Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An 1860s Hairdo...With a Little Help

So. Hairpieces and reenacting. I promised to talk more about this, and here we are. I posted about this once before, but long story short: I wear a modern haircut in my 'real' life and use hairpieces to emulate period hair when doing historical events. Here's just one of the many ways I've used a hairpiece for 1860s hairstyles.

Step one: Cheesy smile.

Here's our starting point. I realize that my hair is considered long by some, but I've faked period hair with much shorter locks before, too. It's a little harder to integrate the hairpiece when you have less natural hair to work with, but it's by no means impossible. The major downfall of my modern haircut is the layers--it's nearly impossible to get a nice, full-looking period hairstyle with thinned or layered hair. Sure, I can make my hair into a bun, but compared to the full, lush styles of the 1860s, my little stub looks pretty pathetic. That's why you use fake hair to fill it out!

Tools of the trade: Mousse, bobby pins, waving iron, comb, and The Bun

Here they are--the secret ingredients. The very first thing you need is goop--some sort of styling product that will goop up your hair and make it workable. Trying to do period hair with clean, fresh-from-the-shower hair is a recipe for disaster. Or at least lots of cursing. I personally swear by mousse--it gives my hair a good amount of malleability without weighing it down. It also doesn't dry into a crisp like gel or hairspray, so it's nice for something that's going to take a little bit of working. Gel is fine, too, and hairspray should be used to shellac everything down at the end.

Mousse your hair up thoroughly, combing it through to make sure you've got it all over. Then--and this is specifically for 1860s--part your hair in the center and smooth it down on each side. Then part it again, going from one ear, up over the top of your head, and down to the other ear. I usually part it a little behind my ear so that I have plenty for doing rolls in the front, but you'll want to experiment with various part locations to perfect your own style.

I put all my parted sections into little ponytails to keep them separated.

Next, I chose to use my waving iron to give my front hair a bit of texture. There are a few reasons, not the least of which is that you do see this in period images. Also, I have some not-quite-bangs that need to be hidden. It's easier to disguise them if my hair has a little texture, so that works in my favor, too. Thirdly, waving or curling the front sections give my pin-straight hair more body, so when I roll it toward the back, the rolls have a bit of spring to them rather than just lying flat against my head. I have broad shoulders--I look less like a pinhead if I have broad hair, too. Before I had a waving iron, I used to just spiral curl my front sections with a regular curling iron to get the body I wanted, but the waving iron works better for the texture you see in period images.

Next up: the rolls

At this point I decided that the waving wasn't going to quite give me the body I needed, so I pulled out two old sponge rollers I had and took the plastic bits off. That way, I could use the cylindrical sponge sections as "rats," or padding under my hair.

I tried to get good pictures of me rolling the sponges into my hair--I really did. But I was doing this by myself with a camera on self-timer, on a tripod on my parents' bathroom counter, and it just was not working for me. So...I'm sorry, no pictures of a potentially-tricky part of the process. It's not really hard, but it may take a couple tries to roll the rat/sponge/whatever into your hair and get it situated the way you want. I pretty much just finger-combed the waved section forward, nestled the sponge about where I wanted it, and then simultaneously twisted the hair back and down, enclosing the sponge in the roll as I went. It's almost a folding motion--comb hair forward, hold sponge in place, fold hair back over sponge and twist as you pull the hair down and back to cover.

Yes? No? I can make a video of anyone wants to see; I'll just have to bribe/pay/coerce my sister/mother/Samantha/Mike/someone into helping me.

Anyway, at this point, I was starting to sweat and my mom was starting to get into "okay let's go now p.s. I need the bathroom and can you help me with my hair?" mode, so I was rushing a little.

I would love to be able to say that rushing explains this face, but...

It took a little finagling to get both rolls symetrically situated and similarly-sized, but with that done it was time to decide what to do with the back section of my hair. I decided on four braids--braids are great because they keep your natural hair under tension between your scalp and the braid, which gives you something to which you can anchor your hairpiece. Anyway, I braided my hair in four pieces, distributed as follows:

One braid behind each ear, using the waved sections leftover from the rolls and a narrow section of the back hair, divided from crown to nape vertically. These were situated to show below my ear from the front, to visually balance the width of the rolls above my ears.

Two braids in back, made by parting the remainder of the back section vertically down the center and starting the braids about level with my ears.

Starting to braid. Man...naptime yet?

