Sep. 9th, 2013

hsifeng: (
If you are a book lover + 16th century history geek like me, the image below may be pornographic in nature....

Before The Mast - Available To Buy, Second Edition

That's right y'all - the reprint of 'Before The Mast: Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose' has been released. Unlike the first printing of this work, the current version is set up in two volumes to better accommodation of the HUGE TRACKS OF RESEARCH therein (without the inevitable spine breaks that the first printing seemed to have when they attempted to fit it all in one book).

My favorite review of the book to date?

"I got it for the surviving garments but stayed for the forensic anthropology. Fantastic"



The Mary Rose carried a crew of naval officers and sailors, a fighting force of gunners and soldiers, a Barber-surgeon, several ship's carpenters and skilled navigators. Of nearly 500 men, fewer than 40 survived the sinking on 19th July 1545. Trapped by netting, or below deck, they stood little chance, and their bodies and belongings went to the bottom of the sea. Excavation of the hull and contents produced a huge collection of objects that together make up a detailed picture of what life was like on board.

Before the Mast explores how the men of the Mary Rose lived, through their surviving possessions; how they were fed; their music and recreation, medicine and provision for illness and injury, as well as working practices: carpentry and maintenance, stowage, navigation and ship's communications. The personal possessions of the crew included religious items, books, fishing lines and weights, sewing kits, money, hair combs, jewellery, knives, musical instruments and many items of clothing. The Barber-surgeon, who had his own cabin, brought on board a fine chest filled with canisters, bottles and pots of ointment and medicines, a variety of surgical instruments and a fine set of razors. Another cabin nearby was clearly occupied by the ship's carpenters whose toolkit included planes, adzes, axes, hammers and drills, as well as pitch pots and special mallets for patching up leaks in the ship's hull. The ship's navigators had the best in sixteenth century compasses. The ship's galley was in the hold and this area in particular produced many examples of wooden and pewter plates, bowls, pots, bread troughs, and tankards, as well as barrels and baskets still containing beef, pork, fish and fruit. The volume also includes an analysis of the human remains providing evidence for the stature and age range of the men most were under 30 their health, and injuries sustained.

Where can you get yours? HERE

Considering the limited run of the first release, I would recommend eating Ramen for a bit and getting your order in now. The copies of the first run are currently going for $350+...

hsifeng: (Ladies Sewing Circle)
We all sew in here, right? That means you all know how it is with us – our own projects always come in dead last when it comes to prioritization on a timeline. Same story here.  Now that my niece and sister were solidly on their way to finished dresses, I had to start my own.

And I was stumped.

Let me clarify; I knew how I wanted to put the dress together and how to get it done. The problems were:

1)      I had *too many* ways that I could proceed – nothing like choices to slow you down;
2)      I was pretty sure the best way involved a whole lot of things I have never done before…

As with all projects, I spent a lot of this time pondering my stash of freshly purchased fabric. I am actually very proud of my selections, especially in light of the All Purple, All The Time palette from my inspiration image. I managed to find a range that looked good together and got pretty close to the original colors/textures of the piece. Woo hoo!

Fabrics for the CoCo 2013 Mucha Project - Bieres de la Meuse Original Inspiration
The Palette (from L to R): Main Dress, Narrow Sash, Shawl

Then I spent another few days messing about with my accessory pieces. I started with the ‘fabric pauldron’ support structure you see on the left shoulder of the inspiration image. My sneaking suspicion is that Alphonse added this bit as an artistic whimsy (“Her shoulder would look so much better with a huge flying buttress of material…”), but since it was in the piece I had to try and make it work in my real-world dress.

Flying Fortress of Fabric

I started my process by strapping Eloise (my dressmakers dummy[i], a gift from [ profile] claughter713) into my intended support garment. I knew I was probably going to end up draping the dress in the long run (although I feared the results) so I traced the shape of the Merry Widow onto Eloise’s form; this way I would be able to determine if my draping was going to cover the undergarment, even if the undergarment wasn’t on the form at the time of the draping. BTW - This was done with one of my favorite sewing accessory EVAH…

Not Your Grandma's Tailors Chalk
Click On The Pic To Get Your Own - I am not the only one who loves them.

