Tennessee Renaissance Festival 2011 – Countess Elaine de Francias

French renaissance festival countessAs many artist do, I have my various outlets of creativity (because let’s face it, despite the fact that I get to do something I love, production art is still work!). Costuming and modeling are my primary avenues, with the Tennessee Renaissance Festival having been one of the greatest releases of all.

Tennessee Renaissance Festival by Daniel_MeigsEvery year, Tennessee holds its own Elizabethan faire full of stage acts,  jousting tournaments, live music, human chess, and character performers.  For three years back when I lived in Tennessee, I would audition for cast. I did it once before in 2007, landing the role of a peasant pickpocket. In 2011, I moved up the chain a wee bit to a french countess, sister to the Prince of France. (In 2012, I flitted around as a deer fairy. More on her in the next post!)

French Countess by_Daniel_MeigsOne of the great things about our faire is the immense creativity that goes on behind the scenes; from character development to costume building. All of our costumes are hand-built and custom designed. It would get all my creative juices going to spend months planning, preparing, and designing. It’s heaven for a preproduction gal like me.

Alas, my original design (which was basically a Renaissance version of Belle’s green gown from Beauty and the Beast) did not get approved as another lady in cast had a similar colour scheme (and whose garments were already made). So I yielded to the costume director whose daughter, in turn, let me rent her costume (it helps having a body twin around!). At first I wasn’t sure about the gown I was  given as the colours of baby blue and light gold. They were certainly not colours I would’ve chosen for myself. But after seeing the final result I realised I have a thing or two to learn about colour…So although I did not design this costume, I did design/pick out the accessories, hair, and makeup. Here is the final result of me in 2011 as Countess Elaine de Francias, half-sister to the Duke of Anjou (one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favoured suitors):

ME3It was a challenging character to play as I’ll confess, I’m not the best with verbal improv (physical improv is another story). But I was chosen for the role as I was one of the only people on cast who could do a believable French accent. Well….believable to American ears. I imagine I would embarass myself in front of an actual Frenchman. But the accent worked in my favour as my limits with verbal improv would arise and I could simply explain it away with a “I don’t speak English well”. It went over well and added more believability to the character.

Kirk_Hughes3 IMG_4896(My fellow cast members, who were all playing Englishmen and women were more than happy to get in on the English-French rivalry.)

ME_ScottCraigAll in all it was a very interesting experience, even though the next year, I went back to a more physically-active character. But I enjoyed my time as the Faire’s “Renaissance Disney Princess” that year. (So many little girls would come up to me thinking I was a princess. It made my day to see the big smiles on their faces.)

Tennessee Renaissance Festival noble womanCostume –  Esther Cancasi
Parasol –  Vintage via Ebay
Hair jewels – Claire’s
Earrings – Vintage via Ebay
Basket – Goodwill

Stay tuned for 2012’s TNRF costume – Awani the Deer Faerie!

Photographs: David Merritt, Daniel Miegs, My City Social, Derek Deweese, Kirk Hughes, Scott Craig, Chris Jarvis

Tennessee Renaissance Festival 2007 – Kit Tanner the Pickpocket

tennessee renaissance festival peasantSometimes it’s good to remember where one has come from, especially in any sort of creative journey. I first heard about cosplay in 2005, but wasn’t able to get around to for years. But I was heavily interested in costuming and had my first opportunity to try it as a cast member at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival in 2007. It was my first time doing any sort of improv acting, costume designing, or live theater.

I was cast as a peasant, so lowest ranking member on the English Elizabethan hierarchy. But I was okay with that, as the lower-end peasants had to be alot more physically fit to keep up with all the groveling. (In fact, we would actually make a game out of it to see who could get lower in front of the Queen and nobility. I may have dug myself into the dirt once…) As it went with the peasants of cast, we had an occupation and then what we really did. By occupation, I was the town skinner and tanner. But in truth, I was the town pick-pocket. This ended up working out beautifully as I had designed my costume to have furs and pelts (just tails really) hanging off of my belt, but it upset quite a few kids, so I ditched the belt and went full force into my role as pickpocket.

5-5-2007-13And it was glorious.

Peasant escorting noblewomanI would plot with one of the noblewomen backstage that I  was going to steal their jewels when they were in the lanes. Then we’d part ways and as the noblewoman would have an audience that she’d be entertaining, I’d sneak my way behind her (but always where the audience could see). She’d carry on as if nothing was amiss, meanwhile the audience would be shouting for her to turn around or that something was about to happen.

