Listen to the episode
Historical Costuming, Part 1 – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Historical Costumers Highlight
Cheyney McKnight @notyourmommashistory Instagram Website YouTube
Keisha Medrano @Skmedrano Instagram
Christine Millar @sewstine Instagram YouTube
Nami @namisparrow Instagram YouTube
Erika @erikaalamode Instagram Website
Samantha @couturecourtesan Instagram Website
Danny Banner @danbanstudio Instagram Website
Zach Pinsent @pinsenttailoring Instagram Website
AJ Elias @aj.elias Instagram
Jeff @yang_cheon_shik Instagram
Ada: I don’t know I haven’t really gotten to that point yet because I got stuck on the shirt and that’s a whole different topic. But
Nicole: Wait, like literally stuck on the shirt? Is that why it’s a different topic?
Ada: It may be a little… (laughs)
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.
Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities, and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.
Ada: I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is a traditional territory of the Uyt Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N apostrophe S promise, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing @i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram @NicoleAngelineSews.
Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: I can. I am – surprise! – doing another pattern tests, because I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have something some kind of homework. But I am testing out the new True Bias Winnie skirt. So I think we’ve mentioned in the past that like, I’ve not really been into skirts. And I’ve been going through this like style evolution. And I went to this conference last week. And I pulled out the only skirt that really fits me anymore. And I looked awesome. So I’m like, Hmm, maybe this is like a fit issue. And I just need to size up if I’m buying and like because I haven’t bought anything new. Or I should just make stuff that fits me. So there was a call for pattern testers for true bias. They said it was paid. And it is. No surprise it is. And I typically like to take a look. And it especially if someone’s getting paid like of course we can acknowledge that this is not covering the labor that goes in the cost doesn’t cover the labor. But it’s nice, you know, to work with folks who are compensating testers. And I saw that they were I was accepted to be in the tester pool and just putting out the skirt. So it’s a skirt. It isn’t…. I don’t know, if you don’t think it’s counted as a pencil skirt, but it’s described as a woven skirt that is fitted through the waist and hips but a straight cut to the hem. Would you call it a pencil skirt?
Ada: No, it’s not quite pencil but it’s also not quite a line.
Nicole: Yeah. So it seems like it’d be pretty comfortable.
Ada: It gives me like with from the description. I don’t think I’ve seen it on Instagram yet it kind of gives me like 90s 2000s jeans.
Nicole: Yes, yes. Exactly. Exactly. And so it has a button front opening and belt loops and the pattern also has it has like two front pockets as well. They want us to test the front pockets but like the belt itself, there’s a self belt. So what I can totally envision it and this is consistent with you know, True Bias’s style, you know, with fall-like materials, it’s finally cold-ish. Here. One week ago today it was 86 degrees but it is now highs of 56, which is more my speed. I can see this as a mini skirt, which they have like a mini, midi, and Maxi length and I can only see myself really making the mini anyway. But like you know, corduroy, denim, like something thick, maybe even a wool. I’ve definitely got some options. But I don’t have time. So, I found a really big cut of Poly Jacquard. Why do I have it? Literally no idea at some point in the past I was like, this is nice. It’s non stretch, it’s woven, you know, it could be really cute for work too. It’s like a gray rosette pattern. I’m sure rosettes are like out of style, whatever. It’s my toile. It is due on Saturday, which is for three days from now. And I am very behind. I’ve cut the pieces so that’s not too bad. I still have to cut interfacing. And this might just be one of those, like finish it on the day that it’s due type of situations. But luckily for the first time in a long time, I almost suspiciously don’t have anything on my calendar for Saturday. So I might actually just be able to enjoy myself and finish sewing the skirt. I don’t know about you, but outside of work, fall is here and my time is being taken, which it’s been fun, but just so exhausting. So nobody’s on my calendar for Saturday.
Ada: I love it. Keep it that way.
Nicole: Yeah. Me, just me, all me in the skirt. What about you, working on anything?
Ada: I’m currently staring down at the pieces of the Range Quilt, which I think I mentioned a few recordings ago that I’m making for one of my really good friends who’s due in, I believe the beginning of December, but right now we’re kind of eyeing Thanksgiving with a wary eye. And my friend have done a lot for me in my life, including picking up things in the middle of San Jose because I bought them on eBay. And I didn’t want to ship them, to housing me when you know my dad was in the hospital and all that stuff. So, very dear friend would love to show my appreciation and welcome their new addition with this quilt. Listeners might recall that one time I made a range cool the first time and I just got the pieces, la, la, la, and then sewed it together and realized I made a full sized quilt. This time, I have not done that. This time, I challenged myself to half the quilt, which in my little garment sewing mind thought it was just: okay, you take the numbers and then you divide by two. But, seam allowance!
