The Waterloo Project: Looks Shifty Part 1

Costuming is not period clothing. This makes me a terrible cosplayer — even though that’s what reenactment is, just for history, not fiction — because comics, TV and film never shows me what’s underneath the visible garments. A costume is an externalized depiction or representation of an idea, while clothing is much more mundane and the product of invisible technology. Example: the modern hemispherical or teardrop shaped boob is the product of the invention of lycra, moldable sheet foam, a nylon fabric called powernet, and cheap steel. When steel was expensive, so were underwires. It’s also the product of changing social mores that allow for things like visible nipples. The old style torpedo-bullet-pointy bra effectively masked temperature or hormonal nipples in stiff decorative stitching. (Modern visibility of this: in Mad Men, Joan will never have anything remotely like a visible nipple — her undergarments won’t allow it. Peggy might, especially as the seasons move forward — her black and white gingham dress does show this. Peggy’s friend Joyce, being on the far end of the counter-culture, has shown nippage.)

I learned the hard way in my dim college days of medieval re-creation that what goes next to skin matters a lot more for comfort and look than any amount of technique, and thus, I have to build my wardrobes from the skin out. No matter how perfect a houpelande looks, if it’s worn over a push-up bra and tights, it’s gonna look weird. This is actually good, since I can practice technique on clothing less visible and less expensive, but at first, it felt truly boring and wasted effort to spend days or weeks on something nobody but me and a lover would see. It took me a long time to realize that foundation garments really are the foundation for the entire look, and for appropriate movement. One can run in a properly fitted corset or stays — and I’ve done so whilst serving as field medic — but one cannot slouch.

The modern body type and the modern silhouette are incredibly recent inventions. Look at The Bletchley Circle or Call the Midwife — these are both modern dramas, but the costumes are point perfect. Bras used to make boobs look all pointy and stabby, and in the context of the time, that was beautiful and appropriate. These programs depict a recent time — the 1950’s. Step back to Downton Abbey and the silhouette changes again (and in the course of the series so far.) Note that in Season 1, all of the women still wear corsets on late Victorian lines. By the current season, the only ones still corseted are the Dowager Countess and Mrs. Hughes, who are both personally conservative and extremely confident in their personal world views. They fixed their fashion choices and won’t stray from them. (Also, given their ages, it’s likely that they lack the core muscles to maintain their posture without assistance.) Even Mrs. Crawley has dumped the hard lines of the corset by S2. Move further backwards in time (Bleak House, then Wives and Daughters, then Sense & Sensibility) and the silhouettes change further.

The Napoleonic Wars era is almost unique in clothing history because it breaks with a running pattern of emphasizing the female waist to hip ratio in favor of a smooth, columnar line with high, widely separated and emphasized boobage. This doesn’t mean women just stopped wearing corsetry for twenty years — the older ones had the core muscle issue, and the younger ones had just as many body variations as we have today — one breast larger or more droopy, a tummy that wants to pooch or uneven hips. The difference between a set of stays and Spanx is not qualitative.

The greatest difference between clothing then and clothing now is not one of fabric or construction or line, but of infrastructure. Specifically, running water and washing machines. Before running water, every drop had to be either pumped or drawn from a well or surface water source, and had to be heated without the aid of machinery more sophisticated than a boiler. Hand washing is heavy labor — a three or four day task for most households, and for large households or institutions, a never ending one. There are extremely convincing economic arguments that the invention and mass production of the washing machine is as important to equal opportunity for women as birth control. In Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter, even wealthy women aren’t using the scarce labor and fuel to bathe and have clothing washed daily. While their standards of clean were more flexible, most people in the pre-industrial world were not slovenly. They had senses — greasy skin felt greasy to the people of the past, too. There were slobs — but we have slobs today, and it is not necessarily a mark of either ignorance or poverty, nor was it then.

They dealt with cleanliness with basin baths – which do work fine – and regular changes of undergarments, and using their undergarments as a sort of full-body dress shield. Which means the shift, or chemise.

A shift is the most simple sewn garment. In base form, it’s two big rectangles, two medium rectangles and two squares. The big rectangles are the front and back, the medium ones are sleeves, and the squares are gussets under the arm for shaping and ease of movement. They’re always made of the most durable, undyed, local fabric and they’re always washable. Shifts have existed since shortly after weaving.

