Thursday, 18 September 2014

Becoming Lord Constantine

Ever since my realization back in June that what I really wanted to do was mid-16th-century English gentleman, I've been thinking away on how to kit myself out appropriately. This process has turned out to be rather more involved than anticipated.

One of the features of the way the SCA does things is the persona. Basically, this means creating a character who might have existed before 1600-ish, complete with name, clothing, kit, and activities. For some people it'll just be a name, and then they'll wear all sorts of clothing from different regions and periods of history. For others, there will be an elaborate backstory with family members, years of personal history, all kinds of things. Kind of like creating a Dungeons and Dragons character - the process is as elaborate as you want it to be.

Historically I've always been a "run around in whatever I fancy" sort of person, since up until now I've not felt drawn to a particular region or period. But now that I've discovered archery and the assorted stuff that goes with, I'm starting to get into the idea that actually, I'd really like to explore this one thing in depth instead of dabbling.

Coming up with a new name was first on the agenda. I wanted to use the given name "Constantine", as the name I normally use is "Constanza". I figured having two names that sounded as similar as possible would reduce confusion. Fortunately, there was a chap named Constantine living in London in 1582. I know this because Boss Herald helpfully wrote an article about the names in three sixteenth century London subsidy rolls. I had no real preference about a byname, so I made the arbitrary decision to go with something archery-related. Happily, "Fletcher" appears in the same article, this time in 1541 as well as 1582. I've submitted the name Constantine Fletcher along with an heraldic badge to be associated with it (Or, semy of strawberries proper). With any luck those will both be registered in the coming months and be all mine!

The next issue, still on-going, is figuring out what to wear. I'd already decided to make two complete outfits, one plain-ish for shooting in and one fancy for going to Court. And I wanted some extra shirts as well, because we have a 10-day event every summer and I don't fancy wearing the same two shirts for the whole thing.

The obvious place to look was portraits of men from the 1540s. With the assistance of Tyger Friend, I've started compiling as many portraits as I can find onto a Pinterest board. I'm using this to get a sense of colour, shape, and composition of outfit. This, combined with access to Before the Mast and Weapons of Warre has given me a pretty good idea of what garments I ought to make. What these resources haven't told me is how many of each garment I ought to have. That's where the wills come in.

See, during the course of my names research, I've spent a fair amount of time looking through extant wills. I'd heretofore been looking for names, of course, but it's impossible not to notice the clothing and personal effects mentioned in these documents. It occurred to me that compiling a spreadsheet of garments and jewelry mentioned in wills would be an excellent way to estimate the approximate size of a man's (or woman's) wardrobe. I've limited my search to the 1540s, since that's the period of history I'm looking at. I have access to a lot of print resources, since I work for a university library, but I'm also looking through a lot of material that's available online. Once I've put together enough data, I'll start working up a list of all the stuff I need to make.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Plotting - the 2015 Selfish-Along

Work continues on sooper sekrit projects, so I will instead write of some of my plans for next year. (That's the trouble with projects that take months - you only get to squeeze a couple in over the course of a year.)

A theme that I've noticed recurring in conversations with my mother, Lady C (hereafter Tyger Friend), and Weaving Friend is that we all lament not having enough time to make some of the really cool stuff for ourselves. We're all prone to diving in on community projects and gift knitting, you see. And while that's great and fun, sometimes it's good to say "no" and prioritize making stuff for oneself.

I am therefore declaring 2015 a year of selfish crafting. Mostly that will mean making stuff for oneself, but it might also be making stuff as a special gift, or to try out something new that wouldn't work in a selfish project.

For me, I'm hoping to make a new set of 1540s clothing from the skin out, a quilt, some new socks, and at least one embroidery project. I realize that I'm crazy, but then there's nothing to say I can't continue the selfish-along into 2016...

Monday, 1 September 2014

Research trip write-up the first - pins and a cap

Somehow it is already September and the season of secret gift projects has started. Hazards of being a craftsperson - gifts take months of forward planning. Ah well. I have been saving some research photos for just this purpose!

Back in July I was fortunate to be able to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum's research centre to work with some collection items that aren't on display. Mostly I was there to look at a shirt and a handkerchief, and those will appear in future posts. A few days before I went, though, I came across a series of pins in the online catalogue that were mysteriously labelled "ruff pins". There were no photos and only the vaguest of descriptions, so I requested them as well.

They came mounted on board as a set.

I'd wondered whether they were decorative stickpins or functional attaching pins. As you can see, they turned out to be the latter.

It's not clear whether the heads of the pins are separate rings of metal that have been slipped over the shaft, or if each pin is a single piece of wire that has been knotted at one end to form the head.

