Saturday, December 31, 2022

Why Hand Sewing should be the least of your worries

     Before I start this post, I should say that it's going rile a few folks. To the progressive types I might be preaching a heresy, and to the people who care less about what they wear and more about what they do, this might seem like I'm letting you off the hook. That I've finally seen the light and I don't care about the details anymore. Well, you're both wrong. So without further ado...

Michael Ramsey and Myself at Locust Grove. Micheal is one of the finest 18th century tailors in the hobby today. If you can afford his work, I highly recommend. 

There was and has been a major push in the last decade and a bit to move the hobby in the direction of hand sewn garments from head to toe. An admirable goal and I applaud those who make this commitment.         

    But, it is my opinion that hand sewing your clothes should be somewhat low on the priority list. 

    There's several reasons people list for not hand sewing their clothing. Money, time and not having the ability to sew. Money tends to be a bit more scary than it actually is. You can often find people in the hobby that will sew a garment for a reasonable price. Some folks will charge high prices, but the work is good so, I guess if you want that level of work, go for it. But suffice to say, it can be daunting. Not having the ability to sew and learning how can also be a daunting task when you're first starting out and of course theres the time aspect. Hand sewing takes a lot of time, and if you're not particularly efficient then sewing can take up huge chunks of it. 

    Now, stopping here, I just want to say. YOU SHOULD LEARN TO HAND SEW. At least so you can make some items or make repairs to clothing. But do you need to become the next bespoke tailor in the hobby?  No. 

    Theres a final aspect that I think is valid and that is, maybe you simply don't enjoy sewing. It might not be your thing. And that's okay. 

    So what should your priorities be? If it isn't hand sewn what should you be striving for? 

    First, the right materials. Choosing the correct materials. Correct materials will be the building block of the proper look. 

    Second, patterns and the right cut are crucial to achieving a period look. 

    Machine sewing, while frowned upon in some circles, will help you get in the field quickly and save you a lot of time. Machine sewn interiors will never be visible to the public or your fellow reenactors, however, anything visible should be hand sewn. I think this is a happy compromise to make. 

My shirt is hand sewn, but my jacket and trousers are machined on the inside with hand finishing 

    My kit is about 60-40 Machine to Hand Sewing. And I'm okay with it. Hand sewing has never been my cup of tea. I get really frustrated with it. So I usually buy second hand, order a machine sewn/hand finished garment, or if the price is right, something entirely hand-sewn. 

    So, what am I saying? Learn to sew. That's the best option. But if it's not your thing, it's okay. There's options. A completely hand sewn kit is cool and admirable, but I usually don't like being told someones kit is hand sewn. Feels like an invitation to stroke an ego. That's cool, your kit is hand sewn, but can you build this fire in the rain so we can stay warm? No. Also fine, but let's not act like anyone is cooler than anyone else here. 

    At the same time, not being able to hand sew yourself is not an excuse for making up whatever fantasy garment or ill fitting thing you can find wear because "People did with what they had" or "Out on the frontier they didn't know about the latest fashions" . Again, cut and fit are the key. 


Monday, December 19, 2022

Christmas Gambols


A few passages relating to the festivities around this time of year. 

Christmas is come, hang on the pot,

Let spits turn round, and ovens be hot;

Beef, pork, and poultry, now provide

To feast thy neighbors at this tide; 

Then wash all down with good wine and beer, 

And so with mirth conclude the Year.

-Virginia Almanac (Royle) 1765

 Our boy Nick Creswell writes of a twelfth night party : 

"There was about 37 Ladys Dressed and Powdered to the like, some of them very handsom, and as much Vanity as is necessary. All of them fond of Dancing. But I do not think they perform it with the greatest elleganse. Betwixt the Country Dances they have What I call everlasting Jiggs.

