Wednesday, October 2, 2019

First Person Redefined

It's been a fantastic couple of weeks. Fort Dobbs is finally open and spectacular. The Museum of the American Revolution reprised their Occupation of Philadelphia event, so Elizabeth Weed and Thomas Nevel returned to amuse the public. Both places were an excellent chance to refine lower class and middle class 18th century characters. The servant at Dobbs was a Virginia man fleeing the frontier war who joined the Carolina Provincials and became an officer's valet. Thomas Nevel was a historic Philadelphian, one of the city's leading builders, stuck between the British, his cheapskate clients (Congress,) and his feelings for the Widow Weed.

  The most important part of first-person interpretation is realizing it's impossible to replicate the 18th century mindset. We have no idea how they thought. Forget about speech patterns as well. We can research their circumstances, read their writing, and place it in the greater context of history. No need to have smallpox or be filthy (a different discussion entirely.)  We can make some good guesses about how they felt through a modern lens and share that with the public. It's the easiest way to make them feel connected to the past.

If Hamilton taught us anything it's possible to make history engaging with a bit knowledge and some theatrics. Puffing on a clay pipe, Thomas Nevel walked around Philadelphia with a stylish cane. If an approaching group smiled and made eye contact it was easy enough to ask them: "have you seen my cow?" We know Nevel owned a cow, and that the British were tearing down fences a soon as they arrived. He might talk about working on Carpenters' Hall and his house at the same time. He could mention his desire to court the Window Weed at the end of her mourning period. It's possible to break down the fourth wall and talk about why Carpenters' Hall was built and what it was used for over the years--mix first and third person.

Since Nevel was vaguely Presbyterian, and filled the Delaware river with obstacles on behalf of the rebels, he might share a pipe with the American prisoners working outside. His dress is a mix of working sort and middle class: stained leather breeches, faded frock coat, white shirt with ruffle and white neck cloth. He tried to impress the Widow Weed (since we know they married after the British left,) but she scorned his unkempt appearance and lack of income.

The valet at Fort Dobbs is a much simpler character who works twice as hard. Polish the officer's shoes, brush his clothes and hat, help him dress. Try and anticipate his needs, as well as keep him hydrated and fed. Pass him drinks on a tray, and gently scold him when he gets dirty. Provincial soldiers were the dregs of society and a servant was one step up from that. His clothing is raggedy, with a regimental coat, and he is barefoot at every opportunity. Class is a huge part of both of these characters.

When first-person comes into it's own is when several of the characters interact. None of this can be scripted and it takes practice. When one of the American prisoners in Philadelphia suddenly turned his coat and took the King's shilling there was a uproar. Nevel told him he had abandoned God, and was quickly silenced by British guards. The prisoner explained his reasons (financial) and showed his Queens Rangers broadside. The crowd got to witness the historic process of soldiers changing sides without thought for the consequences (hanging.)

Muskets aren't for everyone, especially old folks. The recreated past is better with all sorts in it.

Friday, August 16, 2019


Greetings! It's been awhile.

Taking a break from sewing and events. Might venture into the 1920's in the near future. Meanwhile, enjoying the classics.

Poor Kitty is having a hard time finding a job. DC is hard nut to crack if you haven't been working here all along. After dozens of interviews and 200 plus applications she has decided to go pro. She has always been good at drafting patterns and fitting, so there is now a Kickstarter.

Her part-time job is eating into her design and promotion time. His drunkenness is now an editor, photographer, and video producer. If you want easy to understand patterns (men's, women's, and children's,) your support would be appreciated, even if it is just a share. If you need well-made clothes or accessories of the correct cloth look here and here

Once the part time job is gone, adventures and blog posts can resume. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Napoleon: Power and Splendor

These are trying times. The Deckard coat collar is too small and needs to come off. The prosthetic side burns failed miserably. There are two weeks left to finish some 1830's trousers. Solution: road trip. Kitty and his Drunkenness spent the weekend in Richmond, with Saturday devoted to the fabulous exhibit at the VMFA. I can't say enough good things about the museum or the exhibit. It is what history museums should be. No detail was too small: the walls are etched with French Imperial motifs, wind-tossed trees are projected around hunting displays, large gold objects get blue gel filters to make them even more magnificent. The exhibit focuses on the household rather than the man. The food and cocktails at the restaurant are also sublime.

Equally pleasing was being reunited with the Regency Society of Virginia. They took most of these photos, arranged the outing in costume, and are always welcoming. The meta aspects of touring a museum in clothing worn by America's earliest tourists gratified us. As did the obvious military influence on our fashion reflected in the paintings. Kitty's hussar waistcoat and my cossack trousers and chapeau are late 18th to early 19th century cargo pants and camo. The nostalgia of dressing up for an outing was a bonus.

The emotional aspects and the interactions with the public are unique to this outing. The time period allows for expanded roles: sketching parties, collecting insects and plants for study, recreating leisure time with leisure time.

Napoleon is on exhibit in Richmond till September 3rd, 2018. See it if you can. Make sure to call and ask if you want to attend dressed up.

The only way to exceed the ridiculousness of 1820's clothing is to venture later into adolescent America. A battle reenactment of a battle reenactment. See you in the 1830s. Hoping the skunks stay away.

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


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


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.