The Opinionated Wench  

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On My Bookshelf:

The Tailor's Pattern Book, Ruth Bean., Carlton Bedford, 1979. Facsimile of Libro de Geometria, Pratica, y Traca, Juan de Alcega, 1589, with introduction and notes by J.L. Nevinson. Jean Pain and Cecilia Bainton, trans.

Juan de Alcega is my new favorite book. I used to use Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion" all the time, but I wanted to make something and I had lent it out to someone so I used Juan de Alcega instead. It's so cool, because if you lay things out like he recommends, you actually get the seam lines in the same places as they are shown in Janet Arnold without going, "That's dumb, why would they put a seam there? I'll just cut it out like this instead." And it's a period source. It loses a few points though because the edition I have is really hard to navigate, and you can't tell from either the patterns or the directions how you're supposed to put it together.

Score: Three and a Half Pints

Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620, Janet Arnold. Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London, 1985.

You really can't go wrong with this one. I think it's pretty much a genre standard. In addition to about 150 plates of portraits, actual garments, and details, it has gridded patterns of about 25 actual garments with incredibly detailed commentary on the construction, decoration, etc. It's a little bit less DIY -- you kind of have to figure out for yourself how the various pattern pieces fit together. (This is easy enough with the gowns, but good luck figuring out the pluderhosen!) It may or may not be out of print, and it's about $60 CAD, but most large libraries have at least one copy of it.

Score: Five Pints

Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, Janet Arnold. W. S. Maney & Son, Leeds, 1988.

This book is incredibly useful if you totally want to focus on women's costuming for the period 1558-1604. (This makes it sound like I am kind of down on this book, but I really do totally want to focus on women's costuming for the period 1558-1604, I love this book, and I own this book.) It has a lot of plates of portraits, actual garments, and details. It is basically a heavily annotated version of the inventory of Queen Elizabeth's clothes, and yes, the legends are true, she really had enormous quantities of them. You may or may not be able to get a copy of this at your local library. I think it may also be out of print, and I paid over $200 USD ($300 CAD) for my copy of it. If you are really enthusiastic about it some of my friends were able to order it from Yes, I really do know at least two other people besides myself who own this book.

Score: Four and a Half Pints

The Book of Costume, Millia Davenport. Crown Publishers Inc., New York, 1948. Ninth printing 1970.

I don't really use this book very much because I have many other sources for late period that are much easier to navigate (Janet Arnold). I think a lot of people who are earlier than me use this book a lot. I used it to document my first t-tunic. It's all in black and white, it's (as I mentioned before) really hard to navigate, and it's out of print. Your local library should have it. It is chock-full of all sorts of plates from all sorts of time periods and places. Some of the captions are not very descriptive, and some are just plain wrong, but the pictures are pretty good.

I have actually been using this book more recently, and I just added a bunch of yellow sticky notes on the side with notes like "Byzantine" and "German Renn" on them so I can find the sections I'm looking for. I have decided I really like this book -- it is SO full of pictures, most of which I have never seen anywhere else. I was also looking at the preface the other day, and it looks like maybe this book was pretty revolutionary for its time -- most of the preface is about how she feels that a proper costume history book should not contain pictures the author has drawn, or pictures the author has copied from Racinet, but should actually contain period representations of the clothing of that period. Yay Millia Davenport!

Score: Five Pints

The Various Styles of Clothing, Francois Deserps. Sara Shannon, editor and translator. Facsimile of the 1562 edition, James Ford Bell Library, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2001

This is a brand new costume book that I had never heard of before and that as far as I can tell, has not had any other previous reprints or editions since 1562. Each of the pages of the original edition was photographed with a digital camera and then reproduced in facsimile. The original was intended for a French prince, I think Henry de Navarre, at the age of 8. Each plate is an illustration of some form of dress, accompanied by a little poem. Most of the poems don't say much, just something on the order of, "This is how an Englishwoman dresses, so even if you don't ever go there, you will know what she looks like". The illustrations are small, not too detailed, and don't really tell us any more than we already knew about how the nobility dressed. However, there are also pictures of peasants, bourgeois, clergymen, etc., so this source might be more useful for a person who was trying to create a non-noble persona. There are also illustrations of persons from other parts of the world, like Africa and the Americas. How accurate these illustrations actually are is debatable, although it's probably safe to say they're accurate depictions of how European people imagined these people might have looked. It's kind of a cool little book, anyway, one more period source of costume information that's not a formal portrait.

