Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's A Major Award!

In a first for this blog, I've been given an award! Not just one award, but three awards! Many thanks to my dear friend and kindred spirit, Ada, over at Of Woods And Words for the honor - you all should definitely go check out her stuff, she never fails to enlighten and amuse.

I read blogs avidly, so I am aware of some of the etiquette involving awards, if not the finer details. Supposedly, I need to pass them on, so I'll send these along to the inspirational Rachel at Her Heart In History, Biz of Biz And The Bungalow, and Emily of Emily's Alpine Path.

Also, I apparently need to reveal five things you might not know about me. So here we go!

  1. I dislike coins. Severely. Especially pennies. They gross me out. I don't know what it is, but ever since I've been little I've been grossed out by them. You know how sometimes you're walking barefoot through a house and you STEP ON ONE!? I HATE THAT! It's not to the point of not being able to handle them at all, but it's not fun.
  2. My first job ever was making Helga Hats for the Minnesota Vikings. My church youth group director owned a textile company, and this was when the Vikings were actually winning, so I was hired to hot-glue those horns onto the hats. I still have scars on my fingers from the hot glue. It was the best job ever.
  3. I have a twin sister, which many of you probably already know. We were undiagnosed multiples - my mother did not find out she was having twins until she went into labor. I (the smaller baby) was hiding behind my sister the whole pregnancy. Surprise!
  4. I didn't learn to sew until high school. My mother was not sewing inclined, though she taught me how to do things like run a seam, hem a skirt, patch jeans, and put on buttons. I didn't learn to use a machine until I took Clothing Tech I and Clothing Tech II in high school.
  5. I didn't learn to knit until I was in college. Again, my mother was not a knitter. I took it up independently in college - and unbeknown to me, my twin sister took it up on the same day as me.
I'm working on my next post, as an after report of this event that I went to last weekend. Suffice it to say, it changed my life. I'm looking forward to telling you all about it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eye Candy (or, my new love of millinery rears its head again)

Blogging is srs bsns, guys. If that last post was too heavy on the wordage for you, here's an eye candy post - the new hood I made last week.
Is that not adorable!? I made it using this pattern from a German magazine from 1859. Reasons I am proud of this:

1. It was my first time ever using an original pattern (and just look at that pattern! It is not very clear and I am the Queen of Literal).
2. I hand-quilted the inside. I am not a quilter. I am especially not into geometry. The lines are all basically at right angles and that makes me happy.
3. I got the wool for $6 a yard and the silk for $4.50 a yard. The batting and ribbon ties (which will be replaced with ties made out of the lining silk) were from my stash. That means this baby cost me the low, low price of $10.50.

It's a good thing I got it made, too - I have a reenactment next weekend and they're predicting the possibility of snow. Considering it's 60 degrees and gorgeously sunny outside, I'm hoping the forecasters are wrong...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Improve Your Impression: An Accuracy Manifesto

I've been discussing with people what to do with this blog. It started out as a place to show people what I have been making, and what events I've been to. However, the whole "Look what I've sewn! Look where I've been!" format has gotten a bit dull. I need a bit of a challenge, if you will.

It's springtime, and for those of you who reenact, you know it's the start of The Reenacting Season. This summer will be especially busy, as it is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (more on that later). With the start of a new season, and inspired by other blogs I've read who are touching on this topic, I'd like to start a short series with my thoughts on accuracy and how to create and accurate impression. This week, I'll be explaining to you what accuracy means to me, the choices I have made regarding it, and my overall personal guidelines on what it means to be accurate.

Accuracy is a very touchy issue among living historians. It carries with it an inherent value judgment; we are reenacting the past, and the more accurate you are at doing it, the better of a reenactor you are. It's a topic that splits up groups, ruins friendships, and causes feuds the likes of which will probably be reenacted in one hundred and fifty years ("The Battle of Which-Colorway-Is-Right").

I wish accuracy did not come with such animosity as it often does. It is understandable - how do you convey to someone information that may disprove a "reenactorism" or commonly held myth that they are perpetuating? Part of the sting is that your impression is who you are - so any criticism towards your impression is inherently a criticism of yourself.

I believe that accuracy should be the ultimate goal. For me, there is no other option. I want to experience life in the past, and live as they live, and create the things they created, in order to better understand them. The term "experiential archaeology" has been used for living historians - by doing things just as they were done, wearing the right clothes, eating the right food, you come to understand why they did things the way they did. You can't get that experience if you make too many compromises.