For most of the western world, the local, undyed, washable fabric is linen. While cotton becomes more common through the 18th and 19th centuries, it had to be imported from India, Egypt, or the southern US, and that made it more costly than the local linen. Further, a cotton fiber is short and fine — 3 to 8 inches, depending on variety — while a flax (linen) fiber is 2-3 feet long. It’s much easier to spin linen thread than cotton, and it took a while for Northern Europe to learn how to spin cotton. (In the 18th century, most cotton fabric produced in England was made from thread spun in India — where they knew cotton well — and shipped several thousand miles.) Experienced linen spinners could produce thread as fine as modern sewing thread from flax fiber, so it was not the bulky, coarse fabric that most of us associate with modern linen. Thread counts from extant garments show fabrics with 150 to 300 threads per inch — quite respectable and comparable to modern natural fiber fabrics.

The other major textile technology difference is loom size. Until the mechanized looms of the late 18th century, a loom was about a yard wide, because any wider, and it becomes difficult for one person to work it. Humans were just as prone to repetitive stress injuries then as now. That meant that all fabric came in 22-36 inch widths, so they took advantage of those qualities. It’s much easier to butt two selvedges together with a whip stitch and get a nearly flat seam than to make French seams on handmade garments. It just so happens that two pieces of 30 inch wide fabric sewn into a tube will fit most people with generous wearing ease. Even carpet was woven on narrow looms and sewn together rather than trying to broad-loom.

Channeling my inner Michael Jackson

I have one glove. Of course, it’s black, made of some odd light-weight faux leather stuff I had in stash, and not sequined, but it’s mine.

I’ve never made a glove before. I have odd hands — long fingers, muscular and not really delicate — so shop gloves have never really fit. I probably should have built gloves a long time ago, but pockets have done the job most of the time.

This one is just a prototype, made exactly to pattern spec. I will probably make some alterations now that I have an idea how they go together, but for now, it’s not bad.

These were entirely hand sewn. The instructions were for machine, but given the narrow seam allowances, it seemed simpler. I spent about 4 hours on this one over a couple days.





Sort of long shot


The Waterloo Project: Costuming starts now

I sew mostly out of necessity. See, when I was about thirteen, the Boob Fairy came down with a case of short-term memory loss, and she just kept visiting my house. In the space of about six months, I didn’t just fill out, I over-filled, then bloomed, blossomed and burst out. Someday I’ll find her and give her the share of low-back aches she visited upon me.

I’m also short (thanks, Mom) and short-waisted. I can either buy off the rack and look like hell, buy off the rack and alter and look like Purgatory, commission custom and eat oatmeal, or just accept that my down time will be spent developing a meaningful relationship with my iron and my seam-ripper.

I also did re-enactment and theater as a young adult, and there’s no off the rack for either of those. I’ve built my share of custom clothing, and I’m not bad at it, when I have patience, motivation and either spare time or spare money. I’ve even built corsets, which are the sewist equivalent of a Waterford Apprentice Bowl — once you make one, you can pretty much make anything else.

And in addition to that, my partner is a foot taller than me, broad shouldered, long-armed, long-torso’ed, and has issues with seam finishes, fabrics, textures and colors. He really hates overlocked seams, would rather wear a Tyvek hazmat suit than go shopping, and dislikes polyester, wool and silk. He does have a specific style of trousers that will be available as long as BDUs are made, so I don’t have to make his slacks or his jockeys, but shirts are a pain to find. It turned out to be easier to develop a pattern and make him a new polo or dress shirt about once a month than try to buy for him.

This adds up to me being comfortable with my mad sewing skillz.

But… I am a practical girl. I don’t like ruffles, or lace or much trimming of any sort. As egotistical and vain as he was, Beau Brummel had a really good notion when he started pushing for simplicity of line and exquisite craftwork as a means of conspicuous consumption. The bad news for a chickie playing in the Regency era is that very little of Brummel’s sensibility got into women’s fashion. The good news is that one area of women’s fashion was dominated by male tailors serving a primarily male audience — the riding habit.

Interesting thing about the habit — according to Ackermann’s Repository, riding habits tended to get used for traveling clothing, and habits would come with walking skirts for specifically that purpose.

That’s what I’m making: habits, with walking skirts.

The fabric has arrived (pics of that tomorrow, assuming I have light) but the sketches are finished:

Underpinnings: Chemise, corset. I’ll need at least four of the former, and two of the latter. I learned to like reed as boning when I lived in a much hotter desert than this one, so the corsets will be a combination of reed and cording. I’m going to try Laughing Moon’s new Regency Stays pattern, but instead of using their gusset cups to contain my bounty, I’ll be using a draw-string adjustable gathered cup. Extant corsets had this feature, and it’s a practical one, given that the Regency bustline is essentially Lift, Separate, Balance On High Shelf. Any woman with any cuppage at all had to contain her assets somehow.

