So lately a bunch of my friends have been posting photos of their very first costuming attempts to compare to their current work– I couldn’t help but think of my own first real attempt at a costume, which was prompted by my first outing to the Northern California Renaissance Faire at age 15. I’d gone with my family and was immediately entranced with the whole idea– I knew I wanted to go in costume the following year, so started looking for options.
It started with a satin bridesmaid’s dress that I bought on sale and decided to modify (starting a long tradition of upcycling clothes into costumes that I continue to this day). After consulting books of historical clothing designs and promptly throwing historical accuracy to the wind in favor of something that would look “pretty,” I sketched out a design and conscripted my mother into teaching me how to use her sewing machine so we could make this:
At the time I loved it. Even in retrospect it’s not *that* bad. Sure, the shiny bridal satin is glaring and I still cringe at how, not knowing any better, I mimicked slashed/paned sleeves by literally appliquéing leaf-shaped pieces of the pale blue brocade onto the sleeve puffs, but the brocade was nice, the gold trim was lovely (craft stores just don’t carry trim like that anymore!), and I put a ton of work into hand-stitching 500+ tiny plastic seed pearls onto it for effect. The hat was purchased that day at the faire, but before that I’d made a gold mesh caul for my hair that didn’t look half bad, even by my current standards.
The costume is still hanging in the closet of my old bedroom– I’m fairly sure it no longer fits, but in a few years my daughter may be able to use it to play dress-up!
23 years later, I haven’t made any more attempts at fancy Renaissance wear (the Faires here on the East Coast are mediocre at best), but I’ve done cosplay, fantasy, steampunk, and tons of historical stuff. Here’s an array of everything I can find pictures of so far:
The other day I was reading my daughter a bedtime story that had a particularly tasty-sounding description of brunch, featuring fluffy omelettes and sugar-dusted donuts. For some reason the latter caught her attention, and before I knew it I was promising to make sugar-dusted donuts of our very own!
Of course, I really don’t like the hassle of deep-frying, but I find baked cake-style donuts to be not particularly donut-y, so I searched the internet for a recipe for yeast-raised baked donuts. Preferably with a minimum of kneading, because I didn’t want to have to break out the stand mixer. Eventually I found one that looked pretty good— it had a two-stage rise, one at room temp and one overnight in the fridge, and could be baked up in the morning. Reviews were decent. So I gave it a shot.
Compared to the pashmina dress, this one was a breeze to put together– a welcome change! Things got a little fiddly when it came to piecing the bodice front– because the diagonal stripes on my fabric were not at a 45-degree angle, it was a little more complicated to mirror them at the center front. Since I had to cut the pieces on a slight bias (both of them, to get the V-shape I wanted), the edges were prone to stretching and wiggling out of place; after trying three times to get the V perfect, I declared that my result was *good enough*.
Given the hassle in matching the V in front, I really didn’t want to have to deal with matching the stripes on multiple pieces for the back to make purely decorative curved back seams. This was particularly true since I was going to have a drawstring back that would mostly obscure those very same seams. I decided to just cut the back pieces as one so I could dispense with the piecing and just worry about matching the diagonal stripes along the center back line.
This past year at Costume College 2018 I had a great time in costume, not only at the evening events but also during the day, when I wore my green 1920s dress and my pink cotton Regency dress. They were both cool and reasonably comfortable, which is definitely something I’m going for in future daytime outfits. I also had the vague idea that I’d like to start wearing more outfits that lent themselves to interesting poses or props, the better to take fun pictures with people (so many of mine are boring!). It’s no wonder, then, that in the middle of a random conversation about costumes and period-looking eyeglasses that I was struck with an inspiration for a fun daytime outfit– Mary Bennet, the third Bennet sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Mary’s primary defining characteristics in the book are being plain (compared to her prettier sisters), moralistic, and terrible at singing/playing the piano. Her father teases her by calling her “a young lady of great reflection,” and she is described as having “a pedantic air and conceited manner.” She frequently “makes extracts” from books she has read, and tends to offer them at inopportune moments. In the movies she is often depicted as wearing spectacles and extremely drab clothing, and in fanfiction she frequently reads from Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, though in the actual text there is no mention of spectacles and Fordyce appears only once, as read by Mr. Collins.
I decided that Mary would make for a fun character to play– I’d be able to stare disapprovingly over my spectacles at people and quote ridiculous lines from Fordyce, and best of all I’d be able to wear comfortable Regency garb all day! Unfortunately, all of my Regency gowns are a bit too colorful to suit my idea of Mary, so I had to make a new one.
As part of my Regency wardrobe, I wanted to make a white chemisette to fill in the necklines of some of my gowns– most notably the pashmina gown, which I specifically made for daywear.
Taking my cue from several other bloggers, I started off with the chemisette pattern A from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I. It has a mostly-plain front with some tiny tucks at the shoulder line (not pictured in the illustration but they’re there in the instructions), and a triple-layered mushroom-pleated collar.
I did end up making a few structural edits– I widened the base width of the back, which otherwise would’ve been oddly pointy (and would not have matched the illustration at all), and did only two ruffles at the collar since my fabric was a bit heavier than what would’ve been used back then. And I didn’t bother cutting the neck band on the bias because it seemed wasteful and other chemisettes in the book had their neck bands cut on-grain, so it didn’t appear to be crucial.
Anyway, not having any graph paper on hand and not feeling inclined to figure out how to print out different sections of the original scanned pattern on different sheets of paper, I used a good old ruler and my knowledge of geometry to draw out the pattern for the chemisette. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if the pattern weren’t so simple, but at least on this occasion it worked out well.
The main body went together easily– I did a narrow double hem on the open sides and made my drawstring channels on the bottom with no problems. Then I had to figure out how to handle the neck ruffles.
To go with my fur-trimmed wrap I needed a hat to wear outside. Unlike all of my other bonnets, however (which are made of straw), this one needed to be winter-appropriate, so I took out my extra velvet fabric and got started.
I picked up a basic cloth-covered sun-hat at Goodwill (brand new, tags still on!), mostly to use its nice, wide brim.
I wanted the brim to frame my face without being too sunbonnet-y, and I wanted to have a nice big crown with room for a nice hairstyle that wouldn’t get squished. Something like this (apparently it’s called a capote):
I also really like the ruching on this bonnet from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice:
I’ve never been one for meat substitutes– if I’m going to eat vegetarian, I’m fine with embracing that rather than trying to make it taste like meat– but I’d heard so much about “jackfruit pulled pork” that I just had to try it myself. The concept is simple: you take canned, green jackfruit and simmer it in sauce until it can be pulled into shreds, much like pulled pork. Many recipes call for using a crockpot over several hours, but I found that you can simmer for 30 minutes and have it turn out fine.
The texture of the shredded jackfruit is hard to describe– it’s not quite like meat, since it doesn’t have the same firmness, but it’s definitely reminiscent of meat in a way that most other vegetables aren’t. It kind of reminds me of the texture of fake crabmeat– the kind that comes in sticks. In any case, it’s never going to fool anyone into thinking it’s real meat, but it’s probably as close as you’re going to get.
Rather than go with a standard BBQ sauce (though I’m sure it would’ve been tasty), I opted to go with a Korean bulgogi sauce, which I thought turned out great. Sandwiched in a steamed bun (purchased frozen at my local Korean market) and topped with various vegetable trimmings, I’d say the overall effect was pretty good! If I were having a barbecue and my guest list included vegetarians, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve these!