So, I did the do and joined up with the SCA chapter at my university.

The SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism - basically, they’re sort-of historical re-enactors. Their period of interest is pre-1600s, and their region of interest is ‘Europe’, which is a very flexible definition (Byzantine and Ottoman garb is perfectly acceptable). For more about them, try their website.

My interest here is twofold:

  • Firstly, I’ve had a lot of interest in low-tech techniques for making stuff, because I’m not exactly rich and often can’t afford fancy gadgets and tools. With the way my house is laid out too, I’m also awfully short of power points and working space. But people made some pretty amazing clothes, accessories, and other items without electricity and often without a whole lot of working space too - if they did it, then it can’t be that much harder for me. (Don’t laugh.)

  • Secondly, there are so many crafts that are dying out now. Some of it is thanks to mechanization; there’s just no reason for humans to weave fabrics now. Some is (apparent) lack of necessity, like shoemaking and armor-making (though, also see reason 1). And some is just…lost interest. The people who undertook these crafts aren’t getting any younger, and in some cases they’re perilously old. Finding people who have that interest to help revive the knowledge or keep passing it on is the only way to keep these crafts alive. Sure, we don’t need to make our own shoes anymore - but making stuff is fun, and it makes me feel happy, and I get the exact thing I want. So, I’m happy to do it.

Another attractive point is that teaching is required in the SCA. Beyond (effectively) the novice level of most recognized offices, you have to teach at least some classes in order to gain the next award. So it helps SCA members to have people to teach too. Everyone wins!

The basic requirements

Now, here’s the thing. The SCA runs some events garbed. This means: you must be in a period-appropriate outfit. (They’re quite forgiving about stuff like shoes though, given the difficulty of making some items and the part where we’re all on limited budgets. But you have to make a reasonable effort.)

And I mean outfit. Everything visible on you, including your hairstyle, should strive to be as accurate to period and region as possible. (You can carry your phone and etc, but you have to disguise it as an appropriate accessory.)

As mentioned before as well, their period and region of interest is pre-1600s Europe.

My requirements

I’m pretty fussy about my clothes and accessories, as anyone who’s ever heard me whining or had to go clothes shopping with me would know. I also have some stuff I have to carry on me all the time, like water, ID, my phone and its charge pack, and my daily medication. Which necessitates a bag, usually.

In terms of hairstyle, my hair isn’t as long as it once was (I’m working on it!) but I can be fussy about styling. I find it uncomfortable to have it pulled tight or hanging - ponytails give me a headache after a while, even now. But, in hot weather, I prefer to have it off my neck - and in windy conditions, I like it off my face. My hair doesn’t hold a curl at all (the best curling irons and curl setters out there might get me 4-6 hours of curl if I’m lucky) and it can be difficult to style as even after 3-4 days without washing, it can still be a bit slippery and fly-away.

Speaking of summer, I do not tolerate heat very well at all, and I burn easily without sunscreen (but sunscreen is its own special pain in the butt). Part of my clothing gripe these days is the lack of affordable, lightweight, breathable, covering and opaque summer clothing. SCA events take place all year around, so I will have to adapt at least one outfit for the hotter months. I like cottons and other natural fibers for summer, because I do not like being sweaty.

In winter, I can tolerate a lot. Provided that my chest, legs, hands and feet are well-covered, I’m warm. I also like to wear a hat or something over my ears to block the cold air from them (more of an issue if I’ve just showered). But - if I’m walking, or doing a lot of physical activity, I warm up very fast. I’ve sometimes had to strip down to just a T-shirt on otherwise-freezing days because I was walking a long distance and was starting to sweat. So, it’s a balance between ‘how active will I be today’ and ‘how much insulation do I need’. Luckily for me, I can tolerate softer/finer wools against my skin, so I have options.

My craft interests are leatherworking, bookbinding, illumination, calligraphy, printing (faux woodcut - I’ll be doing it with linocut stamps, but close enough), crochet (and possibly nalbinding if I ever get my head around it), and some jewellery-making (hot metal scares me, but there’s a lot you can do with cold metal and not-metal).

