Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What the heck is a polecat?

Portrait of a Lady Image via Wikipedia
I'm scrambling to finish a gonfalon/banner for my local group to have at Coronation this weekend and working on my daughter's birthday gifts, so the dress is still not completely refitted.  So, you get some ramblings of things that struck my fancy. 

This lovely portrait by an unknown Milanese artist resides in the Rijks Museum. It got posted to the Realm of Venus Facebook page by Carol Marie Meyer.  I hadn't seen it previously.  Since I just picked up the fabric for a veste, it is getting dropped into my inspirations folder.  The really interesting part is obviously the lining.  If you haven't ever gone looking at the Rijks Museum, they have an amazing zoom, so you can get up close.  I spent quite a bit of time staring at the lining. I will totally admit to having recently drooled over both lynx and bobcat furs for use as a zibellino.  Not in my budget right now (since I keep buying fabric and lace) but I really, really want a lynx zibellino.  They were very fashionable for older ladies.  I rather fall into that category. A lynx lining on a veste is such a dreamy concept. Obviously, there's no way that is going to be in my budget however.  Not even if it was faux.

The discussion on this veste got me digging into some research on fur use.  That was one of my big interests with the Russian persona.  Russians had an extended period within the SCA timeline where they used furs as currency.  They didn't use them as barter as you would expect, but actually stamped them with values and handed them around as coins. The symbolic and actual use of fur is a subject I find really intriguing.  I have not really investigated it, other than by making some zibellini, with the Italians.

I started with Carole Frick's Dressing Renaissance Florence, as it was on the shelf 5 feet from me. She has a section on the furrier's guild in Florence, the Arte dei vaiai e pellicciai.  Florence is importing at least a million furs a year, and the furriers are one of the oldest guilds as well as being one of the top seven in power. They are using at least 20 different furs, and many of the furs are subdivided into named sections based on both part of the animal and color of the fur.  White is always the most prized.  As an example of the division of parts; squirrel furs (the look that heraldic vair is derived from) are seperated into back, underbelly, and rump.  That is not a large fur in the first place.  Speaking of small furs, dormice are a popular fur.  They're tiny.  The guild itself is divided into the vaia, who deal with the squirrel (vair,) the lynx, sable, and other more expensive fur while the pelliccia work with the less expensive furs.  As far as the fur they are dealing with, locally there are fox, marten, European polecat, rabbit, 4 species of wolf, dormouse, 3 species of hare, and grey and red squirrel. They're importing wildcats from Spain and ermine, lynx, and sable from Russia and Poland. Lots of options for getting just the right look at the right price point for their customers.

I had at least a general idea of what most of the furs look like (if a bit incredulous that they're piecing together tiny dormice) except for the European polecat. I sort of thought it might look skunk-like due to Beverly Hillbillies reruns where Grannie called people lowdown skunks and polecats. (Yeah, well, everyone's mind makes weird associations.) They are not, in fact, even remotely like skunks.  Polecats are the lone ancestor of ferrets.  They're a mustalid like the marten and sable. They can mate and produce offspring with minks and ferrets. We still use their furs in modern coats and stoles, but it is referred to as "fitch."  They have a yellowish back and darker extremities. Pretty stuff, a bit different than mink.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fixing the Lotto dress

You may remember this dress here. Based on Lorenzo Lotto's "Lucretia" I made it last winter.  There is so much about this dress that I love.  It is unusual and striking and the patchwork is rather amazing if I do say so myself.  I don't wear it often though.  I still don't even have a full picture with the sleeves.  I kept resisting the big glaring fact about it.  It just didn't fit well.  I wanted a higher neckline, but what I ended up with was monoboob and a bodice that projected away from the body. 

I was stubborn about it.  Some people even tried to tell me what the issue was, but (due to some other circumstances and the accompanying frustration) I wasn't willing to listen to the advice.  Besides that, if I trimmed the neckline I'd lose some of the beautifully aligned patchwork stripes.  Not to mention the snipped bias trim I'd fretted over!  So, it sat in the closet.  I've worn it twice. 

