Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

The Venetian Carnival 2017 begins in just 3 days, running from February 11-28! Though I will not be attending the glorious festivities in person, I can still reminisce upon my past attendance and cherish Carnival from afar. Perusing photos from when my costumer mother Lita and I attended in 2005 (a trip that inspired my book Venice), I was treated once again to the sight of remarkable raiment…

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What I have always found fascinating about the mask and costume culture of the Carnival (namely throughout Venice’s illustrious history), is the anonymity it gives the individual and the new guise it may offer them. It empowers one to cast away social pressures, and become whoever or whatever they wish. The pauper mingled freely with the aristocrat, the infirm beamed with good health, and the old were filled with youth once more…

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Here was a pearly queen with her court of incandescent unicorns and magical beings. They glittered in the sun while their glimmering attire swirled in the breeze. During the Carnival, anyone can transform themselves, moving even into an otherworldly realm…

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What exotic rulers, from a distant palace filled with riches, shine like gold itself just beneath this marbled portico?

When researching this culture of mask from Venice’s history, one discovers that the majority of coverings translated into commonly known characters. This sometimes still holds true today…

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As you amble through Venice during the Carnival, inquire with the exquisitely attired and ask them who they are. Unique characters may reveal themselves (some with a wink to history and tradition). Only, don’t be offended if many remain mute. The right of anonymity belongs to the masked, and some don’t prefer to even share the vibration of their voices…

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Many don the brightest colors, covered in drifting sheer fabric and an eddy of soft feathers. Mysterious tropical birds, descending upon the city to outshine the average sea bird of the lagoon…

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And many couples (sometimes even groups) display themselves in carefully created, matching garments. I dare say, this pair would have had a hard time losing one another in the crowd! They remind me of the wind and water that are as much a part of Venice, as its majestic palazzi are…

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Wouldn’t it be fascinating to add up all of the hours spent creating such works of wearable art each season? The numbers would be telling of the passion a great many patrons put into their costumes. I thank them for keeping the magic and tradition of the Venetian Carnival, alive!

Here’s to the 2017 Carnevale di Venezia and to the city and people of Venice! Here’s also to remembering to add a bit of wonder and magic to each of your days, whether or not it be a festival day!

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnevale di Venezia 2017 is but 7 days away! Hundreds of visitors are preparing for the event, which this year falls between February 11-28. I’ve perused the calendar of this year’s events with wide-eyed wonder…what delights await all those who will have the privilege of attending…

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I took these photos when I attended the Venetian Carnival in 2005 with my costumer mother, Lita. We wore our gowns and ambled about the calle, along the waters of the lagoon and through St. Mark’s Square each day. There is nothing more enlivening than the energy in that square as crowds watch for the very best costumes on display (such as those worn by this impeccable couple above)…

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Cameras flash. People ohhh and ahhh. Laughter and chatter abound while the clamor from the lively crowd vibrates your sternum. It is very exciting. Music floods through St. Mark’s, amplified beats by day, live vocals at night…

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With pomp and mask, wig and powder, the fascinatingly antiquated carry themselves elegantly toward frivolity in every corner of the city. I swoon, I die…as I watch the parade go by…

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There is so much to entertain…cafe sittings, gondola rides, boat races and water parades, street entertainments, Festa delle Marie, The Flight of the Angel, mask and costume contests, masquerade balls and festive dinners. Along with the striking beauty of the city of Venice, its delicious fare, musical offerings and art exhibits, Carnevale could certainly overwhelm anyone with its sheer splendor…

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Though I will not be in attendance (deep sigh), I wish anyone attending this year the most enchanting time of their lives! As for me, I am anticipating the wonderful photos and videos that will soon be posting during this carnival season. They will ignite my dreaming for the next occasion when I too, will amble once more in costume through the labyrinth that is Venice!

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

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As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

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I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

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How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

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But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

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My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

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My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

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And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Hats To The Heavens!

I’m a hat loving, hat wearing kind of gal! Further, I love costuming. So, you’ll quite understand how I have so many fabulous photos of wondrous hats, taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire

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These pretty towers add even more elegance to what are already such smartly dressed noblewomen…

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And such a tall and pale-yellow number so nicely compliments this saucy mistress!

