Sunday, May 17, 2015

Silk Banners! Or, this Oda Cannot Draw a Straight Line

Yesterday I spend the afternoon with a couple of SCA friends (my former peer and her husband) working on a new silk banner.  To be strictly correct, it's currently my ONLY silk banner, they were working on replacing/augmenting their current silk banners.  Always nice to have someone who knows what they are doing when you doing something like this for the first time!

The motto translates as Shadows Pass, Light Remains.
A good reminder for me right now, and it reminds me a little
of the Litany Against Fear from Dune
We made large silk pennons which we will probably fly from our pavilions or from poles next to them.   I'm not 100% sure that silk painting in this manner is strictly period, but from what I've been able to fine the style of banner is and the idea of painting fabric to make a banner of some sort is, and this being the SCA no one seems much to care beyond that.  The silk looks lovely fluttering in the breeze and is actually very easy to paint with modern silk painting materials.

There are a number of good websites on how to do these types of banners.  It's a lot of fun and quite easy to do.  The most difficult part is stretching the silk.  We have two styles of frame to start with, one of wood and another of PVC with integrated legs.  Even with the legs, the PVC was much less expensive to construct, easier to build and move around, more adjustable, and easier to store.  The silk was cut to something close to size, attached with rubber bands and large safety pins (though you could also sew it on to the frame the way you attach fabric to an embroidery frame) and you are ready to go!

We also found it helpful to have several yard sticks (and a couple of old leese sticks, we're all weavers so these are plentiful) to support the paper we had drawn our designs on while tracing with the resist and to rest our hands on while painting.  Unfortunately I didn't take in-progress photos but again, there is a lot of good information out there.

Overall I am really happy with how this turned out.  The wool combs from my arms could stand to be a little larger, and there isn't a straight line to be found, but once flying in the wind no one will notice. There are also a couple of small drip spots and bleed overs, but again you can't see them from a distance.  We found that the darker colors covered up the light color drips/bleeds very well, and that once one color dried it created a bit of a dam for the adjacent colors.  Not as good a break as the resist, but it worked pretty well.

I'll be doing wool applique for my next banner project.  I know that both methodology and application are correct for my time period in this case, and it will create a heavier piece suitable for hanging on the wall of my tent or displaying as an actual banner with all the necessary hoists and supports.

Some resources:
Midrelm article on Banners, Standards and Pennons
How to Paint Silk Banners (PDF file, very good instructions!)
Flags and Banners in the SCA (another PDF, great overview of various shapes)
Dharma Trading Co. (for all the supplies!  Great place to get Dynaflow paints, gutta resist, and even silk to make your banner, plus lots of instructions on how to use whatever products you choose.  We used these paints -

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Breast Bag thoughts

Much and more has been written already about the Lengberg Castle "bras."  I'm not going to rehash any of that except to say it seems fairly certain that by at least the 15th century wearing some sort of supportive undergarment *other than* a fitted gown was not unknown.  I've been playing around with making one of these for the better part of a year now and here are some thoughts.  I've set up a pintrest board on period undies and another on modern undies to collect images and helpful links, rather than overburdening this page.

1. It appears that "lifted and separated" was the the ideal boob shape for most of the period I am interested in.  This really cannot be accomplished with a fitted gown*, which gives you more of a mono-boob shape.  Furthermore there is plenty of textual evidence for breast-shaping garments (and surgery!!  WTF??) in the later middle ages which suggests to me that a breast-bag garment is more likely to have been employed than a super tight gown.

2.  There is more than one way to bag a breast.  The "long line bra" option is but one of four breast-bag garments that were found.  It seems to have gotten the most press as it looks the most like a modern bra, but looking at visual sources as well as what is available on the find themselves suggests that many means of lifting and separating were possible.  Just like we have lots of bra styles today, both for fashions sake and to accommodate different anatomy, they did the same thing back then (and why ever not?  People in any given period of time face the same basic challenges and needs).

3. This one is my favorite - modern bras and bra making can teach us a whole heck of a lot about how to actually construct a plausible period breast bag.  Again, the basic facts of anatomy have not changed.  Breasts are what they are and there are some basic rules about constructing supportive and shaping garments that do not change regardless of time period or shape being sought.  This is not to say a corset-is-a-corset or that a bra-is-a-bra, but in either case the garment is being supported at the waist line in the case of a corset or at the underbust line in the case of something bra-like.

Understanding the importance of the bra band and how to get the center point of a bra to tack (that is, sit flush against the rib cage) makes fitting a period style breast bag MUCH easier.  Keeping in mind that my breasts are on the heavy side (another thing I would not have known without a foray into modern bra making), the bust band must 1 - exist and 2 - be snug/tight.  This makes fitting the cups or bags much easier and proper support possible.  It's also what does the lifting.  The separating comes from how the cups/bags are arranged and fit on the body.

Once you figure out the band, you need to take a good hard look at your breasts and figure out where the root of the breast is (towards the center?  under your arm? someplace in between?)  and how much space you are working with at the center front.  The first version of the Lengberg bra I made had way too much space between the cups, which prevented the band from tacking and allowed my breasts to creep out from under the cups.  The current version has less space, but the band is still too loose so I am not taking but I am not falling out the bottom either.  Figuring out where to make adjustments to get better fit is not as obvious (or at least wasn't to me) but there is a certain logic to bra fitting and it's easier to see after playing around with actual bra patterns.   There are fitting instructions for these things after all, why not apply that accumulated knowledge?

4 - Tacking.  As I mentioned above, the idea of tacking is that the center portion of a bra (where the two underwires come together on a modern bar) should lay flat against the sternum.  This happens when the band is snug enough and the cups are sitting on the actual breast rather than starting too far to one side or the other of the breast root.  A properly fit bra that tacks is a marvel and if you have never had this happen I highly encourage you to put down the computer, go find a specialty bra shop, and get fitted.  With soft cup bras, this is not as likely to happen as there is nothing rigid for the band to pull against the body, but you should still not have inches of space between the band and your chest between the cups.  Some things that seem to work to get this to happen on a breast bag type garment are 1 - making sure the band is snug 2 - getting the center height and width right and  3 - making sure you are working with the right shape garment for your particular breasts.  

It's all about understanding your breast shape really.  Just like with outer garments, you've got to work with the body you have.  The first step in a well fit garment will always be understanding the shape of the body that will occupy it.

*assuming you have sufficient breast-mass to need help in this area