I pulled the braids to their respective sides and fastened the hairpiece so that the bottom was just a teeny bit lower than my hairline at the back of my neck. Then, I took the two back braids and crossed them up and over the hairpiece, tucking the ends under and pinning them in place. The two braids behind my ears I looped back and tucked up under the bottom of the hairpiece, again pinning the ends under the bun so they wouldn't show.

Ear-braid looped back, back-braid goes up and over.

You can see how some of the back section comes forward to go into the braid behind the ear...right?

A view from the side.

This hopefully shows a bit of how the hair folds back from the roll and continues into a twist...which then continues into the braid behind the ear. More convoluted than a Michigan roadwork detour!

The overall look, complete with straw hat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Holland Civil War Muster 2011

Van Raalte Farm, Holland, Michigan

So, apparently, there's a Civil War event in Holland. Color me surprised. Now, I don't feel too badly about not knowing this, because it's only a three-year-old event, so I wasn't living in Holland anymore by the time it got off the ground. It's put on by the Holland Museum, and I think it's got a lot of potential.

Because Holland is so very close to home as far as reenactments go, my mom, Samantha, and I decided to make a day trip of it. We got there too late to see the battle or anything, but I will say that the venue, Van Raalte Farm Park, is really lovely. I have vague memories of hiking there from when I was 12 or so, but I'd forgotten what a lovely park it is. The original home built by Benjamin Van Raalte (son of Holland's founder) still stands on the site, and there are dozens of beautifully-maintained trails to wander in addition, of course, to the normal attractions of a modestly sized reenactment.

On the porch of the Van Raalte house

Because we arrived later in the afternoon, we did miss some of the larger scheduled demonstrations, like the daily battle. We wanted to make sure we didn't miss anything, so we made our way through all the camps--there were separate areas for civilian and military for both Union and Confederate troops, as well as a special impressions area, several presentations on the porch of the house, as well as a handful of sutlers.

On the battlefield...

Even though there was no battle going on.

Now, I'm not here to review the event, per se, but I do want to mention that (typical of Holland), the whole place was immaculately maintained and everyone was very friendly. With a location like Van Raalte Farm, the event could easily accommodate much higher numbers of reenactors and public alike, and I'd really love to see this event grow in the future! We actually shared a shuttle bus with the chairman of the event, and Samantha and I mentioned that we thought it'd be fun to participate next year, perhaps with a special impression of some sort. He seemed really positive about new ideas, and encouraged us to contact the museum for next year. How exciting! :D

After we'd walked our way through a good portion of the park, we decided hey--why not take a trip out to the lake, since we're so close? So we piled back into the good ol' Focus wagon and headed out to Holland State Park.

Not pictured: "Big Red," the famous Holland Lighthouse
(Seriously--Google "big red lighthouse" and see what you get...

Enjoying the shade

All in all, quite a wonderful day of seeing the sights! There are tons more pictures at my Flickr set if you're interested, and I also have photos for a bit of a how-to for 1860s hair. I have a unit drill day across the state for my 1812 group tomorrow, but stay tuned for more of this madness soon!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sourcing 102: Beyond Fabric

Clothes may make the man*, but accessories make the outfit. Anything from hats to shoes to jewelry--they all help complete the "look" of a historical ensemble. Whether you need supplies to make your own, or you just want to buy something ready-made; if you can't find what you're looking for locally, here's a list of online sources that I've found helpful over the years.

Again, I'm trying to include vendors from which I've personally ordered, so this isn't a list of anyone who sells anything the discerning costumer/historian/reenactor might want. This is just a group of my personal favorites.

Fire Mountain Gems & Beads
    This is where I ordered the coral beads I've used for various jewelry pieces. They have a great selection of gemstone beads (peridot, garnet, coral, agate...etc.) and an easy-to-navigate website. Reasonable shipping prices, and if I recall correctly my order arrived quickly.

    Lightweight silk ribbon in a variety of colors and widths. Most of the stock is not silk satin, but more of a "China silk." I've used it for anything from sock garters to the trim on my plaid 1860s day dress. Great prices!

A-Z Needlepoint
    Multiple varieties of needlework threads and flosses. You can search by brand, color family, or DMC color code. The website is a little confusing, but as a needlework newb, I found the search functions and thread descriptions helpful. Reasonable shipping and delivery time.

