Wednesday, July 25, 2018

High Life under the stairs

It's been awhile. Kitty and I have been engaged in long discussions about time drag and what we want to do in the future. The amount of misogyny and prejudice in certain time periods is depressing. Guns are nice, but I'm having a hard time getting excited about recreating conflict and nothing else.

Deckard's rain coat is a welcome distraction. Kitty's Bernina sewing machine is a joy to use, even for button holes. Collar quilting became swift and actually presentable. Can't wait for the first rain storm after it's finished.

July 2nd, 1777 at Fort Ticonderoga: Always count on these folks to create a rich 18th-century environment of all classes. Their latest event included a servantpalooza of sorts. The New Englanders that made up the Rear Guard included a dozen officers. There was not quite enough help for all of them, and some had never taken on the role of servant before, but it went surprisingly well.

Kitty was tasked with feeding the servants (the officers had their own cook.) Since we were not paid, she broke into the Officer of the Day's quarters and stole from the Army payroll. There was a pleasant tension between the camp followers and the servants. If done correctly, serving is hard work. Lots of stairs between kitchen and quarters. What happens when your captain is late to a meal and the lieutenant asks you to do some sewing for him? Cleaning and polishing shoes in the dark is tedious. Without an actual economy it's hard to do things like laundry and gambling. It's also hard for 21st-century Americans to stop saying "please" and "thank you" to those below them. Maybe they were never good at it.

The right tools help. At left are the contents of a simple American servant's wallet. Clockwise, from lower left: Napkins, a rag and tin cup, "The American Crisis," wads of tow, shoe cleaning and blacking brushes, a linen cap, brick dust, a sewing kit and white ball, an oil bottle, comb, and dish washing brush, a pipe, button stick, and black ball. Not pictured: a clothes brush, apron, and a nice bottle of port stolen by the colonel's servants. This just in: prosthetic muttonchops have been delivered via post. More on that later.


  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Interlinked

A quick Preenacting update. Detective Deckard's coat is a strange one. Aside from the color choice, external pockets and cuffs, the outer sleeve is actually part of the back shoulder yoke. The shoulder pads improve the shape, but there is no seam there.

The yoke is also padded, and there is only one button. The shirts from this film are pretty garish, and complicated. Fortunately, the cosplay crowd gets support from some excellent vendors. Need a Skyfall suit? These folks have that and more. It's not cheap, but all clothes are made to measure. Very nice stuff.

Magnoli carries two Blade Runner 2019 shirts, both bonkers. Also two tie designs. The black shirt could use some toning down, and what better way than with Japanese dye pens. A touch of gray over the white makes a big difference at a distance. Mind you, we can't color over the pink top stitching. It's like a coloring book, a terrible one.

After a bunch of screen shots from the movie, it should be possible to make two complete outfits using the coat and trench coat. The shoes are still available. Magnoli makes sweet tweed trousers. Deckard's wrist watch is a 1970s Intel Microma that cost $200 new. The original black watches now sell for between $1,000 and $2,000 (!!!??) on Ebay. Much easier to get a steel three-button model and paint it.

For the history-minded among you beginning to despair, fear not. Kitty got us something really cool for Birthday. If you need a Federal hat (or other 17th, 18th, or 19th century one) Matt Brenckle is your man. Most of the Drunk hats were made by him.

This tasteful, understated chapeau bras is for civilians. The pantaloons cry out to be finished. Braces, a new tail coat and waist coat will also be required.











Monday, November 27, 2017

Knapsack

A weary veteran of years of service, this knapsack is a nice copy of what the British Army used at the end of the 18th century. Sadly, the original dates to 1794. Interesting thinking by learned men (Mr. Rees, Mr. White, Mr. Kirk and Mr. Melius, for starters) has shined a light on this subject recently.

This pack is towards the end of a long line of adaptations for blanket carry. War is a great innovator. It should not be too hard to shave 16 years off it's design, getting closer to the American War period.

First to go are the buff straps and all the iron buckles. We will reuse four of these, and no doubt find a home for the others. Buff scraps are great for polishing brass, &c. The pack interior needs to be removed, but the painted shell has similar dimensions to the Warner Knapsack, so it will work fine.

The new interior will stick closely to drawing in the 71st Regiment's order book. The Inverness pack has a top pouch which will go away, but that makes the two side pockets bigger. Next time the inside.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the Curious White Ball

Among the annoying traditions of some 18th-century British Army units (including the 7th Foot,) is buff leather belting dyed bright white for field use. Soldiering, even the pretend kind, is hazardous and unforgiving when it comes to fashion.

Between the belts, the hat trim, and the small clothes, white seems a poor choice. The larval military bureaucracy came up with a solution. According to Robert Hinde's 1778 The Discipline of the Light Horse:

"Take 1 1/2 lb of Pipe-Clay, 3 Quarts of Water, 1/4 lb of Best Glue, 1/4 lb of White Soap, Boil the Soap and Glue first, till dissolved, then Mix it with the Pipe-Clay, and Boil all together for a Quarter of an Hour; when Cold put it on with a Sponge in the usual manner, and when Dry Rub it with a Glass-Bottle."

