Thursday, July 17, 2014

I am a medieval elephant!

I've been writing this blog now for almost three years, and while I am increasingly confident in my abilities and I'm certainly not afraid of a challenge, I've noticed that I'm in kind of a rut when it comes to dressing myself. All of my 14th century dresses are cut from the same basic bodice pattern, and I cut the skirt and gores depending on how much fabric I have. I do this because I know the fit of my basic bodice is reliable, reasonably attractive, and in keeping with period standards.

At least I think so. I mean, I do my research and look at extant garments (online) and patterns from reliable sources. My fabrics are strictly 100% linen and wool and I use linen or silk thread when available. I stitch by hand using methods and stitches appropriate to the 14 century.

But I don't know anyone personally who does what I do. I don't have a mentor or guide who can look at my stuff and suggest improvements.  I feel like one of those medieval painters who rendered animals they had never actually seen before, just read descriptions of, and ended up with elephants that looked like this:

I mean, it resembles an elephant: there are the tusks, and the trunk, and ... is that meant to be hair? Where are the ears? If you'd never seen an elephant before and someone said "There, that is an elephant." you would be very impressed that this sort of beast existed and probably never question the accuracy of the portrait.

So here I am making my clothing and feeling pretty good about how it looks. My friends are all super-impressed that I can sew and whatever I present for inspection draws appreciative comments. But I have very little idea if what I'm making compares favorably with the sort of standards I'd like.

I'm not fishing for compliments. What I want is honest critique from a knowledgeable source. Are my necklines too low or too wide? Am I leaving out important details? How can I get more variety in my dress style and learn newer, more challenging skills?

If you can offer suggestions, or know of a forum where I can ask questions and learn, please let me know in the comments. Thank you!


  1. Well, there are a number of "experts" available if you join up with SCA or another re-creation society. I use the quotes, because some of them are more expert than others - and you can't judge the expertise by how loud or how much they're talking, if you know what I mean.

    If you're unable to come to Norwescon, do take a look at the convention's (archived, at this point in the year, or current if you're looking between February and April) website. Look for the panel descriptions, and see if there are historic costume panels. Then, take note of the panelists' names, and check out the list of attending pros. Many of them have links to their personal websites, which are, in many cases, their facebook, or blog, or store. If they've put that in there, generally speaking, they're open to being contacted by folks who are interested in their subject. Also, you know that they're expert enough to have been selected by the costume or history track lead, which weeds out most of the self-appointed experts. :) Other conventions and programs might have similar resources online.

    Certainly, when I was researching Norse garb for my convention costume last year, Bill (history track lead) was a fantastic resource, who sent me reams of links to the absolute best websites, and contact info for the local people who know the most about that stuff.