Working Towards a More Period SCA Experience

Trying to distinguish what is Period in the SCA can be daunting, confusing and controversial. Usually what is meant by “period” is that it is authentic or historically accurate for what you are trying to represent. However, because the SCA allows for the creative aspect and modern considerations, what is found in the SCA can be a wide spectrum of authenticity. The SCA spans a huge period of not only time, but regions and customs, unlike other re-creation groups that focus on a very specific time and place in history. What is deemed period is also constantly evolving and changing with new archeological finds and research. When I first joined the SCA, I was in high school, so it took me a long time to differentiate what is period and what isn’t, and even today it can be difficult because it seems to vary by personal opinion. Knowing anything about how to conduct historical research is a huge plus, but if you don’t have this experience don’t feel you are at a totally loss! The amount of resources today is very exciting and it can be much easier to find answers or others who are knowledgable about what you are interested in!

What I present is by no means an authority on what is period, but more of a guide from my own personal experience. I hope to present resources or points of view that you may not have thought of and can use to delve deeper into what interests you. Because the SCA covers so much, many people specialize in what they know to be period and what they work towards, no one is an expert on everything. I’ve broken this down into some general guidelines and then my own personal experience and tips. So let’s get started!

General Guidelines:

  1. What you see others doing is not necessarily period. Since the SCA only requires people to make an “attempt” at medieval clothing there can be a big mish-mash of period and non period outfits and elements at an event. For example, fantasy elements while tolerated are not “period”. They are tolerated because it is up to you how period you want to be. It can be difficult to distinguish when you are first starting out. When you are searching avoid using the term “costume” and that may help.
  2. Pick a time & region to start with. It is easy to research and grow knowledgable about something you like. Just one thing can vary greatly between time or region. Remember, regardless of your group or household, you can do what you want in the SCA! But it can be helpful to start with what others can teach you, or going with your household’s time/region.
  3. With #2 in mind, also start with something at your skill level for that thing. Lots of people say “I want to do late period garb!” when they have not tried making historical clothing before (making your own pattern, hand sewing, working with natural fabric, etc). Set yourself up for success and remember you can grow your skill and authenticity as you learn.
  4. Use others as resources but be careful of personal opinions/bias. I’ve had many times when I do what others do and realize later it is not authentic but customary. Don’t be afraid to do your own research and share that research with documentation!
  5. Look at recreational/living history groups and see what they are doing. The SCA seems to be going more and more towards trying to recreate history and there are many historical living groups out there that already do this. This can be a great resources for period processes of doing something your interested in and accurate clothing. Here you can get an idea of how much more accurate living history can be and see some amazing work on this WordPress site: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-most-common-mistakes-in-historical-costumingre-enactment-and-how-to-avoid-them/
  6. Grave finds and Museum pieces are your friend. This includes extant pieces of the actual thing or art/references that show or talk about the actual thing. For research, there is the basic idea of “Primary, Secondary and Tertiary” sources, Click here for definition. The closer you get to a Primary source/ the actual object, the more accurate you can be. Some like to do recreations of a specific object.
  7. It takes awhile to train your brain to recognize something period. We are not surrounded by medieval things and ways of living. Many times what you assume is medieval is actually just modern Eurasian import or maybe 18th century European or simply fantasy. But it seems medieval to us because we aren’t used to seeing it. Plus sometimes the actual medieval thing is less common because it is not as easily reproduced or documented.
  8. Period can be more detailed than you might think. Take a hood for example. For the material alone, period questions can be: What material is the hood? Lets say it’s wool. OK, what kind of wool? Let’s say sheep. OK, what kind of sheep? What region are the sheep from? Did these people have this type of sheep for this region/time? How is the wool woven?  Was this weave used for this time/place? What types of instruments/looms do you need to weave it? How were the threads spun? How was the wool dyed? Were these dyes available to these people? How were they available, local/import? How was the hood seams finished? ……. and so on. Each of these questions can have a period/extant answer or perhaps a “there is no evidence at this time, but based on these other examples and what we know of surrounding areas, it could be ____” type of answer.
  9. Do what is practical, everything doesn’t need to be an A&S entry. As you can see from the example above, documenting something can be very intensive and time consuming. But, it is also nice to be able to say “in period, it would be _____, but I used ______ because that’s what was available“. Many people take shortcuts for various reasons: Budget, time, experience, etc. That’s why it’s nice that we are in the SCA and not a strict historical living group. Being able to use the sewing machine to sew my garb together allows me to focus on hand sewing what will be seen and make more garb!
  10. Lastly, if you are trying to make something accurate, document document document! Try to think of all the elements of a project: materials, tools, processes. Try to at least have a “in period they did ___” answer for each of those things, even if you did it differently because of some reason. Also make sure to base those answers on research, not just assumptions or someone telling you to. Don’t forget to take pictures of your progress that you can use in an A&S entry later if you wish and cite your research sources!

