Sunday 20 March 2016

Chopine Research

Several weeks of social obligations doesn't leave much time for blogging, so I'm going to update briefly on a project that's been running in the background. 

For a long while I've wanted to make myself a pair of chopines - that is, the original Italian high heel. I didn't really know where to start to find out information on them, despite numerous online articles I wanted to be able to verify some of the information for myself. I turned to my local library and ordered anything that seemed even remotely historic footwear related. Unfortunately, this wasn't terribly successful, but I did find out a few things from the books that turned up.

The Seductive Show: Four Centuries of Fashion Footwear by Jonathan Walford, Thames & Hudson - alas, this is the four centuries I'm not currently interest in, and gave only a brief mention of chopines and 16th century footwear. I could see myself coming back to it if I wanted to look into 18th or 19th century items in more detail.

Shoes: The Complete Sourcebook by John Peacock, Thames & Hudson - Filled with colourful illustrations followed by line drawings and a brief description, this might be a good book for someone who wanted ideas for what style to go for. But this book surprised me by having no references for the shoes that were studied. I had been hoping for something rather solid, a museum reference perhaps for pieces examined. Granted, there is a "sources for shoes" bibliography in the back which can lead me further on in this quest, so at least I have that.

A History of Show Fashion by Eunice Wilson - this was a little more interesting. This book had a whole (10 page) chapter dedicated to chopines and their evolution. It also had an interesting little snippet that has me rethinking what I thought I knew about chopines:
"most had mules attached into which the stockinged foot slipped; but others had real shoes attached which fastened over the instep. This was largely the difference between the chopine and the patten..the latter was held on by straps fastening over a separate shoe".
Chopines as footwear without a separate slipper? Now that is a completely different approach to one I had considered before, but makes an awful lot of sense.

This is clearly only the tip of the iceberg for these shoes - I'd still like to see some definite cork examples given how much I've seen the phrase "wood and cork were used to make chopines", especially as I have cork blocks waiting to be carved for my own shoes. And to see some more ideas on the slipper or no slipper idea.

Sunday 14 February 2016

SCA Experiments

Dear patient readers, 

I've been rather distracted this last month, between getting the fix for the ill health that was plaguing me for most of last year (for which I seem to now be on the mend), doing a little soul searching towards taking on commissions again (for which I've decided to go for it), and getting my event year off to a start by doing something scary (which is the topic of this post). 

Four years ago, I returned to the SCA events by attending Champions of the Court of Love. What better event then, to challenge myself to do something new and, for me, terribly scary: I volunteered to cook lunch. For all that I love baking, I do very little savoury cooking, and it mostly occupies the part of my mind dedicated to "things I have to do so I can craft". But last year, when a friend visited briefly on her way to the airport, I cooked a meal for her and she planted the seed of the idea, which I could not shake loose (I'm looking at you Chantelle). So with advice and help from many friends I planned the following menu: 
To start, stracciatella; an egg drop soup common in Italy, served with bread, though it seems to have analogues in nearly every country in Europe. Moving on to mushroom risotto, a dish common in Northern Italy, served with roast chicken and green salad, and hard white bisket to finish. 

For the stracciatella, I used a beef broth recipe from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi. A also made up a small portion of vegetable stock for the vegetarian attendees to the event. Using this as my base, I followed the directions in Martino's The Art of Cooking for a similar recipe, zanzarelli, for which I combined eggs, bread crumbs (I used gluten free bread on the day) and Parmesan cheese, which was beaten into the soup at the boil to create the whisps of egg that the recipe gets its name for. 

For the risotto, my preliminary research showed that not only was this dish common, but that nearly every town in Italy had it's own variant. The recipes of the Veneto region seemed to lean towards fish risottos, which not being terribly fond of myself, I decided to make up a mushroom version instead, by my own method. Several people have asked for the recipe for this, so here it is: 

Mushroom Risotto a Cassandra
Arborio risotto rice, rinsed with cold water
Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Onion, chopped finely
Garlic, chopped finely
Vegetable stock, hot
Egg yolks, beaten ( I use one per person in smaller batches)

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed I've not included quantities in my above ingredients list. I have made this dish for myself, for 10 and for 40 at the event just gone, and a lot comes down to personal preference in how much you want to include. I find it a forgiving dish if too much or too little of your flavour ingredients are added. 

Allow butter to melt in a hot. Add the garlic and onions and fry until softened. Add the mushrooms, and fry until beginning to soften and well coated in butter. Add the rice and continue to stir until the rice has begun to toast. This is often easier to determine if you have some experience in toasted risotto rice without anything else present. You should be able to hear little "pops" from the rice as it toasts. When the rice is toasted to your liking, usually this just needs 2-3 minutes, add enough stock so the rice is moving freely in the liquid and reduce the heat so the pot is at a gentle simmer. Stir gently and frequently, and add more stock as the liquid is absorbed. Adding the stock in stages like this is what allows the rice to develop a creamy and smooth consistency. The finished rice should have a slight al dente bite. The risotto can be served at this stage, but I am very fond of adding an egg yolk after it is taken off the heat, which increases the richness and creaminess of the dish. 

