Episode 50. Historical Costuming (Part 2)

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Historical Costuming, Part 2 The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

Today, we're sharing part 2 of our deep dive into historical costuming! Our guest is AJ @confusedkittysewing – and AJ speaks about her experience getting into historical costuming, her sewing practice and collaborations, and her experience as an Asian costumer with Nicole.  Follow the pod at @AsianSewistCollective on Instagram. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: asiansewistcollective.com/episode-50-historical-costuming-part-2  If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by buying our limited edition merch, joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective 

Links 

Fabric Stores mentioned

Burnley and Trowbridge, US-based, carries natural fibers and historically accurate fibers

Resources

AJ @confusedkittysewing

Doris @dorisaurusmakes

Cindy @cationdesigns

Victorian outfit at Kensington Palace

fete de gallantes outfit: 18th Century court suit

Vogue Photoshoot Punk Victorian

https://assets.vogue.com/photos/587723304188c650566587b5/master/w_1600%2Cc_limit/punk-in-vogue02_114808313444.jpg

Underwater photoshoots: dunhuang styles

Underwater photoshoots: Legend of the White Snake

Sailor Moon x hanfu

Bridgerton

Show transcript Part 2

Ada:   Hello listeners, today we are going to be continuing with our previous episode on historical costuming and you’re going to hear an interview between Nicole and AJ Wu, aka @confusedkittysewing on Instagram. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. I certainly learned a lot about historical costuming and the different techniques that AJ uses in their practice.

Nicole  

To help us paint a better picture of the historical costuming world, we have invited AJ Wu, aka @confusedkittysewing on Instagram. Welcome, AJ, could you please introduce yourself to our listeners? 

AJ:  Hi, thanks for having me. I am AJ. My pronouns are she/her. I am Taiwanese American. I grew up in Maryland, outside DC, and now I live in San Jose, California. I am primarily a costumer, cosplayer, but I am also a quilter. And occasionally, I make clothing for everyday wear. For my day job, I am a software engineer at an education tech company. 

Nicole:  Wow, you wear many hats and your sewing practice is so broad. I love that. So earlier in the episodes that you mentioned, you said costuming and cosplay. And we talked about how historical costuming is a spectrum of you know, extreme historical accuracy on one end to history abounding on the other and we’ll get to cosplay later. But what is historical costuming to you? And where do you fall on the spectrum? 

AJ:  Historical costuming for me is creating garments that are modelled on clothing that was worn historically, it’s attempting to recreate the clothing that the way they would have worn it back in whatever time period it is. For me, I would say I lean a little bit towards historically accurate but in the sense of, I very much like to learn how they did it. And then I’m just like, Okay, we don’t have to do it that way, because I don’t have time for that. Yeah, so while I love to hand sew, I don’t have time for that. So I am totally okay with machine sewing. I’m totally okay with taking shortcuts where necessary. I also do historical bounding but that’s in my everyday wardrobe day to day, not my costuming.

Nicole:  How and when did you start to get into historical costuming?

AJ:  So, my best friend Judy has been a historical costumer pretty much, I guess, all like most of her life because she actually majored in costuming. We met doing Lord of the Rings cosplay. And we became really good friends and eventually we moved in together, we bought a house together. And then a few years after we started costuming together, we took a trip to London to attend a friend’s wedding. And I was like, well, if we’re going to trek to Europe, I am going to have a historical costume to wear there because that’s what costumers do. We take costumes with us on vacation. So she helped me cram out a Victorian bustle dress and I do mean crammed. We were like sewing pleats up until leaving for the airport. 

Nicole: Wow. 

AJ:  But we finished and we got there and we walked around Kensington Park and costume and a friend took photos for us and it is still one of my favorite dresses to wear. So

Nicole:  Oh, that is so cool. Do you have/are there photos of that particular shoot on your Instagram?

AJ:  Yes, but it’s probably easier to find them on my website. 

Nicole:  Okay, well, we’ll look for those photos and we’ll link them in our show notes listener so definitely go have a look. So what is it about historical costume that you really like? Like why do you keep coming back to this practice?

