10 Tips for Sewing and Blogging With Injuries (and How to Avoid Injuries in the First Place)

Note: I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on the internet. This article does not constitute actual medical advice — it’s just what I’ve done, what works for me, and what I think is a good idea. Consult with professionals so you don’t hurt yourself or make what hurts worse!

It’s a sad fact that sewing and computer use can be rough on the body. OK, these aren’t exactly contact football or extreme mountaineering in the level of potential injury, but you can wind up with pretty painful long-term damage all along your hands, arms, shoulders, and back from the repetitive activities involved in sewing and blogging. I’m combining the two because, well, I obviously do both, and I know a lot of you do too. The injuries sustained by each are so close as to be easily combined, and that makes a lot of the tricks for combating them somewhat similar too.

I’ve had off and on repetitive strain injury in my right wrist and forearm for the past 15-20 years — basically the length of my online career, plus my most active costuming life. Coincidence? I think not. Recently, after cancer surgery and treatments, I’ve been diagnosed with mild lymphedema in my right arm, and this, plus my new job’s desk setup have wildly aggravated my wrist as well (my left shoulder is also injured due to overcompensation from my right arm being weak; good times!). So I’ve been doing a lot of things to mitigate my own injuries, and then I noticed Samantha of The Couture Courtesan writing about new RSI injuries. Thus, this post.

Per my caveat above, I’m not a medical professional, and my advice is purely based on my own experience and research. Don’t take this as gospel. But DO address the issue early so you don’t get seriously injured and can pursue your hobby without (further) injury for years to come! Read the rest of this entry »


Get Them in the Door: Promoting Your SCA Event

By Baroness Violet Ruthvene in the SCA

This is an accompaniment to a lecture class I taught at the West Kingdom Arts & Sciences Tourney in June 2014. The goal is to help those running SCA events increase attendance by using modern public relations techniques.


Ways to Promote Your SCA Event:

Use all of these! But understand the pros & cons of each so you can manage your resources most effectively.

  • Kingdom, Principality, & Branch Websites — Official, easy to find online & by general public, unlimited word count, can post as early as you want, can update frequently.
  • Page Newsletter — Official & required, limited reach, limited word count, only 2 months exposure.
  • Yahoo! Groups/Email Lists — Limited & dwindling reach (on SCA-West, traffic dropped by 80% in past 4 years; average 90 messages/month in 2014), unlimited word count, can post as early as you want, can update frequently.
  • Facebook — Expanding reach (on West Kingdom SCA page, average 450 interactions/month in 2014), unlimited word count + photos, can post as early as you want, can update frequently.
  • Flyers at Events — Limited but targeted reach, easy to do.
  • Court Announcements — Limited but targeted reach, hard to guarantee getting on schedule.
  • Word of Mouth — Potentially huge reach. All of the other things you do can help build this up.

Read the rest of this entry »


State of the Accessory Challenge, CoCo, Me, & Everything

Toulouse in the sewing room

Toulouse in the sewing room

Odd that I was able to post more during cancer than after treatment ended … although, since then, I’ve started a new job, my cat died, and I’m now dealing with some post-treatment health problems that will keep me from sewing & costuming for a while. So yeah, never ending.

Basically, my right arm (where some of the surgery occurred) now has lymphadema & nerve compression that makes typing on the computer, not to mention sewing, very painful. I have physical therapy through July, so no new costumes for Costume College, although I will be teaching.

Furthermore, since my cat was ill for the past three months, he kind of made a mess in the sewing room (it was his favorite room because it was so sunny), & I have to clean it up before I could use it. So, um, not the best memories there. Still, I’ll try to update a bit now…

For March’s theme of gloves & mitts, Larsdatter’s Medieval & Renaissance Gloves & Mittens page & 18th-Century Women’s Mitts page are  outstanding resources of extant items in museums & period imagery. Obviously for just those eras, but wow, just so much historical info, these sites are really amazing starting points.

