Actually, I seem to have found a few jackpots.
First, I found some beautiful fabrics for my two projects. I went to Britex, a four story ancient and amazing fabric store in San Francisco and found a few of my jackpots there. On the top floor one may find only remnants, what’s left on the roll that’s too short to leave on the roll, discounted, and then left for sale. The key is to keep looking. So many people shop there that you never know what you might find. Keep at it, and you can find a large enough piece in your fabric and color that won’t break the bank like on their other floors. All their fabrics are top quality, which leads to the discussion today: I want to actually take a moment to address fabrics and whether they are “period” or not, as related to quality.
Synthetics. While synthetic fabrics like rayon and polyester are clearly modern constructions, high quality synthetics – not the kind you find at Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s – can be quite good. Heck, I have a hot pink silk satin I used for a Victorian bustle dress that looks like it should be synthetic, but it’s not. It’s just that damn good. So for purists, synthetics may be a no-no, and if they are okay, they still might break the bank when you’re trying to recreate silks and wools. What I find as a good middle ground are blends, like wool-rayon and cotton-rayon, which mimic blending the wool or cotton with silk, or silk-rayon blends as a less expensive alternative to pure silk. So long as they “look right” I find these okay in most cases. It is in this boat that I put a lovely grey velvet I found for my mother-in-law’s Genovese gown:
It’s a cotton-rayon blend. It’s soft, a lighter weight than cotton velvets, and has a rich lustre. From the front “right” side, it was indistinguishable in look and touch from the light weight silk velvets sitting next door on the shelf. I found two remnants of two yards each – just enough for her gown! (The skirt takes about three, and with her petit frame, I can cut sleeves and bodice from a yard at this one’s length.) Jackpot!
Cotton. Cotton is another tricky fabric, and is much debated in the SCA to the point where most people have wound up saying “cotton isn’t period for the MIddle Ages or the Renaissance.” So not true. Cotton has a long cultivation history in the East, Middle East, and Egypt, and was imported as a luxury fabric and linen alternative during the Roman EMpire and Middle Ages, mostly through Venice and other Italian states. Once it took hold on Europe, Europeans realized it was cheaper to make than linen (and still is today) and they began growing it in massive quantities, thus moving it from a higher end good to the underwear staple of the masses. Cotton. The Fabric of Our Lives. For a good discussion on cotton, check out Brandy Dickson, aka Lady Desamona Villani in the SCA, here. A good discussion on technology, including textiles, is here.
So, depending on who you are, what rank or status you are, where you are, and when you are, cotton and cotton-linen blends can be just as authentic as plain (and expensive!) linen itself. Again it’s got a similar trade off like synthetics: cotton that looks and acts like linen is often more expensive, but the textile itself with it’s fuzzy little balls of woolly goodness is perfectly period.
So what’s my cotton jackpot? I found enough linen-like cotton in my own scrap heaps to make my mother-in-law a short chemise. She gets hot easy working on the faire, so a shorter chemise was desired, and no one will know under her underskirt! Jackpot!
No pic though- it’s far too wrinkled to appear on the same page as the velvet!
Wool. Wool is also of great and varying qualities. Wool production is actually quite a long process with many steps. Those steps can be done brilliantly, giving a luxurious wool like a cashmere shawl; or, the steps can be done poorly, resulting in a variable and uneven homespun. Every mark on the gradient in between these two is possible. I wanted to find a wool for my Medieval Blue Dress, however, so that necessitated some hunting through Britex’s remnants for a blue wool that was affordable. What should appear but three yards of a woven Italian wool in a deep blue. It shows up brighter in flash though – a cool effect! Jackpot!
I also found this wool-synthetic blend in a 2 yard piece that begs to be worked with:
Another jackpot today was of the virtual variety: online research has paid off in a big way, and it started by tring to find the vocabulary for the clothing I was trying to describe in the last post by looking at the more similar and more popular Byzantine styles. The words are very similar to the original Latin terms for the three main articles of women’s clothing: tunica, stola,and palla (underdress or tunic, overdress, and veil-cloak thing) became tunica, stola, and pallia. The stola merged with a men’s item called a dalmatic. Think Pope or Bishop ecclesiastical robes; those are dalmatics. For a great discussion on Byzantine clothing, check out this article written by Dawn Vukson – Van Beek. It has great pictures and is downloadable!
And that round decorative neckline? It could be a superhumeral (a collar, like a big necklace) or a roundel. Roundel I found from a site showing how the tunica and dalmatic were constructed. The answer to how is very simple. Byzantine dress was more about adornment then fit. Dawn has a few pictures of extant articles on one of her pages as well. Sharon Rust-Ryburn, aka Lady Meghan Elphinstone, has a pdf as well with an overview of Byzantine costume terms, notes, and a bibliography. What I noted was that the word for a chemise (described as another tunic), kamison, is very similar linguistically to the Venetian camicia, so I felt on the right track!
Cesare Vecellio. Cesare Vecellio was a Venetian during the Renaissance and published a beautiful book of Italian costume history, from Roman times through “modern” in the Veneto, and modern costumes listed by region (Roma, Firenza, Milan, etc.) each with a beautiful woodblock illustration. It’s so cool, he’ll get his own blog post. Next time, Cesare Vecellio, my current patron saint of fashion.