Saturday, May 29, 2004


Costume Update (3.5)

I took the tartan moggans (footless short-hose) I bought from The Tartan Museum online shop a while back (along with a more modest period dirk than I just got from Jas. Townsend), and restitched them so that they are now tight on my calf. Since I didn't have the material to cut them on the bias, it was quite the trick getting them loose enough so that they fit over my heel, but I think it worked out well - they're not too lose on the ankle, and are just about perfect on the calf. My hand-sewing also got a lot better by the 2nd moggan. I think by the time I'm doing my jacket and waistcoat, I should be fairly proficient at this. For the moggans I can tie around my calf both leather garters (which I have) and wool tape (which I don't, yet).

I also took a 34" square of the unbleached linen and will use it as a neckcloth. I'll probably hand-dye it black tomorrow, and wash it a few times to soften it up, since the fabric is somewhat stiff.

With the new linen shirt & neckcloth, wool moggans, and vegetable-tanned belt; added with the great kilt, bodkin pin, dirk, bonnet, and belt pouch I've had for a while, I now can for the first time do a completely accurate impression of a Highlander from the mid-17th to the mid-18th century. In this case, it's a bare-footed Highlander of modest means in warm weather, but still, I've come a long way from the semi-accurate hodge-podge that was my original costume. This is probably the outfit I will wear to the Potomac Celtic Festival this year. I may also wear the tweed short-coat I wore last year to finish up the costume.

If I can lay my hands on a red deer hide, I can make my currans (moccasins), but for now if I have to wear shoes, I'll get by with the semi-accurate leather ones from Tartanweb.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Odds and Ends (4)

I practiced Smallpipes for an hour continuously for the first time yesterday, and damn, that was a workout. As much so, or more, than playing Highland pipes that long, because I was working the bellows arm too. I got through all the smallpipable tunes in fiddle club books 1 and 2 (there are only 3 in book 2 that aren't regimental marches). I'm hoping to be vaguely proficient with a bunch of tunes on the smallpipes by the end of the summer, so I can bring them with me to sessions. With the increased humidity, the pipes sound great, and are very stable. I've even got rid of most of the double-toning on my tenor drone reed.

Also got a lot of fiddle practice in yesterday, mainly on the book 11 tune sets for the upcoming fiddle club performances at the Potomac Celtic Festival and Virginia Scottish Games. My goal for the summer is to become proficient in all the tunes in books 1, 10, and 11, and begin to dabble in book 2. I'd say I'm about half-way through this task. I really need to substantially increase my fiddle repertoire in the next couple of years, not to mention getting to the club meetings more regularly.

I'm making progress on the 6/8 marches on pipes. I have a very strange - but common - problem. I either cut short the quarter notes in the quarter-eighth pattern, or I cut short the sixteenth in the dotted eighth-sixteenth-eighth patterns. Very annoying, because I know better. Moreover, I know how to count to 6!

Monday, May 17, 2004


More Notes From a Musical Weekend

On Saturday night, after the Nationals competition, I went to the old grad student pub I used to manage. They were having a bartenders' party, so all the old-timers were there. Naturally, I broke out my fiddle and played. The ex-gf for whom I named the first tune I wrote a couple weeks back finally got to hear it, and was positively giddy, partly because she loved the tune, and partly because she actually had a tune named after her. One of the founders of the bar even danced to it while I played, which was fun.

On Friday night, after the Houston Regional, a few of the festival organizers held a ceilidh in the bar attached to the hotel. In reality, it was just a bunch of Celtic music lovers with no musical skills sitting in a circle listening to one of the Nationals competitors fiddle. He dragged me up, and we jammed together, and I played for a bit while he took a break, then we jammed together again some more. That was a lot of fun, to "share the stage" with a musician of that caliber. It would have been more fun had my repertoire been bigger, but still...

Also during the night, I sang in public for the first time, even more frightening, I did it a capella. The tune was "Minstrel Boy". Apparently I did very well, because there were lots of "oooo"s and "aaahhhh"s when I finished. I smiled, and said, "All that shower practice is paying off, I see!", and got a good laugh.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Getting my Ass Kicked by the Best

I just got back from the Nationals competition. As expected, I was either 6th or 7th of 7; but I'm very happy with my performance, despite picking a set I hadn't really played since October. Just to even make it to Nationals was both a thrill and an honor. Hopefully I'll do better next year.

I do see a potential negative for my middle-term competition outlook: my age. Not from the usual claims, that I'm less limber, that I have less time to practice and learn new material, and so on. I think there's a slight unconscious bias in the judging world in favor of younger competitors. I think this showed itself in the Regional competition. As I said, I feel I played better than the teenaged girl who won, and several other people voiced the same opinion. She went on to win special awards for Most Promising Fiddler and Best First-Time Competitor at Nationals. I would have liked to think I'd have been a strong candidate in both categories! But I think it's easy for a judge to see a 33 year old guy as an old hand (not realizing that he's the least experienced of the lot!), plateauing in his skill (not seeing his upward climb), when it's the young girl who is the one who shows promise. And I'm not disparaging this girl's promise, or her skill. She deserves every award she gets. Rather, I think it's just harder to see that someone like me has just as much promise, is just as much of an up-and-comer, as the girl less than half my age. Just another hurdle to me to crash through, I guess!