It is a year later now, and the pretty colors and the snuggly warm flannel lining have convinced me I need to fix the problems so I can wear it to Coronation this weekend in Montana. So, I woke up this morning, threw the thing on (man, it is heavy with the fully lined skirt,) stood in front of the mirror, drew some lines, and took some scissors to the bodice.  I ended up cutting the front down about 3 inches.  THREE INCHES!  That's a rather big chunk. I have some nice cleavage now though and it instantly fixed the way the bodice sat on the body.  Not trying to fight my chest and giving it an escape route made everything happier.  I angled the cut back along the shoulder strap, slimming the straps by quite a bit.  The back was trimmed about an inch lower.  It is still rather high, but the straps sit comfortably, and I didn't see a reason to try to accomplish a lower, more accurate, back to the dress at this point and just mess things up.  Maintaining the integrity of the piecing was also a concern.

Now I just need to figure out if I'm going to try putting the snipped bias back or not.  I do have a yard or two leftover blue silk so that isn't a concern. The thing I'm most worried about is getting the finish right in front where the eyelets are.  There's not a great deal of space between eyelets, so the turn under is minimal and I can't do it how I'd prefer with the fashion fabric wrapping over and being stitched to the lining.  I'm actually wondering if I can do a thin bias binding and finish it all that way. I also need to decide if I'm going to rehem it, add a tuck above the hem, or try the bizarre fold over at the top from the portrait which is why the skirt is so long in the first place (well, chopines also figured in to the decision, but I never made a matching pair for this outfit.)

We leave Friday morning for Montana, and I have a Provincial banner to applique, birthday presents for my daughter who turns 9 on Sunday to make, and some cleaning and food prep to do before I take off for the weekend.  Guess I better get going.

Friday, February 22, 2013

14th century hood

It's done!  I based the design for Bronwyn's Laurelling hood on London hood #247 as described in Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-c.1450 from the series on Medieval finds from excavations in London put out by the Museum of London.  Marc Carlson has a handy summary on his website.  Women's hoods of this type were shorter than this, but I added to the mantle in order to fit the embroideries.  There's an extra gore in back for the same reason.  It doesn't lie as flat as I would like for that reason, but it needs to be there to accommodate the reason for its manufacture. 

I tried to talk myself into doing just a plain hood sewn up the front, but the more I looked around, the more I found that that style seemed to be more masculine.  Women's hoods were more often buttoned.  With lots of buttons. Lots and lots of buttons. This little hood has 23 buttons. Unless you are a pewter caster and make your own, that's a big investment in buying buttons.  Conveniently, there are other methods used to make buttons. I'm actually a sucker for making buttons, as you may have noticed with other projects. I love doing threadworked buttons, but they are not the correct type for this time period.  I'm not as enamoured with cloth buttons, which are correct.  I'm just worried that they're too soft.  Also, I need all the help I can get for making things even and consistent, and wads of fabric don't seem to turn out how I'd prefer.  Most tutorials for these start with circles of fabric and make what is basically a quilter's yo-yo that you stuff.  I do mine from squares of fabric and self stuff them, using the corners of the button to fill out the center.  Here's a video of the basic technique done by Katrin (and a great blog as well.  She posts amazing links.)  I do some additional stitching in concentric circles to further shape and stiffen the button.  Then they're attached to the edge of the fabric, projecting out on longish shanks.  It is a different look than the modern eye is used to, but it does draw attention to that long row of buttons you just slaved away on.  It also makes the curve to the face work as it doesn't get caught up in weird overlap that needs to be trimmed. Not that that is truly a problem, while the hood buttons all the way forward, it was usually worn with the ones around the face open.  Sometimes they were all open.  And occasionally, the hood was worn more like a hat, entirely on the head. Fashion shifted and this became the precursor to the Tudor Hood. So basically what I'm saying here is that after making loads and loads of buttons and the accompanying buttonholes, they may not in fact be used.  Ahhh, fashion. They do still look cool as a sort of trim along the edge.

