

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Admit it, the teal elastic belt really sets off that Byzantine ecclesiastical fabric.
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No train needed. There are side gores, as well as shaped panels to add fullness.
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Placing the mink to determine how I was going to cut it.

 


Third and Fourth Garments: Gieffrei’s houppelande and chaperon.

Jeff was super reluctant to do this, SUPER reluctant. Not all men are into the idea of fancy later period, so it took some coercing. I would make the garments in the larger, less fitted style versus the short, pleated doublets of younger men seen in period artwork. This also eliminated my need to fit my husband for joined hose, and he could get away with wearing a set of braies and chausses. I had a nice herringbone linen tunic he could wear as his undershirt, and we would just fluff him up with accessories to give the period look.

I was short on fabric for the houppelande, but I did what I could. He basically had no gores to add any sort of fullness, so I had to work with the width of the brocade. This resulted it things getting off center and making me want to cry.

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Don’t look at the seam, DON’T LOOK AT THE SEAM. Ahhhh!

In the end, it came out passable. AND FAKE FUR IS AWFUL TO WORK WITH.

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Costarring my dirty laundry and an unmade bed.

I also knocked out his chaperon/dagged hood in about a half hour. I did this the traditional way, just cutting the hood out of the wool and sewing 2 seams. Then you roll the face opening of the hood up and plop it on top of your head so you look like a weirdo. Bam! Instant hoodlum. (This is where the term comes from!)

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“You like dags? You know, dags!”
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He loved it!

Fifth garment: My double hennin.

We had a hat day that included brunch and mimosas. If you don’t craft with mimosas and brunch, I highly recommend you try it, it seriously helps.

I’m not a hat maker, I’m pretty awful at it, so I was expecting to make a regular truncated hennin and lappet, and call it a day.

But no, Anna can’t do anything basic.

Adelwyn made the pattern for the double hennin from The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, and my brain went full on Sleeping Beauty evil fairy queen at the sight of it, and the rest was history. We shared the pattern, and I got to fight with buckram.

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“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dreaaaaaam…”

And that’s when Maleficent was born. I decided that I would cover the hennin in the same black fabric as my gown, and I would make the replacement kirtle out of this fuchsia linen I had just laying around in my stash. It wouldn’t be exact, as Maleficent is clearly wearing a houppelande and not a fitted gown, but I would make it work.


INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown.

There is one thing worse than real life punching your SCA, and that’s real life punching your EVERYTHING. Without warning or explanation, Gieffrei’s orders back to the East Kingdom were cancelled, nine days out from turnover and twelve days from our scheduled move. He was being rerouted to an unincorporated corner of Meridies on the Trimaris border in February.

This sucked the life out of me. Right. Out. I already suffer from depression and anxiety, and I will be making a post about this next, but this was like taking a baseball bat to the chest. What about our house? What about my job? What about my life? Everything we had planned to do when we got back to New England was ripped out from underneath us like a carpet in a cartoon, and it hurt just as much.

In one final blow, his current position ordered him to work during the event, after I had done all of this sewing for the both of us.

Winter Arts stopped mattering. I was ready to toss the project aside, curl into a ball and cry while I mourned the next 3 years of my life. Jeff was having none of this. I got dragged upstairs back to my studio, and told to finish it for him. He stood and watched as I cut the covers for my hennin, and he gently cut the seams on the vintage mink for me while I sat at the sewing machine spewing vicious epithets at the US Navy (which didn’t hear me). The project was now a rage sew, versus a fun new thing.

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The beautiful work Jeff did cutting the seams on the vintage mink.

Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle.

Nothing special about this, just making the wider neckline out of a typical tunic dress. Fighting my depression, I threw this together in 2 hours of absolute rage including industrial music at full blast and yerba mate tea. I wasn’t sleeping anyway, so it no longer mattered. I think it was like 10pm when I took this picture.