AJ:  I really love the silhouettes of historical clothing. They’re just so different from what we wear modern day. I love how all the under structures work and what they did to achieve like the silhouettes and illusions of like, say the slim waist or the very, you know, very big butt for a bustle dresses. And I just really enjoy sewing. I would be sewing regardless, but I find historical costuming just very fun to do. So that’s just what I do.

Nicole:  So you mentioned you were walking around London and you went out around around Kensington Gardens, that with your Victorian inspired or Victorian historical costume. So where do you get your inspiration? Is there a specific person or era that really inspires and informs your work?

AJ:  I have a custom list a mile like wish list a mile long. So usually I’m trying to pick off that, but stuff that ends up on the list is I spend a lot of time going down the rabbit hole of Pinterest and looking at beautiful dresses, looking at historical dress Tumblrs or Instagrams. And a lot of times it’s looking at what other people in the historical costuming world are doing. Because when you see it on a person versus on say like a dress form, it comes to life and then you’re like, wow, that’s really cool. I think I want one of those too. For example, like a couple years ago, everyone was into 1830s gowns. It is a hideous silhouette only, only a historical customer would love the style of dress. But I saw like all these people wearing them. And I’m like, That is amazing. I need one too. I have the fabric and the patterns, but I haven’t done it yet.

Nicole:  It sounds like my practice sometimes where I get influenced and inspired by other people. I’m like, Oh, I’d like to try that. And I’ve this is I’ve said this multiple times, I have a quilt box because I was going to become a quilter one day. And I’m like, still there, there’s the pattern and the fabrics, just like you said. But it’s cool that you get your inspiration from other folks in the community. So how do you approach and figure out how, you know “accurate” the costume would be the costume that you’re making would be or should be.

AJ:  So the truth is, we’re never going to be able to achieve 100% historical accuracy. And no one should be making that claim. We don’t have the types of materials they had back then. And historians are always discovering new things when they dig up like you know, stuff, and clothing and take it apart and look at it. So if you’re going to go for historical accurate, you’re going to make it as best as you can with the knowledge that we have at the time. And as for how I approach it, it depends on the project and the purpose of the costume. The vast majority of my costumes are for fun for group projects, we’re just hanging out. So I don’t stress the accuracy that much. If I were doing something like living history, my requirements would be very different. And obviously, their requirements are very different. But since what I do is mostly for fun, historically adequate is good enough for me.

Nicole:  Oh, I like that. Can you give our listeners like, like a few sentences about what living history?

AJ:  Yeah, so living history is, those are the people who work at historical sites and try to bring the history alive for the people who are visiting, to give them a sense of what it was like to live back then and what the people would have done and what they would have worn. And in those cases, the clothing needs to be fairly accurate, right? Because you’re trying to recreate what it was like at that historical site. So their requirements are obviously going to be very different from me where I’m just, you know, traipsing through a garden and my pretty dress. 

Nicole:  So, for those doing living history there make are they making their own?

AJ:   Oftentimes, they are Yeah, or commissioning from someone you know, in the community who would make it for them? Yeah.

Nicole:  Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s so interesting. Thank you for sharing that. I mean, I’m always learning.

AJ:  Yeah, yeah. If you go to like, if you go to Colonial Williamsburg, they actually have a shop on site that does make all the clothing for a lot of the people who work there they. So you can take classes to from the people who work in Colonial Williamsburg and actually see how they make the garments and how they would have made it back then.

Nicole:  Would they have hand sewed it? Yeah, yeah. Oh, my gosh.

AJ:  Colonial Williamsburg is about, like, you know, 18th century so they didn’t have sewing machines, then. Yeah,

Nicole:  That makes sense. And wow, good, good. Good for them. Handsewing to me is not therapeutic in the way that is for some people. It’s an obligation, but very cool. And you know, we talked about earlier in the episode, you know how it is truly a craft and I can appreciate that maybe I’ll head out to Colonial Williamsburg someday and check it out. 