For April’s theme of parasols, I highly recommend the book “Sticks in Petticoats: Parasol Manufacture for the Modern Costumer” by Rachel E. Pollock. It’s written by a friend of mine who is a professional costumer & teacher, who runs the blog La Bricoleuse. As I say in the review on the book’s webpage, this slim volume guides you through several tested methods for covering a frame, & it includes a basic history with detailed parts & construction of standard parasols/umbrellas. This is a practical manual with clear, sharp instructions. If you want to cover, recover, or repair a parasol, you need this book, & it’s only $14.99.

For May’s theme of necks & waists, think of the fichus, ties, belts, collars, & cuffs that go with your outfit. My Pinterest board for the Accessory Challenge has lots of examples & some how-tos for inspiration.

For June’s theme of makeup, this is where looking at period imagery is crucially important. What was the beauty ideal in that era? Can you see the pink cheeks of rouge or the dark eyes of kohl? Are patches all the rage? High arched eyebrows or thick dark brows? Take what you see in historical portraits & experiment with modern makeup to recreate the look. It’s really the finishing touch & can be a lot of fun.

Finally, in July, there’s the shoes & stockings theme. These days, we have so many more options for buying reproduction shoes, you only need to make them if you want to. You can also retrofit modern shoes for a more period look. Nobody needs to wear totally modern shoes with a historical outfit anymore!

At Costume College, I’m teaching three classes, all on accessories to fit with this year’s CoCo theme:

Historical Purses: How to Carry Your Crap: This is an overview of women’s bags and purses from the medieval era to the present. You’ll learn which shapes and sizes were popular and see what modern bags are good fits with historical outfits. In addition to the many period images show, some reproduction bags will be available for examination, and tips for making your own versions will be discussed. After this lecture, you’ll never want to lug around your everyday purse while in costume.

Five Faux-Historical Accessories You Could Replace Right Now: There are certain accessories that seem to pop up again and again among historical reenactors. These items may even cross over historical eras — they’re that ubiquitous. But they’re not always very true to the period. They’re simply cheap and easy to find. In this class, we’ll look at five seemingly historical accessories that are very common, but aren’t very accurate. We’ll compare with period imagery and see suggestions for replacements that aren’t expensive or are easy to make. By swapping out a few accessories, you can up your game in no time!

Essential Elizabethan Accessories: Whether portraying Queen Elizabeth’s court or her lowliest subjects, Renaissance faire participants can bring their costumes alive with historically accurate accessories. In this class, we’ll look through period imagery to identify the most iconic and typical hats, bags, jewelry, shoes, fans, and other small props for women and men, nobility, middle classes and peasantry. Tips for how to make these accessories and where to buy them will be included. You may be surprised that some common renfaire items don’t have much basis in historical fact, while other fabulous pieces were frequently seen in period but aren’t used much today.

These are all unlimited classes, so anyone at CoCo can attend. Hope to see you there!


Fund Research on the Real Chemise a la Reine, Plus Cool Costume Reads

If you like 18th-century costuming at all, you’ve probably seen one of those froofy white dresses, the soft, lightly-corseted style popularized by Marie-Antoinette herself. But information on the actual gowns remains scarce, and reenactors are left wondering exactly how those pretty things were really made — much the less when & why they started being worn.

Well, these topics are exactly what my good friend Sarah Lorraine of Mode Historique has been studying for her Masters degree in Art History.  Now she has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study perhaps the only extant chemise gown around when it’s taken off the mannequin at the Manchester Art Gallery in the U.K. But Sarah is in California & getting to the museum during the brief window this chemise gown is available for examination will be expensive. So she’s setup an IndieGoGo campaign — you can donate anything from $10 to $500 & receive her eternal thanks or a copy of her thesis or even a full custom-made chemise gown based on her research. Every little bit helps, so please donate!

