Between the Medieval and The Modern

August 8, 2017

CoBloWriMo Day 6 – Book Recommendation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 10:26 pm
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Since I’m a bit behind on my CoBloWriMo blogging, I’m going to cheat just a little bit on this entry and recommend a book that I have already written about here. (Go read that post, then come back here and read the rest of this one.)

The book is The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes. I read it back in 2010, but I still think about it often, because it keeps having relevance to me when I research Landsknecht clothing and look at medieval and renaissance art.
According to Michel Pastoureau’s The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes, “In Germanic customary law of the early Middle Ages…such attire is imposed on or reserved for bastards, serfs, and the condemned.” Sometimes the hangman or executioner was required to wear an entirely striped set of clothes. In Biblical paintings, sometimes striped clothes are used to indicate the traitor in the Scriptures (Cain, Delilah, Judas, etc.). Sumptuary laws of the time required striped clothing for certain classes of reprobates and outcasts: prostitutes, jugglers, clowns, lepers, cripples, heretics, Jews and other non-Christians.

So now when I look at striped clothing in 16th century art, I’m now asking myself, how am I supposed to interpret this person? Are they a Lutheran (a heretic)? Are they an executioner? Are they someone who wants others to see them as someone outside of the social order?


When I look at images of Cranach’s martyrdom of Saint Catherine I now see the significance of her executioner not only being a Landsknecht, but wearing stripes.

And when I was at The Cloisters and saw the Unicorn Tapestries for the first time, I was squeeing to myself when I saw which members of the hunting party were wearing stripes. It’s important! Having read this book, I’m now better able to understand the subliminal message that these artists are including in their work via their choice to put these men in stripes.


CoBloWriMo Day 5 – Origin Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 10:16 pm
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I am so far behind. But that’s because this whole blogging to a prompt thing has sent me down memory lane and I’ve been digging through my old (non-digital) photos trying to find pictures of early projects. I still can’t figure out where my “brag book” album has gone and hidden itself. But I don’t want to get too far behind, so time to get posting again!

Take us back to where it all began.

Oh goodness, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with playing dress up. We had a dress up box when I was a kid, mostly random long skirts, maybe a cape, and a couple of fabric 19th century bonnets (Little House on the Prairie was on TV during my childhood).


Mom’s sewing wardrobe

My mother sewed, mostly curtains and pillows, but the occasional outfit or costume for me or my sister. And sometimes clothes for my Barbie doll. We had a big wooden wardrobe where she stored the sewing machine and her fabric and the button box! I loved going through our metal cookie tin full of buttons, I suspect most of them came from my grandmother. I was sorely disappointed when my mother told me that she’d sold the button box at a yard sale. I was probably more attached to the button box than I was to anything in my mother’s jewelry box.

I took home economics for a single trimester in seventh grade. And I remember that the first outfit that I sewed for myself was when my Dungeons and Dragons group had a little homemade renn faire in our Dungeon Master’s back yard. Now, lest you think I was a completely nerdy child, I’d gone to school with his sister for years, and our group was at least half females. We were NOT the stereotypical “loser” kids that the media liked to portray as playing D&D. We were all super smart, creative kids whose parents were all professionals. As far as I know, we all went off to college and are gainfully employed. Nobody still lives in their parent’s basement.


I still own the hood I made in eighth grade (this is not eighth grade)

At any rate, we were going to have what I now suppose we’d call a LARP in their back yard when I was in the eighth grade. We all made costumes, and their mom made Kool-Aid and that’s about all I remember about that. I made a t-tunic out of some sort of drab tan/brown fabric with a crenellated dagged hem (which I soon regretted, sewing around all those little rectangles was a real pain!). And I made a red felt hood that went over my shoulders and had a really long liripipe that I had to tuck up in my belt or it would drag on the ground. I was so proud of that hood, I used a drinking glass to trace a scalloped edge around the hem and I made it so that I could wear it as a Chaperon if I wanted to. The tunic has long since disappeared, but I still have the hood in my costume collection to this day.

(I probably got the idea from this picture book in my collection)


And, as I said in my Introduce Yourself post, my Wasband took me to my first renaissance faire and we used to attend science fiction conventions together, and it was all over once I realized that there were places I could still play dress up as a grown up.  In fact I’m going to some sort of costumed event five days this month.

August 7, 2017

CoBloWriMo Day 4 – Favorite Era

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 10:36 pm
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My favorite historical era has got to be the 16th century.

