Monday, March 21, 2016


Helyar's Company of the 7th Regiment of Foot waits. Smoke and shouts drift up the hill towards them. The crash of hundreds of muskets and a ball buzzing off a tree make them forget momentarily how hungry they are. If only the liquor had not run out.

General Cornwallis is concerned, desertions are up, and men are being captured as they forage for whiskey. He knows Greene's army is huge and he needs every man to attack the rebels.

We're on the home stretch of the mid-century waistcoat, there are enough buttons to close it and work on the side seams. Apparently, the back piece was cut for a POW or child. No idea why it is so small. Oh well. Thankfully, there are surviving period waistcoats with pieced side seams. Wearers gain weight, cloth runs short, tailors drink. Since it's not lined there are more seams to whip, but... All of this will be hidden by the coat anyway.

 More potential drunkenness. As with coats, a good deal of fitting happens in the shoulder seams. Since this garment is double-breasted, with lapel linings it is temping to finish the neck seam before assembly. It should work. Sometimes the neck opening humps as seen in the left of this picture. The trick is to remember.

Best to open the turned bits of the neck seam, sew the shoulder seams together, THEN roll the neck seam as one piece, as shown on the right. All that is left is to do up the arm holes and hem the bottom.

For something completely different, it's time to be an officer's servant for an event. Not enough gentlemen with servants.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


He reeks of tobacco more that usual. Watchman Langford sits on his cold bed, undressing. He smoked his week's allowance in a single night. The glob of what looks like egg on his shoe must be Samuel Gray's brains. At least he has stopped shaking: a mixture of exhaustion, fear, and rage. As he enters his tiny room at dawn he barely notices the new red cloth hanging from his neighbor's window. Smallpox quarantine. Time for some rest. Not sleep, there has been no sleep for days. He hates his job and he is beginning to hate his adoptive home of Boston.

We are in strange territory. It's fun to dress in old timey clothes and shoot muskets, but it gets boring. It feels strangely inadequate to play the part of an actual person in 1770 Boston and not know about his life and motivations.  We are trapped between costuming and some sort of experimental theater. At the same time, the fossil view of history is equally strange. Some tiny percentage of dinosaurs actually died in the right place at the right time to get fossilized. Discovery Channel does cool shows, but there are tons of critters we may never know about. So many missing details.

Replicating what survives in museums and basing clothing on one or two period images is better than just making things up, but there is so much more out there. Most reenactors spend weekends pretending to be at war, socializing on Saturday night, with repeat performances on Sunday (often slower due to hangover.) If there is interaction with the public, it takes the form of a lecture on historic facts or basic musket function. Humans are comforted by ritual, and the public has come to expect this routine. They may or may not learn anything.

While faux battles are exciting, the dogs, chickens, laundry, drunks, women, and children seen in period illustrations are missing. It's the fossil view. Living history needs more (God help me) Hollywood. There has to be a way to add mundane things back.

These folks are well on their way. While the site raises money to rebuilt the mid-18th century fort that once stood here, life on the Carolina frontier continues. Rumors of Cherokee attack bring refugees from surrounding farms. Laundry gets washed, beer is brewed. Have a look inside the cabin the Provincials built to survive the winter until the fort is finished.

Four months after he was hired, Langford watched the regulars march into Boston with fife and drum, colors flying. His life became much more complicated. No more walking his beat alone. His partner, Constable Burdick never hesitated or showed fear. When soldiers disobeyed him or caused trouble, Burdick simply beat them. As an Anglican, Langford loves his king, but his representatives treat everyone in the town like dirt. Night watchmen have little authority, even less with men in uniform.

The winter of 1770 terrified Langford. He was used to scuffling with groups of teens some nights, chasing the howling urchins with their three-legged dog, but never catching them. He watched a pretty street vendor steal fence posts for firewood, but chose not to stop stop her. Now there were mobs marching with effigies, bond fires, children shot, houses being torn down, and he felt helpless. Foreign sailors from god-knows-where brawled and swore.  His threats of jail fell on deaf ears. Burdick started carrying a sword. Home and safe, Langford curled in a ball and closed his eyes. The grim face of Private Killroy illuminated by the pan flash of his musket would not leave him.

Why can be as important as what you wear.