Examples from My Own Experience

Garb

A simple rule for garb can be: What won’t be seen do on the machine, what will be seen do by hand. Try to use linen, silk or wool fabric and silk, linen, or wool thread for embellishments and seam finishing. Sometimes you can pull thread from the material itself to use for seam finishes! 

Here’s some garb I’ve made starting with my earliest to some more recent ones:

My renaissance faire garb (left). Based on a commercial pattern, wrong fabric, not accurate construction. My chemise is my outer garment instead of an undergarment.
Better, but wrong construction and fabric, this is 100% cotton print. Based on a commercial pattern. No proper lacing or seam treatment. Not to mention that’s a long sleeved shirt underneath and not an actual undergarment, lol.
A “Gothic Fitted Gown” with spiral lacing, period construction using gores and a “Saint Birgita cap”. The seam treatments are hand done using accurate stitching. This garment is based on my measurements and not a commercial pattern. The cap goes with the gown for this time frame. Made of 100% linen. What is still not period: I used a machine to sew the pieces together and linen doesn’t dye well so probably wouldn’t have been this color (but most SCA folks use colored linen for budget and comfort in the heat). I should also have an undergarment that is similar to the gown, with or without sleeves.

Garb Embellishment

It is very satisfying to hand finish your garments. It may seem daunting but once you get the hang of it, it goes very quickly and can be very simple. A flat-felled seam is very strong and requires less sewing.

IMG_2100

If you’d like to completely hand sew your garb, one neat way is to do an “Elizabethan seam”: first finish the seam edges and then sew the edges together. This works for both later and earlier garb. If you are making later period garb, use color matching thread for seam finishes. Some folks like to use contrasting color thread for earlier period garb and it can look very pretty. However some say it’s authentic some say it’s not, but many people do it.

You can also Embroider designs on garments as well as Blackwork. There are some wonderful extant pieces out there even as far back as early period, so be sure to check for them. Another embellishment is to use Tablet Woven trim. Be careful of using store-bought trims, they can look very modern against your garment.

Accessories

Don’t forget to add accessories to your outfit! Think about what shoes might be period for your outfit, look at paintings or museum finds. This is usually the easiest thing to notice and pick out on people, but it is also understandable if you need certain shoes for health reasons. Look for head coverings that may go with your outfit, this one can be tricky to distinguish what is period and what people wear for comfort. There can be lots of great jewelry, belts, beads and broaches, many in museum grave finds with replicas! There are also various period baskets, boxes, purses, depending on the time/region. Try to look for what people were using at the time as opposed to just strapping on a belt pouch. One strange aspect of the SCA to keep in mind, is we are usually in a position at events where we need to carry our belongings around. This would not be the case for a basic medieval person in their daily life.

Spinning, Weaving, Dying and Block Printing

Ever thought of spinning your own yarn? Lots of people use a drop-spindle to do this and then use the yarn to make a small project such as with knitting or nalbinding. You can also try hand dying your fabric or yarn. Or maybe you’d like to try weaving? There are so many possibilities and may not be as difficult as you think! Check you local community to see if there is a makers space or textile center that may have looms or dying materials and even classes. You can also embellish fabric with Block Printing or make designs on silk using Silk Painting techniques.

Music

This is a tough one. Not only do we not have sensibilities toward most period music but finding and learning it can be difficult. I’m not sure when it was that I finally realized that Loreena Mckennit wasn’t period as well as other “Celtic” music that I knew, most of the folk songs were either modern or from the 1800’s. Some of these songs were sung in my SCA group too, to it was hard to tell. Music is very much a customary thing, but people are trying to be more period with it. So instead of Loreena Mckennit try Medieval Babes or the John Renbourn Group. There are also some great videos on youtube of people singing SCA songs!

Cooking

Medieval cooking is very fun and interesting! It may take some time to get used to some flavors, but give it a try and try lots of different things. I have been pleasantly surprised by some flavor combinations that we would not do modernly, there is a richness and depth that is well worth the effort. Sometimes measurements can be a bit confusing but many people have taken medieval recipes and translated them into modern terms, so try some out!

Encampment

Depending on your budget, this can take some time to build up to. A canvas tent is always better than a nylon one, but not all styles are period. Our current tent is canvas, not a period design, but works so well for space and most people don’t mind. There are usually period encampment groups if you get really authentic, and they can have great suggestions on what to use. Think about using natural materials, hiding modern amenities like coolers and camping chairs, etc.

In closing

I hope this has given you some ideas and you can benefit from my years of fumbling to figure things out. Below are some ideas for resources.

Resources

-Museum websites (ex: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/t/textiles/)

-Living History Group Blogs (ex: http://hibernaatio.blogspot.co.uk/)

-Pinterest (you can find pics and links to extant pieces very easily)

-Facebook groups (there are so many now a days for specific interests)

-Your local or kingdom Arts and Sciences ministers

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