Monday, July 12, 2010

Rose and Thistle ~ A Rennaisance Lady

Recently, as a little celebration of reaching the magic 100 number for followers I decided to have a small giveaway and the prize was a skein of silk. The first name drawn, Rose and Thistle was a long time follower and sadly didn't answer my email and announcement here. So after eight days we drew another name and Diane Dudfield in New Zealand was the lucky recipient. Then out of the blue, or grand move across state lines, came Martha, our missing Rose and Thistle! I sent her a skein of silk as well. :)

I have enjoyed my email chats with both ladies, both weavers in diverse parts of the world. Martha besides weaving also enjoys a love of English history, in particular, the Elizabethan period Well, so do I! Its part of my ethnic history being English by birth and curious by nature.

When I found out that Martha designs, sews and wears her own period costume I was (to quote my dear friend Lynnette) gobsmacked! The sheer amount of research, hard work and effort to be able to do this is simply stunning! They did not wear simple clothing! I have heard that the 'rich and well heeled' wore elaborate clothing to demonstrate their ability to afford what many could not; to also show that they need not work as we know it and have all their needs met by others who wore much more basic, rustic and less colourful garments. I have a book shelf with many books on the history of textiles: Viking grave finds from the 1950's complete with long boat and garments. A recent acquisition is one on Saxon medieval clothing that I'm working my way through. What am I going to do with this side interest? I'm not exactly sure, but Martha sure has it worked out! I asked her to be a guest on my blog and share with you what she does, and how she does it. So, with out further delay, here's Martha!

My Elizabethan dresses on display in a shop window for the Christmas season; sorry it is not a great picture. The shop owner was intrigued that anyone could design and sew their own period correct dresses and thought my costumes would be interesting in her front window. This was my very first and only time displaying my work to the public.

To design a dress I research period painting and manuscripts taking bits and pieces of dresses I admire and then construct a dress of my own design. I use a technique known as draping, which basically means I drape muslin fabric on my own dress form for each piece of an outfit. I figure out the measurements needed for each item and construct a muslin of that garment to make sure it meets my design criteria and that the piece is as historically correct as I can make it. The muslin 'pattern pieces' are then used to cut out the fashion fabric which is then sewn as needed.

All pieces of an Elizabethan outfit are designed, fitted and sewn individually by me. Everything from the chemise, farthingale (hoop skirt), underskirt (over slip), forepart (the triangle decorative piece you see under the split skirt), over skirt, bodice, detachable sleeves and jewellery have been created to be as close to historically correct as I can achieve with modern fabrics and notions.

My husband and I dressed for a renaissance fair. I made all the clothing on both of us - the dress is made from a wonderful dark blue and silver brocade with lovely French inspired fleur de leis motif.

Although you cannot see it the forepart is heavily beaded with fresh water pearl beads, as are the detachable sleeves that are draping down behind my arms in this photo. The bodice is beaded with large fresh water pearls around the top and bottom of the bodice as well as the shoulder straps. There are large pearls encircling the bottom of my split skirt all around the hem. You can just see them above the black velvet hem guard. I imagine this photo was taken on a 90 + degree day as my detachable sleeves are pushed off behind my arms. Note the chemise with hand done black work embroidery on the collar ruff.

My husband and I enjoying a show at a renaissance fair. Again, I designed and created all the clothing we are wearing.

I named this dress 'La Cherri' - I designed it with lots of dark creamy garnet colored velveteen and gold toned brocade. If you look closely, you can just see the lovely gold and garnet sleeves and front pieces to the bodice. The bodice was a labor of love! It is covered in hundreds of small gold metal beads and tiny garnet beads. The beads glitter in the sun beautifully.

This is the very first Elizabethan dress I ever designed and created. It is made from red velveteen; there are eight full yards of velveteen in the hand done cartridge-pleated over skirt. Although the dress is very hot to wear to a renaissance fair in August, I do as it is not every day I get to dress up and wear beautiful clothes. The forepart is made from a lovely red and silver silk brocade and it beaded on the lower hem with large fresh water pearls and red cut garnet beads. The girdle and bodice jewellery are made from pearls and red beads. Note how dusty the black velvet hem guard is; this hem guard is period correct and really does protect the expensive fabric of the main skirt. Pretty smart invention don't you think?

This my latest attempt at period correct clothing. It is an 1860 teal blue velveteen and dupioni silk walking dress. This outfit was designed from the skin out, including all period correct under garments. The ruffles and rushing you can see on the under and over skirts took me over a week to pleat by hand, iron and sew. I hand covered all the buttons with the matching silk. The hat was purchased from a Victorian catalogue and I added some feathers and silk flowers to the brim thus making it period correct and a little bit over the top.

An 1860's wedding dress in burgundy and black changeable dupioni silk. The fabric is lovely and I adore how it changes colors in the sun. Underneath the skirts I am wearing a wired bustle that makes the the back of my skirts stick out thus giving me a sort of ledge sticking out the back end. It was a strange style if you ask me, but was all the rage then. In case you are wondering, it is not too hard to to sit down in this outfit. You sort of push the wire bustle up a bit and proceed to sit down, although you cannot put your back against the chair (which I understand was a bad thing for a lady to do anyway.)
Susan, you asked how I came to have an interest in recreating period correct clothing.

I have long been interested in the English renaissance and after a chance visit to one, the very best Renaissance Fairs in the United States, I discovered that people could design and wear the lovely clothing of that period. After a lot of research, tons of reading and many hours of dissecting period paintings, I taught myself how to draft, drape, create and sew my own period correct clothing. It is a point of pride for me to be able to create what I 'see' in my head, although we do not have the exact type of fabrics used in the Renaissance, I have tried to remain as true to the period as I can by using what is available today.

My Victorian dresses are designed after looking at hundreds of pictures in period women's magazines; magazines like Godie's Ladies Magazine. The dresses and under garments from this period are so much easier to construct because period references for seamstresses are still available today. My love of Victorian dresses dates back to my earliest memories of picture story books. When I was a young girl I would dream of wearing fine long dresses and how they would feel and look on me. The desire to dress up has never gone away; that young girl is till here today hiding inside of me.

You also inquired if my weaving ties in with my costuming and that is a hard question to answer. Yes and no. I have woven tartan arrisades for myself and friends to wear with various renaissance Scottish costumes we own. I have also woven and sewn a kilt for my dear husband to wear to the fair. I don't mind telling you that was a ton of work and finding the wool tartan yarn was difficult, but find it I did!

Pirate sashes (think Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean) are also something I have designed and woven for various friends who attend the fair. I have not woven yardage to be sewn into the ladies nobility clothing I love to design and wear. The cost of the silk and metallic threads is price prohibitive for me, as a single dress is made from at least ten yards of fabric. As you can imagine it is much cheaper for me to buy the fabric over weaving it, although I do think about it often.
Susan, my thanks for listening to my ramblings about the costumes I have designed and sewn. It is nice to know that other people find it interesting to learn about my passions. I need to get back to my beloved looms and start weaving again; as you know it has been a long stretch of no weaving for me. The move from Illinois to Utah has kept me from my looms way too long and I am looking forward to returning to my first love.
All the best, Martha

Thank you Martha for taking time to gather pictures and text together and share with us all here! Making the muslin overlay sounds much like our sampling process before weaving! The 1860's gown and it's changeable burgundy and black is like the iridescent effect we weavers can create by mixing the right colours, fibres and sett. I understand fully the high cost and long task in weaving your own yardage for such beautiful gowns but perhaps areas like the forepart or the bodice would be fashioned from your own woven cloth?

The pirate sashes would be styled much like the Quebecois or th sashes ones woven and worn by the Seminole of Louisiana. They wrap two or three times around the waist and worn with flair!

Arisaids are long tartan shawls worn by Scottish ladies and can be worn in a variety of ways as this link demonstrates (scroll down half way the page) 

Martha mentioned the Renn Faire and their summer season are about to start and she wishes she could be there. This last link gives you a great overview of the Renn Faire phenomenon and it popularity world wide but in particular the United States.
The name Rose and Thistle? Well that's for Queen Elizabeth the First and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Those are also the names of Martha's looms!

