A Costumer Out of Time

A “Pyrate Faire” this year? Not that amorphous anachronistic fantasy they call a “Renaissance Faire”? Are they doing “Golden Age of Piracy” or a different period? I’ve seen “pirates” set to 1640’s and I’ve seen “pirates” set to 1770’s. And of course, a faire wench is a faire wench is a faire wench (whose garb has absolutely NO basis in anything but sexual fantasy)…

This posed a bit of an issue: not only is my garb either too large or too small, but “Pirate” Is Not My Period, and there was nothing “pirate”-related on History Channel between the time we set a date to attend the faire and the lead time I needed to make appropriate garb.

(Attend a faire in modern clothes? No Way In Hell. The fun is in the pseudo-Period anachronistic, improvisational
interaction. It’s very difficult to interact that way when one is not in garb.)

At any rate, for those of you wondering whether or not I fell off the face of the earth, this is where I’ve been the past week and a half: tethered to the sewing machine.

Without additional information, I had to assume that the fair would be set during the “Golden Age of Piracy” – roughly 1690-1720. Fair enough – the period is covered in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860 (Drama Publishers, 1977. ISBN 0-896-76026-X), of which I own a copy. The problem was, I couldn’t find my copy to see if there are one or more garments profiled in that time slot. Karl Köhler, whose History of Costume (Dover Publications, 1928, 1983. ISBN 0-486-21030-8) is somewhat specious as a source, suggested less extreme variants of the styles that we’ve come to associate with the American Colonial period. Next step: check contemporary art for depictions of appropriate attire. I found nothing useful on Web Gallery of Art, and very little in my own artbook collection. (I should have tried some other online resources, but I was running too short on time.)

I should also mention that although The Other Half decided to go “half-garbed” in a generic renfaire shirt, I did need to make an appropriate outfit for Donovan B. Bear, a 15" Boyd’s Bear who accompanies us to this type of event.

In the end, it was easier to come up with an outfit for Donovan than for myself. For him, I came up with a long coat, closed at the neck; longish waistcoat; knee breeches; tricorn hat – not much different than what was worn during the US Colonial period. For myself, it was a bit harder separating out “real” from “fantasy” images. I decided on a middle-class-ish sleeveless gown and caraco jacket, made from some period-inappropriate (but this is fantasy, who cares?) cotton gabardine that I’ve had hanging around the house since Before I Knew Better. Again, my outfit was rather generic for the later part of that period and would be considered appropriate moving as far forward as the 1770’s and possibly 1780’s. I had about a week in which to draft, sew, and alter everything from the inside out. (Again, this is not my usual period, which meant I needed a differently-shaped corset and a different style of shift or chemise.)

I expected Donovan’s garb to be fairly straightforward – I could use his existing Elizabethan patterns to draft the main body and then extend the length appropriately. The coat sleeves would be a bit tricky since they are a different shape, but Donovan’s relatively small, so I did not expect it to be a big issue. The bigger issue was trying to decide on a lining fabric, since none of them went well with the (anachronistic) knit forest-green faux suede I was using for the suit. For myself, the issue was a bit tricker: with only a week, I had to make sure I drafted correctly the first time – or rather, I had to go with my first draft, regardless of the fit.

The corset went fairly well, although it turned out shaped me closer to Elizabethan than to Georgian. To be fair, I based the original size on an Elizabethan corset that fit, and re-cut the shaping pieces based on a sketch of a “late 17th Century” corset in Köhler. It was a much simpler cut than the late-18th-Century styles, and I didn’t have time to waste. However, I cut the gown bodice with such a narrow shoulder strap that turning it was nearly impossible. The shoulders on the caraco were completely off, and despite following the sleeve dimensions in Robert L. Klinger’s Distaff Sketchbook (Pioneer Press, Union City, TN, 1974. LoC 74-29086) – an idea workbook for US-Colonial era women’s apparel – the caraco sleeves were easily five inches too short (and I’m short!). Topping it off, the caraco body fit too loosely, and I ended up having to close it with straight pins (period-appropriate, but hooks and buttons were more common). Donovan came off looking like a cross between a white-collar worker and a cartoon pirate: his knee breeches came up over his “knees” when he sat down, his waistcoat turned out too short in back, I didn’t have time to make the tricorn hat (so we substituted a bandana), and since I could not get the coat sleeves correctly fitted, he went coatless.

In the end, the faire’s period was set somewhat after Blackbeard’s demise in 1720, so the more Colonial-styled garments were reasonably appropriate. While the workmanship didn’t win any prizes, we had a day of excellent fun.

I’m waiting for The Other Half to upload the photos…

Glad you had an excellent day of fun–palytron myself, as I sit staring at my many yaards of cotton fabirc that has been washed and needs ironed for new faire clothing for Sept., to become new Irish working class clothing. Carry baskets to be lined and lucet cord for the corsets and skirt closings…year end at my work so vacation week (July 4-12) will be filled with sewing for me…oh yeah…gotta finish the bloody patterns…we’ve not done irish before–but the shoe patterns are done (me thinks) but the cavas mock ups before we move to leather are not done yet…thankfully I have till Sept to finish

For us its a mother daughter affair

Donovan and me, posing at a "Pirate Ship" stage (this was the "living chess" area of the site).