Once, not that long ago, I told someone that I try to be about 90% accurate in my historical accuracy while doing living history. Today I watched some good friends get bent out of shape about both the lack of historical accuracy in the SCA and when folks are accurate it does not seem to be appreciated. I wanted to reply to the Facebook threads but it got me thinking: what is 90% historical accuracy anyway? I’ve not bothered to define it for myself or anyone else. So this is what I’ve come up with (keeping in mind that what is accurate is an ever change debate in scholarship).
1) I don’t mind machine sewing clothing but I don’t want to see machine made hems or anything else. So no visible machine sewing- hand only. I also think it’s important to know what it’s like to hand sew something so you can explain how to do it and show an example at demos. I don’t mind machine sewing simply due to time.
2) The clothing and accessories should be as accurate as possible in their construction (the shape of the pattern and the parts that are worn) and they should match. Since there are a plethora of good merchants who sell both patterns and finished garments there is not much of an excuse here (never mind free websites with instructions). I don’t want to see 13th century hose with a 14th century double for example. I don’t want to put a Norse apron dress with a 16th c. Flemish hat for example.
3) Details matter but we are constrained by modern times. For examples there is not much chance of getting a linen canvas pavilion but you can get a period method of construction for a cotton canvas pavilion. I can’t believe that Sean has talked me into a hoop pavilion but he has. And when we set it up and set up house in it- the small details make all the difference. For example, the table set with linen tablecloths, period style feast wear ect. It helps to create an overall impression. (I find myself staring at art just to see what the inside of houses are like and what is set on the table….)
4) Period pretty is not modern pretty. Don’t worry about how you look in the eyes of the modern viewer or if you’re pretty by modern standards. The ideas of what was fashionable and what was beautiful have changed. I sometimes need to remind myself of this, especially in head wear.
5) I don’t need to do it all at once. I don’t have the time or the money to do it all at once and its taken years to get this far and it will take years more to get it to where I want. That’s ok.
6) I like multiple persona disorder so I can wear clothes from many time periods. I’m not so accurate that I have to stick to one place and time. It’s more fun for me to have a variety. My tent and main kit are 14th century, but my clothing ranges quite a lot.
7) I don’t need to be working with all handmade materials all the time– I don’t need hand woven fabric, made from handspun thread, hand dyed ect. I’d be fun to try and in fact I have a project lined up but it has to wait awhile. It’s an exercise not a requirement.
8) Can you tell it’s not real without some historic knowledge and a close up examination? The purse below is a good example-its one I made for this year. Its shape and style are very medieval, both art and extant pieces survive. The trim is in the right place, as are the tassels. So what is wrong with it? Well, for one, its bag lined which is not period for this style of pouch (I have a really hard problem with this- I really want to bag line things). It has trim in all the right places, and the ties are stabbed through the fabric rather than through sewn eyelets. But the trim and the outside of the bag are cotton, not linen and silk. The trim should be fingerloop braided rather than a thread chain. Why the short cuts? Time. I’m not very good at the fingerloop braiding and in this case it would take 4 arms or 2 people to make and sew it on at the same time. So it looks good, I know how it should be made, I know why I made the short cuts and they are ones I can live with. And even from 2 feet it’s hard to tell it’s not done right.
9) If you have a choice to do it right (historically accurate) or not for the same time and effort, then do it right. Sometimes it comes down to time, effort, and cost. As someone I know might say, pick two of the three. We rarely get a chance at all three. If we do then it goes without saying that you should go for it. Usually we all have the constrictions of modern life. Rent comes before a pavilion, and time goes by if we like it or not. So I work with what I have, like everyone else. So this boils down to, rayon/linen vs. pure linen fabric is a matter of cost. That’s one I can live with sometimes. But polyester and acrylic wool, not so much. Cotton for linings, yes I can live with that one too but generally not as an outside fabric (rare exceptions).
10) And last but not least-in fact the MOST IMOPRTANT- don’t judge others in their accuracy unless they ask you to. I’m part of an SCA household that is very inaccurate but I don’t care at all because how they play the game is up to them. Some care, some care some of the time, and some ask for help sometimes. Which I’m more than willing to give (trilled in fact!). And some in fact, are more accurate that I am. Short of elf ears, zombies, and cosplay outfits I don’t care how you go about it. And this is part of the reason I only have 90% accuracy. Sometimes I just need to sit around in a tunic because of the heat too. I’d never want to move from my campmates because of their preferences and my need to be accurate. I like my friends more than historical accuracy anyway.
I’m writing this as a mental exercise for myself. Like I said at the start I never bothered to put it into words before. What do I expect from myself? Of course this is subject to re-evaluation at any time. A good debate is usually a catalyst for that so if you have any ideas by all means let me know. And I know that I don’t live up to this all the time. But at least I have a goal.