Much easier to keep painting leather belts and wool white than use something that doesn't show mud/blood/scuffs. Idle hands and all that.


 Well, we are not going to use three quarts of water. Time to get out the calculator. "Best Glue" will be translated as hide glue and "White Soap" as the old lye variety. No coffee grinders were harmed in this process.

Hide glue is weird. Fortunately, it is still popular with the wood working set. The dry stuff soaks up a bunch of water over several hours and turns into a gelatinous puck. Be prepared to sacrifice one or two (cheap) pots to the gods. And how 'bout that smell?


Here is the glue in a double boiler with the soap just added. A digital or candy thermometer is handy since the glue is happy right at 145-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Below that, it's a solid; above it ceases to be glue. Keep the double boiler at that temperature while stirring and heating the water in another pot to the same temp.

Slowly add the hot water and clay to the soap and glue mess. At this point, it's best to take apart the double boiler and heat the mixture directly. Be prepared to scrape the bottom as you stir to prevent sticking.

Increase heat to boil the stinking mess for twenty minutes. The mixture is very watery at first, but thickens over a period of days. Stored in a period bottle that doubles as a polisher. Apply with a sponge dipped in warm water and alum.

White kaolin clay can be had here. Hide glue is here and many woodworking sites. Etsy is a good source for soap. A cheese grater makes short work of the soap cake.

Next, we defarb a tired knapsack.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Context

The Museum of the American Revolution is an interesting place. Not just because of their take on the war, but the way they structured their first large public event: Occupied Philadelphia. The museum's forecourt became a public market, with the 17th Regiment of Foot and the 40th Foot's Light Company quartered nearby. This would have been enough for most sites.

Instead, visitors got a packet of Continental currency to spend, a list of questions to ask the 18th century inhabitants, even a rebel spy master collecting intelligence should they choose the Whig cause. At left, Ruth Hodges (the shoe black,) and Kitty (the servant/thief/fence) discuss the price of stolen clothing. The 17th arrested Kitty soon after. The public learned their paper money was worthless as the merchants only took British coin, plentiful since Lord Howe's Army arrived. Goods were scarce since the port was still blockaded by rebels. Tyler Putman, Matt Skic (the spy master) of belted waistcoat fame, and Katherine Becnel along with other museum staff kept things running smoothly.

Oliver is trying to decide if he wants to be a chimney sweep with Matt Mickletz, or join the British Army with Sgt. Andrew W Kirk and Pvt. Jeremy Becnel, as Asher Lurie looks on. The air was filled with the cries of tradespeople and merchants. Out-of-work sailors caused trouble and were rounded up. There was excellent food for the participants. Gossip and rumors circulated, while arrests and scuffles broke the peace. A little girl asked "Is this real?"

Muskets took a back seat. The wall between weirdly-dressed historians and the public crumbled under the weight thoughtful questions and street theater. Best of all, Saturday visitors came back Sunday and stayed for hours.  History is messy and complex, so was Occupied Philadelphia.       

  


Monday, September 18, 2017

The Royal Fusiliers in Canada, 1774


Here is the finished bearskin compared to a 1778 drawing of a grenadier by Philip James de Loutherbourg. The height difference is apparent, as is the grenadier's badge at center back. The cord pattern on the 7th Foot cap is completely conjectural, but is similar to surviving examples. Insanely talented Alexa embroidered the Regiment's badge on the madder wool bag. It includes the motto: Honi soit mal y pense. Perhaps some bear hair gel is in order.


Another de Loutherbourg comparison makes the cap height difference clear between grenadiers and fusiliers. The frontlet plate proclaims: Nec Aspera Terrent. Sadly, all the 7th's dress headgear was captured with their colors and a year's worth of clothing at Fort Chambly in October of 1775. Simple cocked hats were worn after that.



The mock "Present" position, with the musket at half-cock. Remarkable that the crease the tin shaping plate puts in the bear hide shows up in the drawing as well. The cap is light and surprisingly comfortable. Best of all, it half folds for storage. It's the perfect balance of intimidating and impractical.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Future Noir

Crank up the Vangelis, y'all. Somewhere in this pile (circa 1950-81) is inspiration. If any of this looks interesting to you, start here. You might bump into Adam Savage. Actual props and costumes have become big business, and like surviving historic clothing can be expensive.

Charles Knode created this coat from silk herringbone for Harrison Ford. No doubt there were several.

Ridley Scott describes it as "a Harris Tweed," and the Phillip Marlowe, detective with only one suit vibe is pretty strong. The shoulder yoke and back belt are a nice touch. Between still photos and the film there appear to be three different shirts and pairs of pants also, with one matching. Everyone knows the trench coat, but most miss the suit.

After weeks of searching for material, this appeared. Not silk, but they have a similar weave, which is fantastically soft. Shipping was fast. If you need linen, consider Lithuania. Previous experience with fiber reactive dye makes them an option. The terracotta color is misleading, in most images it is a warm golden orange with brown tones.

Perhaps some pants first to get the hang of the sewing machine.