Because my risotto only called for egg yolk, to use up the remaining egg whites I decided to try my hand at hard white bisket, a recipe which appears in a book manuscript written by Lady Elinor Fettiplace in 1604. Alas, bisket's were neither hard nor white, but flavoured with just a touch of star anise, were very tasty none the less. My food was enjoyed, as I was treated to applause when I finally worked up the nerve to leave the kitchen, and there were very little leftovers. 

In all, I received several gifts and tokens for my meal.... roses from the Event Steward, a string of pearls from the head cook, a crocheted heart from one of my minions... even a proposal of marriage with a hand made ring! I think it all went very well indeed.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Golden Partlet

The Historic Sew Monthly challenge for January is Procrastination. Though I've no plans to do any more Italian sewing at the moment, I did need to get one last thing made to finish off the look of my court gown, and it was something that was half the reason I modified my dress form in the first place; a decent partlet*.
Photo courtest of Rāshid al-Jallāb
Photo courtesy of Rāshid al-Jallāb
Since the partlet I made for the Realm of Venus competition, making up a partlet into a suitable shape has eluded me. I lost the pattern I used to draft the original piece, and my attempts to copy it to have for the Festival of Fools peacock competition didn't work out all too well (in fact, the fabric used in that attempt was so flimsy it ripped after its first wear). So I wanted to try draping a partlet instead, with my gown laced onto my dress form, so I could properly account for the shape it would need to be during wear, while also showing how much would be exposed at the dress neckline. I only started this partlet on the night before I was due to travel to the event, having draped the pattern the night before. And as is typical of a last minute, temporary, experimental, rush piece, I lost track of the number of people at 12th Night who complemented me on it.
Photo courtesy of Rāshid al-Jallāb

To make the partlet I used a lemon yellow chiffon as a base for some scraps of a heavy gold lace that I had, but never knew what to do with. The lace pieces were neither large or stable enough to create the partlet on their own, so I cut out the pattern pieces in the chiffon, joined them at the sides and hemmed as much as I could, then tacked the lace into place where I knew it would be on display, paying more attention to the edges to make sure it would be sewn down. The result was a gold lace partlet, enhanced by the chiffon base, which everyone agreed really lifted the final outfit. 

The Challenge: January –  Procrastination
Material: A base of crinkle lemon chiffon and gold lace
Pattern: Developed my own, based on late 16th century portraits
Year: Good for the later half of 16th century Venice
Notions: Thread, ribbon for ties
How historically accurate is it? Studying a garment from portraits makes it very hard to determine how something works where you can't see it. I've seen no extant partlets of this type, so I made something that I knew would be comfortable for me. Further, leaving the lace off where it couldn't be observed has no precedence that I'm aware of, though it copies the style of Tudor skirts that only used fashion fabric on the front and hem. So overall I'd say it's 50% accurate - good effort, but plenty of scope for further research and improvement.
Hours to complete: 5-6 hours approx, all hand sewn.
First worn: 12th Night
Total cost:  About €2 for the ribbon, the rest came from stash.

*For those of you not au fait with the Italian wardrobe, it's the blingy bit around my shoulders.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Wardrobe Mistressing

At the end of last year, I started my work as Mistress of the Wardrobe. While their Royal Highnesses already have garb for their coronation, the younger members of their household required something new for the big occasion.

Completing four sets of 15th century styled garb in one weekend is no mean feat, even if the garb for the littlest lords was of a simpler cut. The garb was mostly completed then, machine sewn and with every hem I could French seamed for durability,  but I brought home the garb for the elder children to complete some hand finishing on them both, so they'll be ready for Twelfth Night next weekend. With my supervisor in place, I was ready to begin:

H wanted a simpler style of houppelande, but wanted it to be fully length. He chose the red outer of a medium weight woven brocade (his younger brothers will be sporting the blue), with contrast given by the upturned cuffs and collar. There are just three pleats across the back to lend fullness, and these are reinforced by a band of fabric across the waist that is secured across the pleats and at the front of the garment. The garment was cut in a pretty straight forward rectangular pieces, with the addition of gores at the sides to add extra volume to the hem.

M's houppelande was a little more elaborate, being cut in the voluminous feminine style and using a light weight fabric. This dress was started with a simple bodice which finished at the waist. The bodice and skirt and both lined with the turquoise blue linen seen at the cuffs and collar, while the skirt is unlined. The skirt, which has no train as requested, as attached as a tube of fabric which was pleated into place around the skirt. The bodice is closed with hooks and eyes and will be further held in place with a belt using the reverse of the main fabric (but which refused to even consider staying in place for the pictures).

