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.
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.
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. 😉
This isn’t always the smartest idea. Especially when that particular garb is 16th Century and you literally haven’t sewed a fitted bodice on anything in about 5 years. But I was determined, and challenged by a certain Countess in Meridies who just received her Laurel in 16th Century German clothing to get it done. She even made me the wulsthaube as incentive.
I looked at a lot of pictures, and broke down the ensemble: shirt, dress with fitted bodice and full pleated skirt. Easy enough. Really. I could do this! Granted, I’m currently unemployed. Your mileage may vary.
It went as follows:
Sunday – Shirt.
Monday – Didn’t sew for some reason.
Tuesday – Skirt panels.
Wednesday – Fit the bodice.
Thursday – Sewed the bodice.
Friday – Constructed the dress.
So, first was the shirt. Kissa pointed me in the direction of a simple pattern, and I used some of my super soft Signature Finish linen from everybody’s favorite online linen store, Fabrics-Store.com. The shirt is pretty standard for a 16th century smock: sleeves are gathered into cuffs, and the collar has a slit, and is also gathered into a band. The Germans were extremely fond of pleatwork, or smocking, and that is really far out of my wheelhouse, so I opted for simple knife pleats, which also appears to be a period method. I made this is an afternoon, including hand-finishing the cuffs and collar. I initially left a slit in the cuffs, and then for some reason, closed it. I should have left them open, because it would have been easier to roll the sleeves.
Pleating in the neckline.
Finishing the cuffs.
Finished collar band.
I put a slit into the cuff, and then ended up closing it back up. I should have left it open.
Now I had to construct the dress. The bodice needed to be fitted, so I had to wait for a friend of mine to find time to come over for a fitting. So I focused on the skirt pieces. At first, I was going to do basic black guards, and then I had a visit from the Scope Creep Imp in my sleep, and decided that big, funky checkers were going to be the answer. Because, I can’t do anything that doesn’t make me look like a traffic cone. This was another full day’s worth of work.
I had to get that bodice done come hell or high water, though. I started the project on a Sunday, it was now Wednesday. I don’t have any pictures of the fitting process, but I do have pictures of the aftermath. Linen is not really the best fiber for this. I know there’s ways to “hack”, and get it to work, but being that I was short on time, I had to make it work.
I attempted a thick interfacing as the interlining, and it made all kinds of interesting geometric protrusions that were not okay. So, I stripped it out and conceded to just two layers of linen. I should have included a canvas interlining instead, but my brain went, “It’ll be fiiiiine”, and continued. I hand-closed the arms, and then attached the rings for lacing. It took me almost the entire film Dangerous Beauty to complete the rings.
And a fitting…over a T-shirt. We have bunching and not much support. Uh-oh. I just assume that adding the guards and the skirt would fix the fit. I wasn’t too off in the long run.
It was suggested that I hand-sew the guards down. I’m still not sure if this was the best option for me, but I did it anyway. It took the entirety of Dodgeball and almost all of A Knight’s Tale to get them down.
And then finished at 11am on Friday morning!
But it was far from over. I still had to actually get the dress together!
I sewed the skirt panels up the side seams, and started the super fun pleating into the waist of the bodice. I actually like pleating, so this part wasn’t so bad. I was having fun with it. And of course, more handsewing: the lining needs to cover the raw edges of the skirts! (Yes, I doubled my thread. I have a bad habit of doing it because I tend to get more tangled and become unthreaded when I don’t. Technically, you should only do this for buttons, because it’s kind of lazy, but whatever. I said it was a bad habit.)
Almost…there… I took a break for dinner before hemming.
Welp, I did a ton of handwork already, may as well hand-finish the hem, as well. I love blind hems. They’re quick, but I use them mostly on collar facings than actual hems. This is the first hand-hem I’ve done on a dress in a while.
Look! I used a single thread this time!
But what about the Wulsthaube?! I got in the hat from Kissa on Monday (it was now Friday), but all it needed was a cover. Easy enough. I braided my hair for maximum effort, and picked a striped linen remnant I had in the closet. I machine finished the raw edges, and bam.
Das ist meine Wulsthaube. It Haubes Wulsts!