Speaking of trim, I made that.  Which you can tell, because it blends so well you can barely see it in the picture.  There's a double interlooped braid along the edge of the embroidery strip.  You can also see lengths of it laid on the bands down the liripipe.  I put the embroidered strip on in a period method for applique.  Again, it doesn't seem like it is right, but stay with me.  Modern quilters applique by turning under their edges, but medieval applique isn't done in that fashion. Instead, the piece to be appliqued is applied to the base and then the edges are covered with cord. It's usually gold thread. Gilded leather is also an option.  Since I wanted this to be washable, I went for a cording made of wool and silk. I actually really like this method.  The West Kingdom Needleworker's Guild has an introductory article on this type of applique. I've taught a couple of classes on it as well.

There isn't evidence for a full lining of linen. Some of the extant hoods have an applied strip of linen to reinforce buttonholes, but there aren't full linings.  There is documentary evidence for fur linings, however, and much of the pictorial evidence shows hood fronts flipped back to show off a different color.  I went with linen since I had an amazing green linen jacquard, and I wanted the hood to be two tone of blue and green. In part the green is there since I felt it appropriate for a Laurelling hood, but mostly, Bronwyn's heraldic colors are azure and vert.  She mentioned to me at the event where she was later called up and asked to begin contemplating the question of joining the Orderthat she always has some green on as it is her favorite color.  I laughed and joked that she should have taken her apprentice belt much earlier (she avoided taking one for a very long time,) since it would have kept some green on her. I finished the edges with bias of the green and used it further as a trim on the liripipe. 

So there we go, a hood made with love and supported by a group of friends. It has been patiently waited for.  There's even a bit of documentation.  Seems to sum up what I think makes Bronwyn a wonderful addition to The Order of the Laurel.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stitching and singing

My children have once again foiled me.  This time they out did themselves and destroyed my camera completely, so there will not be step by step pictures of the hood.  There was some whispering from my husband about getting me a new one for Valentine's Day, so I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be back to taking crummy pictures soon.  In the mean time I've been working on the hood.  It is back to being in one piece, so hooray!  I did, in fact, cut off my shell and put Aurora's wreath over the top of it.  Since my wreath is whitework, the three wreaths in a row are not very noticeable, so hooray again.  After I got the band completed, I did a bit of trimming and reshaping and then basted it back into place. The original version had a layer of green trim and then a blue braid I made on top of it outlining the embroidered band, but with the blue wool shell and green linen lining, the hood felt really heavy and looked rather clunky. So I ditched that idea.  Instead, I decided to bind the hood and mantle both in the green bias.  I finished stitching the bias on today and got started putting the braid around the edges of the white linen embroidered band. It's a simple double interlooped braid in blue silk and charcoal grey wool yarns. The color is pretty close to the blue wool of the hood, but I think it is adding a nice texture.  Not to mention securing the embroidery pieces to the garment. I should finish sewing the trim in place tomorrow.  Then I just have buttonholes and stitching the buttons on.

When I haven't been stitching, I've been reading John Walter Hill's Roman Monody, Cantata, and Opera from the Circles around Cardinal Montalto.  No, I still haven't picked a song to sing in May.  I am learning loads more about the context of the various musical movements and some of the influences and politics.  Not that any of that is necessary in order to sing a madrigal, but it's interesting.  I did pick up a selection of madrigals arranged for single voice and guitar standing in for lute.  I'm super duper rusty with no range to speak of right now, but the arrangements seem to be in reasonable keys for me.  I've been fiddling around with them a bit, trying to decide which ones I like. Then I second guess myself and try to decide if I really want to sing in Italian.  I had a class on Italian pronunciation for singers in college when I (very briefly) decided I wanted to major in Opera/Vocal Performance (you may begin giggling now.) That's been close to 20 years and I don't remember much of anything and my voice seems to belong to a different human being entirely than the one I was using at that point in time.  Doing something by John Dowland is pretty tempting since it is in English.  I don't know.  Something simple like Fuggiro tanto Amore by Luca Marenzio might be fun.  This is the only video I could easily find of it, so have a listen just to get the idea of it and see what you think.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bronwyn's Laurelling hood: the re-do

So I saw this amazing hood that some embroiderers and costumers had made for a friend stepping up to the Order of the Laurel. Then I got to thinking that I knew someone pretty amazing that was going to be doing the same thing. Unlike me, she is not a "More is Better" sort of person, so a giant cloak of glitz and pearls and well, MORE is not the right thing for her.  But a hood feels like something you'd wear.  Something that would keep you warm and protected from the elements and if your friends had something to do with it, it might feel like a hug. So I pestered Bronwyn's Laurel to see what she thought and she said "go for it."  Even better, Varia drew up the embroidery designs, provided the linen, made copies of the pattern, and handed me some wool for the hood.

