Monday, July 30, 2007

Thoughts over the weekend

As is typical for me, while I was finishing up production on the first patterns in the new 800-series (1740s-1790s), I began to think about something completely unrelated -- common people's clothing in the 15th through 17th centuries.

The truth is that I've been working on a new pattern that I haven't talked about to many people yet because I think it might be highly controversial -- the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit. "How is that different from 'The Flemish Peasant'?" you may ask. Well, this version is more vigourously researched. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but my research has shown that (#1) the market women in the paintings of Beuckalaer and Aertsen aren't peasants. Peasants are agricultural workers (see the works of Brueggel -- he painted lots of them). These women are working in market stalls in urban centers and their clothing is vastly different. Secondly, they're not "Flemish". The paintings are made by two men who may have been of Flemish origin, but they spent their careers in Netherlandish cities. At this time, the Netherlands encompassed Flanders -- that is true. But to say that Flemish = Netherlandish or vice versa is the same mistake as saying Holland = Netherlands (or indeed that all Americans are Pennsylvanians). So they're not Flemish (necessarily) and they're not peasants. But I digress...

Anyway, I've been playing around with construction of the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit when something occured to me. I have studied many extant garments. But the ones that I have actually held in my hands have been common people's clothing. Oftentimes the commoners' clothing seeks to ape the clothing of the noble classes, but the cut and construction of the common garments is always vastly different.

For example, the Dungiven Jacket is meant to be a pinked doublet in the late 16th century style. Yet it is constructed by wrapping a single width of wool around the body, eliminating the need for side seams and the waste they cause. The body is shaped through the additional of a small triangular gore at center back.

Another example is the Dungiven Trews. Although of exquisitely fine wool, these trews were cut without a single thread of waste. This makes the fitting very difficult, but it conserves every last scrap of fabric.

The sailors' clothing excavated from the wreck of the Mary Rose isn't a bunch of jerkins and hosen with elaborate codpieces like we'd expect to find on Henry VIII's flagship. They are wrap tops whose fronts overlap like kimono that can be made by non-tailors and fit a variety of sizes of men. They are cloth hose that only come to the knee. These garments lend themselves to the work of sailors and only vaguely resemble clothing worn by the nobility of the time.

As late as the 1690s, the Gunnister and Tawnamore coats were frock coats in shape and form, but were constructed with gussets and gores like a medieval tunic.

The Lesson: common people don't waste anything. They can't afford to.

As historical costumers, we tend to base common people's clothing on the clothing of their betters but instead make it out of less opulent materials. But my research is demonstrating that this approach is a mistake. The difference between upper class and common clothing isn't simply one of materials. It's one of cut and construction techniques. Except in the case of second-hand clothing, common people weren't having their clothing made by a professional tailor. They were making their own or having a local person do it. These people were not in the tailors' guild and didn't have access to the patterns tailors used. So they would look at an outfit and "figure it out". We see this over and over again in Irish extant clothing. The outfit looks like something worn in England at the same time (or 50 years earlier), but the way the Irish example is cut belies the tailor's familiarity with English styles. He knows how to cut clothes. He doesn't know how to cut those styles, so he makes something that "looks right".

Relevant to this study, the Shinrone Gown is a common woman's gown from the 16th century. Like those of the women in Aersten and Beuckalaer's paintings, it laces closed in the front and the lacing usually stops under the bust. Also like Aertsen and Beuckalaer's working women's clothing, the skirts are voluminous but short (just covering the knees). The Shinrone Gown was not found on a body or with any other garments, so we don't know with what other garments the gown was worn. But if we look at some of the works of Aertsen, we can imagine the Shinrone gown being worn with a modest partlet and pin-on sleeves, or even with a jacket.

When I work on a garment or outfit for which there are no extant garments, I look around at what is extant and make educated guesses based on that. The Lansknecht Wams und Hosen look more like the woodcuts if you construct them of squares and rectangles like a soldier on campaign would rather than how a city tailor would. The Golden Age of Piracy Sailor's Jacket and Slops are constructed simply, like the finds at Gunnister and Tawnamore and Lewis, instead of elaborately like the upper class garments of the same period in museums. When you follow these construction techniques, the clothing not only looks more like the pictures, they allow you to do real work in them. There is one test of common people's clothing -- work. If you can climb a rigging in reconstructed sailor's slops and they're comfortable, you've got something right. If you can milk a cow in a mildmaid's outfit without worry, you're okay.