The Devil Wears A White Dress - Sarah's chemise a la reine research project IndieGoGo campaign


If you like costume research, you might also enjoy these links, just some more fascinating things I’ve found around the blogosphere recently…

  • Costume Collections of the World – A Collaborative Google Map Project from Errant Pear — This blogger has setup an editable Google Map to list all the costume museums on the planet. How great is that? Feel free to add your faves.
  • Advice for Gal-Troops from Historically Speaking — Great tips for women looking to cross-dress historically. While aimed at military reenactors, much of the advice applies to civilians too.
  • The Allure of the Castrato from Notches: (Re)Marks on the History of Sexuality — Not exactly ‘costume’ but a bit of quirky history that could make for lively conversation at your next 18th-century reenactment.

Black Fleur-de-Lis Gown & Red Sideless Surcote

Black fleur-de-lis gown by Artemisia Dance Designs on eBay

Black fleur-de-lis gown by Artemisia Dance Designs on eBay

Taking my dip into “early period” to new heights … This started as a cheesy dress bought on eBay just to kick around camp, probably on Sundays, maybe in summer (since it’s a fairly lightweight cotton). I bought a size based on my hip measurement, knowing I’d have to fit the bodice down, plus hack several miles off the hem & wrists, as per usual with generic sizing. Being a (historically inaccurate) princess-seamed garment, it was super-easy to alter to fit, even by myself just facing the mirror.

Then I got an idea. Wouldn’t this be nice with another layer? I’ve always loved the look of a sideless surcote, aka “the gates of hell.” What goes with black & gold? What do I have in The Stash? Frantic pawing through fabric bins ensued. I had 5 yards of 45″ wide red silk dupioni (not very slubby either). Wow, what a great color combo! Could I eek out a wide, drapey garment out of narrow fabric? After all, piecing is period.

I relied heavily on Jehanne de Wodeford / Saionji no Hana’s sideless surcote pattern page (since this isn’t my period & because I was doing this 2 weeks before the event, I wasn’t going to delve into original research; also, did I mention this is going over a silly store-bought dress?) & I looked at Sabrina de la Bere’s sideless surcotes PDF. Using those, plus a mix of historical images in 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher & fantasy images, I mocked up a version of the bodice in muslin. Then I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to lay out the pattern & gussets on the fabric & figuring what needed to be seamed or pieced. Turned out that one side gusset needed piecing & that was all, whew.

And then, because lilies must be gilded (& because I had the material in The Stash), I added strips of black faux fur around the neck & sides. With just barely enough time for shipping, I also found a gold girdle on Etsy. For a circlet, I stripped trim off the brass circlet I use with my Bitchy Roman Loungewear. I made a black linen circular veil too.

First worn at SCA March Crown 2014.


Purple Linen Gothic Fitted Dress

Because apparently “early period” will get to you if you hang around in SCA long enough. Made using the same pattern drafted for my gothic gothic fitted dress. In a linen-rayon blend & fully lined in old bedsheets (because I hate the feel of linen touching my skin). The sleeves were patterned from a pastiche of elf sleeves, similar to the black dress. 100% machine sewn, down to the eyelets & hem. Just because.

First worn at SCA March Crown 2014.

purple gothic fitted dress

purple gothic fitted dress


Product Review: ArmStreet Norman Woman’s Costume

If you’ve looked around my website or seen me at SCA events, you might have noticed I’m really fond of 16th-century clothing. And I don’t go much earlier than this era. In fact, I often joke that 1530 is “early period” for me (when, in SCA circles, “early period” means Norse, Viking, even Roman garb). I prefer structured garments & find them far more flattering to my figure, plus I love everything about the 16th century, from the politics to the arts to, increasingly, the food.

Yet, in the past year, I’ve been part of two SCA courts that requested early period attire. It wasn’t absolutely required, & I did have my gothic gothic fitted dress for a little 14th-century-ish action, but that was still far from the Viking garb everyone else wore. Viking & Norse are really big things in the West Kingdom, no idea why. So I finally succumbed, but I wasn’t going to waste my precious sewing time & energy making it myself (even tho’ it’s all really basic rectangular construction). When I got the idea, I was still going through cancer treatments, & I wanted to focus what time I had on the much more interesting 1590s wheel farthingale gown project.