The pins are made of copper or an alloy, judging from the colour of the corrosion. Each is about an inch long, tapering to a point.

The curator also brought up an 18th-century cutwork cap by mistake. It was very pretty, though, so I took a photograph:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

That thing where you're too busy crafting to post about your crafting...

The shirt is done. I got a fair number of photos during the process, so I'll run through the whole lot.

The first part of the process was designing the embroidery. I decided to base my design on the original embroidery of the shirt, albeit not as densely stitched because my fabric was coarser. I ended up with bees and roses for the cuffs:

and bees and acorns for the collar:

The bees are from his heraldic device, and the acorns are the emblem of a service award he holds. The vines and leaves are also based on the original embroidery.

I drew the pattern up actual size and then transferred it to my fabric by the very professional method of holding it up to the window and drawing it. It worked reasonably well, but I really want to get a lightbox for future projects.

I tacked the full cuff outline onto the fabric before I started embroidering the first cuff, just to ensure I didn't forget my seam allowances. (I did all of the embroidery on a single piece of fabric in a q-snap frame, and then cut it out afterwards.

Things were going great, right up until I ran out of black embroidery floss:

Seriously, who runs out of black embroidery floss? Me, that's who. Still, I went to the shop the next day, and finished all the embroidery that evening.

I don't have any photos of the next phase, but I hemmed the bottom edges of the body fabric so they wouldn't fray horribly. The sleeves went onto the shoulders next; I just used running stitch. After that I put the underarm gussets in and sewed up the arm and side seams. That process was slightly more complicated than I'd anticipated, because Patterns of Fashion doesn't seem to mention anywhere how far open the sleeves were below the cuff, or even if they were at all. Going by the cuff measurements I concluded that they had to be, otherwise you'd never get your hand through. And after some digging on the internet, I found the Flickr album of a person who had been to the Museum of Fashion and taken lots of lovely photos of the shirt, including one where you could see the slit below the cuff. No measurements, but knowing the length of the sleeve allowed me to guesstimate. This is what I ended up with:

I hemmed the open edges of the slits before putting the cuffs on. Incidentally, gathering a sleeve into a cuff is a pain and requires approximately one million pins. I'm going to need a lot more practice, but I think this went well for a first attempt.

In the above photo you can see a classic example of why it's important to double-check your measurements before you do your embroidery layout. The blackwork ought to go all the way out to the edge, but I screwed it up. Ah well. It is at least symmetrically wrong, and the collar isn't nearly so bad.

At this point, I decided to get as many of the inside seams finished as I could before starting to work on the collar. The original shirt had run and fell seams, so that's what I did too. Here's the finished underarm gusset, made possible by a Pinterest tutorial on felling underarm gussets that Lady C sent me.

I've never done felled seams before, but I'm very happy with how they turned out. Next up was cutting the collar opening. Again, no photos, but I had tacked across the shoulder "seam" so that everything would be in the right place. Cut across the shoulders and then down the front to form a slit. I hemmed the sides of those next, before gathering the opening into the collar. This was unexpectedly tricky, because you're left with no fabric at the bottom of the curve to turn into the hem. Again, I am really pleased with how this turned out.

The rectangle at the bottom of the slit is a reinforcing patch. The original shirt had them at the tops of the hip slits. I've also put them in here at the neck and on both wrists. The original shirt tore and was mended at the neck, and Himself has historically ripped out the wrists of his shirts, so I decided to put in a little extra work for caution's sake. The patches also have the bonus of covering the slightly unattractive point where hem turns into seam.

Once all the seams were done and reinforced, I had to suck it up and do the gathers for the collar. Instead of running a single thread across the full length, I started in the centre back and ran threads out to both sides. This made it a lot easier to get the gathers evenly distributed, and also meant that I was able to centre the collar properly. I think the next time I'll do three lines of gathering stitches instead of two, as some of the gathers got a little lumpy.

I managed to find a lady (at WorldCon of all places) selling 8mm linen tape. The original tapes were 6mm, but seriously, who's going to quibble over 2mm? I bought 5 yards of the stuff, so should be well stocked for the next few shirts. As in the original, I sewed them to the inside of the collar and cuffs:

though I think next time I'll enclose the ends inside the cuff. It looks better and I think is more secure.

The finished shirt is very long.

It's designed to be that way, though. When worn properly it gets tucked into the gentleman's trousers:

It should also have a doublet over the top of it. Without, though, it gives one a marvelous chance to pretend to be on the cover of a bodice-ripper:

Monday, 14 July 2014

A shirt for a spouse

My spouse, in fact. Ordinarily I have a policy of not making clothing for him (because he's perfectly capable of sewing his own), but since I'm planning fancy gentleman's clothing for me I figured I might as well practice on him.