AJ:  Yeah it’s a cool site. 

Nicole: So I want to talk about like your, your techniques, your makes just like your process a little bit. And of course, something that’s of interest to me is fabric. Well, it’s all interesting, but do you have any tips for choosing the fabric that you use? Like where do you source it? And I’m always curious, like, on average, how much fabric are you using per historical garment?

AJ:  So it will depend on what era you’re talking about. A Victorian, like mid-Victorian which is like Civil War era and late Victorian those are going to use a lot more fabric. Something like Regency which is you know, Pride and Prejudice. It’s a very slim silhouette. Those are going to be much less fabric. But say a Victorian when I’m buying for a Victorian I will go for anywhere from five to eight yards of fabric, depends on how much trimming you want to put on. It depends on how many layers. As for fabric for sourcing again, it also depends on what era you’re going for. Regency is going to be very soft flowy fabrics of voiles, cottons and then for Victorian I would go for more taffeta type materials, something with a little more stiffness, a little more body. So it really depends on what era you want to talk about.

Nicole:  Yeah, that makes sense. I think. I mean, history is broad. So if we’re if you’re doing different eras, different, you know, locations, I’m sure I’m sure it changes. So where do you source your materials?

AJ:  I am very lucky to be in California near enough to drive down to LA  fabric district. So when we need a lot of fabric for a project we drive down there and we hit the fabric district and we can buy like if it’s a project that we know we’re going to have eight to nine people. We’ll buy bolts. As for if you want to look online, there are places that cater specifically to historical costumers like I said Williamsburg has a shop. Oh, sorry, I’m suddenly drawing a blank. I use this specific shop I will have to think of the name later. There’s the Renaissance fabrics. There’s just certain shops that historical customers will frequent because they have more natural fiber fabrics. That and oftentimes they’ll have more prints that are suited to you know, historical costuming. Colonial Williamburg actually does have a shop and they sell cotton’s that are 18th century prints. Oh, Burnley and Trowbridge. That’s what I’m thinking of. They also supply fabric to Williamsburg.

Nicole:  Yeah, I know our producer Esther dropped in Burnley and Trowbridge. So we’ll throw some links in there. We had an Instagram Live that’s going to that’s the first episode of our season where Ada and producer Mariko went to the LA fabric district or fashion district. And I’m like, oh, I want to go so bad. But it’s cool that you have that as a resource for you, especially since you and your group would go through a lot. And it’s nice to buy in bulk. And I’m sure it’s a nice day out for you all as well. Yeah. I love that. That’s so fun. I wish there was a fabric district here. Well, maybe not because I just buy more. But I’m located outside of Chicago. So we don’t really have anything like that here. So what is your proudest or most meaningful historical costume to date that you’ve made and why?

AJ:  I think the one I’m most proud of is the 18th century frock coat that I made for my husband Marcus. I don’t know if you know anything about 18th century court suits, but they’re very elaborate, covered in embroidery, and very hard to recreate nowadays, right? They usually had entire shops importing them. I do have an embroidery machine. So I did it on a embroidery machine. But it still took each motif was like 15 thread changes because I’m on a single needle. And it would take like half an hour to 45 minutes to stitch out each one. I don’t even know how many there must have been like 30 on the jacket itself. My friend digitized the frock coat embroidery for me Sewstine on Instagram, but then I wanted to digitize the embroidery myself for the waistcoat. And I didn’t know how so I had to buy software and teach myself how to digitize. It’s a very steep learning. But yeah, so I made his entire frock coat and his waistcoat and everything, and I really love the way it came out. I mean, the fit could have been better. But you know, for my first time making historical menswear, I thought it was pretty good.

Nicole:  Oh, that’s awesome. So does your husband participate in historical costuming with you?

AJ:   Not really. This was special, right? Because I think we’ll talk about it later. But Fete Galantes is in France, and he wanted to go with us and you can only get it if you have a costume. So to make him one.

Nicole:  Well, let’s move on to that. So we have our researcher Cindy, who you know I am and she looked into you know what you’ve been up to, and you just mentioned fete galantes. Can you tell us about what that was? Yeah, and where happened, all that kind of stuff

AJ:  So, le fete galantes is an event that happens in Versailles in France, it is the only time that you can walk through the hall of mirrors in costume. Usually they don’t allow costumes at all on the grounds. They have a couple events where you can wear costumes, but those are usually out in the gardens. So this one is usually at the end of May or early June. You have to buy tickets online. And the only way to get in is to wear a costume. They suggest Rococo, they don’t really enforce it. So we’ve seen like a wide range from Gothic Lolita to, you know, fairly historically accurate dresses but you have to wear your costume in order to get in. And then it is a huge, kind of like a ball almost indoors. There are a lot of events, they teach dances, they have performers. At the end of the night you stand in the Hall of Mirrors and watch the fireworks like through the mirrors. It’s really cool. And I feel very privileged to have been able to do it. That

Nicole:  That sounds so cool. I know on Instagram I saw posts about it and I was like they’re at Versailles. That’s amazing. Wow. And so you’ve needed the frock coat for your husband. 

AJ: Yes

Nicole:  Cool. So, from Cindy’s research, the punk Victorian photo shoot that you did, I think was inspired by a photo in Asia Vogue and diverges from being historically accurate. So how did you make the decision of what historical elements to keep and which to discard for that look?

AJ:  So the original inspiration, like you said, was from an Asian Vogue shoot. And it was a bunch of Asian models wearing couture dresses with Mohawks, and it’s a two page spread. And it’s really, really cool. And when we first thought we were like, wow, we love this. None of us are Couture dress type sewists. So we wanted to keep the Mohawk aspect. But then what happens is when we see something we really like, and we want to do it as a project, we kind of almost workshop the idea among the group until we bring it around to something that most of us would want to do. So after looking at it a bunch we’re like, well, you know, we would like to make historical dresses, it would look really cool with the Mohawks and then we went through maybe like what style of historical would look good. And we decided that late Victorian with a bustle dresses will look really cool, because those look like very fancy ball gowns, which is what the models were wearing. And then after that we presented to a group of friends and asked what if you know who wanted to be in on it. We went down to LA and bought matching fabric for everyone there the same fabric in different colorways for everyone. And we just gave some guidelines like we want it to be late Victorian, you know, here’s your fabric, try to keep the jewelry to a minimum, you have to have one big showy piece of jewelry, which is what they had. And then after that, we just let people go into whatever it is they want to do. We don’t really, we don’t really police what everyone was doing. Like we will consult each other about design elements. But we’re of the mind, and I’m of the mind, that if you’re going to spend that much time and effort and money on a project you need to really love what you’re doing. Everyone should be happy with what they’re making. 

Nicole  Oh my gosh. Oh, that’s cool. I’m like, I’m just scrolling through your Instagram to see if I can find this look right away.

AJ  It’s in the saved stories, I think.

Nicole:  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s so cool, listeners, we will definitely have links to all of this. Ah, amazing. Like, I love that so much. So cool. And so ever practical question, I guess. How do you transport these, when you’re traveling to go to these events? Is it like a wedding dress?

AJ:  A little bit, but everything collapses flat, which is nice. So you have a lot of bulk from the fabric, but things like the bustle will collapse flat. Once you untie it. Pretty much everything can be packed flat, or we put them in vacuum seal bags, and then inflate it when we get there. And we bring steamers. I actually don’t travel very much on the plane with costumes. Usually I’m driving the places but say like for France, we packed everything and vacuum seal bags and carried it on. Because you know you can lose your regular clothes, you can replace those losing the costume for that one event that you’re trying to attend would be very, very bad. 

Nicole:  So, you fit those gowns and everything. Yeah, your carry on. Oh, that’s amazing. I’m silent a little bit, because I’m just thinking about how that would all work. But that’s ingenious. I love love to hear that. Of course, of course you would not want it to get them to lose your luggage. That would be tragic. But okay, that’s so cool. So, so far, I think we’ve been talking more for like, I guess Western centric, historical costuming works that you have done. And our researcher Cindy, you know, found that you also do Hanfu. So can you tell our listeners just very briefly like how do you describe Hanfu? And like, how did you get into sewing it? 