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CAFFEINE PLUS FUCHSIA LINEN EQUALS FLYING

Finishing Touches

I was down to the wire. The hennin needed to be covered, attached, and veiled. After I covered the buckram, I made the fillet out of black velvet, and put it on over my gold snood. This provided a base for the pins, and created friction to keep the hat on. Normal hennins that encompass the entire head will sit on your head without pins as long as this band or lappet is in place. It’s a neat trick. I dug out one of my favorite dirty pilgrim badges as a piece of flare.

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Just keep sewing. Sewing means you don’t have time to cry.

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Nailed it.

 
The night before, I was working on the belt and Adelwyn came over, and I helped her figure out the last pieces of her puzzle. Isolde also showed up, and offered to attend the event as Gieffrei so the garb would get worn.

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TONIGHT: Playing the role of THL Gieffrei de Toesni, is Isolde de Featherstan.

I still had to attach the fur and the sleeves to my gown. There are no pictures of this. It’s me, on the couch, sneezing a lot from handling old fur, and tacking it down onto my dress in a manner that I could remove it.

Around 9pm, I finished.

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It just screams evil queen of luxury.

Pictures!

I have to admit, I totally felt like a damn princess. Not in the SCA sense, but in the little girl fairy tale sense. Pointy hats, full dresses, this is the Middle Ages we all know as a little kid. The best part, is that everybody in the group did different variations of the houppelande or fitted v-neck gown, so we really looked like the amalgamation of color and hats that is seen in the period paintings. Totally worth the stress.

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I definitely like the veil over the hennin better.

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Awkward prom with my “husband.”
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It was breezy!
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We tried to emulate some poses we saw in paintings. Such as stabbing yourself, vomiting, and looking on in disdain. 
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“Behold, our barren field of…”

I had to throw in this last finishing touch. Maleficent leggings to give the stealth cosplay a bit more fluff.

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Gee wiz, I crack myself up.
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Price of Lularoe Disney Leggings: JUSTIFIED.

 

Sari not sorry, and an unexpected surprise!

I’ve posted previously on how using vintage cotton saris works for posh-looking classical garb on a budget. So, during my sari splurges, I picked up a few that I thought would work for Byzantine applications. It only took me a year to complete an unfinished early-period style dalmatica, but once I focused, I got it finished in a couple of hours for wearing at Calafia Anniversary.

I didn’t get any in-progress pictures, but here are the results:

 

 

The method:
Use the sari as fabric. It’s narrower than most modern bolt widths (around 36-42″ wide) so plan accordingly for what you need. I’m not that tiny, but it worked fine for my 42″ bust using the full width, and just cutting the garment into shape like and old-fashioned t-tunic with the Byzantine curved underarms. I didn’t add gores, but I did have enough left to consider putting in narrow ones if it came down to it. So this is a bit more slim-fitting than an actual period garment would be. I saved the extra to use as sleeve extensions instead, which I haven’t done yet. I may just keep the short sleeves, which is just the finished edges of the sari, thus eliminating the need for a hem or trim application.

The bottom embellishment is the pallu (decorative end) of the sari, applied as a facing to the bottom hem, and then covered with spangly trim to completely seal all raw edges. The weight on the bottom is essential, otherwise sari fabric is just too filmy and light for the proper fall of an over tunic. I should have done a facing on the neckline as well, but I ran out of steam.

Pros:
~Cheap
~Easy
~Good for outside events where there will be dirt, but you need to dress a bit nicer. I spend $17 on the sari. If it gets wrecked, all I do is remove the trim and throw it out, versus crying over potential damage to my nicer clothing.
~Great for newcomers, or those looking for a garb “one-shot” for a themed event, due to all of the above.

Cons:
~Too slim fitting for accuracy, and may not work well for fuller figures.
~Cotton is too filmy for a nice dalmatic/over tunic. This is a cotton/poly blend, so if it was a bit hotter, I could have risked being really uncomfortable. I did get chilly near the end of the day. I picked it because the pattern is actually quite period for early Byzantine, and decided to take the risk. 100% silk would be best, but then cost can become an issue.
~A lot of saris are “art silk”, which is not real silk, it’s short for artificial silk that is 100% dead dinosaur. A lot of these are far nicer than straight cotton ones, but it’s a great way to make yourself garb that doesn’t breathe, so shop carefully, or plan to wear it sparingly (and indoors!)

