I had a lovely conversation with some lovely people over the weekend. We discussed how far a lot of us have come since starting our journeys into this obscure land of fabrics, threads and ribbons…. and I have been thinking about it nonstop. I wanted to write a letter specifically to those who are just now venturing- or feel like they’re just now venturing- into this hobby:
Newbie Amber in her first “18th century” outfit ca 2009… I later found out those two tabs were not accurate but hey- we all start somewhere!
Dear Costuming and Living History Newbies,
I am so glad that you are coming to join in the fun and creative pursuit that is the costuming world. We welcome you with open arms and hope to help you achieve your own brand of awesome. We hope to support you when you have to rip out all the seams you *just* stitched over the last two hours and tell you that it’ll get better. It can be one of the most memorable and fun hobbies to be part of. We’re so excited to see what you create!
The costuming world can be a very intimidating place. Beautiful pictures are posted on facebook, instagram or blogs and sometimes your insecurity will eat at you. Don’t listen to the “I could never be that good” or “It’s too expensive” or other negative internal dialogues that creep into our brains. So before you start beating yourself up or feeling down about what others are working on remember the following:
Making ANYTHING is a process of research, practice, proper tools and TIME. It takes TIME to practice, learn, understand the mechanics of making clothing. It also takes TIME to gather the proper tools and materials to create a well done ensemble. It takes TIME to research your possible construction methods. You probably won’t do everything perfectly in the first go.
I have been sewing costumes and clothing for almost 10 years now and it’s only been within the last year or so that I feel like I can handle a sewing machine properly and easily… My machine stitching still looks a little wonky sometimes, which is why I prefer to handstitch. On the other side of that… the only reason my handstitching is even is because I’ve been fortunate enough to spend summers and the last 3 years handstitching(as a business) three to sometimes eight hours a day! All that practice adds up.
These tiny stitches have been practiced regularly for 7+ years! They certainly didn’t look like that when I started.
There is a time and place for everything. Just because there are no events around you where people dress up in silk and eat a fancy dinner doesn’t mean there can’t be. PLAN ONE. Just do it. Do your due diligence and contact places that might be happy to have an event like that. It may take time and a little bit of cash from the guests, but you won’t regret the photos or the unforgettable experiences you can muster.
BUT PLEASE KEEP IN MIND- There is a time and place. An encampment might not be the best place for your fanciest of fancy silk gowns. A venue may not be able to accommodate or allow specific costumes or any costumes at all. A 1770s themed event might not appreciate an 1860s ensemble. An event might only be for hanging out in fancy clothes and not doing a First Person interpretive teaching experience. Etc.
Ask questions. Google. Read books. Peruse blogs. Go to museums. Use the library. There are so many amazing resources you have at your finger tips that many who started out in this hobby didn’t necessarily have access to. WE CAN ONLINE SEARCH MAJOR COLLECTIONS FROM AMAZING MUSEUMS. We have it so easy, anymore! Understand the difference between “first hand research,” “second hand research,” and “inspirations.” All of this research will help train your eye to the obscure world of fashionable details.
RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH!!!!
Specificity is the sole of narrative. When you ask a costumer a question, please be specific. There are too many caveats to answer a broad question of “I’m making an 18th century gown, what do I need to do?” It takes years to research and understand what is going on in historical garments. There is no possible way we can answer such a broad question concisely or in a way that might make sense to you….And some answers might not make sense to you at all, yet. That’s where research comes into play. Take all of the pieces you’ve found and weave them together. Discuss with others what you’ve found and you’ll find a new tidbit along the way that’ll aid your overall understanding and eventual “look.” All of this is a JOURNEY. New research comes out all the time and sometimes thwarts what we thought we knew. Never say never, and never say always! History might just contradict you soon.
You are your own worst critic. This goes for life itself but especially in clothing we make to be seen in. As long as you’re a nice person and aren’t mean to others, most likely no one is going to notice your uneven stitching at the armpit or even think to bring it up. And you know what? You don’t have to talk about your mistakes if you don’t want to. No one has to know.
When I first made this jacket, I didn’t realize the construction of 18th century jackets usually isn’t done with an en fourreau style back….. but now I know that remaking gowns into jackets and other garments is something that was done, so it’s plausible that an 18th century jacket might be constructed this way- but not recommended if you were to make a brand new one.
Make sure every tip you give or receive is in the spirit of constructive criticism. Don’t take it personally. Most people want to help, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s phrased that way. If you’re looking for constructive criticism, be ready for a flood of help. And that’s just what it is: BEING HELPFUL. Your growing skills are not a reflection on you as a person.
If they’re being a butt about their “advice” then leave the conversation. What they may be saying might be true, it might not. Take it seriously, but not personally.
There can be limitations. Time, money, resources, skills, health, body shapes are all limited in different capacities for each person. It’s okay to make substitutions. It’s okay to accommodate these limitations and substitute with other things. Keep within the realm of your goal and you’ll be able to create a thing you’re proud of.
Also on that note, be aware of your skill level and keep your projects to a challenging, but attainable, goal. There’s no way I would have been able to tackle the Purple People Eater dress even just a few years ago. It would have been a total fail. The extra details were able to be added only because I’ve built the foundational knowledge of how to make a garment well; so stepping up the embellishment game was just the next level….. AND It’s okay to not “be there” yet. We all started at a very different place than we are today. You got this.
This is my first ever historical dress. I developed my own pattern, but had no idea how sleeves worked because I had never done it before so I did these weird ones. My limitations at the time were knowledge base and time- but I later remade the bodice into the photo below!
Once I honed my skill level a little bit, I was able to make a historical reproduction of a gown at the Met. It took 3 years to take it from the top photo to this one!
Find your community. With the advent of the internet, we’re able to find people across the entire globe who have the same niche interests as you do. I never would have met ANY of the fine gents and ladies I’ve been able to befriend if it weren’t for blogs, facebook or instagram. I honestly wouldn’t have known people do this kind of thing. YOU CAN FIND YOUR PEOPLE.
OH…. General social rules still apply when you find them… or you meet an instagram idol. Just because you follow someone on instagram does not mean it’s okay to run up and feel up their costume without introducing yourself first or feeling like you’re “besties” because they replied to your comments. You can still be a well behaved human. Take time to get to know people personally and organically when you find your people and everyone will be happy in the end!
We all just want to have fun
. We all have different reasons why this hobby is enjoyable, don’t ruin it for others. Does someone enjoy being insanely historically accurate? GREAT. Don’t put them down for preferring to handstitch or wanting documentation for their event. Does someone enjoy looking like a fashion plate and being extra? GREAT. Don’t tear them down for creating a fun outfit to wear and having fantastic pictures. Remember, if you’re thoughtful, nice and mindful of others you should be in the clear.
All in all, we’re happy you’re here and can’t wait to see what amazing things you create! Keep on keepin’ on. And happy sewing! ❤ ❤ ❤