So I had to go around and quilting – obviously as a quarter inch seam allowance… or not, obviously, but like is usually a traditional quarter inch for modern quilts patterns. So I had to do some extra math and then cut some pieces. And then I still had some extra pieces in different colors. So I need to finish piecing the top of the quilt together. it was just sewing the strips together and making sure that it all lines up. So hopefully that works. And then press it or press it assemble. Press it again and then quilt sandwich and finish it also before Friday. So that’s tonight’s project. And I also wanted to make them like a family set of T-shirts.
But that feels like a stretch right now given that I have to finish the quilt. So something’s gotta give. And I was reminded yesterday that mailing things to your friends is acceptable. Yes. And so I might finish the quilt bring that to them in person, because to me that is a little more meaningful, because they know that I do a quote for everyone who has a baby and they had a say in the design, and then make some T-shirts later. Because I did also I was inspired by your previous make which I think you made beanies for your nieces. Yeah, yeah, I was inspired. And then I realized that it doesn’t really ever get cold enough in the Bay Area to necessitate a beanie. Maybe the baby will need one but I wanted to make a matching family set and have something that they can wear for it with cute pictures and whatnot. So I think that might be the next sewing project.
Nicole: Oh, that’s so nice. That’ll be really cute. And so special. Love to hear it. Can I ask you a question? Pressing. What’s your pressing situation like?
Ada: I don’t own a full sized ironing board and it kind of feels taboo to say that. I was about I was, I swear I was about to buy a full sized ironing board. Then I realized they were kind of expensive. And that you can always thrift one you just got to make sure you get it good and clean before you bring it in. And then one day I happened to me walking Mochi, and one of my neighbors had put out a mini ironing board on the street and it still function totally fine. I took the cover off. That was not fine. I think that’s why they threw it out but like the metal base was fine. And previous to having that I had just had one of those ironing mats with the magnets and uh you know the Dritz brand one. So I just threw that on top and I’ve just been doing that and so it’s really nice because I have a hook uh, you can’t see it in frame but it’s right to the right of my little thread spool holder on the wall. And that’s where my ironing board lives so that I can fold it up and put it away when I don’t need it just because the footprint of having an out is a lot since I have more furniture in this setup. Now listeners you can go check my personal Instagram @I hope sew, to see the reel of kind of how I rearrange stuff but we’ve got a couch here we’ve got a TV. We’ve got a 3d printer in the corner, my like stash of scraps that are going to be used for stuffing and we’ve got the projector and we’ve got the whole table setup like. There’s no space for an ironing board here. And so the collapsible, moveable is has been really helpful. And that’s actually also how I have been teaching my classes because I bought three more of those tiny ones that we can put on a smaller table. Nice. And we just set up an ironing station and then we unplug it and put it away when we’re done.
Nicole: Okay, I’m probably overthinking it, I will say,
Nicole: Okay, when you said you know, I don’t have a full size ironing board. And this is why we put explicit ratings on our podcast when necessary. I was like, fuck full size ironing boards, they’re such a pain in the ass! Like, they do have a huge footprint like, and I’m like, I don’t have a ton of like surface space like in the room that I work in. And I did build this like gigantic cutting table, which is really cool. And those three mats, and I think I may have mentioned this in a previous recording, but I bought one of those, like heat pads that you can just put on the table and I put them on my mat and they failed. And my mat, like warped.
Ada: I warped a mat that way.
Nicole: Yeah. And it was the middle mat. So it wasn’t like it was and I can’t accept like the, the numbers not lining up. And so I just bought a whole brand new set and like, so mad. So I’ve been using my ironing board again, it’s just like a regular garment ironing board. But you’ve got to like fold it up and lift it up. And it’s just take so much damn space. And I’m like you said you’re pressing a quilt. And I was like, Okay, how you doing that? But you’ve got your ironing board. But it’s nice that it’s tabletop though.