Next layer is the skirt, which, given Regency waistlines, is more jumper, and shirt. I’m using La Mode Bagatelle’s Bodiced Petticoat pattern (but without additional boning) and putting in a side opening. Shirt is plain, sleeved, cotton lawn, with underarm gussets and cut to a natural waist length.

Redingcote version one. Same fabric as skirt. Stock will be same fabric as shirt, so cotton lawn.

Spencer or pelisse — still not sure. Right now, I’m looking for documentation on a feminine tail coat or similar. I think this would look smashing with a red skirt, an open swallowtail coat, and a brocaded waistcoat, but that may be just a costume fantasy rather than a re-enactment piece. I have seen an extant, 1810 habit with a long waistline (like to the natural waist) but I need to find more documentation on that specific piece.

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Bad Engineer.)

I was not drinking anything stronger than Coke Zero.

Yeah, so that didn’t work. C and I did a post-mortem on the frame (and didn’t take pics, sorry) and came up with three major points of failure.

1. As well as I drilled into my dowels, I still ended with some crookedness.
2. Poplar is way, way too soft.
3. The legs are too tall.

That’s okay — I’ll use the legs for a table and a wash-stand, and the oak dowels will get used in the chair.

Alternate scheme in progress for bed and transport boxes, but I need to go to IKEA first, and that’s at the far end of Denver Metro.

I’m rethinking the tent design now — I think I’ll be working with the bowed wagon design, because any interior frame I can build will be too heavy to carry, or too light to survive.

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Part 1)

It’s cold and bitter today. There is snow coming (yay! — perfect birthday present, Mother Nature!) though not much. And since it’s my birthday, I got to do whatever I wanted, and that was build a piece of my kit.

My warranty gave out a long time ago. Even sleeping on the couch is sometimes a bad idea. Floors are entirely out, and the ground? Phui. Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp. Thirty-seven year old joints are starting to lose their hydraulic fluid.

One of my requirements for this project is using as many off the shelf components as possible. I don’t have a lathe, or a good place to set up our table saw. Long, long years ago, I worked in technical theater, and that’s where I got my introduction to all things constructive, and DIY. I can paint, frame, wallpaper, wire switches, but I’ve never been comfortable with table and jigsaws. I don’t mind miter saws or bandsaws, but there’s something about the table saw that says Amputation Likely to me.

When I started designing the cot, I designed for either stair balusters or pre-manufactured table legs. I chose table legs (specifically Wendell 21 3/4″ Early American) because they were more graceful and in keeping with Regency furniture, while being easily accessible (so if I totally botched one, I was only out $6) and sturdy.

I’m basing this cot on some extant ones. During the Napoleonic Wars, officers often commissioned full kits of campaign furniture, including tables that seat twelve, recliners that convert to beds, and bookcases that break down into small boxes for transport. Campaign furniture is always knock-down furniture — it’s the precursor to flatpack — and it’s incredibly clever stuff. I’ll link to photos in the near future.

My construction methods are not period — that would be using mortise and tenon joints and pegs — because it will mostly be hidden, and this is a prototype.


— 6 table legs (I got mine at Lowe’s; they’re usually back near lumber, on the same aisle as dowels and paneling.)
— 6 1″ diameter oak dowels, 36″ long. (Poplar has sufficient strength, but they come in 48″ lengths, and I didn’t want to be cutting if I could avoid it. Oak is more expensive, heavier per inch, and is harder to drill, so I may rebuild this with poplar in future if it turns out to be too heavy.)
— 3 5/8″ dowels (these are poplar, because I already owned them for another project)
— 2 pieces of 8/32 threaded rod, 3″ long
–14 carriage bolts, 8/32, 2″ long
— 20 Tee nuts, 8/32 threading (I prefer the ones that attach with little nails through holes, but the ones with teeth that you hammer on work, too. Those are slightly more likely to split the dowels, but they go on a lot faster.) 20130111-213812.jpg

Drill and appropriate bits
Vise or clamps
measuring and marking tools, including a tape measure and a level-ruler.
Vacuum cleaner that has a hose. (Sawdust gets everywhere.)