Conclusion:
I will probably make a couple more of these for Pennsic or other grubby camping events when I need to not look like a scrub, but I wouldn’t recommend filling a wardrobe with them.

Ironically, I was wearing this when I was summoned by their Majesties of Caid and gifted with their Lux Caidis, the Grant-level award for Arts and Sciences. It caught me completely off guard, because I had moved closer to see if one of the friends I had written in was receiving the award. Evidently, when they called my name, I made a velociraptor shriek of surprise.

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Caid has been velociraptor-free for zero days.

Here’s a bad picture of the medallion on my chest, just above my Eastern Maunche, which carries the same precedence.

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Unfortunately, with me returning to the East Kingdom in December, I feel like I have really no time to repay Caid for the precious gift, and it’s hard to put my honor into words.

Thank you, and an update!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to keeping the page afloat! We are all set and ready to go for another year.

And now the good stuff:

Now that my crazy non-SCA costuming conventions and fun stuff are behind me, I can ease myself back from my Byzan-cation and start getting back to research. It’s always a good idea to let your brain cool for a bit and explore other things. I have another project coming up that isn’t Byzantine, but it’ll be fun to talk about.

  • I presented my master’s thesis on Kale Pakouriane’s clothing at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo back in May. So there’s still plenty of Byzantine happening.
  • I went to Costume College! I taught at Costume College! I was pretty much the only medievalist there, hurray! Thanks to everyone who came to my classes at such inconvenient hours on Sunday. I am now totally inspired to sew all the things, but unfortunately, I can’t make it next year. Maybe the year after!
  • THL Gieffrei (The Norman Husband) and I are relocating back to the East Kingdom from Caid this coming winter. I swear, the Navy hates us. I’m not looking forward to that drive. Or facing the brunt of a New England winter after such a lovely respite in Southern California. 😦 On the bright side *snort*, I’ll be at Birka, barring no strange nuances of a military PCS.
  • That also means I will be at Pennsic.
  • There are some epic site updates coming. I’ve been working on re-writing some content of the fixed pages, and adding some new ones. That means a layout change soon, as well. I like changing themes every year or so anyway. It’s like changing socks, gotta keep things fresh. 😉

With that said, I got plenty of work to do. The whirlwind of events consisting of Star Wars Celebration, San Diego Comic-Con, and Costume College have WRECKED my house, and my poor workshop space. Time to get back to a status quo.

 

 

 

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.

We’re moving!

Well, I’m moving, anyway. I’ve successfully completed my masters program, and I’m relocating to join my lord husband across the country at his naval posting. I have lots of cool stuff on my master’s thesis I can’t wait to share, but this blog will be on hold a bit while I pack up here in the East Kingdom, and get to my new home in Caid. I expect it will take several weeks to really settle in, considering I’m as East Coast as a hurricane smoking a clove, and I’m being transplanted to California.

I am teaching at Pennsic, (Yes, I’m flying from CA to PA, I’m insane) and will be posting more on that next month.

I hope everybody enjoys the start of summer, and I hope to see you all at a Caidan event soon!  In the meantime, here’s a photo of me wearing my master’s project. Yeah, I got to make garb, talk about playing off of your strengths.

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12th Century High Court Wear and Proper Execution of the Byzantine Side-Eye.

Over the last few weeks, I completed a new court outfit based on the Eisiterion of Agnes of France, dated to the 1180s. It’s later period for my persona, but I was intrigued by the differences between the 11th and 12th Century as far as shape and embellishment went, so I gave it a try.

Now, this is an outfit that is not for every day, or even minor courts, this is specific to very formal events, and comes from a manuscript in which the 9 year old princess from France is brought into Constantinople and converted to fabulous by 70 (!) women wearing these outfits. I don’t know about you guys, but if I was a little girl, and I had suddenly gotten surrounded by weirdos looking like this and speaking a foreign language, I’d probably be pretty intimidated. Pictures will enlarge to show better detail. Courtesy of the Vatican Archives and their epic digitization project.