Ada: Yes, but also because they are half size quilt, it’s now like it’s baby sized, right? Like, it’s probably 36? 30 Odd inches wide, like 40 Odd inches long? So it is small enough to press on there. When I made the original first one of these, the range quilt that was like a full size one. I am not gonna lie, I was pressing that on the floor. And I was just like going for it like, and if it’s not going to work, you bust out the steamer, which I know it’s not really a thing. But hey, if you don’t have the space, and I think Bhiravi actually has like a great Oh, write up on her blog on Strawberry Creek quilts blog about sewing in small spaces, and I believe she has both a small, portable or like foldable ironing board and the mat that you have or like a similar one.
Nicole: Okay. Okay. The Pattern Scout, who is a pattern designer has a YouTube channel where she showed how she would make a like a flat foldable with like a hanger hook ironing mat. So instead of actually being an ironing board, then you could put it on a table. And she actually puts it on her table the way that she made it over her mats. And it doesn’t melt by using like the special fusible interfacing fleece that’s like microwavable, or like heat resistant or something. Yeah. So she has a YouTube video. And like, I’d like to make that but I’m like also, who has the time, so maybe there’s a better solution.
Ada: There’s also over the door, ironing board racks, which Bhiravi also told me about which I think her family had or she might have had at her parents house one day like a while ago, but she sent me a picture of it. And it’s just you know, the hook that goes over the door, kind of like if you would do hooks for a towel or something. And then ironing board like folds out from that. And I was worried like, what if you put too much pressure on it. But she said that like it works fine. So you know, as long as your heat settings are correct. And you’re careful with your fingers. I think that should work. But yeah, there’s lots of options that aren’t a big old ironing board.
Nicole: Yeah. All right. I like to think that getting a better pressing situation would solve all my sewing problems. But I think it’s a start it’s something that I can improve but, okay, let’s get started so we can actually get into the meat of our episode here.
Welcome back to another episode of this Asian Sewiest Collective podcast. This episode was produced by Esther Lee and researched by Cindy Chan, and today we’re diving into historical costuming. Historical costuming involves sewing and wearing clothes representative of the fashions of earlier eras. Most people would consider pre-1920s time period to be historical, and the time period passed the 1930s and on to about the 1950s and 60s would be considered vintage. So while historical costumes can of course be purchased either ready to wear or commissioned for makers. For the purposes of this episode, we will focus on people who make their own historical clothing to wear. historical costuming is different from cosplay, which is a whole other episode that we’ll do sometime in the future.
Ada: There is a wide spectrum in historical costuming and in particular, how accurate people strive to be in their costumes. And on one end of the spectrum are those who only use materials and sewing techniques that were available at the time period of that costume. That means selecting fabric weave and fiber content, dyes and prints that were popular or available during that time period and sewing using the construction techniques used during that time. For example, only hand sewing would be used to make pre-industrial era clothing, or using a treadle machine for Victorian-era clothing or draping dresses, a mantua-makers or dress-makers would have done in the 18th-century instead of using patterns.Gown-making or mantua-making use to belong to the tailoring trade until 1675. And then it became a separate trade because mantua-making required draping skills while tailoring required flat pattern cutting and manipulation skills. However, it is worth noting that tailoring was a traditionally men’s trade and often excluded women.
Nicole: Hmm. That wasn’t a “Hmm” from excluding women because, hey, that’s history, baby. But I’d never heard of the word mantua-making before. So, can I call my dresses mantua now?
Ada: I don’t know. I think we would have to consult a costumer.
Nicole: Oh, fair. No, that’s fair. Fair. Let’s get into it. But so that’s historical costuming, and the other end would be history bounding or historically inspired costuming. We’re only certain elements of historical outfit are worn, i.e., a medieval hood over a modern outfit, or an outfit that has a general historical aesthetic think a pinafore dress with a medieval kirtle feel over a modern mouse while being adapted to a modern lifestyle. So perhaps the skirts are shorter, less full, and the sleeves are less voluminous. So most historical costumers will fall somewhere in between with each person prioritizing what’s important to them, whether it’s silhouette, fabric, appearance, or just general look. Getting the right silhouette means using the correct underpinnings aka undergarments or shapewear, including stays corsets, petticoats, bum rolls, etc. These can be made with fabric that is or is not period accurate depending on the maker. As we sewists know, fabric can make or break a design, certain fabrics can look dated. And by that we mean the time period when the fabrics were popular, not just “old”. But it’s great for the purposes of historical costuming. There are many modern polyester fabrics that could visually mimic more expensive silks or store bought duvet covers that feature historical prints. Most importantly, the desire to look historically adequate and costuming to communicate the overall time period can either be approached with extreme accuracy down to the underpinnings, or practice without being a stickler for historical accuracy.
