I joined a new group last year and a friend leant me his group tabard so that I could jump right in and start playing without having to worry too much about new kit (it’s amazing what just a tabard will do for your kit if you join Highguard at Empire LRP).
Well, it’s not too long until the first event on 2017, so I’ve been locking myself in my sewing room and making mountains of new kit for the new season. Part of this was taking a look at the tabard I was leant and realising that while ripped eyelets look pretty cool, they aren’t actually going to last that much longer. Something needed to be done.
Matt wrote a while back about the idea of being ‘coolthentic’ at LARP. He argued that things should ‘feel original but look familiar.’ But how do you make things look familiar? I think that part of looking familiar is taking practices from the time and putting them into our modern costume. No, I’m not talking about slavishly hand stitching every seam even when you can’t see it. And I’m certainly not talking about things like weaving your own fabric.
But certain things do make costume feel familiar. For instance, the arm scythe in a garment (if you look at the clothes you’re wearing right now, there is proberbly a seam that joins the sleeve to the tors0 – that’s basically the arm scythe). On older garments you tend to have a very small, right arm scythe, but it’s placed further in towards the centre of your body. Your shoulder joint would be in the sleeve in a medieval garment, whereas in modern garments the sleeve starts after your shoulder tip finishes. You proberbly don’t even realise when you look at a garment if you’re not into sewing your own costume, but an old fashioned sleeve placement could well make your brain think ‘that’s old and in keeping with the period we are vaguely playing’, even if you don’t realise that your brain is doing it. It feels ‘not modern’.
Back in 2012 WRAP determined that on average here in the UK each person creates 70kg of textile waste a year – that is throwing away clothes and so forth. Apparently we send £140 million of used clothes to landfill each year. I mean, I don’t know about you but that statistic horrifies me (especially as I rarely buy myself new clothes). With modern technology it’s so easy to make fabric and clothes. We have massive mechanical computerised looms that churn out any kind of fabric you can imagine, and factories full of people on low wages using incredibly fast machines to piece garments together for cheap sale.
I’m entirely sure that this won’t come as a surprise to you – but a few hundred years ago this wasn’t normal practice. Fabric was handmade and expensive. Garments were regularly re-cut and re-sewn in order to make new fashions. Skirts with massive amounts of fabric were reused as things like altar cloths after the wearers death. And clothes would be repaired as well as reused.
So with that in mind, I set out to make the repairs to the tabard visible. I mean, not rough and obvious. I wasn’t going to repair the tabard by stitching it up with a ball of twine or anything, but I also decided not to use any particularly modern materials. Normally, for instance, I’d use fusible tape to stick fabric to the back of a rip and then invisibly stitch the patch down and the rip closed. I just didn’t bother hiding my stitches. I whip stitched a patch of linen that didn’t match in colour to the back and I let my stitches show on the front in a roughly matching thread. It’s not in-your-face-obvious, but up close you’d certainly see it if you were looking. These are battlefield repairs that are suitable for the look of the nation (other nations might just get new clothes I’m sure…).
And I tried to preserve as many of the metal eyelets in place as possible so that when I added my own they were visibly different. I have even started oversewing them in an almost-matching thread so that they are more secure for the future. Upgrades! Of course something nice about this is that the matching tunics that the group initially bought all those years ago will start to all become different over time. They will all gain natural wear and tear in different ways – heavy shoulder armour would wear at a tunic differently to the wear from scouting through the forest. And these changes should be embraced, with garments modified to fit the wearers needs!
So basically, I think you should embrace repairing your garments when it fits into your nation and group briefs! It will help the garments read as more familiar to the time period that you’re trying to create (specifically, it will help reinforce that you are not in ‘our world today’ where we throw away clothes rather than repairing them). And of course this doesn’t just apply to medieval fantasy either – I’m pretty sure that many dystopian and post-apocalyptic worlds would benefit from a bit of natural ageing on costumes too. Even if you have to help it along yourself before a first event…
It’s with huge thanks that I mention Lauren from The Midgard Seamstress here. Not only did she create the gorgeous original group tunics, but she is rarely too busy to talk costume in a field. And of course it’s testament to the quality of her work that the tunics are only now starting to show signs of wear that need repairing after quite a few years of regular use in a field!