The propoloma is more “shovel” shaped than my other one, and I embellished it to make a coronet. Same procedure as the other one: 2 layers of wool felt and it’s self-supporting. Embellishment is shot silk, mother of pearl cabochons set in fine silver cups because I hate money, but I don’t hate it too much, since the bezants are gold-plated brass. Silver is one thing, gold is another, and I can only get my husband to cave so much.

Curves are very difficult to deal with. I tried the tube method, and the seams were unruly the whole time. I opted for the more tedious clipped and pressing method, and despite unevenness that I can see, it came out fine. The kharzanion (trinity temple ornaments) are wrong, and temporary.  Konstantia is making me a proper set, but we ran out of time. So, I opted for a pair of really ugly earrings my dad gave me as a, “Here, you do crafty things, find something to do with these.” And I did. They’re gaudy, but the whole outfit is pretty gaudy.

I made the delmatikion before the kamision. I wasn’t concerned about either, but I wanted to give it the time it deserved. The fabric is from Sartor.cz (Gird your wallets) and they called it the Oseberg textile. This is incorrect. It is a Persian textile that would have been available in period to Byzantium, but it is currently in a Japanese collection. Unfortunately, they only ran it in polyester, but as it’s in my heraldic colors, I couldn’t resist. The poly is super high quality, seriously, I never thought I would use “long staple polyester” in a sentence before, but I did. Aside from the expected fraying and nightmares associated iwth poly brocades, it sewed up really smoothly.

The Orange arm bars and neckline are made from the orange silk I purchased for my thesis project, which will be a post incoming upon completion. the arm bars were enhanced by some orange sari trim I had in my stash, and couched down faux pearls. The pearls on the neckline help hide the imperfections that probably only really bother me, but a Byzantine lady cannot have enough pearls. There’s no such thing, and, faux pearls are in fact, period.

The neckline itself is the side-keyhole design that pops up on some extant pieces. It closes with a shank button and loop.  Here it is to the point of hanging up pre-hemming. The sleeves have a 36″ drop. THREE. FOOT. SLEEVES. Oh, and they’re lined in a very light gold dupioni. The manuscript shows a white visible lining, but I couldn’t go with just white.

The kamision I wanted to double as a basic dress for when I’m not wearing a delmatikion for court, but still have enough pizazz for nice indoor events. More fake pearls on the neck to simulate a superhumeral, and more fancy sari trim. The neck and cuffs are faced with a green and red shot dupioni. The body is Pompeiian Red linen. This was my climate control once I got to the event site, because over 600 people plus polyester is no good.

The sari trim on this MAKES the garment, because it’s not a difficult pattern, and I know it like the back of my hand. I made adjustments for the sleeves since I was using a different bolt width, but that’s it. This is one of those demonstrations where embellishment can change everything. It elevated a simple tunic dress from “okay” to “WOW”, while creating no more labor for me had I used a commercially available trim. Work smarter, not harder. Though, one day, I’ll learn to embroider this well. I really want to learn, but time is not on my side at the moment.

All together on the dress form:

I made a fast maforion (veil) out of a semi-oval piece of the same silk I used on the propoloma. Some women in the manuscript have bands of color on them, some don’t, and it doesn’t seem consistent with the bands on the hat, so I left it plain for now. It took some creative pinning on my snood, but it worked. I’ll probably take a series of photos showing how I did it eventually, but I am so overwhelmed with schoolwork right now, updating my blog is not top priority, and I apologize.

Here’s the requisite goofy pics at Coronation. My sleeves were unevenly draped, which is killing my OCD, but the silhouette was there. Lord Brenden Crane took the professional shots in our populace “photo booth”.

Oh, that side-eye pic was intentional. Byzantine side-eye is period. Here’s a shot from the same manuscript. The empress does not seem pleased at the emperor and his new friend.

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