From The Crazy, a Camisa Arises

(If you’re here just to grab the documentation right now, gosh darn it, here’s what you’re looking for: Reconstructing a Renaissance Camisa)

Well, this past weekend I did my first ever formal A&S…well, anything. It wasn’t a competition, but it was judged much like one might be. In fact, the whole thing was designed to as closely as possible mirror what it’s like to really enter a competition and really be judged – and it did an incredible job all around. The great folks who set it up and ran it (Master Fridrikr, Mistress Orianna, and the event staff from Hartstone) all deserve a very big round of applause.

I decided to jump into this with both feet back in March, at which point I approached the wonderful Maitresse Marguerite D’Honfleur (shamelessly plugging her blog every chance I get: https://lafrancoysse.wordpress.com/) about sponsoring me. Wait, sponsor what now? Well, one of the great things about this Fair setup was the fact that each entrant had a Fleur or Laurel sponsor – in other words, someone who’s been there and done that to guide those of us who haven’t.

This was totally, 100% invaluable. I would probably have done the A&S equivalent of a bellyflop from a very high diving board without Maitresse Marguerite’s help.

With her guidance, I decided to take the first baby step toward my 15-20 year goal project by picking a part of it that should’ve been easy: a camisa, the Spanish equivalent of a chemise. How hard can that be, right? (spoiler: very).

This is the camisa I picked. Totally easy. Yup. Portrait of Isabel de Portugal, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, a copy of a lost work by Titian.
This is the camisa I picked. Totally easy. Yup.
Portrait of Isabel de Portugal, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, a copy of a lost work by Titian.

And if that weren’t complicated enough just on its own, the cuff of the sleeve looks like this:

Detail from the sleeve. Also featured on today's episode of "what is that fabric even doing?"...
Detail from the sleeve. Also featured on today’s episode of “what is that fabric even doing?”…

Beautiful, gorgeous, drapes for days, and flows in a way that most fabric doesn’t seem to do. At all.

The finished product is version 2. Version 1, fondly called bedsheet camisa, is literally made from a bedsheet so that I could test construction possibilities without spending tons of money because, well, there’s something like 6 yards of linen in the finished camisa. Aww yeah.

Camisaception. I'm wearing bedsheet camisa and touching/having my hand eaten by the real deal camisa.
Camisaception. I’m wearing bedsheet camisa and touching/having my hand eaten by the real deal camisa. Photo courtesy Master Fridrikr Tomasson – thank you for letting me use it!

Problems included:

  1. The Arm Poofs. How? From what? And yes, arm poofs is the technical term.
  2. The Cuff Drape. Does fabric even do that? How?
  3. The Extra Fabric. There’s just…so much. What do you do with it?

I managed to get pretty solid resolutions to all of those questions and more. There’s a lot more ground to cover before it’s well and truly right, but my research to date can be found in my documentation: Reconstructing a Renaissance Camisa!

And as to the specific problems above?

  1. Make the camisa arms (VERY) long tubes. Pull the excess along the top of the arm up through the slashes until cuff sits as desired.
  2. Fabric does do that. Gather it at the cuff with the fullness uneven so that most of the fabric hangs down. Combined with the excess pulled up along the topline, you’re good.
  3. Gather. Gather. Gather. Literally: every place there’s gathering got three runs of stitchery. We did the math during a moment of downtime at the event: 30 yards of hand-done gathering stitches.
This is the finished product. I really got lucky: the puffs and cuffs both turned out brilliantly.
This is the finished product. I really got lucky: the puffs and cuffs both turned out brilliantly.

So, What Did We Learn?

Well, I’m 100% not scared of A&S Competitions anymore. I learned that I’ve got at least some idea what I’m doing, both in terms of creating a garment to display and creating the documentation to back it up. And perhaps most importantly, the judges will have just as much awesome commentary for me as I was expecting.

But at the same time, I needed more time for my research. A theoretically simple garment, and I needed more time! But for the future, I know, and I’ll be ready.

…who am I kidding. There’s no end to this rabbit hole, and I’m never going to actually have all the time I want 🙂

Anyway, I’m more than happy to chat about camisa (no really, engage at your own risk, I’ll talk your ear off). And please feel free to share my documentation (Reconstructing a Renaissance Camisa) with anyone who might find it helpful. I’d love to chat with anyone who does!

Until next time!
Elena

Up To My Ears In Undergarments

So class #2 went off more or less without a hitch! Well, the class definitely went off without a hitch – me getting to College of Three Ravens to, y’know, teach it sure didn’t have that same smooth start!

(Check out the handout from the class here: A Brief History of Undergarments)

This class was a whole lot more fun for me to work up than the previous patterning class. The reason is pretty simple: I actually had to dive pretty deep into the research in order to get all of my ducks in a row, which is a lot more fun for me than just writing down sewing stuff which works but may or may not be period. The end result is that I now know much more than I ever could have dreamed about undergarments.