In terms of styling, I tend to be more attracted to styles than particular periods or regions; it’s about the a e s t h e t i c. In summer I like loose, flowy, drapey fabrics, sparkling glass and gemstone beads, balancing the practical against the attractive. In winter I’m all about layers, big heavy coats, contrasting lengths, flashes of colour from accessories or layers or linings, all that jazz. In general though, I’m not into bright colours - I prefer pastels or muted jeweltones and neutrals - and not huge amounts of decoration, but I do like me some patterns and embroidery sometimes. It’s a very loose and not-very-unified aesthetic, I know. (I’m working on a gallery.)

Regions and periods that fit the bill

So, based on advice from Padraig Lowther (Paddy, who heads the Brewers, Vintners and Imbibers Guild) here are the regions and time periods that should work for me:

Summerwear

  • Late Antiquity Greek (up to 900AD)
    • CHITONS YO
    • Sandals
    • Can easily adapt to autumn by using heavier fabrics and/or cloaks (apparently, the previous Queen conducted her entire reign in Grecian garb, including winter events, so it’s doable)
    • Dem colours
    • But relatively simple styling
    • Fairly simple and easy to make patterns.
  • Late Antiquity Byzantium (900-1100AD)
    • More choice of footwear, clothing and accessories.
    • More choice of colours and decorations.
    • But potentially more complex patterns.

Winterwear

  • Late Antiquity/Pre-Christian Scandanavia (700s)
    • I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t want to dress like a Viking?
    • Can use leg wraps, which I do really want to try.
    • Relatively simple patterns and styling.
    • LAYERS
    • Lots of ways to carry my bits and pieces.
    • Can hold up to the cold, but easy to modulate through using more or less linen vs wool.
    • Lots to do in leather or fur.
  • Late Antiquity Saxon (700s-900s)
    • See above, sans the legwraps (possibly).

An oil painting, in which woman is sitting at a table; the table is covered by a brown or olive green cloth, and her stool is covered with a loose red cloth. There is a violin on the table, and some books lying open. The woman is holding a lute, facing away from the viewer; she has her head turned to the left, but is also facing away. She is wearing a yellow kirtle over a loose, long-sleeved white smock; her hair is in a complicated braided style at the back of her head. The kirtle's lacing is visible under her arms, and the end of the single lace has a metal tab.
The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi; oil on canvas, circa 1612-1620. This is a kirtle; it's similar to a cotte or cotehardie, though the exact distinctions are escaping me right now.

  • Early Medieval English (I’m leaning 1200s-1300s)
    • Cotehardies, or kirtles, or whatever you want to call those amazing medieval-style dresses. (See the above image.)
    • More jewellery
    • More styling options
    • Corsetry in the later parts of the period (no, not those stupid Victorian corsets - medieval corsets were more adapted to anatomy, and when well-constructed are very good support for everything from the neck down, or so anecdotes have it).
    • Boooooooooooks

Bonus: Godward’s amazing paintings, my design inspiration for the Grecian outfits

J.W. Godward was a painter in the Neoclassical style, who has some amazing artwork.

In this oil painting, woman with black hair pinned back is sitting on a curved marble bench; some wildflowers are visible behind the bench, and in the distance is the ocean. The woman is wearing classical Greek clothing - a yellow Ionic chiton, with a dark red or brown girdle that is wrapped around her waist and over her shoulders. She has a purple sash around her waist and hips, with a blue border, and she is also wearing flat brown sandals with blue laces and a bandle on her right wrist. She is holding a peacock feather in her left hand, trailing it on the marble tiles in front of her; a small ginger kitten in front of her is preparing to pounce on the end of the feather.
Idleness by J. W. Godward; oil on canvas, 1900. dat dress

Not only is it incredibly detailed (LOOK AT THE KITTY’S FUR) but it’s also very accurate.

