To the left, a generic, non-period Middle Eastern costume and to the right, a more period Ottoman woman's indoor costume. Both made were made by me.
One of my purposes with this site is to create a place to house all of my documents. As I get each edited, I am going to load them here and they can all be found by selecting the "My Documents" category on the right. I have had people ask me before how I decide what my next steps are when moving from "generic garb" to creating something more period and this document is a result of answering that question numerous times. Research is, of course, the first step, but sometimes its not always to figure out how to start. (This item was revised and published this summer in the Apple Press.)
The SCA was founded by individuals, noted author Marion Zimmer Bradley among them, who wanted to have medieval-themed, fantasy parties. We all know that the organization has grown far beyond those small events and has branched out in a variety of ways.
I do like to believe, however, that one of the things that has remained unchanged is that one of the primary values on which we are based is that of Chivalry. Now, I do not mean Chivalry in the sense that everyone should aspire to Knighthood. Rather, I mean that as a group we should act in a chivalrous manor - at least on occasion. ;-)
This summer I was most honored to receive a Sycamore (an Arts and Sciences award for the Kingdom of Æthelmearc). My duplicitous household told me that I had to be at Court because a fellow member was receiving an award. Dutifully, and drenched in sweat on that 100 degree day, I watched the proceedings (which despite the heat, were lovely). I was a bit surprised when I heard my own name called!
I was not only thrilled to have been given this award, but also thrilled with the lovely scroll and medallion I received.
Shortly after the event, I ran a few searches online and found an email address for the lady who made my scroll and I sent her a note of thanks. The email I got in return stunned me.
She thanked me for emailing her. Apparently, this is not a common practice. I turned to my boyfriend and asked him if it was not customary to thank the scribe who put the time into the piece of art that would memorialize your award and he said that unless you actually knew the person, or they were at the event, it does not often happen.
I was in awe. Maybe it does happen more often than not. At least, I am going to hope that is really the case. When I think about the fact that someone took the time to do illumination or calligraphy for me, and used their own supplies (which I assume is the case), I think that the very least they deserve is a hearty "Thank You"! Given that this can quite often be a stranger that you may or may not ever meet (though I was lucky enough to meet the lovely gentles who did both the art and the words for my scroll), I think a thanks should be mandatory given the generosity they had already shown me. I know these individuals do not perform their art for thanks or glory, but it can never hurt to let them know how much you appreciate their vast efforts.
I will not even mention the fact that in discussions about this with various people I discovered that there are some who are actually unhappy with a scroll they were given. Really? Someone took their time to make something special for you and you can actually publicly express displeasure? I have no (kind) words for those individuals at all...
To sum it up? Thank the Kingdom scribes, illuminators, wordsmiths and heralds if you can. I am sure they would love to know their efforts are truly appreciated!
My nickname - Elf - is very un-SCAdian. It is, however, the name that most of my friends call me and at this point in time, it is a name I have had for for over half my life.
The name was given to me by someone very important to me, and its actually short for Frick the Elf-Sprite-Faerie-Kender-Creature. The use of this name is so prevalent among my friends that there have even been times when people actually thought my given name was Elf!
So even before I chose an SCA name, I had a nickname that was commonly used. My Household, however, has a rule that "You get one name." Within our group, that means pick a name, pick it early, and stick with it. I did none of those really (well, at least not the "stick with it part"), so the name they have always used for me is Elf, as that was how most of them were initially introduced to me.
When I first got involved in the SCA, I chose a really horrible, exceedingly long, quasi-Irish name. Very undocumentable, yet pretty appropriate for the dire persona story I had developed at the time. Yes, like many newcomers to the SCA I wanted a Celtic-Pirate-Gypsy-World-Traveller-and-Inadvertant-Time-Traveller persona. There is so much out there to learn and do that its easy to want to do it all!
I think the key is in realizing that you do not need to invent that story to cover all bases ;-)
So, I had a tragic name initially, then I settled on Teine inghen Sheadhgha or Teine ni Shea (both undocumentable for SCA purposes). When I started my Middle Eastern persona I switched to Basina al-Adarpadyavand (name glopped together from two different name lists). Now, my mistakes should be a warning to folks out there looking for names (any names really, but Middle Eastern or dancer names in particular), there are alot of really bad name resources online. I happened to use one of those to choose that name. I found later that Basina was not Arabic after all, and it did not mean what I thought it meant and it was also undocumentable for my persona. I later settled on (and registered) Umm Hurayrah bint Khalid - which is documentable and Hurayrah means "kitten" (making me Mother of Kitten, daughter of Khalid). It works, BUT is so hard to pronounce that my friends could not use it for introductions and I pitied any poor herald that had to call that mess out in Court.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, I was extremely fortunate, in 2007, to make a trip to Oslo. I already liked the look of the Norse costumes I saw in the SCA, but this journey convinced me that this was something I needed to pursue! By 2012, this had become the primary course of my studies and I decided to choose a Norse name and, also, to finally register my device.