A Couple gets up, and begins to dance a Jig (to some Negro tune) others comes and cuts them out, these dances allways last as long as the Fiddler can play. This is social but I think it looks more like a Bacchanalian dance than one in a polite Assembly. Old Women, Young Wifes with young Children on the Laps, Widows, Maids, and Girls come promsciously to these Assemblys which generally continue til morning. A Cold supper, Punch, Wine, Coffee, and Chocolate, But no Tea. This is a forbidden herb. The men chiefly Scotch and Irish. I went home about Two Oclock, but part of the Company stayd got Drunk and had a fight."

 Also from Phillip Vickers Fithian in 1773 : 

"Guns are fired this Evening in the Neighbourhood, and the Negroes seem to be inspired with new Life."

 In 1772, the Virginia Almanac observed :

"This Month much Meat will be roasted in rich Mens Kitchens, the Cooks sweating in making of minced Pies and other Christmas Cheer, and whole Rivers of Punch, Toddy, Wine, Beer, and Cider consumed with drinking. Cards and Dice will be greatly used, to drive away the Tediousness of the long cold Nights; and much Money will be lost at Whist Cribbage and All fours"

If you have anymore quotes, please leave some comments! Hope everyone has the merriest of Christmas feasts, warm drink and good company. 


Friday, December 9, 2022

Off the Rack or Putting together an impression when sewing isn't your strength

       There was a time in this hobby when the only real option for correctly made clothing was to purchase the wool or linen, pattern it yourself or purchase a pattern and do some slight altering. But, thankfully some vendors are really upping the game on what is available off the rack. 

    I thought I would post here to highlight some of those items that I think are being well made and completely legit options for putting together your 18th century kit. 

    South Union mills is offering an excellent ready made trouser for a decent price. 

Click to go to South Union Mills Store 

    They also make an excellent waist coat and frock coat. Kobuck did a product review that you can check out here. They also offer blankets, knit caps, socks, and shoes. Making one big purchase from them can take you a long way and outfit you for your first event or replace a lot of gear that is maybe not quite up to snuff. 

    William Booth, Draper sells market wallets and knit caps that are ready made. 

    M Brenckle is an excellent hat maker. He is on Facebook and is easy to communicate with. 

    William Caldwell isn't exactly an off the rack sutler, but his hunting shirts have been very popular and he is usually very quick with his turnaround. 

    Something to think about is this. Would it be great if we all had sewing skills and we handmade every single piece of clothing? That would be ideal. Often times a lack of sewing skill or time is used as an excuse to wear sub par clothing, clothing that doesn't fit or isn't made incredibly correctly. The good news is there are better alternatives now and those excuses are quickly becoming obsolete. Fit is more important than the stitching in my opinion, at least the interior. A hand finished, machine stitched item will serve you well and look great. The real thing that makes all the difference is the tailoring. 

    This is a really great and exciting time to be in the hobby. Lots of awesome stuff going on. I see it all the time. I couldn't have dreamed of some of it happening back a couple decades ago. Wether it's the 13th Virginia, Davis and the boys at Frontier Culture museum with Crocketts Western Battalion, the Jersey Grays, David McClanahan and Will Manire. You can go on and on. A lot of good fervor right now. I love seeing Ethan Yazel using his podcast to highlight some of the great people in this hobby doing cool stuff. There's so much good stuff happening. The hobby isn't dying, it's just finding a new trail. Follow it. You'll have a good time. The off the rack clothing is just one aspect of improvement the hobby has seen over the last several years.  Don't let hand sewing or not knowing how hold you back from getting involved! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Musings...again. It's Kobucks fault


    I'm glad that Kobuck is writing prolifically again, because it pushes me to muse. Sometimes I muse on here more than I think I should instead of just sticking to primary sources and putting the information in front of people and letting them decide what to do with it. 

    Why does it matter so much to get this stuff "right". Especially when for a lot of this we aren't even necessarily doing it in front of the public. Private events, backyard camps and hunting trips. Who cares if you're wearing the right clothes. It's the spirit of it, right? 

    I think sometimes because of the modern world we live in, it causes us to want to experience another time. And we then go about romantically concocting notions of rugged individuals living off the land in some kind of bushcrafter survival paradise. "Out here they're beholden to none, not living by another's leave". Cool story bro, but that's just our James Fenimore Cooper, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier cultural mythos at play and it's VERY HARD to escape from it. 

