Jul. 4th, 2011

rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review from July 1st. The full book title is Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915.

Which is basically what you get. This is an extremely useful book if you are interested in historical clothing that is a reasonable compromise between appearance and accuracy. Well, historical clothing from Western Europe, mostly. The progression goes Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Dark Ages, and continues from there; there's a generic Chinese and generic Japanese no-period-given set of patterns, which would bother me more if the rest of the patterns weren't also very generalized, but still bothers me.

Each time period gets generic that-era male and female outfits, with a few having variants shown for different classes or social groups. The amount of time that elapses between outfits is kind of odd-- we get three separate thirteenth-century things, for instance, and one fourteenth-century, and I'm not quite sure why. All the garment terminology is correct as far as I know. Hats get patterns, as do belts. Shoes don't, but they are pictured. Undergarment patterns happen when they are necessary for supporting the outer structure, so that you can build a working bustle or hoopskirt from this book but you're on your own at figuring out what, if anything, to put under the bishop's robes. Each pattern set also has a page of suggested embroidery/decorative motifs, and points out when odd fabrics and furs would be appropriate.

All of the patterns are duplicated at 1/8" to the real inch, with several methods of enlarging them given-- this book is old enough not to be able to mention that you can just scan them, blow them up, and print them out, which is what my house does-- and they all come in three sizes. The designer assumes you know the basics of draping and seam allowances and, well, standard garment construction; she'll tell you if there's anything really peculiar going on, and admits that nobody, but nobody, likes building hosen now that it would take too long to knit them so maybe you should just buy tights.

I would like to reiterate that this is clothing meant to look good at a distance, and that the designer expects you to put in the work yourself to modify it for whatever purposes you need, and says as much directly. If you are a stickler for specificity and accuracy, this is a starting point, not an end. That said, the overall authenticity level is, let us say, about two hundred and fifty percent better than your local Renaissance festival, at least. With the willingness to do a little research, you can get spectacular things out of this-- we've had the book in the house for several years, it's one of Thrud's most used references, and I'd flipped through it but never sat down and read it through before.

The interesting thing when you read it straight through is watching the evolution, because clothes basically start with 'here is a piece of cloth which we will keep on a body somehow', and then continue to ring changes on that until a technical innovation comes along, at which point they ring all the changes on that. You can really see the shapes of garments shifting here. It's also neat tracking at which eras men's garments were silliest and at which eras women's were; it does not quite alternate.

Also, of course, the burning question with this sort of book is which clothes you'd want. Thrud uses this to prop up her collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century menswear, because Thrud dresses that way all the time. I find, and this deeply confuses me, that the clothes here that make the most sense to me in terms of clothes I know how to wear (and you do have to know how to wear historical clothes; some of them have high skill thresholds) are the ridiculous seventeenth-century dresses, that somehow I picked up and internalized all the rules about what to do with one's gloves and how the layers work and how to sit and get through a door and all that. Which is ridiculous, because that is just about the silliest possible era of women's fashion, but it is that or modern menswear in terms of my preferences, there is no middle ground.

Anyway, this is a worthy and useful book, adaptable to many purposes and capable of taking the kind of beating that you get in the organized chaos of costuming multiple persons. I only wish we had something similar for, well, any bits of the world that aren't Western Europe.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review from July 1st. The full book title is Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915.

Which is basically what you get. This is an extremely useful book if you are interested in historical clothing that is a reasonable compromise between appearance and accuracy. Well, historical clothing from Western Europe, mostly. The progression goes Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Dark Ages, and continues from there; there's a generic Chinese and generic Japanese no-period-given set of patterns, which would bother me more if the rest of the patterns weren't also very generalized, but still bothers me.