Eloise - Chalked And Ready To Go

First, I made a paper mockup of the general shape I thought would work for the pauldron which I pinned to Eloise’s shoulder, making sure to overlap the line of the undergarment[ii] . This also gave me a chance to check the 'angle' of the pauldron's wear - not too sharp or droopy a line from my own shoulder.

Paper Pauldron

I checked the result from all angles, trimmed and shaped it a bit, and then cut two layers of my craft felt[iii] base, and an additional 'edging piece' of the same felt that matched the outer curve of the pauldron. Using my machine I sewed all the layers together along all edges, on the outer edge I sewed a number of channels, spaced approx. 3/8 of an inch apart. Between this stitching and placing a section of featherweight boning in the outermost channel, I achieved the level of firmness in the shape that I needed.

Not as effective at taking down small prey as I would like.
Weirdest fabric boomerang ever...

I then cut a cover from my fashion fabric using the same paper pattern and covered the whole shape, handsewing the final seam. Now I could work on placing my dress fabric over a support structure that looked (essentially) like another bit of draped fabric.

Easy Smeeshesy Items

Next up were the sash and the shawl. The making of both is pretty easy, so let’s skip on to the next project.

Miles of Silk Intestine One Seam Is All You Get!

The Medallion Belt

Early on in the project (like, back in April) claughter713 and I scoured the interwebz looking for a source offering oval belt buckle blanks for a price that was almost reasonable. What we discovered was that a wholesale license was going to be needed in order to get the quantity necessary for less than an arm-and-a-leg. Then I remembered, I *know* a costuming couple with a wholesale license – Better Yet! – they make custom belts!

I called A&B of Legendary Costume Works, they confirmed that they had the necessary blank on hand and were willing to give them to me. Hooray! Best of all, they hand delivered them at the headdress workshop.


Now I had the materials on hand, but they required both modification and painting in order to work the belt configuration I had in mind. So after I removed the original ‘mounting hardware’ on the backside of each, they got four holes drilled in them[iv] and a coat of paint (or two) inside and out and then mounted them on (yet more purple) rawhide cord.

For Some Reason This Belt Makes Me Want An Astromechdroid

I tried them on Eloise and was pleased as punch with the results. But now I had no more ‘distraction work’ to do and needed to get on to the final project…


Seriously y’all, if I spend as much time sewing projects as I do *thinking about* how I can sew them, I would have an entire wardrobe full of gear.[v]  I knew that the dress could be done in a variety of waysm and this was what I had been considering:

Plan A: Fully draped dress mounted to a fitted underlayer with no actually ‘patterning’ in sight;
Plan B: Fully patterned dress with some level of decorative draping over the top;
Plan C: A combination of the above (with about 12 variations possible dancing through my head at any given time).

So I hemmed[vi] and hawed, I did test drapes and cried at how they looked. I searched the internet for resources on how other people had made their Mucha creations, and found none. I leaned heavily on the trust that my fellow LSCaCS members were getting along with their projects, and they looked great (so mine could hid in the background if necessary).   Then I realized I needed to just pull the trigger on Plan C if I was going to be wearing ANYTHING[vii] to Gala.

So I started with an underlayer. Using Eloise as my base, I draped a pattern for a basic strapless bodice with a dropped waist. I bit my lip as I made my mock-up and then had my niece help me with a final fitting.

And what do you know? It. Totally. Worked.[viii]

The Front The Side The Back
With a bit of tweaking, the wrinkles seen here didn't end up in the final pattern

Transferring The Pattern
Making the mock up

Once the basic bodice was cut using the same pattern as above for the fashion fabric and lining, I got to play with featherweight boning for the first time. I literally applied in the Exact Same Manner And Location as shown on the product packaging.

Pictorial Instructions FTW!

Of course, what I failed to note was that the resulting bodice promptly rolled itself into a tube.

Bodice Taco

Apparently, plastic boning should be heat treated to get it to lay down flat and behave *before* you add it to your project. Since I had failed to do this utterly, I simply pinned the whole bodice to Eloise and then steamed it into submission with my iron.