The exemplar I'm using is a linen shirt dated between 1590 and 1620 that's apparently in the Bath Fashion Museum. (I say apparently because I can't find it on their website, though it appears on a number of Pinterest boards attributed to that museum.) It is also one of the patterned examples in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 4. 

The body of the shirt is a single continuous length of cloth with no seams at the shoulders. The 38-inch-wide fabric is the full width of the cloth, with the selvedges left attached. The sleeves are rectangles, gathered into the cuffs and with a square gusset in the underarm. The neck opening is a T-shaped slit with a rolled hem along the front and with small triangular gussets inserted at the tops of the shoulders before being gathered into the collar. The back of the shirt is several inches longer than the front.

The sleeves and gussets are attached using run and fell seams. Below the underarm gusset the selvedge edges are butted together until just below the hip, at which point it falls open to the bottom hem. The bottom hem is a very narrow rolled hem. There are reinforcing strips sewn in at the tops of the side openings.

The original shirt is heavily embroidered in black silk. There are alternating columns of scrolling flowers and leaves and isolated motifs of leaves and acorns on the front and back chest and both sleeves, as well as bands of similar scrolling flowers on the cuffs and collar. The columns running alongside the front neck opening merge into a single column below the opening.

Narrow linen tapes are sewn to the wrists just above where the cuff joins the sleeve, though it is not clear whether these are the original tapes.

My fabric is wider than the original, so I'm not going to be able to use the selvedges in the same way. I'll work run and fell seams all the way down the side openings and then continue the hems up to meet them. I'm also not planning to do nearly as much embroidery - just the collar and cuffs and possibly around the neck opening, in black embroidery cotton.

First up - cutting out the body and sleeves, and setting up the fabric that's going to become cuffs and collar on my embroidery frame. 

Friday, 20 June 2014


Despite all of the planning and thinking and cooking that's been going on recently, I have actually been making things. First up, a pair of socks for a certain Viscountess.

When asked how she had liked the socks I made her earlier, she hinted that she really wanted another pair. "Hinted" might be the wrong word. I think her exact words were, "I'd like another pair just like these, only purple." So, purple socks she got.

Then with the leftovers I made a pair of booties for an imminent SCA baby.

You'd never guess they were from the same yarn. But they are, and there was much cooing when I presented them.

Finally, some spinning. Not a lot, only a wee sample.

This is from a mystery fleece that I acquired last autumn. I'm aiming for a bulky 3-ply to make a cabled cardigan/coat thingie at some point. Still need to bulk this up a little bit. It is very difficult to consistently spin fat yarn.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The next big thing - The 1545 Project

There's always a big project, isn't there? This one, at least, involves needlework. Lots of it.

Last summer when I went to that event in Wales for 10 days, in addition to doing a ton of spinning and setting the foundation of my apprenticeship, I also got to try archery for the first time. Archery has turned into a love and an obsession over the last 10 months, and thanks to a ton of practice I'm becoming reasonably competent. I even went as far as buying a longbow back in March.

What this means, though, is that my spiffy new Viking clothing is All Wrong. One simply doesn't shoot an English longbow while dressed as a Viking. For a start, the tortoise brooches get in the way of the string. And one can never have too many spiffy outfits.

I'd been kicking around ideas for some English garb to go with my bow for a while, and over the last fortnight an Idea has coalesced. (Incidentally, making garb to match one's bow is a pretty sure indicator of an archery obsession.)

First I went to an event in Ireland and somehow ended up trying on the clothing of one of the gentlemen in attendance. (It was a strange and entertaining evening. Let's just leave it at that.) They fit beautifully, although the doublet was a little long in the waist, and were terribly comfortable. When asked, he remarked that they were mid-16th-century English. I'd been meaning to make some male clothing for inclement weather, so we agreed to swap skills so he'd learn knitting and spinning while I got patterns.

Then I went looking for evidence of what the string of my bow would have been made of so that I could make some. (Further evidence of obsession.) I found myself reading Toxophilus, which is the first English-language archery manual, published in 1545. Coincidentally, 1545 is the same year the Mary Rose went down. In addition to just being extremely interesting, archaeologically-speaking, the Mary Rose finds include the largest single body of pre-1600 archery equipment ever found.

I have the plans for clothing and I have the primary sources for how archery was done at the same point in history. So basically, I've decided that I'm going to kit myself out as a gentleman archer of 1545. Clothing from the skin out, all the archery accoutrements, new arrows, and a new bow. Because it turns out that my bow isn't actually appropriate for the clothing I'm now planning to make!