Then I had to try it on…oh no! It didn’t have ANY support! *expletives* But nothing I can’t fix with a pushup bra for the sake of the event. This upset me,but it goes back to the not having an interlining + sagging linen + Florida humidity making it extra saggy.
Without a bra on the left, and with on the right. So annoyed that it wasn’t self-supporting, but the lift was necessary. For someone with a big butt like me, you’d think I have the top to match? Noooo, I live in pushup bras. 😦 Thankfully, most of them are t-shirt bras, so they don’t show, especially through 3 layers of linen. This allowed me to have the support and shape I needed to fill the dress, without showing modern intervention to pull it off.
Naturally, the best thing to do at this point was to put the whole thing on, run downstairs, and terrify my husband.
Gieffrei was…not pleased. He looked at me and went, “That’s so not you. You don’t look normal and I don’t like it.” Gee, thanks, Jeff. But, he obliged in taking pictures of me in our messy library, anyway, as he was covered in sawdust from making a new chair out in the garage.
Voila. A Trimaris-friendly Trossfrau in 5 days.
Well, maybe not THAT Trimaris-Friendly. The stockings and clogs ended up staying home. The high at Hausmaerchen was near 90 and humid. So I opted for cloth Mary Janes, since I don’t have duckbill shoes. I was a hot sweaty mess, and the linen sagged EVEN MORE, but it gave a sense of authenticity of following the Landsknecht tross on campaign, I guess. I also got bit the hell up by fire ants. Womp womp.
I topped off my wulsthaube with a pin of a harpy. The theme was “the Lorelei”, but as I had no mermaid, another man-eating lady monster would fit the bill.
So, why did I do this to myself, again? The bodice will have to be dissected and re-fitted before I wear it again, that’s for sure. And this was a lot of work for less than a week. This did, however, distract me from my regularly scheduled unemployment. Instead of sitting on the couch and surfing Facebook, or planning my next Byzantine attack, I had to go outside of my comfort zone (despite formerly having a 16th Century persona, hence the understanding of this basic pattern) and knock it out of the park in just a few days. It took my mind off of real life for a bit, and gave me a reset button to push. A new focus. Sometimes, we need that reset button. We need that challenge outside of our normal routine to wake the brainmeats up. The SCA gives us the fluidity to explore other cultures in that regard, which is nice. Otherwise, I probably would have just gone in a sloppy chiton to a German event if I didn’t give myself this chance to prove otherwise.
I’m going to try to give myself something new every year, now. Last year was the Burgundian, this year the Trossfrau. I wonder what’s next?
It’s not a challenge unless you’re actually challenged.
Her Majesty Thyra called for a “celestial” theme for the Birka garb challenge for this year, leaving it fully open to the interpretation of the artistes.
When I think of “celestial,” two things come to mind: the zodiac and tea. As funny as it could have been to dress up as an interpretation of Celestial Seasonings (that idea is totally attributed to my Laurel’s husband) I figured that the zodiac would be more cool. After all, Leo is by far the most superior sign in the entire sky, and with 1/12th of the world’s population, we should really be ruling it. Those other guys? Peons. Meh.
I’ve been toying with the idea of the Earliest Period for a while. There’s just not much to work with but an interesting artistic record and old books on the subject. Plus, the majority of what’s been done is for religious plays, so sources are more theatrical, rather than historical. In the end, I ended up getting a pleasant mix. Let’s get started.
The Babylonians and their sister Mesopotamian cultures (Sumerians, Assyrians, Ugarites, etc.) invented the origins of what we consider as our Western Zodiac and modern astrology. So they’re responsible for your bad hair days during Mercury Retrograde, and your incompatibility with Libra. They also didn’t wear much, and left behind just enough for us to get the gist. As for sources, I was only able to get my paws on a couple:
Jenkins, David. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003.
Houston, Mary G. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Persian Costume. Mineola: Dover. 2002. Reprint by Dover of a 1920 edition.
What they DID leave us, is jewelry. Holy smokes.
It was actually my husband Geoffrey that alerted me to this. I was going to make some sort of turban or hat. In fact, I came up with this bright idea while he was away on deployment during the Fall. So he had no idea how I planned to torture him until he got home. At first, he looked at me like I had six heads. Then I told him that he didn’t have to play, and he could just help me with some projects. Then I didn’t see him for weeks once the brass came in.
