A. and I have been quite remiss in posting here. For that we apologize. It’s not that we haven’t been working on projects. We have had quite a few, but remembering to sit down and type or take pictures of the project in progress…. well I at least have a hard time taking the pictures. That being said…. Let’s continue.

 

The Bright Blue Shirt

     In the last 5 years ,we Peasants have acquired new guild members, some of them have never been to a Renaissance Faire. In the past we just made costumes for them. They do not always stay. We are not horribly expensive, and we try to work with in a budget, but were not cheep either. This year, we decided to loan costume pieces so they could do a faire in costume, and decide if faire was for them.

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The original color of the shirt.

     A and I have been a part of our Renaissance Guild for a long time. Our costumes have evolved over time, and as we have aged We keep the costume pieces and our shape and sizes have also. We’ve also had other members donate costumes. On a few occasions we’ve also had random faire folk contribute to our collection. Shirts, jerkins, trews, smocks, skirts, and bodices. Some of these pieces aren’t quite accurate in color, or style.

     J. is one of these new members. He had never been to a faire before, but another member had brought him in as an applicant. He was quite excited about joining, but needed a costume ASAP. (Our home faire was coming up quick.) A and I needed to put a costume together quickly. We have a very small collection of pieces for men. We found a a pair of trews, or pants. We found a jerkin or vest. The only shirt that we had that would fit him was a very bright, electric blue. This blue was so bright we didn’t think it could be achieved with natural dyes that would have been affordable for an English Peasant.

We had to change it…

     A. took the first leg of this journey, but kept me updated by text throughout the process. Some

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Results of not having enough RIT Color Remover or too much water.

of these including pictures.

     Using RIT Color Remover, she tried to remove some of the color. This worked, but not as one might expect. After 15 minutes in the bath it be came a “dark ? mud? color”. 45 minutes later, it was a medium chocolate “hot Cocoa” color. She then washed it in a regular wash cycle.

     We discussed options. Run it through another cycle with the dye remover, leave it out in the sun to see what would happen, or bleaching it, as a last result. A. then decided the color was not going to get any lighter, and was going to leave it be. After washing it in a regular wash cycle, she found the color removal was inconsistent. Some of the cotton fabric was a brownish color, and other areas were still a bright blue. The polyester thread was still the same vibrant blue was originally.

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10 minutes into dye removal attempt #2

     A., re-read the directions and realized she should have used 2 packets instead of the one. She decided to run it through another cycle of RIT Color Removal, this time using less water, and agitating herself instead of letting the washing machine do it. 15 minutes into the dye removal bath, she sent me a picture . It was a beautiful rust color. She left it in the bath for the recommended 30 minutes, then washed it.

     A., later sent me this photo, stating that it wasn’t as bright in

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The shirt was still wet, and not as dark in person.

person, but the color was consistent. As you might see in the picture, the thread used to stitch it together was still bright blue.

     Once again we discussed options. The polyester thread was still that unnaturally, bright blue. We didn’t like it. Even if it is just the top stitching, that blue had to go.

     I went to A’s house the following weekend, to pick up the the shirt and work on other projects. We discussed the options for dying the thread. I had already had two packets of iDye Poly, one in green and one in gunmetal. We decided to go with the Gunmetal, but I couldn’t find it, when I got home.

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This was not what I expected.

I went with the green.

     Polyester, being a synthetic, petroleum based fiber, requires the stove top method, as the heat needed for the dye to penetrate, cannot be reached or maintained in the washing machine.

     I armed myself with a Tamale pot filled with hot water, a wood spoon and a packet of iDye Poly green dye and prepared for a hot hour in the kitchen.

     This was supposed to be a 2 hour project, from the time the water began to boil to the washing and drying of the garment. Chemistry, however, had other plans…

     The dying part went well enough. The fabric of the shirt

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First wash after Poly Dye.

got really

dark, but since the fabric was 100% cotton, I figured most of the dye would wash out. It was a dye for synthetic fibers, and the goal was to dye the top stitching threads.

     For an hour I stood in the kitchen, on a hot day, stirring the pot. When the time was up I dumped some of the liquid out of the pot and carried it out to the washing machine. I ran the shirt through a cold

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At least the top stitching is green.

rinse cycle, and once again chemistry threw me a curve ball… The shirt was now a navy blue so dark it was almost a purple/black. This was not acceptable for a peasant. The color of the time period we portray, would have been too costly to produce.

     I ran is through a hot water wash cycle, hoping some of the color would bleed out. The color

lightened, but was still to dark to be worn by a peasant. The goal for dying the top stitching worked perfectly, though. Its a beautiful green.

     I went back to the washing machine, hot water and Oxi Clean. Half an hour in, I got impatient, I added a capful of bleach, and waited 2 or 3 hours more. Finally, I had a shirt I could hand over to a peasant. This “2 hour project” lasted an entire day.

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Finally!! Its an acceptable color.

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IMG_20150316_174002637aSometimes it’s a little difficult to get excited about the upcoming faire season, but not when you’re sewing costumes months in advance! This month we completed basic peasant costumes for a very nice couple. They were pretty please with the outcome and looked great in their new garb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pieces we made were:

For him:

  • a collared shirt in natural muslin
  • a brown linen flat cap
  • brown linen trews
  • a dark green linen jerkin with plain epaulets

For her:

  • a banded collar shirt in natural muslin that has more feminine gathering into the neckline (but reduced bulk in the body) and a ruffled cuff (making it higher class than peasant)
  • a full circle, six gored skirt in chocolate brown linen
  • a custom pattern bodice in (reversible) dark green and rust linen with plain epaulets and tabbed skirting

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These are the basic pieces for the peasant wardrobe, though women usually wear two skirts or an ankle length shirt and one skirt. Adult women also always wore some type of head covering (only young/unmarried girls and loose women left their hair down for all to see). Other basic items include a belt, shoes/boots, a belt pouch, eating knife, and mug. That’s all you need to be an English Elizabethan peasant – and likely all you had clothing-wise.