New Knyazhna Helga Overcoat, Dress, & Chemise set from ArmStreet.com

New Knyazhna Helga Overcoat, Dress, & Chemise set from ArmStreet.com

After much deliberation of online options, I settled on ArmStreet’s New Knyazhna Helga Overcoat, Dress and Chemise set. This one is the same as their Knyazhna Helga Medieval Flax Linen Dress, Coat and Chemise, but the “new” version comes in slightly different colors (ones I wanted). Each set includes a long-sleeved linen chemise, a short-sleeved linen dress, & a wool coat, each one edged in knotwork ribbon trim, plus a matching knotwork ribbon belt. The garments are all custom-made to your measurements. It’s not strictly historically accurate, but the outfit has the basic design of 11th to 12th-century Northern European woman’s clothing. Since this isn’t my period, I’m not going to stress about the accuracy that much — if I were, I’d research & make an outfit myself!

This set costs less than $400, which is a pretty good deal (the site has frequent sales too). You get most everything you need for the period, all in one. The only drawback to buying from ArmStreet is that manufacturing + shipping time totals nearly two months, so plan ahead. My package came when I expected, however it was missing the chemise. I emailed ArmStreet immediately, & they apologized & got that to me within the month. So I give them good marks for customer service.

ArmStreet outfit (minus coat) worn at March Crown

ArmStreet outfit (minus coat) worn at March Crown

All of the items are very well made — machine sewn, but tidily finished with nothing glaringly modern showing. I washed the linen pieces immediately because I hate the way linen feels against my skin, & these garments softened up quite nicely. Bonus: They survived a normal washing & drying machine cycle with zero problems, which bodes well for durability.

The fit of each item is good — the shapes aren’t very complicated, but ArmStreet got everything right in terms of length, bust, wrist, etc. I’m petite & plus-sized, so off-the-rack sizes usually require alterations. I’m thrilled to have something that I can wear as-is out of the package.

Through a series of events, I didn’t get around to wearing the outfit until March Crown 2014 (three months after purchase). And I primarily wore the outfit during the evening as convenient working wear. For which it served perfectly — very comfortable, easy to move in, & I cooked a feast in the outfit, minus the coat. Unlike a lot of my garb, I could just toss the dress & chemise in the laundry at home too. The coat was toasty warm as the sun went down; being unlined heavy wool, it would be itchy, but worn with the long-sleeved chemise, that’s not a problem.

All in all, I give this a solid “A” rating for value & quality. Yes, you could make something similar for less money, but if you don’t have the time or simply don’t sew, buying this outfit is worth it, IMO.


Accessory Challenges for the Rest of the Year

Godey's Lady's Book, September 1890

Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1890

Are we really almost there? Yep, the last few challenges are in sight. I started this after Costume College last year & intend to wrap it up with CoCo this year, because the theme will be accessories. I’m also teaching three accessories classes at Costume College: History of Purses (from about the 10th c. to 1950s), Essential Elizabethan Accessories (dos and dont’s aimed at the renfaire crowd), & Five Faux-Historical Accessories (repros used across eras that aren’t very accurate & what to use instead). Let me know if you’re going to CoCo, & maybe we can meet up at the pool bar to show off our favorite accessories from the past year’s challenges!

In the mean time, as you work on gloves & mitts for March, here are the last few challenges:

April 2014:
Parasols – With luck, patience, & sometimes money, you can buy or restore antique parasols. But covering modern frames works well too.

May 2014:
Necks & Waists – Those little pieces that finish off an outfit: Belts, sashes, fichus, ties, collars.

June 2014:
Makeup – Whether it’s apparent or not, makeup is a good idea for most costume outfits. Research your era’s beauty ideal & figure out how to recreate it.