Anna’s job: Design the costumes and do all the soft parts.
Geoffrey’s job: Execute the metalwork and jewelry designs.
Before Geoff was even home, I got the fabric ordered. My plan of attack? Vintage sarees. Did the Babylonians wear sarees? Well, no. And certainly not ones out of cotton, silk, and polyester. They wore a lot of wool actually, and from what I gathered, sheep fleece made into fringe. However, they did wear spiral wraps, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they did have influence on the fashion of the Indian subcontinent. In their existing artwork, you see tons of interesting motifs, including palms, various vines, and geometrics. Sometimes the wraps were over tunics, sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes they were nakey, but that wouldn’t fly for January in New Hampshire. So I had to play around with what we could do. First: Color.
There’s a variety of options out there for saris, but the zodiac has their own colors assigned to them. Most of my research (See also: Fast Google Search) returned that Leo was yellow, and Aries was red. Easy enough. Geoff can wear red. I can wear anything because I’m fabulous. I’m also a fan of orange, previously established last year, so I had to include it again. Some charts said Leo could wear orange, so…let’s do this. I decided on flame colors for Leo: Yellow, orange, and gold. And decadent shades of red and gold for Aries. Both signs are fire signs, so the gold needed to get in there. Other details I discovered was that Leo is ruled by the Sun, while Aries is ruled by Mars. We were also both Rising Capricorn, whatever that means, which involves purple and silver. So, I thought of throwing a stripe in there somewhere, and then decided not to.
I found a variety of sarees to work from in the eBay store of a seller in India. I bought so many that they sent it via FedEx for free, and I had a package from India in less than a week. I love the internet.
Once I had supplies in hand, I started the design process. Surprisingly enough, men seemed to have more convoluted options than women, so I started with myself first.
Women were usually depicted wearing the spiral over the left shoulder. Sometimes with a tunic underneath, but usually not. I decided to go FOR the tunic, as the materials I got were rather sheer, and well, January.
I decided that the yellow saree would be the tunic, and the orange and pink one I got would make a nice spiral. This would give me a flame-like appearance. I got a new dressform for Christmas, so I got to play. \m/
First, I played with the spiral.
Once I got in the 20yds of fringe, I trimmed it. I got asked by my apartment manager why I needed 20 yards of fringe when it came in. (I’ll cover the jewelry in a bit.)
Tunic time. This took some thought. How would I cut the sari to best accommodate the ornamentation of the fabric. I ended up going with my simple dalmatica pattern, which would probably be the most reasonable way the Babylonians may have sewn something without tailoring.
It was very sheer and oversized.
And I got to use scraps as a headband like a rockstar.
I recycled the fall from the bottom edge of the saree as the belt. So sheeeeeer.
So I went ahead and wrapped the spiral up, folding down some layers to be able to build the dress, and voila. Finished garb.
Onto Geoffrey as Aries. This is where it got tricky. The tunic would be a given, but there’s a fairly large amount of fantasy Babylonian out there because of religious plays, and some old, old plates from Victorian costume books. I needed to do what I could to make it less theatrical and more historical, despite the gaudy sarees.
His tunic was the same pattern, then I took the trim from the edges of the saree and added an accent to the sleeves and collar, which is actually pretty Roman-looking. Aries is more decadent than Leo, so I decided to give him more metallics than myself. I would have enough bling with my jewelry.
I cut the pallu off of another saree, and trimmed the bottom of this tunic to make it longer and to mimic some palm designs I’ve seen in artistic record.
Now for his spirally goodness. I used the saree that I had cut the pallu from for his wrap, added the fringe, and looked at some art. This one has men dressed in several types of wrapping, so it’s clear that there was no set method.
So I kept it basic for the drape test.
And then I had the prettiest mannequins in Portsmouth. My work was pretty much done.
I had to make him a hat. We debated for a while on which shape was best, but I ended up going with the “fez” shape, as it seemed the most reasonable for the application of his horns and wireform Aries symbols. Easy enough. 2 layers of felt and extra saree trim. It was still a bit squishy, but workable.
….And then we had the jewelry.
