Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas in the Cloister

So there I was, on a pilgrimage to St James. The night was rainy and by the time I reached the cathedral, my hemline was sodden and so were my shoes and feet. Pilgrimage certainly strips one of comforts! There was also a brisk wind. I opened the heavy wooden door and the entryway was already full of people. I had arrived an hour early so I would have some time to myself to tour the cathedral, but no such luck!

I visited the Shrine of St Mary. This picture doesn't show the ceiling, which is painted with stars. There were only a few candles lit, so it was dark and cozy-feeling. A picture taken of me in here would have been a nice souvenir, but there was a sign requesting no photos, so I had to get this one off their website.

Of course no one else in attendance was time-traveling from the 14th century, only me, and the people there didn't seem to know what to make of me. The general consensus was voiced by one man, who said "So... are you like a super-serious kind of nun, or something?"

You mean in contrast to all those silly, I'm-only-in-it-for-the-weekends kind of nuns? I wondered. "No, I'm simply dressed as a person from Chaucer's England, in the 14th century."

Oh, so not a nun, but a bit weird, if not downright crazy. I kicked off my wet shoes and tucked my damp feet up into a drier, warmer part of my skirt. Having settled myself in, I pulled a linen bundle out of my bag and unwrapped it to partially reveal a small spiced cake studded with dried fruit and nuts. I broke off pieces and nibbled them while the pews around me filled with people. No one wanted to sit near the possibly crazy, possibly-a-nun lady eating in church. The rebel in me rose up and I pulled a mandarin orange out of my bag. The smell of rich spices and orange peel could not have been more Christmas-y. It was gorgeous.

The music started and it was lovely. The program had the Latin printed out with translations beside, so I followed along and made a mental note to take up my Latin lessons again. A tall fellow came in at the last moment and saw the empty spot next to me. He sat down and then looked at me, startled. He kept his hands folded neatly in his lap for the whole performance, and I noticed that if I looked in his direction, his spine would stiffen. Must have attended parochial school.

After the performance, I had more time to look around the cathedral. One woman asked if she could take my picture, so I struck an appropriate pose. "Now do something totally modern!" she said, giggling. So I obligingly withdrew my smart phone from my bag and sent Dave a text saying the concert was over and I'd be home in a bit. I have a feeling that picture is up on Pinterest somewhere. If you ever find it, send me a link!

I spoke with a French woman for about half an hour before we were shooed outside. She was fascinated by what I was wearing and gave me the loveliest compliment: "I love what you are doing, because you show such respect for the people that lived this way, by doing research and wanting to make everything right." I had never actually thought of it that way, but she's right -- that's what has always bothered me about people equating "middle ages" with "Lord of the Rings", or "medieval" with busty women falling out of corsets -- it doesn't seem respectful to the people of the time.

I ended my sojourn by viewing some illuminations done by Susan Bondurant before heading back out into the rain. I had gotten turned around while in the cathedral and had to walk around the block twice before I could figure out where I'd parked my car. My feet and hemline were completely soaked as I drove home, but I had had a wonderful time.

I wanted to include a video of the choir, but I can't seem to find any online except this one, and for some reason I can't get it to format so you'll have to click the link. There's no visual to it, just the audio track. Use your imagination, I guess. It's not from the performance I went to, but it'll give you an idea.

I doubt I'll be doing any more posts until after Christmas, so I hope you all have your favorite kind of holiday with your favorite people. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What's on MY head.

I decided to try wearing the wimple and veil under my hood, and was surprised that it was not terribly bulky. It was toasty warm, though -- the linen created many pockets for warm air to gather. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was a standard procedure back in the day. See for yourself!

Wimple and veil with hood down for indoors...
...and with the hood up, ready for outdoor work or play!
I have no idea why my phone so drastically changed the color tones in those pictures -- I took them about a minute apart. The top one is a very good representation of the actual color of the hood. Don't I look all pink-cheeked and merry? It's because instead of saying "cheese" when I take a picture, I say "Whiskey!"

