Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: Setbacks and Re-Orientation

here's me

With my usual timing, I came down ill last Wednesday and, for the following several days, wasn't up to anything but laying on the couch moaning.  Today I'm much more myself, but of course I am lacking an iron, which is, as project managers say, a blocker.  (Fun fact: you cannot get any iron at all with the "Get it Today!" button on Amazon.)  This will be rectified tomorrow, but I'm more than somewhat annoyed by losing most of a week of work.

On the bright side!  Things that have arrived include my 5lbs of raw cotton, and my ILL of Janet Arnold's article on the Black Prince's jupon!  Which is a downloadable PDF!  I NEVER HAVE TO GIVE IT BACK!  MOO HOO HA HA!


I haven't un-vacuum-sealed the cotton yet because I don't want to start getting fibers everywhere before I'm ready to address them, but I've torn into the article like a kid on Christmas morning.  Here are our takeaways (with the disclaimers that Saint Janet had to examine the garment through the conservation net, with the possible inaccuracies this introduces):

  • It has a linen lining, cotton wadding for padding, and the silk velvet (linen weft) fashion fabric (already appliquéd, as previously noted).
    • The fleurs-de-lis were done in the "part-of-the-ground-fabric" style of semy, rather than all as complete charges.  On the other hand, the leopards of the English arms were carefully sized for the space available in order to be entirely complete charges. Not relevant to today's project, but interesting to note for future reference.  
    • What is not clear to me is whether the silver label of cadency was just appliquéd on top of the ground devices. Seems like a hell of a waste of goldwork if it was, and a bunch of extra work if it wasn't.
  • As I'd theorized from looking at it, the quilting happened after the layers were assembled.
  • There's fragmentary linen binding around the neckline, with a few remaining thread bits to suggest there was velvet there too (but it's not clear from the article if, like the garment itself, this is the remaining linen warp of the velvet, or whether there was a linen layer and then a velvet layer over top of it).
  • The quilting seems to've been done with silk thread.
  • There was twisted red-and-blue silk cord lain over the seams joining the heraldic quarters.  Quaere: is this purely to ease the visual transition, or would it be something fun to do to ornament any seam?
  • She does talk about Red Charlie and Gold Charlie[1], but not at the comparison level I need, namely on the padding differences.  Though she does kindly include the quilting lines on each of them.
This is all very cool, though for the most part not immediately helpful on the how-to front, but for some reason I feel a greater level of confidence for having it in my pocket.  On the down side, I feel the chances of having the test linen garment done in two weeks are vanishingly small; so I expect my entry may end up being more about explorations on the padding/quilting front.  And that's OK too.

[1] this is how we are officially designating Charles VI's and Charles de Blois' pourpoints respectively.  Please take note for future correspondence.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: Padding Your Answers


For once, I thought, I had a plan and a schedule and everything was going to proceed at a dignified, adulting sort of pace.

ha ha ha no

Operations began well enough; I went to a well-known quilting shop[1] downtown to pick up cotton batting, that being the stuffing substance recommended in the pattern for ordinary mortals; and the next night, I began making up my test swatch.

Here began quandaries.  First, how many layers of batting to use?  On the one hand, there needs to be a palpable amount, otherwise there's no percentage in bothering.  On the other, this is (again) a courtly garment, not military; it doesn't need the functionality of full-on padding; and though you'd want to look butch, you would not want to be so padded to look like the kid from A Christmas Story.  And, of course, the padding's missing from CdB, so we haven't much of a notion of how poofy it really was; and although (as seen in last week's manuscript image) the gentlemen of the time were often illustrated as having some serious chest padding going on, how much of that is artistic license[2]?

Le swatch
I thought I'd get around this problem by putting different amounts in half the swatch and seeing what I thought.  I started with two layers of batting on one side, and three on the other, which I found kinda...flat.  So I unpicked the two-layer side and added two more layers there, so I had a four-layer side and a three-layer side (that's what's in the photo).  And they both had a fair amount of body...but I really wasn't happy.  It was both too thick and too flat.  How can that be a thing?  Dither, dither, dither.