    I think sometimes the fight is no longer, hey guys lets do this better, its become more so lets call a spade a spade and quit pretending like this bushcraft weekend in historically inspired outfits has anything to do with what guys in the 1760s backcountry were doing. Let's admit that there's two hobbies going on within this larger hobby and stop conflating them. Maybe your group shouldn't go on YouTube and claim to be portraying long hunters of the 1760s. Maybe just say "We are historically inspired bush crafters using some of the skills of the past to have some fun and get away from the modern hustle and bustle for a weekend." Who knows, maybe we all need to admit that's what we're doing wether our clothes can be documented down to the stitch or not. 

    I don't know what the answer is. We all do this hobby for different reasons, I just really have a hard time with disinformation. So put a disclaimer up or something. Or not. Probably doesn't matter. Shoot flintlocks, build fires, make a shelter and have fun. Oh and read some primary sources and try to do that too.    

    In other news, I think we're gonna do some Tshirts again, and I've got new Shirttail Mess "Liberty or Death" stickers. Stay tuned for that. Go read Kobuck's new
blog post
about aping the savage. It'll make you rethink some things. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Waterproofing Gear...or Not


A common thing we see in the hobby is the notion of waterproofing. While we do see the military knapsacks of the era being waterproofed to some degree with paint, is this a common thing men of the backcountry were doing when hunting etc? 

    Nicholas Cresswell is one of the greatest resources for understanding some of these conundrums we face as reenactors. He talks about having to stay shut in during heavy rains, or that heavy rains prevented them from an activity. But he never mentions waterproofing gear. Two quotes give some insight into what was to be done in a rain. 

    Monday, May 8th, 1775. Heavy rain this morning which obliged us to make a sort of awning with our tent cloths and blankets


    Tuesday, June 27th, 1775. Very stiff current all day, heavy showers and very sultry. It is a custom with our company, as soon as it begins to rain to strip naked and secure their clothes from the wet. I have attempted it twice to-day, but the drops of rain are so disagreeable to my skin, that it obliged me to put on my shirt.

    Now, Cresswell and his company were on an extended hunting trip. Most people who farmed and hunted from their cabin would simply stay indoors during a heavy rain. Our modern time constraints make it difficult sometimes to avoid the rain. But here are some period methods that I think inform us as to how they dealt with it. 

    If you have any documentation for waterproofing that I don't know about, I'd love to see it. Or if you're reading this and want to try the above methods mentioned by Cresswell, I'd love to hear about your experience. Next warm weather rain shower, I'm gonna go out and try my luck. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Musings on the hobby...


Type in longhunter in google image search, and you'll find any and all sorts of things. I had to scroll down pretty far before I found an image that resembled realities of frontier and backcountry material culture. So why all the misinformation? Fess Parker? Mark Baker? Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans? Our cultural mythos of the rugged individual and the homespun hero? Our distrust of "facts" in this country? 

Much respect to Mark Baker, but everyone copied this look

    One thing I notice is the myriad of youtube channels now dedicated to a sort of amalgamation of 18th century trekking, modern bushcrafting, shelter building, and shooting/hunting. While I'm glad there's a lot of interest in this subject, I'm sad that so much of what we know through the source material is being pitched to the side in favor of myth and weird bushcraft approaches to 18th century life. 

Nathan Killbuck

    Nathan Killbuck pointed out in a recent interview with I Love Muzzleloading, (that you should check out), that there's so much to be learned by so many different types of folks. From the chrome tan clad ronde goer, to the walnut dyed "longhunter."  And this is true. Much of the knowledge contained in some of these videos on skills are valuable, even in an 18th century context. But sadly, when it comes to the material culture, there seems to be a disconnect. There seems to be an unwillingness to go with the sources, or when the sources are cited, to grossly mishandle the interpretation. 

