Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fashion and The Intimidating Elizabethan

"Your clothing is incredibly intimidating."
Yes. It is. Here's why: 

What is Fashion, really?

Fashion throughout history has never been solely about clothing one's self. Fashion trends have been guided by societal expectations, political climate, trade agreements, technological advances, and so much more. Fashion is about presenting yourself and your ideals to the world. Every piece of clothing says something - makes a statement about who you are, where you stand.

For the purposes of this blog post, we will focus on the Fashion of the Elizabethan era - particularly women's fashion. In order to do this, let's start with a bit of history. Some of this you may already know, though all of it is relevant to the Fashion trends of mid - late 16th century. 

A Brief History of the English Throne, Leading to Elizabeth I's Reign

(Please note, this is a *brief* history. Much of the information here has been truncated for easier consumption.)

Henry VIII reigned from 1509 - 1547. We all know the story of his myriad of wives. Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother to the future Queen Elizabeth I, formally married Henry VIII in January 1533. She birthed a daughter, Elizabeth, in September of that year. In 1536 - after 3 miscarriages - Anne was found guilty of treason, beheaded, and their marriage was annulled, marking Elizabeth as illegitimate. For many reasons, which we won't go into here, Henry VIII separated from the Roman Catholic Church, began the Protestant reformation, and began executing - without process - any subjects who protested against his theory of the divine right of Kings (among other things). There were also many wars and extravagant expenditures under Henry VIII, all of which were a burden of the tax-payers. 

Upon Henry VIII's death in 1547, his 10 year old son Edward VI - from his third marriage to Jane Seymour - ascended to the throne. As Edward VI did not reach the age of majority, England was governed by a Regency council. During Edward VI's reign, there were several riots stemming from the economic hardships and social unrest of the people of England. Another expensive and unsuccessful (by most definitions) war was waged against Scotland at this time. In January 1553, Edward VI fell ill. He passed away later that year.  Prior to his death, Edward VI proclaimed Lady Jane Grey and her male heirs to be next in line for succession, also proclaiming Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor as illegitimate. 

Lady Jane Grey reigned for a total of 9 days, during which time, support for Mary Tudor rapidly grew. The Privy Council of England named Mary I as Queen of England. Lady Jane Grey was accused of treason and executed some time later. 

Mary I, the first female English monarch crowned, reigned from 1553 to her death from illness in 1558. During that time, she earned herself the moniker "Bloody Mary" due to her aggressive pursuit to restore the Roman Catholic Church as the true church. Hundreds were executed, without process, for their opposition to the restoration. 

In 1558, Elizabeth I, The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess, inherited the Throne, and with it, decades of unrest and distrust of the English Monarchy, and in particular, distrust of power-hungry women.

In this allegory
of true love

Women's Fashion Trends Prior to Elizabeth I's Reign

Now, for a moment, let's take a look at women's fashion leading up to Elizabeth's reign. There are not a great many portraits of the late 15th and early 16th centuries in England. Starting in 1490, we see the trend is toward what is considered a more traditionally "feminine" shape: curved waistline, lifted chest, defined arms, broad hips. (Fun Fact: Broad hips began to lessen in importance as infant and birthing mortality rates lowered, which is why they are not as important to the "feminine" shape that is desired today.)
Elizabeth of York

In 1500, we start to see the waistline smoothing down with a more structured bodice. Skirts begin to fill out more, giving the look of a broader hip and smaller waistline. We still see much of the curve in the upper body, along with the lifted chest and defined arms.
Mary Tudor's Marriage Portrait

In 1510, we see the lower sleeves starting to grow. The extra fabric here is used as a sign of wealth. We can see the bust-line beginning to compress and a more smooth profile to the bodice. Some pleating in the waistline becomes more prevalent around this time.

Drawing by Holbein
In 1520-30, we see similar trends continuing. The lower half of sleeves are growing, profiles are smoothing, skirts are filling out both with more fabric and the addition of pleating, waistlines are more accented.

Elizabeth Tudor, age 13
By the mid-1540's, some major changes have occurred in fashion. Bodices take on a very structured barrel-shape, with a defined "V" shape in the front. Bust-lines are compressed instead of lifted. Skirts have grown considerably in size, giving an even more dramatically small waistline. Pleating in the waistline is common-place. Though the pleating around this time still lends itself to the feminine hourglass curve at the waistline.

We could spend entire books discussing why fashion trends headed in this direction at this time. However, that's not the purpose of this particular post. The information above serves to give you a general idea as to where trends were coming from as Elizabeth ascended to the throne.

Elizabeth I's Obstacles

As previously mentioned, when Elizabeth Tudor was crowned sole monarch of England, she inherited with that crown a great distrust from her subjects of the monarchy. Taxes were high; the English people had been publicly persecuted for decades. On top of this, the climate of the time was considerably colder and wetter as the century progressed, which began to affect crop production.

Society's view of woman at the time was one of subservience and meekness. While many working and merchant class women worked both inside and outside of the home, tending to business that needed doing, it was expected they would do as the authority figure of the home - the male, as it were - would instruct.

Elizabeth's predecessor, Mary I, also left quite an impression on the people of  England - a woman so driven by her pursuit to change people's minds, that she had any who did disagreed with her executed. Bloody Mary's reputation was know far and wide throughout the Kingdom.

There were also many who believed Elizabeth was an illegitimate child and should never have been granted the Throne.  While the Privy Council of England did grant her the Throne, She had a great deal of work to earn Her place and win the respect of Her people.

The Evolution of The Virgin Queen

Coronation Portrait of
Elizabeth I
1600 (copy of 1559
lost original)
At Elizabeth I's coronation in 1559, we see Her first bold fashion choice. The fashion of the time was still leaning toward feminine: smooth lines, delicate upper body, sloping waistline. For Her coronation gown, She chooses a very sharp, deep V waistline, with thick pleating, creating a more sharp line, as opposed to the smooth slope of the time.

Elizabeth I and the
Three Goddesses
As Elizabeth I's reign progresses, She does Her best to establish Her authority in a world dominated by men. She has a very up-hill battle to fight, but will not give in. As Her advisers pressure Her to find a suitable husband and marry, as any good woman - particularly one with this much power - should do, She begins to make more bold statements with Her clothing. She begins to strip away the more feminine elements. In the portrait to the left, we see the broadening of the shoulders with large, jeweled sleeve caps. The waistline is given a sharper, more defined line with the addition of waist tabs, similar to that of men's clothing at the time. Additionally, what was once a flowing, full a-line, is starting to shift outward at the waist, and inward at the hem, slowly beginning to creep toward the barrel-shape we see at the end of the 16th century.
Queen Elizabeth I

Further in Her reign, we see Elizabeth I donning even more masculine clothing. Many more portraits can be found of Her in doublet-style gowns than in Her younger years. While She still does wear square-necked bodices, these, along with the rest of Her gowns, are worn with more full ruffs, again, mirroring the male wardrobe of the time. We also see a trend toward shoulder rolls, tabs, and other treatments, leaning outward to give the look of a more broad chest. This gives Elizabeth I a more imposing shape, to accentuate Her demeanor.

The Ditchley Portrait
From this point, Elizabeth I's fashion choices progress rather rapidly. Sleeves grow to enormous sizes, shoulders are widened not simply through the use of shoulder treatments, but also through the expansion of the ruff, to a severely imposing standing ruff. The bum roll evolves into drum farthingale, giving the "table"-like effect seen in the portrait to the left. Bodice points plunge, elongating the torso to a figure that leaves barely a trace of femininity.

Throughout Her reign, Elizabeth I gradually earns the respect of Her subjects, from the nobles to the gentry. This is in no small part due to Her fashion choices. If they never see her as an equal, the will never afford her the respect necessary to affect the change so desperately needed at that time. Elizabeth's fashion choices are one of the primary vehicles for political and social change during the Elizabethan Era. Even today, we still see the ripples of Her fashion across political and social waters.

A Note from the Lily

The majority of the information above is knowledge amassed throughout nearly a decade of study of Elizabethan fashion. I do not know or have access to the entirety of my sources at this time. If there is a discrepancy in the information above, please contact me directly and I will do my best to verify and correct the information. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ruminations on a Tableau

As I was planing some beautiful cherry (thank you, Bjorn) this weekend for a table and benches, my father said something to me that made me go "Oh, duh."

You see, there's this beautiful trestle table from the 14th century that is still in existence. A friend of mine planned and recreated a few of them, then very generously provided me with his plans (thank you, Harvey!) In taking these plans to my father, the engineer (yes, that's where I get it from), he said, "Do you know why the table still exists? because nobody wanted to use the damn thing! It was pretty but it kept falling over!"

While I don't entirely agree that nobody wanted to use it, there is a good deal to be said for the instability of a table that's 24" wide, but has a 15" wide base. Certainly as a merchant's wife, Olivia would not have had an unusable table, or one so prone to falling over that it needed to be kept in a corner or against a wall somewhere. 

So, now to go back and find some designs from late-ish period tables that meet the needs of an active house without a disposable income. Perhaps a perusal of paintings would promote planning progress. I have some thoughts, but will need to ruminate a bit more.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Embroidery for Master Joel Messerer

Master Joel Messerer was elevated to the Order of the Pelican this weekend at The Sign of the Dancing Fox. As part of his elevation, I was asked to create an embroidered medallion for his cloak. The medallion art was taken from a scroll created for Master Joel's Pine (the Barony of Concordia's service award).

I was provided a photo of the art to be embroidered, a 6" square of cream wool, a 6" square of cream linen, red silk, and black silk. Due to a miscommunication, some of the other medallions were done on the linen side, while others were done on the wool side. To help with visual balance between the fabrics, I was asked to create my medallion with the linen square facing up. 

The first task was to transfer the design to the fabric. As the design was a different size than the requested circle, there were a few different options for this:
  • Resize the image and utilize a light box to trace the image.
  • Freehand the image on the fabric.
  • Grid the fabric and the design, and scale based on the grid lines.
As I am a mathematically-inclined individual, I chose the grid option. Below are the step-by-step instructions for the grid transfer. 
  1. Draw a vertical and a horizontal line through the center of the image. 
  2. Draw a vertical line halfway between the center line and the edge of the pattern. 
  3. Repeat this on the other side of the center line
  4. Draw a horizontal line halfway between the center line and the edge of the pattern.
  5. Repeat this on the other side of the center line.
  6. If you need more grid lines, continue drawing lines between the existing lines until you have the desired size grid squares. 
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 on the fabric. 
  8. Using the grid boxes as guides, draw the image on the fabric lightly, with pencil or fabric pen, making adjustments as necessary, to get the desired look. Remember the grids are not perfect, so you may need to make some minor adjustments to get the image to look right. 
  9. When you are satisfied with the image, go over it again with slightly darker lines. 
  10. Now you're ready to sew!
Personally, I find the grid method to be the easiest, as it breaks the image up into manageable chunks. Scaling with a light box can also be fairly simple if you are decent with scaling. Additionally, I chose to do this portion of the art as an approximation, as they would not have calculated perfection of reproductions in period. 

As the other embroideries were done entirely in split stitch, I used this stitch for conformity. Were I given an option, I would have likely chosen chain stitch for the circles, and split stitch for the design, as I prefer the look of chain stitch on circles. Below are the final front and back photos of the medallion. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's okay to say "No"

Olivia's thought for the moment:

Often, when I ask someone a question, I follow it up with "'No' is an acceptable answer."
  • Would you be able to help me with this project? "No" is an acceptable answer. 
  • Do you have a few minutes we can sit and talk? "No" is an acceptable answer. 
  • Would you be willing and able to take on this role at this event? "No" is an acceptable answer.
I've been told it's unnecessary for me to say that. But is it?

Generally, we are a society of helpers and doers. We want to be helpful. We want to be useful. So, when someone asks us for something, we want to say "Yes." We battle internally for a reason to say "No."

While some may simply ignore my post-script, many others hear it. It's important to me that people understand I will not be let down or disappointed if they say "No." Being honest about what you are willing and able to give from the very beginning, helps to keep from being unable to keep those promises or commitments later on.

The next time someone asks you to do something, really think about it. Are you truly able to commit to this? Are you able to give this the attention it needs? Before answering, remember that "No" IS an acceptable answer.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Lily Pride Azure - Part 3: The Cognizance

Click here to read Part 2: The Gilding

There I was, sitting in the University at Albany library, with a stack of 12 or so books, and a picture in my head of what I was trying to find. The idea, as you may recall from Part 1: The Acquisition, was an overly ornate stomacher and forepart, with paned sleeves, an Elizabethan tall hat, and a train. I started with the first book, flipping through, scrutinizing each painting. looking at each detail of the gown: the overskirt, the forepart, the bodice, the partlet, the hat, the jewelry, the gloves. I looked at each detail, sure I would find documentation for this gown I had dreamed up. Painting after painting, book after book, and each time I found something resembling what I wanted, it was from late 1570's or later. I could not find a single picture with an ornate stomacher on a bodice from the 1560's. There were brocade or otherwise patterned jackets with adorned stomachers, paired with contrasting closed-front skirts. There were also split-front skirts with unadorned matching bodices.

Nothing. There was nothing that would document what I drew. I also quickly became cognizant of the fact that I do not own a single Court gown that actually fits my persona. I have to change every single Court gown I own, to make them accurate to my persona. Every. Single. Gown.

After closing the final book in my stack, and taking a moment to mourn this new realization, I picked up my pencil and began to redraw my gown. I took out the stomacher and replaced it with a triangular design of sharply contrasting trim¹, adorned with pearls and spangles. I also removed the tabs I had at the waist, as these were only seen on jackets. The Spanish sleeves also were removed. I added a 2nd layer of tabs at the shoulders¹. Finally, I added the same sharply contrasting trim from the bodice, to trim the split front and the hem of the skirt².

As this gown was being created for an event in the Barony of Concordia of the Snows, I designed the contrasting trim with a center bead and six beads surrounding it, as an allusion to the Concordian snowflake.

Next step: to create the remainder of the gown, in 5 weeks.

¹Roy Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969)
²Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd (Oxford: Routledge, 2015), 113

Thursday, June 15, 2017

An Immersive Interview

In April I was asked to assist Tacit Darby, and a team of individuals from the Middle Kingdom, with their project to compile information on immersion events. The plan was to collect interviews with people who have planned and executed immersion events, and compile  the data into a website to share with the Known World.

While the website has been put on hold, I'd like to share the article Tacit wrote up. Thank you to Tacit for her kind words and the work she did in putting this together. Hopefully many other immersion event stewards will be able to help with the information database!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Feast: Hall Layout

Several months prior to the The Feast of St. Nicholas, I invaded the library of Master G. Emerson True for information and sources. Having done a great deal of imagery research, I had an idea of how I wanted the Great Hall to feel, but I was lacking in layout specifics and sources. Master Emerson was invaluable in the planning and execution of the layout and service of The Feast.

After riffling through a great deal of books, I found the following excerpt, which perfectly described the picture in my mind.
Wooden trestles and boards... were laid out along one or both of the long sides of the Hall, while the high table stood on a raised dais at one end. At that table, the host and his family and special guests ate their meal.¹
The Banquet in the Pine Forest
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
As the expected guest count exceeded what we could accommodate with the borrowed trestle tables, we opted to use the trestle tables for the Above the Salt seating, and the more readily available plastic folding tables for the Below the Salt and off-board seating. For High Table seating, Lord Harvey Wynegoode offered us the use of his brand new 16th century tables for the event. As tables in Tudor times were more heavy and sturdy, due to the Lord's ability to remain in one castle for their tenure¹, these were perfect!

The musician's gallery was typically set in a balcony, or second level at the foot of the Great Hall, when one was available.² As our site was an old church, it was built to accommodate the musician's gallery.

While stools and benches would have been appropriate seating for such a feast, we did not have access to a large number of these. As such, we opted for the limited number of wooded chairs the site provided, for the High Table and Above the salt seats, and the plastic folding chairs for the remaining seating.

The kitchen at our site was located in the basement. Accordingly, we would need a formal staging area. This staging area is called the buttery.
At the far end, opposite the dais, was built the carved wooden screen, with its doors onto the screens passage. This passage led from the kitchen and the buttery to the Hall.¹
Boards were also used in service of medieval feasts¹. These would be laid out with the platters and covered bowls filled, with the bounty of beautiful board to be enjoyed by the guests These boards would be carried from the buttery to the head of the Great hall, and placed on trestles for service. As we had a limited staff and were concerned with the stability of trestles, we chose to place the boards on more sturdy desks.
The Peasant Wedding
Pieter Bruegel (1567)
¹C Anne Wilson, The Appetite and the Eye (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
²Maggie Black, Medieval Cookery: Recipes & History (Swindon: English Heritage, 2003)