This also works, by the way.  ;)

Finished Bodice
Finished Bodice - I cannot lie, this result made me very happy. :D

Once the bodice was complete and pinned securely in place (no back closure yet, since Eloise is just a *schosh* bigger than me – even when dialed down to her smallest size) I attached the fabric paudron and simply began draping.

The big head ache here was that my fabric, which I had purchased 8 yards of, was really *chunks* of yardage. What was left on the bolt when I purchased consisted of 2-3 pieces of 1.25-1.5 yards and another few longer bits. I loved the fabric so much that I had convinced myself that this would be OK to work with. Now that I was actually doing so, I wasn’t as sure.

I started with the shortest bits first, ensuring they were long enough to drape from the center front of the bodice and still hit the floor. They were. Then I worked my way around to the back of the dress, adding fabric and playing with the shaping of the draped bits as I went.[ix] This tutorial was very handy in calming my nerves and giving me a direction to go in.

Despite my initial misgivings, I was pleased as punch with the results! Eventually...

First Draping Final Draping
From L to R: First attempt - which resulted in a stiff drink. Second attempt - More Pins! = Success!

Next, handsewing. Lots and lots of handsewing. I made my way all the way around the bodice, removing pins and tacking the fabric in place. The biggest concern was not sewing all the way through the bodice and into Eloise – which I managed to only do twice!

Tools Of The Trade - NETFLIX
I could never do this much sewing without Netflix, praise be to the internet gods!

This handsewing included one bit of machine work which was installing the hook-and-eye tape at the center-back of the bodice. The closure was largely covered by the draped fabric that gathered at the back of the gown in a manner not unlike an 18th C sack-back gown (only much more free form).  That portion which was visible was then covered by the drapery that had been swagged and attached to the pauldron at the dresses shoulder being tucked in once the dress was hook-and-eyed closed.

At this point, all that was left to do was the hemming. Given that the dress was entirely draped, I had a lot more fabric at the hemline than you would normally encounter.  After checking to make sure that Eloise was as close to my height as possible[x] I placed her on my sewing table and then simply chalked a rough hemline into place. This allowed me to play with the shaping of the train a bit before any cutting was done, and the added height helped ensure my back wasn’t in agony.

Hemming Made Easy
Draping from the back - Eloise ready to help me hem
(the bit draped up over her neck is the tail of the fabric pauldron draping, placed up and out of the way)

I had intended to use the same method of facing the hemline that was employed on my niece and sister’s dresses; but in the end it wasn’t practical to attempt to create pieces that matched the cut of my draped-and-pieced hem. Thankfully, the ‘inside’ of the dress fabric was beautiful and I didn’t care if it showed (and I had taken the time to French my long seams), so I just used my chiffon hem finish and called it a day.

As soon as the dress was finished, I nervously tried it on over my Merry Widow and discovered that a) It Fit! B) It covered the undergarment completely. C) I loved it…

Sans Wig
Why yes, that *is* my inspiration image on my phone cover...also, that dog is not dead - no matter what he'd like you to think

So ends the saga of my portion of the Mucha Maiden’s project. I had an amazing time, learned a ton of new sewing techniques, and generally discovered that I can survive outside of my 16th C comfort zone.

Which of course means there are a TON of new projects to consider…


[i] Thankfully, Eloise is very close to my own figure; although she is a bit taller than me and her conversational skills leave a lot to be desired. At least she doesn’t steal my drinks or scream when I stick her with pins. Which I did. A lot.
[ii] At the time, I was thinking of sewing the pauldron directly to this layer…but later thought better of it when I realized just how complex that could make the draping of the garment top…
[iii] I think I actually had to burn my Historical Sewing Card just for touching this stuff.
[iv] My poor, long suffering husband helped with this portion of the activities by helping me figure out the best removal method and setting up the drill press and a template for me to use. Without him I am sure that I would now be down a number of fingers…
[v] OK, maybe TWO wardrobes; since really I do have at least one already.
[vi] Sewing pun alert! Of course, if I had *actually* been hemming there would have been more progress at that point…
[vii] BTW – naked was a totally legit choice in my head, after all Alphonse clearly enjoyed the unclad feminine form. I was pretty sure that CoCo administration would frown on that choice though. :P
[viii] You could have knocked me over with a pin. This was the moment that draping when from exotic art form to a skill I actively want to cultivate. Because seriously – WHO NEEDS TO EVER BUY A PATTERN AGAIN?!?
[ix] In the end, I didn’t even use the longest piece of fabric.
[x] I checked this by standing next to her and looking in a mirror to see if our bustlines were at the same level.
hsifeng: (Sudlerin)
Some of us think we’ve been doing this ‘landsknecht thing’ since we were knee high to a grasshopper. But then, some of us HAVE been doing this landsknecht thing for that long…and even longer. Elizabeth Frye Jeffress can’t remember her first event, understandable given the circumstances. Elizabeth says, “My dad likes to joke that I've been going to faire since I was in the womb, and that's basically true. My parents first wore landsknecht gear to a faire in Fall of 1980[i], and I was born December of 1980.”