By the time I was on the website for Fire Mountain Gems, Geoffrey said we were going big, or going home. In that case, we were going to spend the money for actual semi-precious stones, rather than glass or lower-quality rocks. So, yes, our necklaces are all reallapis lazuli and carnelian. Fortunately, a friend of ours went in on the Fire Mountain order and saved us over $100. The gold tone beads are plated brass, as there’s no way we could afford that much real gold. We based most of the necklaces off of pictures from this page that was wonderful for reference shots. http://sumerianshakespeare.com/117701/118101.html
They were just simply threaded on monofilament. We couldn’t find a hemp or linen cord thin enough for our use, plus, we are planning on taking these apart and re-using them for other projects or selling them. So for temp stringing, the fishing line would do just fine.
I could string beads, the rest was up to Geoffrey.
Geoff has been exploring the intricate world of jewelry a bit. He’s the only active coinmaker in the East (as far as we know) and he’s been doing great work with pewter casting. These pieces couldn’t be cast, so he finally got to dust off the pitch plate he purchased at Pennsic (nice alliteration there) and enter the wiley whimsical world of chase and repousse embossing. (He has his own blog and you should follow it at www.jeffthemoneyer.wordpress.com. I do maintain the page, he’s not very websavvy.)
He purchased the sheets of brass from onlinemetals.com. We originally wanted bronze, but the price was a bit higher than what we wanted to pay because the cost of tin is up, and they didn’t have a good thickness anyway. He used brass sheets that were probably still too thick at 24 gauge.
The original circlets from this period had leaves. They’re absolutely stunning. However, in order to not appear presumptuous and pay honor to the Order of the Laurel which I am not apart of, we decided to go with round medallions instead of leaves. Each of the large medallions he hand cut, repoussed, soldered, and wheel polished. This took days. DAYS. It took so long that we had to cut the process short for the other circlet, and just go with smaller medallions he could use punches with.
The large medallions have the Leo symbol, and a Babylonian sun motif that is connected to the sun god, Shamash.
He did the same thing for the smaller medallions, only with one row of beads instead of two. And polished up a hammered brass circlet he had made me previously. Combined with the necklaces, and brass earrings from Thailand, I had my first full costume fitting:
Next, we moved onto Aries. He hammered the “horns” for the traditional hat right out of cut pieces of brass.
And I made 2 dozen wire formed Aries symbols for dongles to sew onto the top of his hat in place of the feathers, and some ornamentation on his sleeves. This sucked. Anna is not a jeweler. Anna LIKES having skin on her fingers and not smashing her hand with a hammer. I also made Leo symbols that I ended up not using. C’est la vie.
Those got attached to his hat by hand. Sewing the upside down fish hooks on was enough of a challenge for me. He had to rivet on the horns with pieces of brass wire he soldered on. This made the hat uncomfortable. The horns also made it a bit snug since he didn’t form them to his head enough. He was going to be in some pain when this was done.
They say props are everything:
I made two cuneiform tablets out of terracotta Sculpey, with a stylus Geoffrey formed for me out of a brass dowel.
The tablets read:
Leo: “Remember this: Leo rules and Aries drools!” (He wasn’t happy about that one.)
Aries: “If you can read this, you’re pretty damn smart.”
After all was said and done, we did our test wearings, and figured out the best ways to wrap the spirals on our bodies. You need to start at the belt like a saree, and work it up your body, carefully folding to create the tiers. For Geoffrey, we brought it up to about his sterum, and used his kidney belt to secure it. Mine was safety pinned in the back to hold the drape in place.
Over all, this was an exercise in experimental archaeology and making fancy kinda-accurate showy garb. If anyone is serious about looking into the persona of the Earliest Period, I recommend you actually attempt dreadlocking your own sheep fleece for the fringe. 😉 Other than that, I don’t have much to say on the subject of garb from this period. What you see is what you get until more artifacts are found.
As for women, if you’re curvy like I am, this may not be the best option. I’m not sure how Mesopotamian women were shaped, but this garment is not figure flattering. It fits to the widest part of your body, and stays there. SO for me, it was my hips. I lost my waist entirely in the wrap, so the pictures coming in are mortifying.