Even though I’m now a Technical Writer, I studied to be a high school English Teacher in college. Which meant that we studied Shakespeare, and made lesson plans to teach Shakespeare. I’d already been exposed to the Bard when I was a kid, via Classics Illustrated comic books. I had Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in comic book form. But studying Shakespeare and creating lesson plans also meant reading about all things Elizabethan. Because modern students need context in order to understand some of the references when reading Shakespeare. And somehow, falling in love with Elizabethan England led me to renaissance faires, which led me to the Landsknecht.

But I spent a LOT of time in England before I discovered the continent and started diving into all things German. I’ve got shelves and shelves of books about Elizabethan costuming. For years, before Devra retired in 2015, I would see Poison Pen Press at Arisia and Birka and Boskone. I would buy whatever costuming books she had that I hadn’t already bought from her the last time I saw her. (And I occasionally slipped up and bought something I already owned, whoopsie!) I got my copies of Herbert Norris’s Tudor Costume and Fashion, Janet Winter’s Elizabethan Costuming, The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, all my Tudor Tailor books, and all my Janet Arnold books (including Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked) from her.

There is such a wide variety of costumes in the 16th century. We’ve moved from the simple lines of the middle ages, into having more complicated clothes. And clothes that really vary by region. German styles are different from Italian styles are different from English, Dutch, and French styles.  I remember reading someone’s costume blog where they said that some busybody had tried to tell them that they’d made a mistake on their Italian Renaissance gown. “That’s because it’s Polish, not Italian.” The person replied.

There’s so much going on in both history and fashion, I could never get bored with the 16th century , there’s always more for me to learn about.

August 6, 2017

CoBloWriMo Day 3 – Extant Garment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 3:34 pm
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Ah, extant clothing. Doesn’t everyone have an extant clothing board on Pinterest? No? Just me? OK then.

The Extant Garment that I’m currently drooling over (and have been for a couple of years) is the Prince Elector Moritz’s Parade Gown.

Moritz, or Maurice was Duke of Saxony, and later Elector of Saxony in the 16th century, and this rather elaborate gown belonged to him. Saxony was a state in the Holy Roman Empire (because Germany didn’t exist as a country yet). The prince-electors (or simply electors) of the Holy Roman Empire were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire. In case you didn’t know, the Holy Roman Emperor was not an inherited title, the Emperor was elected by (in the 16th century) seven electors: three princes of the church and four secular nobility of varying stature (a King, a Count, a Duke and a Margrave)

When I first came across this gown, I could only find black and white images of it. Sadly, the German museums are way behind their English language counterparts when it comes to digitizing their collections and sharing them online.


Most of the images that I could find looked like catalog items, and antique catalog entries at that.

But luckily, the gown has recently been restored for exhibit, which means that in the past couple of years new images have appeared online for me to drool over. According to the museum site: Reportedly, the majestic yellow-and-black ensemble originally consisted of coat, doublet, breeches and nether hose.

The nearly criminological archival research and the consequent diligent preservation restored the status of the gown as an historically authentic costume.

So yay for knowing that it’s an authentic piece. During the 19th century, much like the way that there was a revival of interest in medieval and renaissance clothing and culture in England due in part to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the Germans also had a resurgence in interest in all things Landsknecht. There are 19th century landsknecht paintings, and photographs of historical costume events during what we would call the Victorian era. So there was always the possibility that this was one of those 19th century fancy dress costumes.

Just look at how beautiful this is in color.

The suit demonstrates the greatness of Elector Moritz (1521-1553) source

No kidding.

And there is a rather beautiful modern reconstruction of this gown floating around on Pinterest.


I found the (German language) dress diary for it here . And I’ve got it pinned on my Beautiful Reenactments and Recreations board.

August 2, 2017

CoBloWriMo Day 2 – Current Project

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 8:31 pm
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My current project is a tropical weight pink wool gown for my German alter ego, Magdalena von Wissersdorf. She’s a camp follower with the Landsknecht mercenary group Das Geld Fahnlein.

A couple of years ago, one of my reenactor friends posted a link that wool was on sale for 50% and I bought some tropical weight wool in hot pink and a sort of bright pea green. It’s been in my stash for so long that I can’t remember which vendor I bought it from, which bums me out, because I really love how it washed up. Pretty much zero shrinkage, and the weight is fabulous!

This is my fourth “camp frau” gown. The first attempt was made based off of Reconstructing History pattern #504, 16th century German common woman’s gown. But I didn’t really like the fit, so my second attempt was based off of duct taping myself in a t-shirt and using that as the basis for a pattern. And the third attempt was the same bodice pattern, tweaked again. While my fitting has gotten better with every new gown, this is the first time I’ve had professional help with my pattern drafting. One of our Guild members teaches theatrical costuming at a college in NY, and I drove up last summer to have her help me tweak my bodice pattern yet again. We raised the neckline in the back and significantly changed the armscye.

