Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Pea soup, but no fog

Two jolly outings for Queenie this week: one to Loddon Junior School in Friday's ice and snow, and one to the Medieval Fair at Dragon Hall in Norwich on a crystal clear wintry Saturday.

A Dragon Hall sounds like it ought to be warm- but it was freezing! And due to my complacency regarding making a French farthingale I had to wear the lightweight dress. However, it appeared that authenticity was not at a premium this time so I kept on my jeans underneath! I was further warmed by some delicious pea soup and mulled wine. This is a food and drink combo I would in any other circumstances have shunned, but with my fingers at sub zero I was grateful for anything warm.

Nothing could have been warmer, though, than the welcome I received at Loddon where I dressed and undressed several times for the benefit of the year 5 and 6 Tudors Project (I discovered that Year 6 boys are far more salacious than one might expect, but that wasn't what I meant about a warm welcome) My main point is that the staff were lovely, and us re-enactory-types were offered copious tea and conversation in the staffroom at lunchtime, which was both warm, and welcome.

But back to Dragon Hall. I was selling Queeniepegs (ElizaPegs) and hurrah hurrah, I sold out!! Brilliant. Now I have the Christmas hols to replenish supplies ready for next year. And I have had some interest in a bulk order of Pegtorias too, and they're selling well in ebay, so its all good, as they say. I really must get that website sorted out...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

We are very VERY much amused...

...by the new Queeniepeg, Queen Pegtoria.

Hingham in the Rain

I arrived at Hingham craft fair today with ample time to get ready. Being a craft fair Virgin Queen, I was reassured by the warm welcome it's organiser Sally Foreman gave me (and she took a photo of me- that's always a good start). I left my entourage* by my allocated table and went to the disabled loo to get changed. I could, and indeed possibly should, write a thesis on the dubious merits of the many disabled loos of Norfolk in their alternative role of 'Changing Room for Queen Elizabeth I'.

I had forgotten nothing. I sold some Queeniepegs. People loved my costume, listened to what I had to say and wanted to book me for Talks.

Nothing went wrong. No zany falling over, lacklustre timekeeping or quirky forgetfulness to report.

Don't tell anyone, but I believe I may actually be turning into a professional.

* Males, 51 and 7, wearing increasingly resigned and bewildered expressions respectively.

Monday, 1 November 2010

November 13th: Get Your Queeniepegs 'ere!

Hingham Christmas Craft Fair & Market

10AM - 3PM

Homemade Crafts, Gifts, Specialty Foods, Outdoor Market with local crafts, gifts, and producers

Daisy Boo’s Kitchen serving refreshments
& Light Lunches

All Your Christmas Shopping Under One Roof!
Entrance 50p adults (kids free)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Living Histrionics

This weekend brought the return of the Living History fair at Mannington Hall, which was more or less where this blog began nearly a year ago.

Queenie attended on a return visit. I had to wrangle with the Keeper of the Ticket Office single handedly. I was attempting to go in through a door marked 'entrance', and clearly, I had misunderstood the due process. I should instead know to walk approximately five steps to my right and enter through a gate which bore the words No Right of Way. I then compounded matters by five minutes later trying to leave the grounds through an open door labelled Exit rather than through the same gate as before, which by this time had been bolted shut in two places.

As I was alone at Mannington, I was getting changed on site (in a disabled loo, as always) and dependent on finding a passing Viking/Puritan/Saxon/Victorian who would be able and willing to lace me up. Imagine my delight, then, when I happened upon my friend and erstwhile castle colleague, Sian. Sian was promoting Swaffham museum by being a 19th century Fenland Wise Woman for the day. She was sharing a tent with Howard Carter, the famed Egyptologist, and his very large sarcophagus.

One could tell she was a Wise Woman because was wearing wellies. Very sensible. Anyhow I extracted a promise of lacing up from her and went on my way to complete my toilette in the toilet.

But Quelle Horreur!!!! I'd got almost all the seven layers of Queenie's garb on before I realised I had FORGOTTEN MY KIRTLE. The kirtle is the skirt, the uppermost , biggest and most obvious bit of the costume. In my case, it's made from about 4 metres of crimson silk. How did I manage to forget it? Forward planning. I've always known it was a bad idea.

In an unprecedented bout of early preparation I had taken the kirtle out of the suitcase and hung it up to let some creases fall out overnight. And of course, I had neglected to return it to the case the next morning.

After a moment of panic in which I rapidly went through the options of going home and coming back again, or just going home and staying there, I remembered that next door to Sian's tent was A FABRIC SELLER.

