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Historical Accuracy and Lil’ Ol’ Me
Blog - Threading the West

Historical Accuracy and Lil’ Ol’ Me

Historical Accuracy is a topic I wanted to address in a quick blog post because, as a costume designer of Historic inspired garments, it is a topic that frequently comes up in my work.

As many of you know, along with the costume design work I do for my own company Ravenna Old West, I also do costuming for the film industry.  I have worked on period films where the production chooses to stay as true to historical accuracy as possible and I have worked on films where they intentionally choose to stray a bit from historical accuracy for added dramatic effect. 

When I am hired by a film production to create costumes for a period film, and the director and producers request that they be historically accurate, I excitedly join in the effort of the team and put my heart and soul into the proper research of the era.

Actress Nancy Stafford on the set of Common Threads. Photo by Tiiu Loigu.
Actress Sage Tousey at Old Tucson Studios on the set of Common Threads in one of my period dress designs for the film.

One such film I costume designed was the short film “Common Threads”, directed by William Shockley (of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” fame). William shared with me his vision to make the film, set in 1887, as close to history as possible, and I passionately poured myself into the project, spending many long hours of research on not only that specific year of fashion but also the fashion in the exact physical location of the story; Tucson, Arizona Territory.  Thanks to my previous staff position at a history museum (which I talk about further as you read on), I had access to actual photographs from that time period in Pima County itself and my notes and memories of those photographs is where I turned for much of my research. I greatly enjoyed being a part of that project. It is one of my most fond movie making memories.  

I’m now going to differentiate between my work in the film industry and my work for my own company Ravenna Old West (in conjunction with this new blog “Threading The West”) because the work I do for both are two very different things. 

On this blog and everywhere else you see my work for my own company, when I use phrases like “Victorian Era” and “1880’s Fashion” in reference to my costuming, people understandably assume that my goal is to make historic reproductions like many other sewing bloggers.  Because of this understandable assumption, I wanted to make a public clarification right from the get-go on my blog to let my followers know that my aim with my garment designs for my company is actually NOT historical accuracy.  You heard correctly,  I am not trying to make historically accurate reproductions.  Let me explain:

I LOVE history.  I am a history buff through and through and always will be.  Long before I ever took up costume design I was the Artifact Specialist and Docent for the Military Intelligence Museum of Ft. Huachuca,  Arizona pursuing a career as a museum curator.   (Life has an interesting way of changing directions on us sometimes but that’s another story for another day).  

Visiting the historic places of my ancestral home, Scotland, with my mother in 1998.

Though all eras of history fascinate me, I have always been particularly obsessed with U.S. Civil War history, the history of Scotland (because of my ancestry) and the history of the expansion of the Great American West.  

Also having been raised just south of the famous historic town of Tombstone, Arizona, I automatically grew up immersed in 1880’s Old West history.  My fascination with this town’s epic history is also the reason why I have planted myself here with my husband and now call it my home.   

This love of history is what led me into eventually becoming a costume designer.  Fashions of past eras and the history behind their fads intrigue me like nothing else but here’s the catch – along with being a history buff, I am also an artist.  

Creativity has coursed through my veins from the time I entered this world. I was born from the life blood of creative parents and surrounded from birth by creative siblings.  Creativity is as much a part of who I am as is my fervent love of history.  

I also possess a very hearty imagination.  As a child growing up in beautiful Southern Arizona, I had wonderful parents who encouraged me to run wild and free on my horses, galavanting across the countryside in my little red boots.  I spent a LOT of time alone with my horse, climbing up mountains and wading through streams, and during those times I daydreamed. The fresh air, beautiful water and flowering trees were the perfect breeding ground for my imagination to think up all kinds of beautiful fairytale worlds with princes and knights and fascinating creatures. My imagination was as wild as my hair was in those days.

Lil’ Ol’ me galavanting with one of my horses. I was 9 yrs old here. I loved the color red back then, if you hadn’t noticed.

And now, as an adult, when I create my garments they are composed of all parts of me.  Every element of my being goes into them; thus my love of history, my artistic creativity, and my fantastical musings come wrapped up in the whole package. The outcome is my own artistic expressions/interpretations of garments inspired by the past.  The key word is that I am “inspired” by history in my art.  

I greatly, greatly admire the many costume designers and creators out there who stick fervently to historical accuracy in their works and consider themselves “reproducers of history”, many of whom are close friends of mine.  They are truly dedicated to preserving the past and if historical accuracy is what you are looking for in costume design then I can definitely refer you to some of these amazing creators. 

As for me, though you will see me create a few historically accurate designs here and there, if full fledged historical accuracy is what you are looking for on my page, you will not find it here.  Though I too heavily research and eat and breathe the history of fashion, I do not generally claim to make reproductions of historic garments (unless they are for a film). Instead I make Victorian inspired art that has a little of my own imagination and creativity thrown in, for that is what art is. 

My “mash up” wedding dress.

My wedding dress is a good example of the artistic “mash up” my designs tend to have.  When I designed my gown in 2014 I purposefully mashed together 2 different eras of style: the 1950’s and the 1880’s which are my two very favorite fashion eras. 

 When I design I’m like a free wild bird that disdains the constraints of rules and guidelines that say something has to be done a certain way.  As you continue to follow this blog you will see that I also tend to use very unconventional methods of sewing and I purposefully stray from the general fundamentals of garment construction a LOT.  But this is how I have made my mark in the world.  This is my style.  This is the raw me and I will forever be true to myself.  I am a Bohemian Victorian.  A “gypsy” of fashion.  

I design from the depths of my own soul and I create with my own nature. Whatever emerges from my design studio just falls that way.  

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” –  Henry Ward Beecher

As always, thanks for reading!