Ada: I feel like if you clicked into this episode and saw the title, and knew it was us, you knew this was coming. But the historical costuming community has been called out for its lack of inclusiveness. In the last few years, the community has become less gatekeep-y with a much greater acceptance of historically inspired costumes instead of strict historical accuracy. There have been many content creators who have highlighted ways to make historically adequate outfits with clever thrifting and other shortcuts to make the hobby more accessible. They also have pointed out how impossible it is to achieve true historical accuracy. For example, some of the historically accurate fabric weaves and densities are just no longer achievable with the weaving looms and technology and crops that we have available today. And current societal practice does not include starting corset use as a teen to achieve the “correct” body shape for some of these garments. Modern diets also contribute to different body figures that differ from back then. So there are definitely still people who you know, they like to harp on accuracy, focus on accuracy, but there is much more calling out of gatekeeping and acknowledgement that people have different resources and goals when it comes to this hobby.
Nicole: Historical costuming tends to be dominated by white people due to many factors, including but not limited to the plethora of information and documentation readily available about historical European fashions, like the types of extant gowns preserved in museum collections and books available on the subject. There’s also the perception that European fashions particularly those of Western Europe, are more fashionable/aristocratic/varied due to imperialism, colonialism and the narratives told in Western media that of people aspiring to live out certain fantasies. So, think Gone With the Wind, Pride and Prejudice and even Bridgerton.
Ada: For some people, there is also a continuous familial history that allows for keeping records of ancestors’ garments or even the actual garments themselves. Whereas for immigrants or refugees or perhaps anyone descended from enslaved people, continuous familial history, it can be tougher to track or may not exist. Organizations like the Daughters of the American Evolution or Society of Creative Anachronism that specifically focus on family history or historical recreation, and have a wealth of knowledge in these areas mostly have this wealth of knowledge available for their traditionally white members.
Nicole: And while both of these organizations provide people with resources to recreate historical costumes, we do want to acknowledge that they both have a problematic history, and exclusionary one to say the least. The Daughters of the American Revolution has actively denied membership to black and native descendants up until very recently, and in the past, bipoc performers were barred from performing in the organization’s hall. The Society of Creative Anachronism is an organization that celebrates European Middle Ages and has been called out for child sexual abuse, anti-Asian sentiment, and sexual assault. Most recently, there was an incident in which the incoming “kings and queens” wore swastikas, the symbol appropriated by the Nazis. So, takeaway message here is that, you know, organizations that glorify the way of the past, in which racism and all the isms are baked into the culture and how that has happened in the past. And they apply said way of living in the current day in the guise of historical celebration or accuracy is problematic. So we just want to inform our listeners that while these organizations do have a wealth of knowledge with regard to providing guidance on historical costumes that they themselves are not are not unproblematic, or they are problematic, they can be at least.
Ada: So while there is documentation and surviving garments from various points in Asian history, and Asian cultures and countries, a lot of that research and work is only available and its original language and few resources may be available to translate this work. So, not only does this mean that it might be difficult for those in the diaspora who are not fluent in their ancestral language to access this information. It also just means that this information is less widely available to academics and researchers around the world. Historical events such as the Cultural Revolution, Korean and Vietnam wars, the regime of the Khmer Rouge, for example, mean that a lot of collective knowledge in the form of cultural practitioners of fiber arts, was either lost or became unsafe to pass on. And we’re just talking like the last, not even 50. Like not, I was gonna say 100 years, but like not even 100, It’s like the last 50 years, right? So these recent historical events also dictated whether or not immigrants and refugees had the ability to keep their threads of cultural knowledge (pun there!), or physical garments as connection to the past. reasons including but not limited to, and undesired uprooting of families due to dangerous conditions or a desire to leave the past behind and assimilate to a new country, for example. Also, members of the Asian diaspora may not have the generational wealth or abundance mindset that allows for time consuming and resource intensive hobbies.
