Friday, September 30, 2011

Film Review- To Kill A King

"To Kill A King" is a film set in that rather under-represented era in English history, the Civil War. It details the relationship between Lord Thomas Fairfax, who has helped to lead the overthrow of King Charles I, and his deputy, Oliver Cromwell. The two commanders seek to implement a more egalitarian government, but almost from the start are at odds about how to achieve this, and what the new government should be.

Muddying the waters somewhat is the relationship that each man has with Fairfax' wife, Lady Anne. She's of noble birth, and she and her father don't make her husband's political decisions any easier. Neither does the fact that Cromwell, at least in the beginning, has a not-so-secret desire for the lady, though he himself is married.

Tim Roth gives an impassioned performance as Cromwell, the man history loves to hate, although his relative youth in the film did puzzle me a little as he would have been 49 when the majority of the events depicted took place. High marks go to costumes for managing to include even Cromwell's noted moles in all of the right places. His friend, Fairfax, who both in the film and in real life refused to sign the King's death warrant, is our protagonist played by the brooding Dougray Scott (Ever After).  He does a great job portraying a man torn in many different directions at once, who has to choose not only between his King and his politics, but also between his wife and his friend, his safety and the safety of others, his wealth and his beliefs, and finally between everything he wishes to protect and his own life. The friendship between the two men his made warm and real, and the complications that beset them are as much about the breakdown of that relationship, as they are about the future of England.

Strong marks go to the fast-paced nature of the story, which easily could have gotten bogged down with historical intricacies; however, the lack of clarity about these situations means that a strong understanding of the time period and politics is advisable. Rupert Everett, as King Charles I, manages in the few scenes that he's in to show us the full transformation of a man from Absolute Ruler to prisoner, defiant defendent to humble martyr. He's also far from archetypal as we see him scheme, threaten, and bait his opposition. It gives the audience an opportunity to feel equal disbelief that such a man could be so easily overcome.

Finally, I cannot end without mentioning the period-perfect Olivia Williams as Lady Anne Fairfax. Her looks are very like those of 17th-century portraiture which, added to her pitch-perfect performance, creates a character that is sympathetic and believeable. Her sorrows, fears, and bewilderment, caught between the machinations and expectations of many men are reminiscent of Ophelia in Hamlet, yet this is a woman with power and persuasive abilities of her own.

All in all, a good film and a welcome one. There are too few 17th-century movies out there, and this one is worth seeing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

And I Quote- Homer on Helen of Troy

"Weaving a growing web, a dark red folding robe,
working into the weft the endless bloody struggles
stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze
had suffered all for her at the god of battle's hands."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Downton Abbey Preview Report

For those, like me, who have been anxiously awaiting the new season of Downton Abbey (which will air in the USA in January), I bring you this preview report. Be forewarned, it does contain spoilers, but it tells you before you get to them so the first half is still safe to read.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Advice for Young Women of the 1920s

I just love all of the references to how good health and hygiene make for good mothers, because that's the end goal; and if your children are blind or malformed it must be because you or your mate are unclean and lack virtue. So glad we don't think this way anymore.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tudor Outfit- Part 2

Things are not going smoothly, to say the least. Remember the tear in the back of the bodice that needed fixed? I went to check the seam and found a place on the inside where the seam was coming apart...then another...and a place where the skirt wasn't fully attached...and then a spot where the lining and outer fabric seams weren't lining up...and a gap where the "stomacher" part in the front didn't sit against the skirt, but left a gap.

In short, the dress was a mess and with fraying fabric and needing to take it all apart, well, it started to get worse the more I picked the seams apart and I finally just separated the skirt from the bodice and tossed the bodice. Unfortunately there isn't enough leftover fabric to re-cut the bodice, so I put the skirt away for future use and checked my pattern for fabric requirements.

10 yards of 45" wide fabric. That's a lot, and I do not have 10 yards of fabric lying around, so it'll be out the fabric store for that later. In the meantime I did pull out new fabric from my stash for the kirtle. I think a nice mellow mustard cotton for the body (interlined with canvas, of course), and a neckline in salmon shot-silk will work just fine.