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Only a straw hat decorated with a bit of plumage will do for this authoress (who secretly dreams of living in a hobbit house). But I digress…

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Oh my gosh, the Queen’s hat! Look at those gorgeous feathers!

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…spy especially upon Her Majesty’s striking red plume and Tudor Rose!

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What a magical crown for one such etherial fairy queen!

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A wild creature perches upon this witch’s hat, zoom in and you might see it!

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Well met sir! Your hat is so grand as to be in a category all its own!

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One noble’s hat was adorned with trimmed feathers on their individual rachis. I thought they made a clever ornament!

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And nothing like prettily fashioned hairstyles and delicate lace collars to add to the elegance of these women’s hats!

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How special the simplicity of this young lady’s cap…

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How daring the effect of an artful tilt and golden feathers. Fantastic!

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And how sweet the pretty veils of young maidens at their games…

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And at their prayers…

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Truly an excellent ensemble, one lady so richly adorned in blue…

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Another one of Her Grace’s gorgeous pieces. What a designer has she!

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Oh precious the crown of yellow buds and green…

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And such a treasured wreath of feathers, from out of a dream…

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There simply are no lack of smiling faces, and thoughtfully designed hats on this festival day!

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But I must tell you this…

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No hat can beat the one worn by the kindest of ladies, Lady Ettie!

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you there!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

The Queen is Coming!

Have you heard? The Queen is coming to Bristol! Make haste the preparations! The Queen is coming! The Queen is coming!

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The 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire season is fast approaching, and Lita (artist) and I (author) are incredibly excited to share our works in our tented shop on King’s Landing! The faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place, and we’ve been working hard to prepare a selection of her art and my books, to add to the enchanting atmosphere. Opening day is Saturday, July 9th!

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As my first wave of books have started to arrive, I’ve both good nerves and the biggest of smiles! I just can’t wait to share my adventures, and hope that my children’s books especially, will make joyful take-home tokens of a day spent at the renaissance festival, where history, merriment and enchanting creatures abound!

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A Festival Day In Bristol is the apple of my eye, and a wink to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. At the B.R.F, they recreate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the port city of Bristol, England in 1574. This was a visit that truly took place, on one of the Queen’s summer progresses. In writing A Festival Day In Bristol, I wanted to create a story around what it might have been like to be a child visiting Bristol on the day of her arrival in 1574.

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The story is a tale woven around real details from that historic day, and the child in the story even meets the Queen, which would have been the most exciting thing in the world. Children at the B.R.F. get the same opportunity. Albeit an actress portraying Queen Elizabeth, it can be a moving and dazzling experience! I know, when I visited the faire as a little one, I almost fell over when I met Queen Elizabeth! Here’s hoping we’ll see you there!

Pretty As A Picture

These photos are of my cousin, who is some years younger than I (though now a young woman). Lita (my mother, artist & costumer) made this Elizabethan gown for her for an outing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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This little lady was so patient (in quite warm weather and having never worn a full costume before), and so polite (walking here and there with grace), and so pretty! I don’t know how she did it; when I was her age (and well beyond it) I fussed a great deal with my costumes (squawking when something didn’t fit) and romped around like a wild thing on the run (hardly graceful). She was a natural! A true noble!

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The headpiece was spectacularly stitched with pearls lining the top and a veil hanging from the back. The white and green color combination smiled upon youth and innocence. The entire silhouette was perfect, with a crisp bodice and perfectly measured skirts over just the right size of farthingale. Such a well crafted costume!

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And look at that pretty smile, the perfect accessory for such an ensemble!

I think kiddos make the best historical reenactors; mini nobles and peasants, awesome! They make the reenacting of history more authentic. For instance, it is ever obvious when adults are acting in their costumes (as much as they try to be a merchant or lady-in-waiting, etc.). But when children are dressed up and start playing, talking and running, they forget that they are in costume and just behave naturally (just being, not acting).

My cousin was a lovely addition that day, and certainly convinced all that she was a noble young lady from the days of yore!

Fur For Fleas

It’s fun to be wrong, at least when it comes to research. It allows you to be surprised, delighted and to learn new things!

Having always loved history, costuming and even participating in Renaissance re-enactment, there were ‘facts’ that I’ve never questioned. Learned people told me so, and I’d read so, so it must be true! Well that isn’t always the case. Take the flea fur…

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Oh heavens, look at those pearls! I digress. (If you love pearls as much as I do, don’t forget about Inspired by Venice‘s pearl earrings giveaway!)