I really tried to get this done on time for 12th Night.  What I ended up with was some last minute scrambling and a hood that was wearable but not quite right.  She got to wear it for her ceremony and then I swiped it back to work on it some more.  It's been staring at me since as a house full of plague has kept me from crafting.  Progress is happening again, though.  I've unpicked everything and am putting it back together.  It's slow going, however, as perfectionist chick has snatched the scissors from my normal whirlwind self and is at the helm on this project. Be prepared for probably more detail than you want to hear about on this one.

First up is some beautiful embroidery that I had basically nothing to do with.  They look a little raggedy at the moment because they used to have a layer of bias and braided trim on top of them. They've also been trimmed and stitched together to follow the curve of the hood up a couple of inches from the bottom and back from the buttons and button holes along the front.  Yeah, I HAD to try to do something more complex rather than just putting them along the bottom and calling it good.  Believe me, I'm kicking myself, since some puckers in the curve and the placement of the trim is what is making me re-do it.  I swear it'll look good when I'm done or I'll die trying.

The entire curved piece along with an extra slip that I got too late to include.  It it only half the size and was trimmed so I'm still trying to figure out how to make it fit.

Everyone was given a laurel wreath and either a fleur d'lis or a scallop shell from Bronwyn's heraldry.  We tried for even distribution of the motifs, but since the stitching time was smack dab in the middle of holiday commitments several people were unable to complete their embroidery.  To be honest, I'm glad about that.  If everyone that wanted to stitch on this had managed it we would have had 3 or so rows of embroidery and I'd be appliqueing bits on dags or something.  As it is, I probably need to gather up the unfinished pieces and made a needlebook, pincushion, scissor keep, sweetebag, scroll case and assorted other bits for the new Laurel. I think there's enough floating around to do everything and more. I refuse to investigate further until I'm done with the hood.

Front of the right side is Dame Varia Goff, who Bronwyn was apprenticed to.  One of the most touching things said at the Laurelling was her speaking about that.  "This has NOTHING to do with me.  You did this all on your own.  I just wanted to say that you were mine." 

The pieces got put in the order they did primarily due to what motifs got finished, but another good friend, Laurel for his embroidery, and household member of Bronwyn's is the front of the other side. Baron Hachmood Karl Braden von Sobernheim O.L., O.P., (a whole bunch of other initials) did gorgeous laurel wreaths in the fleur. I, of course got a crummy pictures of his gorgeous blackwork.

Next to Varia's square is THL Bethoc ni Coiseam du Cruford.  She hosts the Loch Salaan embroidery guild at her home (and one day I will make it to a meeting rather than just intending to.)
 Next is Lady Marguerite de Chenanceux.  I love her little mockingbird!  We were each supposed to put an initial or a personal sigil/badge inside the wreath to show who embroidered which.  Hers turned out so cute.
This one is mine.  I'm not showing you the whitework shell because it's a little sad.  I'm considering trimming it out and inserting Aurora's half square over the top of it.  I tried some pulled work that I'm just not particularly pleased with.  I do like the simplicity of the detached chain for the wreath though and the texture in my krin.

 This one is Mistress Aurora du Portugal's. She was the Kingdom Youth officer when we started locally and my kids still look for her at events.  She's going to teach her period roses class at the collegium I'm helping organized.  She mentioned it during the pomander class I taught at the last one and everyone there was very, very excited for it.  I think I'm going to treat it as an Elizabethan era floral slip and trim it, applique it on and couch gold around the edges.  Yup, trimming out my shell seems like it might just be the answer.

Lady Fiametta da Trastavere is center back. It's not nepotism, I swear  She was the only other fleur and I did it for balance  I do have to say the couched gold and flaming heart make my blingy heart happy.