1. On each table leg, make a mark 3 inches down from the top, and drill a hole straight down through the mark and through the diameter of the leg. I step up from a pilot hole with a 1/16″ bit to a 1/4″. It takes longer, but I’m more likely to get a clean, straight hole and it’s easier on the drill.


2. On four of the legs (the corners) make a second mark, one inch above the hole you just made, and rotated 90 degrees from the hole, so your new hole will be perpendicular to the one you just made. Drill those holes, too.


3. On all six legs, drill a hole 4 inches from the bottom through the diameter. On the four with two holes, the holes should be parallel to the bottom hole; on the two with one hole, the lower hole should be perpendicular.

4. Set the legs aside and clamp your first dowel perpendicular to the floor. You’re going to drill holes into the center of your dowels, at both ends, and insert a tee nut into all twelve ends. Here is where a drill press is very handy, if you have one (I don’t) but it can be done with some practice without one. Here is where drilling a pilot hole and stepping up is most important — it’s really easy to angle the drill and even a degree or two will mean you’ll crack the side of the dowel.






A trick for drilling straight holes — grab a blank CD-ROM or a trashed one. Balance it, shiny side up, on the thing you’re drilling. Set your drill bit on your center mark, through the hole of the CD, and align the bit and the bit’s reflection. Drill straight down, watching the line the bit and the reflection make. Once you’ve got the pilot hole drilled, you can remove the CD.

Tomorrow, we assemble, and fit the fabric.

The Waterloo Project: Funding and Budget

An eight-week trip is expensive. I figure that just sitting in my house, doing absolutely nothing besides using what I already own costs around $10 a day in mortgage, electricity, connectivity and insurance.

Estimates are always low, but my mother is a project manager, so I’ve picked up her tool — always figure a cushion into the price of something. For construction, my cushion is always 2 X current sales tax. (Which means about 18% for me.) For travel, I go higher.

Here’s my current breakdown with some overestimates built in for inflation/exchange rate changes:

$600 — Train from Colorado to New York City to catch the ship (in a roomette)
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, on a Cunard line Transatlantic ship, eastbound
$ 150 — Train from Southampton to Suffolk
$1000 — Lodging in Suffolk (I’ve found a couple of guesthouses in the 300 pound per week range; if I use a camping site as my base, the tariff will be cheaper but I’ll have other expenses)
$ 600 — Food for twenty days (I’m mostly vegetarian, I am happy with simple picnic foods)
$ 400 — Bicycle rental (or purchase, with subsequent donation to Oxfam)
$1000 — Incidentals. I won’t be buying much, because of the transport issues, but some things can be mailed home, and some things will break — like bike tire inner tubes.
$150 — Train from Suffolk to London to Belgium.
$400 — 2-4 nights’ lodging in Belgium (I don’t know about this yet because the Waterloo 2015 project doesn’t yet know when and and for how long the site will be open for this.)
$300 — food and water at site
$300 — site fees (again, I don’t know if this is even reasonable.)
$150 — train from Belgium to London
$1800 — lodging, food in London for 7 days (There are London B&Bs around 50 pounds a night, though I don’t know if this means STAY AWAY or not.)
$60 — train from London to Southampton to catch the westbound ship
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, westbound
$600 — Train from New York to Colorado
$1000 — taxis, buses, random other events unforeseeable.

So… around $11 grand, all told. What gear I take will run somewhere around $2000, but that can be bought in small doses, as needed, over the next year. Given my 30% over-estimate, I’m looking at $15,000. I’ll also need to update my passport.

All of our debt (save our mortgage, which is small) is gone by June of this year. This is why I can even consider taking this trip. Right now, I’m shoving about $300 a month into savings for this; after June, that will jump by more than an order of magnitude, but it can be done, with long-range planning, on $300 a month for 30 months. (So, significantly less than my car payment was.) If I had children to send to college, this wouldn’t be possible at all. It also means no new toys for me for the foreseeable future. (C and I have separate toy funds.)

There are places where this could be cheaper — if I find a roomie for the two weeks at sea, or if I manage to couch-surf. This might be possible, but I’m not counting on it.

The Waterloo Project: Background

Despite being a non-theist Quaker, I have an obsession with war — specifically the Napoleonic Wars. I find the whole history fascinating, from the weaponry to the women who followed the drum, to the strategies to the equipment and the diseases and the supply lines and the shifting alliances (and the clothes.) I am also fascinated with the aftermath — thousands of veterans returned to their homes with something that looks like PTSD, and for the most part, the contemporaries managed to treat it about as well as we do — and this before anxiolytics, theory of mind or behavioral therapy. In fact, we’re now re-inventing some of their treatments.