As a kindness to my friends, I deliberately chose a name this time that has "elf" in it. Álfrún ketta it will be from now on and yes, calling me Elf is just fine.
I do have a bit of advice to those seeking out names for use in the SCA:
Very old photo of me in a "generic" cotehardie.
I belong to quite a few lists on various topics relating to SCA garb. Invariably there will be a conversation where someone mentions wanting "generic <insert culture or period here> garb". Too often the over enthusiastic members of the list will proceed to either douse the individual with two much information (resulting in Newbie Meltdown) or scare them off entirely by reprimanding them with the firm announcement that there is no such thing as generic garb.
Yes, we all love what we are doing. And yes, we really love to share that with others. It is too easy to get frustrated with those who either don't understand our dedication to pursuing a specific avenue of interest or just frustrated over the fact that not everyone even cares that specifics even exist.
I do, however, firmly believe that Generic Garb has it's place in the SCA. Imagine there is a new member to the society who thinks they want to do a Middle Eastern persona but are not really sure. Or perhaps this person is an SCA veteran whose talents do not lay in the field of research or even sewing but they want to go to a Middle Eastern or Viking themed event. Maybe this individual does not know much about the culture, but really want to make an effort to be a part of the theme (and thereby add to the event's over all atmosphere). They likely don't have time to look further into the details (or maybe they just are not sure which specifics they want to pursue) so they opt for a generic look that not only meets the SCA's Attempt rule, but exceeds it by at least trying to better fit into an event. Either of these people are great candidates for Generic Garb!
As long as that generic-viking is not telling anyone else that what they produced is the one right way to do it, more power too them. And, honestly, they might just like it enough to want to go a step further the next time. I also find that often individuals are even very happy to engage in conversations with specialists who might have useful information to make their look even more period. It is all in the way the matter is approached. Additionally, I think its important that those who choose to specialize keep in mind that not everyone wants too go down that road and it is really quite OK if someone does not care to discuss the fine points of period and place appropriate Viking brooches.
So yes, I do teach "Generic Garb" classes on occasion (and am preparing to instruct on Viking aprondress construction soon, hopefully). And based on the feedback I got, I think the classes I have done were well received and I know that my Middle Easter Coat class/handout got quite a few people stirred up about learning more about period Middle Eastern garb! (As soon as my I have a chance to revise my handout for that one, I will post it here.)
So yes, generic garb has its place and I certainly hope that people to enjoy what they have made enough to explore the details further!
When I first went to Pennsic, I had merely 3 outfits for SCA events. That is definitely not enough for a week spent at a hot, humid event. (And yes, I know that in period three might well have been more than and individual had, but this IS The-Middle-Ages-As-They-Should-Have-Been... plus, I don't care to spend my entire vacation doing laundry.)
The woman in charge of my group assured us that it was easy to get garbed up for a long event as we could just make a bunch of plaid "Bog Dresses".
Please understand that this all happened before internet took over the world. Back then, there was no quick way to do a bit of online research before embarking on a project. I merely took her word that this was an early Celtic garment and set off to make my dresses. I first gathered yards of plaid from the quilting section of Joanns (you know, those dusty looking cottons that are used make curtains for country kitchens? That is what we used, in great quantity!). I was instructed to take two rectangles of fabric, tack them at the shoulders and belt at the waist and you have an instant dress. You could have a folded flap in the front and back at the top, or not.
Let me just sat that trying to keep those on, belted properly (with the same cord usually used as curtain ties) and not flapping around showing your bits was not a joy. We did have variety of dresses though (budding Pennsic fashionistas that we were!) - we had some that pinned at both shoulders, some that had flaps, some that only pinned at one shoulder, long ones, short ones, and I even tried to pleat some at the shoulders to get something that looked less like a grain sack.
Never again for me! While I do see the advantage of that particular rendition for people new to the SCA and sewing and who need garb in bulk for their first Pennsic, I am glad I have moved beyond those garments. (I am, however, dreaming of the day I can do a reproduction one, in handspun, handwoven fabric. However, even this would be more for my own educational purposes than because I want to wear it.)
I actually wish I could have taken the class about these types of costumes that was offered this year at War because I would love to know more about what is and what isn't authentic regarding these dresses. Maybe next year!
More forward a bit in time and there were a couple of years I was unable to go to Pennsic. During that time there was a hurricane that caused flooding at my house, effectively destroying all of my garb. When I went back in 2005, I had to recreate wardrobes for myself, my boyfriend, my friend Galyana (who often shares my clothes) and another friend and her husband. I put together then necessaries and we all enjoyed that war and then next as both had fairly temperate weather. The year following those saw extreme heat and humidity and I started to plot garments that would be passable in the SCA that would use little fabric and have little bulk.
