08 March 2015

HSF February Challenge: Blue.

This is another clothes-sewing post.

This is not a properly historical HSF submission; I had begun sewing something 19th-century-ish but got stuck on a particular Victorian technique and meanwhile the urgent sewing concern of the month became Purim costumes.

Loops decided that for Purim she wanted to dress up as a map of the world.
I am sure there is an easy way to engineer a sphere but the first thing I thought was “skirt” so we ran with that.

The blue fabric in the house was a rectangle left over from her not-a-hembygdsdrakt so I gathered it onto elastic and set godets in the bottom.

What would have been terribly clever, given unlimited time, would be to calculate an accurate flat-map projection and set the godets accordingly.

I traced the continents off a globe and cut them out of green flannel. I thought I'd like the way cotton flannel frays (continents have frayed edges; look at the coast of Norway) but looking at it now I think it looks more like frayed flannel than like frayed landmasses.

The old custom of dressing up in costume on Purim was to dress up like the enemies of the Jewish people, to drive home the point that the terror they inspire is illusory. Nowadays you don't see that particular custom followed much but as a medieval history teacher it was a complex experience for me to dress my little girl as Spain, France, Germany, and Poland.

Tracing the continents off a globe is an enlightening exercise; you get to feel for yourself all the frustration of trying to come up with an accurate projection. Every jot and tittle of Europe from the Guadalquivir to Vladivostock is familiar and dear to me, in consequence whereof I dealt with the skewing issue by unconsciously shoving an extra inch into China. I should read more Chinese history.
I should give this exercise to my students.

HSF details.

The Challenge: Blue.
The Dreamstress's challenge post was a fascinating exposition of blue dye through history.
One thing she didn't include is techeiles. The precise identity of the species that produces this dye, which is required in Jewish law for one of the threads in tzitzis, has gotten lost somewhere in Jewish history. Over the centuries there have been attempts to identify it – some hasidim wear a thread dyed with an extract from the common cuttlefish; and now some scientists suggest the Murex snail; but we know that techeiles stands up to chemical tests that indigo fails and it seems that Murex dye has the same chemical composition as indigo; at the end of the day, since we don't have a clear answer, almost everyone leaves the thread undyed, a dangling question mark.
One of my favorite stories growing up was an old Yiddish story about a quest for techeiles.

Fabric: Crafting cotton with polycotton godets. Since I bought this polycotton for a camp craft I've learned not to use polycotton because it pills; but for a costume color trumped quality.

Pattern: No pattern! I'm chuffed. This is my second time winging it.
What I learned from this project is that to make a gathered little-girl skirt, you need to start with a really, really, really wide rectangle for it to come out properly full.
This was my first time inserting godets into a slit rather than a seam and they came out smooth at the top, which is really exciting.

Year: Well. This skirt wasn't actually going to be my HSF submission. What's historical about it is the fact that the entire Jewish people is still dressing up to commemorate an event that took place around the time of Xerxes.
That would be c. 480 BCE.

Notion: Elastic. I used 1/2” elastic and it came out fine.

How historically accurate is it? It's all extremely accurate until you look at China.
Historically accurate, well.

Hours to complete: About two and a half for the skirt. I cut the continents while on the phone. Fellow beginning sempstresses, if I can knock out a skirt in three hours, the world is your oyster.
(Or your skirt.)

First worn: Purim night. It's a Purim-themed costume in that we can say she was dressed as Hodu v'ad Kush, from India to Ethiopia,” the lands the king Achashverosh (who seems to have been Xerxes) ruled... going round the long way.

Total cost: Stash only.

Bit of background information for those new to this blog. Purim is a Jewish holiday which commemorates the events described in the book of Esther. At that time the Jewish people lived under the rule of Persia, the vizier of which obtained permission to murder every Jew in the kingdom; the plan was miraculously averted in a very convoluted way. One of the themes of the day is that the laws of nature are just a veil behind which the universe unfolds exactly as it is meant to. Purim involves a lot of prayer, costume, men singing and dancing in the streets if you live in a large enough community that it won't disturb anyone else's traffic, and distributing charity and food baskets. For the two weeks leading up to the holiday, there is a lot of good-natured pranking between teachers and students (last year I taught class for 45 minutes in Yiddish) and made-up news in the newspapers. I've posted before about Purim here.

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