AJ:  Sure. So hanfu, it literally means the clothing of the Han people and the Han people are the majority people in China. And China does not have it doesn’t have like a true cultural dress say like the way the Indian people do like with a sari. Because, and I know you guys have covered this before when you talked about the qipao, because there’s actually a break where like the Han majority was not the ruling class and the Manchurians were ruling and the qipao is descended from their clothing. And so in recent years, the Han majority and China has made an effort to reclaim their cultural clothing. Part of it is that they’re digging up a lot of extant clothing like extant garments and learning from that but they have basically there’s a huge hanfu movement where they are trying to bring back the clothing of the majority people. So that is like a big thing right now. I got into it because I’ve always been interested but it was really hard to find materials in English, obviously. And I read it like at kindergarten level like, it’s not happening. But my first real hanfu was in 2012. I was attending Costume College, which is a it’s like a learning conference out here in LA. It’s a weekend of just classes. And I was pregnant and I can’t fit in any. And I just happened to be watching The Banquet, which is a it’s a Chinese movie with Zhang Zi Yi and it is set in the Tang Dynasty. And I don’t know that I would recommend the movie but the costumes were gorgeous. And it’s a so it’s late Tang Dynasty, which is the style is it’s like a very broad band above about chest level and then it’s a flowy dress that goes down. And I remember looking at that and going, that doesn’t look too hard. I can totally do that. And so I whipped it out in two weeks and now looking back, the seams are in the wrong place. I chose very poor fabric, but I did it and I wore it to costume College, which is primarily European like you said European historical costuming. And I got so many great comments from people who were just really excited to see something non-European there. So then after that when I got back, I just I put more effort into digging up materials that I could, and looking for patterns and books and just anything I could find. So now, I still do Western costuming but I also do a lot of hanfu and whenever there’s an event out here, I try to see if I can fit in hanfu to go to it, because it is usually like you said majority European style costuming, historical costuming. 

Nicole:  I love that diverse representation showing up, you know, as you are authentically you. And also if you wanted to do western clothing, great. 

Nicole:  Do you love this podcast? Do you like personalizing your sewing projects with sewing labels? Do you know someone who loves personalizing their projects with these labels? Or do you know someone who just loves sewing? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, please check out the Asian Sewist Collectives sewing label collection. New for this season is a sustainability set. Our very own producer and artist Mariko Abe designed these just for you with sayings like “Lovingly rescued fibres”, and “I’m thrifty and I know it”. These labels will be a perfect gift for your sewing friends and family and of course for you. We also have our original collection of labels up on our Kofi page. To purchase, please go to Ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. Your purchase goes towards helping this all volunteer podcast keep going by helping with things like editing transcripts and publishing your support is greatly appreciated. 

Nicole:  We were scrolling your Instagram feed and we found this amazing underwater you know photoshoot that you and Cindy, our researcher, who is @Cationdesign. And what was that experience like shooting underwater? Can you take us through the concept from concept to the shoot day off and like talk? We’ll get photos but talk a little bit about what you chose to wear? 