Most unseemly in my farthingale, I dashed across to this stall where I spotted a remnant which would do. Bless the stall holder for letting me have it cheap (well, I AM the Queen). Then I dashed back to the toilet to find my money, then back again to pay. On my final run, a nearby hurdy gurdy player started up with a comical 'panto chase' melody, which didn't go unnoticed.

Sian then pinned the remnant into kirtlish shape. A million thanks to her for her patience, kindness and yes, spilt blood.

Obviously re-enactment is a serious business to some. A true re-enactor would never see the funny side of this- authenticity had been violated. I should be sent to the Tower. But I had a lovely day, and lots of people were entertained by taking photos of me having a cheese puff for lunch.

Next Stop : Hingham Craft Fair!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A (nearly) historic day for Peg Dolls online

Culloo cullay oh frabjous day and so on and so forth. I spent yesterday getting my new peg dolls website up and running. It's not finished yet but it's looking good. I must get some decent photos done of the dolls, because the ones I have are just not good enough. I'll put a link on here when its properly ready.

I am also expanding into Queen Victoria (that explains her weight gain in her latter years). She will be known as Queen Pegtoria and she will most definitely not be amused.

My requested order for Wars of the Roses dolls (Rosiepegs) is coming on apace too, with designs completed. My customer doesn't need them till after Christmas, so that's a project for the holidays.

Note to self: must read more books about Queen Victoria. Also: must remember I am supposed to be studying for a degree too. Busy busy busy!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I need help!

Dear readers (all two of you), please have a think about a possible name for my Peg Doll Company. It can't be Dolly Peg as someone's nabbed that already. Other suggestions have been Peggy Sew, QueeniePegs and The Historic Peg Doll Company (although if you Google the latter one you get a blog about historic dolls).

Answers on a postcard to rachelduffield@live.co.uk....

How much is that Dolly in the window?

I have just realised that over a month has elapsed since my last posting. I have been awfully busy with Lizziepegs and with being ill and with doing madly successful concerts- oh yes, and with going to work, talking Barn Owls with my son's class and, occasionally, remembering to eat.

I will be selling the historic peg doll kits at Mannington Hall History Fair, Dragon Hall's Medieval Christmas Fair, at the Hingham Christmas Fair and at assorted other venues yet to be decided. There has been much ado about how much to charge (one doesn't want to under or over-charge) so I'm going for £4 at the first venue and I'll see what happens. Most people have looked at them and said I should charge a fiver but I'm just not sure...

I have a cottage industry going, assembling all the bits. Obviously my printer will run out of ink at some inconvenient moment. I have also been comissioned for one for an American cousin of a cousin (I've gone global!) and ten for a re-enactors' fair. Said re-enactor also wants bespoke 15th Century doll kits made - I'm happy to oblige! And I must get on with the Queen Pegtorias too. If only there were more hours in a day.

I have also been reading up on how to use Twitter. I keep trying with it but I just don't get it. My book says this is entirely normal and I must persevere. So that's what I'll do.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A new Queen has arrived

Introducing my latest project, a craft kit to make a mini Queenie peg doll. I'll be selling them at my talks, and possibly at craft fairs around East Anglia.

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM www.queeniepegs.co.uk and the shop at Dragon Hall, Norwich.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Watch Out

I realised today that I lost my watch at some point during my Queenying this summer. At least it wasn't my dignity, which it could so easily have been.

I have been very busy this week, scheming, plotting, planning. I have a new venture, which will be revealed shortly...

No more to say now due to the secrecy of my work...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hold the Fireships, the Queen isn't quite dressed!

Now the thrills and spills of my Summer Hols work are over I find it is time to report on the progress of the Armada. It's looking good. Still unfinished, but definitely getting there.

Things We Will Not Talk About:
1) putting the first sleeve on back to front and having to redo it.
2) pricking my finger so hard that real blood was spilt on said sleeve.
3) mysterious lacing up issues resulting in resignation that I will have to make a French farthingale.

And in other news, I now have bookings from nine WIs for next year.

Boleyn. Ali.

Last week's Queenying comprised a calm day at Norwich's fine Dragon Hall, followed by two very hectic, but hugely enjoyable days at 'Check out the Tudors' week at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.