Wooded Hamlet/Needle & Thread
    Anyone who has been to the brick-and-mortar location will tell you that the website doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of their stock. You also can't order online. However, I've ordered by phone several times, both for merchandise that's listed online, and for things I saw on the sales floor and foolishly didn't buy at the time. They sell black and brown polished cotton for $7.99/yd last I checked, though it's not listed online. I just called and asked, no problems. I've also done this for 54" hair canvas, $9.99/yd. Their narrow-wire hoop kits are wonderful (I own 2 in different widths), and they've got lots of fun notions available. I love the wooden thread winders I got from them, for example.

Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile
    I'm millinerily disinclined, to put it mildly. I can decorate a hat in a pinch, and I even blocked my own straw hat once, but I'm not enthusiastic about it. That's why I thank my lucky stars for places like Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile. With more options than you can shake a stick at, anyone should be able to find something beautiful and appropriate. Millinery is labor-intensive (which is why I don't do it), so be prepared to shell out the dough, but in my opinion the product is well worth the price.

Angela Liguori
    So far I've only listed places from which I personally have purchased, but a friend recommended Angela Liguori's 100% cotton ribbon to me, and I just haven't had a chance to try it yet. I will say I've never seen anyone else selling actual cotton ribbon--plain weave, finished edges--rather than twill or herringbone tape. So I can't speak personally about this one, but it came highly recommended!

Sock Dreams
    I spent 2 years at Michilimackinac wearing one-size-doesn't-fit-anyone-quite-right "reenactor socks" before someone pointed me at Sock Dreams' website. I got my first order in the mail and immediately said, "I will never order reenactor socks again." My personal favorites are the O Chevrons, O Basics, and the Military Bootsocks. And, free shipping! Can't beat that.

Robert Land
    Rober Land seems to be the go-to for ladies 1860s shoes, and now he's got a line of early 19th century styles as well. My pair of 1860s American Walking Shoes (actually boots) is nice, though not without issues (they dig into my Achilles tendon, but that's because my legs are not the same shape as the boots, not because the boots themselves are inherently defective). I always appreciate being able to order wide widths (see how much I love you, pinkie toe?), and there are lots of colors and styles to pick from.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Fugawee's shoes. I spent two summers wearing size 10 Wide in their ladies' colonial "Anna" style with no problem. I normally wear a size 8 Wide. So when I ordered my own pair of "Connies" because I liked the shape, I got a 9 Wide. They were fine for a while, and then all of a sudden at a random event, they became torture devices of unspeakable pain. I believe the issue is that I ordered a straight lasted style, but your mileage may vary. On the upside, the customer service is very friendly, and the prices are about what you'd expect for specialized shoes.

The Dressmaker's Shop
    I've never actually ordered from Kimberly Lynch of The Dressmaker's Shop, but I've bought plenty from her at events and her whole stock is online. In particular, I purchased a roll of her rice braid for bonnetmaking (did I finish the project? No. Is it lovely stuff? Yes.). She actually also has a fairly large stock of fabrics, but I haven't bought any yardage from her so I felt like I couldn't put this link on the fabric sourcing list!

Spencer's Mercantile
    Oh Spencer's Mercantile, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. My first introduction to Spencer's was at the Seige of Old Fort Erie. I walked into their tent, turned to Gwendolyn, and said, "Do you think if I handed them my credit card and backed my car up to the tent, they'd just start loading stuff in?" I still feel that way about their stock, and I can't speak highly enough about their customer service. They sell everything from socks and shawls to flintlocks and writing desks.

Hats by Leko
    Your one-stop shop for millinery supplies, patterns, etc. Straw hoods and capelines of all sorts, sizing, millinery wire, buckram forms...and the list goes on. The minimum order ($28) can be a little pesky, but if you stock up on staple items (like buckram and wire) to fill out your order, it's not a bad deal.

    No matter which way you slice it, corsetmaking supplies are pricey. I've been really happy with my purchases from Corsetmaking.com, though. Their shipping seems a little expensive, but I've done a side-by-side cart comparison with a couple other vendors, and the prices usually come out within pennies of each other. Corsetmaking has the advantage of having a user-friendly site and giant selection, so two thumbs up!

*"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society" ~Mark Twain

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fair at New Boston: Sunday

Sunday rumbled in with a bit of rain and some residual thunder. When I arrived on site, it looked like a canvas warzone. High winds the night before had taken down several tents, and there were some merchants who lost portions of their inventory to falling canvas, rain, or general craziness. Some of them packed up and left, while others righted their things and soldiered on.