AJ:  Sure. So the underwater photographer, her name is Doris. She is @dorisaurusmakes. I’ve actually shot with her underwater a couple of times. And every time I do it, we do Chinese mythology or fairy tales, because that underwater really suits the look of the Chinese paintings with celestial beings and like the kung fu movies where you’re flying through the water. So we talked a long time about how cool it would look to dwell in Dun Huang style. Dun Huang style photo shoot underwater. So Dun Huang refers to an area in China where they have these really famous caves, with paintings on the walls, they’re Buddhist style paintings. And they have paintings of figures called Fei Tien or flying Apsaras, which are like celestial maidens, they’re flying through the sky with ribbons flowing behind them. And people shoot a lot of times will shoot this in the desert, because that’s where the caves are. But to get that effect where the flowing ribbons, we thought it would be really, really cool to do it underwater. So a couple months ago, we’ve been talking about it for years. Finally, a couple of months ago, we managed to get out and do it. And so for that costume. I based it a little bit on the paintings and a little bit there’s actually a Dun Huang style of hanfu where people might have modeled this entire genre of hanfu. It’s more like fantasy style hanfu based on these paintings. So I took that as inspiration And then I did things like add a lot of ribbons, because the whole point to get underwater is to have all those ribbons flowing. And then I had to think about what it was like going to be underwater so everything is tacked down. Like all the jewelry is tacked down, all the ribbons are tacked in place where I needed them to be. I have slits in my dress, I can swim just in case. I’m actually very crappy underwater. So it was a little nerve wracking going in. But Doris is a really, really good coach. And I guess surprisingly, the whole trick to it is to just move as slow as you can and to relax. Because once you start flailing, you’ll look like you’re drowning. And then you turn up all these bubbles, and it looks terrible, right? So the whole point is just to move as slow as you can. It was a lot of sinking underwater, striking a single pose, and then just kind of holding it as long as you can. And we had to do that multiple times, because the ribbons are in the water, and they’re gonna do whatever they want to do. Yeah. So some, you know, some photos, the ribbons are just like a giant ball. But we did it for about an hour. And then Cindy shot for that, like, took the shot the photo slot after me so. And then when we got the photos, they were so amazing. They were I almost cried when I saw them. They were so perfect. They were everything I imagined they would be. Yeah…

Nicole:  That sounds like a really wonderful experience. And it’s very cool that you’ve worked with Doris multiple times. Do you have anything planned with her coming up?

AJ:  Oh, once it gets cold, we can’t really go in the pool anymore. So we’ll see. We’ll see if anything comes up next year.

Nicole:  That is very fair. So I want to ask you about one more of your project. Can you tell us about the Sailor Moon hanfu project that you did? 

AJ:  Sure. So what it did is is we took the Sailor Scouts, and we made hanfu versions of them and went out and did a photo shoot. I am actually not a diehard Sailor Moon fan. But a lot of people in our group are and they really, really want to do this. And I was like, Well, you know, it’s pretty cool. I mean, I have cosplayed from Sailor Moon before. But none of us wanted to do the fuku because the skirts are very short and just I can’t do short skirts. Yeah, but we’re also like super into hanfu. So we’re like what if we combine the two, you know, massage the project, like we said until it fits something that the group wants to do. So it became Sailor Moon hanfu. I chose Haruka, which is Sailor Uranus because I’ve done her before. And she’s a little bit I think the Japanese what she’s actually non binary, which is really cool. But a lot of hanfu is actually non-gendered, both male and female can wear the same thing. But for her I wanted to pick something that was very obviously male, so I picked up the Jin Yi Wei uniform. Jin Yi Wei are called the embroidered guard brocade guard. They were the personal bodyguard of the Emperor in the Ming Dynasty and eventually became the Secret Service. They have a very cool uniform. So I was like, Oh, I found this uniform forever. I’m going to do it for this. I ended up buying it because I don’t actually even know where to get the fabric because there are big embroidered panels and I don’t really know where you can get them. And everyone else made their own costumes. And it was really cool to see people’s interpret or interpretations then taking elements from the sailors scouts and putting them into their costume. And then we went out to Golden Gate Park and shot photos.

Nicole:  That sounds like so much fun. I don’t know a lot about Sailor Moon but I know growing up that like it was a something that my friends were super into. And I think it’s really cool. It’s like it’s like a mashup of historical costuming and cosplay. Which leads me to my next question. So we alluded earlier that we talked about historical costuming and then history bounding and you know what the difference is? And since you are also a cosplayer, I’d love to hear you know what, what is your take on the difference between historical costuming and cosplaying?

AJ:  Everyone’s gonna have a slightly different definition so it will vary from custumer to custumer. For me, cosplay is anything media related. So movies, book-based costumes, anime, animation, anything that’s taken from those I would use the term “cosplay”. Anything that is historically based, I would use the term “historical costume”. But again, that’s just my definition.