Above is Isabella de’Medici (Italian), from 1558. At her side, you can see a special accessory. It is a zibellino or flea fur, adorned with gems.

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And here is Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola (Italian), 1557. She too has a flea fur, gilded, a head of gold, gems for eyes.

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And here, a flea fur at the collar of this woman (England, mid-1500’s).

You can find many, many portraits of nobles and their flea furs. Of course, people have been wearing furs for forever. But this particular way of wearing them (perhaps for looks, and displaying their riches) is noticed starting in the mid-late 1400’s.

I had always read, and been told, that the flea fur also had a practical purpose. It was to attract biting fleas from off of bodies. Even nobles crawled with fleas, money meant nothing when these creatures infested bedding, infrequently washed clothing, pets, etc. Nobles were said to place these furs on their person, so that the fleas would gather on the fur and then they could shake them, or beat them out.

Makes sense, only, it isn’t true. It was first surmised that this was the purpose for the pelts in the 1890’s, though no evidence has shown that the flea fur was anything but an accessory.

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Another noble lady holding her fur, Italy 1515. It’s fascinating how easily fiction becomes fact, this particular one developing in the late 19th century, and still a misdirected belief today. It reminds me to be careful to not take what people write or say, to be truth (even though in this case, I want to believe it!). Flea furs, held in the hand, hanging from the waist, laying over the shoulder, pinned to the breast, were just a vain display.

Oh well. I can still imagine this noble lady, frustrated with fleas, running outside to fling her flea fur about. Fiction perhaps, but amusing!

A Merry Band

This photo was taken when I was about to turn 13. I’m the one to the top, furthest left. Lita made all of the peasant costumes shown here and all of the kiddos were the children of a couple who were friends with my folks. My mom put in a good bit of work to make sure everyone had a costume for our special outing. What a merry band of children we made! Running, yelling, laughing! It was summer and a festival day!

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I grew up an only child and things were quiet for me. Being just one, I was also very independent. So, it was always a romping experience to gather with this troupe of brothers and sisters for a summer barbecue, a weekend camping outing, or a trip to the amusement park. But the best excursion of course, was to the Bristol Renaissance Faire! What fun we had!

Always A Lady

I had this dress on my mind today, remembering when I was but a youth. I was about 13 years old here, but I recall this dress like it was yesterday. I don’t want to make the other gowns jealous…but it’s my favorite.

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I love that in this dress, all that was around me was exciting and I wanted to learn everything about Renaissance history.

I love that it meant time with my mom at our favorite place; the trees, the music, the costumes, and those summer grilled foods.

I love that I was wearing something that my mom made for me during the dull winter, but that when spring came and I tried it on for the first time during alterations, I had something to look forward to…summer, dressing in a costume, being dazzled by a world of courtiers, merchants and fools!

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I love how I felt: happy, healthy and alive on this single day. It teaches me to strive to take advantage of each day that I have right now. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

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I have a distinct memory from that day. A court actor in an elegant gown said, “All you need is a hoop, and then you’ll be a lady.” It was a harmless remark; noble Elizabethan ladies wore farthingales under their skirts. She meant that once my costume had a hoop, I’d look like a noble. Sadly, I didn’t understand. I wondered why I wasn’t already a lady, when I thought I was. I felt sad. Children don’t always understand what adults mean.

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I was a persistent child however, and my mother ordered me a little hoop in a tiny catalogue of historic recreation pieces. It was a big deal to send in a check and an order form, waiting for that hoop. No internet orders back then!

I had my hoop, and Lita crafted many more gowns, and with them were more hoops. And I grew up.

But remembering this dress and this day, farthingale or no, I certainly was a lady. I’m thankful for the wonderful women in my life, who set the example. They wore no hoops at all, just jeans!

Lady Of A Summer’s Day

Another one of Lita’s magnificent creations, the one we call the ‘mother’s dress’. This image was taken when I was 22 years old, the role was a reenactment of a Lady Mary Hastings of Queen Elizabeth’s court. She was a married woman with children, and Lita designed the gown to appear modest and mature (a closed partlet, natural colors, no excessive flash).

