Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Anti-Dress Diary I: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Tudor (Part 1 of 3)

Now, months after I announced my intention to commit these ideas to pixels.... Welcome to one of the strangest pieces of historic costume bloggery you may ever encounter; the "Anti-Dress Diary".

Before I launch into the first one, a little background is in order. 

The first thing that makes each of the "Anti-Dress Diaries" strange is that each of my Anti-Dress Diaries is like a trip in Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine. It's not a chronicle of an on-going project. It's a reconstruction of a long-finished project--and two of them are about projects that were completed before the Internet, as most of us think of it today, existed.

The second thing that makes the Anti-Dress Diaries strange is the total absence of effort to craft things in "the period way."  That wasn't because I didn't care about creating a period garment; it was because I did not expect to be able to obtain good information about period sewing and apply them well enough to complete a complicated costuming project in time to be able to wear the garment for the purpose that inspired its creation.
Original costume concept
(minus the hat)

The third, and strangest thing about the Anti-Dress Diaries is that they reveal how little I enjoy sewing. I took up sewing when I was 15 because I wanted to wear historic costume, to feel what wearing such costumes was like, and I could not afford to pay other people to create my dream for me. I quickly learned that I find sewing to be physically frustrating and boring, but persisted because I was just barely able to achieve wearable results when applying what I had managed to learn to the forgiving lines of medieval costume. In other words, the Anti-Dress Diaries are about what happened when circumstances backed me into attempting to apply my primitive sewing skills to the more sophisticated historic costumes of eras later than, say, the Middle Ages.**

Now that I've set forth that background information, let's set the controls of the Wayback Machine to the year 1999. You remember 1999, don't you? Cell phones were the size of small bricks compared to the mobile phones of today, increasing numbers of people were acquiring Internet access and exploring the World Wide Web, and Bill Clinton was still president of the United States, despite having had impeachment proceedings conducted against him.

My inspiration image:
Anne Boleyn*
In 1999, my husband, Eric, spent a lot of time traveling to foreign lands, giving speeches about the advantages of "open source" software. He was in sufficient demand as a speaker that he could generally obtain a free airline ticket and lodgings wherever he wanted to go, just by suggesting to a Linux user group in the relevant community that he would be happy to speak to them in exchange for having his expenses paid.

My husband and I are science fiction fans, and one of our favorite leisure activities was, and is, attending science fiction conventions.  In 1999, the World Science Fiction Convention--a huge, 5-day event involving fans from all over the world that at the time was usually held on the first weekend of September***--was to be held in Melbourne, Australia, and Eric had managed to convince a local Linux user group to pay for an air ticket that would let him arrive in time for the convention, and let him do his public speaking gig for them afterward.

Catherine Parr ( to show the
 general shape of the "Boleyn" dress)*
Unfortunately, the LUG had no reason to pay for a plane ticket for me just so that I could tag along, and we couldn't afford to buy me a ticket so I could go to the Worldcon too.  So I began looking for I started looking for fun things to do with my Labor Day weekend without my husband.  A suitable event quickly presented itself in the form of a live-action role playing game (LARP) called "Ring of Fire, Ring of Light," based on fantasy themes and set in the 1530s CE in an alternate universe's Germany.

Originally, I figured that I could repurpose a previously purchased lace-up bodice and skirt (both in black) by making matching sleeves for them, and that could pass as a crude approximation of a German middle-class woman's dress of the period. But shortly after I made the sleeves, I learned that my character was noble, and French. This meant that she would be wearing a rounded hood-like headdress with a dark veil attached--what is called a "French hood" and a wide-skirted gown, open to show a section of underskirt of contrasting color/pattern, with wide, fur-trimmed sleeves and heavy ornamental undersleeves.  Think "Anne Boleyn" and you have the right general idea.

After that, I knew I had to try to make an "Anne Boleyn" dress and headdress. But how?  If I had to tackle such a project today, I would know exactly where to obtain suitable fabrics, and I even know of a few people who sell patterns for that type of dress on line. But back in 1999?

Join the next installment of ADD 1 (the initials are, in my case, especially appropriate) to find out how I proceeded to make a classic Tudor gown with minimal knowledge of dress patterns and a minimal budget!

*          Photographs of portraits of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
**        Over time, I have learned enough about period-correct hand sewing techniques to enjoy hand sewing early period garments to some degree, though sewing is unlikely ever to become my favorite activity.
***     This date was originally chosen because the first Monday of September is a national holiday in the United States called "Labor Day", and timing the convention for this weekend permits a five-day event that most Americans can fit into the amount of vacation time they are allotted from their jobs.

No comments:

Post a Comment