I revamped one of my early Pennsic bog dresses and came up with something that suits the purposes of Reasonable Attempt (at being period) and is also cheap and quick to complete (even given that I hand sew mine).
Want to learn how to make Elf's rendition of a bog dress? Just click here:
The bog dresses I make for myself are entirely hand sewn (as detailed in the document above). I do however, want to note that if you see me in one, it is likely embellished. And yes, I "cheated" for that.
I have an embroidery machine and have been experimenting with couched designs in yarn. From a few feet away they look quite believable.
The yarn is Caron Country - a Merino/Acrylic blend, stitched to linen fabric. http://www.naturallycaron.com/shade_cards/country_sh.html It is a delight to work with on the machine.
Costumes I made in my "middle years" in the SCA. "Cotehardies" made from damask tablecloths purchased at a discount store for $2 each. The dresses were pretty, but not period, though they definitely worked well while we had them!
The SCA, for those who do not know, stands for Society of Creative Anachronism. We are reenactors, but are not tied to a narrow time or place in the way that American Civil War reenactors are (I was once involved in that as well). Our subject material is older and often things are left up to speculation making it so that we often have to be Creative in our interpretations.
Unfortunately, there are people that love to flaunt the C in SCA. It means different things to different people (and this is fine), but there should still be a baseline from which we all work. The question is, where do we draw that line?
I've heard more than one person describe what we do as "The Middle Ages - as they should have been". I think that is fair. I think that the Society's rule of a "Reasonable Attempt" is also fair. It makes what we do accessible to far more people than it would otherwise be. First, it enables people to get into the hobby for a minimum amount of money and second, it allows them to see what is out there, and to learn, and enjoy it all, without worry over whether or not they used the right thread to sew their costume.
So in my estimation, that cotton-poly blend T-tunic, cut from an old bedsheet which just happens to be some obnoxious color really is FINE. That individual is trying and if the garb-police do not get to them, they will probably stick around long enough to learn more. They might even decide they want explore more in the realm of costuming and then next piece they make is out of a nice, convincing wool blend. And the one after that is hand sewn. And years down the road they are teaching classes on research and getting their Laurel.
Or maybe they never care about garb, and continue to wear that bedsheet tunic while they help out in the kitchen at events or just show up to socialize with their friends and enjoy the atmosphere. Both of those are perfectly ok as well. There are so many different people in the SCA and there really is a time and place for so many different things.
I actually got "attacked" at my first event about a belt I was wearing. I was mortified and more than a bit angry. The belt in question, was my imitation of the wrap around belts you see on a medieval bliaut (similar to this one http://www.revivalclothing.com/12th-13thcenturybliaut.aspx ), only mine was canvas encased in cream colored rayon challis (because its what I had) trimmed on both sides with a wide black trim decorated with pink flowers. I was told I could not wear a white belt (even though I would not in any way classify this as white... lol). How much better would I have felt had that person complimented my first garb efforts rather than assaulting what they perceived as an indiscretion?
Fortunately, there are not too many people out there like that (and just a note, those folks are in ALL hobbies, not just the SCA). And some of them are just so enthusiastic about what they are doing, and so eager to share what they have learned, that it can sometimes come off wrong to a bewildered newbie.
So, there are good reasons for many anachronisms (cost, time, interest level, availability of materials). I draw a line at some things (like blue jeans... yes, denim is period, but jeans, my friends are not, no matter how badly you want them to be). Is a newbie wearing jeans under a tunic to their first event? I give them a pass. Is someone working hard to set up pavilions at an event wearing jeans under a tunic? Sure, another pass. Is someone who has been in the society for 20 years wearing jeans to a 12th Night feast? I have to draw the line there. We all need to keep in mind that the atmosphere at events is part of what makes events so fun, and at least hitting that bare minimum "Reasonable Attempt" actually helps make an event more fun for all of those involved. If people are working hard to clean, set-up, cook, play music, display arts, fight, and tear-down, one can at least put in the time to go to Wal-Mart and purchase a pair of nondescript sweatpants to wear as part of their garb.
As an end note, do what you can too add to the atmosphere of an event and, please, try to be kind to that newbie in the polyester tunic, as someday they could be your King ;-)
I am mother to a billion cats and am on journey to recreate the past via costume, textiles, culture and food.
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Blogroll of SCA & Costume Bloggers
Below is a collection of some of my favorite places online to look for SCA and historic costuming information.
More Amie Sparrow - 16th Century German Costuming
Gianetta Veronese - SCA and Costuming Blog
Grazia Morgano - 16th Century A&S
Mistress Sahra -Dress From Medieval Turku
Loose Threads: Cathy's Costume Blog
Mistress Mathilde Bourrette - By My Measure: 14th and 15th Century Costuming
More than Cod: Exploring Medieval Norway