In any case, if you want to hear more about the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit, the pattern with complete historical notes will be available in about a week.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Patterns

Okay. I'm thinking about it. But I need some feedback.

Turkish patterns. Ottoman. 16th century. What do you think?

You see, I did Polish patterns a few years ago. And there is a strong relationship between those coats and the Turkish coats. And then there's the fact that some really good friends of mine are into Turkish and are asking me for advice. I know enough to be dangerous right now, but I have access to all the right sources to really turn up the heat.

Should I continue the 400 Series with Turkish patterns for men and women? And possibly Hungarian and Russian? Persian even?

Monday, July 16, 2007

New printer!

Well kids, the new printer has arrived! After close to four hours of taking the old printer out, bringing the new printer in (the movers must hate me -- my printers are on the third floor!), directing traffic around the moving van and the printer van, setting it up, testing, and training, I now have a brand new printer (and stock of toner -- YaY!) and it does some really awesome things.

I can send print jobs to these mailboxes on the printer and then print from the mailboxes. This means instead of printing 50 covers, 50 back covers, 50 historical notes, and 50 instructions for a pattern, I can print 50 copies of the stuff in Mailbox RH403 and it will print and collate them for me. Do you have any idea what kind of time that's going to save me? And when I'm buried in print jobs, I won't have to count or think or even open my eyes all the way. Just fold the pattern pieces, stuff them in between the covers, stuff it all into a baggie, and I'm done! I barely have to be conscious!

I can also send a document to the printer, tell it to make a booklet of it, and stand back. The thing will arrange the pages so they are in the right order when folded, saddle stitch it, and fold it in half! Do you know how much time and effort I wasted as a graphic designer ordering and reordering pages in Quark?

I'm obsolete! LOL

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Success! RH403 and RH404

I've done it! I've done it!

Last summer, I took RH403 and RH404 (Polish Delia and Giermak, respectively) out of print because I couldn't get them to print properly. Sometimes when it's overly hot and humid, my printer gets confused. Unfortunately during the busy season (June through September), it is often overly hot in humid in my third-floor workshop where the printers live. Instead of printing at a normal size, it would print the pattern for giants. The lines would run right off the page! And if I'm not actively watching the printer, it will just print until it gets to the end of the pattern, which in some cases takes three or four times as much of the roll of paper as required to print a normal pattern. Needless to say, I wasted a lot of paper this way.

This error happens only with patterns that encroach on the paper's maximum printable width or patterns that use a custom paper size. Typically when this happens, I power off the printer and wait for dark. Sometimes I just have to power off and on again. But when it's humid, it's never a bad idea to wait for the heat of the day to subside before I try again.

Last summer, however, it just wasn't working for these two patterns. I would power off and power on again, and it would print expanded. So I took the patterns out of the line-up, apologised to my wholesalers who'd been waiting for stock, and decided to try again in the fall.

But the lack of humidity was no help. To be honest, it wasn't that hot up here last August. There certainly were days when it would have worked if humidity had been the cause. Obviously humidity wasn't the culprit. So I took the patterns off the website and told the wholesalers that I had no idea when they would be back in print.

In an attempt to "trick" it into working, I tried printing on 42" wide paper. No good. I cut the pattern out of one file and pasted it into a new file. Nothing. Damn...

I knew what this was going to mean: I was going to have to redraft these patterns from scratch. Let me tell you that there is nothing quite so annoying as redrafting something that is already done and staring at you mockingly from your hard drive. So I just kept telling myself I'd do it later. And I've been too busy with the business expansion and the Pirate and Tudor patterns to address it.

But it's busy season again, and my wholesalers are looking for those patterns again. Bob is participating in a radio contest today and it's nice and cool, so I decided to come upstairs and give it my all.

I rebuilt the file piece by piece. I copied a piece from the old draft, test printed it, confirmed it would print at normal size, added another piece from the old draft, and so on. When I thought I was finally finished, I test printed the whole pattern on the correct paper size... and it PRINTED EXPANDED!!!

Well, at least I'd narrowed down the problem. The only difference between the previous test print and this one was paper size. So it doesn't like 120" long paper. But it's okay with 100" long paper.

I know this makes no logical sense. But I need to get these patterns printed. So this is how it's going to be until I figure out why my printer suddenly has a problem with 120" long paper.