My visit to Christchurch was hosted by my former Norwich Castle friend, colleague and erstwhile babysitter Ali, who played Mrs Withipoll, wife of the original owner of the Mansion. Together with another very knowledgeable Ali who works there, we had enormous fun walking in the beautiful parkland surrounding the mansion and perplexing passers-by. Some of the passers-by thought I was the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. Humph. But I suppose that's better than Queen Victoria, which is what I usually get.

With visiting children, Ali also did some Tudor dance sessions on the beautiful chequered floor of the Great Hall. I could not join in as Queens can only move diagonally(!). Mrs Withipoll and her pupils then performed admirably for the Queen -who was, incidentally, not provided with a chair wide enough to accomodate her bumroll. That's her bumROLL! I then took questions as QE1! I had some great questions, including 'How many people have you beheaded?' 'What do you think of Robert Dudley?' and 'How do you like your potatoes cooked?'!!

My Facebook acquaintances may already be aware of the good-natured *incident* involving phallic sweets, a space blanket and a King from the year 3000. I feel I need say no more on the matter, but be assured the rebel is now resting at the Tower until further notice!

This week the Queen visited two libraries, Thetford and Attleborough, to do the Dress Queen Bess talk. I had a small enthusiastic and attentive audience at Thetford, and a large enthusiastic and attentive audience at Attleborough (including two little girls who came dressed as Anne Boleyn). Wonderful.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Busy Lizzie

Queenie has been most diverted since the last blog. Firstly, our pc has gone plunk so I haven't been able to update this blog. Secondly I've been excessively busy- in spite of (or perhaps because of)it being the school holidays, mum's taxi service has been running overtime.

But of course, I have been working. After King's Lynn I spent two days Outreaching with the excellent Fred White, combining Tudor inspired craft activities with some Queenying, first in Shouldham and then in Hunstanton.

Since my superb coverage in the local paper the phone has been ringing off the hook with Queenie work for next year; and one person even already wants to book in the new 'Queenie', Victoria. Please don't mention that the costume for Vicky isn't even begun yet!

I also owe a debt of enormous thanks to Interested Party* who organised a meeting with Hilary Davidson, curator of textiles at the Museum of London this week. I got up close and personal with lots of 450 year old embroidery AND an Elizabeth I costume created by Jean Hunnisett for Glenda Jackson in the BBC tv series. I felt like a feline let loose in a bag of catnip.

*Male, 50, very good at determining what makes a good school trip for his missus.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Who's Lynn is it anyway?

It was changed from Bishop's Lynn to King's Lynn by Henry VIII, who seemed to like taking things away from Bishops. But today, it was definitely Queen's Lynn- well, The Vancouver Quarter was mine, until rain put an end to my reign.

I was commissioned as part of Western Area Museums Outreach to promote the museums service in Lynn. I had to stand in the street as Queenie, giving out leaflets and vouchers and generally 'engaging' with the general public.

I am frequently unleashed on the general public, but only the ones who have chosen to come into a museum or visit a history fair. But today, on the streets of King's Lynn, the public was more general than usual. In spite of my white face, ginger wig and brown teeth, there seemed to be a 50/50 divide in opinion on my identity. Some people recognised me immediately...as Queen Victoria. Others took a wild guess and got the right answer. One person asked if I was Cinderella.

People in museums are now quite used to the idea of Living History. I forget that people not in museums are less likely to embrace the notion of a conversation about the tooth worm. But I had fun going into the dental section in Superdrug and haranguing the assistant.

The Queen's Progress will stop off at Shouldham Village Hall tomorrow. After the big feature about me in the EDP today, hopefully I'll get a full house. If I don't, heads will roll...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ladies Who Lunch, and an Undercroft Original

A couple of weeks ago I had the enormous pleasure of speaking for the Norfolk Ladies Luncheon Club at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel. I was treated not only to a very warm welcome by the hundred-strong crowd, but also to a delicious meal- as surely befits Her Highness- and great fun was had by all. Afterwards I had to dash off, Cinderella-like, as the clock was about to strike Home Time at my son's school.

I got there with one minute to spare and the remnants of my fake Elizabethan tooth decay still in evidence. I make him so proud...

This week ended splendidly with a visit to Strangers' Hall in Norwich for Queenie. Find more info on Stranger's Hall here: http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk . There's a chance that the real Queenie came to Strangers' in 1578- she definitely passed through nearby Charing Cross- so with that in mind the afternoon had some added lustre.