Heck, even Henry Fonda looked better in the 1940s Drums Along the Mohawk movie than a lot of what I see today 

    So what's to be done? Well, complaining about it sure feels good! But, at the end of the day, complaining never really makes a difference. Arguing also rarely makes a difference. I think the real difference that can be made is to just keep putting the information out there and show up where you can to inspire and gently nudge people towards something better. 

    What inspired this post? Well I had recently watched a video on a youtube channel that I will leave unnamed. There was an interview with an individual who by all accounts is incredibly knowledgeable about backpacking, about being in the woods, and about survival. But also by all accounts has very limited knowledge of period sources and material culture. His kit was assembled more like a modern backpacking or military style pack but out of "period" materials making the mistake a lot of people make which is to retrofit 21st century modes of trekking and "primitive" camping onto the 18th century. It was fairly elaborate, well thought out and over thought out to achieve maximum comfort. But did it reflect what we know from the sources. Sadly, unless there's something I haven't read, no it did not.  

Michael Agee doing this right. Clothing of the common style which fits well, and even riding a horse! 

    Where am I going with this? I don't know. Just sitting here, surrounded by books, thinking out loud, hoping by sending this into the void, I can make myself feel better about the state of things. Honestly, there is a lot to feel good about. The fact that I Love Muzzleloading sought out someone like Nathan Killbuck to interview is a breath of fresh air. Someone who has been banging the drum for us "authentic" weirdos for a long time. I hope to see the material culture, the skills and shooting all come together and be more prevalent on the internet for the sake of those interested in history. 

Until next time....

Monday, October 31, 2022

History is Fragile or Why We Should Care


This past weekend, Eileen and I drove to Western Pennsylvania to see Fort Necessity, Jumonville Glen, and Fort Ligonier. It was a long time coming for me. I was raised on a healthy dose of George Washington history growing up and Fort Necessity had always stood out in my mind. The imagery sparked and fueled my imagination as I spent many hours recreating the battle in the Great Meadow. 

    We arrived at Fort Necessity, toured the museum and then walked towards the meadow through the tree line that once held an army of French and Native allies. A charming field indeed, George. 

    We browsed the small stockade with its breastworks. Amazing to think that many men were piled into such a small space. After inspecting the fort we made for the tree line and looked at things from the French perspective. The trees must have provided very affective cover and made the fort and its defenders sitting ducks. 

    I was over the moon to have gotten to finally set foot on the ground that consumed my imagination for so many years. But it was the next part of the journey that made me take pause. We stopped and ate at Braddocks Inn Restaurant. This place was odd. Nothing in it had anything to do with Braddock or history, but instead it was cowboy themed. A missed opportunity for sure. However, next to the Braddock Inn is a monument to General Braddock, just up the hill from where his remains were discovered in 1804. This realization got my mind thinking as a stood next to the gravel pit and sign that mark his original burial spot. 

    My mind continued to turn as we drove up the road to Jumonville Glen, an area that remains mostly undisturbed from what it was almost 300 years ago. A beautiful rock outcropping that comes down into a bowl in the middle of a draw. A bad spot strategically to make camp. We explored and began to make our way back. 

    The thought had finally come to a point that I could express it allowed. And it is this: 

    History is fragile. Once it happens, it ceases to have the capacity to defend itself from the future. In 1804, some men building a road unearth the body of Braddock. They think. How did they know? Because the local lore was strong enough, preserved enough, that Braddock was able to be identified and given a proper spot and later a monument to his memory. The items and documents that survive history do so because someone valued it enough to protect it, to keep it safe from the perils of every day living. Think of how much we have, and think of all that has been lost to the mists of time. 

    As historical reenactors and living history interpreters, we have such a huge responsibility. It's our voices that give history its voice. Its our actions of preservation that give future generations the ability to experience and share the stories of our past. When we put on our silly clothes and go play at a historic site for the weekend, we should ask ourselves, "Am I doing my best? Does this item or this garment accurately represent our shared story and the people who lived that story?" We are, for many people, the link between what was and what now exists in books and museums. Dressing up and presenting history accurately is an act of preserving our history. We owe it to the past, to the people who went through it, to do our best.