Each time period gets generic that-era male and female outfits, with a few having variants shown for different classes or social groups. The amount of time that elapses between outfits is kind of odd-- we get three separate thirteenth-century things, for instance, and one fourteenth-century, and I'm not quite sure why. All the garment terminology is correct as far as I know. Hats get patterns, as do belts. Shoes don't, but they are pictured. Undergarment patterns happen when they are necessary for supporting the outer structure, so that you can build a working bustle or hoopskirt from this book but you're on your own at figuring out what, if anything, to put under the bishop's robes. Each pattern set also has a page of suggested embroidery/decorative motifs, and points out when odd fabrics and furs would be appropriate.

All of the patterns are duplicated at 1/8" to the real inch, with several methods of enlarging them given-- this book is old enough not to be able to mention that you can just scan them, blow them up, and print them out, which is what my house does-- and they all come in three sizes. The designer assumes you know the basics of draping and seam allowances and, well, standard garment construction; she'll tell you if there's anything really peculiar going on, and admits that nobody, but nobody, likes building hosen now that it would take too long to knit them so maybe you should just buy tights.

I would like to reiterate that this is clothing meant to look good at a distance, and that the designer expects you to put in the work yourself to modify it for whatever purposes you need, and says as much directly. If you are a stickler for specificity and accuracy, this is a starting point, not an end. That said, the overall authenticity level is, let us say, about two hundred and fifty percent better than your local Renaissance festival, at least. With the willingness to do a little research, you can get spectacular things out of this-- we've had the book in the house for several years, it's one of Thrud's most used references, and I'd flipped through it but never sat down and read it through before.

The interesting thing when you read it straight through is watching the evolution, because clothes basically start with 'here is a piece of cloth which we will keep on a body somehow', and then continue to ring changes on that until a technical innovation comes along, at which point they ring all the changes on that. You can really see the shapes of garments shifting here. It's also neat tracking at which eras men's garments were silliest and at which eras women's were; it does not quite alternate.

Also, of course, the burning question with this sort of book is which clothes you'd want. Thrud uses this to prop up her collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century menswear, because Thrud dresses that way all the time. I find, and this deeply confuses me, that the clothes here that make the most sense to me in terms of clothes I know how to wear (and you do have to know how to wear historical clothes; some of them have high skill thresholds) are the ridiculous seventeenth-century dresses, that somehow I picked up and internalized all the rules about what to do with one's gloves and how the layers work and how to sit and get through a door and all that. Which is ridiculous, because that is just about the silliest possible era of women's fashion, but it is that or modern menswear in terms of my preferences, there is no middle ground.

Anyway, this is a worthy and useful book, adaptable to many purposes and capable of taking the kind of beating that you get in the organized chaos of costuming multiple persons. I only wish we had something similar for, well, any bits of the world that aren't Western Europe.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review from July 2nd.

I'm not entirely sure how I missed this book, because I've read both the sequels (Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray) multiple times. I put it down to Norton's huge bibliography-- seriously, every time I go to a good used bookstore I turn up something of hers I have never heard of, let alone read-- and the fact that several of her series are structured to be so independent of one another that I once went fifteen years without noticing that I missed a book that came between two other books. (To be specific, I read Moon of Three Rings and Dare to Go A-Hunting as a kid and found out about Exiles of the Stars when Baen put out the omnibus. Uh, oops. Actually I didn't find out about Storm Over Warlock until the omnibus came out either, but I think there's a bit more excuse for missing the beginning of a series than the middle.)

This has a very typical Norton setup, young man on the run on an alien planet with telepathic wolverines as his companions. One reason I love Andre Norton so much is that that is absolutely a typical Norton setup. Anyway, the wrinkles this time around are that the things chasing him are insectoid aliens who really cannot be communicated with in any way, and the alien planet is inhabited by matriarchal telepathic sea-dwelling reptiles who don't like him because he is confusingly both male and telepathic, a thing that doesn't happen in their species. It's a pretty standard protagonist-running-away-from-things book, mostly, but the sea-dwelling culture is really fun and convincingly alien, and the way in which the protagonist keeps spending immense time and effort to stop being trapped on small islands without food or water only to then find himself trapped on different small islands without food or water is structurally more enjoyable than it sounds.

