Some Revision Required

It’s that end of the semester rush. I’ve been locked in my room these past two weeks writing papers ranging from imperialistic perspectives in British media covering Rhodesia’s UDI to modern contestations to the Falklands’ sovereignty. My fingers are itching to get back to sewing next week. That frock coat WILL be finished by the end of May. The breeches by mid-June (Knowing me, probably not.) and some sort of a waistcoat by July for L’Hermoinee.

As I write these papers, I notice the amounts of revision I have to do. My first attempt is close-ish. My second attempt is closer. My third attempt is pretty good. Hopefully my fourth attempt will be an A. But I notice this same pattern in my reenacting hobby.

My very first uniform was 18th century-ish. You could tell I was aiming for 18th century with my local militia company but stuff wasn’t quite there. The coat is totally wrong. The breeches, gaiters, and waistcoat are all way too big. But this was my very first uniform and I had no clue about anything 18th century. I was an 8th grader at the time after all.

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The beginning of my “never look into the camera” phase. This would be a Continental Soldier circa 1976.

My second attempt was getting better. I was getting closer, that’s for sure but it still wasn’t great. I’d give this a C. I’ve ditched the coat but instead I’m wearing the season’s hottest night gown (hunting frock), ill fitting breeches, modern shoes, and bad stockings. But the ideas are getting better!

josh

My third attempt was probably a C+, maybe a B-. The colour of the small clothes was off (Red when they should’ve been white.) But this is where I made the most improvement. I ditched the Velcro neckstock and changed to black silk. I stopped wearing the ill-patterned bearskin cap and switched to a cocked hat towards the end of my stay with that regiment. The fit of the clothes though were really good.

54th Regiment of Foot

54th Regiment of Foot: Take One

Attempt 3.5. My last event with the 54th. Probably the closest that kit was to being better.

Attempt 3.5. My last event with the 54th. Probably the closest that kit was to being better. Note: The feathers pointing straight up was me goofing around.

Now at my fourth attempt, I still wouldn’t give myself an A. I’d say a solid B is in order. The rope on my fife case cord is gonna be switched to hemp. I need to make a hunting frock like the one I’m wearing, a better waistcoat, and some osnaburg overalls. And the hat has to be made but lets not push it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with my wool overalls. They fit really well, that’s for sure and they’re nice and toasty. But osnaburg is more appropriate for this impression.

10th MA Light Infantry Fifer circa 1781

10th MA Light Infantry Fifer circa 1781

My point here is that reenacting is a learning experience. Almost nobody starts off at the A level. Like writing a paper, you need a rough draft. That draft is gonna be really crappy. Then your paper improves and becomes more nuanced. You should never judge a final draft based on what the first draft looked like. Stuff evloves and ultimately becomes a completely different thing. For some people, their impressions change in the course of a year. For me, it’s been almost 8 years of moving forward.

Just doing what you do right can inspire people to make changes. I remember the first time I saw my current regiment in the field. It was 2012 at a BAR show at Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, CT. Watching men in cut-down coats and leather caps come storming out of the corn field looked like a blast and I wanted to be a part of that. I had no clue that they had research behind their clothing. That was my first battle even firing a musket so fit of clothing was the last thing on my mind. But in the back of my head, I knew this group had something going on. About 2 and a half years later, I drank the Kool-Aid and joined them.

Besides this post being a timeline of my evolution through puberty, it’s shows me maturing through the hobby. I like research now. I love learning about uniforms and music. Eighth grade me would think I’m nuts, spending all my hours in databases looking for articles and images. Hell, college sophomore me thinks I’m nuts. That’s not the point though. I would argue I’m a different person than I was then and most people would agree and can relate to that. So, if you meet a former or current “farb” who wants to improve or has done so, treat them as you would anybody else. If it wasn’t for all the people (and there’s so many) guiding me along the way, I would never have gotten to where I am. You might not see the effects of your help right away. They may take eight years to show but eventually changes will start to show.

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The Sherlock Holmes of Estate Sales

This afternoon on the way home from a relative’s first communion, my family stopped at an estate sale. The house, located in a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood, was pretty run down compared to its neighbours. Yard sales and stuff of the sort has never been my favourite thing to go to as I tend to find them awkward. Shopping somebody else’s goods and then possibly haggling them for a lower price is just not my cup of tea.

So this time I decided to sit in the car and wait for my mom and dad to come out. My dad is known for buying pieces of mismatched China at these things. His first visit to one he got lucky and bought some pretty decent pieces for a low price so he’s become an infrequent goer to estate sales since then. (Probably about twice a year.)

As I sat waiting, my mom sent me a text that read, “Tons of old books in her.” As a lover of history books, I couldn’t pass up the chance to potentially find something. My college’s library often sheds off older books once a year. You can stuff a bag for a buck and I tend to come home with four bags. It’s practically free knowledge.

Reader, when I walked into this house, I didn’t know what to say. The condition was pretty crumby. The books though were endless. There had to be over a thousand. Books ranged from Mayans to Colonial America to Revolutionary War to Regency to Homosexuals in History. There was also a large medical collection. The more I looked around, the more I realized not only would I have loved this person, but I began to learn so much about them from their stuff.

They obviously loved to read. They may have even been some sort of hoarder of books. But they liked antiques. There were some old black and white photos dating back to the early 1900’s, old sewing kits, and some Confederate souvenir plates.

Medicine was obviously their profession. Let’s be real, only doctors would probably want to read books on the practice and there were book ends marked “Brown University.” In the garage, there were some “specimen cups” (Which my mother asked if I needed any of those. Isn’t she funny?) and a medical with a stethoscope to listen for the heartbeat of a baby in the womb.

History was an extreme passion for the person but it was mostly for fun. Most of the books weren’t scholarly. By that I mean most of them didn’t have footnotes or bibliographies. The person wanted to read as much as they could on it and didn’t care too much about the potential for era as much as a historian might have. Their collection spanned thousands of years of history so nailing a favourite era is almost impossible but there was a large amount of Pre-Columbus America books, particularly on the Mayans.

Their taste in music was opera and classical. CD’s and records were laden with Haydn, Mozart, etc. They had musical skills. I grabbed a book of traditional Irish sheet music to take home. In it, there are written in notes for chords to play along with the music. Not only can they read sheet music but they were able to figure out harmonies to play, most likely on guitar or piano.

Their favourite vacation spot was New Orleans. There was a bunch of souvenirs from the city. Books, artwork, plates, and cups with sights of the city were all over the house.

I couldn’t help but feel like a detective when exploring the rooms and rummaging through the stuff. Each room revealed more and more about the person and their life. In my book, the person must have been pretty cool. We shared all the same interests, besides the medicine. It’s amazing how much material culture can reveal about one person or a household. I can only imagine what people will say when they go through my stuff when I’m gone. 18th century outfits, jazz music, and Disney World maps will make an interesting conversation.