The belt was made by sewing the fabric onto a 2-3mm semi-stiff leather. I used an iron to press the fabric as close to the leather as I could to make sure it wouldn't shift during wear, then whip-stitched the fabric in place. The belt is held closed by means of hooks and bars, so these can be changed out at a later date if M decides she wants to upgrade to a typical houppelande belt clasp.

And now all that remains is to deliver them next weekend!

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Oh Gosh

I thought December would be quiet this year and I'd have a chance to catch up on things, but it seems it's been anything but. The proximity of my plans for the first quarter of next year has come crashing in on me, and I've found myself flitting from one thing to the next in order to keep track of them all. So while I've been doing lots, I don't really have anything in a polished condition to show off at the moment. So instead I thought I'd do a review of some of the projects I'm hoping to get to next year.

The Dreamstress has announced the challenges for the Historic Sew Monthly 2016, and I'm very tempted to push myself to complete something for every month this year. That involves more planning than I usually put myself to for my sewing schedule, but there's no harm in trying. 
Of course there's still the Mistress of the Wardrobe position to contend with. That and other SCA commitments will take up quite a bit of my time, but there's no reason I can't combine some of these with the above challenges. My personal SCA sewing is on a temporary hiatus at the moment. While I'm happy with my Hedeby reconstruction (allowing for the few bits that still need to be finished), I'm not happy with my current level of knowledge regarding my Italian costume, so 2016 will mostly be a study year for that

Beloved Coopershill is upon us again! I've organised a sewing weekend in January, and have purchased a couple of patterns to work on that weekend. I'm trying to be conservative in my plans so I can actually get a new outfit completed (the current outfit has already been worn two years running! I simply have to have something new, or I'll end up the scandal sheets! Though nothing will bring me to replacing my evening ensemble!). I would like to make a natural form gown at some point, and an 18th century ensemble, but those will have to wait for another time.

And finally, I've decided at last to dip my toes into the waters of cosplay. This one doesn't really have a set schedule; I've picked out my first costume, and I've started accumulating bits, but it'll be done and worn when it's good and ready and not a moment before. 

Wednesday 2 December 2015

30 Days of Yarn

So the month went quiet, as November is wont to be, but I achieved my goal of spinning for almost every day of the month. And this is what I came out with:

The yarns, from left to right are:
1 - 183 metres of sports weight Merino Silk (80/20), 2 ply. On this one, I didn't spin the two halves of the fibre bundle evenly, and ended up with an odd piece of single that I chain plyed and later knit up into a little pouch, which needs to be blocked before it can be shown off.
2 - 142 metres of worsted weight merino, 2 ply. My first blending experiment this. The skein doesn't show off the transition too well, but I'm hoping the gradation will be there when I knit it up.
3 - 178 fingering weight merino, 2 ply. The second blending experiment. Again, I'm hoping this one will show off it's shine when it's knit up.
4 - And finally, 178 metres of merino, chain plyed. This one gives me hope that I might yet be able to spin up yarn fine enough and well enough to make my own handspun socks![1]

The only problem I have with all of the yarns I've made above is that they all seem to want to be cowls. I'm really not sure I need that many scarf-type-object, but who am I to disagree with the fibre? 

[1] Having reconsidered how much effort is involved in a sheep to garment project, I'm starting to think socks would be an acceptable finished garment.

Sunday 8 November 2015

30 days of spinning - week one

 So after the first week of the challenge, how's it been going? Quite well actually.

I finished the spinning on my Ashford Sliver, and learned a valuable lesson in splitting and spinning one's fibre evenly.  I imagine what happened here was that I was still getting used to the wheel, and ended up with uneven tension on each bobbin.

The finished 2-ply skein is approximately 180m of soft yumminess - I'm planning on making a cowl for myself with this so I can show it off.

The remained didn't go to waste though. Following a suggestion from Constanza, I tried chain plying the leftover single. There was much cursing and stomping of feet, but I finally yielded up about 35m of chain plyed yarn.. which I of course forgot to take a picture of.

The next project I had ready to go. I had a couple of colours of Bronte Glen Merino, and I wanted to try my hand at blending the colours to make a graduated yarn. My increments were 100% steel blue, 75% blue 25% white, 50% blue and white, 25% blue 75% white and 100% white, which I weighted out and combed to blend. I span each colour segment completely before moving on to the next, hoping this would keep the colour distribution even, and I think I got a little closer to being spot on in my plying.

This came out as a lovely springy worsted weight yarn, approx. 142 meters, though I haven't decided what I'm going to do with it yet.

And there may also have been a bun cake interlude. Because all this spinning is hungry work...