Earlier this week Leah wrote about the books that lurk in the Mandala workshop that help them find inspiration for costumes, monsters, and plot. Well, being an art history graduate (that’s new this summer, btw) and a book addict means that I have started to build a fairly sizeable set of books that I consult every time I think about designing a new costume.
I have far more art books than one costumer needs. But far less than I suspect I will have in the future. Paintings can’t always be considered an accurate historical source, but art often shapes what we think of as ‘typical’ for an era. Large museums often produce catalogues of their collections and these can be wonderful books for flicking through. I know that they generally put the same information on the internet, but sometimes it can be hard to browse for costume that way. These books also sometimes contain extended essays related to the painting that give you background information about the social conditions of the time, or perhaps even some insight into the clothing. The National Gallery’s ‘British Paintings’* is one book that I think does it particularly well, and they have a whole series on different aspects of the collection. They are super expensive if you buy them at the retail price – but I found mine in great condition on Amazon for £12 second hand!
The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford also has some great catalogue style books. ‘Crossing Cultures, Crossing Time’* steps outside of British culture and attempts to make links between global history. It’s a good source book for a wide variety of different costume ideas, particularly when it comes to patterns. Many of the objects in the Ashmolean’s collection are decorative or useful domestic items rather than paintings and so it allows you to get more of a feel for the time period and culture that you’re researching. The Eastern Art department is particularly fine at the Ashmolean and I never tire of the Japanese galleries. There is everything from lovely original art prints to whole suits of Samurai armour. The Islamic galleries are pretty good too – do make sure you take a look if you’re in Oxfordshire.
There’s a few variations of this style of reference book, but my favourite one is ‘The Clothing of the Renaissance World‘*. It’s a book that was written and illustrated at the same time as many of the examples within it, so it is possibly a very good source for accuracy (not that LARP has to be accurate, but coolthentic costumes often have a solid basis in history). This book is in black and white so you’ll have to get your colour inspiration elsewhere. It’s also expensive on Amazon – nearly fifty quid – but I got mine for about a tenner at The Works. Keep your eye out for deals – this book is well worth it!
There are two books that I have been finding myself going back to time and time again. The first is ‘Patterns for Theatrical Costumes’*. The book is full of illustrations accompanied by basic cutting diagrams that go right up to the early twentieth century. It’s important to note that these patterns are not generally historically accurate, but they show ways to achieve similar looking garments that are good enough for theatre, television or LARP! I find the examples of decorative trim patterns particularly useful, and I hope to in time work on digitizing some of them for my embroidery machine. You could also screen print them onto fabric, hand embroider them, or even just use fabric paint pens to draw the patterns on. (A friend had good luck with the Setaskrib Opaque markers* for his Carthage costume – well worth looking into!)
The last one on my list is the one that I recomended to Leah. ‘The Art of Manipulating Fabric’* contains information about hundreds of different fabric decoration techniques. Pleating, insertions, smocking – it’s all in there with fantastic examples. If you’re looking for something unusual to add to a fantasy costume then this is certainly worth looking at. I really need to put more of the techniques into practice in my own garments (or even in the other things I make, like quilts!) so hopefully I’ll have some time to experiment over the winter.
Do you have any favourite books that you turn to each time you think about making a new costume? Share them in the comments!
Featured Image: “Girdle Book” by Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0