Nicole:  Okay. No, I think that makes a lot of sense. Do you think that there are a lot of differences in terms of practices between historical costumes and cosplay? 

AJ:  Yeah, because assuming you’re not talking about movie costume, say like animate costume costume based on like, animations. The difference is that the historical costume someone actually made that it’s real. It can happen. You can do it. Whereas with cosplay sometimes I think they draw designs just to see what the cosplayers do. They’re like walk up make this impossible thing because some cosplay out there, it’s gotta figure out how to make it happen. And you know some cosplay or will because they’re very inventive bunch and, and determined. It’s, you know, their way of showing love for a character. So a lot of times seeing those designs because no one had to actually do it in 3D. It’s a little tricky to get it to work. You know, there’s the set, there’s the problem of proportions, cosplay proportions are not necessarily human proportions. And then there’s the gravity defying aspects. There’s just a lot of there’s a lot of stuff in cosplay that you have to figure out because no one else has done it before.

Nicole:  That’s so interesting. Yeah, I mean, lots of skill in both just different applications. Sure. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve got all of them. You’ve got gravity defying skills and figuring stuff out. And historical costuming skills. I love to hear it. I think. I’m so impressed with how broad your sewing practice is. It is so cool. I can make clothes.

AJ:  I’ve been sewing for a long time, though.

Nicole:  Fair enough. How long have you been sewing again? 

AJ: Since middle school, I think. 

Nicole:  Oh, yeah. That’s so cool. Well, I have a question that relates more toward the community of historical costuming as opposed to like the practice of itself. So in the first segment of our episode, we discussed the difficulty and barriers as a BIPOC person, navigating the community that celebrates, you know,”whiteness: often and colonialism. So what has your experience been like navigating that part of the community as a woman of color?

AJ:  So to no one’s surprise, historical costuming is dominated by white women, and usually older white women. I have been fortunate to not experience a lot of direct racism. But I also intentionally don’t put myself in a position where I have to be exposed to it. For example, I don’t do civil war events, probably, again, to no one’s surprise, Civil War events tend to attract a certain type of people, you know, like the type of people who think the Confederacy was a good thing. So because of that kind of thing, I very careful about which historical events I will attend. But historical events, oftentimes as BIPOC, when we show up, we get questioned about whether we have a right to be there. And trying to explain to people that yes, we were there in history, even Asians, even in Europe, we were there very, very, very small numbers. But the BIPOC people were there. And in modern day times, it seems ridiculous that you are going to tell us that we can’t be there. There’s no point in trying to relive history. Again, that’s… this one is a really hard to tackle. Yeah.

Nicole:  I think the message that that I’m I’m hearing from what you’re sharing is that, you know, you have and you have, unfortunately, been in a situation where someone sort of requires that you justify your participation in these types of events, because of you know, who you are, and you look like in history. But we shouldn’t have to, like you mentioned, like, we don’t have to relive history, we can relive the clothing, but we don’t have to relive the fact that, you know, we are historically and even in modern times excluded from things like there’s no need to get keep this as a practice. I mean, is that a good summary, or? 

AJ:  Yeah, that’s really good. Yeah. Yeah. I feel like a lot of times BIPOC are questioned about whether they are in any capacity other than enslaved peoples. And that’s very frustrating, especially for black people. I’m sure. A lot of historical groups could really stand to do more work on the DEI front, on the anti-racism front, anti bullying. It’s definitely something that most historical groups could stand to do more work on.

Nicole:  Yeah. And you know, you’re showing up at the predominantly Western costuming event in your hanfu. You know, I think that’s a step toward that. But I want to acknowledge that like, you shouldn’t be the one that’s doing the work to be better. 