Resetting after the rain.
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf

Because of the storm damage, the fair opened at noon instead of ten, but there were absolute scads of people waiting. I was very impressed; despite the weather, there was a massive inpouring of visitors as soon as the gates opened.


Because of the heat on Saturday I wore my lightest cotton dress to keep cool (ha!). The muddy conditions of Sunday called for a harder-wearing ensemble, so I was really glad I had thought to bring my striped linen crossover. Wool probably would have been the best choice, since it doesn't get quite as heavy when wet as linen does, but I was really very pleased with how well this outfit did in the inclement weather.

More shopping was accomplished, and I bought a mug that had escaped from the previous night's storm damage. It rained off and on for the rest of the day, and we almost made it out half-dry. Of course, it started pouring as soon as we began to take our tents down, so hard that there was actually water pooling in the canvas as we were folding it.

My "go figure, it's raining" face.
Photo by Samantha Bullat

Despite the surprise!downpour, packing out didn't take as long as it could have...considering that it wasn't safe to take my car onto the field and we had to pull everything out in a wooden handcart. I mean--there were other vehicles on the field, but that meant it was extremely muddy and rutted, and with my car's low clearance we agreed that getting in on the field wouldn't be the problem. It'd be getting it off the field without getting stuck that would be the issue! So we dragged our gear out with only a little trouble, lashed the wettest of the canvas to the top of the car, and made our escape from Ohio all in one piece.

All in all, I had a wonderful time. I always have fun with the 1st Regiment folks, and for me the crazy weather really brought about a feeling of "we're in this together." I was astonished by the huge turnout from the public, and I definitely am looking forward to this event again in a year's time!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fair at New Boston: Saturday

Saturday morning dawned bright and hot, although I slept through a good portion of the morning thanks to my ever-wonderful sleep medication and the coolness of our shady campsite. Eventually some of the women in my unit came and dragged me out to play, and it was fantastic!

Fair at New Boston is like no other event I've ever been to. It really felt like going to a state fair or similar event, only...200 years ago. I realize that's the whole point, but it's a different atmosphere than anywhere else I've gone. There was one long row of food vendors, with delicacies ranging from peaches and pound cake to bison and brunswick stew. The rest of the field was filled with artisans, merchants, and craftsmen plying their trades and selling their wares. I saw some familiar faces, like the lovely folks at Spencer's Mercantile and Regency Revisited. There were others there I'd never seen or met before, and it was great fun to make the rounds, shopping and chatting the whole time.

My one major purchase is something I've been wanting for a long time but had never nailed down where to get it. I met Andrea of Amey's Adornments when I noticed a beautiful queen-stitched pinball hanging from a silver ring and chain in her display. I asked if I could take a look, and she mentioned she was out of the rings but would be making more this fall if I was interested. And BOY was I interested! It's no secret that I have a thing for pinballs of all sorts, and while many of the examples I saw at Winterthur have silk ribbons or braided cord to hang them, I can see myself shredding through a nice, delicate ribbon in about 4.5 seconds. I've had my eye out for a metal ring and chain set for about a year now, but I just couldn't make up my mind and it seemed my only option was to fork over a few hundred to Colonial Williamsburg. Which is fine, but I would rather support an independent small business than History Disney a large corporation. So I happily shook Andrea's hand, gave her my money, and skipped out with my order confirmation.

I don't even know you guys. It was really hot.
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf

About then is when the heat started to get to people. Rumor in the street was that temperatures had soared to above 100F and despite near constant ingestion of water, it was almost impossible to stay hydrated. No one in our unit actually passed out, but we had a couple people who had to lay down, and we began applying handfuls of ice to foreheads and necks as the day wore on. Despite the brutal conditions, the fair was still packed. As the proverbial mercury rose, more and more of us sought shelter under our unit's fly, cradling mugs of water and commisserating about crazy weather at events past. I don't know about you, but I find that facing the elements can bring about cameraderie faster than almost anything else. Either way, we had weather and cameraderie in spades.

Finding refuge in a bit of shade. Fortunately the conversation was good!
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf

When the sun started to set and the air was still at blood heat, I finally caved to my inner wuss and called in to town to reserve a hotel room. Right about that same time we started to hear thunder, and shortly thereafter lightning forked across the gathering clouds. Any doubts I might have had about not roughing it that night were promptly banished. The gates closed at six, just in time for the hard, soaking rain that began to fall. Big, fat drops splattered down and the sky was the color of lead shot, lanced through with purple and blue lightning.