Both the Delia and Giermak are long coats. But the pattern instructions already include information on how to lengthen them to your custom size. So I don't feel bad about shortening the draft by 10" front and back (bascially making an ankle-length pattern mid-calf length). However this is now explicitly explained in the first two pages of the instructions.


I went through a lot of paper this morning (sorry trees!), but the Giermak and Delia patterns are now printing at normal size. Yay!

VoilĂ :

The mockery now perpetrating itself is that my other printer (the "jerk") just stopped printing and gave me one of those annoyingly cryptic "Turn off the main power switch and restart. If you receive this message again, call service" messages. Well guess what, pain-in-my-prodigious-ass printer? YOU are being replaced on Monday morning. Mwah ha ha ha ha!

I win. =)

Friday, July 13, 2007

18th century Stays pattern -- the tentative RH 820

Bob did some cover art for me last night for the 800-series stays pattern. The rough drafts of the instructions and the historical notes are done. All I have to do is grade the base pattern into sizes and then it's as good as printed.

But I'm having a bit of a crisis. I want the pattern to contain options for stays from 1740s through the 1790s. For someone like me, this is a no brainer. The differences from decade to decade are really rather small. At least they seem small until you get to the 1790s and the back waist is at the level of the floating ribs! But really, that's just a minor adjustment.

Well... it's a minor adjustment for me. But I have to remember that I am not my customers. I don't use patterns. I've never used patterns. So what is easy for me may be a nightmare for my customers.

If I had only one or two sizes in a pattern, I wouldn't be so worried. But all those size lines, plus all the different "cut here for View A and cut there for View B" lines just plain add up to a lot of lines. And the more lines, the more possibility someone will cut on the wrong line. If the customer is making a Bristol mockup as I suggest, that won't affect much. But still, it makes things frustrating when you don't know which lines to follow...

I want to represent the full breadth of variations of stays during this time period. Some were simple and strapless. Others had straps and were both back- and front-lacing over a stomacher. And still others were back-lacing but had a small area center front that opened (possibly for breast-feeding). Some were half-boned. Some were fully boned. Some were half-boned and had extra reinforcement at center front.

Let me elaborate. At left is a set of stays from the 1740s. It's really not so different from the set of stays from the 1760s on the right. Matter of fact, stays like those on the right were worn much earlier in the century as well. And stays like those on the left were worn much later. The big difference between these two are not their date but the absense or presense of straps and a front opening over a stomacher. No problem putting these two in the same pattern.

But have a look at these two. The one on the left is from 1776 and the right is from the 1790s. See how the back of the 1790s stays are much higher? I could put the 1776 stays in the same pattern with the 1740s and 1760s stays (same shape after all) and just include options for half-boning (they also fully boned in the 1770s).

Can I really put this all in one pattern? Or should this become two patterns? Or three?

Update 3:16pm --
Okay... I've been staring at the sketches next to each other and I think I see a way out. The back of the 1790s stays are high in the back. But the front is as low as all the others. So I could probably include a whole different pattern for the 1790s back and sides and that would solve the problem.

So the pattern would contain:
Front (with options for stomacher and partial front opening)
1740s-1770s Back
1740s-1770s Side
1790s Back
1790s Side
Template for half- and full-boned variations

Of course this might through the pattern into two Arch E (36"x48") sheets. Will people pay an extra $5-10 to get four stays patterns in one? Or should I break out the 1790s stays by itself?

Why a new blog

Well, primarily, I wanted a place to talk about stuff that seems too dull for Stuff over there is supposed to be funny. Or at the very least, it's supposed to be cathartic. I wanted a place where I could write other stuff, a real journal. But not a personal journal. A journal for Reconstructing History stuff.

You see, I find that I am better able to work things out in my mind if I talk about them out loud (or on paper). Having someone to talk to (even just a perceived "audience") helps that process.

I also had this crazy idea that some of you fans of RH might be interested in how a pattern comes to fruition. And maybe you'd like to watch the process and even help me make some decisions along the way.

And of course there will be dress diaries here. I will also post them on my website, in the articles section. But this will be the place where I go, "Oh my God! How am I going to deal with this unanticipated occurance when I did this stitch instead of that stitch!" The website will contain the cleaned-up version, sanitized for your protection. So if you want to see me be all human and fallible and stuff, here is the place to be. :)