Under the banner of 'Queenly Attire' I set up my costumes in the Undercroft and was plied with tea and helpfulness by Curator Cathy and her band of merry staff: Bethan, Neal, Maz and Rachel. An audience of 20 or so very charming folk attended, listened, took photos and asked questions. It was also a first outing for my unfinished Armada Costume, which served as a useful contrast to the Pelican Portrait dress (red one) when it came to details. The sumptuous fabrics looked great in that stony setting!

The afternoon was topped off by a photoshoot (!) for the local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, as they are doing a feature on Living History. Having my picture taken was terrible for me...ok, I'm lying, I loved every minute of it. However, I was at pains to make it clear that I am a Live Interpreter not a Re-enactor. But I'm not holding my breath for the caption.

Check out the EDP this week for the feature on Queenie!

Monday, 5 July 2010

"Aiglets, I've had a few..."

...as Frank Sinatra sang. At least, I think it was something like that.

But anyhow, I was delighted to receive a gift of a beautiful pair of fancy gold aiglets from my friend Annie today. She's also handmade some gorgeous lacing for me on her lucet, in black, grey and gold. The new aiglets will go splendidly onto the ends of the lacing (I've been done up with an old bootlace for the last couple of venues- shh...don't tell).

I know she's a stickler for detail so the bootlace was probably more than she could stand, but nevertheless it was incredibly kind of her to do this for me, so thank you Annie!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

I think I've finally found myself

At last ! I got the cartridge pleating done around the top of the kirtle. This was at great personal cost to my fingertips. They're still a bit tingly- I can't be doing with thimbles you see, so I was digitally naked (eek) whilst pushing the needle through multiple layers of velvet and lining to attach the kirtle to the bodice. It is now done, finito, attached, and the whole thing is proudly adorning the tailor's dummy.

But, like some haberdashery-based Frankenstein, I have created a monster. In dressing the me-sized dummy I find myself with what appears to be a post-execution Mary Queen of Scots in the house. The undecorated black velvet gown has a very sombre look to it and of course, the dummy HAS NO HEAD! Despite the lack of eyes, facial expressions or indeed face, somehow it is at this very moment managing to give me a haughty yet malevolent glare from just over my left shoulder. There's something most unnerving about having a headless version of yourself lurking behind you.

But at least I now know where I stand.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Will Her Majesty please take a bow? PLEASE?!!

I've been going through the marvellous book pictured here, and also Janet Arnold's 'Patterns of Fashion' and it's no good- I just can't find enough specifics on Elizabethan ribbon. The Armada gown is bedecked with bows on the sleeves, shoulder rolls and bodice, and down the edges of the kirtle and the hanging sleeves. That's a lot of bows and I haven't time to procrastinate any longer. And boy, have I been procrastinating. It's taken at least three visits to every available haberdashery in Norfolk, and an awful lot of online searching. Nothing produced anything like the portraits.

But then it was pointed out to me by an interested party* that all the reproductions I've seen of the Armada portrait show the same bows in ribbons of completely different shades of orange, pink, brown and peach, and if I looked at the real painting there's no way of telling how much fading has occurred.
So I decided that nobody can truly know, and I've just gone out and bought the darn stuff. I've bought ribbons in orange and peach and I'm covering them in gauze to add a bit of shimmer. Each bow will have a 'jewel' in the centre so Queenie will be ribbony-tastic at the end of it all. Pretty as a picture, in fact.

*Male, 50, extremely fed up with being pressed to give an opinion on the suitability or otherwise of some peachy orangy shiny stuff or other in which he has absolutely no interest but wishes merely to reach swift conclusion upon in order to return to watching Top Gear at the earliest possible moment.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Date with a Dragon, and a Dummy with a Tummy

I'm very excited for two reasons. The first is that I am delighted to have been given a booking to be Queenie at the gorgeous Dragon Hall in Norwich (see my bookings page for details)this summer.

My second reason to be cheerful is because my mum (the real one, not Anne Boleyn) has kindly given me a mannequin. It's a decorative brocade affair as opposed to a proper tailor's dummy so it will look lovely displaying whichever costume I'm not wearing. The idea is I'll compare and contrast the two dresses.

I can also use the mannequin for dressmaking purposes. Fortunately it's about the same size as me, which is excellent because it's not adjustable. Although if the truth be told I did have to wrap a scarf around the middle of it's hourglass form to replicate my slightly broader waistline. Ho hum- the Tudor ideal of a 14 inch waistline is clearly one of the reasons Queen Elizabeth never had children.