Solidly second-tier Norton-- in a year or so it is going to blend in my head with her other sixty-three books about people running away from danger with telepathic animals. The sequels are much better, more complex and less standardized. But I felt no urge to walk away in the middle; Norton is always readable even when she's not impressive.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review from July 2nd.

I'm not entirely sure how I missed this book, because I've read both the sequels (Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray) multiple times. I put it down to Norton's huge bibliography-- seriously, every time I go to a good used bookstore I turn up something of hers I have never heard of, let alone read-- and the fact that several of her series are structured to be so independent of one another that I once went fifteen years without noticing that I missed a book that came between two other books. (To be specific, I read Moon of Three Rings and Dare to Go A-Hunting as a kid and found out about Exiles of the Stars when Baen put out the omnibus. Uh, oops. Actually I didn't find out about Storm Over Warlock until the omnibus came out either, but I think there's a bit more excuse for missing the beginning of a series than the middle.)

This has a very typical Norton setup, young man on the run on an alien planet with telepathic wolverines as his companions. One reason I love Andre Norton so much is that that is absolutely a typical Norton setup. Anyway, the wrinkles this time around are that the things chasing him are insectoid aliens who really cannot be communicated with in any way, and the alien planet is inhabited by matriarchal telepathic sea-dwelling reptiles who don't like him because he is confusingly both male and telepathic, a thing that doesn't happen in their species. It's a pretty standard protagonist-running-away-from-things book, mostly, but the sea-dwelling culture is really fun and convincingly alien, and the way in which the protagonist keeps spending immense time and effort to stop being trapped on small islands without food or water only to then find himself trapped on different small islands without food or water is structurally more enjoyable than it sounds.

Solidly second-tier Norton-- in a year or so it is going to blend in my head with her other sixty-three books about people running away from danger with telepathic animals. The sequels are much better, more complex and less standardized. But I felt no urge to walk away in the middle; Norton is always readable even when she's not impressive.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Review from July 3rd.

You get two books today, because I found Jill Paton Walsh's Birdy and the Ghosties and Matthew and the Sea Singer together at the library and they're both short. Jill Paton Walsh really came to my attention when [community profile] papersky gave me a copy of Knowledge of Angels, a staggeringly brilliant medieval theological fantasy which is one of the few books I know that really captures the way in which people in the past simply did not think the way people in the present think. In the process of my mentioning to [personal profile] sovay that everyone in the world ought to read Knowledge of Angels, [personal profile] sovay looked up Walsh's bibliography. I discovered I'd had The Green Book read to me in elementary school and had read about six of her others, in that way where one reads things as a young teenager and promptly forgets the title and author but can recite sentences word-perfect a decade later. Then [personal profile] sovay discovered that she'd been looking for the titles and author of Birdy and the Ghosties and Matthew and the Sea Singer for the last twenty years, because they were formative, so I read them.

Wow.

You can read each of these in about ten minutes, even if you aren't me, because they are very short, but they will stick with you. They have the kind of language that feels hewed out of solid oral tradition, found or grown rather than designed, and yet constructed with a layer of novelistic care as well as the classical pattern of the folktale. If I am reminded of anything, which I'm not, really, it's Alan Garner's Stone Book Quartet, except that these are for anybody from about the age of four up.

Birdie, Bird Janet, lives with her mother and father in a hut where a road meets a river and the river meets the sea. Her father is a ferryman, mostly rowing across the river but sometimes taking people to the nearest sea island. In Birdie and the Ghosties, Birdie learns that she has second sight (delightfully and pragmatically expressed as looking at everything twice), which becomes useful when her father gets asked to ferry three ghosts across to the second sea island, the one that wasn't there until that morning, and Birdie has to sit in the bows to even out the weight of the boat. Her father can't see the ghosts at all. This is one of those books that has a surface plot, which is perfect, and then another set of things going on which are more concealed, which are also perfect, and which rose up and smacked me on the last page so I had to sit blinking and contemplating for longer than it had taken to read the book. Astonishing.