I’m currently working on the second draft of a novel set in the immediate aftermath of Waterloo, when those who survived that field returned home and tried to resume their lives. Waterloo as a battle was probably the worst single-day mass casualty event to date, and it remained the worst until World War I — around a quarter of those who were on the field that day were killed or wounded. The day of Waterloo effectively started around noon and concluded at sunset, and it was a small battlefield — about six square miles if my math is correct. And in that small space, in those few hours, upwards of 50,000 people were killed or seriously wounded. In some places, the bodies were stacked several deep.

I knew I needed to go to England to do some on the ground research for the book — I’m setting it in Suffolk, which is not Berkshire, Manchester or London, and had entirely different social and economic structures in 1815 than the rest of the country. (As in, in Norfolk, the next county north, machine breakers got a good hold in the first part of the nineteenth century. They did not manage the same solidarity in Suffolk. I’d like to know why.) It also does not appear to have a high concentration of stately houses and nobility — most of the structures I’ve found were Victorian, not Georgian. It had a higher than average concentration of non-conformists, including Quakers, Methodists and Puritans. Suffolk is where most religious reforms have started.

I also knew that I would not be able to drive in England. However, I live at high altitude and I bike in a hilly area, so I feel confident that I’ll do fine with a combination of bikes and trains. That is a goal for this project — in the next two years, I need to be comfortable biking for four hours a day, several days a week, and doing so with a trailer at least part of the time.

Initially, I was planning to take my trip in 2014, but the longer I have to fund and prepare for this, the better. Also… delaying one year will let me be on scene for Waterloo, and for the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the battle. There will be people with black-powder rifles, and cannon, and cavalry. It will be cool.

But if I’m going to Waterloo, I want to do so with style, panache — and in period. I see no point in traveling 7000 miles to tramp around a battleground in shorts and sneakers. If I’m going to witness the re-enactment, I want to participate. I want to know what it was like to be on that battlefield.

To do so, I must be prepared to camp for several days, without ultralight backpacking gear or batteries.

And with luck, we’re seeing where this gets complicated: I want to spend three weeks in Suffolk, then cross the Channel for ten days in Belgium, then recross the Channel, spend some time in London (probably a week). I’m willing to camp the entire time (and Britain is blessed with numerous camping spaces) though I may not. I have to be able to carry all of my gear (with the assistance of my handy bike trailer and a bicycle.)

There’s a second complication — I don’t fly. I love planes, I love flight, but I hate what we’ve done to our airlines, and traveling with this kit is not going to be functional, given current restrictions. I also want to know what being on a ship is like. It turns out that taking a steerage cabin on a trans-Atlantic ship is not significantly more expensive than flying, except in terms of time. (I expect to get some reading and writing done during the two weeks of crossing.) The advantage of a ship is I can carry more luggage — and carry a few things that I can’t take on a plane. Also, no jetlag.

I do have a trial run available — the Battle of New Orleans re-enactment in January 2014. I’ll drive to that one, packing all of my gear into my Kia Soul (which has an incredible amount of cargo space) to see what I actually need and what I don’t.

That gives me my parameters: I need to build an encampment that:

–> I can carry or wheel around (no single box can weigh more than 40 pounds, the whole collection can’t weigh more than 150 pounds)
–> fits in spaces no larger than 24 inches by 36 inches by 15 inches (standard suitcase)
–> can be assembled by one technically and mechanically savvy woman of 5’3″ tall in one afternoon
–> passes period inspection to the level of standard tents (most of those I see in photos of re-enactments have machine-stitched hems and seams)
–> doesn’t force me to sleep on the ground (I’ll be 39, and I haven’t comfortably slept on the ground in years now)
–> provides sufficient shelter and space for one woman, her stuff, and will keep out the weather in both a Belgian summer and a Louisiana winter.
–> uses off-the-shelf components with minimal modification as much as possible.

I also need to build a period wardrobe that has its own set of parameters, including:

–> sufficiently warm for a Louisiana winter and a Belgian summer (according to NOAA and The Weather Channel, their averages are remarkably identical.)
–> exact for 1814/15
–> comfortable for daily wear
–> passes as formal wear for shipboard
–> possibly acceptable as regular daily wear. (Empire and militaria being fashionable at the moment)