Monday, November 21, 2016

Fortune Favors A Three-Hour Chiton

Good day to you gentle reader!

Me at SCA 50 Year in Danville, IN

Today we're going to talk about one of my crazy garb creation projects. I'm known for, well, blitzkreig-ing projects and sewing new garb the night before an event on a whim. This is the most recent sewing adventure was making Greek/Roman hot weather garb.

What I'm making is a very loose interpretation of a Greek chiton, or Roman peplos. Considered a feminine garment Aphrodite was often depicted in a chiton. It's really just a big fabric tube with the excess pulled up over the belt and "bloused". Over my head and around my shoulders I wear a palla. These would have been either linen or silk and 3-6 yards long, but probably not as sheer as my pallas are.

So, after Coronation I bought myself a present from the Met: Roman replica earrings of Nike (Winged Victory).

Roman copy of Nike Earrings

And the night before Kings & Queen's Archery/Thrown Weapons Champions in my Shire I thought to myself - Gee, I really want to wear those tomorrow but I've lent my green chiton to a LARPing friend. LET'S MAKE A NEW ONE!

My raw supplies at 1am

The supplies: 4 yards of purple rayon (this fits my size 24 frame), 2.5 yards of red silk, a belt, and a bracelet from Charming Charlie. (and a Starbucks Double Shot Energy)

The bracelet broken apart

I originally intended to steal a Morgan Donner trick at paint the stones with nailpolish, but decided I liked them

First, let me not advise you to do these things at 1am. You end up watching really bad cartoons on Qubo like "Class of the Titans". Well really, since most of this project is hand sewing, you are listening to Class of the Titans, which, unsurprisingly, does not improve by just hearing the audio.
Choose better, gentle reader, choose Netflix.
Second, halt your throwdown over rayon. Cease. Do not tell me "But Fortune it's a man-made ATROCITY! How could you?!?!" Look. I need drape. Modern linen without a LOT of TLC isn't going to give me that drape and wool iritates my delicate skin so rayon is a great alternative. It's made from wood fiber, so not as evil as polyester, and doesn't grow and warp as linen will in heat and humidity.
Anyway... So I have fabric, I have a butchered bracelet, and I have thread. Where do we go from here?
The first step is draping. This is not scary Project Runway-style draping that involves narrow black tape tape and bias and black magic. This is easy - belt and safety pin draping. You'll need twice as many safety pins as you have fasteners.
Pin the tube of rayon (your chiton) together at one edge, mark the halfway point on each side with chalk. Pin about 7 inches on each side of the center mark of one side of the tube, and maybe five on each side of the center mark on the other. This is your for your head. The more generous draping is in the front, the other across your shoulders. This helps the chiton staying draped in the front and not slipping back on your neck. Pin each side of the tube together and put it on with your belt. Now fiddle with those marks until you get a drape you like.
TAKE YOUR TIME. This fitting process may take over a half hour. That's ok. It should. The attention you spend here is what takes this from a potato sack to a gown.
Please make sure you are wearing a belt for this. The blousing may change how you like the drape.
My picturesque bathroom ladies and gentlemen!
Me at the draping stage.
Once you have the neck all figured out, mark out your arm holes. Adjust how much room  you want at your forearm to be comfortable. Go through the rythmns of daily life. Fold laundry. Pack the rest of your stuff for the event. Make sure that the openings aren't too narrow for you to move appropriately nor too wide so that you feel a draft.
Next measure between the wrist and the shoulder pins and divide up at will. I like 3-4 findings on each arm. It's about your comfort. Look at various statuary from the period for guidance
Hygieia Goddess of Health and Hypnos at the MFA Boston

Roman Provincial Imperial Period, Antonine about A.D. 140–190

Accession 1974.131

Terracotta mask of woman to hips

Early Hellenistic probably late 4th–3rd century B.C.
Accession Number: 26.164.6

You can see the fasteners on the left hand side of the statue, they look like little round buttons.
Mark the placement of your fasteners on each side of the tube with a safety pin. You could use real pins, but they may fall our and ruin all your hard work. Prevent tears, use safety pins.
The two red marks are your center front. (you know you're jealous of my MS Paint skillz)
No, clearly I don't have photoshop
Chiton Pin Layout
Alright, now that you the placement down, before you take off the chiton decide how racy you want to be and mark on the side (with it bloused) where you want the slit to go to. I like, again unsurprisingly, a very high slit. It's personal preference.
Here comes the never-ending hemming. Hem all four sides of the length of fabric.
Seriously, if nothing else, hand hem the top edge. It really won't take that long and it will look MILES better than machine sewing it. Put on a podcast, or a movie you've seen many times before (so you aren't tempted to watch the screen) and go to town.

Green Chiton in progress.

The color is much more becoming in person.

 On my purple chiton I hand hemmed all edges but the bottom. On my green it's entirely hand sewn as is the pink chiton I made at SCA 50 Year because it was SO VERY HOT.

Now, you have a giant length of fabric, but not a tube, and I promised you a tube didn't I? Well, you also get more hand sewing! I know what you're thinking. You're thinking Fortune, why don't I just run this through the machine? No one needs to know.

Because the advantage to how the garment will sit on the open side is worth it. Really. In a lot of period garment construction each individual piece is lined and then all the parts are whip-stitched together. This means they lay almost perfectly flat. And that's what you want for that side seam, so it doesn't bunch weirdly and have bulk whip-stitch the two ends together starting at the top hem and heading towards where you marked the top of your slit. Make sure you reinforce the top of the stit by doing a bit of satin stitch, basically looping the thread through several times. There will be stress here and you don't want it to fail as you majestically traipse about your encampment or the event.

Now, match up your two sides and add your fasteners/findings. You're done!

Me in the fniished chiton with a lovely necklace also from Charming Charlie.

Well, almost. You could just use your palla and hope it stays on your head and protects the back of your delicate, swan-like neck, but in reality, especially silk is going to misbehave. I pircked up a pack of 6 plastic combs at Wal-mart very similar to these:

Oh so very not period, but you can find ones in metal at craft supply stores.

I draped the palla around myself: over the right shoulder, over the head and back across in front and over the right shoulder. Then marked about where it hit on the back of my head, and attached a comb on the right side of the fabric at the selvedge. So the comb can flip towards my head and stick in without being seen. It's five minutes and so much more elegant than fiddling with a veil all day.

Ding! Dress is done! So go forth gentle reader and be free and breezy in your new garb!

Some other options for findings that I entertained:

These are from Jo-Ann's, but the reast are all from the jewelry secton at Burlington Coat Factory

Also, because my usual drawers did not work well under these dresses I tried out men's boxer briefs. How transgressive! Worked ok, not my favorite option, but I'm not sure anything could have survived the terrible heat at SCA 50 Year.

Further reading on Roman Garb:

Anna's Rome:

Mistress Giata's blog La Bella Donna: