If you have ever attended a historical reenactment event, whether it was Medieval, American Revolutionary, Georgian, Regency, Civil War, or another era, one of the first things that you noticed were the beautiful clothes. Authentic fabrics, combined with historically accurate styles and accessories, add richness to the ambiance of an event. Once we don historical clothing our whole demeanor changes, and it helps us to immerse ourselves in the experience.
Few people step into the world of historical reenactment with adequate clothing. We all have a learning curve, and we all need time to build and improve upon our wardrobes. There are those who will prefer to purchase their items, but there are others, like me, who want to learn to make those items for themselves. Today I discuss a small tip that can have a large impact on the overall look of your garments and accessories.
Whether making medieval garb or modern clothing, there are certain tools that are essential to creating a quality garment or accessory. There are artists of my acquaintance who will hand stitch their period-correct garments, and will not use a sewing machine. Other artists will use a machine for hidden areas, but apply hand finishing touches to those areas of the garment that are visible. So while some will rely upon a machine, others will not. But one tool that should be universal – and clearly isn’t – is the iron.
That’s right, an iron is one of the most important tools in your sewing arsenal. Sadly, too many people do not use an iron during the construction of their projects. And, frankly, it shows. I can walk into any SCA reenactment event, look around the room, and almost immediately point out who did not use an iron during the construction of their garment. It’s pretty apparent, actually. The seams do not lay well. Sleeves are not fit into the shoulders properly, and are ill fitting. Neck interfacings do not lay flat and tend to bunch up, particularly around shoulder seams. Dresses with gores will have puckers where the gore is joined to the body of the dress. Overall, the garment looks sloppy. Typically, most of the errors I notice could have been avoided if the seamstress had simply used an iron to iron open seams during the garment’s construction.
More experienced seamstresses might wonder why I would even tackle the subject, since most would view ironing as an elementary step in any project. But a lot of men and women who enter the world of historical reenactment do so with no background in sewing. They want to make pretty dresses, handsome tunics, and authentic-looking accessories, but they simply do not understand some of the little details that can make big differences in how well their projects come together. Because there are few commercially made patterns for such items, members of historical reenactment groups often rely on instructions downloaded from the internet. And while those instructions will tell one how to lay out and measure a T-Tunic, for example, oftentimes they do not carry detailed information such as “iron the seam open before sewing piece A to piece B, matching seams.” Consequently, the novice seamstress simply didn’t know one of the easiest tricks of the trade to give their garment a neat, finished appearance, and a simple way to ensure that seams lay the way they are meant to.
Ironing also makes a world of difference in how our finished clothing looks when we wear it. One of my biggest pet peeves in the area of medieval reenactment is when someone chastises me for spending time ironing my gowns before an event. I have had many people say “Wrinkles are period.” Well, not for this gal. All I can do is groan and shake my head. In the SCA each individual is considered to be minor nobility. Unless one’s persona is that of a peasant, I see no reason to arrive at an event looking like a ragamuffin street urchin. Anyone who participates in historical reenactment knows that we spend a lot of time, money, and effort on our clothing. It only makes sense to care for that clothing, and show it off at its best. In another article I will address the history of irons and ironing, which date all the way back to the 1stcentury BC in China. But for now suffice it to say that ironing in some form or another was used during the medieval time period. Admittedly, it may have been the lady’s maid or laundress of a medieval noblewoman doing the ironing, but a well-dressed lady’s gown would have been well taken care of. In another article I will also be addressing the care of garments, particularly linen, wool, and silk.
The next time you decide to sew something, before you do anything, even turning on your sewing machine, make sure your iron is turned on. Then use it. You will be happy, your project will be happy, and you’ll walk into your next event with a much more polished look.