One of the most fascinating things to come out of my initial research is the fact that it’s Spain’s fault that the farthingale is a thing. 

Verdugado
Early verdugados. Verdugado ultimately gets corrupted into “farthingale” and the rest is history. Poofy, poofy history.

The second most fascinating thing I’ve encountered is corsets, at least the way we think of them modernly, really take their time in showing up, and when they do show up it’s in a really different way from what I expected. The first extant boned “corset” doesn’t show up until 1598. That’s 2 years away from being out of period.

Hi, I'm the Pfaltzgrafin Dorothea Sabina von Neuberg bodies, and I'm the earliest known garment vaguely recognizable as a "corset". I date back to 1598. Yup, 1598.
Hi, I’m the Pfaltzgrafin Dorothea Sabina von Neuberg bodies, and I’m the earliest known garment definitively recognizable as a “corset”. I date back to 1598. Yup, 1598.

And, of course, the farthingale and the pair of bodies both are beyond instrumental in shaping the ultimate form of the body. This really marks the start of a trend of using clothing to shape the body in unnatural ways and create optical illusions – before clothing mostly stuck to the lines of your body, but now it tends to be the other way round.

She was probably not born with a totally flat chest. She was probably not born with a barrel shaped bottom half. And she was probably not born with crazy high shoulders.
She was probably not born with a totally flat chest. She was probably not born with a barrel shaped bottom half. And she was probably not born with crazy high shoulders.

Anyway, I hope the actual handout is a little bit on the interesting/entertaining side. The folks at the class itself sure seemed to enjoy it! The entire event was really just plain fun. Even if I overslept my alarm and had to rush/conscript people to get my dress on/run from place to place and shovel lunch in my face like a crazy person.

So, what’s next? Well, hopefully a whole bunch more events and a whole bunch of new clothing! Stay tuned…

Yours until the garments go under,
Elena

In The Meantime, Chaos

It’s been a while, huh?

Well, I took a bit of a break over the winter to work on a side project.

Side project.
Side project.

Erza Scarlet from the anime Fairy Tail. It involved hand patterning, a lot of hand sewing, and a lot too much thermoplastic for my liking (the thermoplastic was abandoned for the heavy interfacing and fabric method that you ultimately see here because it turns out thermoplastic and I do not get along.)

Not remotely SCA, but pretty fun!

Anyway, that’s all she wrote for that, so now it’s time to jump right into the next thing. What’s going to be next? I’m working on a new class (!) which will hopefully debut at College of Three Ravens, and I’m also hoping to participate in the Aethelmearc A&S Fair in Hartstone on April 24th. So keep your eyes open – springtime is game time!

In Renaissance Europe, Clothing Wears You (and an FFF Recap)

A week ago I had the tremendous joy of attending Fabric, Fiber, and Fencing over in our neighboring shire of ACG (I cannot, for the life of me, spell the real name of that lovely place). The whole event was fabulous from start to finish, but one of the two big high points for me was getting to sit down and have some real talk with Maitresse Marguerite D’Honfleur (https://lafrancoysse.wordpress.com/), an incredibly knowledgeable late-period clothing expert who focuses on French styles but has an incredible, rich knowledge. Basically, I’d love to be her when I grow up.

Elena Teaching Patterning
This was the other highlight of my FFF: getting to teach my (no doubt fast becoming ubiquitous) patterning class. Now with 100% more action shots – thanks Master Denys for the photo!

Along with Maitresse Marguerite, I also got to pick the brain of Lady Mairin O’Cadhla (http://mairinocadhla.blogspot.com/, she’s super cool). After nearly fangirling myself to death at the thought of getting to speak with these two ladies at the same time, I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor in time to soak up a decent chunk of wisdom.

One of the most important things that I got out of our discussion was the way that clothing was viewed in the 16th century versus the way that it is viewed now. Obviously in today’s world clothing is more or less expendable. Everyone has a great variety of outfits, they’re all mass produced, and they’re pretty inexpensive (as these things go). But moreover, today’s outfits are all about individuality: you pick what expresses the sentiments of your heart, picking from an incredibly wide range of colors to find what looks good on you, what suits your body type, etc etc.

But back in the 16th century, there was a completely different emphasis. You didn’t pick clothing based on how it flattered your features; you picked colors based on what each color would say about your family, and you picked styles based on maximizing your ability to show off what you could afford. Why is red such a dominant color in royal raiments in the late period? Because once access to purple became effectively impossible for Europe, red became the most expensive color to get. Why were gowns so difficult to put on, and so hard to move around in? To highlight the fact that the people wearing them are able to afford the staff to a) dress them and b) do everything for them, because goodness knows they’re not doing it themselves.