I couldn’t get Geoffrey to wear a wig and beard, or even kohl on his eyes, but in the end, wigs and a fake beard would have no re-wear for us. So it would have been a waste of money. At least for the garments and the jewelry, most can be reconstituted into different pieces. His tunic is going to become a Byzantine kamision for him, and I will be taking the wraps and making loroi/pallae, and maybe a delmatikion. My yellow tunic can work under a Roman dress for a splash of sheer color. So everything can be re-worn as something else. This way the money and time we put into this won’t be for nothing.
But, we DID win Best Garb in the Early Period category for the Fashion Show! We didn’t win the overall Celestial Challenge, that went to a woman who made an AMAZING cloak with the planets from a 14th Century Manuscript.
Here’s some pictures of us in action at Birka, enjoy!
Once upon a time, Avelina II, Queen of the East, challenged her populace to a garb challenge for Birka. This challenge, was to take your favorite sports team, and basically turn it into garb. Me, having the huge words, “COMPETITIVE SUCKER” written across my forehead, went, “Oh, it’s on.”
You see, class, Anna is not a fan of anything Boston/New England. I grew up in Tampa, and therefore, have suffered through some really horrible seasons with really horrible teams. Fortunately, the Rays are no longer horrible, and the Lightning have never really BEEN terrible, but the Buccaneers? Oh man, I have stories. Your priest on Sunday should not include, “And please let the Bucs win!” during the closing invocation of a Catholic mass during the Vinny Testaverde days.
First, I needed to make a choice. I had three professional teams I could reasonable choose from, and then a huge span of time to play with as far as the garb would go. I gave myself 2 options: Keep it simple, or, MAKE THEIR EYES BLEED! Both the Rays and Buccaneers had been blessed with pretty garish color schemes during their inception, and have since toned down the colors. This also resulted in winning records. Since then, us TB fans have a superstition that changing uniforms makes a winning team. The Bucs broke that, but 2 for 3 ain’t bad. The original color schemes of the teams were creamsicle orange, red, and white for the Bucs; black, blue, and white for the Lightning, and hot green and purple for the Rays. I could feel my eyes bleeding as I tried to mentally design apron dresses around these teams. It was a Viking event after all. I decided to ditch the Lightning first, not that turning contrast stitching seams into lightning bolts couldn’t be awesome, but it seemed the most subdued. Then, I turned to the Rays and the Bucs. I’m not one for being subtle. (To quote my friend Konstantia Kaleothina, “Byzantines put the ‘b’ in subtle.”)
My mind reeled over the idea of designing an intricate “devil ray” in the Norse style for applique on a purple wool dress, baseball stitches on the seams, with a hot green tunic, but I was at a total loss with the idea of the Bucs. They were, well, pirates. Straight out of the cavalier period, even:
If I went that route, I needed to go uber-late period. I was at a loss. Both outfits were going to require a significant amount of time and resources, and late period requires scary undergarments.
So, instead of drawing stuff out, and weighing pros and cons, I simply called my family in Florida, who don’t really SCA, and asked their opinion.
“#$%! those Boston fans. Blind the bastards.”
Us Tampanians are so eloquent.
I was still a bit torn, the throwback Devil Ray Viking would be just as hardcore as throwback Buccaneers Elizabethan, but the ultimate deciding factor were members of the Barony of Stonemarche issuing their own challenge to wear orange at Birka.
Challenge: ACCEPTED. (I was so screwed.)
Alright, first, pick a period. It would have to be as late as I could go. Cavalier is technically out of period, you’re looking at the 1630s post-English Civil War, and I’d be damned if I was going to wear a cavalier hat like every other rennie, so I rolled back the clock 30 years, and got to this:
Oh. My. God. It was perfect. Not only did I find a shape I could work with, but this was instant documentation for the use of orange. There’s always a debate on orange in period, and there’s a great deal of evidence that not only did it exist, but it was also wildly popular. Especially in the Elizabethan/Jacobean period. I’ve always been a fan of late period fashions, mostly Italian over English, but I don’t really have the “draw” to the history like I do the Roman and Byzantine Empires, which is why I don’t particularly dabble in the 16th/17th Century.
So period: Check.
I bought the orange linen from Fabrics-store.com as soon as I saw it. “Flame orange” is the name, and it was on sale. Done. Mine.