July 2014:
Shoes & Stockings – Learn to make custom shoes or hosiery, or buy them to modify for a historical look.

All are listed on the Head to Toe page. Post whatever your working on to your blogs or the Flickr group — it’s been inspiring to see how everyone is creating these beautiful finishing touches.


Accessory Challenge: February

Here’s a little bling from the accessory files for February’s challenge…

Jen of Suburban Pagan made a sparkly Regency necklace in the rivière or collet style. Gorgeous!

necklace by Jen Bistrow of Suburban Pagan

necklace by Jen Bistrow of Suburban Pagan

SaharaZaraMorocco of Shoes First, Then Corset shows us two renaissance girdles, both beautiful!

girdle by Sahara Zara Morocco of Shoes First, Then Corset

girdle by Sahara Zara Morocco of Shoes First, Then Corset

I have an 18th-century style portrait-miniature necklace for sale. It’s a historical style, but I can see it being worn with a modern outfit too.

Trystan's portrait choker

Trystan’s portrait choker

And from the last challenge, take a look at the Flickr pool for a fantastic example of 1830s hairstyling, courtesy of AccessoryQueen1.

1830s hair by AccessoryQueen1

1830s hair by AccessoryQueen1

Next month’s theme is gloves & mitts. You could make them from scratch or show off a great vintage glove find or makeover existing gloves into a more historical style. So many types of gloves & mitts have been popular, & this is a lovely accessory to finish off an outfit.

Short gloves in the 1530s, mitts in the 1770s, long gloves in the 1880s

Short gloves in the 1530s, mitts in the 1770s, long gloves in the 1880s


Accessory Challenge: January Round-Up

You all know about Kendra’s book on 18th-century hair/wig-styling, right? You’ve signed-up for the pre-sale, right? Because it only lasts till the end of January, & if she doesn’t hit the goal, then we won’t get all the fabulous authentic historic images we need, & she’ll have to cut out something crucially important that you really want. Don’t let that happen, m’kay?

If you can’t afford the book right now, just put a mini down payment on it, & that will apply towards your later purchase. Do it now! Why yes, this all fits in terribly well with the January accessory theme of hair & wigs!

Taylor of Dames a la Mode

Taylor of Dames a la Mode

Taylor at Dames a la Mode whetted our appetite for hair-styling help with her excellent tutorial on Regency hair. I love all the photos, very useful.

Coif by SaharaZaraMorocco of Shoes First, Then Corset

Coif by Sahara Zara Morocco of Shoes First, Then Corset

And for a little catching up, check out Sahara Zara Morocco on Shoes First, Then Corset — she embroidered a fabulous Elizabethan coif (I’d totally steal that!) for the hats challenge plus made a cute Regency reticule for the bags challenge.

Who doesn’t love a reticule? Caroline of Dressed in Time embroidered one with a basket motif on one side & her initial on the other. Very sweet.

Looks like you’re all embroidery fiends — Quincy at In the Long Run embroidered a beautiful 18th-century pocket for the bags challenge. I’m impressed by everyone!

The February challenge is jewelery, so let’s bling it up. Pearls, gems, all the bits we use to dress up our outfits. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, & more. These can be extremely easy to make (string some beads for a bracelet) or incredibly complex (paint a miniature portrait for a necklace). It’s up to you, because there are plenty of extant examples dating very, very far back. In fact, jewelry tends to be of the few things that survives all the way back to pre-history. Beads have been recovered from neolithic graves, & gorgeous jewelry survives from ancient Egypt & Greece. More recent eras have loads of jewelry shown on museum websites, so you can go nuts getting inspiration.

2 necklaces from the British Museum: left, gold beads from Cyprus c. 1550 B.C.E.; right, pearls with diamond clasp, Paris, 1930

Two simple necklaces from the British Museum: left, gold beads from Cyprus c. 1550 B.C.E.; right, pearls with diamond clasp from Paris c. 1930


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