Now it would be up to the noblewoman how she reacted. Sometimes she’d whip around and I’d have to drop to the ground to bow with pearls in hand. Sometimes I’d get away with the jewels. Sometimes, she’d run after me to get her jewels back. And one time, she actually just threw her massive hoopskirt over my head (I was on the ground)! To which she just told the audience, “What thief?” *makes a move like she’s kicking me*

Apparently that character was such a hit, I had people remembering me when I worked at a local Starbucks three years later!

Mug Peasant with bowl on headPeasants were rather fond of sticking things on their heads and walking around (I love that mug. Still have it!)

woman swordsI even got to try my hand at SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors) combat with rapier, whip, and props. Being part of the ‘human chess match’ was, by far, my favourite activity of the entire festival. For months beforehand each of the fighters would train in combat and stage choreography. (So all those movie swashbuckling moves? I may know a few of those. 😉 ). I have the main moves so firmly subplanted into my subconscious that I can still teach it to someone else 8 years later. Shows a little of how much I loved it! Alas, in the end, I didn’t get to fight with the pretty swords. I was part of the peasant prop fight with a weapon that was none other than squirrel-chucks. Between that, the sack-of-cats gag we did, and general humour of the skit, I’m STILL hearing from people that remember that fight.

prop_fight10prop_fight9prop_fight11 prop_fight5 prop_fight3 prop_fight2Yep. We’re a bunch of crazy folks. It’s true. (but fun!)

Costume –  Made by various members of cast and myself
Boots – Target

Stay tuned for 2011’s TNRF costume – French Countess Elaine de Francias!

Photographs: Chip Talbert, Dad, Chip Talbert, fellow cast members, Kirk Hughes

Tennessee Renaissance Festival 2015

Blue and Burgundy FairyA couple weeks ago I got to visit the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, where I had been a cast member for three years before moving to Georgia. It was truly an amazing learning experience to hone improv acting and movement skills, so I was happy to return there to play and see old friends of years past. It was especially special this year because of my brush with death in the car accident. So it was important to spend time with the people that I love and were so supportive of me during recovery.
11251912_10202690522503005_5863705612425070491_nSure enough, when I arrived, some of the cast knew I was coming, but most didn’t. It made my heart burst with joy and my cheeks almost burst from blushing at all the double-takes, big hugs, squealing of my name, and people almost dropping character in surprise. I truly felt loved.
IMG_20150516_121723Now I couldn’t show up in regular clothes. But I also had no costume to wear either. *Cue fairy rescue!* The costume was borrowed from the faerie director at the festival, who is a good friend of mine and body twin. (Rumor on the street has it that her husband has banned me from wearing her clothes because we look too much alike from behind. 😛 )
11109707_10206666872333377_5817657433569075481_n10989171_10202690521502980_1618963901099406589_nPhotographs: Doug Wong, David Merritt, Kirk Hughes, and well…a selfie with my phone.

Outfit of the Week – Brown Peasant Dress

Brown peasant dressThey say stepping out of your comfort zone can be a good thing. In some cases, I’m rather inclined to agree. In my pursuit of stylish dresses, I tried on one that I wouldn’t normally have picked out. I tried on this little brown number (as I do love forest colours) as that year (2012) was already shaping up to be a scorcher and I needed some cool threads. Perhaps it was the fact that I had my hair curled that day (which for me, always makes whatever I’m wearing look 100 times better), but I skipped along home with dress in tow.

Brown peasant dressBrown peasant dressThough, I have a confession to make….

Brown peasant dressI have a love affair with climbing trees. Back in college, it was quite common that if friends were looking for me, I could be found in one of three trees around campus. There was the grove of trees by Peck Hall, my prayer tree by the school cafeteria, and the Anime Club tree – a perfect climbing tree so large, five of us could fit up there at us. We used to joke that there was a homing beacon inside the tree. If one member of the Club showed up and stood in the tree, within 5 minutes, at least one more Club Member would show up. If was foolproof until some school administrator got the bright idea to cut half of the tree off. I still climbed what was left of the tree, but it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t stand on the farthest thick branch (that’s right, STAND. And stand I would) like a guardian and watch the people passing below me. Which was always amusing because if a group ever passed by, inevitably the last person in the group would do a double take. Oh it was great!

Brown peasant dress in a treeI also used one of the higher crooked branches to lean on and meditate. There were times where I just needed to get away from the stress of classes, social drama, etc. I couldn’t focus on the ground, too much chatter. But there’s something relaxing about being up in a tree by oneself. Even if I was troubled, within a few minutes I’d have a smile on my face.

I miss that tree.

I miss climbing trees in general. Where I live, all the trees are very sap-ridden, tick-riddled cedars. So you can imagine my joy at finding a climable tree at Centennial Park in Nashville. I shimmied up those branches faster than you could blink!