Elizabeth’s dad? Gordon Frye[ii], who along with his wife Charlotte help form the first fahnlein at Northern Renaissance faire.

Gordon and Alexandra Frye
Gordon with Elizabeth's Sister - Alex(andra) in 1983

So what was it like to be in a fahnlein from the very beginning? For a girl whose parents regularly dressed up and portrayed people from other centuries, it was not as odd as you would think. Childhood, with some distinctly historical moments thrown in for sparkle, as Elizabeth notes, “Some of my earliest memories are of playing around the St. Michael's guild yard….Lucinda [Nickel-Fors] had a goat. For the life of me I can't remember the goat or Lucinda that clearly, but the fact that she had a goat was always firmly in my mind…”

Elizabeth and the Goat
Elizabeth with Lucinda's goat

…and yes, there have always been questions about Landsknecht fashions…

“One of my clearest memories was when my dad was wearing his waffenrock, and I asked him why he was wearing a dress. He got so mad!  ‘It's not a dress!’  I remember thinking, ‘Okay, Daddy, whatever you say. It still looks an awful lot like a dress.’”

And what about her own clothing?

“I always wondered why I couldn't dress in shiny sparkly pink dresses and instead had to wear a simple, rough and tumble dress….I still remember the little pewter goblet my dad tied to my little belt. Water and juice tasted better out of that cup because it was mine. I had little leather cowmouth shoes that my dad made for me.”

Even at a young age, the folks who helped form the roots of American Landsknecht reenactment made an impression:

“I thought the world of my dad's reenacting friends. I called Carl Ontis ‘Uncle Kafter’ -- apparently he wanted me to call him Uncle Catdirt, but Kafter was the best I could do….”

But as we all know, things change as we grow up. The fun and games of the guild yard began to wane as Elizabeth reached her early teens, when “…the idea of running around in costume was mortifying. I didn't mind dressing up so long as the crowd was mostly reenactors, but having to face the public in a costume was far too embarrassing.”

There was a period where she avoided faires, but it seems that some things are part of nature as well as nurture. Elizabeth’s sister decided to try out faire as a hobby again around 1998. Elizabeth recalls, “….[Alex] came back every Monday talking about how much fun she was having, and it made me think I might give it a try. But I wasn't really that into it yet….Then the next summer, 1999, Alex desperately needed a ride out to workshops and she bullied and cajoled me in to driving her out, and while I was there I should take a few classes. Everyone was so fun and cool in St. Michael's that I ended up staying.”

As part of her return to reenactment, Elizabeth met many of the ‘new generation landsknecht folks’ including members of the multiple fahnleins that had begun to spread through the state. She spent a lot of time that winter getting to know folks and researching/sewing her costume. What she discovered a group of reenactment friends of her own[iii], which that included at least one person who would become a permanent fixture; Jeremiah Jeffress, her future husband.

Jeremiah SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson
Jeremiah Jeffress - School of the Renaissance Soldier, 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

When I asked her about what highlighted her time growing up at faire, Elizabeth pointed out that much of her experience was similar to that of other young college student, including positive and negative run-in’s with both boys and alcohol.  But the environment made all the difference. “I am so glad to have been surrounded by grown-ups who'd already made the same mistakes and allowed me to do so as well -- in a safe place. Having ‘big brothers’ armed with katzbalgers and zwiehanders wasn't something I thought about then, but it was probably a really good thing.”

