I have been making historical clothing, first as a hobby and then as part of my research, for about a decade now. My journey into historical reconstruction as an academic research methodology began in 2015 (see my first blog post about it here) and has since become a really important part of my historical approach.
My turn towards reconstruction grew out of questions that were raised by sources that I was finding during my PhD on early modern foundation garments (bodies and stays), now a forthcoming book with Bloomsbury (I have also published an article about my reconstruction of two styles of French farthingales in Fashion Theory). My gut sensed that some of these things may be wrong or exaggerated, as were many criticisms of fashion during this period. However, I had no way to really interrogate or prove anything to the contrary without reconstructing items of dress and investigating it for myself.
I could also see within the online costuming and historical interpreting community that people were already reconstructing things and were testing them out, and possibly had a lot of information that historians wouldn’t normally use because it’s not the type of scholarly information that we’re used to – but it’s really valuable information.
Another reason why I embraced reconstruction, and something that I became more passionate about the more I recreated, related to the skills and tacit knowledge of past artisans. Tacit knowledge is skills that artisans had that weren’t written down, sometimes because they were a secret of the craft, but also because they aren’t skills that can be learned from reading – you have to be shown or try yourself. I already had some tacit knowledge because I was a sewer, but there was also a lot that I had to learn along the way. This was really useful for me to gain more of an understanding of these artisans, as well an appreciation of what they did and where we’ve lost knowledge.
So that’s my making journey so far. Be sure to click below to see the reconstructions I’ve done so far, tutorials on some of these reconstructions, and some of the patterns I’ve designed and/or taken from surviving garments.