Yesterday it stood resplendent in my living room wearing the top half of the new costume (which now sports a collar and waist tabs). It caused havoc, because every time any of us walked into the room it made us jump or scream or both, thinking it was an intruder- we were nervous wrecks by the end of the day. It's now skulking in the darkest corner of the music room, naked. At least, I think its the mannequin...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A Return to Pearly Queendom

And so, thankfully, my exam is over. This means I can once again start sewing my new costume without feeling guilty that I'm not studying! Life is goooooood. Now just the four gazillion pearls to sew on...

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A picture tells a thousand words- and more

Yesterday I went to the National Portrait Gallery where I bought this CD, which I intend to play in the background during my Queenie sessions.

I was also lucky enough to get up close to the wonderful portraits of Her Maj held in the Tudor Gallery. The Armada portrait wasn't on display but a helpful lady gave me details of how one can arrange for a private viewing- much more in keeping with Queen Liz, I feel.

They are also currently showing an exhibition on images of Lady Jane Grey which tells us the various ways in which we don't know what she looked like, but it was very useful for me, with my Jane Grey/ Jane Seymour amnesia problem.

I finished off by having a play on their portrait image database and printed off a splendid copy of Elizabeths signature. And all for free! A super time had by all.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

What a picture, what a photograph...?

So this darn dress is well on the way to completion. I have yet to make and line the hanging sleeves, but all other components are individually finished and ready to be attached to each other, hopefully in the right places. In contrast to my last costume I have actually measured things properly this time, but that offers absolutely no guarantee that they will fit, because 9 times out of a hundred my ability to muddle numbers up is legendary (yes, I did that one on purpose).

I've attached a picture. None of the individual parts of the dress are joined to each other properly yet, I just laid them out so it looks about right for the photo. And of course, apart from the sleeves and the forepart, it has no decoration on it, which will soon be rectified. It's great once I get to the handstitching stage because I can sit and watch TV while I sew on endless pearls, rather than my usual early stages confinement to the conservatory. The conservatory doubles as a sewing room because it has a good large table, and I can be sealed in there so that the dual rackets of my swearing every time I mutilate my fingers (or my costume), and the sewing machine motor noise don't compete with the volume of whatever's on telly.

Now, dear Reader, please don't look too closely at my needlework. Although my costumes are authentically constructed, remember I'm not a Re-enactor, I'm a Live Interpreter and I refer you to my previous statements on the difference between the two.

If you want quality needlework, have a Google at the amazing work of Caroline Blake()or Gini Newton()or of course, the incredible 'Tudor Tailors', Nina and Jane. Needlewoman I am not -and I'll have no jokes from Terry Pratchett readers about being a Seamstress either! But my work is designed to bring the character of Elizabeth I to life in order to provoke reactions and interactions and to present historical facts in an accessible way, and the costumes are my material tool for doing it.

Three cheers for photos of half-finished costumes by slightly over defensive Live Interpreters!! Hip hip...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

Work on the new dress has been temporarily thwarted by a severe outbreak of revision for my exam on Global Heritage. You see, not only do I pretend to BE Queen Liz, I also study WHY I'm doing it. That's dedication for you.

Revision aside, I did manage to find some rather nice trimmings for the QE1 skirt today. My search for the correct colour of silk for the hanging sleeve lining continues, as does my constant pondering about what to use for the ribbony bows the whole thing is covered in. Can't find Grosgrain in the right colour. Gah. Suggestions on a postcard please...

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Problems with Piles

Last Monday I did indeed attach the lining of my Armada gown to the bodice, and was able to get rid of about half my basting stitches in the process. I did them in turquoise to make them obvious, and they increasingly annoy me as the dress begins to take shape.

I spent the latter part of the day cutting out the final few pieces of the gown. The skirt is predictably very large, so it took four widths of material to make. Two of the panels are shaped to make it fall open nicely at the front, revealing the magnificence of the forepart. The cat was out and the kitchen floor was available and surprisingly clean so I spent time happily measuring and cutting whilst listening to Counterpoint on Radio Four (and only getting the musical theatre questions right- but that's another story).

It all appeared to be going swimmingly- I remembered, for once, to adjust the tension on the sewing machine. I had previously forgotten to do this, resulting in such puckering frustration (!) that I pushed the poor little machine over in temper. But this time, tension levels of both machine and operator being correct, the sewing was beautiful. Lovely straight seams and even joins, and not too much gouging of my fingers by stubborn pins.