Now if you have any questions about this post and the period costuming for Martha, I'm sure that we will both be viewing the comment section and will reply there.

This embroidery shows the Scottish thistle, the English Rose and the Irish Shamrock.
(Image from Google free images and no crediting source.)


LA said...

Thank you, Susan, for having Martha visit today! This was a wonderful read!

Cindie said...

fascinating! of course the first thing I always think of when seeing period clothing is that I'd roast in it! It is beautiful though.

barbara said...

Wow, Wow, Wow!!!!! Thank you for letting us see the beautiful work that Martha does. It blows me out of the water to see these articles of clothing researched and sewen with such care!!!! All I can say is WOW!!!!! Weaverly yours ... Barbara

Anonymous said...

Beautiful clothing, incredible work. Thanks for having Martha as your guest!

Lynnette said...

That was a great read!
Whew, a tremenous amount of work and I bet they weight a tonne too!

Susan said...

If my memory recalls correctly, England (and most of Europe) was experiencing a bit of a down turn in the climate during that time period due, in part, to the eruption of the larger volcano in Iceland. Long full clothing was a benefit for keeping warm! England might be further north but the warm Gulf Steam that kept it more moderate and enabled things like apple growing on some portions of the eastern coastal islands off Britain. Winters were nasty of course and damp.

Summers were hot and so those who could afford it, retired from crowded, smelly, hot (and plague infested) cities to the countryside. The Queen would do "progresses" around the countryside staying at various estates being fed and put up at her noble's expense.
The original vacation!

The costumes were elaborate and hot to wear. But Fashion has never let little things like heat, cold and function get in the way. (think of corsets, girdles for a couple of examples!) Women have always been trying to out do themselves and Elizabethan England was no different! Girls just want to look great

dorothylochmaben said...

What an outstanding post ! Your guest, Martha, is very very talented Her hobby is most unusual and very interesting. Please pass on thanks for taking time to show us all those beautiful costumes.

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased that everyone has enjoyed reading about my costuming efforts.

Susan is correct in her belief that the English nobility wore their fortunes on their back. If you get a chance look closely at any paintings from the period and marvel at the jewels that were sewn on the clothing, it stuns me. The cloth that was used to make most of the clothing worn by the nobility and royalty was imported from Spain, the Netherlands, Asia, Persia and places far from England thus making it very expensive and out of reach for the common man. Silk fabric production was not introduced into England until the reign of Elizabeth I. Cloth of Gold and Cloth of Silver were really made of those precious metals, although the process has been lost to time - currently in this century people are still trying to understand the process.

Again, thank you for all for your gracious comments. - Martha

Carrie said...

I'm not exaggerating when I say my jaw dropped as I was looking at those dresses. Absolutely *gorgeous* work Martha! I loved this entry, what a wonderful guest spot. (I was lucky enough to inherit my love of history from my Mum.)


WOW!! What a gorgeous amount of period pieces! Made with so much history research and respect. Very beautiful and inspiring.

Bruce said...

As Susan's husband, I'm continually being tutored in fibre arts and have learned to pay attention to fabric, yarn, weaving patterns, texture, warp and weft.

When Susan asked me to have a look at Martha's passion, her work and her dedication, I did not expect to be so impressed. Martha, your research, attention to detail and commitment to the faithful (within today's parameters) reproduction of these period garments is astounding. Your passion is well nourished.

And it's a plus that your husband enjoys it and that you outfit him to join you...tankard and all.

Well done...

Louisa said...

Those are absolutely lovely garments, Martha! Thanks for sharing them with Susan and all of us. My daughter has played in the Society for Creative Anachronism for about 20 years (since she was a teenager!) and has made many items of "garb", just as I did when outfitting family members for her medieval-themed wedding a couple of years ago. But I don't think I've ever seen such attention to detail and sheer love of beauty such as you've put into yours. Well done!

glass seed beads said...

I had to say embroidery is so beautiful.