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Of all the costumes, this one wins the award for perfect fit! When one is reenacting history, and wearing a costume, it shouldn’t look like a costume. What the actor is wearing should look like their everyday clothing. In this gown, I actually felt like a normal woman going about my day, no tugging, adjusting, agonies (from cutting corsets or sharp and loose boning). The gown was not too heavy, no back aches or tripping over hems, the weight was perfectly balanced.

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I was very fond for how the collar was delicately tacked down with little gold beads instead of plastered around my neck. I can’t stand any clothing around my neck (I would have made a fussy Elizabethan having to wear all those starched lacy collars). I also loved the fabric textures and colors; natural color combinations can look every bit as rich as bright ones. And, I loved all the muted gold cording at the sleeve ties and around the hem of the overskirt, as well as the olive velvet lining the hem and running up either side of the forepart.

It was just the kind of simple yet noble gown I could see meandering around an English manor house in, and one Lita envisioned for that lady of history, something Lady Hastings might have worn on any normal day.

Pretty in Paisley

Lita and I are known to have long, animated conversations about costumes, history, and a variety of topics that fall within. We reference period films, look at printouts of centuries old paintings and discuss costumes we’ve seen here and there. And so, for each of her creations, we have a name for it so that parts of them can be easily referenced. This one is the paisley dress.

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These images were taken when I was 16, in the backyard taking a stroll. We named it the paisley dress because of the pattern in the bodice and forepart (which in these photos is tied up the front).

For an Elizabethan dress, an ornate forepart would be seen at a downward V at the front. However, how useful to be able to tie up the overskirt to save the fine forepart from damage in inclement weather!

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This was one of her first Elizabethan gowns, and though not worn with any frequency, found its way out of doors on a number of occasions. The farthingale was slight and we were not using a bumroll, so the silhouette was natural.

I absolutely adored the flaps of fabric at the bottom of the bodice, which gave it such a crisp look. The bodice was firmly made and the fabric itself was a striking gold and maroon.

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Of course, I felt like quite the lady! Nothing better than sauntering around the yard in a gown. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’ve done it a great many times.

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Lita was making me laugh, she always does. Over the years, she’s made it difficult to keep a straight face when it was most appropriate to do so. But what is life if you don’t laugh, and often!

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I don’t think my bangs were the appropriate hairstyle for the Elizabethan period, but they sure were when I was 16! Ah, costume nostalgia…think I’ll drive over and dig through Lita’s costume room, take another twirl in the yard. Oh wait, it’s only 7 degrees outside…that stroll may have to wait!

Feather Fans & Candlelight

These were taken when I was about 15 years old. Lita had the delightful whim to make an 18th century style dress, though there was no plan for the gown to be worn anywhere. In fact, this may have been one of the only times it was worn. The fabric was a very soft turquoise-blue color, a satin blend (stiffer, less wrinkly, less static).

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These were captured while I stood in the living room, taking the dress for a spin. I love that they are in black and white, though I wish we had some in color too. 18th century style gowns required panniers to extend the hips. Here however, pillows tied around my hips made substitute. I think her ensemble is charming!

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At that point, I didn’t have any particular interest in 18th century history, but every other period instead it seemed. However, we’d watched Dangerous Liaisons, The King’s Mistress, Amadeus and countless other period films that pointed that direction, more than a few times each. Period movie buffs, yes we were! And still are!! Where’s the popcorn and Raisinets?!

So, it is fun to find these photos where Lita was inspired to that era, long before we flew to Venice to don costumes for the Carnevale, and long before I’d started writing Venice, which nurtures that century and its clothing in detail throughout the book.

That’s an artist for you; their sewing machine (or brush or pen…) takes them wherever they are led to go, whenever inspiration bites. Love it!

Candy Canes On My Shoulders

Just starting college, I was fortunate enough to join the Guilde of St. George, a group reenacting the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Their home is the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI, though they also volunteer at schools, libraries and other venues, to share Elizabethan history. Here is Lita’s (the costumer) fabulous creation!red3.jpg

These first three images were polaroid photos! I guess we didn’t have time to spare, we needed the photos in hand immediately. They were taken in the spring just before my first summer in the guilde. Ah, the anticipation I felt! I’d already been attending Elizabethean dance and reenacting workshops all that spring.

