Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Resources for Developing an Authentic Civil War Era Impression

Resources for Developing an Authentic Civil War Era Impression

Since I've posted about my belief that a reenactor has a responsibility to create an authentic impression, I've provided below a list of resources to get somebody started. It is not all encompassing by any stretch of the imagination. It is a place to start.

I make no representations that I'm an authority on anything 19th Century; however, I'm blessed to have a husband that aspires to museum quality reproductions for his military and civilian impressions who introduced me to friends who are researchers and historians with more knowledge than I could hope to attain. 

The best option for research is to see, inspect, touch (not often allowed) photograph originals. The second best resource is to study photographs of the period. By 1860 it was not uncommon for ordinary people to have an image taken by a collodion artist. I've identified a couple of books below that show an amazing collection of images from the Civil War era. Please be cognizant, however, that collodion images do not represent colors the same way 20th Century black and white film represented color. Do not try to guess the color of the clothing. What may appear to be black, may actually be red, yellow, black or orange. Light blue shows as white. Originals reveal that 19th Century people wore bright colors in what the 21st Century mind would consider shocking color combinations. Instead of thinking color when looking at photographs, look for silhouettes, fit, basic styles, patterns on fabrics, trims, hairstyles, facial hair, poses & accessories. 

Think natural fibers - wool, cotton, silk and blends of these fibers. Black was not only for mourning. Synthetic fibers are DANGEROUS at reenactments where there are open fires. They melt or burn far more easily than natural fibers. They breathe. They are more comfortable. Wool is the most versatile choice in any season. 

A custom fitted corset will be the BEST INVESTMENT for a woman! In a well fitted corset one can run, bend over, breathe easily, perform chores, keep "the girls"in place, prevent back pain and look right! A well fitting corset is comfortable. It is NOT constricting. 

Please consider the following sites for preliminary research. Take it from somebody who, despite all of the resources at my fingertips, made unfortunate choices in the beginning of my reenacting career. It is far less expensive to do it right from the outset than to "make do"and then have to replace the unfortunate choices. 

The Sewing Academy @ Home / Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company
This is a great site to exchange information with others who have conducted exhaustive research and those who are new to reenacting. It is important to keep an open mind and to not take offense at comments or suggestions from senior researchers.
For women, men and children’s impressions.
I highly recommend Ms. Clark’s books on period construction techniques.

The Sewing Academy
ESC’s Compendium of tips and articles  including the valuable “Assembling Your Best Bet Wardrobe -  what you will need and what you won’t”

The Way They Were Dressed in 1860-1865 
by Donna Abraham

The Way They Were Dressed in 1860-1865 Volume 2 
by Donna Abraham
These books are composed of photographs that show what regular people war during the Civil War era.

For me the following patterns have been the easiest to construct with spot on detailed instructions for period construction:

Past Patterns by Sandra Altman

KayFig and Figleaf Patterns

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