Score: Three Pints

Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Jean Hunnisett. Players Press, Inc., Studio City, California.

A lot of people like to use this book. I don't really get the chance to use it, because it's out of print and copies of it seem to go missing in Calgary. The copy in the University of Calgary library was taken out by someone I know, who lent it to someone he knew, who never returned it, so he paid the lost fine. Several years later, when he was moving to a different city, the person returned it. Then there was the copy in the Public Library System, which someone else I know had in the back of their car when they were in a car accident, and both car and book got smushed (the people are still alive). So anyway this one time I went to go track this book down at the University, because I figured that someone in the drama department must have it in their collection. I went to about five different offices before finally finding the costume workshop, where I asked the prof in charge if she had a copy of it. She was really grouchy and I practically had to promise her my firstborn before she would even answer the question. It turned out she did have a copy of it, but when I finally got to look at it it didn't contain the information I was looking for. I was pretty choked.

But I digress. If you can get your hands on this book, apparently it's pretty useful too.

Score: Three Pints

Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Womens’ Dress, Medieval - 1500, Jean Hunnisett. Players Press Inc., Studio City, California, 1996.

This is a different volume in the same series I mentioned earlier but is much easier to find. I has lots of really useful suggestions on how to construct tunics, cotehardies, Burgundian, Italian Renn, Mrs. Arnolfini's wedding dress, and other non-Elizabethan garments. I'm not really sure how accurate any of it is because it's a theatrical costuming book, but it's a good place to start.

Score: Three Pints

Tudor Costume and Fashion. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1997. Republication of Costume and Fashion, Volume Three: The Tudors, Books 1 and 2, Herbert Norris. J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., London, 1938.

Herbert Norris is not all bad. The text is probably pretty thoroughly researched and there are a fair number of quotes from period sources. There are even a very few plates of paintings from the period. Almost all of the illustrations, however, are done by Norris himself with no reference to the original he drew them from. (I think he may be who Millia Davenport is taking aim at in her preface). Not only is there no reference to original paintings that the illustrations were made from, there is nothing which could be called a bibliography in the modern sense. I have a feeling that most of the sources Norris lists are long-dead Oxford dons.

So, Norris is full of information about Tudor clothes, shoes, accessories, trimmings, vehicles, and even games, but I just don't know how accurate the information can be assumed to be. I would feel much happier if I knew what primary sources Norris had consulted so I could go back and verify the information for myself.

Score: One Pint

Vecellio's Renaissance Costume Book: All 500 Woodcut Illustrations from the Famous Sixteenth-Century Compendium of World Costume by Cesare Vecellio. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1977. Illustrations reprinted from Habiti antichi, et moderni di tutto il Mondo, Cesare Vecellio. Giovanni Bernardo Sessa, Venice, 1598.

This book is good because it's full of period woodcuts of people other than just the upper echelon. I wish it had more details, both in the drawings and in Vecellio's descriptions, but I guess beggars can't really be choosers.

Score: Three Pints

Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy. Other Times Publications, Oakland, CA, 1987.

This was the first Elizabethan Costuming book I ever had my hands on. I think it's a really good place to start. It's written with an SCA/Renn Faire audience in mind. They talk about budgets, and camping, and how to adapt things from modern mundane patterns, and other very useful things. The diagrams and instructions are very clear, and it's only about $20 USD. I don't think it's available in Canada or the UK.

Score: Four Pints

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