I posted this photo two posts ago but
now it's relevant
And then I started to think (a dangerous pastime).  It is known that they did not use cotton batting for this purpose medievally; I don't even know if they had anything similar to cotton batting.  If you look at the stuffing coming out of the Black Prince's jupon, you can see it more looks like an explosion of compressed cotton balls, or something; which makes sense as it's stuffed with cotton tow (basically, cotton that has been only minimally processed)--it has sure never been flattened and treated into sheets.  Shit gonna behave different, yo.  And yes, this is a military garment (if a fancy one); it may have been made differently than a court garment; but I'm inclined to think that if "this is how we stuff", then the difference is more likely to be in degree rather than in material.  

Naturally, the next question was "how's everyone else doing this?"  I spent an hour or so on the Googles, and based on the appearance of the pourpoints and jupons people are making (with one big exception, ahem), it looks like they've all stuck with cotton batting as well; they all have that flattened-out feel that my swatch does.  So, I could make at least the linen test version with my cotton batting; it's the Current Tech; but the more I thought about doing that, the more unhappy I became, because it just feels wrong.  Wrongity wrong wrong.  I don't want to make more wrong in the world.  And if I make the test garment out of wrong and go to make the real one out of right, then it isn't bloody much of a test garment, is it?  But I hadn't a clue where to get cotton tow; the big exception above was facilitated by a one-time gift of a bunch of it to FIT, which the school didn't want, and was fortuitously regifted by our international conspiracy.

I spent a day or two dithering, panicking, and freaking out on Facebook; thought maybe I could use wool roving or stuffing or something, and ordered a couple of swatches of the latter; contemplated making a surgical strike on Rhinebeck, which is this weekend, to buy vats of dirty sheep product; but was happily directed to a place (ironically, where I'd gotten wool swatches from) that sells raw cotton fiber by the sack.  Well OK then!  And 2nd-day delivery!  So that should show up at work tomorrow or the next day, and although I don't know I'll be ready to fit the client next Saturday (not even just the body pieces), I will be in a better position to make a better piece.

And then my iron melted.

[1] which is, very sadly, going out of business.  Go quickly and get some truly wonderful cotton prints.  I have 3.5 yds of a print of the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, thank you very much. 
[2] I'm having some mental go-rounds on that same question regarding women's dresses and boob support.
[3] I found that image in a random Googling, and it's from the blog of a guy studying cotton production in China.  I feel like we all ought to go read it at some point. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: Getting The Show On The Road

Arthur and his knights (round table? see?)
wearing pourpoints.  I am slightly weirded
by Sir Eyes On My Tunic in the lower left.
BNF 343, 1380s.
I have previously alluded (for, like, the last several months) to a commission I have accepted, to make a pourpoint.  Here's where we actually talk about that shiznit.

For those of you coming in cold, a pourpoint is a men's garment of the mid-to-late 14th century. It developed from the padded tunic worn under armor; and as often happens, a military necessity created a fashion among men who wished to be seen as Manly Men.  The pourpoint is similar to the cote-hardie in that it's tightly-fitting (at least, in comparison to the fashions that preceded it) and short (often barely covering the rump), but it's padded/quilted, and the images you see in manuscripts make the gents look like pouter pigeons.  To make things a little more complicated, you could also have a padded martial garment of this general mode worn over your armor that was of expensive materials (this is where the Black Prince's jupon comes in; it is silk velvet with metal thread embroidery).  But, this particular commission is for a courtly, fashionable, not-worn-anywhere-near-armor pourpoint.

Charles de Blois'
Charles VI's pourpoint
There are two extant pourpoints kicking around; one that belonged to Charles de Blois, duke of Brittany (d. 1364) that lives in the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, and one attributed to Charles VI, king of France, that lives in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Chartres (which is child-sized, so is figured to date between 1370 and 1380).  These are both of costly silk lined with linen, and are similar in patterning.  Charles VI's garment is padded & quilted to hell and back; Charles de Blois' is not currently but looks like it may once have been.  

How do we (I) know this stuff? Happily for my sanity, I can once again stand on the shoulders of giants: Tasha Kelly of La Cotte Simple has studied the bejezus out of pourpoints and generously makes her findings available, including publishing a pattern for Charles de Blois' pourpoint.  So I picked that up first-off, and (after measuring my patron & establishing his general parameters) cut out a muslin that I fit at Pennsic.  I actually only cut out one arm to fit...and it was dumb of me, in retrospect, to do the left arm on a right-handed fighter.  But the subject seems reasonably proportionate, so I think we'll be OK.