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I just found a pic of our illustrious Lord Mayor on Ravin’ Mayven‘s Pinterest board for ren costumes. She’s got links to some nice costumes, though not all are Ren or historical. There are a few custom order listings for Ren/Tudor/Snow White costumes, among others. She also links to some other Ren / SCA costume boards that seem to be worth taking a peek at.

Thanks to Ravin’ Mayven (and Rachel for originally pulling the pic of our Lord Mayor onto the realm of Pinterest).

Corsets come in many shapes, from long line, to gusseted, to modern and many variations between. The universal point of corsetry is to shape the body and provide a foundation for the garments, whether that shape is flattened and lifted, the cylindrical shape of a Renaissance corset or the slimming, bulge free, pointy breasted look of a Merry Widow. This  image gives you an idea of the variations in just a 20 year period, from 1900 – 1919.

Not all corsets are created equal. Not by a long shot. There are some specialized materials and techniques that go into the making of a corset. Most corsets require a busk, which is a particularly shaped front piece that holds that part of the corset flat. There are spoon busks, wooden, horn and split busks with knobs and loops for front opening corsets. The corset will have some kind of boning or stiffening. This can be spring steel bones, plastic, whale bones, reeds, or cording. Some people substitute heavy-duty zip ties with the end parts removed. Farthingales is one of the most complete sources for corset making supplies.

When I look at corsets people have for sale one of the first things I look at is the fabric. A corset that is meant to actually alter your shape and survive the strain will be made with at least one layer of coutil. Coutil is a dense herringbone weave fabric. The directions of the weave do not stretch and this is key to a corset that alters your shape without its own shape being altered over time. No, denim or duck won’t do; they are plainweave and will stretch. It’s not the thickness of the fabric you are after, it’s the weave. Would some other herringbone that is not strictly coutil work? Possibly. That could be something to explore. If the corset is to be pretty it will usually have a layer of fashion fabric over the coutil. A corset may also be lined with a third fabric, but only the coutil is strictly necessary.

Coutil is expensive. A look at Farthingales today shows that it can be in the $45/yard range. I’ve purchased their coutil and know they sell excellent quality. Recently I found a non-pre-shrunk coutil elsewhere and have decided to give it a try as the prices was very attractive. Below you will find the inexpensive sample on the left and the excellent Farthingales stock on the right.

Notice the difference? The herringbone weave on the right is much smaller. The one of the left almost looks like it has alternating stripes of denser and less dense weave. I’m not entirely sure how the one on the left will perform. That said, it may perform marvelously. After pre-washing it, where it will lose roughly 5% of its size (which means the weave will be tightened), I’ll have to see how it fares. I am planning to make either a waist cincher or (my approximation of an) Elizabethan corset with this.

Linen is a great fabric for historical costuming. It’s sturdy, versatile, takes color well and washes ever softer and softer. And it’s historically accurate – ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ireland, Israelites, the Mediterranean, Cornwall, as armor, in the Renaissance, Victorian England and beyond, until cotton became cheap to manufacture.

Elizabeth's late 1500s Italian working class costume via FabricsStore Chronicle

My favorite linen source, Fabrics-store.com has a piece on enthusiastic historical costumer and author, Elizabeth, who works in linen. (more…)

J. was the first person to introduce me to the phenomena that is the Renaissance Faire. She left the faire circuit a few years ago, but recently decided to come back to it.

In coming back and joining our guild she decided that a whole new costume was needed. She also wanted it to double for both Peasant and Pirate.

We went with a Scottish style bodice pattern by Simplicity, that intentionally does not close all the way at the front. As she likes the more natural colors, we chose a chocolate-brown medium weight linen fabric. The inter-lining is a natural colored cotton duck cloth, and the lining is a similar colored cotton fabric.

The chemise is a natural muslin with cotton drawstring for the neckline and wrists.

The skirt is the same brown linen as the bodice. It is left open at the front and is tacked open for aa nice draping effect.

The pants or bloomers are a red and black mottled quilting fabric also of 100% cotton

Don’t let the title of this post fool you into thinking that the hat in question is dead. It is very much alive and well (unless you count Faire-sweat). The point is how it came to be.

I’ve long enjoyed being a peasant at the Renaissance Faire. Who doesn’t love the irreverent attitude, the ability to wipe your dirty fingers on your clothes (you quickly get over the fact that you are ruining the costume you labored over – those are marks of good times had, not stains!) and the occasional peasant pile? Those noble looking tall hats have long intimidated and intrigued me. As my guild slowly moves up in standing from lowly peasant to something like lower middle class, we’ve all started looking at things that actual Renaissance Sumptuary Laws and social standing would have prevented real peasants from having.

Sheriff in an Elizabethan Tall Hat

A tall hat meant status. It’s no Pope’s hat, mind you, but the only tall hat a peasant would have gotten their hands on would have been tattered and almost unrecognizable as headwear. Our new Lord Mayor and Sheriff both needed a tall hat.

As with any other costume piece, there is a lot of variation on the theme when it comes to the exact size and shape. Look here, here, and particularly at period portraiture. Our two men wanted hats that weren’t too tall and brims that were big enough to shade their eyes. Unlike Elizabethan England climate, the CA Ren Faire is full sun and 95+ degrees 95% of the time. There were particularly fond of a leather version we had seen, but I was hoping to give them something cooler and opted for the linen of their doublets.

5 paper mock-ups later I had a good shape that worked on both men. (more…)