Links and connections

I’ve been thinking about links and connections a lot lately.

The first, and super obvious, reason is because I have some awesome links to share with you!

In case you missed my notification, or don’t follow me on Facebook, the third issue of Glory Days is out.  My article on crinolines & petticoats is on pages 52/53, but there is plenty of other fun to be had throughout the magazine.  I particularly enjoyed Natasha Francoise’s article on Bodgies & Widgies, and Clarissa Dunn’s history of the Opera House in Wellington.

If you missed them, you can also read Issues 1 & 2 in the archives as well – I’ve written articles for all three issues.  Glory Days is crowdfunding to raise money to pay the staff and make it a paper issues (which would be fabulous – Christmas gifts sorted for half the people I know with subscriptions!), so if you can, please do give a little.

You’ve already seen the photos of Polly / Oliver that Sarah the Photographer took on my dinky little camera, but now she’s put her favourites from the proper photos on her Livejournal.  The first photo of the set is pretty much the most awesome thing ever!

Felicity the cat

Almost as awesome as this photo

In posting these, I thought about how I stay linked and connected online in the greater sense.

One of the problems with winter in New Zealand being cold and nasty is that I turn in to a bit of a hermit, and try not to venture outside of my house (though obviously this isn’t good for me).  One of the massive advantages of teaching is that it gets me out of the house, and meeting people, almost daily.

I’ve realised though that, despite blogging almost daily, I’ve been in a bit of an internet/blog winter, and have become a cyberspace hermit for the last few years.

It started when I migrated from Blogger to WordPress back in June of 2011.  Just as I was leaving, Google abandoned some of the interface that you used to follow bloggers (Google connect?) and half of the list of blogs I followed via the Blogger blog follower connection got corrupted, and I lost them.  And thanks to the demise of GoogleConnect, I couldn’t un-follow the corrupted spam blogs.  Then, in moving to WordPress, I discovered that, although my blog is powered by WordPress, because it end in .com instead of, I couldn’t get a WordPress ID which would let me comment on blogger sites.

All of which meant that it was much harder for me to follow blogs, and much harder for me to comment on them.  Which meant that I kinda stopped doing both.  I checked blogs when they commented on mine, and commented on theirs when I could, but I still ended up loosing touch with a number of fascinating blogs that I used to follow, plus all the new ones that have started since then.

And that’s not ideal!

The upshot of all this is, after two years of un-satisfactory blog reading, I’ve declared that it’s time for spring to come.

Obviously the Historical Sew Fortnightly has been a definite ‘thaw’ for me: I’m seeing all these blogs through the list on the HSF page, and through facebook, and getting to really interact with a lot of historical costumers again.

I’m trying to take it beyond that though.  I’ve signed up for Bloglovin, and have followed all of the HSF blogs, and other ones that delight an inspire me, costuming and otherwise.  If you aren’t familiar with Bloglovin, it’s a really handy tool for following blogs, keeping them sorted, and seeing new posts (and you can follow my blog through bloglovin!).

And I’m making a huge effort to read all of them, and to comment again.  I still can’t comment on blogs which don’t allow people to comment without a blogger/wordpress/openid/livejournal ID, because I don’t have any of those that actually functions properly on a regular basis.  And if I can’t comment, I’m less likely to read a blog, because its no fun if I can’t tell you how awesome your latest project is, and engage in a conversation.  For me, blogging, and reading blogs, is all about the conversation, and the interactions!

Felicity the cat

‘Talk to me!’ says Felicity

How many blogs do you read?  How do you keep track of them?  Do you comment on most of the blogs you read?  Are you more likely to comment on a blog if you don’t have to be signed into an account to do so?

The HSF Challenge #22: Masquerade

Just in time for Halloween and the biggest costume celebration of the year, the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge # 22, due Monday November 4, is Masquerade.