Late period gowns are made to use fabric gratuitously, to showcase wealth and power and influence. They may be made to show off local crafts (specific skills with velvet or brocade, etc etc) but at the end of the day they’re the visible manifestation of the wearer’s social class.

Okay Elena, that’s all well and good for the upper class, who were flaunting everything they had. What about the lower class? Well, according to research by the wonderful folks of The Tudor Tailor, “a man with an annual income of 4 pounds might spend up to 6s 8d a yard on his gown fabric, by law. The yardage required would cost one third of his 4 pounds per year” (Mikhaila, Nina and Malcolm-Davies, Jane, The Tudor Tailor, p.11)

Homeboy ain’t rolling in the dough, but he’s still spending his hard-earned cash on the fabric to make sure he dresses his station. We might spend our money on other things to show our wealth – fine houses, fancy cars, etc etc – but in the 16th century, clothing was where it was at.

Interesting to consider. I look forward to hearing more on this topic – I’m hoping Maitresse Marguerite will give a class on it sometime!

Speaking of classes, I’m very excited to be attending/teaching at the Costuming Symposium in Steltonwald this coming Sunday. It sounds like a really interesting event, and I cannot wait to check it out!

Hugs and kisses,
Elena

Say Yes to the Dress?

So like a lot of clothing-focused people, I’m constantly seeking extant garments from my time and place. So naturally, I was pretty excited when images started floating around of a dress that is often attributed to Spain. In fact, it’s currently hanging out in El Museo de Toledo, in an exhibit entitled La Moda de Espana en el Siglo del Oro (Spanish Fashion in the Golden Age) – the exact period that I prefer to study. Jackpot, right?

"El traje de la Gran duquesa", from La Moda Espanola en el Siglo de Oro, an exhibit at the Museo de Toledo. Photo by FiberFerret (Hillery Brewer) and used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fiberferret/ - go check it out, she's awesome!
“El traje de la Gran duquesa”, from La Moda Espanola en el Siglo de Oro, an exhibit at the Museo de Toledo. Photo by FiberFerret (Hillery Brewer) and used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fiberferret/ – go check it out, she’s awesome!

Well, not so much.

Even before I dug deeper, my first glance at the (very lovely and well preserved) dress was a little disconcerting because it just didn’t jive with what I’ve seen in Spanish portraiture. Which leads to one of the central challenges in period costuming: making sure that a particular reference (garment or image) actually represents clothing that a typical person from said time and place would wear.

What do I mean by that? Well, there are basically two options for how a person dresses.

  • The simplest is when an individual born into a culture lives their entire life in that same culture. If that is the case, then any garment, extant and in images, is likely a garment typical of that place at the time it was created.
  • An individual can also be born into one culture, and then move to another one. The fashion in these two places is likely different, and this will present the individual with a choice: do they hold to their original fashion, adopt the new wholesale, or try to fuse the two?

I’m always meticulously careful to track down the origin of my portraits and be sure that they’re of Spanish people (or at least, Iberians), painted in Spain during the Siglo de Oro. This is a lot harder than it might seem – there is a huge diaspora as Spain rises to power, and many individuals like Eleonor de Toledo and even Catharine of Aragon begin Spanish but end their lives Italian, English, etc.

The problem with this, of course, is that when they move they may or may not adopt the fashion of their new country. Think about it in modern terms: I might have grown up in a family that wears only sweatpants, and then gone to college somewhere that required a dress uniform. If my college painted portraits, they’d render me in my dress uniform – and if a future clothing historian were to seek clothing references from my family, and stumble upon that portrait, they might think that’s what my family would normally wear. But in fact, that’s what I wore because it’s what my college demanded – my “native clothing”, so to speak, would be sweatpants.

Case in point: Catharine of Aragon during her marriage to Henry VIII, living in England and displaying fine Tudor fashion, vs. her sister Juana, living in Spain and looking 100% different.

Portrait from the National Gallery of Art, circa 1520. Artist unknown.
Portrait of Catherine of Aragon from the National Gallery of Art Portrait Gallery, circa 1520. Artist unknown.
Portrait of Juana, Queen of Castile and Aragon c. 1505, from the Triptych of the Last Judgment in Zierikzee by Master of Afflighem (Jacob van Laethem?) Brussels, Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium)
Portrait of Juana, Queen of Castile and Aragon c. 1505, from the Triptych of the Last Judgment in Zierikzee by Master of Afflighem 
Brussels, Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note how they have completely different outfits: Juana’s bodice is higher and more pointed, whereas Catherine’s has a wide and flat neckline. Notice the slashing on Catherine’s sleeves versus the expanses of relatively untamed fabric on Juana’s. Notice the hoods – Catherine has a proper hood, whereas Juana just has fabric up over her hair. Very different.