Lady Bronwyn y Ceredigion is next on the way around the circle with its tiny little spider.
Baroness Sumayya bint Suleiman O.L. is this one.  She was determined to be a part of this, hunting me down to make sure I had her square.
Lady Cecelia di Caravello just sort of got handed a square and told to do one.  Show's you what happens when you sit with the wrong crowd at court when I'm busy plotting stuff                                                       
Next up I'll bore you with the trim and buttons I made while I try to get this put back together.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Blingy sleeves are done

I know, I know, more crummy pictures.  I always finish things late at night.  I just have the loops to make on the dress to attach these and to fix the hem and then the 12th Night dress is done and I'll get good daylight pictures without my toes in them.  But hey, at least I am finishing it.  I was far too excited about this lace to not.  I still hope to figure out how to do a decent looking standing collar and rebato before Coronation in March in order to show it off at an event. 
The lace itself is just over 8 inches deep, so the cuffs are pretty epic, if I do say so myself,  Do you notice the heart with the fleur?  They're even heraldic.  How cool is that?  I was beside myself when I bought the lace (it's a vintage window valence but shhhhhh.) It looks pretty reticella-like to me.  The whole dress is on the theatrical side with the rhinestones and pearls and such so I just went for it.  I promise I'll do penance and handsew something in wool with no lace soon.  I did do handdone eyelets and the lace is stitched on by hand. I even did the outer construction by hand so only the inner skirt long seams and the boning channels are machine done. I did itty-bitty unpadded cartridge pleats for a change of pace and I like how they changed the look.

Accessories still to come, but I have to finish up a gift project first.  I'll show you the various bits of it tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

And this is why I get nowhere fast. . .

Ca. 1571-1590 Bronze Siren in the Metropolitan
I was supposed to be coming up with a song to practice for the bardic.  Instead, I have ended up on a research tangent that started with The Courtesan's Arts:Cross Cultural Perspectives edited by Bonnie Gordon and Martha Feldman.  It looks at a variety of culture's courtesans through 18 essays, but the editors are musicologists and the central chapters are specifically about early modern Italian courtesans and music.  I'm just starting to read it but am totally fascinated.  You can read the 15 page introduction here.  While I was waiting for my copy to get here I moved to the Googlebooks preview of Linda Phyllis Austern's Music of the Sirens, then doglegged off to a series of woodcuts and printer's marks associated with the publisher Francesco Marcolini. Then I came around again to a book I remembered reading sections of and being interested in regarding mermaid imagery in Venice called The Mermaids of Venice: Fantasy Sea Creatures in Venetian Renaissance Art by Alison Luchs.

I still haven't found a song to sing, but I'm sure I need a green dress with embroidered undines.  Did I mention that this is why I don't finish things?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Gauntlet

Kingdom Arts and Sciences Competition is in just over 89 days.  Between now and then, I've got a couple of other projects to finish up, a Collegium to help run, and basically every weekend already has a commitment on it.  Guess I better get cracking.

So here's my challenge to myself.  I haven't entered since the year the twins were born.  They turn 3 this year. I've missed 3 years running.  I can't let a fourth go by. I will enter this year.

Looking at what I feel like I can manage is sort of sad, to tell you the truth, but I think I've figured out what my entries are going to be. Since I'm going for it, I'm trying for champion (not that I have a snowball's chance. . .) but I don't qualify to enter in the novice category since I have previously entered, so whole hog it is.  Kingdom requirements stipulate 5-8 entries in a minimum of 3 different grand categories.  Being well rounded is a good thing.  All entries are averaged for the final score.  I'm never sure if that is a good or a bad thing for submitting more than 5.  I guess if they are all equally solid, a good entry in a category where the judges were being generous might make up for an entry in a category that was judged a little more harshly.  Who knows.

My list of what I'm submitting has more than 5 things on it just so I can drop something if it goes south and not be back at square one.  Unfortunately, I don't have a single thing that is ready to go, but I think I have solid research on several items and some trial pieces and rough drafts, so I'll use the next 3 months to pull it all together.