This oil painting depicts a large room in a classicla Greek house; there are Greek columns with red-painted bases marble floor tiles, and in the background the wall is painted dark red with a lower border of black square designs, and a black marble doorway screened off with a curtain. To the right, wildflowers and palm fronds are visible from a garden. In the foreground, a woman is sitting in a low chair and resting her feet on a carved wooden footrest, in front of a small table holding a wooden jewellery box and some loose bangles and strings of beads; a string of beads is spilling out of the box as well. The chair is draped with a cheetah fur. The woman is in a pale blue Ionic chiton, with a golden girdle wrapped twice around her waist and a purple sash; she is wearing flat brown sandals, though her feet are almost hidden under her skirt. She is also wearing an elaborate brooch on her shoulder, and earrings. She has dark brown hair, in a bun. The woman is holding a small golden hand mirror and looking down into it.
The Jewel Casket by J. W. Godward; oil on canvas, 1900. dat background

You see, Godward (and his contemporary, Lawrence Alma-Tedema) both did some serious research into every detail of their paintings. Clothes, hairstyles, architecture…even the flowers in an arrangement. That alone I think makes him an arguably good source for design inspiration. (And also, that DETAIL.)

This painting depicts a woman with light skin and dark hair sitting on a marble balustrade; the balustrade has a fish-scale design, through which some greenery is visible. Behind the woman are trees, and in the distance a body of water with a hilly landscape visible further beyond it. The woman has her feet towards the viewer, and is supporting herself with her left hand; her right hand is raised to shield her eyes as she looks off to the left side of the painting. Her hair is tied back in a bun. She is wearing a red chiton of a very light, translucent fabric, with a gold girdle wrapped twice around her waist and also over her shoulders; two small black buttons or brooches are also visible on each 'sleeve' of the chiton. Her sash is also golden, with a complicated border design in a darker shade. She is wearing flat brown sandals.
The Signal by J. W. Godward; oil on canvas, 1899. How can you not want to wear that dress?

(I like Godward’s style more than Alma-Tedema’s; he does more individual shots, while Alma-Tedema does more crowd shots which makes it harder to pick out enough detail.)

An oil painting depicting a woman with light skin and brown hair in profile. Behind here and out of focus is a dark red wall with a gold and black bottom border design. The woman's hair is tied back in a bun. She is wearing a pale pink chiton of a crinkly, translucent fabric; there are pearl buttons visible on the shoulder of the chiton, two near her neck and one just pas her shoulder. She is also wearing a teal girdle wrapped over her shoulder, and a tea sash is partly visible.
A Classical Beauty by J. W. Godward; oil on canvas, undated. THE HAIR

Just look at them, okay?

An oil painting depicting a woman pinning up her hair. She is standing in front of a wall which has its top part made of a white and gray marble, and the lower part of blue and brown marble. The woman is in front of a bench or countertor of brown marble; an open wooden box is slightly out of view, and she has propped a silver mirror up on it. In front of the box is a fresh white flower. The woman's hands are raised as she pins her long brown hair into a bun. She is wearing a green chiton of a crinkly, light but opaque fabric; it has two pink stripes over her shoulders that extend its full length. She is also wearing a yellow girdle wrapped twice around her waist and over her shoulders, and a plain purple sash.
A Fair Reflection by J. W. Godward; oil on canvas, 1915.

Here’s a good gallery. WARNING: There are some nude images in here.

What I’m going to do first

Here’s the rub: I want to go to the Intercollege War in July. That means winterwear, since it’s NSW in winter, and camping.

But it’s already April, and none of this stuff is fast to make.

Based on the little bit of research I’ve done so far though, and some clarification of the SCA’s rules from other members, it looks like the fastest warm outfits to throw together will be either the pre-Christian Viking or Grecian. I’m going for the Viking though, solely because it looks a lot more practical for July in NSW.

So…wish me luck! Seriously, I need it, I’m going to need a lot of money for this…


Garb Adventures



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