Monthly Archives

June 2009

totally random

Coming Out of Retirement

Or hermitage? Not sure what the right term is, but I’ve definitely been there since Costume Con. I’m not 100% sure what it was — the mad dash to finish multiple projects, the stress of travelling, the alignment of the planets — but I’ve definitely been taking a big break from costuming since then. I did noodle a bit on a modern dress (which needs still sleeves and a hem), but mostly I’ve been giving myself permission to just loll around.

I think a big part is needing to get back in touch with what I love about costuming. There’s many things I love — brainstorming ideas, researching styles and techniques, wearing and putting together a beautiful ensemble, playing with personae. But what I’m not loving is the pressure that I’m hearing a lot of us discuss to constantly have New! Fabulous! Exciting! costumes for each and every event. We end up overtired, generally not 100% happy with what we made, and eyeing each other suspiciously to see who did manage to pull off an entire new wardrobe. Well, I’m done with that. I love creating costumes, and I’m not stopping, but I’m stepping back a bit to spend the time I want on the things that have meaning for me… which means moving a bit slower and letting go of the fact that everyone else seems to be able to bang out a perfect dress in a weekend. It takes me months, and I’m just going to be okay with that… especially given that I really do love sewing! So why bother to rush what I enjoy?

Another thing that’s been getting to me is confusion about my own motivations. As I’ve become a better sewer and costumer, I’ve started to feel like EVERY project has to be master-award-winning-to-the-tiniest-detail, or I’ve failed. I’ve started to feel like, “What’s the point of spending good money on good materials, and good time on good techniques, if I’m not 1000% accurate/perfect?” Which is ridiculous. There are things that I enjoy taking the time and care to do accurately, and then at the exact same time on the exact same project there’s another thing that I can’t be bothered with. I’m going to try really hard with being okay with that – not every stitch needs to be sewn by hand, I don’t HAVE to use reed instead of metal boning, etc. It’s okay for me to choose those historical materials or techniques that make my toes curl, and ignore those that don’t. Or to use a modern material or method if I like the result. Because really, I ain’t giving up my basting spray for ANYONE.

At the same time, I DO want to know what I am capable of, and I’ve realized that part of my angst is that I don’t feel like I costume to the best of my abilities — generally limited by time. So I’ve decided that *at some point*, and on *my own schedule*, I’m going to make one complete costume (I am thinking it will be the maja dress but that could change) that I will make, from the undies out, 1000% accurately. Then, when that probably multi-year project is finished, I’ll enter it in a CostumeCon masquerade. I’d like to do it to prove to myself that I can do it… but that doesn’t mean that every costume I make needs to be that perfect.

So with all that in mind, I’ve been sewing! And itching to sew, in fact! The Nell Gwyn dress is still on for the Costume College gala, even those many of my fellow mistresses have fallen by the wayside — but that’s okay! I’m really excited about experimenting with some historical techniques that I haven’t tried, and working on an era I’ve never done, but there are also some shortcuts that I am taking. The camera has gone AWOL, so as soon as I find it there’ll be an update… but yay! for costuming on my own terms and for my own love of it, and not for the imagined expectations of others (which really don’t exist, anyway!).

Costume Society of America, events

Costume Society of America Symposium

I am back from the Costume Society of America symposium in Phoenix. The CSA is the national organization for researchers of the history of dress — lots of academics and museum professionals, as well as some reenactors and theatrical costumers too. This was my first time attending the symposium — it was quite interesting and fun, altho a very different animal from Costume College/Con (naturally).

Some of the highlights for me were:

Visiting the Phoenix Art Museum’s Medievalism exhibition. Lots of 20th century costumes, a few earlier ones. There were some really amazing pieces, including a 1916 suit that made me REALLY want to do that era, a gorgeous yellow sheer Regency dress with perfect brown ribbon trim, a green 1840s dress that had the teeniest stitches I’ve ever seen (it had to be like 20 stitches per inch at least), and more.

Two professional development sessions (one on using theory in research, the other on writing) were very helpful, and gave me some good ideas for my current project on French appropriation of Turkish dress in the 18th c.

Lots of interesting presentations, most notably (to me):

  • Anne Bissonnette (Kent State Univ. Museum) and Harold Koda (Costume Institute at the Met) presented on exhibitions they’d created. There was a very fascinating discussion afterwards with Koda about the Costume Institute’s funding, as well as the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum’s costume collection.
  • Kelly Mohs Gage (Univ. of Minnesota) presented on African slave women’s dress in 19th c. Rio de Janiero. She used photographs and ads for runaway slaves published in a local newspaper, and it was really interesting to hear how they mixed European-style dress with African adornment, and how that changed in later generations.
  • Christina Bates (Canadian Museum of Civilization) spoke about nursing uniforms in late 19th/early 20th c. Canada, discussing the development of the uniforms and the various related gender issues — interesting to me because of its parallels with the research I’ve done on college women in the 1920s (who weren’t wearing uniforms, but had similar issues going on).
  • Jo Paoletti (Univ. of Maryland) talked about the feminization of pink. As someone who LOVED pink when I was little and now refuses to wear it (because of it’s association with VERY traditional femininity), it was interesting to hear how late that association developed (1950s) and how fluid it was.

I got to meet and chat with a number of costume researchers whose work I admire – I sat next to Patricia Cunningham (who has written on dress reform, among other work) on the bus to the Phoenix Art Museum, and watched Candace Kling work on ribbonwork during a presentation and then chatted with her about 18th c. trimmings afterwards. Mela Hoyt-Heydon (an amazing theatrical costumer who usually teaches at Costume College) was there and was kind enough to introduce me around to a number of interesting people.

One thing I’d like to participate in at a future symposium is the Angels Project, where they organize volunteers to help out at a local museum’s costume collection — generally with cleaning, storing, cataloging, etc. They take people of all skill levels, so this would be a great way to check out museum work for a day!

There is a marketplace, which is only open one day — there was a vintage clothing dealer with some stunning offerings, altho I restrained myself by chanting, “But do you NEED it?” I did pick up a museum catalog from one of the book dealers.

To see the full run-down on the symposium’s offerings, including the many tours (which I didn’t participate in), check out this pdf.

Next year is in Kansas City MO, and if I’m not in Europe, I’ll be there!