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These were taken before the dress was completed. It is fun now to look at before and afters, as they remind you of the phases that a gown must go through to get the right fit. I was to wear this dress for about 10.5 hours each Saturday and Sunday for 9 weekends in weather that grew into the mid-nineties, and humid at that, over outdoor terrain (rocks, roots, hills). Even after dress rehearsals, I better understood how the dress and I were getting along, and Lita made some adjustments.

Here, the hem was yet to be measured. Lita already knew (with that clever-artist-sewing-brain), but I learned that the front must be higher (or you trip 50 times a day) and the back longer to cover the bum role to get the correct silhouette. Also, one must make the chemise sleeves longer than your shirt sleeves would normally be. Once you get the bodice on, it pulls the sleeves up and they’ll be too short otherwise.  I also learned that before you work with fabric, you must wash the fabric (even a few times). This is because, unwashed fabric inevitably either bleeds color or shrinks dramatically once exposed to rain or a spilled goblet of water.

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We also discovered that in spite of the excellent wire boning that was used within the bodice, a serious corsette (as every noblewoman reinactor in the guilde wears), is the only way to keep the bodice from folding at the tummy. The following season, Lita made one excellent corsette (which I think straightened me out and made me grow taller by 2 inches).

In the end (seen below at the faire), the cream petticoat (underskirt) was removed for this striped one. Did you know that Elizabethans wore stripes? Yes indeed! The cream would not do out of doors, as it became grimy with dust the first day. And, I had a serious thing for chocolate ice cream at the time, oops! The sleeve ties were removed in favor of hidden hooks and eyes as I get ribbons caught on everything.

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Though I’ve always said I have a favorite amongst all the gowns that Lita has made, it’s actually not true. I have a place in my heart for every one. What did I love about this gown? First, the pearls. I am a sucker for pearls. Those strands around my body…if it was acceptable to wear pearls like that today, strung and swinging around my torso, I’d be the lady to do it. I love how the pearls are dotted everywhere, even the hat. Secondly, Lita’s chemise was incredible. It is painstaking work to hand-fold the cotton at the neck and at the wrists before sewing it into the body of the shirt. That with the pretty little bands of color that played off the gown, loved it. But my favorite part? The upper part of the bodice was her best bodice work in my opinion. The stiff candy cane shoulder rolls and exceptional design kept the bodice from falling down my arms or shifting (I’ve got sloping shoulders and get pretty darn grouchy when my costumes shift about).

It was so exciting to be a part of the guilde that first season, and I learned a great deal of history. But you know what made such delightful memories? The workshops, the dance classes, and all the planning with Lita. We’re like history gossip girls when we get together, we can talk costumes and history for hours!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

Private Lives In Renaissance Venice by Patricia Fortini Brown

If you are passionate about history like I am, then you may find yourself sometimes saying, “Yes, I see the dates and facts of what happened…but what was it really like to be there?”

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Since we can’t go back to experience history for ourselves, we can’t really know what it felt like, looked like, smelled like. The next best thing (besides historical reenactments, which I adore) is to review thoughtful compilation books, like Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.

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Within the pages of this monumental work are a review of dozens and dozens of paintings from the 16th century, as well as photographs of objects in museums and private collections that belonged to that period. Along with these images, the author weaves together an amazing historic illustration of what items were used for, the meanings behind intricate décor, an understanding of the architecture, what dress styles signified, and how Venetians in the Renaissance interacted with their environment. This book offers so much unique insight (with a strong focal point on the noble elite) that you can for a moment, truly visualize what it might have been like to be in the room, in that gondola or at that celebration.

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What is also very special about this work, are the areas where Brown points out the differences between this particular culture and other cultures from that time. For instance, I was fascinated to read within her book, that it was the noble Venetian men who did the grocery shopping (as Venetian men prided themselves on the savvy merchant qualities of their sex in that city and felt they knew best how to identify value in goods). And further, at receptions within a noble home that included visitors, the luxury you saw with your eyes was more important than what luxuries were on the menu. This meant, looking at the finery and decoration around the room took precedence over a table filled with food (unlike most every other city in Europe where banqueting meant gross overeating). I love you Venice, but I’m not sure I’m on your side with this one. This gal needs to eat!

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If you have an interest in Venice’s history, and-or of the Renaissance, I highly recommend adding this exemplary and artful book to your collection. This work, paired with a little imagination, and you’ll feel transported in time!