About three dozen gentles gathered in the Canton of Steltonwald for an unusual event last Saturday. It featured classes with names like “Corset Making,” “The Dofuku — a Casual Men’s Japanese Jacket” and “Period Smocking,” but the most unusual thing about it was that it was held in modern dress.
The event was the brainchild of Lady Teresa Alvarez, who is apprenticed to Mistress Cassadoria Finniala and considers herself a student of historical costuming. Fourteen years ago she suggested to some friends that they hold something a little bigger and more formal than the weekly sewing circle, so they ran a costuming symposium. Then, as Teresa put it, “life happened” and she didn’t get back to the idea until the summer of 2013, when some friends suggested she revive the symposium. Last fall’s symposium was a big hit, so Teresa was persuaded to host the event again this year.
Why modern dress for attendees? Teresa said she’s just more comfortable in modern clothes, but also that she felt it would be less of a distraction if teachers and students weren’t in garb. Several attendees chimed in that some of the peers and other long-time members are less intimidating in modern clothes – they felt more at ease asking questions of their friend Chadd than they might of Duke Christopher Rawlyns (who taught a class on his reconstruction of the Jupon of the Black Prince).
In addition, to keep the event easy to run and informal, attendees were treated to doughnuts from a local bakery when they arrived, and takeout Chinese food for lunch.
The array of ten classes focused on clothing and needlework. Some were presentations of research while others were hands-on practice that permitted students to take home patterns or embroidery. Here are just a few samples:
Countess Aidan ni Leir taught a a class on making Elizabethan thread buttons from wooden beads. Participants spent about an hour learning the stitches and making their own buttons. These buttons are documented in hundreds of portraits and many extant garments in England and the continent. The ribbed buttons, shown here, are made from 12mm wooden beads with pearl cotton thread wrapped around them.
THLady Marguerite d’Honfleur presented an overview of the clothes owned by Queen Eléanore of France, wife of King François I, including an analysis of the types of fabric, weaving, and colors used in those clothes. Her presentation was based on an inventory the Queen’s gowns, kirtles, farthingales, and petticoats taken in 1532. Attendees learned that most of the Queen’s gowns and kirtles were red or black, probably because those dyes were expensive and showed off the wealth of the Royalty. Many were lined or edged in fur, including loup-cerviers, or lynx, another costly element. THL Marguerite also introduced her students to French terms like toile d’or frisée (cloth of gold with loops of gold thread or wire forming a pile on the surface of the brocade) and drap de soie (silk fabric).
Mistress Ysabel Graver walked participants through the process of drafting a sleeve pattern from The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant. Ysabel explained that it starts with a bodice that fits properly so the armscye is correctly positioned and shaped for the sleeve. Students spent two hours learning the concepts, measuring each other, and then drafting their patterns, with Mistress Ysabel offering examples of her own gowns with correct and incorrect sleeve placements.
Lady Rivka bat Daniyel provided students with information on how to research period uses of embroidery to match their personas, including methods for searching online. She recommended that students seek out academic articles or well-known museums like the Victoria and Albert and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Afterward, she guided students through some embroidery stitches.
Countess Elena d’Artois displayed an array of appliquéd clothing and discussed the uses of appliqué in period, from ecclesiastical furnishings and vestments to heraldic display and decorated clothing. She then gave each participant an item to hand appliqué, explaining how to couch pearl cotton thread around the edges of the decorative cloth pieces to affix them to the backing fabric.
In Duke Christopher Rawlyns’ class, he displayed his recreations of the Jupon of the Black Prince of England, who died in 1376, and discussed the history and construction of the garment. The original jupon (a kind of arming jacket) is on display in Canterbury Cathedral beside the Prince’s crypt, along with his helm, shield, gauntlets, and sword scabbard (the sword itself is missing, rumored to have been stolen by Oliver Cromwell). His Grace based his research in part on an examination of the jupon by the famed costume researcher Janet Arnold, done in 1985 and published in 1993. He reviewed some of the controversies surrounding the garment, including what the padding was made from (he concluded it was cotton, which was costly but available in the late 14th c.) and whether it originally had long or short sleeves. After making and wearing one of these jackets in combat he noted that it experienced stress at the armscye, resulting in the jacket sometimes ripping at that point. He attributed that structural failure to his elbow cops being affixed to the exterior of the sleeve, and twisting the fabric as he threw sword blows. Christopher examined multiple period manuscripts showing military men in such garments, and concluded that unlike Scadians, 14th c. knights probably wore their armor under the jacket rather than over it.
To cap off the day, Lady Teresa taught a class in how to do fittings on European garments, with assistance from Mistress Cassadoria. Teresa demonstrated fitting techniques on Her Majesty Queen Anna Leigh, for whom Teresa is sewing a new gown for 12th Night in the German style. Teresa emphasized the importance of making the initial adjustments to bodice patterns first at the shoulder, and then at the sides. She also addressed how to handle fit issues relating to the kind of fashion fabric being used – for example, how to keep wool or linen from stretching. After her class, she asked if people had fun at the event, to which the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
Other classes offered included Corset Making, taught by Lady Madeleine de l’Este, Period Smocking, taught by Mistress Ts’vee’a bas Tseepora, An Overview of Japanese Costuming, from Loom to Garment, by Magariki Katsuichi no Koredono-sama, and The Dofuku — a Casual Men’s Japanese Jacket taught by Lady Hara Kikumatsu.
In addition to the formal classes, two workshops were available throughout the day: Mistress Alessandra d’Avignon helped participants create duct tape body doubles, while Lady Teresa taught period hand sewing techniques.
When asked if she wants to make any changes to the Symposium next year, Teresa said she might implement a suggestion from Mistress Aoibheil of Dun Holen to hold a fabric swap. She would also encourage merchants to attend, especially those selling goods relating to costuming. In addition, Teresa plans to put the word out to prospective teachers earlier in the hopes of attracting new classes, though she wants to keep the event “small enough to still be cozy.”
-submitted by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope