There’s a Tear in the Fabric of Time!

This is an FYI for all my fellow Renaissance researchers, costumers, and most importantly, Pinterest pinners!

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“EUROPE’S BRIDE Margaretha von Valois” from The Lost Gallery on Flickr

There is a series of portraits making the Pinterest rounds labelled “Marguerite de Valois” or “Margaretha von Valois, 1572″ that, though they may bear a resemblance to other portraits of Margaret of Valois, are actually modern Photoshop artworks by The Lost Gallery and others. They are NOT genuine 16th century portraits, but you may recognize bits and pieces of them taken from other real, period portraits that make them very convincing at first glance. For example, in many of the modern images, the pose and dress are from the iconic “Portrait of a Young Lady Aged 21, Possibly Helena von Snakenborg:”

The portrait above is a genuine portrait from the 16th century.

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This is another clever Photoshop piece entitled “DEGAGEZ! Marguerite de Valois” from the Lost Gallery. You can see that the bodice was taken directly from the previous portrait.

A seasoned Photoshop artist or research veteran who’s stared at hundred if not thousands of period portraits will notice telltale flaws after a moment of looking. Yet, for the general layperson or even an avid history lover, some of these “paintings” are well done enough to sneak their way onto historical portrait Pinterest boards and Facebook posts. These are just two variations of the portrait; there are many others!
They are actually quite creative, but they are not good for use as historical sources. Indeed, they are quite fun as an exercise in historical plausibility. They are clearly convincing enough even with some obvious incongruities, and prove that, if you are not looking for a strict reenactment outfit and directly copying a particular portrait isn’t your cup of tea, you could take the sleeves off of one dress, the hat off another, and put it all together with still another bodice and produce a very rich, pleasing outfit (kind of like Steampunk taking bits of different Victorian styles and mashing it up with modern or all the Elizabethan-fantasy mash-ups worn to renaissance faires. Tudorgoth/Ruffpunk, anyone?).
Still, always double-check your sources for things you find on the internet, especially Facebook and Pinterest where false information can spread more quickly than the truth!

These modern Photoshop portraits aren’t the only pin masquerading as authentic.

Another mis-pin is this stunning art piece by Rozanne Hawksley, which is often mislabeled and subsequently re-pinned as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s gloves:

Et ne non inducas (And lead us not) by Rozanne Hawksley, created 1987 – 1989

In reality, it’s a beautiful piece of modern art made to imitate gloves of the Elizabethan era with a touch of dark imagery in the form of memento mori symbolism. The artist certainly succeeded in creating the look and feel of a true antique masterpiece!

Movie costumes are another source of confusion, including this spectacular Rengecy dress that has been making the rounds as the real deal, but is actually a costume from the film “Immortal Beloved,” a period drama with many beautiful costumes:

“Immortal Beloved” costume design by Maurizio Millenotti, circa 1994

Immortal-Beloved-25466_3The dress being worn by Valeria Golino as Giulietta Guicciardi during the film.

Fashion works in cycles: what’s old eventually becomes new again! In the case of this dress by George Halley, the opposite happened. I don’t know who first found this pinned as a Regency dress, but it took off. Though it has a high waist and square neck like a classic Regency gown, is actually from 1967!

George Halley Evening dress (nylon, silk, glass, metallic thread, plastic), circa 1967

There are lots of 1960s dresses that are great a mimicking a Regency silhouette (there are also 1960s gowns that look like they are from 1906 and even some gowns from 1906 that look like they came from 1806, so always check the source and your garments carefully). Once again, spreading misinformation is bad, but there is some good to be had out of it. If you happen to have a 1960s dress that happens to look like a Regency dress, voila! Instant costume!

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GUILTY!

Taking Advantage of Yourself

I am currently unemployed (hopefully to be employed soon, so light those votive candles, cross your fingers, and wish upon a star for me!), so I have an “abundance of time” on my hands. Theoretically, I should be pumping out projects right and left, filling my copious free time doing all the creating that I couldn’t do with a full-time job to juggle. But I’m not. I’m sitting here, idly scrolling through page after Pinterest page, doodling dresses, and dreaming of being done with all of them already. Partially to blame is my inherent laziness. Without a firm deadline, I sometimes find myself taking the sloth’s approach to creativity: Naps!

Plus, I’m cute, so projects should be practically finishing themselves for me, right?

However, I also get bored easily, hence all the “research” going on to fill the time. I’ve got no less than 8 projects roiling in my mad grey matter and at least 3 projects already out on the cutting table, stalled. What am I waiting for? Money, perhaps? Well, yes, as always money is a huge limiting factor, but I have projects that are pretty much fully stashed, meaning I have everything from the fabric to the trim to the hooks and eyes. I’ve definitely got the time, so all that’s missing is the manpower. Why is nothing getting done?

It sounds exceptionally silly, but many things–not just costumes–never get done because of that pesky fear of failing. Have you ever found that perfect fabric for the perfect project, yet the yardage sits in your stash, wallowing in the darkness? It’s a situation I encounter frequently. So long as it sits on the shelf, that fabric retains its glorious aura of possibility that I’m afraid to spoil.

Perhaps it was the cost. Nice fabric doesn’t come cheap (unless you are incredibly lucky). In addition, pre-20th century dresses often require 5 or more yards of fabric to complete, so the cost can add up rapidly. After investing so much money in a fine fabric, I sometimes don’t even touch it again for months afterwards.  One slip of the scissors, one misplaced pattern piece, one careless dribble from the iron…oh, you bought the last of the bolt and you turned up a quarter-yard short? Perhaps you could piece it….or keep it safe and sound in the closet, taking it out to admire its stunning beauty and pet it occasionally.