Fancy dresses and Masquerades have been popular for centuries, both as very organised pageants that blended into theatre, and as balls where all organization and constraints were abandoned. Masquerades as pageants were about creating another world, and as balls symbolised an escape from your ordinary life, and the rules of society. In fancy dress, with your face covered by a mask, you could step out of yourself. The Queen had as much responsibility as a peasant girl, a peasant girl (in the right dress) could rub elbows with a queen.

In this challenge, be inspired by historical fancy dress and masquerade, go whole-hog in an elaborate allegory (or a hog costume, or a side of bacon costume, because those exist), or keep it simple with just a mask and a domino. Because masquerades were a loosening of the rules, and a step into a fantasy, the Historical Sew Fortnightly rules are a little looser, and this is a good excuse to make something that ventures into fantasy or an alternative universe. As long as your fantasy has some link to history, it counts.

To inspire you and get you thinking, here are a few historical examples of masquerades and fantasy worlds that fascinate me:

One of the most famous fancy dress balls ever is the Bal des Ardents, which almost killed a king, and certainly added to the instability of his court.   Contemporary descriptions of the ‘Wild Men’ costumes of resin-soaked linen costumes covered in flax don’t sound very attractive, and the accounts of the tragedy are horrific, but illustrations of the costumes make them quite beautiful, green and lush with the unhappy addition of golden flames.

The Bal des Ardents depicted in a ca. 1470 miniature from Froissart's Chronicles

The Bal des Ardents depicted in a ca. 1470 miniature from Froissart’s Chronicles

I love the following outfit because it’s just so chic and elegant, and dare I say, minimalist.  Exquisite!

Portrait of the Hon. Mrs William Townshend in masquerade dress by Thomas Gibson. Christies

Portrait of the Hon. Mrs William Townshend in masquerade dress, 2nd quarter of the 18th century, by Thomas Gibson. Christies

How fabulous is this fancy dress costume from 1831?  What is she supposed to be?  A firebird?  It’s all quite magnificent!

Fancy dress, La Moda magazine, 1831

Fancy dress, La Moda magazine, 1831

The following costumes pretty much make me hyperventilate with their awesomeness.  Not only do the fabulous masks include a hedgehog, but the regular clothes they are wearing are pretty swish.  I don’t know how you walk or eat in them, but that doesn’t stop their amazingness!

Fancy dress costumes, Germany, 1860s

“The Hare & the Hedgehog” fancy dress costumes, 1860s, from the Stadtmuseum, Germany

I love this fancy dress fashion plate because it lends credence to the whole idea of the Polly / Oliver dress.  The Elizabethian and Polly’s 18th century soldier are quite obvious, but what is the girl in pink meant to be?

Fancy dress, 1877, La Mode Illustree

Fancy dress, 1877 La Mode Illustree, design by Adel Anais Tondouze

This costume involves a black cat.  And roller skates.  Naturally.

Black cat costume (with roller skates), 1880. via Retronaut

Black cat costume (with roller skates), 1880. via Retronaut

(actually, random costumes paired with roller skates seems to have been a thing, because I’ve seen a dozen other images of Cavelier boys and little witches and Romeos in roller skates.)

I love this “Scrap Album” costume.  It is so perfectly of its time, so unique, and so brilliantly made!

"Scrap Album" fancy dress. Circa 1893, Made of silk, cotton, linen, paper, glue, metal (fastening), wood, leather, baleen, wax, and paint, England. Madame Gough, London (court dressmaker), Sarah Ann Gough (designer) National Gallery of Victoria

“Scrap Album” fancy dress. Circa 1893, Made of silk, cotton, linen, paper, glue, metal (fastening), wood, leather, baleen, wax, and paint, England. Madame Gough, London (court dressmaker), Sarah Ann Gough (designer) National Gallery of Victoria

Speaking of scraps, have you ever seen such an elegant Waste Paper Basket?  Simple, but brilliant!