Brown peasant dress sitting in a treeI feel like I’ve got a slight Michelle Dockery look going on in my face below…

Brown peasant dress laying in a treeI felt all sorts of frolicky in this outfit. So naturally, after climbing trees I had to go for a quick jaunt around the field. (Though I’ll admit, I’m not as much of a nature child to go barefoot. My soles were just too tender for that prickly grass!)

Brown peasant dress runningBlowing a kissLying in a fieldLying in a fieldPhotographs © Abrea Crackel 2012. http://www.abreacrackel.com

: Ross   Earrings: Handmade by a friend   Flats: Nine West via Marti & Liz  Bracelet: Target

En Garde

Swordsman with katana by Bang NguyenSometimes I get to model with props I’m actually familiar with. Back in my college days I was a fencer (albeit not a very good one) both at my home university and abroad in New Zealand. My mother was an incredibly talented fencer trained under Ralph Faulkner (some of you might know him as the master who trained Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone how to fence). Alas a nasty injury kept her from ever fencing again. Even though that happened before I was born, swords still had a strong place in my household. All through childhood, I grew up around swords, with exposure to different kinds of fencing.

Fencing foil by Bang NguyenBack in 2005, I picked up my first epee in my school’s fencing club, then dabbled in foil and saber overseas. Then, in 2007, I was trained in SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors) stage combat with rapier, whip, and various props.  Alas, I gave up fencing due to it being one expensive hobby and a wish to return to my first love (and better skillset) – kung fu. There are times where I can be a paradox with the body of a dancer, the mind of a martial artist, and the heart of a fencer. Certainly makes workouts interesting!

Fencing foil by Bang NguyenAnd each man stands with his face in the light. Of his own drawn sword, ready to do what a hero can.
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Swordsman by Bang Nguyen(And yes, I am aware that is not how a katana is properly held. But fashion is not known for it’s love of technique.)
Swordsman  with katana by Bang NguyenNever give a sword to a man who cannot dance.
– Confucius

Swordsman by Bang NguyenThere are only two forces in this world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

This was a test shoot with local Georgia photographer, Bang Nguyen, who’s gone on to become quite the professional fashion photographer (and now budding fashion film videographer). Rather than do just straight-up portraiture, we decided to add in a little edginess with expensive fashion (the black leather jacket alone was $1,000, though the brand name escapes me) and a sharpened katana. The real trick was trying to keep the look fashion and not costumer-y. There is still some debate whether or not I succeeded in doing that. But if nothing else, it was definitely a fun learning experience!

Photographer: Bang Nguyen
Hair/makeup: Veronica Hernandez-Zapata

Skirt: Forever 21
Leggings: Forever 21
Boots: Guess Maeve boots via Ebay
Katana: Borrowed from a friend

Shannan Costume – Wig and Winter Shoot

Part 9 of the Construction behind my Shannan, the Daughter of Allon costume.

I knew I wanted a wig for my Shannan costume as my hair is very very fine, thin, and there’s not a lot of it. Shannan, on the other hand, has thick hair. In the book it’s written that Shannan wears her hair in a large braid. Well, I can guarantee you that when my hair gets put back in a braid it’s about the size of a rat’s tail. Seriously. So I decided to save myself the embarrassment and get an actual wig. Now since this was the first time I had ever worn a wig for a costume, I was going to need a little extra help.

Aria Durso was the go-to wig lady of Middle Tennessee at the time. Although her wig creations tend more towards the fantastical and theatrical, she has experience with more down-to-earth hairstyles as well. After searching through an untold amount of braid images online, I settled on a style of braid seen on the runway for Alexander Wang’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection. It wasn’t pulled starkly back (as I wanted bangs like in my drawings of Shannan), but still secure and believable to be running around the forest in. (*Note* Yes, I came up with this before the revealing of Katniss Everdeen’s infamous side-braid. Apparently I was just on the same wavelength of popular hairstyles!)
Alexander Wang 2010 side braidMan I wish I could get my hair to look that awesome every day….but I digress. Aria brought over two wigs for me to try on – one synthetic and one made of real human hair. Ironically the synthetic fit better! (I forgot to mention that in addition to having thin hair I also have a small head more akin to a child’s size than an adult. Don’t even get me started on trying to shop for hats…) So Aria went to town and I was graced with a beautiful wig that could not have been more perfect (Note: In 2015, 5 years after this wig was made, I’m STILL getting comments on how it looks like my real hair. 🙂 )

In January 2011, we actually had a real snowfall in Nashville! (we tend to only get a dusting every so often) So while everyone else was lobbing snowballs and building their snowmen (alright, so I did kind of build a snow Yoda…), I decided to grab my costume and head outdoors for a little fun photoshoot with my mom. Here you get the see the wig in action!
IMG_4196 IMG_4198 IMG_4200 IMG_4201 IMG_4202 IMG_4204 IMG_4205 IMG_4206 IMG_4211 IMG_4212 IMG_4232

Shannan Costume – Pouch and Wineskin

Part 8 of the Construction behind my Shannan, the Daughter of Allon costume.