Now to approach the details. I entertained a great deal of ideas of how I was going to do trim and lace. Venetian lace I found easy enough, but the stripes…I wasn’t sure. I figured I could use different color bias tape, and make it easy on myself, and that’s what I was pretty much going to go with, until my boyfriend got me a sewing machine for Christmas that embroiders. Oh LAWD, he created a monster!
I had one more issue: I’m dieting. In fact, I’ve lost 4″ from my waist since the challenge was announced, and I needed a corset. I HATE MAKING CORSETS. I figured I could spend the money, have someone do it for me, and then just re-sell it, but I caved, saved myself about $50, and bought the materials myself. The game was afoot.
First I made the skirt. It’s a simple 6-gore skirt with a drawstring waist. Not accurate, it should be gathered into a band and hooked closed, but…it was a 10ft rule competition, and I’m not Elizabethan. I was going to take shortcuts. I sewed the skirt together, threw it over the hoop, and laughed, really hard, over how orange it was. I sent a picture to the boyfriend, and he was mortified. I created a simple embroidery pattern using the stock stitches on my machine, and chose them for the following reasons:
The white reminds me of sunbursts or lightning bolts. So it pays a bit of homage to the other two pro teams in Tampa Bay, and the red were palm trees. This was my little salute to home. The red-white-red pattern is the same as on the orange uniform components.
The smock was another fast garment, all things considering. The pattern is basically the same as a t-tunic with some minor variations, in this case, I created a mock partlet (another shortcut, don’t kill me, Elizabethan personae reading this!) and embroidered the snot out of it with my machine to resemble blackwork in orange. I applied the wider Venetian lace around the color to mimic Lucy Russell’s look, and did the orange-red-orange stripes on the cuffs as seen on the white jersey pieces of the uniform. It’s 100% white linen.
The two unfitted pieces of clothing were done. Now came hell: I needed to make the corset before I could fit the jacket. I had no choice but to wait until last minute to ensure a proper fit to whatever measurements I was at. (Being that I started the diet at a 37″ waist and am now 33″…I’ll take it.) This happened on January 19th, I wore this thing on January 25th. I used the Elizabethan Corset Generator and just followed it step by step. I used boning casing to help me measure out the lengths that I needed. This created an extra step, but I think it helped the rigidity of the corset, which was good. I had to call for backup to my friend Faelan MacLochlainn, a man of many tools, to help me snip the boning because I couldn’t do it with the tin snips he had loaned me. It took him a total of 10 minutes. I capped the bones myself, and sewed the sucker up without a hitch. The real issue came when I had to pop the eyelets open. I broke two seam rippers and the corset flew across the room. After that outburst, I resigned to a pair of sharp little scissors, and laced myself up. It fit. Hot damn, I made a corset in about 12 hours that didn’t hurt me, or pinch, and I could jump around in it easily without the girls popping out. It wasn’t the finest piece of tailoring I’ve ever done, but it WORKED. Plus, the wooden busk is fun to knock on and impresses your friends. The corset is made out of 100% cotton twill I had laying around.
…Then I got sick. I decided it was a wonderful idea to catch a cold Sunday night, so all day Monday, I felt terrible. I got enough strength to go into the sewing room and put the sleeves together for the jacket, but that was it. I lost a whole day. Tuesday, I forced myself off my ass and in there, embroidered the sleeves, and started on the sloper for the jacket. I did use Reconstructing History‘s pattern for the gored English jacket, which helped, but I’ve worked with her patterns enough to know that they aren’t full proof, you NEED to make them fit. I had a friend who was supposed to come over and help, and then it snowed 6″ to spite me. Because Providence is not known for their expert snow removal, I was on my own.