Don’t worry, my Precious, you are safe here, with me, forever….
(This pic links to a cool sensory board project for toddlers, FYI).

 If you’re not a crafter or you have good resources, it seems a little weird to worry so much over something as simple as unfolding that pristine stretch of [insert fabulous fabric of your choice], but when you’ve invested so much time and creative planning into this one fabric, the fear of losing it becomes very real. The fabric doesn’t even have to be expensive. Perhaps it was the tail end of a bolt, but it had the perfect pattern, or it was just the right shade of green out of a thousand or it belonged to your great-great-grandmother and is over 100 years old.

It’s like Schrodinger’s Cat is wallowing around in my stash, shedding maybe-or-nots all over my fabrics!

Gosh darn it, theoretical-Fluffy!

Many of my projects stall out before I even get the fabric home from the store because even a simple $3/yard cotton has so many possibilities, but only 4.5 yards. As long as I don’t cut it, it retains that wonderful fuzzy feeling of hope, but the instant I cut into it, it’s fate is sealed and there is little room for mistakes–of which I am prone to make many. But, cutting into the fabric is the first step towards completing a project. Once I’ve mustered the courage to take that leap, I chug right along…at least until I get to the actual sewing.

Another fear factor is skill level. You have fabric and you’re not afraid to use it. Wonderful! However, maybe you’ve never sewn an 1870s ball gown before. That’s a lot of pieces, and holy bananas, am I interfacing my interfacing?! For a beginner (and even an experienced sewer), getting the hang of the way a pattern or draping works takes a ton of trial and error. Even with a steady hand, a basic knowledge of technique, and 4-5 mock-ups behind you, sewing the final garment can be nerve wracking. Besides the sewing itself, there’s the temptation to compare yourself to others.

“Didn’t [insert idol of envy here] make one of these last event? Hers was sooooo good! How did she avoid getting hot glue all over her roses? Why didn’t her bodice binding wibble and wobble like a top after happy hour?”

“Maybe no one will notice…”

Historical costuming can sometimes feel like a championship ball game with hypercritical referees blowing the whistle on everything from color choice to the number of stitches used.

I’m sorry, ma’am, but those balls do not appear to meet FIFA regulations.

 Since I costume for pleasure, not perfection, I’m not one to bother too much with such things, but comments about it do still strike a nerve. There are certain eras I’ve been very hesitant to wander into because there are so many scholars and reenactors in the period that anything short of perfection will bring a vicious hailstorm of unwanted commentary down on your head.  I do my research and I do my best, which is all I need, but whether that meets other people’s needs is out of my control. I’ve struggled with it for years (indeed, it’s what inspired me to start this blog in the first place). Worrying about whether my costume is “acceptable” interrupts many a project halfway through. I question my trim choices, my pattern choices, my life choices…

But at the root of all this isn’t a lack of funding, skill, or approval. It’s myself. I am a chronic worrywart, people-pleaser, and penny pincher. And it’s strange, but while all of those things seem to limit me, they are also what drives me forward. Sometimes you’ve gotta turn that frustration, anger, and fear into butt-whooping motivation!

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Some people find sewing relaxing, therapeutic, and simple. However, maybe you like wearing costumes, but don’t really care for the sewing. That’s okay. Sewing isn’t sunshine and roses all the time. It can be boring and maddening. I’ve been a reluctant seamstress on many projects just because I’ve gotten flat-out tired of ripping out seams or having to re-cut a pattern piece after the cat/beast decided it tasted delicious.

If you sit around waiting for perfection to fall in your lap, 99% of the time, you will be sorely disappointed. You’ve got to rumple that perfect fabric, slice it, dice it, and stitch it back up again the best way you know how, historically/technically sound or not. If rage-sewing is what gets you through, do it! Safety pin what doesn’t work later.

K-Stew’s got you covered!

To activate my Super Stubborn Sewing Powers, I motivate myself by identifying my catch points throughout a project–the places where all motivation sputters and disappears and sewing ceases to be fun– and use them to break my project up into stages.

Catch point number one is cutting into that precious fabric. I make sure that I do all my pattern cutting at once. No going back!
Next, I sew the skirt to get it out of the way (unless I’m making a one-piece dress. Then I’m kinda stuck doing it last).
I actually really enjoy sewing bodices, but I hate sleeves. After putting together the bodice, I might take a week or two to get the sleeves the way I want. In my opinion, sleeves can make or break an outfit, so I feel justified taking my time.

I’m sure you’ll find similar catch points in your sewing. If you can identify them and work around them, you’ll find the process goes much quicker. Everybody has sticking points, including Mrs./Mr. Perfect. Even if you’re not a naturally competitive person, self-depreciation can be a huge hurdle to pushing a project forward. If you start hearing the nagging voice of insecurity or ridicule invading your head, channel it! Oh, so I think I can’t sew stretch jersey? SUCK IT STRETCH JERSEY! YOU JUST BEEN SEWN!
Critics and critiques are great motivation, even if they were rude and unwanted. I don’t have the will power to simply brush off such jabs. They sting! Don’t be afraid to be capricious in response. If you encounter an obstacle that can’t be plowed through, find another way around, but boop it on the head first to establish dominance:

If none of that works, well, you can always write a blog post about it later…

*guilty*

 Now, BACK TO WORK!

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