Naturally I'm wondering if my one-week goal might not be a little ambitious at this point; but in the meantime there is the Gray Elizabethan Mens outfit to work on...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Green velvet Tudor outfit- Part 1

I'm trying to downsize my fabric stash and finish up old projects, and one of the things that I've wanted to finish for a while now is my green velvet Tudor gown.

Kirtle and forepart worn over chemise and farthingale

Back of gown on dressform
If it were simply a matter of moving forward on this outfit I'd only have to add closures to the front, make and attach oversleeves, and make a gable or a french hood. Heck, I could even forego the hood and wear a snood. Sadly, this outfit has been languishing in my closet for a long time because it is full of problems that need solving.

1) I made the kirtle from the Tudor Tailor pattern in the book, but this was years ago before I really knew how to scale up patterns properly, and I was in a crunch trying to get the outfit done for an event, so I skipped the mock-up and went straight into fabric. BIG MISTAKE! Always make time for a mock-up. The bodice came out a bit high in the neckline and large around. It fit, but it wasn't snug. I thought that it would "tighten-up" when I added in the boning and turned all the seams etc. Nope.
Kirtle neckline
2) Did that stop me? Did I go back and take it all apart? No. Bad costumer. I went right ahead with my forepart and undersleeves, and decorated the kirtle as if it were perfect. All of that came out pretty well, and I even had a separate forepart attached to the kirtle for some variety when I wanted to take off the pretty floral jacquard one, which tied on.
Forepart hem with decorative trim


3) The undersleeves I was pretty happy with and they only needed a finished edge at the elbow and ties.

4)The first problem with the gown came when I realized that I didn't have quite enough fabric. I had bought it years before on clearance and there was no possibility of getting more, and since velvet hass a directionality to it that's really obvious you really can't cheat it. I had been planning to cover the lower, turned-back sleeves with fur anyhow (nice, mottled, brown, bunny fur) so I decided that could be in a similarly-colored fabric and not need to be velvet on the backside. I also used less fullness in the skirt than originally called-for. I barely squeaked enough fabric out for everything else.

5) I started to put it together, and was very dismayed when it turned out that the fabric frayed and pulled apart at the seams. I tried to use different thread, stitch multiple times, back it with canvas (which the bodice was interlined with anyhow).

6)I finally got the bodice finished to the point where I could put the skirt on. I was really  in a time crunch by this point. So instead of figuring out the time-consuming cartridge-pleating which would have been historically accurate, and just pleated it symmetrically instead.

7) Then the fabric started to pull away from one of the back seams. I sighed, tried it on over the farthingale, kirtle, and forepart. Realized that the kirtle was too big in the bodice and was adding strain to the already-popping seams. The farthingale was to big and I should have made a smaller one. It was the night before the event.

So I threw up my hands, and wore something else to the event, and the misadventurous Tudor gown has never been finished. So now I am ready to tackle it again, and this will involve:-

1) Altering the farthingale to be smaller.

2) The kirtle was actually sold since it was fine except for being too big for me. I'll be making a new one.

3) Fixing the tear in the gown back.

4) Finishing the undersleeves, and the gown itself.

I give myself a week to do this, so updates will be forthcoming soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Nineteenth Amendment: Women's Suffrage

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

After years of frustration when women's rights advocates had argued that the preceeding amendments granting suffrage regardless of race should include the same regardless of sex, finally a proposal was drafted and sent to the senate for consideration in 1878. The senate did not even vote on the proposal until 1887, at which time it was rejected by a vote of 16 to 34. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, women's rights again became a hotbed issue and suffragettes won support in many states, especially in the west where several states passed legislation granting "partial suffrage".

On August 18th, 1920, after much urging from President Wilson and a special session of Congress, it finally passed and was ratified by the states. Despite this it was not until the 1950s that women began to vote in large numbers whereas today, statistically, more women vote than men, especially in the 18-24 age range.