Here's the list:

Research paper on the use of podalic version in the delivery of footling breeches.  The maneuver was first introduced by Soranus of Ephesus in the 2nd century AD and revived by Ambroise Pare in a treatise in 1549. It is almost never used modernly, at least not in singleton births.  It was used in the delivery of my daughter who was the second twin born in my last delivery.  The antiquity of the procedure that was used on me fascinated me so I dug and discovered. The paper is obviously colored by my own experience. I hope other people find it as interesting as I do, but there's always the possibility they'll just think it's icky and weird.

Silk patchwork cushion based on the Imprunetta cushion, an extant piece of patchwork dated before 1477.  I've been saving silk scraps for this for quite awhile and have done a couple of cotton mockups.  I was lucky enough to win a big envelope of silk taffeta scraps/samples from Trisha at Thistle Threads.  I've been following her blog ever since I discovered the Plimoth Jacket and really, really wish I was up for the challenge of stitching a stumpwork cabinet.  As it is I just have to drool at her blog.  She's been cleaning out her closets as she prepares to move and doing giveaways. The envelope of silks has convinced me that the timing is perfect to stop planning and just make the darn cushion.

A pair of Italian gloves.  I got the felt  mockups done last year on the same day KA&S is (May 4th.) The pattern is sized and I like the fit.  I've made a couple of disastrous pairs of leather gloves. Third time's the charm maybe?

 Another attempt at a tournament shield.  I like a lot of things about the last one and I think it will be part of the display, but there are some things I want to do a better job with.

A woodblock print of the full impresa complete with verse. I'm looking forward to this.  I've really researched imprese, but think doing one is a better demonstration than a research paper.  I did publish a newsletter article on the subject awhile back and considered writing something more along those lines. I enjoy carving though and poetry is a part of my persona, so the block print should be a great way to demonstrate how imprese work.  I just need to make sure I don't get too longwinded with the documentation since I tend to babble on the subject.

The rose quartz zibellino is going to be entered as well.  I need to polish him up a bit more and I want to re-do the halter and drop.  I need to decide if I'm going to enter it in carving or as a piece of jewelry.

Okay, so I've written this up and made it public so people can poke at me if I don't get anything done and try to avoid the event.  Let the countdown begin.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Music and laughter and beauty of all kinds.

We're just going to pretend the month of January didn't exist and move on from there.  I have my 12th night dress pretty close to being really finished and will get some pictures of that soon but right now I'm flat on my back with massive back pain.  Add that to a month of four children with bouts of strep and norovirus, freezing rain and deep snow and nothing much has gone on this month.

So, I'm looking forward.  To about the first week of May, when Artemisia will be holding it's Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition as well as the competition for this year's Kingdom Bard.  I've decided to enter both.  I'm entering as a learning experience and to have a deadline more than anything else, since I don't think I have a chance at either, but having something to focus on to get me through the winter is a good plan.

Not to mention that it gives me a slew of fun things to research.  Right now I'm dipping my toes into late 16th Century Italian female vocal music.  At the center of what is available are a selection of female virtuoso singers (some of them courtesans) and a really interesting group in  the court of Ferrara in the 1580's and 90's, the Concerto delle Donne or The Consort of Ladies.  It was a professional female performing group of women that grew out of an amateur group that had been singing in the Duke of Ferrara's chamber music concerts.  The amateurs were good enough (and high placed enough) to inspire courtiers to be brought specifically to court to sing with them and composers to write for them. The original group was Isabella Bendidio (I'm listing her first since we share a birthday) and her sister Lucrezia Bendidio, Leonora Sanvitale, Vittoria Bentivoglio and their bass, Guilio Cesare Brancaccio.

There are a number of composers associated with the Consort, but Luzzasco Luzzaschi was the earliest. He published a collection of madrigals in 1601.  I've been listening to some of his pieces. There's also a CD of some of his pieces written for Concerto delle Donne that was put out in 1995.  I may need to get a copy.  The music is lovely, tons of fun to listen to and is helping with my persona development.  Unless I can convince some other people to sing with me and transpose a piece or two for my sturdy contralto I won't be singing any of it, however.  The style is highly decorated which isn't where I sit comfortably, so I'm continuing to dig for something to sing for myself.  Doesn't stop me from humming along though.