Feeling jolly smug, I held my handiwork up to the light to survey it and saw to my horror that one of the front panels was UPSIDE DOWN. Well, not even upside down, because then I could have un picked it and turned it around. No, this was a special kind of upside down that only velvet can deliver. I had drawn out the shaping on the wrong end of the fabric, so the shape was right but the pile was laying the wrong way up. This meant that the light fell differently on to each side, like the stripes in grass. My black skirt had a panel with a very grey look. This is clearly not acceptable to Queenie. So there's nothing for it- I have to unpick the panel and cut out another. Ghastly prospect- I can't even think of a better joke about piles.

But hurrah hurrah, I have a confirmed booking for Strangers' Hall in Norwich for 23rd July. Queenie will be getting attired at 2pm in this lovely Medieval hall, hopefully before an assembled crowd. If a miracle occurs and the Armada costume is finished by then, I will bring it along!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?

My new project, as mentioned in my previous post, is well underway. I'm making a version of the outfit QE1 is wearing in her 1588 Armada portrait. Its a black velvet affair, covered in all manner of bows and fripperies. In the portrait the sleeves are white and covered with gold embroidery. Embroidery is not my forte so for the sleeves and partlet I've opted instead to use gold material with beading upon it.

The weave in the fabric kind of suggests a heart shape, so I've picked that out in tiny white pearls, with a dangly droplet at the bottom of each heart. In between the hearts I've got a blue glass bead (not quite able to run to sapphires at this stage)surrounded at the four compass points by large pearls. It looks lovely, even though I do occasionally have to retrieve the loose pearls from the gentle ministrations of my cat, who loves shiny pretties as much as I do. I was worried about authenticity because I couldn't find many Tudor examples of the heart shape being used, but Tudor Tailor Ninya was kind enough to send me some pictures of clothing which used the heart motif in the late 1500s, so all is well.

The sleeves themselves are 'verthingale', which means they are boned to stand massively proud of the wearer's arms. I had to push hoops of steel boning into pre-made slots to achieve this. On paper it looks completely simple, but in reality it took two of us and an awful lot of forceful language to get them into place. Unattached verthingale sleeves look like tipsy wizards hats, but I am pleased to report that they are now complete, as is the bodice of the gown and its lining, and today's task is to join them all together.

The bodice and skirts are made from black velvet, and will look super -eventually. In the meantime, the velvet sheds tiny black dots all over my house whenever I have to cut it. The dots look uncommonly like a mass of dead fleas. I do a lot of my cutting out on the living room floor where I am locked in a bitter struggle for rug-space with the cat. The cat usually wins. When the online purchase of velvet first arrived I was eager to get on with cutting out from my pattern pieces. I delivered the cat to the garden unceremoniously and reverently spread the roll of velvet out on the floor, covering about six square feet. I carefully chalked out the first piece; the back of the bodice, a shape roughly 30cm(1')square. I left the room for a second and returned moments later to find the cat back inside, nonchalantly washing, positioned most precisely not only on the brand new rolled out velvet, but sitting in the very centre of the single chalked-out bodice shape. A neat trail of tiny damp paw prints betrayed her path from the edge of the fabric.

She looked awfully pleased with herself. Like the cat that got the Queen, one might say...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Tudor Tailor rocks

The Tudor Tailor is (or are- there's two of them) brilliant! As well as writing a fabulous book which includes patterns even a mathematical twerp like me can scale up, and having a tremendous website, they are also extremely NICE.

I was having a bit of a crisis of confidence over some costume issues and emailed Ninya and Jane with a question. Ninya emailed back within 24 hours with a friendly, informative and reassuring response saying amongst other things that she thought I'd done an excellent job on my costume and wished me all the best for my new project!

So I'd better get on with it I suppose...

(I've put a link to their website on my links section- it seemed the best place for it after all).

Monday, 10 May 2010

Making Progress

D'you see what I did there with the title? Eh?! Geddit?!! A little play on words for you...

Elizabeth's 1578 Summer Progess brought her to East Anglia and she visited Thetford en route to Norwich. Never one to let a tenous connection pass uncommemorated, I was invited by Melissa at Ancient House Museum at Thetford to be 'in residence' as Queenie for a day. This was fun! I did my dressing up/stripping off talk, did a speech about my Progress, took some questions and then the day was rounded off by appearing as guest of honour at a Tudor banquet prepared by the museum club children.