Fitting the muslin (in
field conditions and 90deg
Although the actual commission is for a silk garment, I am not so foolish for lack of sense as to go merrily sailing in at flank speed when I've never done a padded or quilted item before.  Especially when the patron has purchased Sartor silk for it AFJDKLSJFKLDFJDF NO PRESSURE NOPE NOPE.  So, I am making a linen version first.  It'll be identical in all other respects, just made out of base(r) materials.  (This will also give me a ridiculous amount of practice on the goddamn buttons.)  I had been figuring on using cotton batting for both verisons, because it's easy to come by, but it looks as if you can get 100% wool batting more easily than I thought.  For a price, of course.  Hmm.  (Quaere: is modern wool batting going to be anything like what they used in period, anyways?)

The current milestones:
- Sat, Oct 22 (Winter Wolf event): Have the main body pieces quilted and basted together for fitting.  Hopefully at least one sleeve as well.
- Sat, Nov 12 (St. Elegius event): Linen version done, entered into the A&S competition.  This means also documentation written up, hey ho.

Presumably by that point I will also know whether I need to make adjustments before starting the Real Item; and I'll then plan out the rest of the work.  The patron has not expressed a desired delivery date, but I do not want to drag out the work, so I'll aim to have it done by Twelfth Night at the outside.

My immediate next steps are:

  • Wash the dark green linen I'm using for the test version
  • Unpick the muslin, iron it, incorporate with notations into a new pattern
  • Pick one of my various linens to use as its lining (at least they're all washed already)
  • Iron & cut out both linen layers
  • Get cotton batting

Thursday, October 6, 2016

London Arts Pilgrimage: There Were Some Embroideries

As I mentioned previously, there's this little exhibit on at the V&A, and we put on our scallop shells and filled our scrips with travel rations and fared forth to see it.  If at all you can go, you should; and if you can't, you should still order the exhibition catalogue, which is entirely the bomb.  (Let me note, however, that the current sorry state of the pound sterling means that the catalogue is $45 if you buy it at the museum bookstore, and $75 if you get it from Amazon.  So if you go in person, you are SAVING MONEY.  Who loves you and is watching out for your well-being?  That's right.)


So yes, as anticipated, photography was strictly verboten.  The exhibition catalogue is almost good enough that it's OK, but I snuck the above photo of the Black Prince's jupon anyways, because it is THE BLACK PRINCE'S JUPON and I was never going to be that close to it again.  Regrettably, even with my nose pressed against the glass like a Dickensian street urchin outside a pudding shop, the net they've put over the garment to preserve it keeps you from seeing any additional construction detail...and it's so worn away there's not a lot left to see...but it was still a Religious Moment for me.  Fun fact: they clearly spent all this time and expense doing metal-work appliqué onto velvet...and then just ran the quilting channels right the hell over it.  Well OK then.

Wool intarsia seal bag with
embroidered border, c. 1280.
Westminster Abbey, WAM 1494
There are about 80 objects in the exhibition altogether, and a lot of them are the Greatest Hits of Religious Garments you'd expect, like the Syon Cope (which the light in its case wasn't working the day we went, heck of a job there, Brownie) and the Butler-Bowdon cope; but they did a great job rounding up what few surviving secular and semi-secular articles were out there.  So not only did I get to drool on the jupon, I also got to get real up-close and personal with the Cluny's horse trappings (and not just the usual big piece with the leopards of England on them, but some smaller scraps that still have their pearled bits intact!) and a royal seal bag that's of particular interest because it's wool appliqué with no metal-work, which is something we know existed but very little has survived (the Tristan Hanging is one, though it's onlaid rather than inlaid like this little guy) and a fascinating little heraldic number, now in the form of a burse (a case for carrying a cloth used in the Mass), showing a shield with the arms of Stafford impaled with the Woodstock differenced version of the royal arms (so it had something to do with the marriage of Edmund, Earl of Stafford, with Anne Plantagenet in 1398)--but what it was cut down from is entirely unclear.  The exhibition people think it's from a banner, but my reading this summer suggests that you never saw arms on a shield shape used on banners, so my money's on some kind of domestic textile.

