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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


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.

Friday, September 8, 2017


Whoa. Has it been that long? Well, shit.

Getting thrown chez Calash leads to more adventure than anticipated. There have been excellent discussions, several detours and few new rabbit holes, but progress continues. This chap, discovered by Kitty, provides some cool details about bearskins. Turns out the lining comes right down to the edge of the cap. Unsurprisingly, the top of the tassel is painted to match the cord. Here's to completing modifications and finishing a new pair of drill overalls by the third weekend in September for some fusiliering.

Living history is weird. Information about the past is limited and trying to recreate a world from it is bound to be flawed. It's fun to try. Why not take the insanity one step further? How did people in the past view the future? This 1988 LA Times Magazine took a stab at 2013. Always interesting to see what they miss. Don't worry, we aren't leaving our favorite centuries behind, just exploring a side street. If you don't like science fiction or the 1980's you can skip some entries.

Speaking of which, here is what 1982 Hollywood thought an LAPD detective would look like in 2019. Yes, it is a movie, which makes it surprisingly harder to recreate. Isn't this just cosplay or costuming? Perhaps, but it's also history and that rain coat has to repel acid rain. It's still a uniform and a gun. Hot Topic, anyone?


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Perfect Day

Mrs. Delaplace (her name is lost to history) is worried. Strange people appear from the woods and ask pointed questions about the fort. Ticonderoga was more  "composed of decayed wood and earth" than a fortification in 1775. Fortunately, the stone barracks are serviceable.

Captain Delaplace worked his 23-man guard hard. He acquired livestock, and made his family comfortable by hiring servants.  

A middle-aged enlisted man and his wife cook and clean for them. The woman cooks, scrubs, and tends livestock while the man mends and cleans the captain's clothes, helps him dress and sees to his shoes. The battle against rust on fuzee and sword never ends.

Captain Delaplace has written to his superiors with concerns about the post, requesting more men, but it is already too late.

While late, his Drunkenness managed to combine forces with Kitty to deploy a servant team at Fort Ticonderoga this past weekend. The work was pretty constant, and surprisingly pleasurable to toss dirty water and the occasional chicken bone down onto the parade.  Captain Delaplace's gaiters were very tight continuing to lose buttons throughout the day.

Kitty's chicken was a hit, and we actually heated water and washed dishes at table. Note to self: must learn how to tie a sash properly. Also try to attend at least ONE drill with garrison to say hello.

Someone got their frontlet plate. While slightly shorter than surviving examples, it still looks incredibly badass. Both the plated copper and the tin inner plate have a nasty habit of cutting thread, so caution is required. Pull gently.

Next time the leather sweatband and the tin stiffening plate. Sewing through hair can be fun, and cut threads begin in earnest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bag It

So THIS happened. Miss Kitty talked me into it. Honestly, I don't feel like I have much to say, but together we could be helpful. We're both obsessed with excruciating little details that most folks ignore. Speaking of which, thanks to Kitty and Alexa for lending their special brand of insanity to the bearskin project.

The cord machine was a huge success, which is great because there is no twisted cord on bearskin caps. Oh well. It works fine on 18th century hats, so it won't go to waste. Here is some braided wool cord in a Monkey Chain for the top. It's upside down and needs to be trimmed. The whitening is obvious, per regulation.

Kitty's tassels have a net stitch over the head. I am still paying for the one I cut accidentally, which required her to make a replacement. Jason kept the cord pattern simple. The tassels finish the ends on the right side.

 Here is the cap, inside out, with the bag partially stitched in. Historic bag examples have three layers: red cloth, rough hemp, and canvas.  Wrangling all that hair is a challenge. It needs to stay out of the seam. Secured at the top and bottom, it's clear easing is required around the sides. At the lower left is the patch to fix the bald spot. The whole cap is still remarkably light.

Next time, the frontlet plate goes on, the leather sweatband starts, and the tin plate goes in.