The questions from the children were amazing; very serious and well thought out. One lad asked me what I thought the greatest achievement of my reign was, and another wanted to know my views on Catholicism in Norfolk. Then I found my Achilles heel- the Janes. Apparently, in my head, Jane Seymour and Jane Grey are totally interchangeable. Oops! Realising I was getting into sticky territory I had to launch a rescue package of stock phrases such as 'I care to think not of those wretches' and 'the Block is too good for some'. To top it off, I unleashed my favourite escape clause: I glowered at the adults and threatened to send them to the Tower for allowing their children to ask such insolent questions. Off with their heads!

As a result of that splendid day I got a couple more bookings; one to a school in Thetford and another to the Norfolk Lacemakers Society.

At the school I spoke at morning Assembly, did the dressing thing and also made pomanders out of oranges and cloves (quite difficult in costume). At lunch time I sat in the staff room, where I think the teachers must have thought they were sharing some kind of stress induced communal hallucination: me, white-faced and bewigged, drinking tea and reading the ESPO catalogue.

At the Norfolk Lacemakers Society I arrived as a sort of Queen-o-gram in the middle of their Christmas lunch. The Lunch had been postponed till February due to the snow, but it was lovely. Surrounded by all their delicate, gossamer lacy creations I spent the day painfully aware of the comparatively inexpert stitching holding my costume together. The ladies were particularly interested in the construction of my dress, having recently been treated to a visit by those Goddessess of historical costume, the Tudor Tailors. Eek- but mine seemed to stand up to their elegant scrutiny! Some of the ladies were kind enough to share their latest project with me. They were painstakingly reconstructing a piece of 16th Century gold and silver lace held in Norwich Carrow House Textiles Museum. They'd managed to find real gold and silver thread (like wire to the touch) and a patient husband had handmade individual sequins from a sheet of metal- meory fails but I think they were thin brass). The attention to detail these ladies maintained, their genorosity and willingness to share their skills and knowledge with me made this a really special couple of hours. Thank you!

It was a Dark and Stormy Knight...

What happened right next was fairly boring really. Queenie had to rest up while I got to grips with being a Victorian Workhouse Inmate. She made a few visits to Norwich Castle but other than that she became a large and slightly inconvenient heap of pearls and red silk stored under my piano at home.

Then Black Knight Historical happened. Ian Pycroft (there's a link to his website on my Current Bookings page) booked me for a Living History event in Lowestoft where I had to flounce/strut up and down all day talking to members of the public in First Person as Elizabeth I. This produced varying reactions...many thought I was Queen Victoria in spite of the red frizzy wig, white face and blackened teeth. I started on about my terrible troubles with The Tooth Worm to one elderly lady who didn't realise I was QE1 at all, and said sympathetically yet bewilderingly, 'Oh I am sorry dear, I thought you were just pretending'. I still can't quite grasp how many layers of suspended disbelief were happening at that point.

I also received a swift and some might say brutal induction into the world of Re-enactors as opposed to Live Interpreters, when some 15th Century enactors refused to acknowledge my being there because I 'didn't exist yet'(!?). The line between re-enactment and live interpretation is a fine yet twisted one. (If you are desperately interested there's a really good explanation of it on this website http://www.imtal-europe.net/). My reading of this difference is that for Interpreters, the focus is on the presentation of a character in first or third person in order to communicate facts or feelings to invoke sympathy, understanding, empathy or even shock in the onlooker. For Re-enactors the act of 'being' the character as accurately and authentically as possible, with all the right accoutrements, is key.

So bearing in mind the authenticity issue, which is to Re-enactors as electoral reform is to Lib Dems, that day I had forgotten my cuffs, little ruffs for the wrists. This didn't go down well with my re-enacting colleagues. It's also a bit tricky playing a famous Queen as opposed to an unknown artisan, because people want to be photographed with you (those who know me will appreciate that clearly this is an anathema to me) and I was lucky enough to be photographed by the press, of course, waving my un-cuffed hand. The picture is at the bottom of each page of this blog, because its a great pic even without those darn cuffs.

Anyway the Black Knight himself was there dressed as Henry VIII (Queenie's pa) and, cuffs or no, we had a great day. There was, I recall, a rather lovely falcon in a very cute leather hat. There was also a giant horse there, which in the chronologically organised parade at the end was right behind me, because Oliver Cromwell was riding it, and we had no Stuarts to seperate us. Gah. I'm not keen on horses, I always expect them to rear up all hoofy, and neigh at me.