Other Moments:
  • Beth's contention that half our problems recreating these works are because we can't get the fineness/tightness of linen that the originals were created on
    • likewise, silk twill, Y U NO
  • Unexpected couched-and-laidwork on the Clare Chasuble
  • Crawling on the floor in front of the Syon Cope to look at the stitchery around the hem in the reflected light from the video playing across the room
  • Being blinded by the 100% intact cloth-of-gold of the Fishmongers' Pall
  • Seeing the strong repetition of motifs; not just "it's a cope and it's gotta have the Annunciation on it and that means a lily in a pot", but the almost carbon-copy design details across the board
  • The interlace patterns on the Hólar Vestments, which really need to be turned into trim
And then there was everything else we looked at. Even after cherry-picking all their special stuff for the exhibition, the V&A has a ridiculous amount of textiles; and we spent some quality time in the Museum of London and the National Gallery too.  (And Buckingham Palace, but that was about QE2's Wardrobe Unlock'd, not QE1.)  I haven't started processing the photos with any seriousness yet, but here are a couple of teasers:
TIL tablet-woven edges are still
around in Elizabethan sweet-bags

Elizabethan blackwork handkerchief.
They must've had some serious
colds, is all I can say.

Silk fragment, Byzantine, 900-1100.
Shows noticeable design similarities
to Chinese-produced textiles

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Holding Pattern

You are ^^ here

I haven't done much in the past month: combination of Pennsic burnout, work fried-ness, getting sick, and overwhelming list of Other Stuff to Address.  (Not least of which is going to three events in three weekends; yeargh.)   I've finished some mending, I've gotten a little further with the $*@& padstitching for the kirtle in progress, I've luceted some points for my consort's linen suit (which I'm not terribly happy with and I think I will fingerloop the next batch; but they'll keep his pants up), and in about two hours I'll be going to Fort Tryon Park and, in partnership with another lady, teaching fingerloop braiding to an unknown but potentially vast number of civilians.   

Much of the recent energy expenditure has been on prep work for leading a pilgrimage to see All The Medieval Embroideries Ever.  I hope to have much to report upon my return, though I expect that (as with most museum special exhibitions) cameras won't be allowed, so don't get your hopes too high.  They better have a bitchin' exhibition catalogue, that's all I have to say.

I did have some lovely conversation last weekend with the doyen of early modern men's clothing, which has helped me understand a bunch of things that were whirling in my tiny skull, and when I finally clear the decks to make my consort's next suit I think it'll be ever so much better as a result.  

Next weekend shall be a long schlep but of much rejoicing; our dear friend and colleague will be holding a panel for Expert guild ranking in couching & laidwork.  If you think of this a dissertation defense, you would not be wholly wrong; so we are rallying around to provide support and also snacks.  

I'm looking forward to October.  Nothing on the calendar (...yet...), work should be calmed down; I have high hopes of actually getting some projects seriously advanced.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Post-Pennsic Roundup; or, A Holiday in Cambodia

Disclaimer: we did not have elephants
This year's Pennsic was not as vacation-ish as most are for me.  We were blessed (?) with unusually high heat & humidity, to the tune of heat indices over 105 many days, alternating with monsoon downpours.  I'm not at my best (to put it mildly) in hot, sticky weather, and even less so when one has to be continually on the bounce to prevent the camp from floating away on a muddy river of fail.  And, most years there'll be a couple days like that here or there, which is OK and one can cope, but a steady progression of them is taxing.

Another issue--as noted previously, I had cut out a linen kirtle before leaving and I was bound and determined to get it finished in time to wear it for my Elizabethan Working Clothes class.  Now, if I'd been at home with no job to go to, this probably could have happened; but onsite, while managing a camp of 70 people, in a climate that completely nerfed my concentration...yeah. No.  So for the whole first week I was additionally stressed about a) not working on my dress in that moment, b) how slow I was going when I was working on my dress, or both.  Finally during the middle weekend, I let it go and admitted I wasn't going to get it finished, and I was able to actually start having some fun.  So, lesson learned: I will not take any project to war that I "need" to finish on a deadline.  It's vacation, dammit.

My A&S display, complete with very decorative
Baroness Chief of Staff.  
Thus, the down-sides.  On more positive notes, I taught two classes and I think both went well (even though about five times as many people showed up than I was prepared for); I showed The Big Damn Banner and the Flat Cap of Success at the A&S display, and I think I came off tolerably well; I fit the muslin pourpoint pattern to my client; and I paneled the Big Damn Banner at the Athena's Thimble meeting, where my guildmates honored me with a ranking of period competency in appliqué.  Another lesson learned: few people will do more than glance at a flat cap on its own, but if you display it on top of a skull, at least you'll get a second look and a giggle.