Matthew and the Sea Singer is slightly less complex, but funnier: Matthew is an orphan Birdie buys from a cruel master, who is taken by a sea queen because he has a voice that sounds like heaven. She won't give him back unless they teach one of her sea creatures to sing just as well as he can, which is not an easy proposition; for one thing, it has to stay wet, and the parson is the choirmaster, and nobody's quite certain it's right to have it flopping about in the font like that... According to [personal profile] sovay this one is a real folktale, although not one I'd heard before. It's also basically perfect. I can't figure out how either of these books could possibly be improved on. They have good illustrations, even, watercolor over pen-and-ink with a slightly smudgey feel that works well for both funny and numinous.

These are utterly spectacular and I urge you not to miss them if you like folktale retellings at all even a little bit. They're out of print, but I had no trouble at the library, and it was the town library, not the university, so they shouldn't be that hard to track down. Buying them, on the other hand, well, going to have to work on that, I think. It will be worth it.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Review from July 3rd.

You get two books today, because I found Jill Paton Walsh's Birdy and the Ghosties and Matthew and the Sea Singer together at the library and they're both short. Jill Paton Walsh really came to my attention when [livejournal.com profile] papersky gave me a copy of Knowledge of Angels, a staggeringly brilliant medieval theological fantasy which is one of the few books I know that really captures the way in which people in the past simply did not think the way people in the present think. In the process of my mentioning to [livejournal.com profile] sovay that everyone in the world ought to read Knowledge of Angels, [livejournal.com profile] sovay looked up Walsh's bibliography. I discovered I'd had The Green Book read to me in elementary school and had read about six of her others, in that way where one reads things as a young teenager and promptly forgets the title and author but can recite sentences word-perfect a decade later. Then [livejournal.com profile] sovay discovered that she'd been looking for the titles and author of Birdy and the Ghosties and Matthew and the Sea Singer for the last twenty years, because they were formative, so I read them.

Wow.

You can read each of these in about ten minutes, even if you aren't me, because they are very short, but they will stick with you. They have the kind of language that feels hewed out of solid oral tradition, found or grown rather than designed, and yet constructed with a layer of novelistic care as well as the classical pattern of the folktale. If I am reminded of anything, which I'm not, really, it's Alan Garner's Stone Book Quartet, except that these are for anybody from about the age of four up.

Birdie, Bird Janet, lives with her mother and father in a hut where a road meets a river and the river meets the sea. Her father is a ferryman, mostly rowing across the river but sometimes taking people to the nearest sea island. In Birdie and the Ghosties, Birdie learns that she has second sight (delightfully and pragmatically expressed as looking at everything twice), which becomes useful when her father gets asked to ferry three ghosts across to the second sea island, the one that wasn't there until that morning, and Birdie has to sit in the bows to even out the weight of the boat. Her father can't see the ghosts at all. This is one of those books that has a surface plot, which is perfect, and then another set of things going on which are more concealed, which are also perfect, and which rose up and smacked me on the last page so I had to sit blinking and contemplating for longer than it had taken to read the book. Astonishing.

Matthew and the Sea Singer is slightly less complex, but funnier: Matthew is an orphan Birdie buys from a cruel master, who is taken by a sea queen because he has a voice that sounds like heaven. She won't give him back unless they teach one of her sea creatures to sing just as well as he can, which is not an easy proposition; for one thing, it has to stay wet, and the parson is the choirmaster, and nobody's quite certain it's right to have it flopping about in the font like that... According to [livejournal.com profile] sovay this one is a real folktale, although not one I'd heard before. It's also basically perfect. I can't figure out how either of these books could possibly be improved on. They have good illustrations, even, watercolor over pen-and-ink with a slightly smudgey feel that works well for both funny and numinous.

These are utterly spectacular and I urge you not to miss them if you like folktale retellings at all even a little bit. They're out of print, but I had no trouble at the library, and it was the town library, not the university, so they shouldn't be that hard to track down. Buying them, on the other hand, well, going to have to work on that, I think. It will be worth it.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.

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