Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top Three Internet Resources

Another long wait for a post! There are big things brewing, and my focus has been elsewhere - on things just off in the horizon which will hopefully pay off. More on that soon.

I planned this post to be a companion to my last post about online fabrics shops. In my day-to-day, modern life, I am an instructional designer and e-learning professional. My passion and vocation is leveraging technology and tools to improve the online learning experience. So the Internet is a friend of mine, and I love researching new things that make my life - and others' lives - easier. One of the amazing trends in living history is how reenactors have taken to the Internet to make their research and networking easier. It's kind of ironic, since we portray the past, but that's a discussion for another day.

So I'd like to share with you three resources that have changed my reenacting, have made life easier for me, and from which I think you might benefit, if you are not already benefiting from them. I also think they're a good cross-section of what is available out there.

As always, these links come with a caveat: Do Your Own Research. There are a lot of sources out there. Some are better than others. It's always best to go straight to the horse's mouth for your information by doing your own research into primary documents and artifacts. That way, you know the conclusions you come to are your own. I always say that you can make anyone believe anything if you say it convincingly, and I've seen some really convincing people lead some really unsuspecting folks astray. So do your own research and depend on yourself alone.

That's enough soapboxing - on with the links!

1. The Sewing Academy -

Ah, the Sewing Academy. I recently told an acquaintance that any civilian reenactor who is not on the Sewing Academy is not trying hard enough, and I mean it. The site is run by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, who is a noted expert on the mid 19th century, particularly women's and children's clothing. She's also someone I consider a friend and she's very sweet and funny and has a killer sense of humor (and she didn't pay me to say any of this). Mrs. Clark runs both aspects of the Sewing Academy - the first is a website filled with free patterns, patterns for purchase (which are well worth the money), articles with helpful tips for reenactors at every stage of the game, and so much more.

The other aspect is a forum, geared towards reenactors, with subforums for discussing anything from corsets to religion to food to upcoming events. The forum is frequented by some of the reenacting Big Wigs, the kind of people whose books you may have sitting on your shelf or whose pictures you have drooled over on Facebook. It's hard to decide what the best part of the forum is - the quality of the research (and a search function gives you access to all of the past discussions, which makes this forum something like an encyclopedia of reenacting), or the fact that everyone is Just Plain Nice. Living history is overrun with big egos, thin skins, and some cliquishness, but for the members of the Sewing Academy, "Civility" is the battle cry, and everyone really sticks to it. No question is derided, no request for documentation is met with jeers. Everyone is welcome. And that's what it really should be about, folks.

If you're not a member, you have to request membership, and since Mrs. Clark runs the forum all by her onesies (while homeschooling her kids and cooking amazing things and coming up with new puns and just being a superhero as far as I can tell) it can take some time. Stick around. It is worth it, I promise you.

2. Historical Sewing -

Historical Sewing is a blog run by Jennifer Rosbrugh. I only found this blog within the last year, and once I finished putting my eyeballs back into my head, I wasted a whole day cruising through all the great information she has there. It is truly a treasure trove of advice for anyone sewing historical garments.

One of the great things about this blog are Jennifer's philosophical posts. She often posts her musings on different aspects of recreating historical garments, which in turn make me think and give me a new perspective on something I may not have even questioned before or thought about in the same way. She also has a lot of inspiration up there, and her Facebook page often contains little bits of cheerleading that can pump you up when you maybe don't feel like sewing five yards of wool tape to bind the hem of your new dress (not that I've been there lately or anything...). She'll get your head in the right direction and have you up and sewing in no time.

And of course, there are tons and tons of sewing tips, from how to make sure your corset lines don't show through your dress to how to get those really really sharp pleats. There is a minor caveat - the authoress is a costumer, and so she makes beautiful things that sometimes use modern techniques or materials. For those of us focused strictly on reproducing garments that could be taken back in a time machine, these need to be avoided. Thankfully, the author almost always makes mention of this in her posts, so you never have to feel led astray - I love transparency!

And do we even need to talk about the resources she has linked up?? If you think there's a lack of fabric-induced drool in your life, start clicking on some of those links.

3. Google Books Advanced Search -

Maybe libraries creep you out. Maybe the closet library to you is one room in the town community center run by Mildred Johnson (been there, friend). Maybe you have agoraphobia, or maybe you have a severe mold allergy that prevents you from ever touching old books (which, if it's true, is a very sad existence and you have my deepest sympathy). These are all reasons why God created digitized books.

There are a lot of digitized archives out there - Project Gutenberg, Digital Public Library, The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress. You should check them all out. But today, I'm going to tell you why Google Books is my favorite.

To start, either click the link above, or Google "Google Books advanced search". Yes, it is silly to Google that, but the way Google is set up can be baffling. If you need a moment to sigh over technology, take it now. Also, teenagers in my life have informed me that you can blow up the world by Googling "Google", but I am here to tell you that that is, unsurprisingly, just not true.

It will take you to the page shown below. Type in whatever you want in the search bar - and you can search for exact phrases or exclude words as well. Get creative. In the shot below, I'm searching for Miss Leslie (aka Eliza Leslie, the Martha Stewart of the 1850s and 60s). I have also limited the years to only include items published between 1850 and 1860.

Please take a moment to notice my awesome screenshot-ing skills. My tuition dollars hard at work, ladies and gentlemen.

Once I hit the search button, I get a list of results, like the ones shown below. Each entry tells me when it was published, the name of the author, whether or not it's available to read (some books must be purchased, and some are not digitized, but most books in the public domain are viewable).

When you select one of the books, it opens it in a reader. The bar at the top of the reader allows you to zoom in and out, to change the view, and to save it to your library (which is helpful if you use Google Play Books on your tablet or phone). One the left-hand side, you can search within the book. And if you really love the book, you can save it as an ebook, either to your computer or to your mobile devices.

Pretty cool, huh? The possibilities are nearly endless - read obscure Victorian novels for free, check out illustrations in Godey's, catch up on any magazine of the time period, research any topic. You. Are. Welcome.

This got to be a long post, but I'm really excited about these resources and being able to share them with you!

Do you have any favorite resources that you think cut the mustard? Share them in the comments!

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