AJ:  For sure. So along those lines, I do attend our local guild events, which is the Greater Bay Area customers guild. I’m actually on the board and our president Lauren, she… a few years ago. When she took over, and she did a ton of work to put in a DEI policy, anti bullying-ism, and she enforced them. She wanted to really make this club a good place, a safe place for BIPOCs where they would feel safe and heard. She wouldn’t we solicit events she makes sure is to put statements about things that we won’t do. Like we no longer do civil war events, we don’t do World War Two events, because of the concentration camps in California, we don’t do Gold Rush events because of the way the indigenous peoples here retreated. And this obviously was off putting for a lot of our older members, we still get emails from them who are a couple who are cranky about the fact that we no longer do some events. And they slowly stopped coming to our events, but the difference, but um, to offset that we’ve attracted more younger people more bipoc. And by making more inclusive themes for our events, we’ve picked up more people, not just historical customers, we’ve picked up all sorts of customers, which is super fantastic. And of course, we’re not perfect, and it’s a work in progress. But I guess my point is, Lauren, who’s white, she did the initial work, she got the ball rolling. And that helped so much, because once someone in that part of the majority in power gets the process going, it is much easier for us as BIPOC to come in and help for us to get it going. It’s so much harder. There’s just a lot more friction when we have to try to lead.

Nicole:  Yeah. And that sounds to me, like someone who she sounds like someone who is is a true ally.

AJ:  She’s amazing.

Nicole: That’s wonderful. Well, I, it’s great to hear that that type of progress is being made. And, you know, these folks that are emailing you that, you know, wish we did more civil war stuff. There’s places for them.

AJ:  Yeah, that’s that was our thing. We’re like, if you want your Civil War reenactment, there’s so many places you can go, we don’t have to organize it for you. 

Nicole:  Yeah, exactly, exactly. Well, it sounds like you know, with all things there, there is movement toward greater inclusion and understanding of different cultures. And I’m really honored that you’re talking with us and that you’re a part of this whole movement. So, you know, before we sign off, do you have any encouragement for our listeners who want to get started with historical costuming of any age, size, capability, anything?

AJ:  Yeah, I’m gonna assume you’re talking about European historical costuming. Because if you’re talking about another culture, obviously this, it’s a little more complicated. But so I would say first off, don’t stress the accuracy, everyone has to start somewhere. And secondly, don’t feel like you have to do everything from the skin out. Unfortunately, a lot of European historical clothing requires a lot of underlayers, like, you know, corset and stays. And if you want to make them, that’s really cool, but I’m sure it’s super frustrating to spend months on something that no one’s ever gonna see. There are definitely ways around that. For example, for Victorian costumes, you can just buy a premade corset for a fairly decent price on Amazon. For Regency, I used to push up bra for years, because I didn’t want to make stays. So I guess my point is, you can find substitutes for the underlayer so that you can get started on the dress itself, which is the fun part, the pretty part of the part that people get to see. Yeah, and so don’t stress the under layers. Yeah.

Nicole:  That’s a great practical piece of advice, I know that I would just get into my head, about all of it. And so that’s a great place to start for folks who are new. 

AJ:  Yeah. And if you want like a simple era to start with, Regency, which is Pride and Prejudice, and Bridgerton is a very easy, accessible era to start with.

Nicole:  There are all those Bridgerton balls out here now. So that would be a good place to to cut your teeth and some Regency and then have a forum to go and check it out. Yeah. Well, thank you so much, AJ, for joining us. Can you please remind our listeners where they can find you and follow your making journeys?

AJ:  Yeah I am confused kitty sewing on Instagram. And it’s my website too, although that hasn’t been updated in years. So I am mostly on Instagram.

Nicole:  When you said I am I confused? I was like, Wait a minute. No, no, it’s our it’s our handle. It’s fine. We will have links to everything that we talked about, your website, your Instagram, all in the show notes. So listeners don’t forget to check that out. Thanks again, AJ.

AJ:  Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Ada:   Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Kofi by becoming a one time or monthly supporter, or by buying our stickers and sewing labels. That’s right, we have merch! Buy the labels, they are hilarious. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give back to our all volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our coffee page is ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective, and you can find the link in our show notes, on our website, and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at Asian Sewist Collective That’s one word Asian Sewist Collective, and you can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Pocket Casts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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.

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