Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Reenacting Journey

More than a decade ago I fell in love with this crazy hobby. I grew up with an appreciation for history and visited the historic sites in my great state. My mom jokes that I have always played dress up, just now it costs a lot more. Like many new reenactors I fell in love with the "Southern Belles" and romantic notions of days gone by.

My reenacting began with some family members. I had done a few local living histories before my first actual reenactment. We went to an event near the coast of NC in late April. This was the first event that I went to hat had Sutler attending, and I took advantage of their wares. I had already fallen victim to the "white shirt and calico shirt" outfit. That weekend I fell victim to THE SNOOD!!! Yes, I did have one, I paid $5 for it, it was brown and held all of my hair in it's rayon strings.
White shirt, crocheted shawl, calico skirt, and snood- oh my!! 

I continued my snooded, white shirt escapades for about another year. At one time there was even a matching paisley-print cotton fichu and skirt combo. What was I thinking? I didn't know any better. Soon, I would learn that there was a better way to do things, to portray them properly. I can remember searching the internet for reenactor how-to's and DIY projects. 

Then at an event I walked in a sutler tent and saw an edition of the Citizen's Companion on the table. It was their Women's clothing special edition, packed full of articles by the most experienced people in the field.  What to wear for underpinnings, dresses, head wear, etc. I still have that copy of the CC, cover falling off, but I have kept it. I remember sitting around camp that night looking through the pages, the photos, the CDVs, and thinking- I look nothing like these ladies. It was my turning point. I began looking for valid sources, not just reenactor pictures. I was led to one of my greatest resources, The Sewing Academy. I was a sewing novice! I really did teach myself how to sew historic clothing (my mom taught me how to sew & operate the sewing machine as a child). I made my first real dress, not just a skirt. I laid my white blouse out and traced it & make a bodice "pattern" and attached it to the skirt. I had an ill-fitting dress.  It was cheap green homespun- but it was a step in the right direction. 
Green homespun dress
I couldn't tell you what dress I made next. But I did make proper underpinnings & got rid of my petticoats that were made from bed skirts. I also ordered a corset. I had done it- I had began the process. I remember being at a small local event not long after I had made my new dress, I saw some of the best ladies in reenacting, and I avoided them like the plague! I had been so proud of my creation, but after seeing them I knew how far I had left to go. (Just a side note, one of these ladies is now my BF and author of Why Not Then.) I read almost every article I could, browsed all the patterns and pictures I could. I got a copy of "Who Wore What"  and read it cover to cover, again and again. I think my first real dress pattern was the Simplicity 4551, which is now out of print. (A few of my dresses are still made using this base!)  I made a few new dresses- and continued to learn about proper dress and material culture.

In one of my favorite work dresses. 
After I felt like  I was looking the part- trying more and more to match the styles of the original images I was seeing, I started attending better events. Going to events of a higher standard challenged me to grow more and more in my impression.  I began to think about everything from my hairstyle to the plate I ate out of. It was progression.

Quality events with quality participants can help challenge yourself. 

I still find myself thinking about all the details before an event. I also still look for ways to improve my impression and to improve my interpretation. I fell in love with cooking along the journey. I started small with the military group I was with. I would usually have a meal ready when they got back from the battle scenario- and it escalated from there- and now I'm here. I love sharing my learning experience with others and seeing the interest that spectators have when they ask questions about a piece of clothing or a recipe I'm preparing. It's always nice to know that I may teaching someone something!

Somehow, most of my interpretations involve food! 

The reenacting hobby has many facets and I am sure there are still plenty for me to explore. I strive to constantly improve my impression. I started in the Civil War and it is "main" impression (as well as part of my job) but I have also expanded my impressions and time periods. I have dabbled in early 19th Century- and now in 18th Century- but I approach them with the same way I approach Civil War Era. I have the advantage now of knowing where to find resources and patterns- and to start clothing from skin out. These are things that I, as an experienced reenactor, have learned the hard way. Luckily I learned my mistakes fairly early in my living history career and didn't waste a huge amount of money. I have to say that I am proud of how far I have come in my reenacting journey- although I know I can still go further- research more, study more, and sew more.  Which brings me to where I am today- researching more, studying more, and of course- sewing more!

Remember- there is always room to grow! 


  1. I think I might have seen you first at Waynesborugh Village. Whatever the journey, you have aways been a friendly smiling person.

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