Other countries where women can vote include:
Isle of Man (since 1881)
New Zealand (since 1893)
South Australia (since 1895), Australia entire 1902
Finland (since 1906)
Denmark (1915)
Armenia (1917)
Azerbaijan (1918)
Burma (1922)
Chile (1934)
France (1944)
Ethiopia (1955)
Iran (1963)
Kenya (1963)
Switzerland (1971)
Bahrain (1973)
Iraq (1980)
Liechtenstein (1984)
Namibia (1989)
Qatar (1997)
Kuwait (2005)

This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are some places in the world, like Saudi Arabia, where suffrage for women and men is severely limited or non-existant, but steps have been taken to see that it is eventually granted.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This Day in History- September 11th 2001, a personal note

I am an American, so it's impossible for me not to reflect with feeling on a date that has had so much significance for my country and myself. I am not interested in discussing blame, or policy, or politics. I am not interested in being angry. I am grateful that my own father was not where he was supposed to be on that day, for he might have been killed. I grieve for the people who lost their lives, and for the families who lost them. I am sorry for anyone who suffers needlessly, and I think it only underscores the fact that humanity has very far to go still. I will always remember where I was when I heard the news, as will every American of my generation, and people around the world.

I deeply appreciate the support and solidarity of those everywhere who have given it, and I have more than one reason to know that tragedy has a way of bringing out the best in people. I remember, I am grateful, I am humbled and hopeful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This Day in History- John Gerrard's Escape from the Tower

I love a good prison break story like "The Shawshank Redemption", or "The Count of Monte Cristo", but sometimes the best stories are the true ones.

In 1597 a Jesuit missionary named John Gerrard was imprisoned in the Tower of London for all of the usual reasons; plotting against the queen, being the wrong religion etc. Tortured for four days by being hung from his wrists via chains, he steadfastly refused to name his co-conspirators, or even admit there was any kind of conspiracy. Taken down, finally, he was determined to escape.

First he knew that he would have to regain the use of his hands, which had been rendered immobile by the torture. He bribed his gaoler to bring him some oranges, which he squeezed, peeled, and ate. For three weeks he exercised his wrists by cutting the peels into small crosses, which he strung on a silken thread to make a rosary. Why squeeze the juice out, though?

He requested a piece of paper with which to wrap the rosary so that he could send it to his friends, and duly this was brought. A few words were written on the paper in charcoal, enough to ensure its delivery, and on the inside he used the juice from the orange to write an invisible message detailing his escape plans so that his friends would be ready to help him. He gambled that they would know to hold the note up to the fire, rendering the words visible.

His last preparations were to convince his gaoler to let him visit another Catholic prisoner who was held in another part of the prison known as the Cradle Tower, which was only across a moat from the lowest part of the outer wall.

On the night of September 9th, 1597 Gerrard and his companion waited on the inner wall, and in due course a small rock came sailing over the wall attached to a string. They pulled up the string, which was attached in turn to a rope which they secured inside the wall so that it stretched across the moat. With great difficulty, because of his weakened wrists and hands, Gerrard made his way across the moat to the top of the wall and descended, successfully effecting his escape.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Cloche Hat

Cloche is french for "bell" and the cloche hat of the 1920s was shaped just so. When one thinks of that era it is one of the most pervasive styles and the first to come to mind for me. They could be any color, and made out of velvet, felt, wool, straw, or even knitted, trimmed with flowers, bows, buttons, feathers, pretty much anything you can think of!

Strictly a day-wear item at first, they showed up in films, fashion plates, and advertisements, and many were in fact made specifically to match certain outfits. Invented by a milliner named Caroline Reboux in 1908, they continued in popularity until about 1933 and were sported by stars, socialites, and celebrities as well as regular working-class people and, of course, flappers.
In more recent years the cloche has made a comeback and versions for both day and eveningwear can be found everywhere from Etsy to in-store at Target and Macy's. This is one style that is far from gone.

Friday, September 2, 2011