This concept is even more in force during the times of Court painters. If you’re painting an official portrait, to last for ever and ever and represent the ruler, the clothes depicted in that portrait are naturally going to be carefully chosen. If you’re a foreign-born ruler handling rowdy locals, it might help to be portrayed in traditional local dress, even if you otherwise stick rigidly to the fashion of your birth country. Or even more confusingly, you might end up fusing the two, and ending up influencing the fashion of your adopted culture with the fashion of your birth culture.

Basically, it’s a huge mess, and it can make determining the “real style” of a particular place and time very difficult.

So how can you resolve this? At least in my opinion, there’s going to be an eventual limit. There’s going to be a point at which you can’t be 100% certain. But you can get pretty close by being careful to track down ‘prime references’ – people from a given place painted while living in that given place during their lifetime (or very immediately thereafter). It’s usually possible to find at least one or two of these, especially once court painters became pretty commonplace.

Once you have a decent understanding of a few garments that are as clearly “typical” as you can find, you’ll be better equipped to understand everything else. Faced with an image that isn’t clear, you’ll be able to pick out certain attributes that might raise red flags.

Which takes us back full circle to that lovely red dress, featured so prominently in Toledo, Spain, in a museum show indicating that it’s all about the Siglo de Oro.

Because I’ve done my homework, I have a basic understanding of what Italian dress of the time looks like, and especially how it differs from Spanish. Spain typically favors higher necklines and almost always favors SLEEVES FOR DAYS. The close sleeves of this red gown are far more typical of Italy, at least to my eye.

So with these red flags having been raised, I set out to dig a little deeper into the history of this dress. The first clue came from the Museum’s own plaque.

Info Card for the Red Dress of Pisa
Credit again to FiberFerret.

The dress comes from the Museo Nacional del Palacio Real, Pisa (The National Museum of the Palazzo Reale, Pisa). Yep, the dress is from a museum in Pisa.

Okay, not great, but that’s not so bad – I mean, the Louvre is a trove of non-French stuff.

Florencia, mediados del siglo XVI. Florence, mid-century 16th century.

This dress from an Italian museum was…found in Florence?

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and was found in a pond, you kind of have to conclude it’s a duck. In other words, a dress that looks Italian, found in Italy, is probably of limited use as a reference for anything Spanish.

This problem makes it really hard to find good references, especially the lack of extant garments. The search continues, including a potentially promising garment (Traje supuestamente donado por Isabel Clara Eugenia – outfit supposedly/presumably donated by Isabel Clara Eugenia).

Adventures In Patterning – Maroon Outfit 2.0

Having created something wearable but not really ideal on the first go round, I’m taking a second shot at the outfit that I found in the research by Mestressa Beatriz Aluares de la Oya at http://www.spanishseamstress.org/. I am hesitant to use something that is so thoroughly someone else’s research, but Mestressa Beatriz has been wonderfully generous. And honestly, I’m just desperate for some accurate garb that isn’t, well, this.

Black dress
This dress doesn’t do kitchens. Or writing. Or washing my own dishes after feast.

This is the look I’m ultimately going for:

La Virgen de Monserrat con San Juan Bautista y Santa Margarita. Detail. Barcelona, Museo Frederic Mares. 100% credit to Mestressa Beatriz Aluares de la Oya for the hard work of finding this. She's already got the whole look on lockdown, I'm just retracing her steps.
La Virgen de Monserrat con San Juan Bautista y Santa Margarita. Detail. Barcelona, Museo Frederic Mares. 100% credit to Mestressa Beatriz Aluares de la Oya for the hard work of finding this.

The sticking point for me last time was the bodice. I’ve no idea how it happened, but when I patterned the thing it ended up too narrow and too long. By like, a number of inches.

Maroon Dress Version 1
Thanks sunlight, I didn’t need to have my eyes open anyway.

It fits decently enough, but it is not the reference dress from above.

Basic construction:

  • High neckline
  • Non-rigid boning (I’m using hemp)
  • Laces either on the side or in the back (I’m going with sides because I want to be able to easily put this on myself)
  • Narrow straps set wide on the shoulders
  • Tabs along the bottom
  • Trim along the edges/shoulder straps

The first step is to create the bodice, and I got a decent part of the way through that last night. I started by re-making my pattern. Figuring that some of my width loss on the previous model had to do with the channels expanding upward when threaded through with hemp, I added far more width than I could ever need – a good 6 inches of extra space, which I’ll tuck under to reinforce the edge and trim the excess. This will also give me the advantage of stronger support where I need it most: right where the lacing is going to go. Dealing with the extra length was easy: I measured correctly and cut correctly. And I got a correctly shorter garment!

Once my pieces were cut (from standard canvas) I got to measuring. I created channels of just over .25″ wide across the entirety of the front and back of the bodice (that’s exactly as time consuming as you would think it would be).
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And then I sewed each one.

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The finished product, ready to be threaded with the hemp cord for stiffening!