Nicole: Not sewing so it’s not time sensitive or time consuming and resource intensive, not at all. Well, all that being said, there’s a growing movement among both Asians and Asian diaspora, those in the Asian diaspora in reclaiming historical cultural garments. In some countries such as Japan, cultural garments like the kimono have not changed much, and kimono are still a part of ceremonial wear as well as everyday wear. In China, the hanfu movement has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years with more and more young people interested in wearing the styles of the Chinese dynasty. The hanfu that are worn vary wildly in accuracy, with most being more fantasy in nature as influenced by C-dramas.
Nicole: Have you gotten your hands on our Asian sewists collective labels, they make the perfect gift during this holiday season for your sewing friends and fam and, of course, for you. Our original collection feature sayings from previous podcast episodes like “this was a panic sew”. And our newest collection is made for the sustainably minded sewists. If you’re not a bedsheets snob, this collection is for you. To purchase, please go to ko-fii.com/asiansewistcollective. Your purchase goes toward helping this all volunteer podcast keep going, by helping with things like editing transcripts and publishing. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Ada: Cindy, who is our researcher for this episode also practices historical costuming as a hobby. She said “personally sewing my own cultural garments cheongsam and hanfu have been powerful and meaningful ways to reconnect with my heritage and spur further learning about my ancestral history.” Esther, who was producing this episode, also agreed saying that, “sewing my own qipao made me feel closer to my Asian roots.” We also just had a great interview with Jeff, a sewist of Korean descent who wears hanbok daily, so you should check out our earlier episode from the season and give him a follow.
Nicole: While some people choose to wear historical outfits all the time in their daily lives, like Zach from @pinsenttailoring, most people wear theirs at special events, run fairs or other historical ish fairs or historical costuming guild theme events. Many historical customers also coordinate their own private theme gatherings or events like a Downton Abbey afternoon tea, Bridgerton picnic, or wearing cultural garments for a Mid-Autumn Festival potluck. Some also wear historical costumes at conventions. Comic Cons have a relatively small number of historical costumes, but nobody will blink if you were one. And frequently there are mashups like a Victorian Captain America or a Borgias inspired Loki, et cetera, et cetera. There are also costuming specific conventions like Costume Con and Costume College.
Ada: Full disclosure, many of you might have already seen this but from what our team has observed, Costume College is a slightly problematic event. While it does enable people from all over to come and learn and meet other historical costuming enthusiasts, tt also has a history of being very Eurocentric, and I’m just gonna say racist. Costumers of Asian descent have experienced microaggressions there, to the point, where one year a bunch of them all decided to dress up as Edwardian maids all at Downton Abbey to poke fun of white people who couldn’t tell them apart. And to that I say, roast them.The stereotype there… is just chefs kiss usage. The leadership of costume college is also predominantly white and made a huge misstep this year. And initially coming up with the theme “Silk Road” for this year’s event. I wish I was kidding. When I saw this on Instagram. I was like, what? A dumpster fire.
Ada: Yeah. So obviously they did that. And then a lot of people responded and said, they were concerned about the theme as an open invitation for attendees to– you know what I’m gonna say– appropriate with their costume choices. They finally backtracked and changed the theme altogether. And this led to many Asian costumers publicly deciding not to attend as a leadership that would allow for such a theme to be picked in the first place, even if it was eventually retracted, is not one that is in tune with inclusivity and understanding the challenges that BIPOC folks face. And I wish I was surprised that this was still happening in 2023. But I’m really just not.
Nicole: No, and I vaguely remember this coming out the first one when it happened. And I was like, Oh, dear. I actually didn’t know that they retracted it. And I’m not sure how I would have felt. I think it depends on their retraction, you know, it’s got to be an apology of real understanding. And if not, I’d be like, if it’s one of those, “I’m sorry, you were offended” type things. I’d be like, see ya! So This leads us to the topic of who can participate in historical costuming. And the answer is everyone folks, regardless of skin color, or gender. And that’s not to say that BIPOC and Asian historical costumers don’t run into challenges in this sphere. The biggest challenge is that the perception that BIPOC doesn’t “belong” in Eurocentric history events. There are comments like “Black people can only dress up as enslaved people, not as wealthy people”, or “there were no Asians in Colonial America”. On the other hand, there’s also confusion from members of the BIPOC community who wonder why any BIPOC would want to participate in such a “white” hobby. And we want to take this opportunity to highlight a few BIPOC historical costumers and their great work. And all of these folks are going to be listed in our show notes, so definitely check them out.