The first fitting was fine, and I even had wiggle room. So I went in, put the whole thing together, kept one side of the sleeves open to make it, you know, “swashbuckle-y,” I spent hours getting those inset gores in place only for them to all look horrid and have to be redone, and when I finally went to put it on…it didn’t fit. I was living a nightmare. I was ready to give up. Crying, I consulted a couple of friends on Facebook on my options. Inserting fabric was always a good choice. They had stomachers, and it’s always period to add little gores and gussets where you need them. So, I measured out the difference, made gores, sewed them on, had a LARGE glass of wine, and went to bed. Tomorrow was another day, but it was also cutting it close.I ran out of hooks and eyes, and had to wait until my boyfriend came home Thursday night for an emergency run to Joann’s in order to get it all together. It took me a couple hours to sew on the 22 little pieces, but I wasn’t sleeping until it was done. Friday morning came, and it was time to pack, but wait, there’s more! Because of how low-cut the jacket is, I decided to create a stomacher for my corset with the same stripe pattern as the smock, I added MORE embroidery to the jacket so the gores were accented as seen in period pieces, and then I went and made the cap with the same false blackwork to look like the Bucs helmet stripes. So help me God, I was done. I didn’t want to sew another stitch!
My hat I purchased from Stitches in Time (I’ve never made a decent hat and figured this was a bad time to try), I got obnoxious socks from Sock Dreams, and the hoop was just a cheap commercial one from eBay. The pearl strand I had was a vintage piece that my mother found at a white elephant sale for $5. They are actually low-grade saltwater pearls from the 1920s that have lost their lustre, but whatever. REAL PEARLS! I threw some glass drops from another necklace I had on silver hoops, and called it a day. We were off to Birka!
It was very hard not to explode and tell everyone what I was doing the whole time. A few people knew, especially Isabeau Du Valle and crew (The 14th century Sporting Portugal soccer team, for those who were there) who had also shared their idea with me. We were all insane, that much was for sure. I wanted to just shout, ‘HEY EVERYONE, GUESS WHAT I MADE?!” But I refrained, albeit almost bursting at the seams. And Saturday morning, I doned basic Byzantine to get breakfast and get some strolling through the event done before I turned into a walking traffic cone. At 11:30am, I saw someone wearing a Bruins apron dress, and that was it. I needed to change.
I was nervous. I had tried it all on at home, and I knew it fit, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off. Orange is a hard color to wear. Even though I felt I looked okay, and so did the recipients of my test shots/selfies, I remained a bit unconvinced.
Then I took this selfie, and I realized that I never felt so posh in my life.
The way that the lace fell around the neckline was exactly as I had imagined it, and my thankfully [lightly made up] olive complexion just glowed.Unlike my poor Lord Geoffrey, who reflected it he came too close. I had begun emanating my own force field of Tampa Bay Buccaneers creamcicle orange.
So after the typical fuss and muss and pin and fixing a falling off hook, I came off the elevator into the lobby into a sea of stares. People were closing their eyes and blinking, or even looking away. I had effectively managed to blind a small percentage of the event before I even hit the main drag. I’m pretty sure I broke a few Laurels. 😉
Most reactions were “WOW.”(or maybe it was “ow?”) Others were just wided eyed in wonder/horror at this lacey orange monstrosity that had appeared before them. So I paraded around the merchants, receiving compliments and, “WHY?” from several folks. I tried to find the perfect knife to hold in my teeth, but Geoffrey insisted it was a bad idea. Most people asked if I was representing Syracuse University, being that my persona is from Syracuse, Sicily, but no. Once I mentioned it was old school Bucs, I got a lot of rolled eyes and, “Of COURSE you would do something Tampa!” Sneers. Hah. Mission doubly accomplished.
The fashion show was…AMAZING. There was nobody there that didn’t astound me, and Baron Xavier and Baroness Maria’s Patriots landsknecht totally deserved the win. They were unbelievably detailed up close, and I really wish I would have brought my camera down to get pictures of everyone. Once a public gallery goes live, I’ll post it here to share.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED:
– Do not be afraid of trying new things. Ever.
– A properly fit Elizabethan corset will not hurt you, nor are they that hard to make. You can even put it on, lace it up, and take it off yourself if you spiral lace it.
– Lucy Russell was a pretty amazing woman for her period.
– I look good in dayglow/signal corps orange. I cannot wear Lord Geoffrey as an accessory, though.
Will I wear this again?:
I’d be foolish not to wear it again after all the work I put into it, but it will just have to wait until the right time and place. Probably Pennsic for Midnight Madness. I may bring it down to the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in March when I go to visit my family, but that site is very dusty and usually turns the hem of whatever I’m wearing kinda black.