I had sketched out a number of designs for a pouch, but Mrs. Elrod happened to find a neat looking pouch at a yard sale. While I didn’t see it as very functional for Shannan, we were beginning to run out of time to find a suitable alternative (and as it turns out the pouch was perfect to hold Mom’s business cards and Allon bookmarks at conventions).
IMG_2156We detached the colourful bits and baubles, save a couple light berry coloured ones that matched my belt and a neat hair tuft from the middle (part of a turkey beard perhaps?). The front side of the pouch had a long messenger-bag like strap with no real way to close the pouch except for a small velcro patch on the front pocket. Mrs. Elrod cut off the long strap and instead made two smaller straps in the back like loop holes so the pouch could then just slide straight on to the belt.
IMG_2746 IMG_2745Mrs. Elrod suggested taking one of the light berry coloured beads, attaching it to the front, and wrapping a small leather strap around it to ‘close’ the pouch. The colour was fading off the bead, especially on one side so I grabbed a marker and went to town!
IMG_2743(I really look like I’ve got stained blueberry all over my fingers!) Now here is the final pouch…
IMG_3055The same process happened with the wineskin – found in a yard sale and then painted to match the rest of the costume. Sadly, the wineskin, while aged and distressed, was a modern plastic grey and red.
WineskinSo out came the shoe polish!
IMG_2710 IMG_2711IMG_2713 The leather part was fairly easy to buff to brown, but the plastic parts were a whole other story…I tried putting on a mask and painting the grey with mark like I did the beads on the pouch. But the plastic was slick and the marker ink wouldn’t stick worth anything.
IMG_2716I ran the marker dry trying to put coat after coat on but grey still shone through when it dried. Thankfully Mrs. Elrod came to my rescue with a brilliant idea. She took one one of the reject belts (for my main belt) and threaded it through like a strap. It ended up working great as it covered the grey as well as wrapping it around the red, blatantly plastic cap.
IMG_2734 IMG_2738Et voila!

Shannan – Belt and Quiver

Part 7 of the Construction behind my Shannan, the Daughter of Allon costume.

Since Goodwill tends to have belts for around $1- $1.50, we grabbed a number of leather belts to try out.
IMG_2141The middle belt ended up being the winner. Rather than being the typical one, maybe two-toned belt, this one was multi-toned and multi-layered. It had a gorgeous rich dark red running the length of the belt next to the cognac brown. And being used, it already came pre-distressed! The belt was way too big for me but we had no leather-punching tools, so we decided to just play around with wrapped the belt around itself. It’s worked every time since!
IMG_3054(NOTE: I knew nothing of archery when I did this costume, so the quiver is…well…quite lacking. I corrected this ignorance when I did my Tomb Raider costume in 2013). The quiver, on the other hand, was the exact opposite from the belt in terms of difficulty. While the belt was easy as Easy Mac, the quiver was vastly more complicated. Like the bracers, I didn’t want to have the typical tube with arrows stuck in it. I turned again to the Rangers of Ithilien and found their quivers to be both functional, different looking. However, I had no idea how the craftsman at Weta created them, so I had to come up with my own method.
Weta Workshop Lord of the Ring QuiverAfter deciding upon exact measurements, my dad and I created a quiver template in Adobe Illustrator. I then traced the template onto paper Mrs. Elrod gave me to use for a pattern. I then cut out the middle diamond of the exterior of the quiver as the arrow bag would show through it.
IMG_2771Afterwards, I traced the template onto the pattern paper and labeled it accordingly.
IMG_2764 IMG_2769Mrs. Elrod constructed the quiver out of the same material as the bracers. Unfortunately the diamond hole in the middle was abandoned as the seams ended up needing to be wider to support the stitching in the leather. Straps were attached, but something got miscommunicated from design to construction so the quiver ended up not being functional.
IMG_3122IMG_3127I still kept the quiver in the final photoshoot as it wouldn’t make much sense to have a bow and arrows for props but no quiver.

Shannan Costume – Pants and Boots

Part 6 of the Construction behind my Shannan, the Daughter of Allon costume.