The last of the sun on Saturday. It was still hotter than Hades at this point.

I had decided at that point that discretion was definitely the better part of valor, and I left to go have dinner with some unit members at the nearest Cracker Barrel. We chitchatted and munched until well after 9, and left for our respective hotels during a lull in the rain. The storm kicked up again just as I got to my gloriously air-conditioned room, and I was definitely grateful not to be on-site as I watched the thrashing winds and pouring rain from my third-story window!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fair at New Boston. In a word, INTENSE!

When we last left our heroes (aka, Samantha and myself), we had just finished beating a strategic retreat from the battle of the bat in my apartment and were on our way to Lansing. Stern warnings had been issued to Mike, in mostly-genteel tones, to the tune of "Be ready to go or we will kill you." And lo and behold! We pulled in and Mike's gear was all waiting for us in the driveway. It took hardly any time at all to load, which then left time for a short nap to make up for the sleep lost to bat-hunting the night before.

The drive down was uneventful, other than the heat. I don't know if it's appropriate or possible to call heat "excruciating," but this really was. You know how they say don't put a fishbowl in direct sunlight, because it will overheat and kill the fish? Picture my car as the fishbowl, and Katie!fish, Mike!fish, and Sami!fish slowly dying of hotness inside.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Mina (the nickname I've given the Garmin GPS we use when going on long trips) got us to Springfield, Ohio, with no incident, and no heat-related deaths. Things cooled off a little as the sun started to set, and we found a beautifully wooded campsite that was several degrees cooler than the field upon which the main event was set. Setup went smoothly until it got dark and we discovered we had...no light. ...MIIIIKE. He produced three scented pillar candles and a random votive from somewhere in his gear, but nothing with which to light them. Fortunately, the group of longhunters next to us provided fire, and I sat up putting last minute finishing touches on my clothes until I accidentally capsized my candle and the sloshing wax put the flame out. After that I gave up and went to bed.


There is more to come, and there are also pictures! I promise.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fair at New Boston @ 12:45 p.m.: it is hot as balls out here y'all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fair at New Boston: the Saga

Labor Day weekend--most "normal" Midwesterners will be grilling hot dogs and scarfing coleslaw with their family members. It's supposed to be inhumanly hot this weekend, so I'm sure many people saner than I will be hanging out in environmentally-controlled locales, enjoying that wonder of modern technology, air conditioning.

I, on the other hand, am going to be wearing 4-6 layers of clothing and camping in a tent all weekend. We're going to Fair at New Boston!

The plan is to leave here--Grand Rapids--at about 10:00 (fifty minutes from now), pick Mike up on the way, and all of us will head down to Springfield, Ohio, from there. To facilitate this, Samantha stayed at my house last night. Of course, nothing can ever be simple, so this week has been quite a saga in and of itself. I've not been able to get enough sleep, Samantha came down with a sinus infection, and to top it all off, well. At 4:39 a.m. today, I awoke to a little shake of my shoulder. "Katie," Samantha whispered. "There's a bat!"

"Where are we?" I mumbled. "What? No bat."

"Your house! There's a bat in your house!"

Stumbled out to living room. No bat, and all the windows have screens on them. Samantha wonders if maybe she dreamed it. Go back to bed. Fall asleep. Indeterminate amount of time later, Samantha's back. "I definitely did not hallucinate it this time; there is a bat!"

Stumble out to kitchen. No bat. Turn on all lights available. No bat. Look out onto back porch. "THERE HE IS!" cries Samantha. I don't see it, but I immediately shut the window that opens into the main part of the house, and she shuts the door. Then I look.

Holy crap, there's a bat!

Dilemma. It's somewhere between four and six a.m. What to do about the bat flying a grid pattern in my three-seasons porch. Decision? Go back to bed, deal with bat later.

Wake up this morning. Bat has escaped. Samantha checks main rooms while I shower. No bat. Leaving town in 40 minutes, still have to pack the last of the toiletries, etc. Decision? Leave bat, figuring he will either escape the way he came in, show up hungry and allow himself to be caught later, or die. Which might be slightly morbid, but any of those three options would mean there would no longer be a bat in my house with minimal effort on my part, and I find that I am all right with that!

So. Barring any more acts of bat, we're off to New Boston!