Under the Black Knight's watchful eye I also participated in the Living History Fair at Mannington Hall in October 2009. So many photo opps- so little time! Outdoor photos from Mannington form the bulk of those on my Gallery page. Travelling to the Hall was interesting. Bumrolls, farthingales and Vauxhall Astra seatbelts do not mix well. I travelled the ten miles or so from my home semi recumbent, on my left side in the front seat, looking out of the window at a peculiar angle, causing consternation at traffic lights. On arrival in the field used as a car park I had no option but to roll out of the car, narrowly avoiding a cowpat, and startling Oliver Cromwell's horse.

Mannington was like an NMAS reunion. As always I spent more time lifting up my skirts to show my underwear than doing anything else. Maybe I should rephrase that... But a great time was had by all. The falcons in their hats were there again, and my revolving exit from the car had already allowed me to get my own back on that horse (for harrumphing unnecessarily behind me at Lowestoft). I bought a beautiful little pomander made from a walnut. I spoke to some Saxons who definitely DID acknowledge my presence in spite of me not existing yet, because they started excitedly waving potions of earwax and mouse-blood at me.

It was all fab. I couldn't wait for whatever happened next!!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

What happened after How It All Began

I developed a 30-minute talk which started at the bottom layer of the costume (the shift) and worked upwards until I was fully dressed.
Originally, on the designated days, I made the talk known to the public by way of a dramatic announcement over the loudspeaker system at the castle, until this was found to be disrupting the Dungeons Tours. Therefore I had to find another way to grab an audience, so I wandered about barking for business in my shift (quite a shock for the unsuspecting Castle visitors). Aided and abetted by the wonderful Vera as my Ladies' maid, I usually managed to scrape up 3 sittings of about 50 people per day: the usual mixed bag of non-English-speaking tourists, harrassed mothers with toddlers in fairy wings and colourful wellies, highly interested ladies of a certain age, and their resigned and rather disappointed husbands.
But word spread, and I developed a fan base of one slightly obsessed 9 year old girl who turned up in her Disney princess costume to see me every time I was on. I expanded the talk to include details on Queenie's 1578 progress to Norwich, and sent for a new wig, 'The Queen Elizabeth Deluxe', all the way from Covent Garden. Audiences were generous with their comments, even though I still panic slightly and mix up the Janes (Seymour and Grey) if I'm overexcited.
The costume began to evolve. My friend Sarah made me a beautiful little pearl
headdress and also a jewelled belt from which to hang Elizabeth's prayer-book (a little Bible I covered in black silk). My friend Annie organised my face paint for me and made a giant sack to keep the costume in. Numerous acquaintances made it their mission in charity shops to find any number of pearl necklaces for me to dismantle and re-use. Regular visitors to the castle became familiar with Queen Elizabeth, and she was even granted a Dudley on a couple of occasions.
Then- shock, horror- I got a new job. I moved from the Castle to work as Live Interpretation Officer with the Learning Team at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum. This was brilliant for Rachel but not so good for Queenie, as the building is 18th Century and Lizzie is most definitely not. Whatever would happen next...?

Friday, 30 April 2010

How it all began

I decided to make an Elizabeth I costume for no apparent reason. I was working as an Interpreter at Norwich Castle Museum at the time, and had some vague notion it would come in handy. I absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for.

Before I knew it I had people assaulting me from all sides demanding that the costume was ultra authentic. People I had previously thought of as ordinary work colleagues revealed themselves to be experts in all manner of historical detail, and zealous in their pursuit of flaws in my work. Well, that's how it felt- with hindsight I'm sure they were just trying to steer me away from my natural " oh that'll do" tendencies. But I kept calm and carried on, and the result, after many a winter's night spent handsewing, was a decent enough replica of Elizabeth's red silk and blackwork extravaganza painted by Hilliard in 1574.

So what next? My manager indulged me and let me wear it for work a few times (remember this is in a museum, so it's not as odd as you might think), but other than that, it was beginning to feel like I'd put in a lot of effort for nothing. I had no props, and work schedules at the Castle didn't allow for any one else to be my stooge. How could I get the history across to the museum visitors? I wondered: what can one actually DO while dressed as a flamboyant Queen?!! Ahem...
Clearly there was room for much flouncing about and declaring that people should be sent to the Tower, but the costume (and my public) deserved more.
I noticed that while in the costume, I spent more time showing people my layers of underwear- the bumroll, the farthingale etc- than talking about Queenie's life and times. While musing on this with a colleague, we struck upon the idea that the costume WAS the central feature. Why not base the whole talk on the costume? One could then get the history in by stealth AND get to legitimately say 'bum' in a museum. We formulated the bones of a session there and then.
And the rest, as they say, is history...