I decided that since I already had a hot pink gollar, that I wanted to make an entire pink outfit based on this woman in the baggage train in the Triumph of Maximilian.

I had plenty of other evidence for pink gowns in the German speaking lands during the 16th century, so I wasn’t worried about accuracy of my color choices (I try to follow Kass’s Rule of Three when deciding if something is common enough to reproduce or an outlier).

I’ve had the gown done since last summer.


Pink Gown – Current state

But I’m still poking along on finishing the sleeves. I waffled for quite a while on what style I wanted to do. Since this was a tropical weight wool, this was going to be my “summer” gown for hot weather events, which meant I was probably not going to want to be wearing sleeves due to the heat. My friend Dan (from Old New England Grown New) and I have had an ongoing discussion for a couple of years now about whether detachable sleeves are a renaissance faire anachronism or if we could find any documentation for them. Women’s sleeves often have ties (especially the Italians) but mens? Not so much. But I digress, the point is, as much as I loved this gown with short sleeves that I spotted one year at Pennsic, I wanted to do something that I could document. Because Historical Accuracy, that’s why.


Blue German Gown spotted at Pennsic

There are plenty of Italian styles that look like separate upper and bottom sleeves, where the only thing across the elbows are lacing. And my camp follower in the Triumph of Maximilian looks like she has Italian style sleeves. But I wanted a tiny bit more pizzazz if I was just wearing the top part of the sleeves. I finally found this image.

Lucas Van Leyden – Temptation of Saint Anthony

I love the devil’s sleeves. And they’re close enough to the Pennsic sleeves that I’m going to use that image to justify my choices. The top of the sleeves (and they’re in progress, but I’m too lazy to dig out the camera, and this post has enough images already) is from the Pennsic gown, pink with a black stripe around the bicep. There will be eyelets and they will lace across the elbows. And the bottoms of the sleeves are similar to the ones in the Triumph of Maximilian, but my striping doesn’t exactly match the image.

Once I get the sleeves finished, I’ll probably also add another “guard” or stripe to the skirt and I can call this gown finished.

August 1, 2017

CoBloWriMo Day 1 – Introduce yourself

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 10:02 pm
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So a friend is doing a sort of Blog along over on Facebook, a solid month of prompts for costume blog posts. This is my “history” blog, but that includes costuming, so we’ll use this month to get me blogging again about clothes, and then I’ll shift back to history (because it will be faire season by then and the Guild with be doing its thing).


So, day one is “introduce yourself”. Who am I? I’m a history nerd. I’ve been in love with history, especially historical costume, since I was a little kid. Proof!


When I was helping my parents to pack up and move their house, I saved some of my childhood books. These are two of them. I hadn’t quite realized how far back my love of costume went until I saw these again. The Ladybug book is copyright 1965 (I know, I’m dating myself. I R OLD.) and the Instant Picture book is copyright 1967. Although I’m sure we bought it later than that, as I did a really neat job on the transfers. Nobody is upside down or out of place.

I loved the middle ages when I was a kid. I devoured stories like The Door in the Wall and all the Narnia books. And I loved the clothes. I’ve never been a girly girl, except when it comes to historical clothing. If it’s got complicated underwear, I probably love it!

When I was in college, I met my Wasband at a Star Trek convention, and he took me to my first Renaissance Faire (King Richard’s Faire in Carver, MA). I found out that his roommate had made him a smashing set of black and red Elizabethans, so the night before we were supposed to go I hit the fabric store and whipped up a simple T-tunic and cape because I didn’t want to be the only one in our group in a t-shirt and jeans. And I’ve been dressing up and going to faire ever since. That got me started on costuming, and I started sewing my own pieces, as well as buying things at faire. We were also attending Star Trek conventions, so there was some science fiction costuming going on as well. We split up in 2002. And in 2003 I started working faire, as a squire for an armored combat group.

And in 2009 we formed a historical reenactment Guild. Since that time I’ve been concentrating less on fantasy type clothes and more on historical costumes. Our reenactment guild focuses on the 16th century Bavaria/ Holy Roman Empire. But I also do a bit of 18th century, 1920s, and I’ve recently added a 19-teens suffragist to my closet.

Other than a trimester of home economics in middle school, I’m a self taught sewer. So I probably have all sorts of bad sewing habits. I do try to pick up sewing books at used book stores, which helps when I’m trying to figure out how to do things. And I am the world’s slowest seamstress, so this month will probably be more about what I hope to do than actual progress I’m making on projects. But it will at least get me thinking about sewing and getting back to the project pile, which is better than ignoring the sewing room.

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