So that all happened; now I need to prioritize projects for the next couple of months.  I think it comes out something like this:

  1. Make up the linen version of the pourpoint commission; which breaks down
    1. make up just the lining, and do another fitting.  Adjust as necessary.
    2. Take a pattern of that version.
    3. Finish it, padding and all, and see how it fits; record all details for when we do the Real One.
  2. Finish the @*$! kirtle.
  3. Make up the partlet I cut out at the last minute and didn't do anything with.
  4. Complete all the lacing holes, and make lacing cords for, my consort's black linen suit.
I'm putting a tentative target date on these tasks of end of September; I think that's not too ambitious, particularly since only the pourpoint should be thinky work.  Though, if it continues being horribly hot, I may have to swap in making braies, hose, and a coif for Himself, so he can wear his Bocksten tunics to events in September with greater comfort.  I'm not trying to plan ahead any further than that at the moment, for the sake of my sanity. Though I'm really kinda hot-and-bothered to make a couple of drawn-thread napkins for our feast gear.

Oh. And. I, um, may have also committed to help create a small schola in Manhattan for sometime next spring.  Which mostly involves calling a lot of places to beg for space that won't cost the earth.  We'll see what happens.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Forward Momentum

On, Teb! On!

As usual, the last couple of weeks before Pennsic pass in a frantic and occasionally gibbering haze; though this year I had the interesting experience of whiplashing between "oh, this is fine, really there isn't that much to do" and "AAAAAAAA I AM DOOMED".  Part of this was a classic own-goal; I spontaneously decided I had plenty of time to rig up a new dress for myself, namely a 1580s petticoat (something I have never made before, let me be clear) and got Beth to fit the bodice for me last Sunday.  

To be fair, I have the construction skills to do this, absolutely.  It's really the same technology as both my gamurra and my Florentine silk dress; it is not rocket science, or at least, the science all happens in the fitting/patterning.  And, a good chunk of it can be done by machine if I can get to that point before we leave.  However!  It's still a time investment and time is something that's in short supply.  Great thinking, Past Me.

Fortunately I got a good way down my checklist before that point.  My dashing consort has another linen Bocksten tunic and a pair of generic linen trousers (which I still experienced a few challenges with, ahem.  Let us just say that they are fashionably low-rise).  I re-did the lining of the Big Muckin' Banner and the pole loop is complete; there's still an issue with pull, which I'm advised is because I recut an old skirt to serve as the lining--a very period thing to do, yes, but it's on the bias which is doing Weird Things; I hope to finagle this with a lot of steam iron. (I may have to give up on the fringe trim, though.)  I have sourced ethically-obtained English magpie feathers to trim the Wee Flat Cap with, and a dozen tiny C-clamps for my tablet weaving class.  We have made approximately 11 lbs. of curries/stews and six dozen hand pies, which are vacuum-sealed and frozen for transport.  And, I have done most of the Land Agent/camp layout fooferaw.  

Drop-dead obligations remaining:
My brain when I think about
my class handout

  • assemble kits for tablet-weaving class (2 hours?)
  • make up muslin of pourpoint (2 hours?)
  • twiddle the banner's documentation (half-hour maybe)
  • write documentation for the flat cap (2-3 hours)
  • write the handout for the working-clothes class (AAAAAAA)

Would Like To Get Done Please Thank You:
  • The New Petticoat, which consists of--
    • pad-stitching the front bodice pieces (...six hours at current rates of work? reducible if I stop watching distracting movies)
    • assemble the bodice fashion fabric (~1 hour by machine)
    • assemble the bodice lining (~1 hour by machine)
    • attach lining to fashion fabric (μ) (depends on whether I bind it or just sew it) 
    • assemble the skirt (~1.5 hours by machine)
    • pleat the skirt (gah, I'm not good at pleating.  2-3 hours? And needs the iron.)
    • attach skirt to bodice (2 hours?)
    • eyelets (infinite handwork)
    • hem (infinite handwork)
  • Turn the hemmed piece of linen that was too small for an apron into a partlet
  • Make a couple more lacing cords
  • Fix at least one of the pairs of Venetians of Sorrow
  • Get a lacing strip into at least one of the jerkins
...I think there might be some compromises made.