I had a rant all prepared in my head this morning to post up on social media. You know, like you do. I stopped myself and thought, “how do I turn this around into a list of things to DO, rather than list of things to DON’T?”
So, I posted the first draft of this list to my friends asking for their help in making it better and, boy, did they ever deliver! The following is a collection of things to DO for the historical costumer. Enjoy!
Historical Costumer DO list
DO pick a time, place, age, gender and socio-economic status to recreate. Socio-economic status is reflected in your choice of available styles, embellishment, accessories and materials. Age and gender are reflected similarly. Regional differences show up in garment cut and construction, the type, quality and availability of cloth and dyes, embellishments and accessories. Regional preferences show up in dye colors and woven patterns. All aspects of material culture are not appropriate for all times and places. Date the finds you are using as consistent with your chosen focus. Find dating isn’t exact and can and has changed as scientific dating techniques become available.
DO original research using a variety of sources and DO validate assumptions, yours and others. New information is becoming available all the time that is reshaping the state of research today. DO check the dates on the research you are using and DO check in with the research community about its validity. Even newly available research can and should be questioned. Advances in machine translation such as “Google Translate” and international communities and forums on websites such as “Facebook” makes research in non-native languages much more accessible, so DO seek out scholarly publications in other languages and synthesize their information into your own knowledge base.
Do use other sources than just extant finds and artwork for your research. Learning about social structure, burial customs, sumptuary laws, economic and political factors, as well as climate change can better inform your costuming decisions.
Do adhere to averages, rather than outliers, for the most authentic kit possible. This applies to fiber, woven pattern and color choices, as well as embellishment and accessories. There are many “one off” recovered finds that, as yet, are not representative of your chosen time and place. Treat those as special and specific.
DO use period tools, techniques and materials. You will find that by making your kit in a period manner, you end up with a subtly more correct result as well as an appreciation for the time and skills of the historical craftsperson. DO jump in and try new things. It may not work the first time, but you will learn so much in the process. DO keep trying. Eventually, you will conquer it.
DO understand the available weaving technology in your chosen time and place because that technology influences available woven patterns and cloth width. DO research cloth width as that in turn can influence cutting patterns. DO aim for an appropriate silhouette for your time and place by choosing the correct garments and layers. DO use the correct stitches, seam and hem finishing techniques, in the correct fibers.
DO use natural fibers in appropriate woven patterns, color, weights, density and amounts. DO make choices consistent with the majority percentage of recovered textile finds in your chosen area and with the garment layer you are attempting to recreate.
DO use natural, undyed cloth. Where color is desired, DO understand and select colors that are commonly represented in the extant textile finds in your area. DO use plant-dyed cloth when possible. The color and saturation achievable with plant dyes on different natural fibers are widely varied and differs significantly from modern chemical dyes. DO understand the plant dying process, especially exhaust baths, the way in which different fibers take dyes, and weight to dye material ratios, as this information is key to period and status correct color choices when commercially dyed cloth is all that is available to you.
DO self-edit your embellishment. In fact, you do not need all possible bling. In many cases, an overabundance of embellishment can and does overshadow other, more authentic choices made about cloth, cut and color. DO choose embellishments types in the amount, style and combination that are appropriate to the time, place and economical status of your choosing.
DO research, create and wear accessories that are consistent with your time and place. For example, some accessories are highly regional or though found together, may be from a different culture or time entirely.
DO experiment and try new things. If you have a theory, give it a shot. You don’t know until you try and you’ll learn a lot in the process. DO ask for feedback if your objective is to learn. DO be prepared for questions from folks who want to understand the though process and choices involved.
DO make your best effort and improve each time you create something. DO learn from your past work and DO remember that the state of research changes constantly and new information may become available that invalidates some of the choices you have made. DO use this new information to make different choices for future projects. DO ask questions of people with similar interests and DO expect to share information (online and in person) about the choices you made in creating your piece so that other people may learn from your experiences.
DO enjoy the process! There isn’t much point in doing something that makes you unhappy.