Wastepaper basket, 1896

Wastepaper basket, 1896

How amazing are these costumes?  The thistle (what on earth would you make the headdress out of?)!  The climbing rose! The one in the middle is a Japanese garden (which is somehow so much more novel, and less dreadful, than the usual stereotypical national costume masquerade outfits)

Fancy dress, 1920s

Fancy dress, 1920s

If you are in need of more inspiration, mine Fancy Dress through History board is only one of a number of fantastic pinterest boards dedicated to masquerade dress – there is no end to the fabulous, wacky, inventive ideas out there.

Is there a doctor in the house?

I’ve been reading Victoria Finlay’s Colour, and in her chapter on indigo she discusses how urine was used as the alkaline agent for fixing dyes across millennia and cultures: from ancient Pompeii to early 20th century Scottish islands.  And then she casually tosses in the information that the best urine for dye vats comes from pre-pubescent boys.

Wait.  What?

There is no exploration of this rather astonishing fact, no discussion of why or when it comes from, or what culture made the claim.  Short of reading all her sources (some of which I’ve already read, the rest of which are already on my reading list), I can’t think of a way to explore or test the claim.

I certainly can’t google it.  My first though, as it often is, is “Ooh…I’ll look it up and see what google shakes out…” and then my mind contemplated the possibilities and quickly shut down.  It would not end well.

Bacchus, Peter Paul Rubens, 1640, oil on canvas

Bacchus, Peter Paul Rubens, 1640, oil on canvas

And then I realised that I already have a pretty awesome resource (and one that isn’t likely to result in the police showing up at my door if I ask “does the pee of prepubescent boys really make the best alkaline agent for dyeing?) at my fingertips: You, dear readers.

So, has anyone else heard this?  Know where it comes from?

And, are there any readers with the sort of scientific or medical training who might know if there is anything chemically different in the urine of young boys which would make it better for dyeing?  Is it more alkaline perhaps?  Or is this probably some weird folk-myth that doesn’t have any possible basis?  Or might it come from a culture that fed young boys different foods?  Would this affect urine enough to make it better for dyeing?

Some cultural health/body practices do have their basis in practical, realistic, facts, so I’m not completely writing little boy pee off as an essential ingredient of a beautifully blue cloak.

Ancient Hawaii was one of many cultures that secluded women while they were having their periods, and forbade them from preparing food.  While I don’t care for the dirty/punishment-from-God connotation that has sometimes come with the seclusion, on a practical level, it kinda makes sense.  Many women are in pain and a bit grumpy and emotional at that time.  There are certainly months where having my own private hut where I don’t have to deal with people and food gets brought to me seems like a good idea.

One can imagine ancient cultures going through the logical process of “Hmmm….every month around this time when we ask for sandwiches instead of making them she throws all the sandwich making implements at us and then sits down and cries.  Maybe we should tell her to take a few days off and go hang out in her own personal place…” and then after a few generations it becomes a socio-religious thing that women go off on their own at this time, whether or not they get caught by the emotional/crying/grumpy/sandwich-implement-hurling blues or not (because not all women do).

So, could it be the same with the pee of pre-pubescent boys?

Dyers?  Doctors?  Scientists?  Anyone brave enough to look it up in google books (I’m scared to try even that)?

UPDATE: There is tons of interesting information and useful links in the comments, plus some fascinating conjecture, but I do believe I have the answer.  I discussed this with the medicos in one of my sewing classes (my sewing classes are full of nurses, doctors and digital artists) and they instantly said “Oh, you use boy pee because it is more hygienic.”  Basically, thanks to their longer urethra, and the fact that it is less likely to touch other stuff as it comes out, male pee is less germy than girl pee, and thus, ironically, less smelly after time.  Add that to the young boys having less contaminants than men, and it makes perfect sense that little boy pee would be the preferred urine for dyeing.

They also took the opportunity to tell me that if I was ever desperate enough for moisture to need to drink pee, man-pee was a much better option than my own.  As you can imagine, I am even more disinclined to try pee-dying than pee-dyeing.

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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