There is Cheney McKnight, who is @notyourmamashistory, who has an historical interpreter and who educates about the lives of enslaved people. There’s Keisha Medrano, who is @SKMedrano. She is a surgical technician by day and historical costume or by night and she sews her outfits using thrifted fabric. There is Christine Miller who does 18th century and Victorian costuming and anesthesiologist by day, a historical costume maker by pretty much any of the other time she has, and she makes inspiring YouTube videos of her making process and I understand is relocating to the Midwest. I wonder where!
Ada: I did see that.
Nicole: She said Midwest and I was like Ohh.
Ada: Well she was in New Jersey and I was like get it!
Nicole: We’ll see. I don’t know she seems very cool and I don’t know if I could be her friend but you’re cool and I’m your friend. Anyway.
Ada: Sewstine is best! Sewstine was probably one of the first YouTubers that I followed who does sewing even though it was not the sewing I do.
Nicole: Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve seen I follow her on Instagram and it’s just she’s got such amazing exquisite work and I don’t even know if I said that her Instagram was Sewstine but it is Sewstine S E W. And then we have Nami who is @NamiSparrow. She does cosplay and historical costuming. There’s also Erika with a K. It’s @Erikaalamode. And she does historical costuming, cosplaying, and kimono. And finally, there’s Samantha, who is @couturecourtesan, who is HAPA and also does historical reenactments. So please check out the show notes for the correct links and spellings of these folks accounts. Follow them and show them some love.
Ada: Gender non conforming folks might also run into challenges of not dressing their assigned sex at birth because historical costuming, history… see our gender non conforming episode. However, costuming is inherently an opportunity for people to dress up as whoever they want to be. And so there’re femmes dressing in traditionally menswear, I guess men’s historical costuming or vice versa. So a few queer historical costumers, we wanted to highlight are Danny Banner @DanBanStudio, who is a New York City based historical costumer and artist. Zach Pinsent, who we also mentioned before @PinsentTailoring, who was a historical consultant and tailor in the UK. AJ Elias, AJ dot E L I A S, sews his own historical costume pieces and is often seen on Instagram, in these like amazing, spectacular dresses. If you know of any more, we would love to highlight them. So please reach out to us. So we can link them in the show notes and promote them on our Instagram. And based on our observation, there is a portion of the historical costuming community who take up this hobby, specifically to relive what they perceive as the “good old days”. However, we’d like to encourage the attitude of “historical style, not historical values”. And we will be linking an article by Catherine Fung entitled “The complicated fun of being a historical costumer and not white” in the show notes. So in this 2019 piece, she described the discomfort of being Asian American, and navigating a space that celebrates an imaginary vision of the past without acknowledging the colonialism, genocide and slavery. She writes “when the history is less immediate, less visceral, less imprinted in the body, I can treat the game of dress up as cosplay as opposed to historical reenactment” She also had a comment in her post where it was like her coworkers or friends and made a comment that like, whoa, Katherine, you have a lot of really white hobbies. And I do feel like I sometimes also get those comments both because of sewing and golf, which I believe is entirely accurate to say. And part of me wants to be like I’m here, and I am diversifying the space and trying to make it so that others who look like me, or who can relate to me feel comfortable in this space. But as Mariko reminded me when I met up with her, it is not all on me. And so hopefully, this episode reaches some folks who are interested in historical costuming and might have wanted an inside or inside look before diving into it or before kind of just going into it. Not knowing how receptive it would be or if there was space for them. But I think that also applies to other areas of sewing as well.
Nicole: And it’s so hard to be the person in the room, trying to you know, diversify whatever it is when like that’s a lot of burden on you or me or whoever that person is, without the added and hopefully exponentially larger sort of welcoming aspect of the people who are in the majority of that particular group. So I feel you I get that. The barriers to entry to historical costuming they do seem very high but most historical costumers are friendly and eager to rope new people into this hobby. So for some this hobby is a “love of history and historical clothing” like Samantha @couturecourtesan mentioned on her blog. For others like Keisha, it’s self care as creative escapism, especially during the COVID times. And for AJ Elias, the hobby is, “an antidote to fast fashion and hyper consumption”. So for our listeners who are interested in historical costuming, how can they get started?