However, we live in the modern world, and unfortunately, there is no magic time machine that will take us back to that period, and even if there was we'd still find out we had gotten some details wrong. This manifesto is less about why one needs to be accurate, as much as it is about how to be accurate, and what constitutes accuracy for me.

You'll note that I talk in personal terms here - accuracy is about MY journey. It is not about what the person next to me is wearing, it is about what I am wearing. It is difficult not to play the game of "I look better than her!", but a better game to play is "I just look darn good!". It's more satisfying in the end. My personal guidelines are to never criticize someone else's impression. I will only offer advice if it is asked for. Period.

Now then, what are my own personal guidelines? I'm going to organize this in a list.
  1. Who Would See? There was an article on a website from a group out west that apparently no longer exists now, but I read it when I first started reenacting and had no clue what to do about anything. The author's point was that it is a great disservice to ourselves and the public to keep anachronistic itemsaround and justify it with "Who would know?" We're smarter than that, and the public is smarter than that, and someone WILL notice those plastic plates. He pointed out that the better thought is "Who will see?" Will someone notice that plastic cooler if it's in a wooden trunk? Will anyone realize I have a cell phone on me if it is in my pocket, turned off, and stays there? Of course, this only goes so far - the ultimate high is to have a totally period environment, without a single modern thing in it. Sometimes, that's not always feasible. If no one can see it, it will probably be ignored, and it will not compromise on your personal accuracy.
  2. Good (For Now). My goal with each dress I make, each item I acquire, is that it will move me further on my goal to accuracy. As a progressive reenactor, I believe that accuracy is not a destination, it is a journey. Historians will always learn new things and find new objects to tell them more about life in the past; what we knew 20 years ago is obsolete. We can never hope to know everything, especially for the amateur living historian, but we can keep learning, and remain undaunted. I own a dress that I made three years ago; there are things at are wrong with it, that need to be fixed (although I 'd rather just make a new dress than fix an old one!) or removed altogether. I know more now than I did three years ago. That's what accuracy is to me - a constant movement forward in knowledge.
  3. Know Your Limits. There are those of us who can afford the highest end reproduction fabrics. Some living historians have wardrobes that rival my modern wardrobe (trust me, that's not a difficult task). For the vast majority of us who have bills to pay, total accuracy - at least, going out and purchasing total accuracy in one fell swoop - is not economically feasible. For my part, I personally know which compromises I can make to save a bit of money. This goes along a bit with "Who Would See" - I use whatever thread is on sale. No one except for me is going to know what kind of thread I used to sew my dress, and considering the amount of thread I use, saving a dollar or two with each spool makes sense. I line my dresses with plain old muslin rather than polished cotton - again, it saves me a few dollars, and no one is the wiser. In this same vein, however, I always take care to match my accuracy goals with my budget. I only have one silk dress - it's all I need and it's all I can afford, and I get way more use from my nice calico dress and wool dress than I do my silk. I don't have a parasol, I have two fashion bonnets (and a straw hat that was, okay, a splurge for fun). My budget is tight, and trying to stretch it out to accurately portray someone with an unlimited budget (the Mary Todd Lincolns of the world) wouldn't be very successful. To this end, I portray someone who is aspiring to the upper classes, but is solidly set in the middle class, which fits my reenacting budget quite nicely.
  4. Compromise On Little. Having said all that, I give myself little leeway. As I stated, accuracy is my goal (and though I am a bit biased, I think it should be the goal of everyone). One of the best things about reenacting is that it's like one big post-rummage sale deal brag - you can't attend an event with my group without hearing how little someone spent on the silk for their dress, or where someone scored the perfect brooch, and so forth. The fabric for one of my favorite dresses (a reproduction cotton) cost $1.49 a yard - I wear that dress proudly, beaming in the knowledge that the entire thing cost me less than $25 (notions and trim included). Accuracy is an investment, and like most things, it takes time - it has taken me close to ten years to get to a point where I feel reasonably confident that I can attend any event with a great deal of accuracy. And I won't lie, over the years I have made some shoddy acquisitions. I wish I would have saved that money and waited out the more accurate deal - because when you know what to look for, it's surprising how little you have to spend for it.
As I stated above, accuracy is an ultimate goal, and the journey towards it is the most important part. My standards may change, my goals may be different, and my line towards accuracy might shift in the future. This is where I stand, for now, with sights set on always improving.

For you fellow reenactors - what is your accuracy manifesto? What is your "bottom line"? And for all you fine readers - any brilliant ideas for topics you want me to touch on?

Coming Soon: Part Two - Top Ways to Improve Your Impression.