Surprisingly there’s very little to say when it comes to the construction of the pants and boots. Both were Goodwill bought with no modifications (with the exception of taking in the size 6 pants as I wear a 0). The pants are thick suede by Ann Taylor with a silk lining that is RIDICULOUSLY freezing when the temperatures dips below my beloved 70 degrees. As far as the look I wanted for the pants, I took inspiration from Faramir in the Lord of  the Rings films. Truth be told, the Rangers of Ithilien were the primary inspiration for my Shannan costume. I really wanted to create a rustic, unique, but entirely believable costume so I took quite a few notes from Weta Workshop’s costuming department.
f_pantsAt first I opted for woolen hose or leggings (ala Legolas or Aragorn) until I put the jerkin on and realised that with its bulk the proportions looked off. So I went with the Ann Taylor pants.

The boots are suede slouch boots with no apparent brand name. They’re definitely a wee bit snug, but they have a very interesting fitted foot shape not usually characteristic of tall boots. I originally wanted to go with something more along the lines of what Faramir wore, but I’m beginning to think there’s a conspiracy out there against making those kind of boots for women. But as it turns out, the boots I found work best being similar fabric to the rest of the costume (and there’s no lacing on the rest of the costume, so that probably would’ve bothered me aesthetically).
IMG_2187Now, for the actual boot colour!

Shannan Costume – The Sleeves and Bracers

Part 5 of the Construction behind my Shannan, the Daughter of Allon costume.

The flowing sleeves were purely for aesthetic purposes and attached to the jerkin itself. The idea behind them was three-fold.

  • To be unique and add a little femininity
  • In keeping with the forest surroundings, they were to be cut to look like leaves
  • To be related in design to Wren’s, the Guardian Trio Leader of the Southern Forest (and one of Shannan’s protectors) costume

I found a beautiful sage green fabric at Hobby Lobby to use for the sleeves. I wanted to keep everything as natural looking as possible, but getting them cheaply was a whole other issue. So, as with the cowl, I compromised a purchased a poly-suede fabric. (I even went outside to test it against the trees by the porch. It matched! Although it’s hard to see in the photo below, it has shades of umber and slate grey in it.)
IMG_2176In the sketch, the sleeve was a full circle sleeve. Mrs. Elrod suggested we go for a half-sleeve instead, only attached to the front and back armpit of the jerkin. It would save a bit on fabric and keep from having more fabric that could potentially bunch up under the armpit. I agreed and we moved onto the next step. In the end we went with the pleat sleeve as the one of the right looked too courtly for Shannan’s costume.
IMG_2793I had no specific design in mind for the bracers when I first designed the costume. My knowledge of archery and leatherwork was nil. All I knew was that I didn’t want the tubed laced-down bracers that I’ve seen at renaissance faires. I wanted something more durable, more substantial, and a bit different looking. It was frustrating at first as all I seemed to be able to find were bulky designs made for muscle men and certainly not for a gal with a six inch wrist. To make matters worse, everything looked too clean, too modern. I finally turned to Deviantart as I knew there were some actual leatherworking artists under the costuming section. After a few hours of searching I came across a fantastic costumer leatherworker by the screenname of Sharpener (http://sharpener.deviantart.com/). I adapted a design from his various bracers. Mine was much more crude and simplistic, but it got the job done.

Mrs. Elrod drew up her own sketch to jot down sewing notes. We decided to go for an extended triangle front on top of the hand to protect the wrist as well as to cover the archer’s glove on the right hand. In addition, Mrs. Elrod added a triple stitch around the top panel. This tri-stitch is repeated through the whole costume.
IMG_2795The mock-up
IMG_2839 IMG_2844I then tried on the mock-up to make sure it fit properly. Thankfully, with the straps, it had enough room for the undershirt to fit in, but snug enough that it was form-fitting.
IMG_2818 IMG_2819 IMG_2822 IMG_2823Now here’s some amusing trivia on these bracers. Guess where the fabric came from! Yep, a pair of leather pants from Goodwill (and a suede skirt. Alas I didn’t get a picture of the skirt before it was diced).
IMG_2153The straps ended up being a little long, so we cut them in half. In addition, the straps themselves needed more weight to them as we were working with a soft, light leather and not a heavy duty one as most bracers are made with. Mrs. Elrod placed plastic boning in the middle of the top layer of layer and a bottom layer of poly-suede. The layering gave a thickening effect and it made it easier to hold the straps down lest they slip through the D-rings if I decided to start flailing (which is almost guaranteed. I tend to gesticulate wildly sometimes. 😛 ).
IMG_2828The next time I saw the bracers they were finished. I didn’t think to ask for a closeup of the bracers during my photoshoot, so here’s the closest shot (as well as the sleeves).