What is this thing, and who am I?
It’s Costume Blog Writing Month (inspired by NaNoWriMo), and I’m Kitty Calash. I used to post much more frequently, but life caught up: I moved, which meant I didn’t sew at all for over a month* and thus didn’t have much to write about, since this isn’t a packing and moving blog.
But even before that, posting had slowed as I began to wonder why I wrote, and why I sewed. Costume Blog Writing Month, with its 31 flavors of posts, is a chance to reacquire the writing habit, and to think again about what I do, and why– and thus proved irresistible.
I’m a curator in search of a collection, a fugitive from architecture school, a compulsive editor, and a cat wrangler. I started sewing as a child with help from my mother and grandmother** who made clothes for me and my favorite doll, Moira. Although I graduated from two art schools, my interest in history is deep: I craved china dolls, collected antique quilts and tools, and insisted my bicentennial Samuel Adams costume have functioning knee bands– and yet, it’s taken me years to admit I’m “detail oriented.”
Some days Drunk Tailor asks me if I really enjoy sewing– my face betrays my frustration, and I do not play poker–but I get both distraction and satisfaction from it. Most of what I make I wear at living history events, so I hand-sew everything I can. I fall into the “progressive” reenactor/enactor/costumed interpreter camp, and strive for authenticity and accuracy in what I make, how I wear it, and what I do.
I’ve come to realize that I’m chasing art: my thesis work looked at what it means to be an American. What does “America” look like, what does the myth of America and our founding story mean? How do we portray it? Yes: I costume and organize events in pursuit of an experience for myself and participants that helps explain this nation, and how it came to be the way it is.
Not every post gets into this kind of theorizing— really, most don’t– but at core, my costume pursuits do chase the myth of an American Dream as I try to understand the people of the past, how they thought, what they made and wore, and how the past continues to inform the present.***
*During this time, I lost the distinctive callouses that will help a detective identify me as a seamstress when my murdered corpse is found in a Paris hotel doorway in the Georges Simenon novel I write in my head. I watch a lot of murder mysteries while I sew.
**Elsa turns up here from time to time; she was a style maven, the doyenne of design in a small Southern Tier town, who, for 50 years, ran the shop that dressed the maidens and matrons of the nearly best classes in a community of striving Swedes aching to assimilate.
*** And that, friends, is what working in history museums for two and half decades will get you: your own personal mission and an empty bank account.
Oh, goodness, I hear you on the “personal mission and empty bank account” theme! I haven’t sewn much for the past year or so — I also moved twice, less than a year ago — and I haven’t posted on my blog in at least a month. Just started a new job, too — I’m now an elementary school librarian, even though I am actually a trained historian and English major/word nerd; I have been learning how to run the library for the past 6 weeks, while the principal and head of technology re-designed the library around me (neither I nor the previous librarian had any say in the design), which has been difficult and frustrating, to say the least. I think it’s time to start sewing (and crocheting, and spinning) again, just to think about something else, and to follow my own plan! I’m looking forward to seeing your costume projects!
Mem Barnett said:
I’m so glad you’re joining us on this adventure!!! It was awesome to meet you in person that one time, and I’m really looking forward to reading your insights on costuming (and everything else – I’m always pleased to hear people wax poetic about interpretation). I’m already on the edge of my seat waiting for more – the collective shared myth of America is something I’ve explored before as well, and is often in the forefront of my mind now that I’m doing the pilgrim thing. We should chat 🙂