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What's on your head?

It's funny how I can read so much about 14th century clothing and yet still encounter problems while attempting to dress myself.  Here's the situation:

This Saturday night, the Medieval Women's Choir will be performing music written in the middle ages in cloisters in Germany, France, and Spain. It's going to be in a cathedral, it's going to be gorgeous, and I thought it would be fun to imagine myself a 14th century pilgrim stopping by on a cold winter night to rest my feet and enjoy the music.  I rather hope there is a place I can sit on the floor, but that's probably romanticizing things a bit much.

It's going to be about 45 Fahrenheit/ 7 Celsius. I have a pale brown wool dress with short sleeves that will probably be warm enough for indoors.

I have a dark brown tunic I could wear as an overdress. Do you suppose chilly ladies ever "borrowed" a tunic from their hubby when it got cold? It comes down past my knee and the colors are quite nice together. 

But the part I'm struggling most with is how to cover my head. In the summertime, my cap and straw hat or wimple and veil are perfect, but what do I wear in the cold? I have a medium brown woolen hood (What? I like brown!) but what do I wear under it? I'll want to push it back while I'm indoors, and I know my head should not be bare, especially in a church. Birgitta cap under the hood? Leave the hood up? Wear the wimple and veil under the hood? That would be awfully bulky. Perhaps there is another option I don't even know about? HELP!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's been a while. I KNOW.

I'm getting emails from y'all asking why there haven't been any new posts lately. I'm feeling like Sally Fields over here...

You want to know what I've been doing! You like me!

And now that Dave's birthday has come and gone, I can show you what I made for him this year.

It started when we went to Steamcon. Dave saw some double-breasted, military-style vests that he thought were pretty sharp. I looked at the serged seams (Yuk! Ptooey!)  and the cotton duck canvas they were made from and then the $130 they were asking and told him to save his money. "I can make you one of those."

Can you believe he doubted me? He did! I got the raised eyebrow! That sealed it right there -- I was making him a vest for his birthday.

Folkwear had the exact pattern I wanted, the Belgian Military Chef's Jacket. It was just a matter of leaving the sleeves off.

The problem with commercial patterns, for me, is that I rarely use them. Like, never. All the stuff I've made, I've drafted the patterns for myself, to fit me. I've never made anything fitted for Dave. And I've watched my mom and other people make enough things from patterns to know that the sizing can be really variable.

So I just made the size I thought would fit and did my best to work through the simple but wonky instructions -- which told me to hem the back pieces before attaching the front pieces, which I did because I figured they knew what they were talking about, but next time I'll wait and hem the whole jacket because as you'll see in the pictures, it was off by about an inch -- and hoped for the best.

It turned out acceptably well. There were a few things about it that I will do differently next time, but for a primary effort, I'd say it's not bad at all.

Here it's done except for that bottom hem being all uneven. Thank you, silly directions. I picked out the stitches and evened it out, but of course I didn't get a picture of that. D'oh!

The grey-green wool was a bargain at thrift. I got two yards for three bucks. And the lining was something that's been in my stash for about a year. I have about four yards of it and only paid five dollars. I have tons left, which is great, because I can use it to make more vests!

See those flat-felled seams? Don't they look nice? It's such a pleasure to make clothing that looks as nice on the inside as it does on the outside. Take that, serged seams! (Yuk! Ptooey!) The buttons were the most expensive part of the garment: three cards of buttons at $2.50 each, but I had a coupon for half off, so it was only about five dollars. Oh, and I had to buy a spool of thread. That was three dollars.

Total cost for making Dave a completely lovely double-breasted vest? Twelve bucks. Quite a savings over the $130 he would have paid at Steamcon. And it was higher quality in materials and workmanship. Win!

Too bad it didn't fit.

But now I can amend the pattern so that it will fit, and he said he'd like one in black, so... stay tuned to see how that one turns out -- after the new year, probably.