On the other hand, maybe the judges are keenly aware of this, and see that I'm incredibly self-motivated, and don't need encouragement, like a younger contender might. The judges are experienced musicians and teachers, after all.

Tomorrow are a pair of workshops, I should have fun. I want to get the email addresses and phone numbers of the two DC-area fiddlers (Melinda and Andrew) so we can hang out when we get back to town.


Looking Up and More Costuming

On the fiddling front:
Maybe this is a year for me to get noticed, if not necessarily to win.

Yesterday, I took 2nd of 2 in the Houston regional Scottish fiddle championship, but it was very very close. A couple of people said they felt I should have won, but the girl that beat me was quite good (and it was the first time for her to compete, so good on her!).

Nonetheless, my showing was enough to get me promoted at the judge's discretion to the 2004 U.S. National Scottish fiddle championship a little later today. I have to say I'm a little blown away by it all. This is my first year of competition, after all.

After the competition, I joined fiddler Andrew Dodds, and later some of the junior competitors, for something of a ceilidh in the bar of the hotel where the competition was held. Andrew (who didn't compete last night, but will today - and is a favourite to win, I think) and I chatted for a while as well. Apparently he's been doing the Scottish fiddling thing for about 15 years, since he was around 8. Wow. Now, I'm a long way from playing in his league, honestly, but after only 2.5 years, I'll be sharing a stage with him at the Nationals competition - and I'm a guy who took this up in his 30s, not a young hotshot. So I have to say I'm incredibly satisfied with my progress thusfar.

On the costuming front:
I got the shipment from Jas. Townsend in the other day; the dirk is nice, it's the "cut-down hanger" variety, basically the last foot or so of a military saber cut down into a dirk. This was the other main style other than the triangular blade variety, and probably the form that evolved into the modern dirk.

I also got the natural linen for my jacket linings, and the osnaburg for the fitting pieces, along with buttons, linen thread, and the like. The big arrival was the shirt. Rather than hand-sew it, I bought a linen 18th century workshirt from Jas. Townsend. It was very nice (if a tad big), but the 3" fall collar and modern buttons were inappropriate to the Scottish context. So I unstitched the collar, turned it inside-out, shortened it to 1.25", turned it right-side out again, and re-stitched it to the shirt as a band collar. This was also my first attempt to do period hand-stitching, and I'm pretty happy with the results. I'm sure I'll get more even when I get better, but the new collar was pretty damned good, and will be more so once I've had a chance to press it. I also took the buttons off and covered them in some of the left-over linen I got from tailoring the collar, so the shirt looks very nice and authentic. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only thing keeping it from being of the highest authenticity is the fact that the majority of it is still machine-sewn. I'll live with that compromise quite happily!

Monday, May 10, 2004


Costume Update (2)

I'm beginning to rethink my costuming plans. I'm not sure I want the same fabric on the waistcoat as on the jacket, at least for my main costume. I briefly considered using some of the yellow and black tartan for a waistcoat, but I think it'll clash too much. What I think I'll do is go to a fabric store and get some solid wool for the waistcoat, either brown or dark red. These seem to be the most common colors in the period portraiture. This would free up jacket material for use with hose, for a matching set.

If I'm careful, I may try to make a waistcoat in both the solid and the jacket tartan, for a more upper class impression, and if I'm careful, I'll be able to make the hose in that tartan as well. I'll definitely need to have fitting pieces for all the garments, then plan out my "attack" on the real fabric.

Another potential problem is that I've got all the tartan in a suiting fabric, which runs from 16 oz to 20 oz, typically. That's perfect for a waistcoat, hose, and great kilt, but may be a little light for a military-style coat, at least. I'm hoping that since I'm going for a civilian impression, suiting weight fabric will be acceptable. I need to check with reenactors on this. It certainly would be more comfortable for the local weather, and even in cold weather, I could wrap the great kilt over my shoulders.

That being said, all the tartan wool, linen, and osnaburg (for fitting pieces) is on order, and should arrive soon. I also have buttons, linen thread, a new dirk, basket hilt, and flintlock pistol (vent hole undrilled, but otherwise usable) on order. I wimped out and bought a simple workman's shirt in white linen pre-made, though when it comes to making a nicer ruffed shirt, I'll do that myself.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


Costume Update

I've just bought 3 yards of yellow-and-black tartan for 2-3 pairs of hose, 5 yards of black-and-green tartan for a more modest great kilt, and 6 yards of a darker tartan for a waistcoat and jacket. If the wool is too thin for another kilt, I'll use it for period breeches/trews. All of the tartan is non-clan, perfect for a period outfit. I also may make only one pair of hose, and use the rest of the yellow & black for another waistcoat.

Soon I need to order the linen for the lining, waistcoat back, and shirt, and the cotton for the fitting pieces, as well as the buttons & linen thread. I'll probably machine-sew the fitting pieces, but hand sew (with period stitching) the garments. I'll probably need to go to a fabric store for wool tape (for hose garters) and interfacing.

I've already got patterns for all of the above, in addition to patterns for a 16th century leine, brat, inar, and Irish-style trews (the Kilcommon costume), as well as an Anglo-Irish costume from the late 16th century (the Dungiven costume). The Irish costumes will come later.

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