Zeke at SRS 2012 with the Boys - S N Jacobson
Zeke and his 'big brothers' - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

Just like her parents, Elizabeth found herself drawn to research and history. As someone who had participated in numerous styles of reenactment events, she recalls that she was attending Sutter’s Fort at the same time she was studying the Donner Party in school. She believes that the total emersion of her experience lead her to see history as ‘more real’ for her than it was for her other classmates. It is likely that this lead to her choice of major in college, where she received her BA in History.

Together Elizabeth and Jeremiah attended faire for a number of years with various groups. Eventually the time to participate in events faded as Northern Faire moved further away, and school and career began to take more time in their schedules. However, they never left completely. Both Elizabeth and Jeremiah regularly attend the School of the Renaissance Soldier[iv] events developed and hosted by a group comprised of original St. Michael’s members. They also bring their young son, Zeke along to experience the life of camp and field (sometimes with his grandfather in attendance as well –three generations of reenactors together is something to see!).

Elizabeth and Zeke SRS 2010 - S. Jacobson v2 Elizabeth and Zeke SRS 2012 - S. Jacobson v2
Elizabeth and Zeke - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

Zeke and Gordon SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson v2 Zeke in Gordons Lap SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson
Zeke and Gordon, on the horses and in the camp - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

When I asked Elizabeth about what she thought about having a child out at events with her, she offered this observation: “Reenactment events are great for kids, just for the chance to unplug and eliminate all the screens and toys from their lives. I was amazed at how creative Zeke's play was at SRS. I only brought a few wooden blocks and otherwise no toys at all, and yet somehow he managed to be entertained constantly... I remember similar creative play with my sisters when we were kids at various reenactment events. Reenacting is the ultimate ‘unplugging’ experience!”

With Elizabeth’s permission, I want to share one of my favorite memories of the Frye-Jeffress family at a recent School of the Renaissance Soldier event. A few of us had organized competitive challenges for the ladies of the camp to participate in. The goal was to demonstrate ones skill and wits while having fun with both other camp followers and soldiers who were fresh back from the drill field. One of the games was jokingly called ‘The Venetian Courtesan’ and the ladies who played had the task of making one of the young soldiers blush. Whoever managed to get the biggest reaction of embarrassment would be the winner. Other participants whispered dirty stories, engaged their ‘lady lumps’ as smothering weapons, and largely played the expected roll of saucy wench in their attempts to get a reaction.

But not Elizabeth.

When her turn came, her husband and father brought forward a small bench and placed it directly in front of our soldier’s own seat. Then Elizabeth walked over and sat down with Zeke in her lap.

And then she breast fed her son.

To those of us in camp, this was a totally normal and non-embarrassing experience.

Apparently it is a little different when the nursing is happening right in front of you; while the mother stares directly into your eyes; grinning as her husband and father shout encouragements from the sidelines.

Our poor soldier was completely undone. If he could have sunk into the dirt, I think he would have. He had to last 30 seconds and I believe he did so only through an effort of tremendous will.

Hil. Lar. E. Ous. :D

Elizabeth Frye-Jeffress is one of the original campfrau – although I am not sure she thinks of herself as such. In a very real way, she is the bridge between those that started this tradition of reenactment and those that came to their fahnlein’s later. For my part, I can say unequivocally that events are always better with her there; she is women I both respect and enjoy, and one that I am happy to consider a friend as well as a fellow history geek.

[i] This date has been confirmed by other contributors to this series.
[ii] While it has been a bit since there was an update to this series, Gordon Frey was one of my first contributors. His interview can be found here:
[iii] Elizabeth specifically singled out St. Maximilian’s Guild as a group that she found a special kinship with. Having also spent time with this landsknecht unit, I can only agree that they are a very special and inspiring group of people.
[iv] The School of the Renaissance Soldier is a non-public reenactment event held every Spring in the Northern California area. If you are interested in attending, check out their website here. This event has also inspired others like it in both Southern California and Bristol, Illinois. The event itself can be seen as a spin-off of older Renaissance Military Society (RMS) traditions such as Schutzenfest and the Camp Tamarancho militaria events from days of yore.


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