Thursday, June 09, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there is a Renaissance Faire

I worked four Sundays at the Virginia Renaissance Faire this year. It was a lot of fun, and the lovely lady I worked with wants me to join the cast and be full-time next year. I did really enjoy it, but I'll have to think about it. It is a long way to go, though dad and I can drive together on Sundays.

VARF tends to be more historical than the MD faire, making most of what I have not really workable for this faire. It's also a few decades later than MD, and fashion does tend to change with the monarch. I dove into costume research (ah, heaven!), learning about styles and colors, and made a costume suitable for a peasant working in the militia outdoor kitchen, and that won't kill me in the VA May heat.

I did ask someone to take a picture of me in the full outfit, but I guess it didn't work, because it's not on my camera. So, you'll have to settle for these dressform pics.

The little white thing at the top is my caul or muffin cap. It is related to the snood, but counts as a hat in its own right, where a proper woman would don a hat over her snood when going out. I could or could not wear a hat over the caul, but it otherwise sits about where a snood would sit.

The bottom layer is the shift. A working woman would have two, one to wear while the other is being washed. I had to adjust mine a little. I found an historical pattern, but it made the sleeves too tight and I couldn't roll them up to my elbows, which is where I would want them when working about the fire. I had to rip the seams out and add some ties so I could wear them rolled up or all the way down as weather and what I was doing demanded.

I typically would wear a corset over the shift (if the corset was not built into the outer garment), but I forwent that because of the heat and wore a modern girdle underneath it all.

This style of overdress is called a kirtle. It can be boned or not boned, laced in front or in back, open to the floor or sewn up partially or all the way to the neckline. The kirtle typically had sleeves that you could tie on which were impractical in the heat and not a requirement, so I omitted them altogether. My kirtle laces in the back with fabric loops, which look nicer than grommets (that can rust and tear fabric when they fall out) in my opinion. One could also use hook and eye closures.

I dyed it blue because blue was an easy dye to come by. At first, woad was used, but the spice trade made indigo dye cakes readily available and cheap because they were so easy to transport. Everyone could get their hands on indigo dye, and it made a deeper, more permanent blue than the native woad. My dress faded nicely in the sun.

I made the apron and shoes (not pictured) out of wool, so they would not burn if I got too close to the fire. Also not pictured is my partlet. This little article of clothing covers the neck, chest, and back area that is not covered by the dress or shift. It is worn for warmth and sun protection. I didn't make it right away because it's not a required piece of clothing, but I got a nasty sun burn that first day and instantly learned the value of the partlet!

Maybe I'll throw the ensemble back on when I have some company and try to get a full shot for you!

I’ve been asked to increase my station a bit for next year. That’s really not possible. There were not a whole lot of class divisions in Elizabethan times. You were either nobility or you were a peasant – and peasants far outnumbered nobility. Even land owners and artisans were peasants. They were wealthy peasants, but peasants nonetheless. I think I will use the same kirtle design, but bolder colors and add some trim. Probably red, green, maybe another blue. The wealthy could afford deeper dyes, and afford to re-dye things to keep their richer colors, so that would step up my outfit a bit. I’ll have to think about it!

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