Ada: Well, there are a lot of internet resources. Are we surprised? We recommend narrowing them down to specifically starting with a desired time period or geographic region to help focus your learning. This also helps other people direct you to relevant information. And there, there’s a lot of targeted communities available to help you get started like Facebook groups specifically for certain time periods or regional guilds like the Greater Bay Area costuming Guild and periodic sewalongs on Instagram. You can also follow historical costumers on YouTube and Instagram but don’t get discouraged if their work seems way beyond your starting level. Like I said, I’ve been following Sewstine for a while. Never in my wildest dreams shall I be creating a gown that looks like anything like she’s making. It’s just nice to look at. It’s very soothing to also hear about her process. You can follow along with these videos and posts and ask questions to learn. Most costumers are friendly and happy to help, but also do some work to learn on your own. Don’t necessarily expect a stranger to kind of hand feed you or kind of take you along step by step for the information. There is, I think, a bit of trial by error here. The historical costume or costume YouTube community has a ton of videos specifically to help people get started and sewalongs for basic garments. So if you search CosTube Symposium on YouTube, you might find some of those. And a lot of customers who’ve been around for a long time, still have blogs up with tons of tutorials and dress diaries.
Nicole: I’m laughing at CosTube.
Ada: Oh, I thought you were laughing at dress diaries because it’s like the cooler version of like OOTD (Outfit Of The Day).
Nicole: Oh dress. Yeah, that’s true. Mantua diaries, right? So we haven’t talked about cost. So as with the spectrum of “historically accurate” costumes, the cost can vary. The amount of money and time it can take to do historically accurate work as an accurate historical reproduction is significantly more than thrifting. A few pieces for history bounding. On one end is the as historically as accurate as possible. Also perceived as the “highest” level of costuming work. The amount of money and time it takes to research acquire the “right” fabrics and the time it takes to make or buy everything from the undergarments to the structural components. So the stays corsets, panniers, hoops, etc. to the actual garments, which frequently use a lot of yardage or feature extensive embroidery, that can be a big burden for some folks! Reproduction embroidered silk brocades can run into hundreds of dollars per yard. And if a gown requires several yards, plus several dozen hours of hand sewing, the hours required to learn how to “authentically” drape your own dress etc. By the time you’re done, a single outfit can cost well into the 1000s of dollars for materials and labor.
Ada: On the other end, there are customers like Emily, who is @ourshieldmaiden on Instagram who specifically make it a point to recreate all of their historically inspired costumes by thrifting and can spend less than $100 on materials per outfit. Vivien with an E @fresh frippery lists the cost breakdown for all of her outfits on her blog and the range can vary. For Cindy, our researcher, she thrifts as much as possible and most of her outfits come out to less than $50 in materials, so not counting time and experience and I know for a fact that Cindy will thrift on Instagram because she has had me send her or bring her some stuff. And it can be done. It turns out beautifully. So be sure to check out our show notes for these resources and all previously mentioned historical costumers. Nicole, How has learning all of this knowledge around historical costuming made you feel? Do you want to try it?
Nicole: No. I know where my strengths lie and they are not in making beautifully historical or historically inspired costumes. I am happy to have this long list of folks to follow and enjoy. But I’ll stick to my plan of making napkins for everyone for Christmas. What about you?
Ada: I think I’m gonna stick to observing and enjoying and appreciating as well. I think this definitely opened up my eyes a little bit more about the nuances of what’s going on in the historical costuming world. I am here for some of the progress that we’ve seen over the last year, specifically with BIPOC costumers in particular, and I’m here to support them and support their work. And I deeply, deeply appreciate all of the skill that goes into many of the hand finishing and historical techniques that they’re doing. I just personally love my serger and love as a zigzag stitch and love my machine with a motor.
Nicole: Sometimes, sometimes we don’t even finish seams, sometimes.
Ada: Sometimes! Like those knits like the t-shirt I’m wearing today. So yeah, it’s been really interesting, I think to dive deeper with the research and to more, I think, fully understand and appreciate historical costuming as like a sub-community within sewing, and also cheer on those who are not only just of Asian descent, but all BIPOC folks in these this space, like. I commend you for all of the amazing clothes and I shall be over here, making my little baby quilt.
Nicole: Much respect for the practice.
Ada: This was part one of our episodes on historical costuming. Tune in next week when we sit down with historical costumer AJ Wu @confusedkittysewing on Instagram to talk more about it and actually get the perspective as someone who is in the historical costuming community.
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Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s AsianSewistCollective.com And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments, or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at AsiansSewistCollective@gmail.com. This episode was brought to you by your co hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.